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On the Nature and Existence of God.

On the Nature and Existence of God. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1991. viii + 422 pp. $44.50--The aim of this book, reflected in its title, is to clarify the theist's conception of God while supporting skepticism with respect to its instantiation (pp. 2-3). The first half of this task is carried out through an investigation of atheological arguments. These are arguments that (on Gale's definition) seek to deduce a contradiction from properties traditionally ascribed to God--omnipotence, absoluteness, immutability, timelessness, benevolence, and so on--with the help of only necessarily true additional premises. Arguments of this sort, Gale claims, are "thought experiments that probe the internal consistency of the theist's conception of God, often with the result that the theist must go back to the drawing board and redesign the particular divine attribute(s) that is the focus of the argument" (p. 3). This, however, is a good result, according to Gale, for, as he attempts to show, the traditional conception entails that God is a "nonperson" and is religiously unavailable (p. 178).

In Part 2 Gale seeks to carry out the second half of his task, examining and criticizing theological arguments--arguments which, as we have earlier been led to believe, are intended to provide support for belief in the existence of the redesigned God. Here both epistemological and pragmatic arguments are considered. That is, Gale examines and criticizes not only ontological, cosmological, and religious-experience arguments for the truth of the claim that God exists, but also non-truth-directed arguments that recommend belief on the basis of its (alleged) prudential or moral benefits. Since the book's discussion is, as he admits at the outset, far from comprehensive--omitting, in particular, inductive teleological and cosmological arguments, and the inductive argument from evil--Gale's final conclusion is the limited, hypothetical one that "if the only arguments [for belief] were the epistemological and pragmatic arguments examined . . . [then] faith would lack any rational justification" (p. 387).

Gale's book has many impressive features. Its argumentation displays a high level of technical sophistication and is overall of a very high quality--rigorous, yet clear and enlivened by many amusing anecdotes and examples, and containing many new insights. There are interesting, and often telling, objections to many arguments of recent philosophers of religion such as Plantinga, Alston, Rowe, Stump, and Kretzmann. Against Plantinga's famous response to the atheological argument from evil, for example, Gale argues that if, as Plantinga claims, God is the creator of human beings and has middle knowledge (that is, if God knows what every possible created person would do in every situation in which that person could possibly perform some action), then God has a "freedom-cancelling control over created persons" (p. 153). Under such circumstances the actions and choices of created persons must result from psychological conditions that are "intentionally determined" by God, and God must cause most of their behavior (pp. 158-9). Gale also provides powerful support for a denial of the claim that unsurpassable greatness (a property central to Plantinga's ontological argument and, Gale claims, to all cosmological arguments is (is not) possibly exemplified. He appeals to "the property of being a morally unjustified eveil"--a "property that (i) intuitively seems more likely to admit of the possibility of instantiation than does having unsurpassable greatness and (ii) is strongly incompatible with it in that if either property is instantiated in any possible world, the other is instantiated in none" (pp. 227-8). What Gale has to say on these topics is of great interest, and potentially of great importance for contemporary philosophy of religion. Moreover, in making his points against traditional theism, Gale is able to shed light on a number of perennial philosophical problems, for example, problems of time, actuality, and the nature of persons. Thus his book will be of interest to writers in other fields as well.

Gale's discussion, however, also has its flaws. I will mention one of them. His aim in the second part of the book is, ostensibly, to discuss a reconstructed theism. The theological arguments he considers, however, are often arguments presupposing the unreconstructed concept of God. Now the arguments presupposing this unreconstructed concept (namely, ontological and cosmological arguments) are among the most philosophically interesting of theological arguments; and so any discussion devoted simply to examining "some interesting atheological and theological arguments" will no doubt consider them. Any discussion seeking to show that theism lacks support, however, even if only deductive support, must surely consider the strongest form of theism: theism as most charitably construed. Gale apparently starts out with this charitable intention, but ends up saddling the theist with assumptions that, on his view, render him vulnerable to atheological arguments, even after having shown that these assumptions need not be made. He discusses few theological arguments that do not make these assumptions. Structural problems of this sort suggest to me that the book is perhaps best read for its detailed discussion of particular arguments. Fortunately, this detailed discussion is full of insights and helpful analyses, and is well worth the price of the book.
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Author:Schellenberg, J.L.
Publication:The Review of Metaphysics
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Dec 1, 1992
Previous Article:The Passage of Nature.
Next Article:Logique, vol. 1, methodes pour l'informatique fondamentale.

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