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Philip Goff

David Cowles

Mar 1, 2024

“You’ll end up living life as though you were counting cards at a Black Jack table in Las Vegas – in other words, profitably! But it’s still gambling.”   

Philip Goff is a breath of fresh air: he’s a philosopher on the faculty of a major university (Durham), whose work is published by Oxford University Press. He maintains that existence may have an objective purpose, and he is willing to at least consider a role for ‘God’ in the overall scheme of things.

In the end, Goff rejects what he describes as the Abrahamic (Judeo-Christian-Islamic) ‘Omni-God’ (omnipotent, omniscient, omnibenevolent) but nonetheless posits the possibility of a transcendent, purposeful entity. Goff is willing to entertain the ‘God Hypothesis’ provided God’s knowledge and power are somehow limited, or God’s benevolence is impure or conditional. So, Goff’s latest book, Why - The Purpose of the Universe, was eagerly anticipated. 

Unfortunately, it disappoints. Goff fails to make a clear distinction between the sort of God he excludes a priori and the sort he might entertain. His characterization of ‘Abrahamic divinity’ oversimplifies. Any concept of omnipotence is limited by what’s possible, omniscience by what’s knowable, and benevolence by what’s doable. God cannot square a circle any more than you can! He cannot fashion a rock that is too heavy for him to lift. These logical and material fallacies have nothing to do with divinity.

God is Good…in fact, God is Value per se. That’s really all you need to know. God does not ‘have values’ or ‘determine’ values; God is Value! Value is the efficient cause and the final cause of everything that is. I mean, what else could be? Why else would anything ever happen? It is said, “Love makes the world go round.” The same could be said of ‘the Good’. In fact, Love and Good are denotatively synonymous. 

Every novel event begins and ends with Value. Value is the sole motivator: it alone allows us to execute judgment on ‘the gods of Egypt’ (i.e., on what is). Motivated by Value, we push off from shore; guided by Value we seek the horizon. Value alone guides us to create what might be

Between these two poles, Alpha-impulse and Omega-goal, each event shapes itself. It is causa sui and sui generis. It is informed by only two things: (1) the Actual World (what is) and (2) God’s values (what might be). “Some folks see things as they are and ask why; I dream of things that never were and ask why not.” (Bobby Kennedy) 

Between motive and immortality, each event is 100% free – free to react to what is, free to pursue what might yet be. This is what Goff calls ‘libertarian free will’; it closely resembles Sartre’s notion of absolute existential freedom. Robert Frost illustrates this concept in his most famous poem, The Road Not Taken.

Out for a stroll in the NH woods, Frost comes to a fork in the road. He knows that both paths will take him to his destination. Yet he agonizes over the choice: “Both that morning equally lay.”  

Frost’s location and destination were hard-wired; his route was entirely undetermined. Every event (→) begins and ends with what is (Actual World → Objective Immortality → Actual World). 

In the context of this ontology, Abraham’s God is the same as Goth’s. The notion of an Omni-cubed (∞³) God is a straw man, set up only to be torn down. It’s easy to disprove the existence of something that is impossible, something that makes no sense on its face. 

Goff’s work is about God and Consciousness…and he gets them both wrong. Early on, he dismisses strong AI, claiming that there is something ‘special’ about the neuronal stuff he’s made of (i.e., his organic chemistry). Later, however, he proposes the possibility that the cosmos itself may be conscious (Cosmo-panpsychism)…and the cosmos is not (primarily) made of neurons…or any other ‘special stuff’.  

Here, Goff carries a good idea too far. He not only posits universal consciousness, but he also maintains that all actual entities are rational agents. No doubt, events change the world (though we can’t reliably predict how), and events exhibit internal patterns. But those patterns cannot be reduced to rationality, nor can all changes be chalked up to agency.

We are, I think, on the cusp of discovering that intelligence, and even consciousness, is platform-agnostic. In fact, the essence of panpsychism is the conjecture that ‘consciousness is everywhere’, that it pervades cosmos. It appears likely that many, if not all, organisms are conscious (or at least self-aware) in some way and to some degree, and there are strong reasons for wanting to extend the net to include certain inorganic phenomena…like computers.

Goff posits three activities that make life worth living: “creativity, learning, and showing kindness to others," but he makes no effect to substantiate his claim that these values are somehow sewn into the fabric of the cosmos.

The discovery of Value raises key questions: How is it that there is such a thing as Value? How does Value come to influence the course of events? By what faculty are we able to access Value? I agree with Goff that the answers to these questions are tied to the matter of consciousness. I would go even further and argue that Value is impossible without consciousness.

Consciousness is reflection; it’s the universe ‘taking a selfie’, i.e., reflecting itself reflecting. Consciousness is what Universe sees when it sees itself. But reflection is comparative. I conceptualize A in the context of ~A. Judging A on the basis of the values it manifests requires an external perspective that also encompasses ~A and the set of universal values by which we may judge A.

Goff rejects, I think too easily (below), Pascal’s argument for the existence of God (his famous “Wager”), but Goff replaces it with a ‘modern’ version called ‘Bayesian Logic’. According to this ‘science of inference’ we can validly reason upstream (induction) as well as down (deduction).

In a nutshell, assume there is an event, A. If we don’t directly know anything about any events other than A, can we deduce something about everything else based on our experience of A? Were Leibniz and Blake right after all? Is every event a reflection (monad) of every other event? Can we discover “a universe is a grain of sand”?

Crazy, right? Well, not entirely. If we know that A is very likely to occur, provided B has occurred before it, and if we know that A is very unlikely to occur unless B has occurred before it, then our experience of A lets us presume, provisionally at least, that B has occurred. 

Apply this to the matter of God:

  • If there is a God according to the Judeo-Christian prototype, then it is likely that the created world would be well-ordered.

  • If there is no God, then spontaneous ordering would be very, very unlikely.

  • The world is extremely well-ordered (i.e., the degree of fine-tuning is astronomically improbable).

  • ‘God’ accounts for that fine-tuning better than ‘no-God’ accounts for it.

  • Therefore, it is likely that God exists…very, very likely!

As with Pascal, Goff’s conclusion comes down to a so-called ‘Wager’, but the nature of that wager is very different. Goff uses Bayesian Logic to establish the existence of ‘God’ as highly probable. With Bayes, you end up living life as though you were counting cards at a Black Jack table in Las Vegas – in other words, very profitably!  But it’s still gambling.

Pascal is a whole different kettle of fish! His argument has nothing to do with probabilities, so his ‘wager’ is a wager in name only. Pascal’s argument is based on something much stronger…and much more ephemeral. 

Pascal is prepared to divide the World in two: on one side, A - the set of all things/events that make a difference, that have consequences, that change things, that mean something; on the other side, B - the set of all things/events that do not belong to A, i.e., that make no difference, have no consequences, change nothing, mean nothing. 

Every event X in Set A is associated with a proposition P of the form, ‘X exists’ and with proposition P’ of the form, ‘P is true’. Therefore, the proposition ‘X exists’ is always true, provided that X is a member of A. 

For Pascal, at least, A is the set of all things that exist, and B is the set of…nothing. Anything that might have belonged to B doesn’t exist. So, B is the null set, ø. In fact, it’s a ‘double null set’ ø² – a null set of null elements. (Ok, I made that up!) But in any event, the only set that has real members is A. Therefore, whatever belongs to A exists. 

What does this have to do with God? Pascal notes that God’s existence makes no difference if we don’t believe it, and that our beliefs about God make no difference if God doesn’t exist. Therefore, the existence of God is only meaningful if we believe it, and our beliefs about God are only meaningful if God exists.

Therefore, there is only one meaningful solution to the problem: God exists, and now that I know that for certain, I cannot not believe. 

While I disagree with Philip Goff on many things, we are all indebted to him for helping to move conversations like this one back into the public domain.


David Cowles is the founder and editor-in-chief of Aletheia Today Magazine. He lives with his family in Massachusetts where he studies and writes about philosophy, science, theology, and scripture. He can be reached at


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