Inconsistent Triads & Philosophical Incontinence

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If God exist, it isn’t hard to imagine that he has self-control. But does he have trouble going to the bathroom? I do not know the answer to either of these questions, but I can view the historical lens of God’s attributes and perhaps consider certain assumptions for sake of argument.

When did God become Omnibenevolent? Perhaps in Psalms

תָּמִים (tamiym) 

This word that means whole, perfect, complete, doesn’t really mean the things we seem to attribute to it today (All-Good, All-Powerful, All-knowing). The idea more so comes from Augustine, influenced by Plotinus. And it is this traditional idea of God holding attributes that modern philosophers will attack.

In 1955, J. L. Mackie wrote a definitive work, which essentially created the logical problem of evil. (Not really, as reddit user Thelonious_Cube pointed out to me, the problem goes as far back as Epicurus. A better phrase would have been accrediting the modernization of POE to Mackie). Now, to make a brief aside, let me just say that there is no difference between the term logical and intellectual when being used in this context. Recently I was involved in a dialogue which seemed to differentiate between these terms, however, they are one and the same. A great summary of Mackie’s argument can be found at Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy.

In short, Mackie makes three claims, that are generally accepted by theist:

1. God is All-Powerful (Omnipotent)

2. God is All-Knowing (Omniscient) 

3. God is All-Good (Omnibenevolent)

Take all these claims into account, and consider the following fact:

4. Evil exist

These premises are not logically consistent when considering the implication of the first three, which seems to be something like:

   5. God (the subject), who holds premises 1,2, and 3, should be able to negate 4

Thus we are left with something like:

   6. Either 1,2,3,or 4 is false or the subject of 1,2,and 3 is not logically possible (i.e. God does not exist)

In Mackie’s own words:

This study strongly suggests that there is no valid solution of the problem which does not modify at least one of the constituent propositions in a way which would seriously affect the essential core of the theistic position.

Most theist rely on the response set out by Alvin Plantinga, which concludes that these 4 things are not inconsistent. Very similar to Augustine, Plantinga makes the claim that the reason for evil is possibly (the key difference between Augustine and Plantinga) because it is a result of making the best world for humans that can maintain both free will and goodness.
                       I think this argument is just as flawed as the initial problem.
Let’s start with the basic assumption:
God is X
Implement any attribute from traditional theism (All-good, All-knowing, All-loving, etc.) and you will see a logical flaw in this general assumption.
1. Assume “God is Omnipotent”
________________________________
2. Either God’s omnipotence is bound by logic or God’s omnipotence is not bound by logic (but not both)
3. If bound by logic, then God can not do all things
4. If not bound by logic, then God can do all things
5. Either God can not do all things or God can do all things (but not both)  [Constructive Dilemma from 2,3,4]
6. If God can do all things, then God can bound himself by logic
7. If God can not do all things, then God is not omnipotent
8. Assume God’s omnipotence is not bound by logic
9. God can do all things (4, 7, Modus Ponens)
10. God can bound himself by logic (6,9, Modus Ponens)
11. God can not do all things (3, 10, Modus Ponens)
12. 8 and 10 are explicit contradictions
13. 9 and 11 are explicit contradictions
____________________________________________
14. Therefore, 1 is false (Reductio Ad Absurdum)
Now here it might be the case that one could state “The contradiction comes from assuming 8.” Okay, so we must reject the premise “God’s Omnipotence is not bound by logic.” However, this leads to the affirmation of “God’s Omnipotence is bound by logic.” This leads us to an alternate conclusion:
A8. God’s Omnipotence is bound by logic (based on rejection of 8, and from 2)
A9. God cannot do all things (3, A8, Modus Ponens)
A10. God is not omnipotent (7, A9, Modus Ponens)
A11. 1 and A10 are explicit contradictions
A12. Either 1 is false or 8 is false
A13. If 1 is false, then the rejection of 8 is false which means it is absurd to assume premise 1
A14. If 8 is false, then the rejection of 1 is false which means A10 must be false
If one is following their desire for 1 to be true they will accept:
B8. It is not the case that A10
This will lead to:
B9. It is not the case that God can not do all things (7, B8, Modus Tollens)
B10. It is not the case that God is bound by logic (3,B9, Modus Tollens)
B11. God is not bound by logic (B10 Double Negation)
B12. God can do all things (4, B10, Modus Ponens)
B13. A8 and B11 are explicit contradictions
B14. A9 and B12 are explicit contradicitions
Notice that if one accepts premise A8, then it leads to an explicit contradiction; If one accepts premise B8, then it leads to an explicit contradiction; If one accepts premise 8, then it leads to an explicit contradiction; and the thread that ties all of these premises together is the acceptance of premise 1. Therefore premise 14 must be true.
However, one may still not like this, and may go on to say that “either Premise 6, Premise 7, or both are false (that the consequences do not follow from those antecedents).” True, this may be the case, but then what is in the term Omnipotent? Does it not seem likely that an omnipotent being can bind itself? I, as a non-omnipotent being, can do such a thing. Does it not by definition follow that if an omnipotent being can not do all things (i.e. is not All-powerful) then it is not omnipotent (i.e. can not do all things)? It seems that either the classical theist position of omnipotence is poorly defined or is an absurd attribute to claim.

So, it would seem that Mackie is in a sense correct, but that there is no logical problem of evil. So, the problem is solved, and the theistic God of Augustine (this straw God) is toppled over.

I will address where a theist is to go from here in a future post.

* I would like to thank reddit user demmian for his insight, as well as several others that have helped me in rethinking and editing parts of this argument.

3 Comments

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  1. sed

    The problem with your logic is you assume evil must be dealt with NOW, by God, and that by allowing it to exist even temporarily is a contradiction to His authority. When in reality we have already been told there will be a day of Judgement when He will set all things right.

    • billytalty

      Hey Sed, thank you for your response. Let me clarify. I do not accept the logical problem of Evil, nor do I disagree with your response as a possible response to J. L. Mackie’s argument. My main point is to accept Mackie’s claim that one can dissolve the problem of evil by not accepting the attributes of God set up by traditional theism. Primarily, they are logically absurd, and secondarily, they aren’t biblical, but Augustinian (I will delve into this part in my next blog).

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