Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Paul Tillich's Ontology: Deep Structures

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Deep structures

That being has depth is a clue to the meaning of “the ground of being,” or “being itself.” The depth of being is also related to the notion of the “power of being.” These are all saying the same thing or very closely related things. To really understand what Tillich is saying we have to understand what the depth of being is and relate that to the power of being. The context of the phrase “depth of being” and the quotation above about that comes form Tillich’s sermon, converted into a small book, The Shaking of the Foundations (op cit). In the chapter entitled “the depth of existence,” Tillich tells us that he is using the term “depth” as a metaphor to indicate an attitude taken form spiritual experience. Depth symbolizes both special relation and spiritual quality. Deep implies a profundity (the opposite being “shallow”) and there is also a sense in which “deep” is used for suffering (the depths of despair for example). [1] I said above that being having depth means things are not merely as they appear on the surface, there’s more to reality than just the way things appear. In the Shaking of the Foundations Tillich confirms that this is what he had in mind:
All visible things have a surface. Surface is that side of things which first appears to us. If we look at it, we know what things seem to be. Yet if we act according to what things and persons seem to be, we are disappointed. Our expectations are frustrated. And so we try to penetrate below the surfaces in order to learn what things really are. Why have men always asked for truth? Is it because they have been disappointed with the surfaces, and have known that the truth which does not disappoint dwells below the surfaces in the depth? And therefore, men have dug through one level after another. What seemed true one day was experienced as superficial the next. When we encounter a person, we receive an impression. But often if we act accordingly we are disappointed by his actual behavior. We pierce a deeper level of his character, and for some time experience less disappointment. But soon he may do something which is contrary to all our expectations; and we realize that what we know about him is still superficial. Again we dig more deeply into his true being.[2]
Immediately before the statement about the depth of our being that I quoted above (en1) he says that depth psychology can help us understand our own depths but it can’t help us to find the depth and ground of our being. Immediately after that statement he links the depth of our souls to the social world, we can know our own souls through the mirror of community and others.[3] This ties us to the heteronomy and the question of the role of spirit in the creation of culture that was important to Tillich. He then makes another statement that is remarkably like the one above but this time focusing upon the social world:
The name of this infinite and inexhaustible ground of history is God. That is what the word means, and it is that to which the words Kingdom of God and Divine Providence point. And if these words do not have much meaning for you, translate them, and speak of the depth of history, of the ground and aim of our social life, and of what you take seriously without reservation in your moral and political activities. Perhaps you should call this depth hope, simply hope. for if you find hope in the ground of history, you are united with the great prophets who were able to look into the depth of their times, who tried to escape it, because they could not stand the horror of their visions, and who yet had the strength to look to an even deeper level and there to discover hope. Their hope did not make them feel ashamed. And no hope shall make us ashamed, if we do not find it on the surface where fools cultivate vain expectations, but rather if we find it in the depth where those with trembling and contrite hearts receive the strength of a hope which is truth.[4]
In this context he talks about Marxist analysis and social sciences and understanding of social situations with greater depth than one can gain from a mere surface perspective. He also grounds that perspective in first hand experience of social situations rather than just social sciences alone. Most modern thinkers would have a hard time seeing what has to do with God or how God could be the ground of history. But he connects God as the ground of history to the kingdom of God and providence (see quote above). It seems what he means by “being has depth” is a structure that permeates all that is. The depth of being is the unseen structure, the ontology of reality and its extension into social world through God’s providence. Thus he appears to actually be saying that God is the ground and end of the natural world and all that this entails. We can identify “depth” with ontology.
That being itself indicates the power of being is metaphorical, at the same time it is part of the concept of the depth of being. Being is not merely the fact of existence but it also contains the basis upon which all being is. That would correlate to God as creator. In MacQuarrie’s terms, “being let’s be.”[5] This may imply a more passive role than Tillich had in mind. He views God’s creative role from the standpoint of a check on nothingness, but what both are really talking about is an active force of creative power that brings more being out of being itself. Being let’s be is such a passive way to register the idea of “resisting” nothingness, but at the same time both are means of avoiding the direct statement, “God is the creator of all that is.” Nevertheless that’s obviously what they are saying, or trying not to say. Obviously, then Being is necessary and “the beings” (in McQuarrie speak) are contingencies. Being itself is necessary being, the beings are contingent being. This is another aspect of the depth of being. It’s not just so simple that all we need to do is to rattle off a list of concrete things we can observe in the world. There are two levels, necessity and contingency, or two modes of being. Within each role there are different roles. On the level of necessity being is eternal, on the level of contingency being is temporal. Tillich makes much of this distinction. The difference in the two and the sense of the numinous it evokes are very important for Tillich and will figure prominently in the arguments that can be made in terms of reasons to believe.
The reason Tillich takes such a backwards way of expressing God’s creative force is to emphasize the distinction between being and nothingness. This is the primary first and original distinction in reality, the bottom line so to speak between something and nothing. The first distinction in existence is that between being and nothingness. The power of being to resist nothingness (God’s creative force) is the first basis upon which anything is at all. That means we can look at this creative force as the nature of being the basic bottom line of what it means to be and what being is. Thus if we choose for some reason to call this force “God” if we want to use that term, which Tillich says in the quotation above is the meaning of that term, we can say that God is “being itself.” God is this basic force that is the first indentation in all of reality. It is both first temporally (it would be the basis of time) it would be “fist” ontologically. Tillch is thinking in a way that modern scientifically ensorcelled people are not really able to think, and have never thought. McQuarrie puts it into a passive sense “let’s be,” for a different reason. He warns of Heidegger’s tendency to “stretch language” or the awareness of Heidegger (and himself) that to speak of being at an ontological level is a stretch beyond the confines of fact based conceptualism. For him being’s role is the fomentation of more being, or “the beings” is expressed in a passive sense to remove the emphasis upon the activity of a creative agent.
Tillich’s ontology as illustration of depth in being
Another aspect of the depth of being is the diversity of being. Tillich develops many themes of meaning, diversity, and historicity in laying out the Gospel framework and translating it into his phenomenological take on the diversity of being. Human being, fallen nature, sin, redemption, new being in Christ, these are standard Christian themes but a good deal of his Systematic Theology is devoted to exploring them from the perspective of their relationship to being. What he’s doing there is demonstrating the depth of being ontologically and in terms of human experience (vol II of Systematic Theology). Volume I of that work is about “Being and God.” Here he deals with topics of “The Question of Being: Man, Self and World.” “God is the answer to the question implied in being” he says. [6] He first deals with reason and revelation. Then he moves into the question of being and its meaning. He says that in coming to terms with reason and its take on existential conflicts, one is forced into asking the most essential question of all, why is there something rather than nothing at all? But I have given this in Heidegger’s terms. Tillich puts it a bit differently “why is there something, why not nothing?”[7] He points out that to ask “why is there not nothing?” is to attribute a kind of being to nothingness. Thus as he puts it “one cannot go behind being.” What he’s saying is, like trying to imagine one’s own non existence, it can’t be done. We cannot get under being itself, its’ the furthest we can go back in our understanding, and it eludes our understanding. Thought is based upon being and it can’t go beyond its base. One can imagine the negotiation of things, however, and it can “describe the nature and structure of everything that is the power of resisting non being.”[8] Ontological questions, he points out, are not tautologies because of this ability to mentally play with being and non being. We are not merely saying “being is being” when we try to define what it is, because there’s a possibility of negating any particular form of being. The possibility of universality and less than universal aspect of forms of being make ontology possible. There are concepts which are less universal than being but more universal than any concept about being, thus these are “categories” of thought.
/...These categories form the basis of theological significance. These are central concepts that make theology “go,” so to speak (not Tillich’s phrase). These are ontological concepts, ontology is not theology. One can be an atheist and totally secular and do ontology as part of philosophy, and such a thinker would have to deal with these concepts. But in like manner all theologians must deal with them as well. While they are not theology per se they are essential to theology. The concepts are: (1) the structure implicit in the basic ontological question (why is there something rather than nothing?); (2) the elements which constitute ontological structure; (3) characteristics of being which are the conditions of existence; (4) categories of being and knowing. [9] The structure (1) is that the question presupposes an asking subject, and an object being asked about. This is the subject/object structure that is presupposed and that in turn assumes the structure of world and self; this as the basic articulation of being. That the self has a world to which it belongs and from which it will deduce the nature of its being precedes all other structures and will be the basic analysis which precedes all other analysis. [10] The elements of the ontological structure he groups into three sets of pairs: individuality and universality, dynamics and form, and freedom and density. These are polarities and the first expresses self referential nature of being.
The ontological concepts pertaining to number (3) (characteristics of being) “expresses the power of being to exist,” in Tillich’s own words, “and the difference between essential and existential being.” [11] There is a duality for Tillich between essential and existential thinking. One is inherent in the other, as existentialism is meaningless without an essentialism to play off it. No ontology can disregard these two aspects. [12] Existentialism is a revolt against the predominance of essentialism. Essentialism came to be identified in theology with “stasis” and existents with movement, or process theology. Tillich saw a unity between the two, one assuming the other. Tillich says essentialism is related to universalism, and we can’t deal with concepts in the world without universals. Thus existentialism has to assume essentialism and the two have to work together.[13] The fourth level deals with the categories of thought or the basic concepts. These he calls “structures of finite being and thinking.” I suppose the Kantian categories would be placed here. “If time and space are called ‘categories’ this is a derivation from the Kantian terminology which calls time and space forms of intuition. But the larger sense of category has been accepted generally, even in post Kantian schools.”[14] Tillich says that determining the exact nature and number of these categories is the on going and never ending task of philosophy. [15] He isolates four such categories: time, space, causality, and substance. These are categories that have the most theological importance. Quantity and Quality he says have less theological importance. He discusses other categories and their relation to the four points above, but I will forgo that as it really doesn’t have a direct bearing on the task before us here. He does focus on finitude at this point (p165) as having a major bearing on the ontological question of God.
....He’s going to argue that ontological concepts are a priori. What he means by a priori is not quite the same as most logicians understand it. We think of a prori as a tautological statement, a statement where we only need to know the meaning of the terms in order to understand the truth of the statement. Tillich makes it sound like the thinks a prori means empirical data. He says it’s ultimately a matter of experience. I don’t think he’s confusing it with empirical data. He is saying that the ultimate understanding of what terms mean is a matter of experience. In other words we think of a prori as statements like “all husbands are married men.” If we know what a husband is we know all of them are married men. Tillich is saying that the idea of husbands and marriage is not some eternal truth in a vacuum. We only have a concept of those terms because we live in a culture that has a convention of marriage. Thus in an ultimate sense the a priori concepts originate form the experience of a life world in which cultural constructs have a shared meaning. The concepts of Being, the categories, are a priori but in the same way rooted in our experience of being. As Tillich says “they constitute the very structure of experience itself.”[16] IF experience changes a new a priori will from. Tillich discusses process theology and the question of a static understanding of God. He identifies with a tradition from Scotus to Heidegger, picking up Bergson along the way, and moving toward indeterminacy in the ground of being. But it dose not remove a prori structure from ontology or Being.[17]
Still setting up the discussion of finitude and being, he moves to the prelude to that discussion, the self-world relationship. Every being participates in the structure of being, but man alone (in so far as we know) is aware of it. We are the only being we know that has alienation and estrangement. We can describe behavior but we do not know what the behavior means to others. We are the only being we know of that asks the ontological question (why is there something rather than nothing?) and the only one that can try to answer it. In Heideggerian terms, as Tillich puts it, we are only able to answer because we understand the nature of “being there.” Or Tillich speak, we experience “directly and immediately the structure of being and its elements. As stated above the ontological structure is the structure of the ontological question, the assumption and self and world, and that’s what we are moving to as a prelude of discussion of finitude. Then there is also no 2 from above the structure of being grouped into three sets of pairs: individuality and universality, dynamics and form, and freedom and density. These are polarities and the first expresses self referential nature of being. These are a prori concepts. Self and world is a basic part of this structure. Humanity is not merely a passive object of study, but a living consciousness in the process of learning and apprehending these structures first hand. Humanity cannot be turned into an object of study under the guise of making understanding easier. We are the student as well as the object, so to reduce humanity itself to an object is lose the phenomena of what it means to experience being the object or being thing studied. We can’t step outside of that experience and study it as an object dispassionately without changing our understanding of what that thing is we would study.[18] This leads into what Tillich discusses in The Courage To Be where speaks of the courage to be a part of and the courage to be apart from.[19]
As the ontological question implies humanity understands itself as having selves that live in a world. This is the organically a priori set up of asking the question. The relationship between self and world is dialectical, we must be a part of, and we must be apart from. To study, to understand to live, to know, to remain true to what we understand we must go play this game of tag, now standing alone as apart from the world, now standing with the world as part of it. There is no question of the existence of the self, according to Tillich. The Postmodernists made a big deal out of the idea there is no core self. That is a somewhat different question, however, depending upon what is meant by “core,” but there is clearly some form of self since someone had to write those articles, and since even making the argument “there is no self” would require that one be a self and understand something about the concept. According to Tillich the question is self awareness of self relatedness.[20] This is a dialectical relationship in another way as well, in that the relationship of self and world is part of the larger dialectic of being and nothingness, because it is part of the depth of being and part of the basic categories that emerge from ontological structure. So the importance of this is going to be that in the discussion of finitude the apprehension of our own finitude and what we make of that vis a vi Being itself and it meaning in terms of the object of ultimate concern is hinged upon self understanding, and understanding of self in relation to the world as a crucial aspect of the depth of being; thus this will figure into understanding being itself as indicative of the object of ultimate concern. As shall be seen the object of ultimate concern is indicative of the divine aspect of Being itself, or “holy being.”
The self world polarity is the basis of the subject/object structure of reason, according to Tillich. [21] The world is seen as a structured whole, as such it is called “objective” because the many self-world relationships in being all relate more or less the same basic idea of a world. The self is a structure of “centeredness” in terms of awareness, for this reason it is termed “subjective.” In other words subjective refers to the center of awareness which takes in the sense data and relates itself to that which is beyond itself, the world. Objective refers to the single “outside” nature of that which is shared in this awareness by the many selves. Reason is actually makes these, that is it makes the self a “self” and the world a “world.” This is because it is through our constructs of reason that we attach meaning to these terms and understand them in relation to each other, which is a function of their structured relationship. Without the structuring aspect of reason being would be chaos. “Where there is reason there is a self and a world in interdependence.”[22] In cognitive terms anything toward which the cognition is directed is considered an object, be it God, or individual items in nature, attitudes, or ideas. We cannot resist making God an object for this very reason. If we think about the concept of God we make God an object. This holds a danger, however, in that we tend to objectify that which we hold in this act of cognition. “If God is brought into the subject-object structure of being he ceases to be the ground of being and becomes one being among others (first of all a being beside the subject who looks at him as an object). He ceases to be the God who is really God. “[23] Various theologies try to escape this problem in various ways. The prophetic tradition insists that we cannot see God; sight is the most objectifying aspect of cognition. Knowledge of God is reveled and understood through man, thus even when God becomes the object God remains the subject (this is just how Tillich puts it).[24] Mysticism attempts to overcome the problem by ecstatic union. In whatever way the resolution is achieved it must be to acknowledge that no language of God can make God an object. Thus language about God must be either negative, or analogical.
There is another sense in which something is made into an object, according to Tillich, that is in robbing it of all of its subjective elements. That is, to turn something into a “thing.” We resist calling human beings “things” because our subjective qualities lead us to disvalue mere things as inhuman, and to value humanity because of its subjective elements. [25] One of Tillich’s major concerns is that God not be treated as a “thing.” For those who believe that Tillich is reducing God to the level of an impersonal force or mere abstraction this is another rebuff. But atheists reduce God to the level of a thing, and turn God into another thing in creation alongside all the many things we see in the world. This has nothing to do with personality but it does mean God can’t be conceived as just an impersonal force or a mere abstraction without defeating Tillich’s purpose. He does not include this argument, but it seems rather clear from what he says. The reductionistic atheist reduces all things to the level of “a thing” devoid of subjective elements. Atheists greatly fear subjectivity. That’s always the bottom line in all of their refutations of God arguments, “that’s subjective.” The reductionist view-point treats all sense data as “information” and information is a collection of things, which can be homogenized and abstracted into “data” and “reduced” to it’s most basic level which of course would lose any subjective elements as it loses the phenomena that makes the aspect that which requires reducing to fit into the atheist world view. The reductionist sees human perceptive powers and thought as side effects of chemicals and brain function that makes thought “mere subjectivity” and that is among the phenomena to be lost in explaining human consciousness. To reduce humanity to “a thing” one must reduce human consciousness to a mere epiphenomenon. Parmenides saw the basic ontological structure as the unity of being and the word (logos) in which it is grasped. Thus from this Tillich draws the observation that subjectivity is not an epiphenomena but a primary phenomena although related in polar opposite to objectivity.[26] One cannot derive subjectivity from objectivity or vice versa. The attempt to do so has meant either the subjugation of humanity to numbers and to machines, or the romantic rebellion and undisclosed abandon which sacrifice reason. Tillich asserts that the basic ontological structure cannot be derived. The relation is one of polarity. “What precedes the duality of self and world, of subject and object,” he asks? His answer is that this is a question in which “reason looks into its own abyss—an abyss in which distinction and derivation disappear, only revelation can answer this question.” [27]


[1] Tillich, Shaking…, chapter 7 quoted from online version, Website, Religion-online, URL: http://www.religion-online.org/showchapter.asp?title=378&C=72 visted feb. 5, 2010.
[2] Ibid
[3] Ibid.
[4] Ibid
[5] find
[6] Tillich, ST I, 163.
[7] Ibid.
[8] Ibid., 163-64
[9] Ibid, 164
[10] Ibid.
[11] Ibid.
[12] Ibid.
[13] Tillich, History…, op cit, 541.
[14] Tillich, ST 1, 166
[15] Tillich, ST I, 164.
[16] Ibid, 166
[17] Ibid, 168
[18] Ibid., 169-170.
[19] Tillich, Courage…, op cit, find
[20] Tillich ST I 169.
[21] Ibid., 171
[22] Ibid, 172
[23] Ibid.
[24] Ibid.
[25] Tillich, System I, 173
[26] Ibid.
[27] Ibid, 174.

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Monday, September 08, 2014

My Answer to Carrier's "Why I don't buy the Resurrection"

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 I'm going against advice and deal with arguments by carm atheists because I think it's important to remember that certain things have been answered. Dealing with an old article by Richard Carrier that was sighted recently on CARM. Even though it's old these guys are rallying around it like its new and the same bunck is being noised about by atheists all the time.


Carrier's article is here:

http://infidels.org/library/modern/r...n/lecture.html

this is prompted by Fleetmouse's statement that:

"You have no answers to Carrier's essay. "

He seems the most worked up over the idea that since carrier proves the superstitious nature of the folks of Jesus day, like he never considered that. That's something I knew about as a kid. I used it in highschool to justify my own atheism (1973).  I can't imagine anyone being impressed by it. Be that as it may that's not an argument so examine it.

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Carrier


My first reaction to reading  the beginning is it's an argument from analogy based upon ideological assumptions. the argument itself assumes what all atheists assume "anything that tells us a SN event can happen must be wrong a priori" they always jump the track form that (the SN itself must be wrong) to "the historicity must be wrong as well.That's really nothing but good old fashioned doubt. This is something in which I refuse to believe, therefore, it can't be true.

To reinforce it he uses argument from analogy. He shows the story about some saint in the 500s which is ridiculous. Then asserts that because that story is false then the NT stories are false. That is argument from analogy that is not proof. There's a huge difference in the level of evidential understanding, claim and documentation in first century and sixth. Sixth century story is European and not Mid eastern. They had an even more tenuous grasp of proof and testimony than did the Mediterranean folk who had the Greeks to teach them. From point on the answers to his essay are just the regular arguments one finds in any argument about the res. I'll have more on it latter.



Te then asserts Hume's foolishness that "why doesn't this happen today. it does. In fact he's begging the question. We have tons of miracle claims from the current era and some good science that shows they are unexplained. The only factor that is different is the prayer, so prayer is the logical candidate to explain it. In addition to the Lourdes stuff (above link) there is also the Casdroph evidence. While not as systematic or rigorous it does have the evaluation of a medical staff of a hospital in the 70s.

Carrier is using an example from the time of legends in the dark ages which is not backed by anything like the kind of testimonial support of the Gospels.In making that argument he's just begging the question and asserting the ideology of naturalism. He evoking doubt as a fact rather than proving facts. again, he is privileging doubt. Doubt privileged means doubt becomes proof. The dark age European stuff has nothing like the eight levels of verification that I've demonstrated back the Gospels.

Let's examine his specific arguments. Carrier states:


But we should try to be more specific in our reasons, and not rely solely on common sense impressions. And there are specific reasons to disbelieve the story of Genevieve, and they are the same reasons we have to doubt the Gospel accounts of the Resurrection of Jesus. For the parallel is clear: the Gospels were written no sooner to the death of their main character--and more likely many decades later--than was the case for the account of Genevieve; and like that account, the Gospels were also originally anonymous--the names now attached to them were added by speculation and oral tradition half a century after they were actually written. Both contain fabulous miracles supposedly witnessed by numerous people. Both belong to the same genre of literature: what we call a "hagiography," a sacred account of a holy person regarded as representing a moral and divine ideal. Such a genre had as its principal aim the glorification of the religion itself and of the example set by the perfect holy person represented as its central focus. Such literature was also a tool of propaganda, used to promote certain moral or religious views, and to oppose different points of view. The life of Genevieve, for example, was written to combat Arianism. The canonical Gospels, on the other hand, appear to combat various forms of proto-Gnosticism. So being skeptical of what they say is sensible from the start.[1]

That's exactly why we can't compare that story to the resurrection. Not only is it from a different time and different culture but it was written for different reasons. The Gospels were primarily written to answer concerns of given communities of the early chruch. Their concerns revolved around securing the testimony of their cloud of witnesses as they began dying off. They were making the transition from oral culture to written culture. They were deal with the original testimony of eye witnesses. The European guys were dealing with a palimpsest [2] of  legend that never had that kind of eye witness support. Thus they are not analogous and the argument from analogy fails.

Carrier asserts the typical atheist pechant for 19th century dating of the Gospels.

It is certainly reasonable to doubt the resurrection of Jesus in the flesh, an event placed some time between 26 and 36 A.D. For this we have only a few written sources near the event, all of it sacred writing, and entirely pro-Christian. Pliny the Younger was the first non-Christian to even mention the religion, in 110 A.D., but he doesn't mention the resurrection. No non-Christian mentions the resurrection until many decades later--Lucian, a critic of superstition, was the first, writing in the mid-2nd century, and likely getting his information from Christian sources. So the evidence is not what any historian would consider good.
Note he stresses that it's all "sacred" that means in atheist speak we can't trust it because anything religious people write must be a lie and propaganda. Of course any testimony in favor of the resurrection would be sacred so there can't be any such thing as pro res evidence that is not a lie and can be trusted. He implies that the resurrection was not part of the faith until early second century or there about. That's an old fashioned view that was disproved a long time ago. Now the consensus in the field is Koester's notion of the pre Mark Passion narrative with empty tomb emerging in  mid first century. "John Dominic Crosson has gone further [than Denker]...he argues that this activity results in the composition of a literary document at a very early date i.e. in the middle of the First century CE" [3]

 Now we find one of the more ridiculous tactics to which Carrier resorts. He pulls a bait and switch between historian's standard of evidence and the atheists own standard.

Nevertheless, Christian apologist Douglas Geivett has declared that the evidence for the physical resurrection of Jesus meets, and I quote, "the highest standards of historical inquiry" and "if one takes the historian's own criteria for assessing the historicity of ancient events, the resurrection passes muster as a historically well-attested event of the ancient world," as well-attested, he says, as Julius Caesar's crossing of the Rubicon in 49 B.C.[5] Well, it is common in Christian apologetics, throughout history, to make absurdly exaggerated claims, and this is no exception. Let's look at Caesar's crossing of the Rubicon for a minute:
He's going to through a list of things where the documentation for Caesar is supposedly so much better than the Gospels. First of all, this is a total the reality of the issues. In setting up the idea that Caesar is better documented the notion of an atheist victory is looming. The problem is we should really expect that because Cesar was the ruler of the known world at that time. Jesus was an itinerant prophet form the sticks who did not even interest the historians or men of letters. That we have any testimony of Jesus is a miracle. The idea that Caesar is better documented is not proof that Jesus is badly documented. Moreover, it may be overstated that Jesus' evidence is better (he did quote a perhaps rash comment to that effect) yet let's examine the aspects of the statement and see they are using two different sets of criteria.

First he argues that we have Caesar's writings, we have no writings of Jesus. He asserts that this equates to not knowing what Jesus said or believed. We actually more about Jesus beliefs than Caesar's becuase while Caesar express some ideas Jesus is quoted by his followers in a full body of teaching that covers many aspects. Since the Jews had an oral culture in which they memoirs the words of their teachers and spit them back ver batiam we probalby do have a good accurate understanding of Jesus' teachings, at least as they were applied by his first follows a few years after the communities were established. Oral tradition was not just wild random rummer but actuate reflection of the teacher through the student's memorization. It worked and there is a great deal of evidence to that effect.

Secondly he records the fact that at least one of Caesar's enemies documented his crossing the Rubicon, that is Cicero. While he argues that there are no such records of Jesus enemies or neural particles that is not the case. There's good documentation that Jesus was written about in the Talmudist writings, some of those date to first century.MICHAEL L. RODKINSON in his translation of the Babylonian Talmud says:

Thus the study of the Talmud flourished after the destruction of the Temple, although beset with great difficulties and desperate struggles. All his days, R. Johanan b. Zakkai was obliged to dispute with Sadducees and Bathueians and, no doubt, with the Messiahists also; for although these last were Pharisees, they differed in many points from the teaching of the Talmud after their master, Jesus, had broken with the Pharisees...[4]

 Moreover the fact that Talmudic sources talked about Jesus is born out by Celsus. The points that he says the Jews gave him are things the Talmud says about the alleged "Jesus figure." See my pages on Jesus in the Talmud for good documentation.

 He also includes inscriptions on coins. That's not a good source and it doesn't prove much. We had a dime with Mercury on it. That doesn't mean Mercury was a real guy. Coins documented legends and mythology.

He tires to use mulitiple sources to establish Caesar's crossing the Rubicon:
    
    Fourth, we have the story of the "Rubicon Crossing" in almost every historian of the period, including the most prominent scholars of the age: Suetonius, Appian,Cassius Dio,  Plutarch. Moreover, these scholars have a measure of proven reliability, since a great many of their reports on other matters have been confirmed in material evidence and in other sources. In addition, they often quote and name many different sources, showing a wide reading of the witnesses and documents, and they show a desire to critically examine claims for which there is any dispute. If that wasn't enough, all of them cite or quote sources written by witnesses, hostile and friendly, of the Rubicon crossing and its repercussions.
 
 Just having good sources, or even better vetting than the Gospels, is not proof that the Gosples have no historical basis. It may or may not be true that the statement by Douglas Geivett  might be a bit of an exaggeration in being as well attested as the crossing of the Rubicon. Nevertheless that is not proof that the Gospels don't hold up. I also say we can give Carrier a good run for his money. He only names three sources that back the crossing, they are not eye witnesses. We have four sources that are eye witnesses. Although in reality it's all coming form the pre Mark Passion narrative. Yet the veracity of it is attested to by it's use in other sources. So in using in four Gospels the communities produces those Gospels are saying "this source is correct." That's not counting non canonical gospels that agree with it. one I now of is GPete (Gospel of Peter). That's at least five attestations. Moreover, the sources Carrier sites for backing the crossing were not eye witnesses and were not contemporary, probably got their information from Caesar's writings.[5] That is not even verification.

At this point Carrier makes several absurd statements: "Compare this with the resurrection: we have not even a single established historian mentioning the event until the 3rd and 4th centuries, and then only by Christian historians." That's not true first of all. We have the attestation of Papias, his writings dated bewteen 95 and 120 AD. That he sure was before the third century. Clement of Rome is said to have been writing around 94 AD. Polycarp's death is attributed to 155 AD..The point is all of these guys attest to the resurrection and all of them claim to have had ties with actual disciples and Apostles who Knew Jesus. One might argue that they are not established historians but the historians of that era were not academically trained social scientists they were just any educated person who wrote about what hapepned in the past these guys have a link to the eye witness testimony that has to outweigh the onus of being "chruch historians." The historians writing about Caesar probalby got their information form Caesar. Carrier goes on, "And of those few others who do mention it within a century of the event, none of them show any wide reading, never cite any other sources, show no sign of a skilled or critical examination..."That's just not true. All of the afore mentioned chruch father attribute their knowledge to eye witnesses, within whom they had personal contact. None of the historians Carrier sites can do that for the crossing. He says they dont' show wide reading or skill as historians. That is nonsense. Clement of Rome (who seems to have known both Peter and Paul) seems to be widely read. His letter is elpqunt and shows a vast learning as a complex concept of the Gospel is presented. Carrier might refuse to accept because the content is Christians but no oen can deny the complexity. Moreover that's just not necessary to the honesty and knowledge level of the witnesses. So what if they are not great writers compared to Plutarch, that doesn't negate the first hand nature of their evidence.

Here he makes an argument that is quite fallacious. It's so telling that all the CARM atheist acted like it's a big proof:
    
    Fifth, the history of Rome could not have proceeded as it did had Caesar not physically moved an army into Italy. Even if Caesar could have somehow cultivated the mere belief that he had done this, he could not have captured Rome or conscripted Italian men against Pompey's forces in Greece. On the other hand, all that is needed to explain the rise of Christianity is a belief--a belief that the resurrection happened. There is nothing that an actual resurrection would have caused that could not have been caused by a mere belief in that resurrection. Thus, an actual resurrection is not necessary to explain all subsequent history, unlike Caesar's crossing of the Rubicon.

That's just shifting arguments. In effect he's saying if this event had no happened historian would be different so therefore we know it happen. That is a silly way for any historian to think.The fact is yes some group of solider moves across teh river to fight Pompey and that changed Roman history. That means they got men across the river. that in no way proves that Caesar led them or that any  other things Caesar says really happened the way he says it. That's like saying we know that JFK was shot by a lone gunman becuase had he not been shot he would have ran for re-election. History would be different, so therefore it was a lone gunman. The same fallacy works with the claim that it proves is that the assassination was a conspiracy. All it proves is that the President was assassinated.

Moreover, he asserts: "There is nothing that an actual resurrection would have caused that could not have been caused by a mere belief in that resurrection." That's really a red herring because there would be no belief without an empty tomb, and they could not have gotten the body past the guards had he not risen from the dead. To answer that this could be held by mere bleief and didn't require a real resurrection is nothing but begging the question. We can't assert that we know there was true resurrection just because bleief in resurrection might have flourished without an actual event. We don't really know that it did, and there is a possibility that the belief would not be possible with an actual event. That is rather a moot point and it is no way to do history!

The big historian's brilliant knowledge fails to impress. There is one other major issue that the CARM folks were so taken with. he argues that superstition was  so rampant in that day they would bleieve anything. That's supposed that prove it didn't happen.  Some of the CARM atheists seemed to think this is some big innovative to show the superstition level of the day. I knew about that as a child. I sued that argument in my pro atheism arguments when I was a junior in high school.

But reasons to be skeptical do not stop there. We must consider the setting--the place and time in which these stories spread. This was an age of fables and wonder. Magic and miracles and ghosts were everywhere, and almost never doubted. I'll give one example that illustrates this: we have several accounts of what the common people thought about lunar eclipses. They apparently had no doubt that this horrible event was the result of witches calling the moon down with diabolical spells. So when an eclipse occurred, everyone would frantically start banging pots and blowing brass horns furiously, to confuse the witches' spells. So tremendous was this din that many better-educated authors complain of how the racket filled entire cities and countrysides. This was a superstitious people.

the sources he footnotes are an article by himself and his Masters thesis. In those articles he quotes other source but does not document with standard method of FN. He never shows that the superstitions about eclipse were prevalent in Jerusalem in the Time of Jesus, nor does he show that people were so set on them that they could be convinced to see things that weren't there.

He talks at length about how people in that day were certain that an eclipse was a witch stealing the moon or a Dragon easting the sun. the idea that they would believe an eclipse was special dragon eating the sun or witch stealing the moon or something. That doesn't prove that they would believe in a resurrection just because they are told about it. Carrier would assert this but it's the opposite: the eclipse is a real event that is very dramatic. It's rarity and its' encompassing nature, it seem terrifying and mysterious. It's really happening, the sun really goes away for a bit. That doesn't prove they would believe something just becuase they are told about it. That proves the opposite really that there has to be a real event that's terrifying and out of the ordinary to trigger such belief. A real resurrection would fill the fill the bill,I don't know what else would.

Another problem is that he doesn't even bother to document the time or place of Jesus day. He's not quoting evdience about how Jews of Jesus time thought. He's asserting that all ancinet world people thought the same. that's an old atheist assumption that all ancient people are stupid.

Only a small class of elite well-educated men adopted more skeptical points of view, and because they belonged to the upper class, both them and their arrogant skepticism were scorned by the common people, rather than respected. Plutarch laments how doctors were willing to attend to the sick among the poor for little or no fee, but they were usually sent away, in preference for the local wizard.[10] By modern standards, almost no one had any sort of education at all, and there were no mass media disseminating scientific facts in any form. By the estimates of William Harris, author of Ancient Literacy [1989], only 20% of the population could read anything at all, fewer than 10% could read well, and far fewer still had any access to books. He found that in comparative terms, even a single page of blank papyrus cost the equivalent of thirty dollars--ink, and the labor to hand copy every word, cost many times more. We find that books could run to the tens or even hundreds of thousands of dollars each. Consequently, only the rich had books, and only elite scholars had access to libraries, of which there were few. The result was that the masses had no understanding of science or critical thought. They were neither equipped nor skilled, nor even interested, in challenging an inspiring story, especially a story like that of the Gospels: utopian, wonderful, critical of upper class society--even more a story that, if believed, secured eternal life. Who wouldn't have bought a ticket to that lottery? Opposition arose mainly from prior commitments to other dogmas, not reason or evidence.

He's talking about Europe in the middle ages.He has some application to first century meridian. That's a long way from proving that a whole popular would up and believe in resurrection just become people started saying someone rose form the dead. Some of the advocates of resurrection were those educated men who were not carried by superstition. Paul and Luke fall into that category. Some of the Romans Paul was talking to in his letter to the Romans would fall into it. Priscilla,Paul's friend the wife of Aquila probalby, since her name is a Patrician name.





End notes


[1] Carrier FN at this point:

Besides my summary of Metzger on The New Testament Canon, cf. R. Burridge, What are the Gospels? A Comparison with Graeco-Roman Biography (1992); H. Koester, Ancient Christian Gospels: Their History and Development (1990); W. Lane's New London Commentary on the New Testament (1974); and also Bart Ehrman's The Orthodox Corruption of Scripture: The Effect of Early Christological Controversies on the Text of the New Testament (1993).

[2] palimpsest:
noun
noun: palimpsest; plural noun: palimpsests
  1. a manuscript or piece of writing material on which the original writing has been effaced to make room for later writing but of which traces remain.
    • something reused or altered but still bearing visible traces of its earlier form.
      "Sutton Place is a palimpsest of the taste of successive owners"

[3] Helmutt Koester. Ancient Christian Gospels:Their History and Development.
.
Harrisburg, PA: Trinity Press International. 1990, 218.
[4] Babylonian Talmud, Book 10: History of the Talmud, tr. Vol 1 Chapter 2
 THE DEVELOPMENT OF THE TALMUD DURING THE LAST CENTURY OF THE SECOND TEMPLE'S EXISTENCE (i.e. THE FIRST A.C.) SHEMAIA--ABTALIAN--HILLEL--SHAMMAI--THE PRINCES (NASIS) OF ISRAEL--R. JOHANAN B. ZAKKAI--SANHEDRIN OF JAMNIA--THE JEWISH CHRISTIANS.accessed 9/6/14 
by Michael L. Rodkinson, [1918], at sacred-texts.com accessed 9/6/14
 The Talmud was written in second century on, but the works it used were passed on orally and date much earlier. Rodkinson states:
 "The Talmud is a combination of Mishna and Gemara, the latter is a collection of Mishnayoth, Tosephtas, Mechilta, Siphra, Siphre and Boraithas, all of these, interpreted and discussed by the Amoraim, Saboraim, and also Gaonim at a later period. "The Mishna is the authorized codification of the oral or unwritten law, which on the basis of the written law contained in Pentateuch, developed during the second Temple, and down to the end of the second century of the common era." The author of which was R. Jehuda, the prince named "Rabbi" (flourishing toward the end of the second century), taking the unfinished work of R. Akiba and R. Meir as basis."
[5] Caesar crossed the Rubicon in 49 AD. Suetonius wasn't born until 70 AD! Appian was bron in 95 AD  Cassius Dio born in 155,
Plutarch born in 45 AD. so he could have been there if he had been taken along as a two year old historian.



On CARM HRG says: " It is mentioned in De bello civile, Cicero's Philipplicae and Velleius Paterculus. " http://forums.carm.org/vbb/showthread.php?200585-why-I-don-t-buy-Carrier-s-article-about-not-buying-the-Res

Interesting that Carrier didn't use those guys becuase he has a Ph.D. in world history, so he surely would have known they were contemporary with the event. He must know of them. But one might well wonder were they there or did they know if  from reading Caesar? Sure they knew the crossing was alleged to have existed, that doesn't mean they were there.

Monday, August 18, 2014

sorry

I am moving. I wont get back to regular blog until set up in the new digs.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

God does not have super powers

 photo 2808741-byrnesuperman_zps782ba902.jpg
Superman

This is probably a pretty elementary post for my readership. I thought it might help stimulate discussion. this is motivated by a post on CARM that asked "could Jesus beat up a T Rex." O those guys are getting into some pretty heavy stuff over there. The OP beings "even though Jesus has super powers..."

It's important not to think of God in terms of superman. All our knowledge and understanding of reality is based upon metaphor and correlations. We can' have causal connections without them, without causes we can't predicts the result of our actions. It would be total crippling to rid ourselves of all causal thinking.

Linking God with superman is just a correlation,an analogy, but for that reason it teaches us to limit God. Superman is just a man, even though he can do stuff we can't do. he's not analogs to God becuase he's not limitless and he's not the basis of reality.




 photo 001_god_and_adam_zps028dc934.jpg
Big man in Sky

one of the major problems in the way atheists (and fundamentalists) think about God is limiting him to the power range and conceptual range of a big man in the sky. We need to be conceiving of God in different ways and creating new associations and images so that we can elevate our thinking about God beyond that of a comic book character.

God is not a big man in the sky. He's eternal, he has no origin, no begging, there's no origin story of how he got his powers. there's always an origin story for supermen. Superman get's powers from the yellow sun of the earth (Krypton had a red sun).

God's powers are limitless. we could measure much superman can do. He can turn earth around in it's orbit but he drag away the whole solar system. God can. God can do it all. The only conceivable limit on god is one chooses to be limited by such as human free will, or logical necessity (he can't do contradictory things that dont' make sense).

We tend to associate God with human motivations and human thinking. The OT does this because it wants us to relate to god. We can't relate to the ground of being, or the basis of reality. We can't feel that the ground of being loves us so the Bible images god as a big man, a mother bear, a women suckling a child. In the Hebrew system of poetry and imagery these are supposed to be compounded to stack up to something beyond the range suggested by any one image. There are many passages, usually overlooked, that say things "my thoughts are not your thoughts." Or "God is not like a man he doesn't need anything."

We should be willing to conceive of God in new ways and in ways that don't link him with magnified humanity. We can't lose sight of the relations that OT uses to enable us to feel closer to God.

Nothing wrong with comparing God to a mother nursing a child, as long as we can associate god with transcendent things as well; the laws of physics or Hegelian dialectic.


 photo Holy_Grail_God_small_0.gif
big man in sky

Monday, August 11, 2014

How Do We Know God is Not Evil?

Photobucket


I've seen atheists ask this in various forms. The most recent I've seen is "prove God isn't evil." I answered that with three arguemnts only to find the atheists pulling the old relativism thing. How do we know good and evil even exist at all they said? Well, first of all, in answering the question about "prove god is not evil," the challenge was in reference to Christian ideas. To even ask the question assumes a Christian framework. You can't say on the one hand "God might really be evil," then say "but there's no such thing as evil." That would have no meaning. God might really be this thing that has no meaning and doesn't exist? What kind of meaning does that have? One get's the feeling of being set up for a cheap trick. Like we say "ok so God is evil ni the sense that there is no such thing as evil. so what?" they say "O you admitted it, God is evil you said it ok that's the end of Christianity!" Those are two completely different questions to answer the one you must bracket the other. first I will present my arguments to prove that God is not evil, and to do that assume the Christian framework for good and evil. Then I will deal with the relativistic stuff (that there is no good or evil).

I am assuming there is such a thing as good and we all have a general idea of what that is. Now I also noted that many atheist in the discussion I allude to above (where the challenge was made "prove God is not evil") were assuming a contradiction in the Bible where on the one hand God says "love your neighbor" and on the other hand he says "slaughter the Amelekites kids." So there's the problem of a contradiction between the values God expresses and the behavior God exhibits. Thus we assume the values expressed are true values of good, and that is a meaningful term, but the question is does God seem to betray the very values that he instigates?

Before giving three positive reasons to think God can't be evil, (that is a logical impossibility) we have to deal with the seeming contradiction in the Bible. In the discussion on a certain message board aluded to above, a friend of mine who is an atheist said this:

Originally Posted by mikey_101 View Post
No genocide isn't evil, killing children and homosexuals isn't evil, eternal torture for not believing in one particular religion out of thousands isn't evil, slavery isn't evil. Actually you're right, God isn't evil because God is a reflection of OUR evil.
Those are based upon bible verses and bible verses are not creeds, they are not dictum they are not decrees. In short we don't have to bleieve them.


There is NO official Christian doctrine or document or creed or council that say "you must believe every verse in the bible." The fundies say it but they didn't exist until the 1820s. They are merely late commers in Christian history.Each one of those passages must be analogized in the original language and discussed according to the history and culture and textual evidence to show it really belongs in the Bible or not.I can tell you now there is evidence Amalekite passage is added in latter.



The text of 1 Samuel is one of the most heavily redacted in the Bible. As we will see, it's very presence in the canon has been brought into question, but the version we have is probably a corrupted second rate copy, and the LXX is closer, and Q4Sama at Qumran closer still, to the actual original.

Institutte Bibilcal Scientific Studies:

Biblical Archaeology, Dead Sea Scrolls and OT


"1&2 Samuel"

"For the past two centuries textual critics have recognized that the Masoretic Text (MT) of 1&2 Samuel has much textual corruption. The Samuel MT is shorter than the LXX and 4QSama. The Samuel MT has improper word division, metathesis, and other orthographic problems. Certain phrases and clauses go against the Hebrew grammar rules. Parallel passages vary from each other" (See Charlesworth, 2000, pp.227-8).

Redaction of Infant Slaughtering Passage


Notes in the New Oxford Annotated Bible on 1 Sam 15:1-35

"Another story of Saul's rejection: The late source. Compare this section with 13:7-15, Samuel, not Saul is the leading figure once more."

This is the very passage in which Samuel relays God's command to wipe out the infants. So even though I still need to find more specific evidence for that very passage, there is a good chance of proving redaction. While its true that I can't produce an actual MS showing no infant slaughter command, the passage in which that command is given has been redacted. The odds are very high that this command was not part of the original passage, or we can regard it as such. We know that slaughtering infants in evil, and we have no obligation to accept a command as divine that we know to be totally at odds with God's law and God's moral code.

All the other verses must be dealt with in similar fashion, one by one, and an overview entailing a theory of inspiration adopted so that one knows how to approach scripture. For an example on this one might consult my page on the nature of Biblical revelation as an example.

Now I present the three arguments that prove God is not evil:

I. Being is good.

Being is not evil. We are all part of being, we all engage in the act of being. We know from our existence that existing is good and it's not evil. There's no reason to think it is. It's hard for a lot of people to get thier minds around the idea of God as being itself. I've certainly spent a lot of time blogging about the concept. I wont go into it here. It can be found on Doxa in several pages. I'm also just finishing my second book which is on the subject. Wait a couple of years and it will be out.

syllogism:
*God is being itself

being is good.

therefore God must be good.

One objection to this is that some atheists tried to evoke the notion that life is not good. One cna mean this either in terms of "my individual life sux," or in terms of amorality or some form of relativism. That would be cheating the issues here becuase I explain above the original challenge assumes Christian categories of good and evil. Moreover, one can condemn the concept of life itself by one's own experiences. I can have rotten life (to some extent that's what I make it) that doesn't mean all life is rotten. There is a goodness about life itself. Here I take life as a pragmatic form of existence. Existence in and of itself is "good," if not in a moral sense (which is one confussion of the argument--the mixing of senses between moral and pragmatic) at least just in the sense of the (apparent) goodness of open ended possibility.


II. Love can't be evil.

This is one of those mysterious points that of which atheists are most incredulous. Almost every time they will say "you are logic is so bad" on this point. When pressed they never say why. they can't give me a rule of logic that's violated, nine times out of ten it's a matter of rejecting the concept of a priori. That unusually happens becuase they have self esteem problems, as atheists are known to have.

The nature of love makes it the very definition of Good. What is the nature of the good, it's what love is, being kind, being gentile, caring about others, giving to others, living for others. How do we know this? First we have to realize we are not talking about butterflies in the stomach. Many atheists try to lose the concept of love in the emotions that go with it, which they sweep away as the side effect of brain chemistry. The kind of love experienced in romance, puppy love,infatuation, lust, sexual attraction and the like is what is meant here by "love." Here I speak of agape. This is "God's love" sometimes translated "charity." Although that is not a good translation. Paul Tillich defines it as "the will t the good of the other." I think that is a most apt decryption. The Greek does imply the willingness to assign to others the human dignity due them.

It is more or less an axiomatic tenet that love is the background of the moral universe (consult Saint Augustine, and Joseph Fletcher). I am not sure it can be proved, thus making it "axiomatic." Like most axioms trying to deny it would be absurd. This is certainly true in terms of Christian theology.

1 John 4:
7 Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. 8 Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love. 9 This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. 10 This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. 11 Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. 12 No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us. 13 This is how we know that we live in him and he in us: He has given us of his Spirit. 14 And we have seen and testify that the Father has sent his Son to be the Savior of the world. 15 If anyone acknowledges that Jesus is the Son of God, God lives in them and they in God. 16 And so we know and rely on the love God has for us.
God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in them. 17 This is how love is made complete among us so that we will have confidence on the day of judgment: In this world we are like Jesus. 18 There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.
19 We love because he first loved us. 20 Whoever claims to love God yet hates a brother or sister is a liar. For whoever does not love their brother and sister, whom they have seen, cannot love God, whom they have not seen. 21 And he has given us this command: Anyone who loves God must also love their brother and sister.

Don't even think about trying to argue that "you are trying to prove the Bible by the bile." I am not trying to prove the bible I'm demonstrating the Christian categories which the original challenge assumes (so I have to go by the to answer the challenge). This is exactly what atheists would do to try and prove than an idea was Christian. If we are considering Christian ethics then we must consider that love is the background of the moral universe. Love is the basis of God's character.

That either the issue becomes redundant if we consider the relativist position (which we will soon enough) or it rebounds onto the Christian categories and becomes a matter of what we think about the Bible. With a fundamentalist view of inerrancy it's hard to see how there is not a contradiction in the categories, what God says and what God does.
Yet of course that is not the only Christian answer; there are several other views that take up different approaches to the bible that serve as alternatives.
syllogism:

Love is not evil

God's nature is love and God is the original source of love

therefore God is not evil.


Thus, from the perspective of the Christian categories each of the above arguemnts individually prove that God is not evil and cannot be construed as evil.

III. Evil can't be the first thing.


Evil is the absence of the good. That means there has to be a good preceding evil to be departed from to create an absence. evil is rebellion against good. Evil is rejecting the good. all of this implies good is first.God is eternal so God has to be first. A lot of people reject the categories of good and evil becasue they don't like the way they are made. One of the major issues in atheism (even though many atheists don't realize it--a psychological problem) is self rejection leads to rejection of the idea that a loving God would make me the way I am. I was an atheist I know what it is to think that way. The old cliche "God is not finished with me yet" has it's uses and this is one of them.If you don't like the way God made you it's only becuase he's not finished yet. If you rebel against God you are not letting him finish you.

That means there has to be a good preceding evil to be departed from to create an absence.

Actual Atheist Objection:
"That doesn't follow. A hole is an absence of earth, the existence of a hole doesn't imply there was earth. Counter example to your premise." I this I argued "are you kidding? Isn't a hole defined by what's around it? That's like saying "I don't believe donuts exist, only the holes exist." A hole with nothing around it is nothing.



syllogism:

evil is falling away from, therefore, good is prior to evil

God is eternal and thus is prior to all things

therefore, God can't be evil.


Now we come to the issue of relativism. For those who do not hold to the Christian categories of good and evil but try to define them either by sweeping them away, or by using the terms relative to other standards, how does one come to ascertain the truth content of the Christian categories? The only way one can really do this is empirically. Of course this assumes there's a god. Though many atheists will try not allow such an assumption, it's pointless to ask about God's character if you don't assume there is a God, at least for the sake of argument. I have certainly spent enough time on this blog giving reason enough why one can assume God based upon any number of things. For those tempted to make comments and demand reasons I tell you now, see my 42 arguments, especially no 7 and no 8. I single out those two becasue they form the basis of the empirical approach. One might also see my essay on phenomenology and Method.
Certainly we are talking about taking religious experience seriously. The same reasoning that would allow one to understand God as reality would also allow one to understand God's character as love. It makes no sens to take up a challenge or to even issue one about God's goodness then turn around and say "you can't prove that becuase you can't prove god exists." Ok so that what sense would it make to argue "god is fictional but he's really evil?" The realization that leads to faith is the same realiation that allows us to understand God's love. It's simply an empirical matter. We experince God's presence, swe sesne God's love. In a life of 30+
years that has never been disproved. Even in times when I lost faith and thought God was disproved, even in times when I lost everything and thought God was evil, he was neither evil, or absent nor unfaithful. (see part 2 here).

excerpt from those last two links:

Looking back on it things actually were better after we left the house. At the time, however, we couldn't see that. Then it seemed like the end. We were scared, we were homeless, we couldn't find an apartment because we had "financial leper" on our credit. Since 9/11 getting an apartment in Dallas was next to impossible. When I first moved away form my parents and went to New Mexico back in 80, no one cared who I was or what my credit was. I gave them money they gave me an apartment. By 2006, however, in Dallas, it was next to impossible even if your credit was good. It really seemed like the end. I began saying "I am dead, I died, they just haven't told the corpse to lay down yet." I also began to say "God has cursed me." "God loves to crush his own guys, this is what I get for caring about my parents." You know I was practicing for the glee club. I was a tower of faith. We did find an apartment, we had a couple of thousand dollars from the guy who bought the house (because he was a Christian he said) even though the mortgage company actually makes them promise not to help the victim, not to give more than the mortgage price in a short sale. It's set up so the the victim losing the house can't get anything for his/her hard earned ears of struggle to buy the house. He bought the furniture and car and then let us keep them.
God was faithful to me even when I was not faithful to him. I was calling him a lair and shouting at him and I said worse than that. I called him a monster and told him he loved to hurt people. He didn't care, he's heard it all. I didn't shame God into helping me, he was working to help me anyway, I only held up the process and made it take longer by not trusting and not looking to seek the spiritual instead of freaking out because things didn't look good. Easy to forget, we walk by faith and not by sight. That means its' going to look grim. That doesn't mean anything you just have to trust God. Cultivate your spiritual relationship with God. Cultivate our inner life! It's a life long project, work on it every day.

That requires a life of faith to understand. The first step is to seek. Then it will fall into place. It wont fall into place when you renounce God and make skepticism your watchword. If your principle is to see through everyging, as C.S. Lewis said, you wind seeing nothing.