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The Krueger-McHugh Debate: Theism or Atheism (2003)

Christopher McHugh

 

 

Closing Statement by Christopher McHugh

In my first rebuttal, I made the point that Krueger's opening statement only argued against a very narrow God-concept, and did not account for mystical notions of God like the one that I proposed. I wrote that I could, in theory, grant all of Krueger's opening arguments and still remain a believer in God, since his arguments only attack a very specific God-concept while leaving the mystical concept of God untouched. I made this point in order to show that Krueger's opening arguments did not really make a case for atheism, but only argued for disbelief in a particular God-concept. In his second rebuttal, however, Krueger misconstrued my position, and repeatedly announced that I have conceded the debate. For example:

This is especially puzzling since McHugh has stated that he "can concede Krueger's opening statement in its entirety," yet later he seems unwilling to concede something from my opening statement....

Krueger is either confused or is deliberately twisting things, for I made it clear that I do not believe any of his opening arguments to be sound, and that I have not actually conceded the debate.

I argued that belief in God is a matter of common sense by showing that the phenomenon of free will points towards theism. Krueger misunderstood the argument. Let me clarify it: Imagine that the only things that exist are impersonal forces and other non-free causes, like matter and energy, which behave only according to deterministic and (given quantum mechanics) probabilistic laws. Obviously, if these types of natural entities are the most basic reality, then no matter how much they interact with each other over time, they can only produce more complex deterministic and probabilistic results; a very complex and evolved deterministic or probabilistic process is still just a deterministic or probabilistic process. Consequently, these impersonal causes can never produce a free-willed being. In order for a free-willed being to begin to exist, there must be a cause that is capable of bringing it about, and a set of deterministic and probabilistic causes simply cannot do that. Only something that does not behave according to deterministic and probabilistic laws is capable of bringing about the existence of free-willed beings. If we believe that the ultimate reality is something other than a God, then we must admit that our human nature is reducible to the interactions of chemicals and blind forces such that we cannot make free choices.

The argument can be clearly set out like this:

1) The ultimate reality is either: (a) an impersonal set of blindly interacting forces and other non-free causes (this is the naturalistic view), (b) exactly what we understand as a personal, free will (this is the common theistic view), or (c) something transcendent to what we understand to be a personal free will, but not less than the common notion (this is the mystical view).

2) Given the existence of human free will, we can rule out option (a) since there is no way that free-willed beings can be caused to exist by the interactions of blind, non-free causes.

3) So if we have ever made any free decisions at all, then either (b) or (c) must be the case, and both are theistic. In light of the ontological argument, I am partial to (c)

Concerning the argument from evil, I have the following points to make:

Note that there are two "problems" of evil:

1) There is the theological problem, which is "Why does a good God allow evil?"

2) There is the philosophical problem, which is "Can the existence of evil be used as evidence against the existence of a good God?"

They are two very separate issues, and they are being confused in Krueger's arguments. The theist does not need to answer the theological problem of evil by providing an explanation for why God allows evil. That would be a mere luxury. The theist merely needs to provide a defense to show that the phenomenon of evil cannot be reasonably used as evidence against the existence of God.

I will now show that that AE does not count as evidence against the existence of a good God.

There are two ways to construct AE:

1) There is the deductive argument, which attempts to show that it is logically impossible for God to be all good, all powerful, all knowing, and to allow evil. This argument has been universally rejected by contemporary philosophers, for it has been recognized that it is logically possible that God may have a morally exonerating unknown purpose for allowing evil. We don't need to know what this purpose is, for the mere possibility that God has an unknown purpose is enough to show that it is at least logically possible that God is all good, all powerful, all-knowing and allows evil. So the deductive mode of AE cannot work.

2) There are varieties of the evidential argument, which argue that it is probable that at least some evil exists that cannot bring about a greater good, therefore a good God probably does not exist.

Let's assume that there are gratuitous evils that do not directly bring about a greater good. Does this count as evidence against the existence of God? Not at all, for the greater good that God may be seeking in allowing evil could be something that follows directly from His having a policy of non-interference with the world rather than from specific instances of evil. On such a view, the theist can grant that some specific instances of evil (like the untimely death of a pet), are not really necessary, but are simply the chance consequences of God's non-interference in the world. The emphasis is shifted towards the possible merits of God's policy of non-interference, and away from the supposed benefits that could be derived from allowing specific evils.

This view allows the theist to believe that that it is logically possible for God to have a morally exonerating reason for allowing evil without having to say that each and every specific instance of evil is a necessary part of a perfect plan. It is logically possible that the perfect plan is (for some unknown reason) to simply let things run their course without too much divine interference. Maybe some great good is achieved by this non-interference that could not be achieved otherwise. I'm not saying that God never intervenes, or is unconcerned with human affairs. On the contrary, God intervenes very often in history and in our personal lives. I am merely arguing that there may be some instances in which a policy of non-interference on the part of God may be something that brings about a greater good. As such, a perfectly good God can allow gratuitous evil to exist.

There is the additional fact that we should expect there to be vast amounts of suffering in the world given the existence of the Christian God. Krueger didn't really say much about this other than that the Bible is full of contradictions, and can't be used to form a coherent concept of God. Krueger seems to be under the impression that one needs to be an absolute literalist in order to appeal to a biblical description of God. This is not so, for the orthodox view is that the Bible represents a progressive revelation of God to man, culminating in Jesus Christ. The purpose of the Old Testament is essentially to provide background information to understand the circumstances into which Jesus came. While still inspired, it is limited in the picture of God that it presents. The definitive revelation of God is to be found in the person of Jesus Christ.

Despite what Krueger claims, the Expectations Defense does not require a fundamentalist interpretation of the Bible. We can take the notion of God that is revealed in Jesus Christ, and as long as we admit that at least the basic events in the New Testament, like the suffering of the Jews at the hands of the Romans, and the crucifixion of Christ were historical, then we should not be surprised to find suffering in the world if the God of Christianity exists. The Bible is quite clear that there will be great suffering in the world up until the return of Christ.

Krueger's version of the argument from nonbelief is not a threat either. The Bible promises that there will be rejection of the gospel by much of the world, so we should expect there to be unbelief in the gospel if Christianity is true. I encourage the reader to take an intelligent and thorough look at what the New Testament says about this.

I offered revised definitions of omnipotence and omniscience to show that Krueger's incompatible properties arguments do not work. Krueger merely complained that these definitions are incompatible with the mystical notion of God that I am defending with the ontological argument. It seems that he is confused on the matter, for I presented these revised definitions to show that Krueger's incompatible properties arguments fail on their own terms; I did not intend to use these definitions with the ontological argument.

There are two different issues that Krueger is conflating:

(1) There is the issue of whether or not my ontological argument for the mystical concept of God is sound.

(2) There is the issue of whether or not Krueger's incompatible properties arguments work when used against common, positively defined God-concepts.

Krueger fails to understand that my rebuttal against his incompatible properties arguments is directed only towards issue (2). For example, he writes:

This and the former definition seem to describe a positive property, and McHugh has argued against such ascriptions to god, so it is not clear why he is proposing this definition. He seems to be contradicting himself, or else just proposing definitions that he does not believe apply to god.

Other than this type of complaint, which is based on misunderstanding, Krueger did not really offer a substantive response to my new definitions of omnipotence and omniscience.

Krueger is also under the woebegone impression that the mystical notion of God being beyond our finite concept of "goodness" entails that God is evil. He writes:

Any being who sends people to hell for disobedience is certainly not a good being. Perhaps this is why McHugh is reluctant to ascribe goodness to his god.[1]

My denial of the "goodness" of God is not what Krueger claims it to be. When I write that God is "non-good," I simply mean that because we cannot understand God's essence with positive concepts, we must resist predicating our finite idea of goodness to God. God is greater than what we can conceptually understand by the term "goodness." This recognition of God's transcendence does not entail that God is evil. On the contrary, through relationship with God, it is possible to go beyond our finite concepts of goodness to where we can "taste and see the goodness of the Lord." When the presence of God is experienced directly, no positive concepts are adequate. We are able to recognize that the ordinary notion of goodness is something that points towards the reality of God, but falls infinitely short.[2]

Additionally, there is absolutely no conceptual problem in using the "goodness" of God as a relational term meaning something tantamount to "I would do well to trust God with my life." Since this way of using the term does not say anything directly about the essence of God, there is no need to deny goodness of God in this relational sense.

I conclude that there are very good common sense reasons for believing in God, and that there are also very good not-so-common sense reasons (like the ontological argument) for believing. I also conclude that there are no good arguments for atheism.

Notes:

[1] God does not send anyone to hell, but we choose hell for ourselves when we prefer our will to God's will. I recommend that the reader investigate the Catechism of the Catholic Church on the matter.

[2] This link has some excellent audio programs about the experience of God: EWTN Library

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