Axiarchism: How to Narrow the Gap Between Pro-Theism and Anti-Theism

In Kirk Lougheed (ed.), Value Beyond Monotheism: The Axiology of the Divine. New York: Routledge.. pp. 114-128. (2022)
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(Wide) pro-theism is the view that the world is better overall if theism is true. (Wide) anti-theism is the view that our world would be better overall if atheism is true. Arguments for pro-theism and anti-theism typically make use of traditional theism (the view that an omni-God exists) and generic atheism (the view that an omni-God doesn’t exist). In my view, when the debate between pro-theists and anti-theists makes use of traditional theism and generic atheism, pro-theism clearly comes out on top. In this paper, I consider whether this result (i.e. pro-theism’s advantage over anti-theism) changes if we bring axiarchism into the mix: I compare axiarchistic theism and axiarchistic atheism. General axiarchism is the view that the world exists because it is good that it exists, and extreme axiarchism is the view that the world exists because it is the best possible world. When we take general axiarchistic theism and general axiarchistic atheism as our worldviews for comparison, I argue that there is no significant change with respect to anti-theism and pro-theism: neither position is able to capture goods that are traditionally associated with the other position, and so pro-theism still wins out. However, if we instead compare extreme axiarchistic atheism with extreme axiarchistic theism there is a significant change: while the case for pro-theism remains the same (because, I argue, it is not able to capture any of the goods of anti-theism), the case for anti-theism is greatly strengthened, because it is able to capture nearly all of the goods of pro-theism (e.g. the good of an afterlife, of cosmic justice, of there being no gratuitous evil). In other words, given extreme axiarchism, atheistic worlds can (and will) house goods that are traditionally associated with theistic worlds (e.g. those listed prior). This means that, given extreme axiarchism, pro-theists can’t appeal to those goods as favoring their position: they obtain whether our world is atheistic or theistic. Thus, they don’t favor pro-theism over anti-theism; the case for anti-theism has been strengthened. (Alternatively, we may say that the case for pro-theism has been weakened.) Ultimately, there is one good that extreme axiarchistic atheism does not enable anti-theism to capture—namely, God’s intrinsic unlimited goodness—and I argue that this shows that there is still a gap between pro-theism and anti-theism; while the gap has been substantially narrowed, it has not been eliminated. Thus, I suggest that the best route forward for anti-theists is to cast doubt on the view that God’s intrinsic goodness is unlimited.



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Perry Hendricks
Purdue University

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References found in this work

The Nature of Necessity.Alvin Plantinga - 1974 - Oxford, England: Clarendon Press.
The Problem of Evil.Peter van Inwagen - 2007 - Philosophical Quarterly 57 (229):696-698.
Must God create the best?Robert Merrihew Adams - 1972 - Philosophical Review 81 (3):317-332.

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