Tuesday, June 13, 2017

A Brief Argument Against Theism and Theistic Religions

A Brief Argument Against Theism and Theistic Religions

By “theism” I mean the hypothesis that there is an omnimax agent, in other words an agent who is omnipotent, omniscient, and morally perfect. The word “agent” here is meant to be broad, so whether the agent is a person, a 3-person agent, a being or somehow a substance that is not a being if that makes sense, is not an issue. Let’s call this hypothetical agent “God” (it can be argued that at most one such agent is possible because of omnipotence; if that’s not so, the arguments get somewhat more complicated, but the main points remain the same).

The prior probability of God.

Let’s suppose first that there exists an omniscient, omnipotent agent. Let’s call him Zuk (I say “him” just because that’s the usual pronoun used for God in philosophy of religion; nothing substantive hinges on that). Is Zuk God? What are the odds?

Let’s consider the probability before we factor in that there are humans, there is suffering, there are religious claims, and so on. It seems that there is no particular reason to suspect that Zuk would be morally perfect, or even that Zuk would care about morality. Why not something else? Why would he prefer good things over some other things, or care about the classification of things, outcomes, etc., between good and bad, better or worse, instead of a classification alongside one of the many possible unrelated axises?

For example, let's say that there are two other planets in the Local Group where advanced civilizations developed. On Earth 2, 2-squids are smart, technologically advanced, etc., and evolved from something like squids. On Earth 3, 3-elephants are smart, etc., and evolved from something like elephants. While they are all social beings, their basic interests and preferences are quite different in many respects, from each other’s, and from those of humans. There is overlapping in their interests and preferences, of course, but there are also considerable differences.

After hundreds of thousands or millions of years of evolution as social beings, they evolved some species-specific rules, and something akin to a moral sense of sorts, but not quite the same. Their senses are tracking some other properties, rather than moral properties. The 2-squids have 2-squid morality, they care about 2-squid-good and 2-squid-bad, and about 2-squid-immoral behavior, etc., rather than about good and bad, and about immoral behavior. A similar story is true of 3-elephants.

To be clear, I’m not saying that their vocabulary, or for that matter our vocabulary and moral terms are analytically reducible to some statement about species. Rather, as a result of their evolution, they got something different from morality, even though somewhat similar, and the referents of their 2-squid-moral terms and 3-elephant moral terms are different from the referent of our moral terms, even if there is partial overlapping between the referents (by the way, to simplify I’m assuming each of those species has a single language, but nothing substantive depends on that).

Perhaps, a color analogy would be of help here, to illustrate the point:

2-squids also have something akin to color vision, and associated language. But 2-squid-color is not color. In fact, the 2-squid-visible range of the spectrum is about as wide as the visible range, but moved into the ultraviolet. They can see ultraviolet wavelengths (some of them), but they can’t see reds. They have perceptions similar to our color perception, but associated with very different wavelengths. In the past – now they’re much more advanced, have colonized their planetary system, etc. -, they had vehicles similar to cars but with controls adapted to their tentacles, and they had traffic lights (or maybe we should call them traffic 2-squid-lights, but let’s simplify notation).

However, their traffic lights were not green, red and yellow, but 2-squid-green, 2-squid-red, and 2-squid yellow. In fact, two of them were the same color (but not the same 2-squid color, of course), just as two of our traffic lights (the green and yellow ones) are the same 2-squid-color, whereas the red one is not 2-squid-visible, but infra-2-squid-red.

So, a similar story happens in the moral case.

Now, at least before we consider other relevant pieces of information (always conditioned to the existence of Zuk, of course), the hypothesis that Zuk is morally perfect does not seem more likely than the hypothesis that Zuk is 2-squid-morally perfect, or 3-elephant-morally perfect, or a gazillion of other potential alternatives of similar complexity. Of course, the gazillion potential alternatives do not need to be linked to any actual social species, and 2-squids and 3-elephants do not need to exist, either. The examples of the 2-squids and the 3-elephants are just a means of introducing the problem, but the argument does not rely on their being actual species like that.

I guess it might be argued that those would not be perfections, but rather, an agent who – for example - values more 2-squid-morally-good things than morally good things is, for that reason, imperfect. But that is a matter of terminology. We can simply re-write the paragraph before this one, and write:

Now, at least before we consider other relevant pieces of information, the hypothesis that Zuk is morally perfect does not seem more likely than the hypothesis that Zuk is 2-squid-morally 2-squid-perfect, or 3-elephant-morally 3-elephant-perfect, or a gazillion of other potential alternatives of similar complexity, , where “2-squid-perfect” is the term akin to “perfect” in 2-squid language (so that, for example, a morally perfect agent would be for that reason 2-squid-imperfect).

But let’s say that for some reason, the hypothesis that Zuk is morally perfect is about 10 times as probable (as a prior) than any of the others of similar complexity (similar complexity of the system of rules and/or valuations). Then still, that hypothesis is extremely improbable, since there is a gazillion disjoint alternatives about 0.1 as probable as it is, and while I don’t know how many the gazillion actually are, that’s not the point: we normally make proper probabilistic assessments without being able to give specific numbers.

So, the probability of theism is extremely low at this point. Now, that’s the probability of theism conditioned to the hypothesis that there is an omniscient, omnipotent agent, and no other extra hypothesis (except for some background info; I’ll say more below). The prior probability of theism is the probability of theism conditioned to the event that there is no omnipotent, omniscient agent (which is zero) times the probability that there is no omnipotent, omniscient agent (no more than 1, of course), plus the probability of theism conditioned to the event that there is an omniscient, omnipotent agent (which is extremely low) times the probability that there is an omnipotent, omniscient agent (no more than 1). The result is an extremely low prior probability of theism.

At this point, it might be objected that I’m already factoring in some information, without which I wouldn’t have even thought about 3-elephants, etc., and so that’s not the prior of theism.

However, the prior is not prior to everything; there is always some background information that we have in mind, in order to even assess the matters. For example, we need to understand the relevant concepts and the contexts in which we assess matters, we need some information in order to be able to think about different hypothetical scenarios, analogies, and so on.

At any rate, if someone wants to start with less information on the background, that’s no problem. In that case, I would say the probability of theism when further information is incorporated (how much? As much as needed to make the assessments above, including all of the relevant concepts) is extremely low, and furthermore, that the probability of theism conditioned to the hypothesis that there is an omnipotent, omniscient agent is also extremely low. [1]

One way or another, at this point, we have that theism has an extremely low probability, even though there is – we are assuming - an omnipotent, omniscient agent, Zuk.

Another objection would be as follows: ‘2-squid-morality, etc., are almost certainly not possible; there is only one morality, and if the 2-squids, etc., were as you sketched them psychologically, they wouldn’t be making 2-moral claims, etc., but moral ones. It’s like Moral Twin Earth.

I think that Moral Twin Earth scenarios are misleading to many, probably because Twin Earthers are described as very, very similar to humans, and that probably gives the impression that they have a moral sense too – even if perhaps a malfunctioning one. While I do think the proper assessment is that there would be miscommunication rather than disagreement in the Moral Twin Earth scenarios (at least, the ones I’m familiar with), I made the 2-squids and 3-elephants more different from humans than the Twin Earthers are, in order to reduce the risk of that sort of misleading impression.

But leaving that aside, all we need to make the probabilistic assessment here is that Zuk, for all we know, may well care about some other set of rules, values, etc., different from morality – or to put it in a different way, that his mind has a different evaluative function, not one that factors in matters along the good/evil or right/wrong axises. Omniscience would not prevent Zuk from being like that: knowing right from wrong, good from evil, etc., does not entail being interested in the least in bringing about any good stuff, preventing evil, etc. [2] The 2-squids, etc., are just a way of making the matter more intuitively clear – or so I hope; if they don’t make things clearer, one can just set them aside and the basic points remain unchanged.

The existence of some moral agents, and the kind of moral agents they are.

So far, we have that – by assumption – there is an omnipotent, omniscient agent, Zuk, and the probability that Zuk is God is extremely low. But one event that, on its own, would count in favor of the hypothesis that he is God is the existence of moral agents.

We do observe that there are moral agents. We do not observe 2-squid-moral or 3-elephant-moral agents. They or something like them might exist, but we don’t know that for sure, as we do in the case of moral agents (though I think given the size of the universe, it’s very probable that agents with moral-like analogues exist, but let’s leave that aside).

Now, it seems probable that a moral agent would be more inclined – all other things equal – to create moral agents instead of 2-moral agents, etc. I don’t know about 2-squid-morality, etc. (will a 2-moral agent be more inclined to make 2-moral agents?), but perhaps we can say it’s probable that they will be similar to morality in that regard. Then again, maybe not – there are a gazillion variants -, but let’s say it’s probable.

So, the existence of moral agents raises without 2-moral agents as far as we know, etc., raises the probability that Zuk is God.

However, the existence of morally imperfect moral agents, with a moral sense that is generally reliable but sometimes it fails horribly, and also with inclinations to behave in immoral manners in a good number of circumstances, counts strongly against the hypothesis that Zuk is God.

In fact, it’s less likely than it was before we considered the existence of other agents: A morally perfect omnipotent, omniscient agent would not want to bring about such flawed, morally imperfect – very imperfect – agents when he can do far better, and he definitely could do a lot better because he’s omnipotent.

How do I know that he wouldn’t want to do that?

I use my moral sense, of course, but for that matter, I’m also using that method to reckon that the existence of moral agents would on its own raise the probability that Zuk is God. If my moral sense is not a good guide to assessing how an omnimax agent would behave, then the probability that Zuk is God remains as low as before. Else, it goes down. Either way, the probability is extremely slim, and I see no good reason to think my moral sense is reliable when it comes to one of the assessments I made above, but not the other.

But wait, what if Zuk is not the creator of the universe or any beings in it?
Then, the probability that Zuk is God remains as low as before.

What if my moral sense is failing, but other people properly make other assessments?

I haven’t been able to find any good reasons to suspect my moral sense is failing on this, but in any case, I would recommend that readers use their own senses, and also try to check whether there are reasons to think it’s not reliable or is failing in this particular case.

The existence of suffering, and the extent and type of some of it.

In our universe, there is a lot of suffering, and a lot of undeserved suffering.

Purely for example – and there is a lot here to pick from -, let’s say that several adult men are raping a young girl just for fun, or to take revenge on her parents, etc. This sort of horrific thing has happened. If – say – they are not armed, and a more numerous group of decent men who could stop them and see there is no significant risk to themselves or to other innocent people if they do (i. e., no morally superseding considerations) , surely they will not say something like “We could easily stop them, but we will instead let them rape her, in order to respect their freedom/free will”. The freedom of the perpetrators is not a morally superseding consideration. In fact, they should and would intervene. What about a more powerful agent?

There is no particular reason to think being more powerful reduces their responsibility at all. An omnimax agent would intervene too. And there is no risk to others, given that he’s omnipotent and can prevent such atrocious behaviors in all cases without risk of failing and effortlessly.

In addition, we could add the plight of, say, an injured or old elephant, suffering horrific torment as a pride of lions eat him alive.

And those are merely two examples.

The fact is that our universe is not remotely a place that an omnimax agent would create. In fact, even a non-creating omnimax agent is ruled out by our universe, as such an agent would intervene all around.

Granted, there are theodicies offered by different religions. But they are extremely improbable, making assessments that fly on the face of our moral sense.[3]

What about skeptical theism?

I reckon that too is extremely improbable, but if – as skeptical theism claims - we’re generally not in a epistemic position to assess what a morally perfect being would do, it seems we’re back to the probability that Zuk is God before we considered factors such as the existence of moral agents, suffering, etc. which is again, extremely low.

At this point, the probability that Zuk is God either remains the same as before, or is even lower. Either way, it’s extremely low.

Religions that claim that God exists.

What about other factors, such as religions that claim that God exists?

If we take a look at the history of religions, we see that some of their central claims – usually, most - are generally false. In fact, they’re not even close to the truth – we know that because they’re mutually incompatible, at least in many, many cases (e. g., incompatible origin stories), and for a good number of other reasons.

In particular, religions in nearly all cases make claims about the interventions of superhuman agents in human history, and in nearly all of the cases in which they make such claims – I’d say all, but there is no need to make that claim here –, the claims are false. Religions make up entire stories about the intervention of such agents, and the stories are at least nearly always false. Moreover, the claims of existence of the agents in those stories (whether ghosts, Thor or Ares, etc.) are also false.

But let’s leave the track record of religions when it comes to the existence and intervention of superhuman agents in human history aside for now. Even granting for the sake of the argument that somehow the claims of some religions do increase in a non-negligible manner the probability of involvement of agents with superhuman powers in human history, that gives us no good reason to even suspect the agent or agents in question are morally good, let alone morally perfect.

Moreover, we’re already assuming that that there is an omnipotent, omniscient agent – namely, Zuk. The fact that a few religions claim that a superhuman agent that intervened in history is morally perfect does not provide any significant reason to believe he is so, even granting that a superhuman agent was indeed involved, and in fact, does not raise the probability that Zuk is God at all. The facts about suffering that I addressed earlier, and the fact that there are morally imperfect, sometimes prone to evil moral agents, make the probability that Zuk is God even lower than it was at first, which was already extremely low.

But what about the specific actions attributed to the allegedly morally perfect agent?

In fact, by assessing those actions, the probability that the agent in question is morally perfect becomes even lower – much lower, even from an already extremely low place.

Granted, someone might try to pick and choose which of the alleged actions of God are real, and which are false claims. But trying to pick the actions depending on whether they’re good would be an improper means of assessing the moral character of the agent. And generally, no reasonable basis seems to have been provided to pick and choose good actions, or apparently good ones at least.

So, it seems that the existence of religions that claim that God exists does not increase in a non-negligibly manner the probability that Zuk is God.

Arguments to design, fine tuning, Kalam, etc.

There are a number of theistic arguments intended to show that there is a powerful creator. I think they all fail to provide any non-negligible support for their claims, but even assuming otherwise, in any case those arguments don’t raise the probability that Zuk is God.

Metaethical arguments.

Metaethical arguments aim at showing that if God does not exist, a moral error theory (either epistemic or substantive) is true, or something along those lines. I don’t think they provide any non-negligible support for their conclusions given their errors, but they are beyond the scope of this essay. But among other counterarguments, I would say scenarios involving hypothetical aliens like the 2-squids and the 3-elephants above are effective against some of the main ones – though not required; there are other means to show that they do not succeed.

Contingency arguments.

I don’t think arguments from contingency succeed in provide any non-negligible support for the conclusion that there is a necessary agent of any sort, either, but even if they did, that would not support the conclusion that the agent is morally perfect.

Now, some contingency arguments include some argumentation intended to support the conclusion in question. My assessment on the matter is similar to the case of metaethical arguments – in short, they all fail -, but it’s also beyond the scope of this essay to address them (but as before, I would say scenarios involving hypothetical aliens like the 2-squids and the 3-elephants above can be effectively used in the context of the replies to some of the main arguments of this sort).

The probability of theism.

After considering the evidence (arguments, observations, etc.), the probability that Zuk is God remains extremely low. But that’s the probability that theism is true conditioned to the event that there is an omnipotent, omniscient agent.

The probability of theism is the probability of theism conditioned to the event that there is no omnipotent, omniscient agent (which is zero) times the probability that there is no omnipotent, omniscient agent (I’d say almost 1, but in any case, of course no more than 1), plus the probability of theism conditioned to the event that there is an omniscient, omnipotent agent (which is extremely low) times the probability that there is an omnipotent, omniscient agent (I’d say almost zero, but in any case, no more than 1). The result is an extremely low probability of theism.

In fact, even granting for the sake of the argument that my arguments for the extremely low prior of theism above all fail for some reason, and furthermore, that the prior of God’s existence is high, the argument from suffering (see a sketch above) would take down the probability to an extremely low level, even if higher of course than if the prior is – as I have argued – already extremely low.

Assuming God’s existence.

In the rest of this essay, I’m going to assume for the sake of the argument that all of the arguments I gave above fail for some reason, and furthermore, that God exists, and should reckon he does – but not assuming any religion.

Does God intend to contact humans?

Before I try to assess that, there is a problem I’d like to address:

If God exists, it seems to me that our sense of right and wrong is woefully inadequate to assess how an omnimax agent would behave.

Granted, it might be argued that it’s my moral sense, and perhaps the moral senses of those who accept arguments from suffering, but theists on the other hand are reasonably good at assessing intuitively how an omnimax agent would behave. However, that seems again improbable, in light of facts such as the fact that there is wide disagreement on crucial matters regarding God’s behavior even among theist adherents to different religions (e. g., Does God punish people for eternity?), or the fact that generally religions are bad sources of information even about their most crucial tenets, as we can tell by looking at their often mutually incompatible origin stories, or their frequently false moral tenets. Many of their moral claims are far from the truth that they often involve demonizing other groups of people – who do not deserve it -, promoting slavery and/or genocide, etc., as one can read in, say, the Old Testament – as many Christians realize as well -, as one can see all around the history of humanity.

In other words, it does not seem to me that theists are generally in a better position, with regard to making moral assessments, but in a worse position.

Still, let’s say that I got that part wrong as well – my sense of right and wrong got it wrong again.

Furthermore, let’s stipulate that God does intend to contact at least some humans. How would he do it?

Given that God is just because he is morally perfect, it seems probable he would want to contact all humans, except those who by their own immoral behavior deserve less, or at least all adult humans.

It would not appear just that some get an advantage over others with regard to access to God, if not through their own actions. But that would include contacting plenty of people all across history, in a way that is equally clear to all of them. Yet, thorough the vast majority of human history, all or nearly all societies did not have any belief in God, and certainly God was not making himself clearly present, as he could.

So, perhaps he intends to contact humans in the afterlife, with no contact before that.

There is a problem with that, though: evidence strongly supports that there is no afterlife. For example, if a human brain is damaged in one specific way or another, the person may lose some (many) memories, change their preferences and values, lose their ability to write, do logic, speak, etc.; in other words, damage to the brain damages mental functions – not just the mind’s ability to control arms, legs, etc. -, and it seems any mental function can be damaged in this fashion. It seems extremely probable that when the brain is completely destroyed, all mental functions are destroyed as well, and we die for real, so to speak.

It didn’t have to be like that, prior to empirical observations. For example, if we had found that – for instance – damage to the brain only damages the ability to move our arms, legs, etc., but never the mind, that would be evidence that the mind can persist. And of course, if we had found that – as in some fantasy TV shows, movies, etc. – minds can swap bodies, that would be evidence as well. But that’s not what we found.

What about NDE and OBE?

I have to say that after looking at the claims, the evidence in support of them is negligible.

Now, if this is correct and there is no afterlife, then in particular it follows that God does not intend to contact us in the afterlife only. So, assuming that God intends to contact some of us at least, it follows that he intends to do so in this life.

However, that argument can’t be used to support any of the religions that posit the existence of God, because they all posit an afterlife...except, perhaps, some ultra-liberal versions. Due to time constraints, I will not address them here, but at least theistic religions encompassing nearly all theists in the world do posit an afterlife, so this is a nonstarter for them.

So, let’s introduce a further assumption: there is an afterlife for humans, at least if humans meet certain conditions during their life, or always – no assumption on that.
Assuming the existence of God, and also that he intends to contact humans (at least some), and that there is an afterlife, it seems to me that a live option – even the most probable one - is that he will contact everyone – or at least everyone who didn’t do something to deserve not to be contacted – in the afterlife, and no one before that.

So, if this is correct (well, given the assumptions, of course), then God does not and will not have any religion, at least not before the afterlife. I do not see any good reason to suspect otherwise even under these assumptions. So, in particular, at least it’s not probable that there is or ever will be a true theistic religion.

Is there, or will there be a true religion?

Let us now introduce a further assumption: God intends to contact at least some humans during their lives and not in the afterlife. How would he contact them? Would he have a religion?

I reckon that the answer is very probably negative, for the following reasons (among others):

First, historically, nearly all religions make claims about the intervention of superhuman agents in human history, and nearly all of those claims at least – I’d say all, but we don’t need to establish that here – are false. But they’re not just false in the details. They’re not even close. They are considerably detailed accounts of the deeds of agents such as Thor, Ares, Anat, Huitzilopochtli, and thousands more. No such events ever happened. No such agents ever existed.

This is a very strong reason for God not to use religion as the means of contacting humans, among other reasons because people who are aware of that historical record will – if they’re being rational - doubt that the claims about God’s actions are true, or even conclude that they’re very probably false, so his message would not get across to many people who are being epistemically rational and are seeking the truth. At most, he would use religion plus some other, clear method.

At this point, a class of potential objections could be based on claims that religions are also good at passing on some important knowledge about the universe, and/or that science is in terms of general reliability, not so different from religions. But while I think such claims are false, in this context, I will just point out that they are irrelevant: the fact is that religious claims are generally false when it comes to claims about involvement of superhuman agents in human history. For that reason, God would not want to choose religion as the means of communicating to us. If he were to use religion as a means, he would add another method, like telling people directly that a specific religion is true.

Incidentally, I’d like to point out that religions that do posit the existence of God also have a dismal track record when it comes to the actions of superhuman agents allegedly involved in history. For example, for the most part, Christianity was taught to children and passed on traditionally including false claims of God’s intervention, like the Flood, or events in the Garden of Eden, or the events in Egypt, and even more indirect events like the generations allegedly from Adam to Joseph, and so on. While sophisticated Christians argue that that’s not part of the dogma, the point is that it was part of what was transmitted over centuries to almost all Christians, and as part of their religious indoctrination – of course, I hold that claims about Jesus’s alleged miracles are false as well, but let’s leave that aside for now.

Still, at this point, some worries might be raised about the concept of religion and how I’m using it. For example, someone might ask questions like: ‘What if the category “religion” is not relevant in this context?’ ‘What does “religion” mean?’

While I think religion can be defined ostensively in a way that is precise enough for the purposes of this essay, and also that religion is relevant, there is no need to argue for that. Instead, we may point out that at least nearly all claims made by preachers and/or passed on by oral or written tradition in different societies regarding the intervention of superhuman agents in human history, are false. So, God would very likely not choose to communicate to us humans by means of a system that relies on claims made by preachers and/or passed on by oral or written tradition in different societies. If he were to use that sort of method at all, he would back it up in some other way that would persuade rational (on this matter, at least) and generally informed (by present or future standards) truth-seekers.

Second, and in addition to the previous reasons, religions are generally unreliable at transmitting stories – even false ones – over time. In fact, this extends clearly to Abrahamic religions, as their different variants continue to split into new, more variants that are different from the previous ones, and in some cases vastly different from each other.

That also is a strong reason for God not to rely on religion to contact us.

What else could he do? How else could God contact us?

Well, surely God knows better. But purely for example, he could contact people directly and clearly when he intends to. There is still the question of whether the agent making contact is God. But given the resources available to God, that sort of contact would be by far a more effective means of persuading humans who are being epistemically rational and seeking the truth – as long as it’s not always epistemically irrational of humans to believe that God exists, but that follows from previous assumptions I made.

Granted, some people claim that God contacts them directly, by means of his alleged third person, etc. But history also shows other religions often made similar claims, involving superhuman agents that do not even exist. So, even if contacting a human in that manner were an effective method to communicate to that person, it would not be an effective method to communicate to others, who rationally should not believe such claims.

Also, granted, there are those who claim that people who come to believe that Christianity is false do so their own fault, even though God is indeed trying to contact us. But that psychological claim is simply ludicrous. There is no omnipotent agent of any kind clearly trying to contact me, unless he’s extremely incompetent. And the same goes for many other people – nearly all at least, though I think all of course.

On the basis of all of this, I reckon people who aren’t clearly contacted by Godlike at least nearly all of us, though I hold that all of us –, and who are familiar with the facts I’ve been pointing out in terms of the track record of religions, etc., should not believe that any specific religion is true, even assuming we should believe that theism is and that God intends to contact at least some humans before the afterlife.

In particular, it follows that religions that claim or imply that it would not be epistemically irrational of most humans to believe their claims, are false. This implies that all present-day theistic religions are false, at least as far as I can tell.

Maybe in the future there will be a true religion, and God will tell humans directly who the true religion is. But then again, given the track record of religions, and given that very probably he will use other means at least in addition to religions, he might as well skip religions altogether.

Assuming God intends to communicate with humans by means of a religion.

Now I will assume for the sake of the argument that God intends to have a religion, and moreover, a revealed religion.

A central question is: Which one? What is the true revealed religion?

As I suggested earlier, the answer may well be none yet.

In fact, we can tell from our knowledge of history – broadly speaking, including archaeological evidence and other sources when applicable - that in nearly all human societies, there was no correct religion of God, since there simply was no religion of God. The vast majority of religions posited other superhuman agents, and made detailed claims about their intervention in human history – all false.

Moreover, thorough most of human history, there was no religion revealed by God – religions did not even claim to be revealed by God.

So, at the very least, God waited for tens of thousands without establishing his religion, even though humans were already on the planet engaging in all sorts of religious rituals. He may very well still be waiting.

Moreover, we can tell just due to mutually incompatible claims that at least most theistic religions are also false, even in some of their basic tenets – such as those related to the afterlife, including purportedly essential conditions for salvation and damnation.

In addition to that, one can point out that even on theism, claims of intervention by God are extremely improbable without specific evidence to back them up; it’s hard to see what evidence will do to back them up, but since we’re assuming that having a revealed religion is God’s plan, I guess God knows better. But the evidence so far surely isn’t nearly good enough.

As an analogy, let’s consider, for example, a criminal case before a jury. Alice is a juror. The defendant’s lawyer points out that it’s consistent with the observations that the body is missing because she resurrected and woke away. Surely, Alice is rational in holding that that is not what happened to the body, and indeed that if the verdict depends on that, no reasonable doubt has been created without a lot of specific evidence in support of the hypothesis in question. In fact, it would be irrational on her part to think otherwise. And the same would be the case if, say, the defendant’s lawyer offered the testimony of the members of a small religious group, and no one else’s. That testimony would constitute some evidence, but not nearly enough to create reasonable doubt.

Yet, in the case of the resurrection of Jesus, what we have is n-th hand testimony at best – or rather, a claim of that -, as well as other claims of associated interventions sometimes. That’s some specific evidence. But it’s not nearly enough to even create reasonable doubt. Of course, I use my own epistemic intuitions to make that assessment; I invite readers to do the same. But let’s be clear: I’m not suggesting that Christians who have access to information such as the general failure of religions when it comes to claims about the intervention of superhuman agents in human history and the rest of the matters I’ve addressed so far, are generally unreasonable. In fact, in most of their daily activities, most of them tend to be reasonable – like most humans generally are -, and some of them are very intelligent and generally thoughtful and knowledgeable. So, they’re generally reasonable. But that does not make their specific epistemic probabilistic assessments about, say, the claims that Jesus raised the dead, walked on water, turned water into wine, or resurrected, proper. This is not a problem limited to Christians, of course. Many other religions and/or ideologies are examples of a similar phenomenon. In particular, other religions positing God and alleged godly interventions in human history face similar problems.

In addition to the previous matters, one can assess directly the actions attributed to God in Christianity, Islam, etc., and the actions attributed to his followers while claiming or implying that his followers were behaving in a morally good manner, and use that as a means of assessing whether Christianity, Islam, etc., are true.

Upon making those assessments, it seems even more clear to me that no present-day religion is true – it was already crystal clear, but I mean this adds more evidence.

Now, granted, I’m already assuming for the sake of the argument that God exists, which already implies that at least my sense of right and wrong is awfully bad at predicting what God might do. However, this is not the same as concluding my moral sense is completely useless at that. Shouldn’t I still hold, on the basis of my own moral intuitions, that it’s improbable that, say, God’s commands are those followed by Al-Qaeda, even assuming God intends to have a revealed religion?

But if so, why would it not be proper on my part to make an assessment against other religions as well?

Regardless, even granting that my moral sense fails so badly that I shouldn’t try to even guess at what God would or might do, that does not rule out the use of my own moral sense to properly assess what human beings should do.

Purely for example, I reckon that, say, the ancient Israelites who were told that a morally good or even morally perfect creator commanded them to, say, stone a woman to death for – allegedly, but let’s leave that aside - not being a virgin the day she was handed over to the man she had been pledged to, should not have followed the command, just as people who are today told similar stories should not stone people to death (or hang them, etc.) for adultery or similar behaviors.

What if those engaging in the stoning were threatened by a powerful superhuman agent, and that’s why they followed the command and stoned her to death?
I don’t think that that happened, but that aside, it’s true that some threats might justify the stoning. For instance, maybe a credible threat to make it much worse for their victim than death by stoning (e. g., eternal torment by fire) would justify stoning her. But at the very least, they shouldn’t have followed such a command willingly, believing the victim of their actions deserved it. And yet, present-day theistic religions that encompass nearly all theists imply that applying such punishments willingly was morally acceptable, and even either mandatory or praiseworthy.

As before, I reckon a similar case succeeds against every present-day theistic religion, except perhaps for some ultra-liberal variants, but those have also insurmountable problems, like – say – a clearly mistaken interpretation of the texts (i. e., they interpret the text to mean something other than what they mean) – which is also a common error in other, not ultra-liberal variants.

I invite readers to make their own assessments on the matter, but it seems to me that even under the assumption that God exists and intends to have a revealed religion, it’s very, very probable that the religion in question has yet to be revealed – not that I think there is a non-negligible chance that God exists.

[1] This is one of Richard Swinburne’s errors in his argument for the existence of God (Swinburne, Richard "The Existence of God", Second Edition; Clarendon Press Oxford). He believes that an omnipotent, omniscient agent would be morally perfect, whereas it’s extremely improbable that an omnipotent, omniscient agent be morally perfect.

[2] There are internalist philosophical theories that claim otherwise; this is a brief argument and I won’t address them here. But I will later address the hypothesis that I got things wrong so far.

[3] Of course, someone might insist it’s only my moral sense, or the moral senses of those who make similar assessments. I can only invite readers to make their own assessments, and also try to see if their moral sense has been likely affected by a damaging influence when assessing that particular kind of matter.


Walter Van den Acker said...


As usual, a very thorough "brief" argument.
It's a shame that your blog doesn't seem to get the attention it deserves.

Angra Mainyu said...

Thanks, Walter.

My blog never got traffic or attention, but that wasn't surprising. I'm glad I got some readers interested in my posts. :)
I'm not sure when (or if) I will post again, though, not due to a low number of readers, but because I don't have as much time as I used to have (that's the reason I haven't posted in months), and writing a blog post and maybe defending it (even one or two posters can get into a long debate) takes me longer than posting and defending brief comments in other blogs.

Walter Van den Acker said...

I agree with that. I also enjoy your exchanges with Alexander Pruss at his blog, as i enjoyed your discussions over at IIDB/FRDB.
Speaking of FRDB, I was very sad to hear that Punkforchrist passed away in May 2016, at the age of 31. I also enjoyed discussiong things with him on his blog.

Angra Mainyu said...

Yeah, I was sad to hear that as well (I didn't post much on his blog - I think just a couple of times, iirc -, but he and I discussed/debated a number of times over at IIDB).

Edwardtbabinski said...

I am trying to imagine examples of the squid-like or elephant-like moral codes that would differ from our own world of divisive moral codes where even Christians differ on issues like abortion, war, government, homosexuality, immigration, etc.

See also my piece, “Things Christians Have Been Against” at my blog Scrivenings

Angra Mainyu said...


Sorry, I didn't see this comment awaiting moderation. My central argument here is not about "moral codes" in the sense you're using the word here, in which there is disagreement between different moral codes. In those cases, the answer is that on each matter, at most there is a correct answer, and the codes that disagree are mistaken. The issue is that with aliens like the 2-squid or the 3-elephants, they would be talking about something else - i.e., they wouldn't disagree with us about what's good; rather, instead of talking about good and bad, they'd be talking about 2-squid-good and 2-squid-bad, etc.

Anonymous said...

This is a really weak argument especially the part about the existence of suffering. Yes, suffering exists. But that does not mean that God does not exist. That would just mean that God does not want to stop evil but even then, that assumes that God has wants, desires or obligations which he does not. So there could be evil and God does not have any want, desire or obligation to stop it.