The best of all possible worlds?

The Thinker by Rodin

Is atheism irrational? Gary Gutting interviews Alvin Plantinga, an emeritus professor of philosophy at America's University of Notre Dame, and former president of both the Society of Christian Philosophers and the American Philosophical Association.

- By Gary Gutting, The New York Times

A.P.: The so-called 'problem of evil' would presumably be the strongest (and maybe the only) evidence against theism. It does indeed have some strength; it makes sense to think that the probability of theism, given the existence of all the suffering and evil our world contains, is fairly low.

But of course there are also arguments for theism... So the atheist would have to try to synthesize and balance the probabilities.

This isn't at all easy to do, but it's pretty obvious that the result wouldn't anywhere nearly support straight-out atheism as opposed to agnosticism. [...]

Belief in God is grounded in experience, or in the sensus divinitatis, John Calvin's term for an inborn inclination to form beliefs about God...

Nevertheless, I think there are a large number — maybe a couple of dozen — of pretty good theistic arguments... the whole bunch taken together, is about as strong as philosophical arguments ordinarily get.

G.G.: Could you give an example...?

AP: One presently rather popular argument: fine-tuning. Scientists tell us that there are many properties our universe displays such that if they were even slightly different from what they are in fact, life, or at least our kind of life, would not be possible. The universe seems to be fine-tuned for life.

For example, if the force of the Big Bang had been different by one part in 10 to the 60th, life of our sort would not have been possible.

The same goes for the ratio of the gravitational force to the force driving the expansion of the universe... In fact the universe seems to be fine-tuned, not just for life, but for intelligent life.

This fine-tuning is vastly more likely given theism than given atheism.

G.G.: But [doesn't that still] fall far short of what at least Christian theism asserts, namely the existence of an all-perfect God? Since the world isn't perfect, why would we need a perfect being to explain the world or any feature of it?

A.P.: I suppose your thinking is that it is suffering and sin that make this world less than perfect. But then your question makes sense only if the best possible worlds contain no sin or suffering.

And is that true?

Maybe the best worlds contain free creatures some of whom sometimes do what is wrong...

Think about it: The first being of the universe, perfect in goodness, power and knowledge, creates free creatures. These free creatures turn their backs on him, rebel against him and get involved in sin and evil.
Rather than treat them as some ancient potentate might — e.g., having them boiled in oil — God responds by sending his son into the world to suffer and die so that human beings might once more be in a right relationship to God....

I'd say a world in which this story is true would be a truly magnificent possible world.

Read full interview: Is atheism irrational? (The New York Times)

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