A fun quiz
in The Philosophers' Magazine
which attempts to determines the consistency of the player's attitudes to God. I came through relatively unscathed, despite taking a hit on the question of omnipotence and biting the bullet on the question of proof. However, being a disputatious philosopher, I maintain that neither of these is really an example of inconsistency.
On the question of omnipotence, my view is more nuanced than the quiz allows. Accepting that anything called God can do impossible things means, in my view, accepting that God can do the contingently impossible, but not do the necessarily impossible. As Aquinas says somewhere, it should not be said that there are things that God cannot do but rather that there are things that cannot be done. Thus, it is not reasonable to expect God to be able to create a square circle because the impossibility of such a thing stems not from a limit on God, but the internal incoherency of the notion being expressed.
On the question of proof, I'll bite the bullet and admit that demanding strong proof for the existence of God may open me to accusations of inconsistency. But again, I'd argue that this is only because my view is more nuanced than is allowed for by the quiz. I'd argue that any proof for the existence of God should be as rigourous as any other scientific proof. I'm not sure, on balance, that I'd agree that a proof should be irrefutable — as nothing ever really is — but I'd argue a la Hume, that if a claim makes extraordinary demands then it requires extraordinary evidence.
Thus it is quite reasonable to consider evolutionary theory a settled issue (but not an irrefutable one!). There is a great deal of fossil evidence for the theory. We can draw upon it to make predictions in the form of both lab experiments and retrospective predictions based on where in the fossil record we might expect particular forms to appear. It explains particular quirks of biology which only make sense in the light of evolution. So although the claims made by the theory are relatively strong, it fulfills all the requirements of a testable scientific hypothesis, and is supported by the facts.
However the claims about God are stronger than those made for evolution, touching as they do on almost ever aspect of existence. But the evidence is largely equivocal, depending on the subject and the circumstantial, and the predictions the idea makes are weak and difficult to test. So it does not seem unreasonable to expect an idea that makes grand claims and offers little evidence should, given current levels of knowledge about the world, be subject to a greater degree of scrutiny than an idea that has strong foundations and that has repeatedly stood up to challenges.
It is clear, then, that two ideas are not equal and therefore it is false to impose an equal burden of proof on each. Which means that although I've bitten the bullet and accepted that there might be an inconsistency, I think there are reasonable grounds to believe that I might be able to catch the shot in my teeth...