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Part Seven of an Imaginary Conversation between Aristotle and Nietzsche Part Seven of an Imaginary Conversation between Aristotle and Nietzsche
by Dr. Emanuel Paparella
2013-05-02 11:37:45
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Nietzsche: Good morning Professor Aristotle. May I also join you in the peripatetic conversation on the existence of God?

Aristotle: yes, by all means. You are the one who sent a madman around proclaiming in the middle of the night that God is dead and eventually went mad himself?

N: precisely, but I’ll withhold comment on the reasons I went mad or whether or not I actually did go mad.

A: suit yourself Dr. Nietzsche but now tell us what’s on your mind.

N: I’d like to simply point out that there is a reasoning line which shows that in fact God does not exist, and that is independent from whether I personally believe in a personal God.

A: and what is this line of reasoning?

N: well it is rather simple. It begins with the premise of what God is supposed to be like, how it is conceived by most mainstream religions.

A: ah, this sounds like the philosopher’s god as conceived by human rationality; something similar to my conception of the First Mover already discussed elsewhere; an idea that can easily become an idol to be worshipped or substituted with an ideology.

N: true enough professor but the point I wish to make is that all those religions who have only one God conceive of him as the Supreme Being, the non plus ultra, perfect in every way in complete knowledge of past, present and future.

A: right, I did not use this word but I believe the word used for this complete knowledge is omniscience.

N: Yes, but God is so conceived that he goes beyond omniscience in the sense that he is also all powerful, or omnipotent. As you know, my philosophy emphasizes the will to power, a concept then adopted and abused by the Nazis a while after my death.

A: yes, yes I remember; but please go on.

N: the third universal attribute of God in all monotheistic religions is that of benevolence; that is to say, God is all good wishing his creatures well without any meanness; something discussed in your teacher Plato’s Eutyphro, as you well know.

A: yes indeed.

N: the issue is whether or not such a being exists ontologically or is he a mere figment of our imagination, a projection of sorts?

A: I beginning to see where you are going. You are going to attack the concepts of omniscience, omnipotence and benevolence, right?

N: I always thought that you are a very smart philosopher Professor Aristotle.

A: let’s dispense with personal sycophantic flattery and attend to our argument on rational grounds.

N: but of course. My challenge is this: if God were indeed benevolent, God would naturally wish the world to be the best it could possibly be for us. If he were omniscient he would know everything about the nature of things. If he were omnipotent he would he could make the universe any way he liked and the world we inhabit would have to be the best and the most ideal of all possible worlds. Would you not agree?

A: indeed I would.

N: well then, that means that there could not be any flaw in it. If there were flaws God who is omniscient would know about it, being also benevolent he would want to fix those flaws, and being omnipotent he would want to fix what’s flawed. In actuality this world, as we know from our daily existential experience, is not the best of all possible worlds; it is a mixture of good and bad things and therefore it is not perfect, and therefore God does not exist.

A: easy now. You are now assuming that this is not the best of all possible worlds. What makes you so sure?

N: it is obvious that there are some pretty horrible things in it: deceases, natural disasters, evil people causing all kinds of suffering, you name it, against which often enough we are helpless.

A: easy here too. Are not these things, from a religious viewpoint, nothing but blessings in disguise?

N: how is that possible?

A: I am no Christian but as I understand the myth of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden, God created the universe as perfect and proclaimed it “very good” but then there is the temptation of the forbidden apple and the consequent punishment for the disobedience of a creature who wished to be God. So the cause of that evil is not God but a creature with free will, not an predetermined automaton unable to choose and to love.

N: Professor Aristotle, I am surprise at you using mythology for your argumentation. A talking snake! Really?

A: I am also surprised at you Professor Nietzsche. You ought to know that the story is symbolical and attempts an answer to the obvious pain and suffering that confronts us. It conceives it as punishment by a just God for frustrating his providential plan.

N: here again you surprise me professor. When parents justly punish their children they at least do it right. The punishment is inflicted only when deserved and it is proportional to the seriousness of the bad act being punished; the punishment is never meted out indiscriminately. When it is meted out the reason for it is always disclosed. On the contrary, we know that quite often the pain of suffering from disease is badly distributed; it includes even innocent people and even innocent children.

A: I see, but how about thinking of evil, even undeserved suffering, as a way of testing us overcome a bad situation. Aren’t human often at their very best when confronted with a bad situation?

N: True enough Professor Aristotle. Remember that I am the one who quipped that “whatever does not kill us makes us stronger” but it does not sound very humane to me to inflict a disease on somebody just to see how well the cope with it; in fact it sounds rather nasty. Did not the Nazis do those kinds of experiments?

A: but Professor Nietzsche, you of all people should know about Socrates’ soul building; the soul tried and fashioned by pain and suffering.

N: yes and no. Sometimes suffering does that, and sometimes not. Some people simply cannot manage excessive pain and suffering. Remember what happened to me when I went to the aid of a horse in Turing on which pain and suffering was being inflicted and I went crazy and from then on I was considered a lunatic. Sometimes a good person is destroyed by pain and suffering. What good did that do to me and the people around me? What happened to me was soul destroying.

A: ok, let me give you my perspective now. How does a child feel when he/she is first taken to the pediatrician? Chances are they’ll think of their parents as being mean to them; that they no longer love them any more. They are unable to understand that a puncturing syringe to inoculate them against future diseases is a minor pain that will prevent a greater future pain and that therefore that their parents are really looking out after their good.

N: wait a minute the analogy or premise is false. Did we not agree that God would have to be omnipotent? So could he not look out for our good without pain and suffering. Why do innocent children have to suffer under an omnipotent and omniscient and benevolent God?

A: you missed my point which is that those with limited understanding easily misunderstand things. That is why most religions harp on the fact that God acts in mysterious ways. In ways we do not grasp and our trust and faith ought to be that ultimately he wants our good.

N: with all due respect, professor what you just said is far from convincing. You should know better as a rationalist. If we are unable to understand how bad things can be good in the long run, how can we believe it?

A: all right, let’s then imagine a world without pain and suffering. Then nothing that happens to us would make any difference and anything we did wouldn’t really matter and our lives would be quite meaningless.

N: that may be, but it does not follow that the world as we experience it now is the best of all possible worlds. We can all imagine a better world. That explains much research aiming at alleviating human pain and suffering. I ask: are they doing something undesirable. Is the attempt to change the world as now constituted a mistake?

A: not really, it is our task to improve the imperfections and in that sense this is the best of all possible worlds.

N: now you seem to be saying that an omnipotent God needs our help, then he is not omnipotent.

A: Well, could it not be that God has purposefully left the imperfections so that we’d have something to do as co-creators with him and thus exercise our free will? Even loving parents never do everything for their children; they allow for mistakes or the children would never grow up to be responsible adults.

N: but you’d agree, I am sure, that no loving parents would allow their children to experiment with the dangerous or what they are incapable of doing.

A: agreed, but without trying there is no success.

N: but there is another glaring problem with God as conceived. What is the use of prayers with that kind of God? Given that he is omniscient prayer would not inform him of what we want and since he is omnipotent he would do what we need before we even ask. Perhaps you ancient Greeks had a more plausible religious sensibility in setting up many gods with limitations who sometimes were on your side and sometimes against you. That seems more consistent with an imperfect world and the necessity of human effort to make it better.

A: as you know, I and Plato arrived at the concept of one God as the highest idea possible in the philosophy of religion. In any case, the difficulties we have explored, if nothing else, tell us that we are a long way from understanding the mysteries of the nature of God, never mind the mysteries of the universe. Perhaps the Buddhist have it on target, not even mention God and assign categories to him for he will never be what those categories may suggest.

N: perhaps, but I for one, do not go around believing in things that I cannot understand. Like you, despite my skepticism toward the rationality of the Enlightenment and the emphasis I placed on the poetic, I ultimately remain a rationalist and I remain disappointed in your position on the existence of God. Well, we may not yet know who God is, but perhaps are dialogue has taught us a few thing on what he is not. Good day professor Aristotle.

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