Antitheism – A reflection (or why it is not rational to believe in God)

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I found a paper Antitheism – A Reflection by Christopher New in a philosophy of religion book (a very good one might i add, really worth owning, published by Wiley).

It seems to be a little known paper (i checked and it has very few citations), which makes it even more of a gem. If it wasn’t for this book, i probably never would have heard of it. Yet, despite its obscurity, i think it is a very powerful paper.

New thinks that in the case of every philosophical argument we have in favour of God, be it the ontological argument, cosmological argument, teleological or otherwise, can equally be employed in favour of The Devil. Now, this is not the Devil of Christianity or Islam. It is very important to note this. This “Devil” is exactly like the omnipotent, omniscient and perfect God of Judaism, Christianity and Islam. The only difference? Instead of being omnibenevolent (all good), this “Devil” is omnimalevolent (all/perfectly/maximally evil).

New goes on further to say that, if we have two options, both with equal weight in evidence, it would be absurd to choose one over the other. Imagine the flip of a coin, it is certainly not any more rational to actually believe it will come up heads or tails when the cases are equal. You may choose an option but you are certainly not epistemologically justified in making that choice over the other, the evidence simply isn’t there. So, if New can present an equally as good case for the Devil, a belief most people would find absurd, what does this say about the belief in God of Christianity, Judaism and Islam? Furthermore, New contends it is irrational to choose between two equally evidence based choices and we should thus suspend judgment and we ought not to believe in God.

Is this really the case? Let’s see.

I will broadly divide arguments for and against God into two categories – Those which depend on moral nature and those that do not.

In the case of amoral arguments, parallels are easily created. Take the ontological argument. It states that if we can conceive of a greatest possible being in our mind, it is even greater still for it to exist in reality and thus it does. Likewise, the cosmological argument maintains that everything that begins to exist has a cause. According to the argument, an infinite chain of causes is impossible and thus, we must reach the point of a first cause of all, which is God. The argument for morality states that objective morality is dependent on being grounded in something external to ourselves and that this is God, without specifying the nature of morality. Finally, the argument from parsimony applies the idea that explanations should be as simple as possible and that God is an unnecessarily complex explanation for any particular phenomenon and should be discarded. Due to the lack of reliance on moral nature in these arguments, they apply equally as well to the Devil.

However, arguments where God’s moral nature is implicit or explicit pose a challenge. Is it true we can construct an equally convincing case for the Devil? Let us see.

The teleological argument states that things in our world appear to possess deliberate complexity and design. This suggests a designer, God. Moral nature here is inferred from the design. We possess compassion and the ability to feel love. We have eyes to see a beautiful world and a social nature for company. This implies a loving, caring designer. However, we also see viruses that lay dormant until they can inflict suffering, their sole ability being infection. Who but an omnimalevolent deity would inflict upon the world a disease like smallpox? G.S Paul notes that 350 billion children and foetuses have died, with those reaching maturity standing at 50 billion, a 7 to 1 ratio. Who but the Devil would design nature to be so exquisitely and effectually cruel?

If God is omnibenevolent, why does he allow evil? This question lies at the very core of the problem of evil, which states there is a contradiction between the existence of God and evil. An all-loving God would prevent evil and yet, it exists, this leads us to the conclusion that God does not. It is not hard to see a parallel for the Devil; we simply exchange evil for good. If an omnimalevolent Devil exists, why is there good? We will reverse the traditional defences and see how they hold. First, we have the defence from greater evil. It may be the case that some good is needed to allow for even worse evil. To suffering from the loss of loved ones, people need to have them in the first place, even if they bring temporary good. Likewise, the free will defence works equally as well. Free will is necessary for the existence of moral evil, after-all, an evil freely done out of a bad heart is worse than an evil forced . Good sometimes results from free will but there is net evil result.

Since the case for an omnimalevolent deity is equal with that for an omnibenevolent one, what reason lies in choosing one over the other? If we immediately label belief in the Devil as irrational, what does this say about the mirrored case for God? New sates it is a function of our hearts, not our heads. We choose to believe in God, over the Devil, because it reflects our inherent good nature, not strength of reason. Thus, it is concluded we are not rational in choosing to be theists.

To me, it seems like his argument is decisive and original. I’ve absorbed it to be one of the very core reasons why i’m both an atheist and an agnostic (in the sense of suspending judgment).

[The above paper is a cut down version of an essay i submitted for university, all the copyright belongs to me so please do not copy it without permission]
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6 comments

  1. I do like the argument as presented here, I think it is decisive!

    1. Indeed, i was almost shocked to begin with.

      I spent a long time grappling over the idea that when presented with two choices, it is irrational to choose either. It seems like it could be absurd. If we have two pills of a different brand but otherwise work just as well, is it really rational to suspend judgement and die of our illness? Similar the donkey equally distant from two bales of hay, is it rational to just starve?

      I did some reading (again, based on the fantastic “further reading” section in the above book) and came across a paper that resolved it for me:

      ” Suppose that I come to a fork in the road and have no information about which path leads to my destination. It is very important that I get there. Given suitable details about the situation, it may be that waiting is the worst option. It’s better to just pick one path. At least then I have some chance of arriving at my destination. But either path is just as good a choice as the other. Choosing either path is reasonable. I think that this view about actions is correct. Similarly, then, one might think that momentous choices involving beliefs can properly be decided without there being evidential support for one’s choice. It is worth noting that the fork in the road example again makes vivid a key difference between action and belief. ***It is clear, I think, that I should not believe, as I proceed along my chosen path, that I have chosen the correct path. I should suspend judgment about which path is best, even as I take one.***”

      The path example resolves it. Even then, its clear religion is of a different type of choice. The path was immediate and (to borrow from James famous essay on knowledge) trivial. If the choice doesn’t need to be made immediately (eg path or pills example), i no longer see a reason why we shouldn’t suspend judgment. Likewise, maybe in the case of a trivial choice like choosing between two icecream flavours it doesn’t matter much but (again from James) for a momentous choice like religion, with the potential to significantly change our lives and others, we should definitely be more considered.

      I looked at several others arguments (not included above, im worried since the professor doesn’t change topics very much someone will wind up plagarising my essay): For God – Miracles, Religious experience Against God: argument from lack of evidence, divine hiddenness and a few more. Every argument i could think of (even ones New didnt mention) has an equally good, if not better case for the devil.

      1. This must have been a real interesting read. Looking at the choices like of fork in a path, I agree it is only fair that while we must choose a path, we suspend judgement till we arrive or not arrive at the destination. With religion being so momentous and involves a supposed all knowing and all powerful god, it would only be fair that this god made the choice easy failure to do so, a choice has to be made! Whether it is the right one, I’d say as Socrates did ….only the gods know

    2. Oh forgot the papers, heres the link to the original (http://keithburgess-jackson.typepad.com/New.pdf)

  2. Hi, I am from Melbourne.
    Please find a completely different Illuminated Understanding of Truth & Reality via these references:
    http://www.beezone.com/whiteandorangeproject/index.html
    http://www.adidam.org/teaching/aletheon/truth-life
    http://spiralledlight.wordpress.com/2010/08/24/4068

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