As I stated last week, I will be mimicking my format for my bible posts. I will put section heading in bold (which I have to make up) then I will give a summary in standard text and then I will respond in italics.
Definitions are important
Let's begin with the problem of pain in it's simplest form "If God were good, He would wish to make His creatures perfectly happy, and if God were almighty He would be able to do what He wished. But the creatures are not happy. Therefore God lacks either goodness, or power, or both." The difficulty here is what exactly we mean by "good", "happy", and "almighty". They have multiple potential meanings and if we think about them in their popular usage the question is unanswerable.
I agree that making definitions clear is important. Also, words can have very fluid definitions and it is important to be clear about what you are talking about. I'm not sure what he means when he says if we use the common usage of the words the question becomes answerable, but it seems to me that the way people understand these things is using the common usage. I'm interested to see how he tweaks the meanings here, depending on how far he tries to push the definitions it could either make for very interesting reading or it could just be silly. We will see.
What Does Omnipotence Mean?
Omnipotence means the power to do anything. There are times when an unbeliever might argue that if God were omnipotent then he would be able to do this or that, and when you reply that it is impossible they say "But I thought that God was supposed to do anything"
An interesting point. It depends on what the atheist is asking that God should be able to do. If you are talking about some silly little logical trap such as "can god create a boulder so big he can't lift it?" where he either can't create such a boulder, or if he can then he can't lift it. He can't win either way. Or if you are asking him to create something that is logically inconsistent like say a circle with a corner, he can't because it makes no sense, circles do not have corners, if you create something with a corner it is not a circle.
This leads us to ask what impossible really means. When we say things are impossible, we typically have an implied 'unless' on the statement. For example, I might say it is impossible for me to see the street, when I might mean to add 'unless I go up to the roof'. If I have a broken leg and there is no elevator I might say it is impossible for me to get to the roof, but there is an implied 'unless someone helps me up the stairs'. It is a different kind of impossible if I say 'it is impossible to see the street if I stay in this spot'. We need to differentiate between these 2 different kinds of impossible, things that are impossible unless, and things that are intrinsically impossible. Things that are intrinsically impossible would be impossible for any being in any possible universe.
I'm not a big fan of his examples, but he does make an interesting point. When we say impossible in normal situations there are 2 ways we can talk about it, things that are impossible in a given situation for a given being, and things that are intrinsically impossible for every possible being in every possible universe.
So we return to the question of what is omnipotence. God is omnipotent means he can do anything that is intrinsically possible. The fact that God cannot create a being which has free will and also does not have free will is not a limit to his power, because what is being asked of him is nonsense.
I'm on board.
How do we Know What is Intrinsically Impossible?
It is difficult to know whether something is intrinsically impossible or not. Human reasoning can make mistakes in such matters. We should be careful at being sure what is possible or not in an intrinsic sense.
I'm not quite sure where he is going with this, but I thought we were talking about logical impossibilities.
There are times when things go bad according to the laws of nature and prayer doesn't seem to help, this would seem to furnish a strong argument against God. However, not even omnipotence can create a society of free souls without an independent nature.
He goes into this idea more in depth a little later, but for now I will just point out that God doesn't seem to mind messing with free will.
Awareness of Self
To be self aware of your consciousness, there must be something other than you. For if you are everything there is no contrast between you and other things. Ideally this would be a social environment, you versus others like you. This would be a problem for other theists, but christians have the trinity so it is ok.
I'm guessing he is building to something, this seemed to come out of nowhere to me.
Freedom implies there are things to choose between, so there must be an environment with choices for freedom to even make sense. The minimum condition then for self awareness is apprehension of God and distinctness from God. Then they could choose whether they love themselves or God better.
It seems to me the minimum condition based on his previous ideas is for there to be the self and anything else. To say it has to be God is completely out of nowhere.
Now if we add other beings into the mix, instead of just one being along with God, we need a way for them to interact, for 2 minds cannot simply become aware of each other and communicate, there must be a medium for them to do this. There must be some place that they co-exist in.
Is this really true, or does it just seem reasonable because we live such an existence? We can imagine telepathy, which is 2 minds interacting directly, and so why not have those 2 minds exist in a vacuum? I'm just point out that he is making a bunch of assertions and not giving evidence for any of it. We are supposed to be talking about what is logically possible here right?
If we could have our consciousnesses communicate directly it would be difficult to tell the difference between myself and others as it all happens internally and there is nothing to compare it to. What we need is exactly what we have, a neutral external world that we can all manipulate and use to communicate. Society is this common world where we meet and exchange ideas.
The idea that if we could communicate directly and had no external world then we would have trouble telling ourselves apart from our neighbors is interesting. I think it is a possibility, but I think it is also possible that I could tell the difference between my own thoughts and "invading" thoughts. It is just a crazy hypothetical anyway, but it doesn't suit us to just claim that in a world so different from our own then it must be a certain way without any evidence or argument.
Matter must have a fixed nature, for if I was in nature and all matter bent to my will, and then you were introduced, you would not have free will anymore as your matter would also bend to my will. Further, you could not send me a message for if you tried, all of the matter you are trying to manipulate would also bend to my will.
I don't know what he is getting at here, again, it seems to just be a bunch of non sequiturs to me. I am hoping this will all come together at some point. It seems like the being who can manipulate things at his will here is supposed to be God. Just because God can manipulate anything he wants, does it automatically mean he has to be at all times? Maybe he can let someone else manipulate generally and then will things to be different as he wishes. Again, this is a hypothetical and he is just claiming that there are things that must be without proper explanation. I think he just has a bunch of hidden assumptions that he is not stating.
What is Evil?
Not all states of matter are equally agreeable for a single being, for example, is a fire good or bad? If you are at a reasonable distance it provides warmth but if you are too close it will burn and cause pain. Is the fire evil? If we can't get things to be perfect for a single person, how could it possibly be for multiples? If one person is going downhill someone going the opposite way must be going uphill. There will be situations where things must go against one person for them to go for someone else. Competition is inevitable. Because of the permanent nature of the world around us, "when human being fight the winner will usually go to those will superior weapons, skills and numbers, even if their cause is unjust."
We can imagine a world where God does not allow these injustices to happen, where every time a man tried to strike another man with a board it became soft. We could even take this to the extreme where evil thoughts are impossible as God would intervene with his brain and wouldn't let it think evil thoughts. This would be a world without choice as the "wrong" choice would be taken away. So where do you draw the line? Think of a game of chess, you can give the occasional help to your opponent by letting them take back a move or remove one of your pieces to help them, but these concessions must be rare or you don't really have a game. Similarly, God can't be constantly stop us from committing evil acts or life loses meaning.
Now this is actually a really interesting idea. Take things to the extreme and have God interfere with any minor evil act, even evil thoughts. In this extreme we have lost our autonomy and the world that God has set up seems to have lost some of its meaning. What does good really even mean if evil is not a possibility? Let's think about the other extreme, God does absolutely nothing and evil is allowed to run rampant when it spins out of control. This seems like a bad place to be as well, it would be nice to have a God making sure things don't get too out of hand. I would argue that this is the world we live in, but I can't prove it, how could you ever prove such a thing? I would argue that things like the holocaust and natural disasters that kill millions of innocent people are evidence that this loving God does not exist, but I can't prove it. I can never know if there are other worse things that were prevented. So where are we on this scale? Are we all the way to one side where there is no intervention, or are we somewhere in the middle where the truly horrible things are stopped and we just never know about it?
Next week(4/4): Chapter 3 Divine Goodness