Sunday, 24 July 2016

God As Utility Monster

In Theological Zombies, I suggested that in order to maximise the number of people who freely choose to know and love it, a god needs only to create a world for each individual that is specially tailored such that the conditions necessary for that individual to freely choose to know and love god are satisfied.  Assuming anything other than an evil god, it is reasonable to conclude that the god would not create an individual that it knows would never choose to know and love it - because this is knowingly creating something that would suffer for eternity (the bunny problem).  So all individuals created, if the circumstances were right, could freely choose to know and love the creator god.  Being unlimited in power, time and materials, the god would therefore not put individuals into universes in which the conditions are not conducive to salvation.  This implies that anyone in our universe who is not going to be saved can't be real and must therefore be a theological zombie.  (I took a lot longer to get to the point in the linked article.)

At the end I listed some possible routes for a theist or apologist to take with respect to the argument, one of which was to reject the notion of maximal excellence (or maximal greatness, as it is sometimes termed).  Another option, that I didn't list was along the lines of Kevin Scharp's divine psychology objection.  The theist could state with some confidence that we have no idea as to what a god might want and what a god might choose to do when given the option to save one individual at the expense of another.

This is true enough.  However, once this floodgate is opened, the theist has lost the right to claim anything about what god thinks, or wants, or will do.  The power of many "logical" arguments for the existence of god are founded on assumptions regarding what god might do, might have done and how it might have preferred to do it.

Another problem is linked to the utility monster idea.  This is originally an objection to utilitarian ethics, the squishy idea of maximising happiness or well-being.  At an extreme, if Trevor got 100 units of pleasure from killing Maude, at the expense of 50 units of pleasure lost from Maude and her family, then Maude should let Trevor kill her and thus maximise happiness.  It doesn't have to be that extreme though.  If we both like chocolate, but I like chocolate twice as much as you, then I should get more of it than you, at least until your unhappiness outweighs my extra happiness (or I have eaten all the chocolate).

In a sense, the god of the bible could be thought of as the ultimate utility monster.  If that god wants anything, to even the slightest extent, then by its nature, that want becomes a command.  If something would be even in the slightest bit pleasing to that god, that something would be mandatory.

Consider, a being like this cannot forget and is eternal.  So anything that is even vaguely pleasurable will, in the mind of that being, exist positively, forever.  For us, however, anything that is even ecstatically pleasurable that we might experience will fade in our memories and eventually die with us.

In effect, that would make us ethical slaves to merest wishes of such a god.

At least it would if we were utilitarians.


And if the god in question existed.