Tag Archives: apologetics

Materialists Don’t Believe in Matter

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“We only know the intrinsic character of events elsewhere. They may be just like the events that happen to us, or they may be totally different in strictly unimaginable ways. All that physics gives us is certain equations giving abstract properties of their changes. But as to what it is that changes, and what it changes from and to – as to this, physics is silent.”

-Bertrand Russel

To say that color, sound, taste, etc, as common sense understands these things, is not a property of material objects (but only exist in our minds), and that all there really is to matter is what physics tells us about it, is to (implicitly) reject materialism.

The reason is fairly simple: To say that matter doesn’t actually have these other properties (that scientists set aside when doing experiments) is just another way of saying that these properties are immaterial. Once one has done that, one is committed to some kind of cartesian dualism (whether one likes it or not).

This is for the very simple fact that science doesn’t operate without the sensations of the mind that materialists dismiss as not being part of matter. Theories, or any kind of explanation, cannot exist without reference to these properties. If one is going to say that these aren’t part of matter, then say that nothing more than matter exists, one dismisses science.

The only way to dismiss the cartesianism that materialists passionately mock is to find a way of saying that these extra traits, which are ignored by physics, are actually properties of matter after all.

Of course, many materialists think they have this answer in neuroscience. They seem to think that science will one day explain how these ideas arise from the brain. Personally, I’m convinced that neuroscience will one day explain much about the causal processes in the brain. But it simply cannot explain things that, as a science, it is forbidden to take into account.

Which is exactly where this started. And we can’t solve a problem using the same method that created the problem in the first place. Science (neuroscience as much as any other) ignores qualia (sensations as common sense understands them). It can record what brain-processes tend to be associated with people claiming (verbal behavior) to experience particular qualia. It cannot describe them. It leaves that to writers and other artists.

But there is always the option that Russell suggests: putting these extra things back into our concept of matter, and to quit demanding that the picture of reality given to us by physics is exhaustive.

After all, that demand is philosophical, not scientific. No scientific test on it has ever been (or could ever be) done on it. Those who demand that scientific evidence should be required before forming a belief should definitely reject this claim that there are no properties of matter other than what physics studies.

The trouble with this is that it means the abandonment of materialism. Once one is willing to accept that the properties of matter revealed by experience offer us information about the physical not offered by science (and, indeed, which science depends on), one is moving back toward a premodern view of the world–and all the arguments for theism that go with it. But that is the only way to believe in matter without believing in a cartesian view of the soul.

In general, passionate materialists respond to this argument as they do to many others: by appealing to the unknown. Who knows what the answer is, but they are “okay with not knowing”, and apparently are confident that the answer will be a better fit with materialism than the alternatives.

Personally, I don’t see a logical difference between being okay with not knowing, in this sense, and appealing to magic. But, on a more personal level, this makes a certain amount of sense. All roads before us, if one follows the path of logic, lead to theism.

The only way to maintain one’s atheism, in this case, is to stand at the intellectual crossroads and be “okay with not knowing”.


Why be Good?

shutterstock_38222407Following up on my earlier post on the moral argument for God’s existence, I wanted to address a tangent that I’m usually forced to let alone for the sake of sticking to the point.  That is, most of the objections to it show a marked confusion about the nature of Christian morality.

That is, if you think that threats of Hell are the basis of Biblical morals, you aren’t talking about Christianity.

One would think that the fact that Christianity is about forgiveness would be well-known enough that “You are good because you’re afraid that God will send you to Hell” would be widely recognized as a terrible argument.

But it is tragic that more people don’t know what the actual motivating force of ethical behavior is within Christianity. Far too many people, even many Christians, are missing out on the brilliance of the idea. So, what is it?

In a word, gratitude.

Christianity, though not necessarily the Christian, recognizes that reward-punishment systems tend to make us either arrogant or terrified, judgmental or guilty. This is a death-trap. Those who think they are good enough tend to be condemning to anyone not living up to their standards, and those who know we could be (and should be) better are very often plagued by self-accusation.

Terrible as it is that so many have fallen into this trap, this is a very big part of what forgiveness was meant to dispel. Forgiveness is meant to drill home to the arrogant person that he didn’t earn any right to claim to be good–and isn’t better than other people–while simultaneously showing the guilty person that she is indeed accepted.

Those who understand, and believe in, this truth will naturally begin to become a better person.

The process is simple, if difficult to live out: the one who knows she has more than she deserves is grateful, and genuinely grateful people do kind things without expecting to get something back, without hoping or demanding that she’ll be rewarded, but just because the thankfulness overflows out of her.

I, for one, believe that gratitude is the core of all human virtue. It is how we can help others without being secretly condescending or selfish. And that is the brilliance of the (actual) Biblical approach to morality.


Amoral Morality?

morality_croppedIn addition to not talking about Christianity, I’ve noticed that quite a few respondents to the arguments for God’s existence don’t actually talk about those arguments, either. Obviously, every argument is going to suffer from evasive responses to some degree, but it definitely occurs to some more than others.

My vote for the winner in this category is the moral argument for God’s existence.

Overwhelmingly, there are two basic responses to the moral argument that one is likely to encounter. (But, as a side note, I’m not sure whether the atheists who happen by would rather I made these responses sound calm and thoughtful or punchy and full of memes. I’ll  go with the typical New Atheist version I hear, but apologies in advance to the more genteel and thoughtful atheist.)

The first response usually reads a lot like this:

“I don’t need the Bible to tell me to be moral! It’s full of awful, terrible things, and only a complete sociopath would need that anyway. Are you a sociopath? I can’t believe how messed up you religious types are if you can’t be moral except because God threatens you with Hell. I do the right thing because it is right–not (like you) because I’m trying to avoid punishment.”

I don’t think there’s a book long enough to deal with all of the errors in this paragraph, but for those inclined to agree with it, let me point out the main issue.

Simply put, the argument isn’t for sociopaths. It is for people who agree that there is such a thing as moral truth. This is how reasoning to a conclusion works–we see something that is, then wonder how it could be explained. In this case, we see morality, then reason to the conclusion that God is the best explanation for it.

Of course, there are some wild claims about the Bible (and why theists are moral) here as well, but I’ll not get into that because it is beside the point. An attack on a very particular (and bad) interpretation of the Bible neither offers us a secular basis of morality, nor shows us that there isn’t such a thing.

But what of the claim that the atheist does what is right because it is right? That always struck me as a bit self-righteous, but the bigger issue is the second typical response:

“Morality is simply the result of empathy, which was put into people by evolutionary pressures. This kind of herd thinking helped our ancestors to survive, and it still helps us today. Cooperation is very powerful, and being good to others is what is best for you, in the long run.”

This is a pretty blatant contradiction of the first response, which is why I’m so often surprised to run across people who give me both responses in the same conversation–often in the same paragraph.

To say that morality is what is best for one is to deny that one does what is right because it is right. It is, specifically, to claim that one has selfish motivations for doing what is right. It is also to deny that there is any objective morality at all.

That’s fine, if one wants to do this, but this is precisely what the theist was claiming: that theism is the best explanation for objective morality. To respond with “well, as an atheist, I don’t believe in objective morality, but only that people have empathy” is to concede that point.

But, of course, the proponents of this response like to underline that empathy is “good enough”, and that nothing else needs to be explained. But I find that impossible to square with another claim these same persons make.

Namely, that we shouldn’t believe things without a rational reason to do so.

To say that we should have all kinds of moral attitudes, not because those things are really true, but simply because we feel a certain emotion (empathy), is to deny outright that one only believes based on reason and evidence.

At this point in the conversation, I’m usually treated to long, and increasingly impatient descriptions of how empathy might have arisen in the human species–as if proving that would counter anything I’ve said here.

One can reject objective morality in the name of atheism, or reject atheism in the name of morality. What one can’t rationally do, however, is claim that “are you a sociopath”, or “evolution made us empathetic” has much of anything to do with the moral argument for God’s existence.


Materialsm or Your Lying Eyes

groucjoAfter defending the argument from evil, Mackie turns to the theistic argument from religious experience. This is probably the argument that comes the closest to the average theist’s reasons for believing: some personal experience of the divine presence. Though it is not an often used argument in academic discussions, it warrants attention for this reason.

I entered the chapter expecting to largely agree with Mackie. I expected that he’d focus on the entirely reasonable point that one person’s experience is not necessarily evidence to another (though even this isn’t really right). But he didn’t seem interested in doing so. Rather, he precedes to argue that having a religious experience is not a good reason to become a theist.

He does so first by posing the question as to whether or not such experiences are real. Of course, all people agree that it is possible to have artificial experiences (hallucinations or the like), but this is not much of an argument on its own.

That is, anyone who eats and moves in the real world implicitly agrees that one should take experience for valid unless there is a reason to suspect it.

As such, Mackie has the burden of proof on this particular point, but it is not clear whether he understands this.

As is often the case with Mackie, goalposts seem to shift around as he writes. He points out that people have experiences of different, contradictory beliefs (referencing the different religions of the world). Of course, this is a genuine issue for any particular religion. What it is not is a reason to be an atheist. After all, people disagree on matters of fact all the time; saying that people disagree doesn’t prove that all of them are wrong.

Evidence for one religion is indeed evidence against another. What it is not is evidence for atheism, and the “many religions” argument really adds up to no more than variations on this logical fallacy.

Mackie, however, moves on to better points. He claims that there are other explanations for religious experience–namely, the subconscious. This definitely shows the trends of his time; today we’d speak in terms of evolutionary psychology (though I’m not convinced that’s an improvement).

The trouble with this is that it proves too much. One can use the same argument to “disprove” any experience whatsoever. This is the classic case for solipsism. We can explain all experience in terms of subconscious motivations, or evolutionary spin-off, or useless epiphenominon, or mad scientists stimulating your disembodied brain, or whatever fanciful idea one prefers. That doesn’t remotely mean that the universe is all an illusion.

But, if it doesn’t, then the same sort of explanations don’t mean than any particular experience is invalid. We don’t know that hallucinations are invalid not because we can explain them in terms of the unconscious (that’s quite a bit harder than it sounds, anyway), but because they are inconsistent with our other experiences.

But Mackie can’t seem to point to anything about religious experiences as such that are inconsistent with our other experience. Assuming one has a religious experience, one is perfectly rational to accept it as valid.

This is why many religious people feel a little like Holocaust survivors listening to denials of the event. Claiming that we can explain why a group of oppressed people would have an emotional desire to invent such stories–or even come to believe in them does not remotely give a survivor good reason to deny the Holocaust. It is blatantly ad hoc.

And it definitely doesn’t appreciate that the deniers, too, have emotional motivations for their position.

But if this doesn’t answer the question of validity, what does? Even if it isn’t a case for atheism, religious experiences do often contradict one another. What of that?

This is where I agree with Mackie. He points out that all such experiences happen in a context, and are interpreted in terms of the individual’s prior knowledge. I think there is great cause to be careful about what such experiences actually say in terms of particular doctrines and beliefs.

It is far too easy to presume that a particular doctrine is true because one’s religious experience that has been interpreted in a particular way. All of the most spiritual people I know have advised caution in reaching too many conclusions on these grounds.

And that is the answer, I think. No one is making the argument that such experience, considered in isolation, is a rock-solid proof of any highly-specific theology. Rather it is taken as evidence for the spiritual in the same way that any experience is evidence.

It is those who want to overstep the bounds of that experience, and extrapolate wildly (like some theists do with their experiences, and some atheists do when watching science documentaries) who are making the mistake. Those who simply report an experience of the spiritual.

As hard as it is to imagine anyone who takes a careful approach taking this as proof of minor doctrinal points, it is much harder to imagine a fair-minded person concluding that her spiritual experience is to be completely dismissed as evidence of anything.

And that is precisely what Mackie is asking those who have had such experiences to do–and without offering any clear reason why.


The Argument from Personal Misunderstanding

AF5WTAI seem to have gotten a bit sidetracked from Mackie’s “Miracle of Theism”. The quick refresher is that Mackie had been discussing the problem of evil, and that he is now turning to Alvin Plantinga’s famous free will defense.

And, for those unfamiliar with it, the best summary of the free will defense I’ve ever encountered is in a short video.

Mackie counters Plantinga by attacking the idea that it is logically necessary that people have something wrong with our “essences”. As Plantinga himself points out in his response, he was never talking about essences. But this isn’t the key issue.

Mackie keeps insisting that it is logically possible that even a finite person could always choose to do the right thing, but this simply misses the point. What he needs to show isn’t that this is logically possible, but that it is logically compatible with the other requirements facing God (such as more that a few people in existence, spiritual growth, etc). He doesn’t even address this response.

But, personally, I’m more concerned about the fact he hasn’t even shown that this really is logically possible. He’s simply claimed this, but not taken a terribly close look at the situation.

That is, he seems to have a very sloppy understanding of morality. “Choosing to do the right thing”, after all, is pretty misleading. As finite creatures, we are all incomplete; none of us understand all spiritual truths perfectly. Hence, nothing we do, say, or think is ever purely good (or purely evil). While we are certainly capable of being more or less good, I don’t see how it is possible to be perfectly good while still being finite.

And any moment in which one isn’t being perfectly, absolutely, completely good is a moment where one isn’t “choosing the good” in the sense that Mackie needs it to be for his argument to work.

Of course, Plantinga and others have added that there are feasibility issues, even for an omnipotent being, that exist above and beyond this. Mackie is free to believe that these issues will someday be solved, but he has not solved them.

Mackie then goes on to discuss the idea that God may not know what actions people will take until they are taken. I’ll let this alone, as I reject that view. Rather, I’ll skip to his conclusion. First, he claims that every defense against the problem of evil has failed. Again, he is free to believe what he likes, but an unsupported assertion of a claim that doesn’t actually counter Plantinga’s argument is hardly a reason to think this.

And, second, I use the phrase “believe what he likes” advisedly. Mackie goes on to say that, while he admits that there are forms of theism that could get around this attack, the argument is practically useful because “each of the changes that would make theism more coherent would also do away with some of its attraction”.

This is where we begin to see something less objective than a detached search for the truth. None of us really are detached, of course. But (as overtures of objectivity are often made in such debates) it needs to be pointed out that Mackie is, like any of us seeking to “win converts”–seeking to dissuade people from a position he agrees is coherent.

And, personally, I find the more coherent versions of theism more attractive (not the least because I find coherence attractive). Those who seek to “refute” theism this way can only do so by arbitrarily demanding that we ignore the best (and most attractive) forms of it.

I don’t, by the way, think one should judge Mackie too harshly for this. He’s only doing what any one of us would do. I think it would would be much more helpful if all sides would simply admit this–that we all have emotional motivations.

Pretending that personal zeal and trendy memes are the same as the results of objective research is, after all, one of my chief complaints with the New Atheists.


Materialism vs Reason

NO THANKS!Let’s assume for a moment that the imagination is physical. That is, let’s assume that Thomas Nagel is completely wrong in his famous argument that qualia (sensory experience as it feels to the person doing the sensing) cannot possibly be reduced to brain-functions without seriously altering the definition of brain-function (and even science).

Of course, I think Nagel’s argument is obviously true, but I’ve argued that point elsewhere. For now, I’m interested in a different aspect of the mind: intellect.

People who haven’t thought about the subject, and even too many modern philosophers, conflate the imagination and the intellect. It is easy for people to simply assume that rational thought and picturing things in one’s mind is the same thing. But a little rational thought shows this to be false.

Take, for instance, the classic example of geometry. It is perfectly obvious, even to a child, that the concept of triangularity is different from any particular triangle one can imagine. An imagined triangle, after all, will be either isosceles, scalene, or equilateral. It will be of a particular color. It will be either hollow or filled in. And so on it goes.

But the rational concept of a triangle is not like that. It is not particular, but universal. It applies equally to any triangle one can picture.

In addition to this difference, there is a precision in rational thought that isn’t present in the imagination. It probably isn’t possible to produce a mental image of a crowd of 10,000 people that is different than a mental image of a crowd of 10,001. But the rational mind has no trouble understanding the difference.

What this shows isn’t that there is no connection between the imagination and the intellect. Of course there is. Rather, it shows that they are different things.

And this is problematic, because it is even harder to show that the intellect is material than to show that the qualia of the imagination are material.

Before I get to the reasons, I do want to interject with something that can’t be said often enough. This is not because science hasn’t been able to do this yet. It is because it would contradict science to ever do this. To argue that future science will answer the problem of intellect is no more rational than arguing that science will one day overcome the need to do math. This argument, as in other places, is borne out of a misunderstanding of science.

As to the intellect, there are at least two problems for the materialist:

First, all materialist takes on thought, matter, brain-function, etc. have failed to account for the universality of rational concepts. Even given the dubious claim that they can account for this or that imagined object, they can only account for a particular instance of a thing. Actual universal abstraction is a completely different kind of thing from qualia.

To grab a quick illustration, what counts as a valid response from a computer program depends entirely on what the programmers and users of the computers want it to do. (Some eccentric person, after all, could build a computer that is meant to melt its wiring, and to respond to every input with “5”.)

There is simply no fact of the matter about what counts as proper computer functioning apart from the human minds that design, build, and use computers. And this is because physical systems (like computers) don’t reference abstract, universal concepts. They merely operate in patterns that humans interpret as representing universals.

And this has, it seems, drifted into the second reason why the intellect is not material: there is absolutely nothing about the physical facts of a system that make it about anything in the way that thoughts are about things.

We may say that the aforementioned computer is adding, but that is only because we take certain symbols and patterns of electron movement to represent adding. The idea that what it is doing counts as adding is an arbitrary decision made by computer engineers and accepted by computer users.

A useful fiction, indeed. But it is a fiction all the same to say that the computer is adding simply by virtue of its physical properties.

Real thought has intrinsically what computers have only by convention. And this, as above, is not because our current technology isn’t yet sophisticated enough. This is a difference of kind–rather than degree.

But the real point here isn’t about computers. It is about rational thought: it is something altogether different from what we find in the material world (as science defines the material).

And then, of course, there’s this irony:

Demanding that rational thought is nothing more than physical processes is, for the reasons mentioned above, demanding that there is no good reason to trust one’s thoughts. After all, saying that thought is nothing but chemical reactions in the brain is to say that there’s no place for rationality to be involved in the process.


Plug: The Experience of God

If you’ve not already heard the buzz about David Bentley Hart’s “The Experience of God”, be sure to have a look. It is a book worth reading: both for the thoughtful theist who wants to draw clear lines of distinction as to what she means by asserting that God exists, and for the thoughtful atheist who wishes to know exactly what it is that she’s rejecting.

Hart takes the New Atheists to task for their deep misunderstandings of what theists actually claim–and points out that their arguments all hang on making these errors.

I don’t, of course, agree with everything that Hart writes (I suspect it would worry him if I did), but he’s definitely right about this much: the current, often shrill, popular debates over theism are only very rarely ever talking about God at all.

God, as educated theists have always understood him, has simply been ignored–and thoughtful people will seek to rectify this in their own thinking.


Total Meaninglessness

quote-the-man-who-regards-his-own-life-and-that-of-his-fellow-creatures-as-meaningless-is-not-merely-albert-einstein-312313“If where you came from is meaningless, and where you’re going is meaningless, then have the guts to admit that your whole life is meaningless.”
-Timothy Keller

Materialism demands that there’s no truth outside of physical truth. And, yet the materialists I encounter also demand that their lives are meaningful. Of course, they recognize that this is a purely subjective statement. Still, it’s hard to see what it is the materialist could call a subjective truth when he insists that all truth is physical.

I’ve been told, many times, that one can have a sense of meaning without there being objective meaning and that subjective meaning is something altogether different from physical reality. Apparently, the two are simply not the same. But this leads one to wonder, is the materialist proposing something other than physical reality? Or is he simply using “subjective meaning” as a polite term for a chemical reaction inside the skull?

Presumably, the latter. Indeed, materialists, in my experience, have insisted upon this. Their only real complaint here is with my idea that we should be concerned about this fact. Apparently, there’s nothing unhappy to be found in the statement that meaning is simply a chemical reaction that induces a feeling–and that any notion of actual meaning in life is simply a lie.
The problem, they say, is with my idea that this is even remotely unhappy.

It is unhappy, of course; it is tragic. But I’m not concerned about happiness. Not here. Rather, my concern is with logical consistency. And there is something deeply inconsistent about finding meaning in a life that one announces to be meaningless. To set-aside questions of meaning, and reduce one sense of purpose in life, and all the decisions that entails, to a matter of feeling, of emotion, is not rational.

Likewise, to insist that those of us who are concerned with true meaning should simply abandon the question is bluntly anti-intellectual. It is disbelief, not on the basis of thought, but on the basis of a lack of thought.

Simply put, anything short of  nietzschean abandonment of all meaning is out of touch with pure materialism. Those who claim to have a “scientific mind” contradict themselves to speak of meaning, right, wrong, or any other value.

To say, then, that religion is evil, and that materialism is good, is to abandon materialism.


Materialism vs. Science

science-vs-pseudoscience_box-300x125“Now they [DNA molecules] swarm in huge colonies, safe inside gigantic lumbering robots, sealed off from the outside world, communicating with it by tortuous indirect routes, manipulating it by remote control. They are in you and me; they created us, body and mind; and their preservation is the ultimate rationale for our existence.”

– Richard Dawkins, The Selfish Gene

“Now they are trapped in huge colonies, locked inside highly intelligent beings, moulded by the outside world, communicating with it by complex processes, through which, blindly, as if by magic, function emerges. They are in you and me; we are the system that allows their code to be read; and their preservation is totally dependent on the joy we experience in reproducing ourselves. We are the ultimate rationale for their existence.”

– Denis Noble (in response to The Selfish Gene)

The point Noble was making, and one which even so staunch a materialist as Dawkins was willing to concede, is that there is no scientific test to decide between these two views. These both speak to the facts as they stand, and no amount of extra empirical data could alter this situation.

Unfortunately, Dawkins seems to have missed the larger point here.

That is, this shows that there are at least some (and probably a great many) questions that are about subjects other than science. Like many (but by no means all) scientists, Dawkins tends to assume that only those methods he’s personally comfortable with and trained in is the only means of getting at truth.

He seems to have no idea that this assumption is, itself, a philosophical (rather than scientific) position.

This is the basic contradiction of scientism: that it is, itself, not established by science. But there is another point to be made here. One that is, in my view, much deeper and more significant.

For those that know a bit about metaphysics, Noble’s description of genes is vaguely aristotelian, whereas Dawkins’ is basically cartesian. This is significant in that it illustrates, contrary to popular opinion, why talk of aristotelian teleology isn’t answered by appeals to science. Science simply has no way of testing whether or not teleology exists in a particular system.

That is, whether or not a thing in the universe “points toward” something else (say, a match pointing to the creation of fire or a day-dream pointing toward Paris) is basically ignored when doing science. It has never been genuinely ruled out as a possibility.

But I say “basically ignored” rather than simply “ignored” because science (at least as it has been practiced in the last four centuries) tends to presume teleology in the same way that it presumes math and logic.

That is, as David Hume pointed out, the modern materialist has no basis whatsoever for believing that science works. Inductive reasoning is, to such a person, simply a kind of magic that has created all the wonders of the modern world.

Induction, and therefore science, assumes that there are patterns to reality: that like situations will produce like results. This is perfectly explicable in terms of teleology: all things have particular effects that they “point toward”.

The idea that science opposes teleology (and the rejection of materialism it implies) is more an accident of history than anything like a rational argument. Like so many things, it enjoys credibility by a vague association to the mythos of science without actually having been supported by evidence.

And when people begin to assert that teleological systems (such as our minds and wills) can be explained away by science, the fact that scientism is being confused for science becomes all the more obvious. Dawkins is simply a relatively recent example of those who have fallen into this trap.

What is less obvious is that this would be science “explaining away” its own foundations. And, for this reason, real science will never do this. Science is, and always has been, anti-materialist.


From Here to Eternity

Deborah-Kerr-and-Burt-Lancaster-in-From-Here-To-Eternity-19531In discussing the problem of evil, Mackie touches on the fact that those who experience the most evil and suffering in their lives seem to be the most religious. Mackie, of course, makes the very reasonable point that this is not a logical answer to the problem of evil.

It is, however, a significant issue.

That is, those who are most familiar with evil seem to be aware that religion is the only way to explain the existence of evil at all. Atheists, after all, dismiss the matter as merely subjective, simply denying any ontological truth to evil.

As such, evil really seems to be evidence in favor of theism, not against it.

Of course, the materialist can go on denying the existence of evil as such, but this puts him/her in an awkward position in presenting the problem of evil. Of course, I’ve just addressed Mackie’s attempt to show that it is an inconsistency within theism–without claiming that evil actually exists.

And that seems the only alternative to presenting a secular explanation for real evil (and not simply subjective evil).

But, Mackie, in seeking a contradiction within theism, questions whether or not religion can point to genuine goods which both require and outbalance the evil in the world. But this is trivially easy.

Mackie has already agreed that humans would have no concept of good were it not for our experience of evil. So, it seems that he implicitly agrees that humans would have no basis for choosing goodness (which is, on the theist view he’s considering, synonymous with God) if we had no experience of the difference between good and evil.

Of course, Mackie ostensibly insists otherwise–that God’s omnipotence would allow him to do this. But this is far too glib. Not only does it take back, without explanation, the concession that was just made, but it seems to require forgetting an earlier issue.

That is, Mackie agrees that omnipotence does not entail the ability to do the logically impossible. And it is a logical contradiction to make someone freely do something. As such, omnipotence is of no help to God in creating a world where we choose him without any real, existential concept of what choice we’re making. We need to experience “not God” before we can rightly be said to have a reason to choose God freely.

And this more than answers Mackie’s question.

If one is asking about the internal consistency of traditional theism (which is, again, the only challenge a relativist like Mackie can make), it is no small point that choosing goodness (which, given theism, is God) would be an infinite good, stretched over infinite time.

It seems very straight-forward that this would counterbalance any evil in the world as it is (as that evil is finite). And it seems that only a very short-sighted perspective, like the child who can’t see what good doing homework could possibly bring about, could keep one from seeing that the value of a religion can’t be entirely judged by this-world thinking.

This is the truth that those who suffer greatly can see, and far too many (comfortable in our wealth) cannot. We, it could be argued, so rarely think about eternity because we simply don’t want to see it.