Existence of God – 27

So we have, at least, given our college best to the logical and probabilistic problems of evil.  (Please wait while I go wash my hands, and perhaps my brain).

It may be for naught.  Whatever we can manage to say, even logically, about evil is one thing; the reality of it – the lived horror – is another thing.

So Plantinga asks – what about that?  What about a properly basic belief that there could not be a God, in the face of the evils we see?

Let’s lay this out:  Before, we had a look at Plantinga’s model, which says that no argument is needed, no logical proof, in order to rationally believe in God.  Given a precise understanding of warrant, he even says that belief in God can be warranted.

So, how about the other direction – could a person, faced with the raw, soul-scraping evil in the world, come to the belief that God could not exist, given that evil?

What about that? Can’t belief in the non-existence of God be properly basic, given an experience of evil? No argument would be needed. It would be as immediate and direct as knowing there is now a screen in front of your face.

This, as Plantinga says, is the best version of the atheological case from evil. He calls it an “inverse sensus divinitatis.” And he says much else, which is stirring and disturbing, in order to frame the question. It is an honorable presentation, I think.

Here is his answer: In a person whose faculties were properly functioning – that is, among the others, the sensus divinitatis is working properly – such a person

would have an intimate, detailed, vivid, and explicit knowledge of God; she would have an awareness of his presence, glory, goodness, power, perfection, wonderful attractiveness, and sweetness; and she would be as convinced of God’s existence as of her own. She might therefore be perplexed by the existence of this evil in God’s world – for God, she knows, hates evil with a holy and burning passion – but the idea that perhaps there just wasn’t any such person would no doubt not so much as cross her mind. (Emphases Plantinga’s, rendering mine).

In other words, being perplexed is not the same thing as doubting. This explanation does not do anything, in all likelihood, for those whose sensus divinitatis seems not to be functioning properly – that is, the atheist, or even the warm weather theist.* Perhaps, for such people, the moral sense is developed but the SD is not – they can recognize evil, but not God.

The way the analogy of the author might apply here is probably best held until later, in the context of the next argument for God’s existence – the argument from objective morality.


*It might be objected that this is unsatisfactory, that it seems to casually discard those who do not hold a belief in God and condemn them to eternal suffering. Of course, this objection only matters if there really is a God, and if there really are consequences for this fact beyond the present life. If that much can be understood and admitted…

Analogy from another sense:  There are those who are physically blind, and they are obviously not excluded from salvation. It does not even preclude them from navigating their physical environment. Even if they should blind themselves by their own actions (rather than, say, being born blind), it does not have any necessary bearing on their salvation. [It is not a requirement of salvation to have all cognitive capacities functioning properly].

Can anyone’s SD be fully impaired, so that it is not possible to have a properly basic belief in God? I’m not sure, but even so, it would not seem to preclude such a person from salvation. One might simply require a greater faith, or a variation on the typical forms of faith – perhaps, though they do not present themselves in absolute certainty, the various proofs for God’s existence could be convincing. Perhaps one may be persuaded by the faith of another – a friend, a spouse, a parent, a saint. [The impairment of a cognitive faculty may be compensated for].

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