No credit granted to those who have completed or are enrolled in PHIL 182, 202, 231, 232, 234, or 297.
This course is an introduction to the aims and methods of analytical philosophy through an examination of three central problems in the philosophy of religion that arise from perfectly natural, ordinary, and traditional beliefs about God.
1. Pascal’s Wager.
Even if there is no really convincing evidence for or against belief in the existence of God, Christianity is still the overwhelmingly rational position for anyone concerned with his own self-interest. That’s because the overwhelmingly smartest bet is to play it safe — believe in God and act accordingly. If you’re right, you’ll enjoy eternal bliss; if you’re wrong, you’ll only have lost a little time in church and reading the Bible, etc. On the other hand, if you don’t believe in God, and you’re right, you win only a small payoff in enjoying sin without penalty; but if you’re wrong, you’ll suffer eternal agony. So whether God exists or not, any bet other than Christianity risks a huge loss for the chance of an insignificant gain. Looked at this way, atheism, agnosticism, or any view other than whole-hearted Christianity is ludicrously reckless and imprudent.
Pascal’s argument relies on traditional religious assumptions. And it seems perfectly rational, if a little self-centered. So we ought to feel compelled to accept its conclusion. Yet almost no one, except a few of those on their deathbeds, is tempted to do as it bids. How puzzling!
2. God’s Omniscience and Human Freedom.
If God is all-knowing, then He knows everything that is knowable — e.g., all future facts—and so He knows what I will do before I do it. But if He already knows that I will decide to become a vegetarian at 5:30 pm next May 1st, then come May Day afternoon it must be the case that I decide to become a vegetarian. (Otherwise, He would have been wrong; but since God is omniscient, He can’t be wrong.) But if I must, no matter what, decide to become a vegetarian next May Day, then when I do decide it, I will not be deciding freely. The same is true for every possible act of every agent. So, if God is omniscient, free will is impossible.
On the other hand, if our wills are free, then God is not omniscient. And if some deity isn’t omniscient, then it can’t be God, i.e., the Supreme Being. So if we have free will, God does not exist.
Again, perfectly ordinary assumptions lead us into a dilemma. Is there anyway to get out of it or does it prove that either there is no free will or atheism is true?
3. The Paradox of the Stone.
God is omnipotent. So He can do anything.
Question: can He make a stone so heavy that even He cannot lift it?
Well, He can do anything. So, yes; He can also make such a stone.
But making such a stone is making a stone that even God cannot lift. So, if God does make the stone, then He cannot lift it. Therefore, there is something He cannot do, viz. lift the stone. So, God is not omnipotent.
OK, so it seems He cannot make such a stone.
Again, there is something He cannot do. So God is not omnipotent.
There are only two possible answers to the question — yes or no — and God fails to be omnipotent on either answer. No matter what, then, God’s power is limited. But if some deity has only limited power, then it can’t be God, i.e., the Supreme Being. So God does not exist.
Just the concept of omnipotence alone has embroiled us in a paradox. Does this prove the truth of atheism?