The following is my response to an article from eight years ago, by New Atheist Vexen Crabtree. Please note, this paper is technical and somewhat difficult to understand due to its technicality. It is written to be scholarly in quality and detail, but as understandable as possible for the laymen. That said, don't be discouraged if it's too much for you! Let us begin:
Is belief in God reasonable? Not according to many in the New Atheist movement, including one particular New Atheist, Vexen Crabtree. Not only does God not exist, he argues, but it is actually impossible for God to exist. Deductively, the argument can be stated as follows:
PREMISE 1:Nothing can exist that contradicts logic. PREMISE 2:The existence of God contradicts logic. CONCLUSION:Therefore, God does not exist.
This argument is known as the Argument from Inconsistency and is based chiefly upon what proponents consider to be logically incompatible beliefs within theism about God. This argument is especially significant because if sound, effectively answers the claim of the classic Ontological Argument for the existence of God which argues that if it’s even possible God exists, He must exist. This raises the question then: is this argument sound? For an argument to be sound, it must meet two criteria: Valid Form and True Prepositions. If either of these two elements are lacking, an argument is not considered sound, and thus cannot be trusted. In evaluating this argument, we will begin by evaluating the logical validity of the argument’s form and from there, move to evaluate the truthfulness of each of the prepositions. From there, we will apply our findings to determine if the conclusion is warranted. In order to maintain intellectual transparency, allow me to make my purpose known: this paper is intended to show that this argument is unsound and its conclusion unwarranted.
Before we begin, we must make a quick note about the nature of logical evaluation. When evaluating premises for truth claims, we must evaluate them with a standard of evidence in mind. Some suggest the usage of the standard of “beyond any possible doubt”, but it does not take long to recognize that this standard is unreasonable. For, if this standard is to be employed, deductive reason would be useless in most, if not all cases. The classic deductive argument “All men are mortal” (Premise 1); “Socrates is a man” (Premise 2); “therefore Socrates is mortal” (Conclusion); would not even be considered sound, for one cannot prove beyond any possible doubt that all men are mortal or that Socrates is truly a man! Therefore, a more reasonable standard of evidence must be employed. In evaluating truth claims, the American legal system utilizes two standards of evidence for different types of legal cases: “preponderance of evidence” for civil cases and “beyond reasonable doubt” for criminal cases. The former requires a demonstration that something is more likely true then false; the latter requires a demonstration that something must be true, barring unreasonably unlikely explanations. Whichever standard we decide to use, we must be careful to maintain consistency. If we use one standard for arguments we disfavor, we must use that same standard for arguments we do favor. For the purposes of this paper, we will be using the weakest standard “preponderance of evidence” to determine soundness.
We will begin with the first premise: is it true? The premise reads, “nothing can exist that contradicts logic”. But can we really believe this? How do we know something cannot contradict logic and exist? It’s important to note that this is not saying that complex things that are beyond our understanding cannot exist. Otherwise, if the world was exclusively made up of toddlers, quantum physics could not exist! What this argument is suggesting is that if something breaks the laws of logic, we can rule out its existence. For example, “a married bachelor” cannot exist because it breaks the law of noncontradiction. One cannot be both married and a bachelor (i.e., “unmarried”) at the same time. This premise is undisputed among scholars – the only exception to this is within Eastern mystic systems. Yet, as loudly as proponents of those systems object, the moment they make any sort of case against the laws of logic, they employ them, thus destroying their case. This first premise is clearly true.
What of the second premise? Is it true that “the existence of God contradicts logic”? This is the crux of the argument. Vexen Crabtree has provided seven arguments in an attempt to demonstrate this premise. In order to succeed, these arguments must meet the threshold of “preponderance of evidence” to show that belief in this premise is warranted. Therefore, I will spend the next fifteen paragraphs of this paper evaluating each of Crabtree’s seven arguments to determine whether or not he has succeeded.
We shall begin with his first argument: The free will of God is logically impossible. Crabtree states, “An omniscient being cannot have free will because it is predestined by its own certain knowledge of its future actions” (Crabtree). In other words, Crabtree is suggesting that in order to be able to make a decision freely, you must first be unaware of the choice you are going to make before you make it. But is this true? No. This argument fails to recognize that knowledge has no causal power. Suppose I were to make the free decision to dip my Oreo cookie in a glass of milk; why would I make that decision? Simply because I wanted to. Would the fact that my wife knew I was about to eat the cookie change that? Would the fact that a thousand people knew I was going to eat the cookie change that? Not in the slightest. Why, then, would my knowledge of my own decision change that? In fact, in order to have the data to know my decision, I actually would have had to decide logically prior to my knowledge of the outcome of my decision. All this argument proves then, is that if God exists, He only knew outcomes logically posterior to deciding what those outcomes would be. This is no problem for theism.
On this same topic, Crabtree also states, “A perfectly benevolent God cannot have free will because there is only one perfect course of action, which God, being perfectly good, must follow” (Crabtree). Yet this argument presupposes that morality is somehow controlling God. This is a classic misunderstanding of morality. The theist does not believe that God behaves the way He does simply because that is what is moral. Nor is morality determined by how God happens to behave. On the contrary, the theist believes morality is determined by who God is. In other words, it is within God’s character to behave morally simply because He himself is moral. Therefore, whatever God freely chooses to do, that just so happens to be morally perfect, because it reflects His character. Free will, then, is simply the ability to make any decision within one’s power to make. God has the power to do anything (moral and immoral), and simply chooses the most moral choice every time, because it is the natural outflowing of His character.
Also relating to this, Crabtree states, “Choices require changes in mental states over time. An eternal being that created time cannot have free will” (Crabtree). This is based off of two misunderstandings. First, this is a misunderstanding of the immutability of God. Crabtree is assuming that for God to be immutable, He must be unchanging in every way, including in His relation to other things. But the Christian does not believe this. The Christian believes that God is immutable in His identity and character, not in his interactions with the universe. Second, this is a misunderstanding about the way in which God “obtains” knowledge. It is true that in order to learn something new from an external source, changes in mental states are required. Yet, the Christian believes God does not learn anything; rather, He knows all things intrinsically, as a part of His eternal nature. So, God’s choices do not require successive mental states to occur – just one, eternally consistent one.
Crabtree also states, “If God created free will then it cannot itself already have had free will before it done so” (Crabtree, errors original). This argument presupposes that free will must exist as an independent entity to God in order to exist - and since entities must have explanations for their existence, God would have to either live co-eternally with it or create it Himself. This, however, is a misunderstanding of God’s relationship to abstract concepts. God did not have to create free will, because free will is a part of His identity. To use a crude analogy, to say that God had to create free will is like suggesting that God had to create his own elbow. It’s a non-sequitur. If this is the case then, the rest of this argument falls apart. From this we can see that none of Crabtree’s arguments against free will demonstrate with any degree of confidence that the existence of free will in God is logically contradictory.
We now turn to Crabtree’s second argument: The omniscience of God is logically impossible. Crabtree states: “God cannot know if it does actually know everything. There is no way for it to even verify that it is indeed the true creator god” (Crabtree). This is based on the assumption that a true creator God could have created a lesser god that was similar in every way, except without knowledge of its own creation. If this were the case, it would have no way of knowing that it was created and would simply assume its own self-existence. Therefore, Crabtree argues, God would have no way of knowing He was really God – and is thus not all-knowing. But there is a major problem with this argument: it misunderstands the Christian conception of God. As I mentioned previously, the Christian believes God knows all things intrinsically, not from inference. God does not have to infer His own existence and therefore cannot be mistaken about it. This argument also presupposes God can do what is logically impossible: that is create another being that is all powerful and only slightly less knowledgeable. This type of pseudo-god, in order to be all-powerful would have to be undefeatable. Yet, to be undefeatable, every other thing would have to be defeatable, including the original creator God. Since the original creator God is Himself undefeatable, this would be a logical contradiction. Therefore, this objection is nothing less of a word game than the tongue-in-cheek question of “can God create a rock so heavy that even He could not lift it?”. No. God cannot do what is logically impossible any more than the color blue has a smell. Therefore, even if God did somehow need to infer His own existence (which we established He did not need to), He would not have to worry about if He was actually this logically impossible pseudo-god. Therefore, this argument fails on both fronts.
Crabtree also mentions that it is impossible for God to verify that His own knowledge is accurate against an external source, since He is the source of all knowledge. My response is simple: accuracy is simply how close one is to reality. So, does it actually make sense to suggest that the source of reality has to wonder if his knowledge of that reality is accurate? This objection is misplaced, at best. Additionally, in this section, Crabtree misrepresents scripture where God speaks of “forgetting” a person’s sins to mean that God literally erases knowledge of those sins from his mind. Perhaps if Crabtree were actually concerned about accurately interpreting scripture, he would know that this is referring to legal standing before God, phrased in poetic fashion. God does not erase knowledge from His mind, for this would be a logical impossibility. Therefore, from this we can see that none of Crabtree’s arguments against omniscience demonstrate with any degree of confidence that the existence of omniscience in God is logically impossible. His arguments once again fall flat.
We now turn to Crabtree’s third argument: The omnipotence of God is logically impossible. Crabtree states: “[O]mnipotency has such theological and philosophical difficulties that it seems to be a self-contradictory and impossible concept. God itself is constrained by the laws of logic and rationality - it can't make a square circle or create an object that it can't destroy. Most people cede that ‘omnipotent’ means only the ability to do any logical thing. Indeed, in order to create anything at all then you must first be able to think rationally, in an ordered way, and therefore, to be subject to logical cause-and-effect. Therefore, omnipotent beings can't be the creators of the fundamental laws” (Crabtree).
Here, Crabtree anticipates how I will respond to his first point and is correct there: God can only do what is logically possible. This also means that He cannot have created the laws of logic either – this too, I agree with. But this does not prove God is not all powerful. It simply proves that God is not the creator of the laws of logic. The Christian has no problem with this. Some suggest that the laws of logic exist coeternally with God (a belief called Platonism) while others suggest that the laws of logic come necessarily from the mind of God, in the same way that morality finds its source in the character of God (a belief called Conceptualism). I, myself, hold to the latter. From this, we can see that Crabtree fails in his attempt to demonstrate the logical inconsistency of the omnipotence of God.
We now turn to Crabtree’s fourth argument: The moral goodness of God is logically impossible. Crabtree states: “But [God] cannot be ‘morally good’. It if it perfectly good then it always makes the most perfect choices and therefore has no free will” (Crabtree, errors original). As we already discussed in the section on free will, this argument falls flat. God chooses to behave morally not from lack of free will, but from good character.
Crabtree also states: “Also, if God's actions and wishes are automatically good by definition, then its morality is arbitrary and we ourselves have no moral reason to follow it” (Crabtree). This is simply false. God’s actions and wishes are good because what determines goodness is the closeness of something to God’s internal character. He is the standard for goodness. If Crabtree is suggesting that the decision of God to do something is what makes something morally good, I might see his point. But that is not what Christians believe is the reason something is moral. God’s choices are moral because they are in keeping with God’s character, not simply because God did them.
Crabtree also states: “If you do not accept purely logical, philosophical or theological arguments that god cannot be benevolent, then, the real-world existence of evil and suffering (of babies, etc) is also evidence that the world was not created by a perfectly good god” (Crabtree). I wrote a detailed article on this issue earlier this year that answers this question in great depth. But sufficient to say, God is perfectly good to allow suffering for the simple fact that all suffering is the result of human sin – either globally or individually. Every person chose to take part in bringing about suffering, and so because of this, there are no truly innocent victims. Even infants ratify this truth when they steal a toy from their sibling. It is for this reason that the leading atheists have by in large abandoned this argument against God’s existence except in cases where emotional manipulation is especially favorable. That is also likely why Crabtree did not give this argument much time, because the more it is expanded, the more it falls apart. Therefore, Crabtree’s argument that the moral goodness of God is logically inconsistent also falls flat.
We now turn to Crabtree’s fifth argument: The timelessness of God is logically impossible. Crabtree states: “To be an eternal being that is responsible for creating the flow of time itself, is to be immutable and unchanging. … This First Cause of the Universe sits on the outside of time, looking it, effectively omniscient. … It holds all of time and space in its hands but it is not itself subject to time. For this reason, God doesn't change. And for another reason, too: God is a perfect being. ... God doesn't consist of an eternal series of mental states: God is one mental state, unchanging, perfect and eternal. … The result is that God is immeasurably cold and emotionless; much more like an automatic process, rather than like the God that many people wish exists. It seems the very concept of God verges on being self-contradictory” (Crabtree, errors original).
This is a large quotation, but I believe it is a necessary one for us to fully grasp Crabtree’s point in his own words. Crabtree is basically saying that if God created time, He must be immutable. Additionally, He must be immutable because any change from moral perfection changes to moral imperfection. Crabtree, however, once again misunderstands the Christian doctrine of immutability. As discussed previously, Christians believe God is immutable in identity and character, not in interactions with His creation. This solves the second issue Crabtree brings up here. But what about the first? If God is outside of time and “looks into” His creation, how can God interact with his creation at all? The answer is simple: He steps into the time He has created. We see a prime example of this with the incarnation of Jesus. Jesus came and experienced time on earth, living a life as God in human form on earth for approximately three decades. That being the case, it is perfectly reasonable for God to “enter into” the time He created, in the same way a human father enters into the treehouse he created for his children. Therefore, Crabtree’s argument against the timelessness of God is based off of a misunderstanding of the Christian belief and is thus unapplicable. Therefore, Crabtree fails to demonstrate the logical impossibility of the timelessness of God.
We now turn to Crabtree’s sixth argument: The perfection of God is logically impossible. Crabtree states: “The concept of a 'perfect god' contradicts our idea of God's personality and drives. If God is perfect, then, it needs nothing. It cannot want anything, because a want denotes a lack, and a perfect being is short of nothing” (Crabtree). This is probably the easiest of Crabtree’s arguments to answer. No, “want” does not denote a “lack”. A parent wants to give their children a home, love, and acceptance. This is not due to any lacking or need on their part. In the same way, Christians believe that God does not need us, but wants us anyway. Crabtree once again fails to demonstrate his claims adequately and from this we can see there is no reason for us to believe it is inconstant for God to exist as a perfect being.
We now turn to the seventh and final of Crabtree’s arguments: The qualities of God are logically impossible. Crabtree states: “[T]he concept of a creator god is even more problematic - for this 'creator of everything' must have inherent traits that it itself did not create. It must be intelligent and rational (therefore, it can't have created intelligence nor logic)” (Crabtree). Here, Crabtree is saying, as before, that for something to behave logically, logic must first exist. The same goes for morality, desire, etc. This argument, however, assumes that these things exist distinct from God. Yet, many Christians, (including myself) believe that these things come from the character and mind of God (a belief called Conceptualism), which solves this issue entirely. God did not have to create them; nor is God subservient to them; they are a part of who God is. For the seventh out of seven times, Crabtree has failed to provide a compelling argument for the logical impossibility of God.
Thus far, I have evaluated all seven arguments that Crabtree offers and have demonstrated them all to be lacking. Therefore, based on the arguments given, we cannot affirm that this argument meets any of the standards of evidence discussed at the beginning of this paper. Premise 2 fails. Therefore, we have no rational reason to affirm the conclusion, either. Thus, the Inconsistency Argument, while valid, is not sound, and thus, not demonstratively true. Therefore, it is my judgement then that belief in God is reasonable (based on all the evidence there is for God's exsistance) and belief in God’s impossibility is not.