Thursday, 31 January 2019

On Being a Theological Zombie


I have written about Theological Zombies a few times now, including the original eponymous article, The Logic of Theological Zombies, The How Many Problem and most recently Theological Zombies to the Rescue!  I also mentioned them in God as Utility Monster.  And that’s in addition to discussing them at the Reasonably Fallacious Forums.

I note that in The Logic of Theological Zombies, I cut straight to the chase and showed that consideration of such zombies can be used to argue that christianity is false.  I much assumed that people understand what I mean by the term “Theological Zombie”, possibly relying too much on the assumption that people will understand the concept as being akin to the concept of the “Philosophical Zombie” (without even mentioning the term “Philosophical Zombie”).  Finally, I’ve come to realise that there might be another possible form of “Theological Zombie” to that which I was originally considering.

Let’s quickly look at the reasoning behind Theological Zombies.  If god is all-powerful, all-knowing and all-good and wants to save souls, then saving souls is a good thing.  It’s a sufficiently good thing to justify creating souls in the first place.  There are plenty of indications in theism that not having your soul saved is a bad thing.

Consider for a moment a soul that is apparently not going to be saved in this universe.  Given its omniscience, the god would have known, right from the moment of creation that this soul was not going to be saved.  The soul was going to go through the pain and suffering of existence, which according to various arguments is supposed to be a formative experience, without getting the payoff of salvation.  But the god set up the universe that way anyway, despite having options such as not creating any souls at all or creating the universe in a slightly different way – either so that that soul does not come into existence, or so that when that soul comes into existence the conditions are right for it to be saved.

It’s latter option, combined with the god’s omnipotence and omniscience that leads to Theological Zombies.  Omnipotence means that the god is not limited to the creation of a single universe, or the creation of each universe in a particular way, while omniscience allows it to know what conditions are right for each soul to be saved.  Then all that is required is creation of the conditions that are conducive for salvation of each possible soul.  If that means a multitude of universes tailored to small groups of souls, or even a single soul, then so be it – that’s not a big deal for an omnipotent god.

The only real beings in such a universe are those who are hosting souls that are going to be saved by such a universe, making all the same decisions, taking all the same actions as they would if the god established the universe and populated entirely with souled beings.  However, some of those souls would not be saved and others could be saved in a better universe.  The idea here is that the universe that a soul finds itself in is the best of all possible universes consistent with being saved.  A saved soul, however, will therefore find itself surrounded by Theological Zombies – beings that are indistinguishable from souled beings, but are empty.  They don’t carry out a script per se but rather do what the god can see would happen if it created a universe full of souled beings and the target soul was saved.

When I first considered this, I thought of the Theological Zombies as being akin to Philosophical Zombies, as per Wikipedia:

A philosophical zombie or p-zombie in the philosophy of mind and perception is a hypothetical being that from the outside is indistinguishable from a normal human being but lacks conscious experience, qualia, or sentience. For example, if a philosophical zombie was poked with a sharp object it would not feel any pain sensation, yet could behave exactly as if it does feel pain (it may say "ouch", recoil from the stimulus, and say that it is feeling pain).

I called them Theological Zombies to distinguish them only in intent, in that a god was creating what are effectively p-zombies to minimise suffering while allowing a difficult soul to be saved – because that soul could not be saved without an otherwise unacceptable level of pain and suffering.  Note that with a p-zombie there is nothing that it is like to be a p-zombie – because there is no there there, a p-zombie is not consciously aware of being.  This would not necessarily be the case for Theological Zombies.  A Theological Zombie could be precisely what a materialist atheist thinks herself to be, an emergent property of matter without a soul (whatever that actually is).

If you think about it deeply enough, we as materialist atheists consider ourselves to be bits of stuff reacting to other bits of stuff, not only in regard to things that are not our bodies, but also within our bodies.  Pain and suffering are reactions in the stuff that make up our brains to stuff in other parts of our bodies (or other parts of our brains, in the case of a headache).  From this perspective, it could be said that there is no “I” that is experiencing pain and suffering.  It’s possible therefore, to thread the needle and have a universe in which pain and suffering is some sense real, since there could entirely material beings like myself with no “soul” who can be under the impression that they are experiencing pain and suffering but who, without an “I” to actually have that experience, don’t really suffer.  The small number of souled beings in this universe would not therefore find themselves in the situation of being surrounded by automatons, but rather by effective atheists (even if some of them are working under the misapprehension that they are believers and are going to be saved, which maybe they sort of are, but not by virtue of their experiences in this universe).

There remains the issue of this universe being rather awful.  A maximally excellent being type of god could do better.  The argument here is that such a god does do better and has done better with as perfect a universe that can exist with humans in it and perhaps the vast majority of us qualified for salvation in it (and there were only a relatively small number of Theological Zombies, being those who could not be saved under the circumstances of near perfection).  Then god created increasingly worse universes with small numbers of souled beings and the vast majority being Theological zombies.  This universe, with its natural disasters, predators and parasites, with an almost constant state of war, poverty and widespread crime, this is still the sort of universe that is best, with the least pain and suffering commensurate with whoever the souled beings are in it.

This is actually quite consistent with my observations of some believers, they do appear to be among the worst of people and some of them surely would be, having a nature that would make it impossible for them to be saved in a better universe.  You hear some apologists on the topic of morality, claiming that if their god did not exist, they’d have no compunction about being immoral (or words to that effect) and you realise that these are truly scary people.  A gentler world is not for them.

Note that I am not saying that the Theological Zombie argument needs to have materialist zombies, rather than p-zombies.  I’m just addressing the possibility.  Either way, the people who need this universe to be saved remain true scumbags.

Monday, 28 January 2019

Theological Zombies to the Rescue!


I was listening to Skydive Phil’s debate with Randal Rauser recently and it occurred to me that I have a solution to the Problem of Evil.

I went part of the way in Theological Zombies already, but in that I was mostly aiming at the problem associated with the absence of compossibility, or to put it less abstrusely, the problem of a supposedly good, all-knowing, all-powerful god creating this universe in which many of the sentient beings with whom god apparently wants to have a loving relationship (being saved) will end up being damned (being sent to hell, being extinguished or merely being set apart depending on the type of god).

Phil and Randal were talking specifically about the suffering of animals and how that is inconsistent with the existence of a tri-omni god.  They danced around some of the standard defences, that animals are simply fleshy automatons (Descartes’ solution) or that animals don’t feel pain as we do (WLC’s solution) or that demons might be to blame (Plantinga’s silly argument, but only as a possible defeater raised in order to avoid a logical problem) or that the suffering of animals is somehow necessary to achieve a greater good (as I recall Randal tended to lean this way).

Now, in the Theological Zombies argument I present a way in which everyone can be saved.  The fact that there are worlds in which you may be saved but others are cannot is resolved by observing that god is not limited to creating one single universe.  As many universes as are needed can be created and largely populated with zombies that act precisely like other people would in the same circumstances, people who would either be saved in a universe with less suffering or who need a universe with even more suffering in it to be saved.  Therefore, the only beings in this universe who are not zombies are those for whom salvation is compossible with all the other real, non-zombie inhabitants.

If that means that god needs to create billions and billions of universes, that’s ok, because god is not limited in power, or by time, or anything (except perhaps logic).  But it does mean that anyone in this particular universe who is real and is being saved in it is a bit of a scumbag by virtue of it not being possible to be saved in any universe with less pain and suffering in it.

While I was specifically focusing on how Theological Zombies could avoid the problem with consigning so many people to hell or whatever, I can see now that the same argument applies to animals.  For those humans being saved in this universe, it is not necessary that real animals need to suffer.  All that is needed is for there to be theological zombie animals which act precisely as a real animal would if it were to suffer.  Which makes the people who are being saved in this universe even worse scumbags since they need those animals to suffer in order to be saved.

The positive thing though is that for the relatively low cost of accepting that pretty much nothing in this universe is actually real, and that you are a total scumbag who needs innocent animals to suffer, you can believe in whatever god you like and avoid the Problem of Evil altogether.

Plantinga, if he wants, is welcome to use this as one of his defeaters – at least it’s a lot less silly than pain and suffering demons.