Post-mortem Response and Eulogy for Oscar

In my last response to SomeMusician (Oscar), I left the door open for a more direct post that addressed Oscar’s assault on the concept of an eternal life as my initial one instead attempted to redirect the conversation.  Oscar, in the comments of my prior post, has requested I do just that.  And now that he is gone, I feel obligated to fulfill his last wish before, and pardon the pun, rigor-mortis sets in.

But first, a few words need to be written for such a somber occasion, though I confess, I’m not eloquent for this sort of thing, although this blog might suggest otherwise.  I feel awkward and unsure of how I should I proceed.  I fear I might come off like this:

The Eugoogly

With my anxieties flushed out, here goes nothing.

It saddens me to read of your indefinite departure from this medium, Oscar.  I indeed hope you will come back.  I’ve enjoyed our brief exchanges together discussing the “big questions” of life.  You were always polite, thoughtful and articulate.  I also became fond of your voice in your writing early on when I read your posts.  You’re a pretty polished, writer, Oscar, and that is a skill I hold in lofty regard.  Although it sucks—to put it bluntly—that you’re leaving, I wish you the best of luck on whatever endeavor you choose to pursue, whether it be music, philosophy, vlogging on YouTube or blogging either on this site or Tuesday Afternoon.  Overall, it has been a pleasure.  If you ever do return, however, you will be welcomed back with open arms by multiple people, myself included.  Until that fateful day, though, you will be sorely missed, Oscar.  =(

The Response

Now that the “nice words” have been written and due to the fact funerals are said to be for the living, I guess I can dance and defecate on your decaying corpse-of-a-post, Oscar, you heathen, nihilist, amoral, God-hating, person-who-thinks-when-you-die-you’re-just- a-banquet-for-maggots…but that wouldn’t be too Christian of me, now would it?

Hyperbole aside, Oscar begins his post by acknowledging that under metaphysical naturalism, life has no supreme purpose, a statement I would whole-heartedly agree with.  He continues and writes that in spite of this, our life still can have meaning.  I agree in a limited sense.  Life can be meaningful subjectively, but beyond the value we impose on our day-to-day affairs, it still is cosmically meaningless given naturalism.  And this isn’t an unpopular implication of the naturalist’s worldview among atheist intellectuals.

Interestingly enough, Oscar mentions atheist philosopher Thomas Nagel at the start of his next paragraph.  Now, I haven’t had the honor of reading Nagel, hence I’ll have to take Oscar’s summary of his view as sufficiently accurate.

“In the naturalistic world view of death, according to Nagel, life is good and death is bad [paraphrasing]. However, this conception of life and death fails if we suppose an eternal life”

This conception of life and death fails instead for another reason.  Despite the fact Oscar’s description of Nagel’s view seems contradictory to the quote in the video—I will give him the benefit of the doubt—I reject Nagel’s conclusion that whatever promotes life/survival is “good” and whatever relegates toward death is “bad.”  Granted, I don’t know the exact reasoning justifying Nagel’s claim here (I would assume some empirical methodology as survivability seems to be observable).  But I fail to see how this translates into a prescriptive “good” or “bad.”

Neither Nagel nor Oscar nor any atheist, to the extent of my knowledge, has been able to successfully pull off this meta-ethical trick.  Scottish philosopher David Hume, who was as atheist as they come, mind you, recognized the futility in such an endeavor with his famous “you can’t derive an ought from an is” spiel.  Meta-ethical terms such as “good” or “bad” are oughts.  They’re normative and prescriptive in nature and not descriptive like an is.  Nagel’s survival, which is a descriptive is, defined as the “good” really misses the point of the problem and is guilty of attempting to “derive an ought from an is.”

So this assertion, as far as I can discern, of Nagel and Oscar here is false.  I admit life/survival and death appear to be closely related to what is “good” and what is “bad,” but not so close where they can used interchangeably.  Sorry for being pedantic about this, however, I feel in all fairness this fallacy of equivocation must be pointed out.

Moving on, the remainder of Oscar’s post is spent arguing how eternal life on a theist’s worldview is actually meaningless.  He writes,

“Imagine your favorite sporting event. For whatever allotted amount of time, this sport has meaning and it enthralls the spectator. It has the capacity to lift you from euphoric joy to crushing despair within a matter of moments. Now imagine if this sporting event – one game, one match – were to last forever. Would you be as interested? Would you care about the sport? This never-ending game would be pointless to play, let alone watch. As is the case with the game, so would be the case with an eternal life. Every second of the eternal life would be ever-increasing the profundity of the inanity that has become one’s existence, and thus, we would be doomed to experience an infinite amount of inanity. A crushingly depressing notion. Life would become absurd, purposeless.”

Well, first of all, soccer is my favorite sport to watch, and due to the fact it’s criminally under-broadcasted here in the United States, a perpetual soccer game sounds very enticing to me.  But I think I feel my intellectual honesty spanking my smart-ass, so I guess I have to give you a more satisfying rebuttal, huh?

In an intriguing move, Oscar’s strategy here is susceptible to a criticism levied against theism.  Hume, I believe, is justified here again.  I think—it’s been a while since I’ve read his Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion, so I might be off herebut Hume argues theists are guilty of anthropomorphizing God.  In other words, (Joan Osborne’s actually) we view God as if he is like one of us, “just a slob like one of us, a stranger on the bus, trying to make his way home,” but by definition, he isn’t.

Joan Osborne performing. Maybe she's anthropomorphizing here and singing "One of Us!"

See, Oscar is viewing eternal life as if it’s subject to time and framing it in a never-ending day.  Yet, eternity isn’t within time; it’s to be outside of it.  Hence, to understand something outside the realm of human temporal experience by human temporal experience is understandable, yet naive.  Oscar’s comparing apples with oranges here, and philosophically speaking, he’s committing a category error.  Check the n/a box for his argument from analogy, a style of argument whose strength is measured in its similarity to what it’s comparing, and in this case, it not even being applicable…well, is really missing the mark.

Oscar’s last argument against theism is a thrust against God’s coherence.  It’s purported God exists eternally, and Oscar reasoned previously that such an existence is meaningless.  Therefore, by definition, God existing is absurd.

“Can one imagine a “life” that is left contemplating the implications that nothing will ever be able to equal Your glory? Or that You will never be granted the amount of praise that You are so righteously deserved of? That for all eternity you will forever be, and worse still, that You would be incapable of ceasing to be? The absurd notion of forever being, and worse yet, not being able to do anything about it, is enough to render one depressingly impotent.While this may seem disconcerting to the theist, these are indeed the implications of an eternal life. Nothing will matter.”

I’m a theist, and I don’t find this charge alarming whatsoever.  Frankly, I’m more puzzled.  Theists understand God to be perfect, which includes eternal existence, but I don’t see the faintest reason why God would even reflect on these introspective insecurities that Oscar erroneously seems to think follows from always being.  They logically don’t.  Nothing of this sort is entailed in eternal existence.  As perfect, God doesn’t have psychological issues similar to that of a teenager that needs to see some cosmic shrink about them every Thursday afternoon just because he’s always been.  The only way I see how Oscar came to this conclusion is by anthropomorphizing again.  That, God, due to the fact he’s been around forever, has had all the time in the universe to consider these things, while under theism, God existed without time.  It seems entirely evident for the theist to flat-out deny these implications, and he or she won’t even be late for dinner.  So, disconcerting?  Hardly.

Last Words

I want to close by writing I appreciate your post, Oscar, but I think the issues you brought up aren’t so damning to theism as you thought.  But with that written, I wish you all the best in life.  I do sincerely hope you will return to SomeMusician sooner rather than later.  Forgive me, but I can’t help to hope you share in my belief in the possibility of a resurrection after a blogging death.

Response/Eugoogly over,

Modus Pownens

Can An Atheist Raise a Stone Paradox So Paradoxical It’s Incoherent?

The answer to the above headlined question is yes.  It happens all the time unfortunately.  I wanted to address and crack the old stone paradox once and for all to show how silly of a question it is.

For those who don’t know, the stone paradox is usually phrased if God is all-powerful, then can he create a stone so heavy that he can’t lift it?  I’m sure you’ve heard it or one of its variations sometime or another in your life.

There are different routes the theist can take to defuse to such a “dilemma.”  Probably, one of the best answers I’ve heard of comes from philosopher J.P. Moreland.  He responds with no, but not because of a deficiency God has.  Moreland argues the problem is with the stone and its nature, and not with God’s.  To call for an infinite rock, as the stone paradox does, is a contradiction in terms.  It’s what’s known as a category error, which is to erroneously classify one sort of thing as another.  Rocks, boulders, stones, gravel, diamonds, minerals, Geodude, are all contingent, finite objects.  This is true of them by their definition.  They must have boundaries out of logical necessity.  A finite stone can’t be infinite.  Such a thing is meaningless and does not exist.  Hence, there is no inconsistency in theism.

God: unable to create or lift an infinite Geodude or any of its heavier evolutions since...ever.

The heart of the question essentially deals with defining God’s omnipotence and deciding on how it’s applied.  Being all-powerful does not entail being able to do anything.  There are plenty of things the theist is more than willing to concede that God can’t do.  One of them is ability to do the logically impossible. Concepts that defy the laws of logic like square circles or married bachelors, or in this case, stones of infinite mass are not only meaningless, but do not exist.  To simply ask if someone can do the logically impossible is non-sensical.

Also entailed under God’s omnipotence is the inability to do what’s against his fundamental nature.  This is a subset of what’s logically possible.  Therefore, testing God’s omnipotence by asking if he can die or be deceived are again logically incoherent.  It’s no issue for the theist to concede God’s inability to do either.  God, by definition, is all-good, eternal and sovereign.  If God was to lie, it would violate his omnibenevolence.  Therefore, he can’t perform it without compromising one of his essential properties.  Does this make him anything less than God?  No, of course not.  Do we say a square is less of itself because it can’t be circular?  Honestly, it doesn’t analytically follow then to even pose such queries about his nature as they’ve already been answered.  Moreover, if God were able to lie or die, it would actually be a proof of imperfection.  If we hold to St. Anselm’s definition of God being the greatest conceivable being possible, then he must not be able to die or lie because a perfect being should not be defective in any way.  The abilities to lie or die are deficiencies, and the ability to do them is not a perfection.

The stone paradox is guilty of the same tautological crime.  It could be rephrased can God create a being greater than himself.  The answer is clearly no.  If God were able to do so, then he would not be God and nor would the created being.  Not to be pedantic, but by definition God is uncreated, and once again to make such a claim is nonsense.

In summary, God’s omnipotence is not raw creative power or energy.  It’s more accurately defined as the ability to do whatever it is logically possible for God to do.  Therefore, the answer is no.  God can’t create a stone so big that he can’t lift it.  Basically, when the atheist asks this species of questions, it’s the equivalent of them opening his or her mouth and uttering, “fleegle-flaggle-floogle-flum.”

I would like to leave you with another video from a theist on YouTube.  He addresses and defeats the same problem.


Modus Pownens