In The Brothers Karamazov
, Fyodor Dostoevsky
wrote: "if God
doesn't exist, then everything is permitted" -- the message being that without
God and the rules provided by God (or punishment
for breaking the rules) there would be no morality
, and everyone would hedonistically and anarchistically be able to do whatever they wished, with no concern for consequences.
I think a real dilemma is raised by this assertion. That is, what if God really
doesn't exist? The statement itself really presumes that "God does exist, and therefore not everything is permitted -- but if God were to cease
to exist (or if God had in fact never existed) then everything would be permitted." What lies further beneath that is, "most everyone has the belief
that God exists (whether God, in fact, exists or not), and therefore it is because of this belief
that not everything is permitted. But if God does not exist, and this was demonstrated so the people who believe cease in their beliefs, then everything would be permitted." But is we begin with the premise that God is not known for a fact to exist, and possibly has never existed (irrespective of what people believe), then the fact that everything is not, in fact, permitted proves that even if God does not exist, not everything is permitted.
Instead, the statement should say that so long as certain people believe
that a God exists, then not everything is permitted, but if people believe
that no God exists then everything is permitted, but only to the degree that the idea of God is needed to prevent things -- the actual, factual existence or nonexistence of God is irrelevant. Obviously some believe that there is indeed a God and others believe there is none. Since there is no universally held correct position on the existence of God, and yet not everything is permitted, it is at least allowable that God exists for some and not for others (and yet not everything is permitted to those for whom God does not exist).
Another problem arises from the many different conceptions of God -- Deism
, even Dystheism
. These many conceptions make it possible for there to be a conception of God wherein God does exist but with which everything is nonetheless permitted, perhaps bacause God simply does not care what humans do. Models of the Universe must exist, on the other hand, for which not everything is permitted, even in the absence of a God. For example, a lesser being could exist that is not sufficient to be called "God," but is more than powerful enough to watch over the Earth and mete out penalties comparable to what God would be expected to mete out for doing whatever it was that was not permitted. However, even if there is nothing more to the Universe than what we see with our own eyes, no God and no other dispenser of punishment for wrongs, the Universe in which we exist is obviously one in which not everything is "permitted" (although the impermissable is from time to time enacted).