Monday, February 22, 2010

Magic Love Bean Derangement Syndrome

What if I told you that without magic love beans -- available exclusively through authorized dealers -- the love you feel for your child, spouse, parent, pet, paramour, robotic sex aid, robotic pet paramour, etc., is hopelessly deficient? You might smack me, or you might wonder how I can make blanket declarations about the quality of your relationships from the comfort of this armchair, or you might feel bound to ask how one acquires these magic love beans. Alex Pruss seems to favor the latter, though he implicitly denies the power of magic love beans by promoting an alternative -- god:

The following argument is valid. The only question is whether the premises are true.

1. (Premise) A failure to see someone one loves as created by a good God is a defect (culpable or not) in that love.
2. (Premise) A failure to see people as they are not is not a defect in love for them.
3. (Premise) There is an atheist, x, who loves someone, y, and does not see y as created by a good God.
4. x suffers from a failure of love in not believing y to be a creature of a good God. (1 and 3)
5. If there is no God, then no one is created by a good God. (Tautology)
6. If there is no God, then x does not suffer from a failure of love in not loving y as created by God. (2 and 5)
7. There is a God. (4 and 6)
I'm a little confused by Pruss's argument as given, maybe more than a little -- I believe I am correct to say he is a Christian who believes in a creator-god who (a) is good and (b) creates all people. If that's so, what is the alternative, for Pruss, to thinking one's child comes from that creator? Do Christians believe that some kids come from magic love beans rather than from Jesus's shop? I ask because I was totally kidding about those -- they don't even exist except, perhaps, as a species of fraud and/or a hilarious point of departure for a crashingly dull blog post.

I speak for atheists -- safely, I think -- in saying this is not a dilemma because we don't believe the people we love came from a loving creator. Atheists don't believe in creators, and this precludes loving creators, creators who fashion people out of their own image, creators who wear unitards on the weekends, and any sort of creator who is a sine qua non of defect-free love.

I can see the reasoning by which Pruss would regard god-free love as defective; it seems to be an example of theism's wider claim that human conception of the world is hopelessly incomplete, defective, and cracked without god. For believers, god is relevant to everything.

For atheists, god is irrelevant to everything -- exactly as relevant as magic love beans, and in the same way. Namely, it's a tedious pitch about which its boosters tend to drone. Once in a while, the enthusiasm is such that it leaves others to wonder if their perception of the world is deeply skewed -- call it magic love bean derangement syndrome. After all, everyone has to make a living, and this frequently requires some degree of role-playing, but people who who can't find a way to leave the pitch at the office seem downright warped to the rest of us.

There are no magic love beans and there is no god. To whatever extent love exists, and in whatever quantity or quality, it does not depend on imaginary entities.


Sheldon said...

Seems like theists never tire of trying to come up with ways that atheists are simply deficient human beings simply because we doubt the existence of this ambiguous entity called "God".

Alexander R Pruss said...

I made no claim that the argument will be convincing to all or even many atheists. The only claim I made is that (a) the argument is valid, i.e., the conclusion follows from the premises, and that (b) to me premises (1)-(2) appear clearly true.

I expect that to many atheists, (1) appears false.

Does (1) appear false to all atheists? I am not so sure. Imagine Joe loves Sally. Now, Sally is a rather unlovable character--she is duplicitous, vapid, stupid, humorless, greedy and ugly. But Joe, who is a theist, loves her, in large part because he sees Sally as a creature of God. Now, Joe becomes an atheist. He continues to love Sally, though no longer as a creature of God. But he might reflect in this way: there is so little left to love about Sally once one has taken the creature-of-God part out that his love has become quite deficient. In that case, Joe might well accept (1) at least in the special case of his love for Sally (and all that the argument needs is (1) in one special case).

Would Joe be inconsistent in accepting (1)? Sure! But people are inconsistent. Moreover, when this inconsistency is the product of earlier, sounder views, some of which are left after shifts in belief, there is nothing wrong with basing beliefs on one of the inconsistent bits.

(Here I am drawing on Dan Johnson's remarks on the cosmological and ontological arguments, I think in the January 2009 issue of Faith and Philosophy.)

Dale said...

AP, you're right. I was (over)reaching for the point at which your argument has some 'bite' -- that is, would this set an atheist back? Well no, as you acknowledge. Hence my other question as to how and whether the argument applies to Christians -- what alternative do you have in mind to thinking every human being bears the image of a loving god.

I'm wondering if you have in mind Christians who don't think god has anything to do with love, or don't think the Christian god created all people, or perhaps didn't create all people in his loving image (made a few low-grade knock-offs for some reason), or what have you. I would find that strange, but then it's a varied and surprising world out there.

As to your conjecture about Sally and Joe, I don't think Joe would face any difficulty. I suppose some de-converts would go off a cliff and see other human beings as mere bags of meat -- it's a varied and surprising world out there -- but in my experience, atheists do experience a 'light' or a 'spark' that sets off human beings from mere bags of meat. Paul Woodruff wrote a nice little book on the idea of reverence that traces the idea to pagan, mostly Greek and Chinese, sources. Much of what they're yammering about in Yoga 'practice,' among a thousand other non-Christian contexts, is on the theme of seeing the 'me' in 'you' and the 'you' in 'me.'

Not only is it possible, but it's abundantly common, for people to regard other people as worthy of reverence, above and beyond any enumeration of individual traits, and to do so outside a Judeo-Christian frame, or indeed any recognizably theistic frame.

Atheists may or may not have a water-tight accounting of this reverence -- its ultimate sources, its grounds, whatever -- but so it goes. The world is difficult to grasp in many ways. So it goes, and such is life. Labeling the mystery 'god' or declaring 'god made it that way' (and variants) is not an answer -- or to be clear, seeing the poverty of that answer is, roughly, what defines atheism.


Dale said...

Sheldon, you've spawned a post. Post-spawner!