Imagine for a second that there is no God. Imagine God is dead. What would we expect our world to look like if God did not exist? Based on this idea a brilliant, young Irish economist by the name of Robert Nielsen has presented an interesting, but ultimately unpersuasive case in his article World Without God. Nielsen states that this argument is at the foundation of his atheism. I hope to test his case below.
I could say many things about Nielsen’s article, but I would like to focus exclusively on his main argument which is as follows¹:
1. a. If God existed & controlled the world, then our world would exhibit features A.
b. If God existed & controlled the world, then our world would not exhibit features B.
2. a. Our world does not exhibit features A.
b. Our world does exhibit features B
Nielsen defends premises 1 and 2 as follows: If God controls our world then we would expect our world to exhibit certain features A. These features include those of a perfect world. He argues, “its fair to assume that it would be perfect (assuming God can do anything and loves us).” A perfect world is that without hunger, without fear, without diseases or disasters. In short it would be the world without pain and suffering. This is not enough for Nielsen. God must also be self-evident, not hidden from His creatures, thus creating no possibility of religious confusion. Our world needs to be a paradise, or something close.
Our world, if it is not the case God exists and control it, according to Nielsen, exhibits features B: It is a world that he apparently believes is without an overarching plan. It is a world of pure cosmic chance. It is a world of struggle to overcome and survive natural and moral disasters. It is a world without external intervention to prevent either mass killing nor gratuitous evils. It is the world without a being above to prevent widespread poverty. Our world is not a paradise.
From (1) and (2), Nielsen’s deduced:
3. Therefore, it is not the case that God exists & controls the world.
I find Nielsen’s case unpersuasive and unsound because premise 1 (a & b) is not only taken as an assumption without any proper basis but not necessarily true. Nielsen’s core assumption, viz., “If there was a world controlled by a God, its fair to assume that it would be perfect (assuming God can do anything and loves us)”, must not only be true but necessarily true for his case to be sound. The problem is that the premise is easily disputable and must be taken as a prima facie assumption. Nielsen only assumes, and offers no justification or rationalization to substantiate his first premise that if God is omnipotent and loves humanity that God therefore would have to construct a perfect world.
This assumption is not necessarily true. It is possible to have (i) a world W created and controlled by an omnipotent and loving God where (ii) W is not a perfect world. If this is possible then Nielsen’s argument fails. Consider the following just-so Christian saga² I used in my article On Behalf of Demea: Hume’s Problem of Evil:
All things were created by benevolent and omnipotent God. In the whole creation God made higher sentient creatures to exemplify His essential morally perfect character. These beings were created to first and foremost love, adore and serve their Maker, and love and serve each other. For there to be a genuine love, these being were endowed with freedom of will which is a necessary condition for true acts of loving, adoration and service.
Some of these sentient creatures misused their freedom of will in choosing not to exemplify their Makers moral perfect character. As a consequence, pain and suffering entered into the good things that God had created.
God is both able and willing to bring an end to pain and suffering at any given moment. The fact that the pain and suffering exists is because God has morally sufficient reason(s) to allow it for a specific duration of time. The time is coming where God will put an end to past and present instance of pain and suffering.
In this just-so Christian saga we have both (i) and (ii). Thus it is not the case, contrary to Nielsen, that “[i]f there was a world controlled by a God, its fair to assume that it would be perfect”. If this is what is at Nielsen’s core reasons for being an atheist, then my best friend’s atheism is not standing on solid ground as he undoubtedly believes it is, unless he present a positive case to show that his assumption is justified.
1. Nielsen’s argument as it is is invalid because the world exhibiting features B does not necessary means a world without God. It could be a world similar but opposite to A, namely a world which God did not control it. This is the position of deists and Epicureans. Thus features B does not necessarily lead to atheism.
2. Another just-so story could be a modified Hindus’ saga: An Omnipotent and loving God created a world in which rewards, crime and punishment unfolds itself in a spiral-like karma and reincarnation of its creatures. Evil occurs to a person P in present life as the consequence of wrong actions by P in present or past life. This saga also includes (i) and (ii). See Does Karma & Reincarnation Solve The Problem of Evil?
Thank you Travis Wakeman for editing this post.