Monday, April 30, 2012

Is it a contradiction to bleieve in something that is beyond our understnanding? (part 1)

detail of the Ceiling of the Hagia Sophia
"In 404 AD the church was destroyed by mobs set into action when Emperor Arcadius sent Archbishop John Chrysostom into exile for his criticism of the Empress. In 415 AD Emperor Theodosius II rebuilt the church. It too fell victim to a rampaging mob at the time of Monophysite heretics in 532 AD. "

Twice now I was explaining to atheists that the Eastern Orthodox approach to apophatic theology invovles the idea that God is beyond our understanding but we know certain realities about God through mystical union. I said it was a tradition and they said "the tradition is old and out modded." A tradition, Old? Pull the other one! Being old is what you want in  a tradition. No one every says "this is a bran new tradition it must be good." The idea of a tradition is that it is a conversation, it serves as a guide to mistakes and successes of the past by recording what's been said. People who don't understand the nature of religious belief assume tradition is arbitrary and outmoded because our education system stopped teaching how to learn and began imprinting technology on kids about 40 years ago.

Atheists seem truly alarmed by the idea that God is beyond our understanding. For me it's a fundamental to my belief in God. It's the first premise in mystical theology. Here I will present a blog piece about the use of that concept in Orthodox theology and how they deal with that. Then in part 2 on Wednesday I'll present a dialogue form the comment contention and make a few additional comments.

Most people tend to think of God as a big man in the sky. Feminism tries to counter by thinking of God/ess as a big woman in the sky, but it’s the same principle. God is seen as a thing, a human, a big person who is only the most powerful but still part of creation.  Even those of us trained in a more liberal kind of theology still have a hard time shaking the childhood notion. In trying to discuss Tillich’s ideas with both Christians and atheists I find atheists are as committed to “the big guy in the sky” as are fundamentalist Christians. Both can be very strong about insisting that Tillich’s idea is not the Christian concept of God. Of course Tillich was convinced that he had hold of a deep forgotten truth buried beneath the tradition that one can see hinted at by all the major theologians. I will discuss in this chapter some of the theologians whom Tillich uses as such examples, but I will not critique his understanding of them extensively. I assume Tillich was reading into the theologians he liked ideas that may not be there originally. On the other hand some of the ideas are obvious. I will get that toward the end of this chapter. In this chapter I want to explore the notion that while Tillich’s idea is controversial and in some quarters much objected to, in a general sense its concerns if not its assertions are generally favorable to Catholics, Protestants and Eastern Orthodox, and that one can find in all of these traditions major thinkers who are in a general sense in agreement with either Tillich’s idea or his concerns. I think at least we can say these views are not anti-Christian, not heretical.

Two Major Passages

            We start with the Bible since that for so many forms the basis of Christian theological tradition. There are no passages that blatantly say God is being itself. Of course we are not going to find one that says “verily Verily, I say unto you, Tillich is right.” The main aspect of Biblical theology in which we can expect to find support is not the overt quotation of passages but the imagery and other theological devices used to communicate truth about the nature of God and God’s relation to reality. Also the relation of the concept of being to the concept of God as we see it used in the Bible is a major aspect of this evidence. Moreover, the endorsement of the idea outright by other theologians both living and ancient is a major part of the proof. Nevertheless, there is one passage that may be taken as embodying a concept the consequence of which would entail that God is being itself, or the ground of being. Thais passage is actually a translation; it’s the Septuagint (LXX) version, the Greek translation of the OT produced in the Intertestamental period. This passage is found in Exodus 3: 14 where God speaks to Moses out of the burning bush and tells him to go demand of Pharos “let my people God.” Moses says “whom shall I say is calling?”  God tells him, as translated from Hebrew to English from the Masoretic text, “I am that I am.” In the LXX however, he says ego eimi ‘O on, which literally means “I am he who is.” The meaning implied is that of eternal necessary being. Why say “I am he who is” when anyone who exists can say that? He’s not talking bout the mere fact of existence but the implication of being the basis of all existence. “He who is” implies an eternal and necessary nature.
            The famous passage of God appearing out of the burning bush and giving Moses his name as “I am” is an important passage, not only is it important for movie goers and Charlton Hesston fans but also in the history of philosophy. It was upon the basis of this passage that Etinene Gilson says Thomas Aquinas based the notion he had of God as the primary act of existence, and the basis of the argument about existential energy.

Quote the passage in Gilson

Why, St. Tomas asks, do we say that Qui est  is the most proper name among all those that can be given to God? And his answer is because it signifies ‘to be.’ : ipsum esse. And what is it to be? In answering this most difficult of all metaphysical questions, we must carefully distinguish between the meaning of two words which are both different and yet immediately realted, ens, or being and esse or ‘to be.’ To the question “what is being” the correct answer is, “being is that which is, or exits” If for instance we ask the same question with regard for God the correct answer would be “the being of God is an infinite and boundless ocean of substance.” But esse or to be is something else and much harder to grasp because it lies more deeply hidden in the metaphysical structure of reality. The word being as a noun designates some substance;the word “to be”—or esse—is a verb, because it designates an act. To understand this is also to reach beyond the level of essence, the deeper level of existence…we first conceive certain beings, then we define their essences, and last we confirm their existences by means of a judgment. But the metaphysical order of reality is just the reverse of the order of human knowledge. What first comes into it is a certain act of existing, which. Because it is this particular act of existing, circumscribes at once a certain essence and causes a certain substance to come into being. In this deeper sense “to be” is the deeper and fundamental act by virtue of which a certain being actually is, or exists…to be is the very act whereby an essence is.[1]

Of course for those not enamored of Thomistic philosophy this may seem a bit questionable but the point in bringing it up is to show the profound power and importance of the passage, which served as a spring board for a major movement in the history of philosophy and of faith. The meaning is obviously bound up in questions of the metaphysical nature of being and what it means to be. The Scholastics derived from this idea of essence and existence the notion that God alone is unique because the divine essence (what God is) is the same as the divine existence (the fact that God is), or to put it another way God’s essence is the same as his existence. For everything else existence is a function of essence. The up shot of all of this is that the thing God is is an eternally existing act.  The job description of God so to speak is to always be because what God is eternal necessary being. We can see that in the passage just by translating in the stadanrd way form Hebrew as “I am that I am.”
            Aquinas’ view of God is counter to that of Tillich even though they are both termed “existential.” Wolfhart Pannenberg used Aquinas to actually counter Tilich (one can see the contradiction between Aquinas’ use of the term “existence of God” and Tillich’s abhorrence f the term). [2] Even so I would argue that weather one works from the Hebrew derived translation “I am that I am” or the Greek “I am being” it’s hinting at the same thing. He doesn’t say “I am the most powerful being” or even “I am the creator” but either way it definitely rests the relationship between God and the world upon the notion of God as the basis of reality. “I am that I am” implies a self sustaining uncaused or eternal state, aka aseity, and that implies that the one who has aseity would have to be the foundation of all reality and the creator of all things. The interview between God and Moses is so crucial to the Christian concept of God, it is the unveiling of God’s identity to the great Patriarch of Israel, their leader out of slavery and to the promised land. This is a very key verse. This is where we are given the basic revelation of who God is. What does it tell us but that God is fundamentally connected to being at the most foundational level? The Hebrew word most used for God derives from this passage and it basically means “being.” “The name of god, which in Hebrew is spelled YHWH, is difficult to explain. Scholars generally believe that it derives from the Semitic word, "to be," and so means something like, "he causes to be."[3]
            The other archetypical passage that literally connects God to being itself proceeds from the other end of the equation, from the standpoint of the being and their connection to God. That passage is found in Acts 17: 28 “In him we live and move and have our being. Paul is telling the Greek philosophers and worshippers on Mars Hill that their alter to “the unknown God” hints at the reality of the true God. These were pagan followers of another religion. Paul stood up and said to them, "Men of Athens, I see that in every way you are very religious for as I walked around and observed your objects of worship I even found an alter with this inscription 'TO AN UNKOWN GOD' Now what you worship as something unknown I am going to proclaim to you." He basically says that they are worshiping God, they just don't know who he is. That's why he says "I will make it known to you." He doesn't say "you have the wrong idea completely." Most Evangelicals dismiss this as a neat rhetorical trick. But if we assume that Paul would not lie or distort his beliefs for the sake of cheap tricks, we must consider that he did not say "you are all a bunch of pagans and you are going to hell!" He essentially told them, "God is working in your culture, you do know God, but you don't know who God is. You seek him, without knowing the one you seek. He goes on,(v27)"God did this [created humanity and scattered them into different cultures] so that men would seek him and perhaps reach out and find him though he is not far form each one of us." This implies that God not only wants to work in other cultures, but that it is actually his plan to do things in this way. Perhaps through a diversity of insights we might come to know God better. Perhaps it means that through spreading the Gospel people would come to contemplate better the meaning of God's love. The significance is that the Hebrew passage is God’s revelation to his chosen people, to the Israelites, the Greek passage of the NT is the revelation of the Christian God reaching out to other people. In both cases God is revealing himself or being revealed. In both cases God’s basic identity is related to God’s relation to being.  The passage in v28 says “In him we live and move and have our being.” Literally it says “in him we live and move and are.” The tense is present. The translation in English is usually slanted to the poetic. The notion of our being is not only derived from God but is played out “in” God suggests the concept of Being and the beings. The beings are produced and sustained as part of being. Since God is the producer and sustainer of our being, of all being it stands to reason that God is the foundation of all that is, and that God is therefore, fundamentally related to Being itself. This is also a picture of the depth of being. God’s estrangement from other cultures and revelation to those cultures demonstrates a fundamental relation to being, he is not an idol made with hands, (as Paul says in the passage) he is not served by men with their hands, yet he is “not far from any one of us.” In fact Paul quotes the Greek poet “we are all his offspring.” One is reminded of the notion “being is present and manifest in the beings.”
The Formation of Christian Doctrine.

            Nothing could be more deeply Orthodox than the doctrine of the Trinity; this is the seminal concept that defines Orthodox Christianity. The concept of Being itself is at the heart of the Trinitarian doctrine. The doctrine of the Trinity was one of the major doctrines that shaped the Christian tradition as a separate and distinct tradition form that of Judaism, and gave it its own unique flavor and character. Embodied in the making of that doctrine at a fundamental level was the idea of being itself. Yet in this context that idea if masked by another, or rather the modern phrase of Tillich’s is the old idea masked and packed for modern thinkers. The original concept, as already pointed out in the chapter on Tillich and Being itself is homoousios, substance, essence. The concepts of being and essence are closely related. “Being” can be used of the fact of existing; in him we live and move and have our being. The verb “to be” for example speaks of the act of existing. Essence is that which makes something what it is, being is not just the fact that something it but also hints at what something is since essence can be described as “being itself.”
            Tillich, in tracing the development of Trinitarian Christology recounts the rise of monarchism among the masses. The masses wanted God on earth, and one man as God not three persona of God. The stressed the monarchist nature of God as opposed to what they took to be three gods in Trinitarian thinking. In the chapter on Tillich and Being itself I discussed the link between substance (or “essence”) homoousios and being itself.(see fn 77 previous chapter). Essence is partly the power of being. The concept of essence was left to the Greek and Roman Christians through the gentile drift of the church. Because they were gentile they naturally gravitated to Greek based philosophical explanations (that meant Platonic ones). They did not understand the Hebrew origin of the OT thought about God and probably didn’t care either. They moved everything into Greek categories because to them that was the official seat of knowledge in that day. Tillich Talks about the mystical nature of Origen’s doctrine and the mystical and devotional nature of his philosophical creeds, they sound to us like abstract philosophy but to the believers of Alexandrian who followed Origen (b185-d253/254) they were suitable as devotional confessions. “We believe in Jesus Christ, Logos of God, God from God, light from light, life from life, first born of all creatures generated out of the father before all generations.”[4] While this sounds like a technical description of doctrine, the follower of Origen who was reciting might well be having a mystical experience after the recitation. Tillich speaks of this as “the mystical intuition of essences, of powers of being.” This is interesting for several reasons. As pointed out, it links being itself with essence in the Platonic sense, in the sense of homoousios, but also because it implies that an understanding of being itself could well be a mystical intuition and the trigger for a mystical experience. homoousios was the universal understanding and used in one way or another by all sides in the controversies.[5]
            The Christiological controversies are far too complex to go into here. That would take the reader far off track. I will stick to a direct course and just cut to the meat of the matter: I confine this argument to the outcome of the controversy, and just deal with the meaning and implications of the term homoousios. My position is that Tillich uses “being itself’ as a modernized version of “essence” so that he brings concepts which would otherwise be labeled outmoded into package more acceptable to the modern clement. When he did this the climate was largely one in which existentialism was valued and was seen as “modern.” Talk of “being” in a Hideggerian context was part of the contemporary cutting edge of the day. Therefore I will focus up what this means for the Christian concept of God and not upon the developments of the Christological dispute. I will point out, however, that the term wound up being used in the major creeds and came to be the defining term for the nature of the deity shared by the three persons of the Trinity.
            Origen had overcome a heretical movement that interposed the Trinity in certain way. These were the modal monarchists. They reduced the three persons of the Trinity to “modes” of being. They wanted God on earth directly, not mediated by a hierarchy of emanations. So they had the three persons as mere masks or identities, just as one takes on a false identity to spy or escape the law, or for whatever reason. These three identities were “modes” into which God alternate or shift, they all were actually of the same essence, or hamousios, (being). Origen ran roughshod over the moralistic groups for at time but eventually his movement was fragmented into left and right. This term was used throughout the controversies, and was used of both Monarchians and Origeinists and other Othodox theologians some scholars feel it was employed to combat the Arians. The modal monarchists and the Arians were both defeated but the victors also used “essence” or homoousios.  The term had a checkered past, political opposing rose against it, and theologically it was challenged as Sabalien[6] but it stuck and has clung to the creeds. In the translation of the old wording for the Nicene creed the term is translated “being of one substance with the Father;” the modern western wording has it, “of one being with the Father..”[7]
            None of this is to say that the Church leaders taking part in the Christological disputes thought of God in the way that Tillich did. If they were ask “what is God?” They would not say “being itself” as a clear and meaningful answer. If Tillich’s view is a way of modernizing ancient Orthodoxy then the link is clear; being itself refers to the act of God’s being in reality and as the basis of reality, the realization that God is the basic primary act of being has always been a keystone of the Christian faith. The basic formation of Christianity as we know it, based upon the Trinity, is conditioned upon an understanding of the concept of essence that is linked to the notion of God’s act of being and the way it is shared by the three persona of the Godhead. As a noun being designates a substance. [8]That’s the link between homoousios and being. Gilson not using the terms the way Tillich does, talking about existence as lying more deeply hidden in the metaphysical structure of reality (see quote in fn 2). To be designates action, being as a noun designates substance. But the substance and the act meet up, the “what” God is meets the “that” God is in God’s eternal and necessary nature, his being is his substance. I like the way Gilson put it

Because it is this particular act of existing, circumscribes at once a certain essence and causes a certain substance to come into being. In this deeper sense “to be” is the deeper and fundamental act by virtue of which a certain being actually is, or exists…to be is the very act whereby an essence is. In this deeper sense to be is the primitive and fundamental act by virtue of which a certain being actually is, or exists. In St. Thomas’ own words…to be is the very act whereby an essence is.  A world where ‘to be’ is the act par excellence, the act of all acts is also a world wherein, for each and everything existence is the original energy whence flows all that deserves the name of being. Such an existential world can be accounted for by no other cause than a supremely existential God[9]

This is why Tillich speaks of the term essence (homoousios) as “divine power of being.” Even though he uses the term “existence” differently than does Gilson, they are really saying the same thing about God. When Gilson speaks of “the original energy” from which all flows, as the Thomists say “existential energy” he means work. Greek, from which our term “energy” derives, ergon, means “to work.” Energy is work and that correlates to Tillich’s phrase “power of being.” Energy, work, power, all the same thing, flowing from God is the act of God’s on eternal reality and from that the power to make all that is; of course that same power of God flows through all that is. The power of being is the work that God dos in creating and sustaining all things. God’s own being then is an eternal work of acting to be, participating in the act of being.
            This is why Tillich says the Modal monarchists embraced their creeds as mystical confessions. The creeds acted as triggers for mystical experiences. They were intuitively picking up on the idea of God’s power in the act of creation and the act of being. We engage in the act of being with God as contingent properties of God’s energies, or his act of being. That is according to God’s will, of course. This notion of primordial being and our participation as sort of cosmic hitchhiker’s on God’s eternal act of self sustenance is at the core of the Christological doctrine. As the phrase “essence” (creative power of being—homoousios)    connotes this sense of the act of existence hidden beneath the notion of substance—the three persona of the Godhead sharing in the same eternal act of being. The hitchhiker metaphor is not to imply anything in the sense of our own per existence or God’s lack of will in creating humans and bring all things out of nothing. Our very existence is a result of the creative energy of being. This is implied at the core of the stodgy boring old Christological stuff at the root of the doctrine of the Trinity. These controversies were the making of Christianity. Nothing could be more orthodox than the concept of God as being itself.
The Orthodox Tradition

Eastern Orthodox Church. Timothy Ware wrote a fine book, The Orthodox Church that does a good job of introducing Western Christians to the Eastern Church.[10]
            Ware explains the great schism and how the gulf between east and west continued to grow. He wants to explain the ways in which the east contributed to the gulf. He says that nothing was so radical as the scholastic “revolution” but he lists as the eastern counterpart the Hesychast controversy (pg2). 14th century Byzantium. This involved God’s nature and the method of prayer. To explain the controversy he goes back to history of eastern mystical theology, back to Clement of Alexandria (early third century) and Origen (mid 3d). The Cappadocians, especially Gregory of Nyssa and also Evagrius, a monk in the Egyptian desert (d399) developed the ideas of Clement and Origen. This entire tradition depended upon an apophatic approach, especially as developed by Clement and Gregory. God is beyond our understanding. We cannot speak accurately about God because we can’t understand God and we don’t know if our experiences of God are so very encompassing or just fragmentary. Therefore, the mystics of the Eastern Church use negative language of God rather than positive. That is to say they concern themselves with what God is not, rather than what God is.[11] (63)
“The true knowledge and vision of God consists in this—in seeing that he is invisible, because what we seek lies beyond all knowledge, being wholly separated by the darkness of incomprehensibility.” –Gregory of Nyssa, The Life of Moses, 11, 163 (377A).

The Height of Negative theology is reached in the works of Dionysius the Areopagite. (unknown writer lived in Syria toward the end of the fifth century). Saint Maximus the Confessor (662) compassed a commentary on these writings and assured their place in the Eastern Church. [12]

He is also an influence on the west, as Ware points out, as Aquinas quotes him heavily in Summa Theologica.  The concept of God as Being itself is ratified by Vatican II and is a major premise of modern Catholic doctrine.[13]

It doesn't just stop there with God being beyond our understanding and saying what God is not. We get the postive side affirmations from mystical union. We can expedience God and "understand" without words, without intellecutal left brain knowledge. We experience directly the love and presence of God. This leaves those who have not had such experiences feeling that they are in the dark, but they can take heart. We can't translate those experiences into words without the mediation of metaphors. We have to relate them to what is known so that we can bridge to what is unknown through its similarity. In this way we have a approximate and even parallax view of God. Parallax because the other side of it is using deductive reasoning and empirical fact to rule out what God is not. Thus for those without "big" experiences, in the moment that the reality of God seems "right" to them that is probalby an experience of God's presence. People experience thing differently.

The realization of God is a realization of one's place in being.

[1] Etienne Gilson, God and Philosophy. New Haven and London: Yale University press, Powell lectures on Philosophy Indiana University, 1941, 63-64.
[2] Find--Gilson
[3] Jewish Virtual Library, “Egypt and the Wanderings:Moses and the Cult of Yahweh ” visited 4/23/10, URL:  “the Hebrews a Learning Module Washington  State Universality, copyright Richard Hooker 2010.

[4] Tillich, History, 68
[5] Ibid
[6] Tillich, History, 67-70
[7] “nciene creed symbol of faith” Internet Christian Library: URL:  visted 5/12/10.
[8] Gilson, Ibid, 63
[9] Etienne Gilson, God and Philosophy. New Haven and London: Yale University press, Powell lectures on Philosophy Indiana University, 1941, 63-64.
[10] Timothy Ware, The Orthodox Church, New York: Penguin books, 1963 (1993 edition).
[11]  Ibid. 63
[12]  Ibid. quotes John of Damascus from On the Orthodox Faith 1,4 (P.G. Xciv, 800b
[13] Jean-Luc Marion, God without Being. Chicago and London: University of Chicago Press, Thomas A. Carlson Trans. 1991 (original language publication 1982). xxii.

Friday, April 27, 2012

New God Argument: God on the Brain


As with all my God arguments this one does not claim to prove God's existence, but to demonstrate that bleief is rationally warranted and thus meets a reasonable prmia facie burden.


(1) Studies of religious experience and brain reveal a sense that there is an innate idea of a God cocnept in human brain.

(2) The brain structures seems to be organized in such a way that this concept of "the divine" is so much at the center of the way it works that's actually good for us to ponder it.

(3) Innate ideas are impossible and genes can't ponder ideas. This would seem to indicate that these ideas are somehow purposely implanted by some higher form of mind that understands them and wants us to have them. The fact that they are good for us to think about indicates that we are "designed" to know God.

Science doesn't recognize innate ideas. Many people might think it does, they are fooled into thinking by the nature of genetic disposition. Genes determine many things in our behavior and of course everything about our physical endowment. Those are not ideas. Behavior is not an idea and we call "instinct" is not an idea. That is to say we don't' have fully formed concepts that we are born with, we are born with urges and drives to pursue certain things. We don't have fully formed ideas of these things, they have to be discovered and the ideas must be developed.

It seems now that we are born with a certain idea of God. That seems to stretch the credibility of evolutionary theory and marks the game as fixed. That's like finding the fifth ace up someone's sleeve. Beginning about mid 90's the media began talking about "the God part of the Brain." They ran stories on scientists stimulating people's brains and producing religious feelings. Here's a quote from one of those early stories:

by Steve Connor
Science Correspondent
Sunday Times,UK 11/02/97

SCIENTISTS believe they have discovered a "God module" in the brain which could be responsible for man's evolutionary instinct to believe in religion. A study of epileptics who are known to have profoundly spiritual experiences has located a circuit of nerves in the front of the brain which appears to become electrically active when they think about God. The scientists said that although the research and its conclusions are preliminary, initial results suggest that the phenomenon of religious belief is "hard-wired" into the brain.Epileptic patients who suffer from seizures of the brain's frontal lobe said they frequently experience intense mystical episodes and often become obsessed with religious spirituality.
A team of neuroscientists from the University of California at San Diego said the most intriguing explanation is that the seizure causes an overstimulation of the nerves in a part of the brain dubbed the "God module". "There may be dedicated neural machinery in the temporal lobes concerned with religion. This may have evolved to impose order and stability on society," the team reported at a conference last week. The results indicate that whether a person believes in a religion or even in God may depend on how enhanced is this part of the brain's electrical circuitry, the scientists said. Dr Vilayanur Ramachandran, head of the research team, said the study involved comparing epileptic patients with normal people and a group who said they were intensely religious. Electrical monitors on their skin – a standard test for activity in the brain's temporal lobes – showed that the epileptics and the deeply religious displayed a similar response when shown words invoking spiritual belief.

Since that time researchers (notably Andrew Newberg) have discovered that there is no one area that is stimulated by religious behavior. There are several areas, different areas for different activities such as meditation or prayer. These areas are mainly in the parietal lobe and the temporal lobe.

two arguments:

I. Innate idea:

the same basic set of ideas about the ultimate or the top of the metaphysical hierarchy are found around the world. There is some variation between personal or impersonal but essentially they all refer to the notion of some kind of Ground of being or Transcendental Signifier. They all center on the notion of a "divine" or "Holy" referent. These are actual ideas not merely instincts and their nature as ideas, our reactions to them which the same world over, seem to indicate this is more than an instinct and yet it shouldn't be more than that.

that gives us pause to think that it's a clue. It's something we are meant to have in order to find the higher reality. More than just evolutionary because evolution can't give you full blown ideas.

Those who try to explain religion away as a by product of the way our minds work, nevertheless help illustrate the innate idea in God awareness.

Mind Power News
Original Source is Michael Brooks
in New Scientist

That's not to say that the human brain has a "god module" in the same way that it has a language module that evolved specifically for acquiring language. Rather, some of the unique cognitive capacities that have made us so successful as a species also work together to create a tendency for supernatural thinking. "There's now a lot of evidence that some of the foundations for our religious beliefs are hard-wired," says Bloom.
Much of that evidence comes from experiments carried out on children, who are seen as revealing a "default state" of the mind that persists, albeit in modified form, into adulthood. "Children the world over have a strong natural receptivity to believing in gods because of the way their minds work, and this early developing receptivity continues to anchor our intuitive thinking throughout life," says anthropologist Justin Barrett of the University of Oxford.

Even though this is an atheist trying to explain away God belief,we must ask why do our minds work in such a way as to produce the idea of God? More on this below under objections.

II. Good for us to think about.

Because it's good for us that would indicated we are fitted for it. We are made for it, it is there for a purpose. It's more than just survival of the fittest mechanism there's no indication that it's genetic, that is the positive aspects of thinking about it.

Newberg:Random House
Excepts of How God Changes Your Brain

In Why God Wont Go Away I demonstrated that the human brain is unquely constructed to perceive spiritual realities....spiritual practices even when stripped of religious beliefs enhase the neural functioning in ways that improve phsyical and emtional health... long term contemplation of God and other spiritual values appears to permanently change the structure of those parts of the brain that control our moods, give rise to our conscious notions of self, and shape our sensory perceptions of the world. Contemplative practices strengthen a specificc nuerologial circut that generates peacefulness, social awareness, and compassion for others.
(website by Random House with excepts from Newberg's book)

III. objections and answers

A. Naturalistic origin Turnaround

Skeptics argue that the idea of stimulating the brain and getting religious proves that religion is just a naturalistic part of genetic endowment. That is proof enough for them that God is not involved. I argue quite the contrary it actually makes a dandy God argument (it meets the prima facie burden on rational warrant--gives us a reason to believe in God).

Newberg doesn't believe that naturalistic mechanisms rule out God. He says the skeptic is too hasty in assuming this:

Newberg, Why God Won’t God Away: Brain Science and the Biology of Belief. (New York, Ballentine Books), 2001, pp. 157-172.

A skeptic might suggest that a biological origin to all spiritual longings and experiences, including the universal human yearning to connect with something divine, could be explained as a delusion caused by the chemical misfiring of a bundle of nerve cells. But …After years of scientific study, and careful consideration of the a neurological process that has evolved to allow us humans to transcend material existence and acknowledge and connect with a deeper, more spiritual part of ourselves perceived of as an absolute, universal reality that connects us to all that is.

…Tracing spiritual experience to neurological behavior does not disprove its realness. If God does exist, for example, and if He appeared to you in some incarnation, you would have no way of experiencing His presence, except as part of a neurologically generated rendition of reality. You would need auditory processing to hear his voice, visual processing to see His face, and cognitive processing to make sense of his message. Even if he spoke to you mystically, without words, you would need cognitive functions to comprehend his meaning, and input form the brain’s emotional centers to fill you with rapture and awe. Neurology makes it clear: there is no other way for God to get into your head except through the brain’s neural pathways. Correspondingly, God cannot exist as a concept or as reality anyplace else but in your mind. In this sense, both spiritual experiences and experiences of a more ordinary material nature are made real to the mind in the very same way—through the processing powers of the brain and the cognitive functions of the mind. Whatever the ultimate nature of spiritual experience might be—weather it is in fact an actual perception of spiritual reality—or merely an interpretation of sheer neurological function—all that is meaningful in human spirituality happens in the mind. In other words, the mind is mystical by default.5

5 Ibid., p37
The medieval German mystic Meister Echkart lived hundreds of years before the science of neurology was born. Yet it seems he had intuitively grasped one of the fundamental principles of the discipline: What we think of, as reality is only a rendition of reality that is created by the brain. Our modern understanding of the brain’s perceptual powers bears him out. Nothing enters consciousness whole. There is no direct, objective experience of reality. All the things the mind perceives—all thoughts, feelings, hunches, memories, insights, desires, and revelations—have been assembled piece by piece by the processing powers of the brain from the swirl of neural blimps. The idea that our experiences of reality—all our experiences, for that matter—are only “secondhand” depictions of what may or may not be objectively real, raises some profound questions about the most basic truths of human existence and the neurological nature of spiritual experience. For example our experiment with Tibetan mediators and Franciscan nuns showed that the events they considered spiritual were, in fact, associated with observable neurological activity. In a reductionist sense this could support the argument that religious experience is only imagined neurologically, that God is physically ‘all in your mind.’ But a full understanding of the way in which the brain and the mind assemble and experience reality suggests a very different view.7

7 Ibid. pp. 35-36

B. God works through natural

God created nature and can work in it all the time. Tielhard de Chardin believed that the strong force was God's presence holding the universe together. There's no reason to reject God from the natural, unless one is a skeptic and searching for an excuse not to believe. The only problem with this answer is that there must be something one can point to that determines a difference between God being involved and not involved. Without that it can't be a rational warrant for God belief. That difference need not be a naturalistic biological mechanism. Otherwise there's a tie, and we need tie breakers.

C. Tie Breakers:

(1) The innate aspect of the idea refutes naturalistic assumption
There are still aspects of the innate God sense, such as it's nature as an innate idea, that argue agaisnt a totally naturalistic origin. If the atheist argument were true and universality is examined by human brain structure, we all have the same brain so we all have the kinds of religious experiences, then we should all have the same language and the same culture. On How stuff works (website) there's an explaination as to why we don't all have the same language.

One prominent theory about the development of the first languages relates to tools and resources. Teaching another person how to use tools requires a certain, agreed-upon vocabulary, as does the process of sharing and protecting resources like food and shelter. Small groups of people living in close quarters would therefore need to develop a way to understand each other, so they came up with a vocabulary and syntax that meant something to them. A group of people across the world from them, though, would probably need an entirely different vocabulary of words, so the languages would have developed differently in isolation. Think of the oft-quoted (but erroneous) example that Eskimos have 100 different words for snow because they have so much of it. While that common statement is wrong, there are cultures that have far more words for rice and camels than, say, English does.
If you think about it that's just another way of saying "becasue it's not pre-determined." We have different experiences and so we have different reactions. This would indicate that religous experiences are actual;u experience of something, which the same thing for all.

Objection to tie breaker 1:
Isn't generative grammar an innate idea?

Noman Chomsky says there is a "preprogramed" language organ in the brain.

Answer: Not really the same thing. We don't have fully formed concepts of grammar in our minds as we grow up. We know how to use grammar instinctive but we don't have to have grammatical theories fully formed in our heads. Yet people seem to respond to religious experinces with the sense taht there is this "thing" God, the divine, the transcendent. There's a concept to that that's already formed; the numinous.

(2) The universality of the idea

Adrew Newrber
The Mystical Mind 199
In Western Religion and in Hinduism...God is conceived as the ultimate externaltiy (transcendent) the ultimate internatility (immanent) and sometimes as both...Often God is not perceived as simply a higher being but has been has been described as the Ground or substance of all being. Thus God is not only the higher being but also a state of higher being or ultimate realty. In fact, in the mystical traditions of Western religions, the goal of the practice of meditation is to become intensely untied with God...The important point is that no matter how this ultimate being or state of being is described, it's fundamental characteristics are remarkably similar across traditions and cultures. (on line page 4)
That correlates with Dr. Hood's findings that when one removes the specific names and doctrines, the nature of the experiences and the way people relate to them are the same across all cultural boundaries. (Hood, Ralph. W. Jr. (2006). The common core thesis in the study of mysticism. In P, McNamar (Ed.), Where God and science meet, Vol. 3, pp. 119-138. Westport, CT: Praeger.)

Hood States in German Psychological Journal
Elsewhere I have argued for reading James' treatment of mysticism in the Varieties as an example of the unity thesis in mysticism (Hood, 2003). The unity thesis is the view that both within and outside of the great faith traditions, is an experience that is essentially identical, regardless of interpretation. James put the issue thusly:

In Hinduism, in Neoplatonism, in Sufism, in Christian Mysticism, in Whitmanism, we find the same recurring note, so that there is about mystical utterances an eternal unanimity which ought to make a critic stop and think, and which brings it about that the mystical classics have, as has been said, neither birthday nor native land. Perpetually telling of the unity of man with God, their speech antedate language, and they do not grow old (James, 1902/1985, p. 332, emphasis mine)

The above quote clearly hints at two of the basic assumptions of those who support the unity thesis. First, it implies that a distinction can be made between experience and its interpretation. Second, it suggests that for at least some linguistic descriptions, an underlying uniform experience cuts across language differences (Hood, 2003, 2006). This position has been most systematically developed by Stace (1961) under the rubric of the common core thesis and is the basis of the most commonly used empirical measure of mysticism, the Mysticism Scale which has been used in numerous studies for more than a quarter of a century (Hood, 1975, 1997).(

Atheist objection to no 2:
Human Brain Structure produces Universal Ideas?

This is the answer most often given to the universality argument for mystical experience and the God sense in the brain that seems to unite people across cultures. That would be their direct Answer to Tie barker number 2.


(a) No scientific correlation between uniformity of brain structure and uniformity of experience

Clearly we don't all experience the same things just because we are human.

(b) Universal behavior is always assumed in scinece to be genetically based in some sense.

We must assume that ideas are from culture. Fully formed concepts are cultural constructs. These are not genetic the usually differ form culture to culture.

Anders Rassmussen Blog
"Universal Human Behaviors"
Friday, December 29, 2006

There is a trend amongst scholars in sociology and gender sciences to argue that more or less everything is social constructions. Relationships and roles in the society are constructed by humans in our conversations. Hence, they argue, there are almost no universal behaviors. Anthropologists writing about strange habits in different societies are often cited to show that there is great variability between people living in different places, and indeed there is. However, it is often overlooked that there are many similarities between different cultures as well. I argue that even though there are many differences between people in different societies that stand out, there are also many, more fundamental, behaviors which do not vary between different cultures. These behaviors seem so natural to us that we barely notice them...

Take beauty for instance. Is it true that beauty is in the eye of the beholder? Research suggests not! People from cultures all around the globe agree on what faces are beautiful and which are not beautiful. For example, symmetrical faces are seen as more attractive than non-symmetrical faces. Similarly, around the globe a 0.7 and 0.9 waist to hip ratio for women and men respectively, is considered the most attractive body shape. Preferences for the amount of fat on the body varies between cultures. In starving countries in Africa "wider" ladies are generally preferred whereas in western cultures almost anorectic women are seen as very attractive, but consistently it is found that people prefer 0.7 and 0.9 waist to hip ratios. We can do even better than this. For example, have you seen someone who becomes happy when faced with misfortune and sad when life is good? Have you heard of a society where there is neither love nor hate?

If there's a genetic disposition to the idea of God that's a pretty good reason to believe God had to put it there. Could a gene or a Spandrels really develop based upon an imaginary being in the sky? Or even based upon the ground of being? There would require ideas implanted in the gene structure, if they were false ideas that would be even more remarkable.

Either it's cultural in which case it shouldn't be universal or it's genetic in which case the geentic structure of an idea must be explained.

(more tie breakers)
(3) the "coincidence" of the idea

It just happens that this beneficial mutation or combination of genetic endowments happen to produce this confirmation of a full blown idea in the mind that is about not only something that doesn't exist but also the one thing of which atheists are terrified and spend their lives fighting, and it just happens to be this one thing. No other natural sense taht we have is about unreal things. We have an instinct for food, food exist. We don't have any other instincts that give us a mythology of fantasy about unreal things that happen to serve us better than reality.

(4) Problems with Evolutionary Assumptions

From O'Connor article above.
Evolutionary scientists have suggested that belief in God, which is a common trait found in human societies around the world and throughout history, may be built into the brain's complex electrical circuitry as a Darwinian adaptation to encourage co-operation between individuals.

(a) why not just adapt to genetic trait for co-operation? why all the mystical and religious hubub just for that? It seems that would be more efficient and would have been more likely.

(b) in other endowments we don't mustache belief in fantasy and unreal things that just happens to work out to benefit us.

"Religion Is Not an Adaptation" 159
Lee A. Kirkpatrick
In Where God and Science Meet
ed Patrick McNamara
Finally, perhaps the biggest problem with religion-as-adaptation theories
is that, in virtually every example I have encountered, it seems clear that a
much simpler design could solve the (presumed) adaptive problem at least
as well as religion. Natural selection is a very conservative process that,
starting from the existing design, fashions new adaptations by changing as
little as necessary. Simpler designs are more evolvable designs. Consider, for
example, suggestions that religious beliefs are adaptive because they provide
relief from anxiety or other psychological benefi ts. In addition to other problems
outlined previously as to how religion could represent an adaptation
designed to produce such effects, it seems obvious that a much simpler way
for natural selection to reduce anxiety would be to simply tweak a parameter
of the anxiety system or mechanism to make it quantitatively less reactive
in response to threats or to simply recalibrate it to produce consistently
lower levels. Such a minor change in an existing anxiety system would be far
easier—and thus more likely—for natural selection to produce than all the
complex systems and mechanisms (not to mention group-level phenomena)
required to produce anxiety-reducing religion.

(c) that assumes that somehow our genes would know that religious is bound up with social cooperation. It just happened to develop as side stream of co-operation but that's assuming a lot. There's no reason why belief in God had work into a social thing. The individual aspects of belief indicates there's more to it than that.

(d) The full blown concept of TS, the top of he metaphysical hierarchy and the basis of all that is seems to be present in all God concepts, weather personal or impersonal. Evolution can't bestow a full formed idea. That has to be a cultural construct and a produce ot culture becuase it's sophisticated and consists of too many prior concepts.

Atheist Objection:
way the mind works

The argument (from Michael Brooks above) that a separation between animate and inanimate is created in infancy and childhood by the seeming disembodiment of dreaming and mind/body distinction.So we can project a mind in the sky.

This is pretty much begging the question, and does more assuming about religious ideas being fully formed. It just as easily confirms the innate idea of god. It's assuming a host innate concepts such as life after death are projections of the way the brain works, still means innate ideas.


What this argument does not do is establish God as a fact beyond dispute. We don't' want to do that. That would circumvent the personal search God wants us to conduit to internatlize the values of the good. What it does do is demonstrate that we have empirical data that can be used to extrapolate from logcially and in a valid way, to warrant belief in God in a ratinoal and verifiable way. These verifiable scientific facts about the effects of God concept on brain chemistry indicate that:

(1) We have God finder equanimity designed into us

(2) It's good for us to use it, indicates we are designed to have it. We are fit to be religous.

The atheist slogan will be employed "we don't arguments we want facts" I've already demonstrated that the same kind of extrapolations are used by scientists in support of theory.

(a) Neutrino

Scientists first proposed the neutrino based upon theory and the behavior of other particles They did not have any direct proof of a neutrino for 30 years but they continued to assume they were real based upon argument form theory!

(b) smoking as a cause of cancer

We went 40 years without knowing the mechanism for smoking causing cancer but we acted on the fact of a very tight correlation by itself. (
Website “Cancer Research UK,” URL, “Smoking and Cancer” visited March, 24, 2009.
See my page on Religious a priori, "Scientists Extrapolate to Argue for Theory" Where I present more evidence on the Neutrino argument.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

What do you mean by mean?


Atheists on CARM were making a big production of the idea that there is real meaning to the phrase "God makes life meaningful." Their contention is that their lives are meaningful for them, becuase they want to think they are, and no other form of meaning that makes any difference. I think this is one of their more myopic conceits. They proceeded to play a little game, whenever a theist tired to describe what was meant they would say "O but there's no God so it doesn't mean anything." All roads to Rome, and Rome is the Colosseum! where the Christians face the lions. Of course what they really mean is (if we can use that term "mean") is that "there is no other meaning that I choose to regard but the one I care to give things. This is obviously a very selfish attitude becuase that could just as logically be said by UFO chaser who smells like Bigfoot and talks to people who aren't there and then insists "I'm not bothering anyone, and anyone who is bothered doesn't deserve not to be."

When we say "meaning" God gives us meaning we have reference to an ordered relation between the idea and the particulars. Not to say it's necessary Platonist although it is Platonic in the sense that it relates the messy business of daily life to an ideal. God is Truth, Being and love. These three things correlate. they are based upon the nature of being as an eternal necessary reality of depth in which the beings are produced and in turn partake. Here I make the distinction made famous by Theologian
John Macquarrie's Principles of Christian Theology.   God is being itself, or the ground of being, the individual temporally bound contingencies created by God are "the beings." Thus, we have "Being" and "the beings." The latter are products of the former, or we could say they share in the nature of the former. Here I am making the assumption that being holds within it a meaning, based upon being as the source and origin of consciousness, thus the center of valuation and understanding, and the beings are the recipients of that understanding. It is the understanding of that center or origin of consciousness that bestows meaning upon us when we undersatnd the reality of that center and we harmonize with it's aims and interests. In the same manner we are loved by God and when return God's love we are living up tot he purpose for which we were created and thus we fit the valuation of the meaning of creation and we fulfill the purpose for which we were created.

Meaning is an ordered relation based upon creative purpose and wisdom and orients the contingent aspects of being to the eternal necessary aspect. It does this enabling us to ground identity and purpose: as SK said "when I find God I am more myself." Paul says In him we live and move and have our being (Acts 17). We could say that living up the purpose of creation is an outgrown or a product of Salvation. The soteriolgoical process begins in life on earth, and culminates in eternal life after death. It is a restoration process; the term "salvation" is related to redemption, buying back, also to healing, restoring. Part of healing and restoration is to harmonize with the purpose for which our lives were intended.

Meaning is related to the transcendental signifier (or TS) and they way it orders relations as the top of the metaphsyical hierarchy. For reference I urge the reader to read my transcendental signifier arguemnt for the existence of God.  As well as the commentary on the page that goes with it. I might also point out there's a page on the Derridian background to the argument that one might find useful. In a nutshell the TS is the top of the metaphysical hierarchy, the apex of the organization scheme, the organizing principle which making meaning of all the marks (words) we use to bestow meaning upon things and ideas. In determining the organization of a system the TS is a principle which determines meaning. Derrida tells us that God is the supreme form of the TS.

"Without God, who has been the ultimate Transcendent Signified, there is no central perspective, no objective truth of things, no real thing beyond language." [Nacy Murphy and James McClendon jr." Distinguishing Modern and Postmodern Theologies." Modern Theology, 5:3 April 1989, 211]
Here it is said "signified" becuase signified is the thing to which the word refers. The word "G-o-d" is the "signifier" the thing with which we signify, and the thing we signify is the signified. The word "God" is the signifier, and thing to which it refers is the reality we call "God." Here Derrida, an atheist who was actually to prove there was no TS, admits that there is no central perspective or meaning without God. That's ok for him becuase his whole point was there is no  meaning. I have refereed to God as the "top of the metaphysical hierarchy." That is just what the TS is because it's the  principle that organizes. That's God's major job description as well.

For Heidegger metaphysics is grouping sense data into ordered categories. that's' not a good thing for him becuase it means we lose truth in preconceived notions. The altnaritve according to Heidegger is almost logos sort of move, where we allow the sense data to suggest it's own categories so we let the organization work by itself. SK goes one step further than that and says it's not just the sense data that suggests the categories but the logos, the ordering principle the mind of God.

What the heck am I talking about here with this "logos sort of move?" The theologians of the middle ages regarded the logos as the ordering principle, this is based upon Christ's work in creation "without him was not anything made." That's form John's Logos prologue. They saw the logos as the ordering principle that put things into perspective and fashioned and ordered the way the system works. In modern parlance we could say the logos is the TS or that the Logos is the embodiment of the principle of evolution. Of course the materialists would balk at such a concept. If there is a God who created a universe that evolves then evolution is one of the primary organizing features of reality and thus it has to be a reflection of God's mind at some point. That's what the Logos is, the creative rationale of God. Thus I say Heidegger's alternative to metaphysics (grouping under a single rue brick of sense data which contrasts understanding and meaning)  is a "Logos move" it allows the sense data to suggest their own categories, which was Heidegger's answer, yet I'm adding a theistic aspect that he did not see, which is the choices suggested by the sense data would be a reflection of the Logos's ordering of reality.

So Meaning an ordered relation form the top of the metaphysical hierarchy that enables us to ground our identity and our purpose in an understanding of who we are and what our lives are about and to orient that toward the infinite joys of heaven and knowledge of the divine.

Monday, April 23, 2012

The Euthephro Dilemma

 The Euthyphro  Dilemma
 have theology: Will Argue

Originally Posted (on CARM) by MikeWC View Post
This is a long post. The final paragraph is a summary of the argument, if you wish to just straight to it.

The Euthyphro dilemma can be briefly stated this way: either morality comes entirely from God, in which case it is changeable according to his will, or it comes from outside God, in which case God is unnecessary.

 Actually I think he stated it wrong. I don't think the second horn of the dilemma is that if it comes from out of God morality is "unnecessary," but that God is not supreme. One thing that's going to figure big in my answer is this fact: The Euthyphro dilemma was applicable to the Greek gods only becuase they were not God in the sense that the Bible God is God, nor were they God in the sense that the God of Aquinas or Anslem is God or. Greek gods were contingent beings, they were not eternal, they were products of prior beings. God in the Christian sense is the eternal necessary aspect of all being. Thus That God is necessary and not contingent, and is not the produce of prior condition.

That makes a big difference because it is only the contingency of the Greek gods that gives them their relative nature and thus enables the Fates to outrank them in terms of power. That's where the entire dilemma stems from, that Zeus was subject to the fates. The God of Abraham, of Issac and of Jacob is not subject to any fates. The God of Christianity freed humanity from the cruelty of fate, and still frees us form determinism. This is so becuase the eternal necessary aspect of all being, is bigger than any deterministic aspect of being, which is only a contingency HE created in the first place.

Mike WC says:
There is an increasingly popular refutation of the old Euthyphro dilemma among apologists. It is an attempt to split the horns of the dilemma by creating a third alternative. The alternative is to identity the Good wholly with God's nature: being Good is one of God's essential attributes.

Without meaning to boast I think I really do I am the person who started that answer. I don't remember ever seeing it on the net before I gave it. Once I argued it a few times on prominent atheist boards people began to talk about it. In any case, "being good" is not a mere attribute of God as though it's on a par with being short or tall, fat or thin, it's based upon the nature of God. That is certainly no exaggeration; in the Christian tradition God is the basis of the good which stems from God's nature as love. St. Augustine said love is the background of the moral universe, and by that meant that God, as truth itself, as being itself is the basis upon which the good has meaning. Augustine put the forms in the mind of God, so anything like "the good" that under Plato would be a product of the forums would be a product of the Mind of God.

Mike WC: "This idea is meant to dissolve the dilemma by taking the pros of each horn, while eliminating the cons. Morality is not changeable according to God's will, because it lies eternally in his nature. And it is not outside God for the same reason." Here he more or less gets it right. What it really does is bring out the distinction between eternal necessary being vs. contingent beings. The contingent beings who are called "gods" only because they are more powerful than mortals and last longer (although they can die and hey have origins so they are not eternal), can't supply the ultimate basis for philosophical grounding that eternal necessary being does supply.

In answer to this point Mike says:

My argument is that this just creates a new dilemma. This refutation of Euthyphro depends on God having both a will and a nature. This may seem trivial, but let's draw out the consequences.In order for the refutation to stand, there must be a clear division between God's will and God's nature. If no such division exists, then then all this refutation has done is accept the first horn: God could change morality through his will. 
 I don't think there has to be a "clear division." There seems to be no problem with asserting that a consciousness has both a  will and a nature. They are clearly two separate things, but one would be in line with the other as a nature would always govern the limits and capacity of a will. How could on demand something apart form one's own nature?  Will is usually thought of as an expression of a nature. He is certainly going to have to furnish a reason for us to think this would be the case.

The problem with this atheist position  is, ironically, it's Calvinistic-like implications. Calvin emphasized the will of God over and above creative wisdom (creative wisdom is God's nature). Like the good little fundies that atheists are they want o split off the will from nature when in reality will is just an aspect of nature. Think about it. The nature of a thing is the way it is. Now how can will be part of the way God is without being part of his nature?

Mike WC:
However, if this division is too rigid, then it falls to the second horn: you are positing a God that is, in effect, split. There is a divine will, and then there is a divine nature. The divine will answers wholly to the divine nature, which has no will of its own. When God issues a moral command, there is a gap between the decision to issue the command and the source of the command.

This is merely a false dilemma. The will of any being is part of that being's nature and works according to that nature. The nature of God is primarily love, so the will of God is based upon love. Are we ever given a reson to think that God's will is out of line with his nature? I think not. Ah but Mike shoots back with this classic assertion:

If God's nature has no will of its own, then it is it not collapsible into a Good outside and above God's will? And then, why can't humans just by pass God's will and just talk about the Good? In other words, the gap between will and nature is just a different version of the second horn of Euthyphro.Notice, he has not yet expalined by God can't have a will of his own as part of his nature?
This is what we call "begging the question." He's merely asserting a conclusion which he basis his premise, the conclusion that he wants to come to, then uses it as a premise to justify coming to it. In this classic move of circular reasoning he asserts the very point under contention as though it's a proof of his position (thus begging the question). If God's nature has no will of it own, he asserts. The problem there is it does, that's the whole point I've been making. Moreover, he can give us no other reason to assume this is the case except that "If this was the case. I would be right." God's nature has a will of it's own, it's called "God's will." That's what will is, it's an expression of our nature. There's no point in asserting that the nature has a second will that's in contradiction to the first will? Why assert that? He gives us no reason.

He asserts that the "gap  between will and nature is just a different version of the second horn of the" dilemma. No it's not. Why would that be? The second horn is that there's a standard independent of God. Since that standard is God himself, it's not separate; WC is trying to turn that into a whole seperate person with real reason for doing so, there's no assume it.  He asserts that this second is the gap but what gap? He has to first suggest why there would be a gap and has no done so.

Mike WC:
Perhaps you could say that God's nature is unknowable for humans, outside of God's willing revelation of himself. This does not solve the problem, however. If God has exclusive and exhaustive knowledge of his own nature, we must accept one of two interpretations of this.
 We know God's nature; it's love. We know this through God's self revelation to us and our empirical experience of God's presence. It's a false dilemma. There is no dilemma. God moves to bring people into the sphere of his love. God is about love; this furnishes the background of the moral universe. He doesn't just hand down laws from on high,they are not arbitrary whims. The real problem of the dilemma is that on the one hand if good is just God's command with no independent standard then God is arbitrary and good is just a whim. If God is independent of the standard then he's not fully in charge and so is not God. The position I have taken resolves the problem because it says God's commands are not independent of Go but neither are they arbitrary whims, they are manifestations of purpose and wisdom in creation which harken form God's loving nature, that is the basis of the good. That is an answer we could not get from the Geek gods.

The rule keeping aspect of morality didn't work, and God tells us it didn't work (of he knew it wouldn't it was only a a ruse to show us why we have to internalize the values of the good--see Jer. 31/Heb 1:1). We employ the moral law placed inside us and we filter it through cultural constructs. That's what makes ethical and the morality of a culture, but the background against which all ethical moves are played out is God's divine love, aka agape. 2) God's nature is an object separate from his will,
conjecture not in evidence. That is merely the upshot of the subject/object dichotomy. He needs to learn some phenomenology becuase that just reduces God to an object. We can experience God's nature. We may not understand it intellectually  but we can experience and we can intuit it. That's what mystics are about.

Mike asserts: "This is perhaps the only way out for the apologist, to claim that the Good is essentially unknowable for humans."  God is beyond our understanding but that doesn't mean he's unknowable. you are confusing experiential knowledge with book learning and facts.

Mike WC
This does not solve the logical problem of there being a gap between God's commands and the source of those commands, however. Humans would be incapable of bypassing God's commands and revelation, but this is not because of a logical impossibility, but rather the infinitude of humanity.
Again he asserts a gap without giving us any reason to think there is one. He can imagine one based upon skepticism that is a far cry from proving there is one. It's just a product of his hermeneutic of skepticism. Logically linking God's commands to his nature f love resolves the problem complete because it means the standards is not separate from God nor is it an arbitrary whim, and there is basic  reason ever given to imagine a gap. What I've said aboe about love as the background of the moral universe shows that a gap is not really possible becuase the whole concept of the moral apart form God's love is impossible. It would have no meaning as a moral universe. The moral law that God has placed upon our hearts is God's command in line with God's nature, God is not forging a moral law as a subject of higher power but is translating what is in his heart. speaking metaphorically of "heart."

The knowability issue is not really much of an issue. God is beyond our understanding intellectually but that's kind of knowledge we need to live morally. The kind of knolwedge we need is empirical knowledge of God's love and revelation knowledge of god's commands, although that is placed on the heart is available though natural  theology. There are many theological methods and systems that would answer this arguemnt. One of them majors is the Eastern orthodox concept of mystical union which turns upon apoplectic theology (negative--don't say that it is but what ti's not).

Euthyphro  dilemma is only an issue where God is contingent and there is a higher power. There is no higher power than the eternal necesasry aspect of being. In the OT he's called "I Am." In the NT he's called "Our father who art in Heaven."

Monday, April 16, 2012

Why is god Not Self Evident?


"big thinker" had a thread on CARM "if God exists why is he not self evident?"

The question as by BT on his own thread is loaded and distorted to reflect his bias. Because he thinks there's one form of knowledge, the fortress facts, he thinks of self evidence as one thing only; a guy in a while lab coat says "this is fact."

There may be forms of self evidence. It may self evident logically that there are no square circles but it's not self evident by empirical fact. You can't see that there are no square circles you have to think about it logically. BT doesn't' allow logical thought to get in the way of his disbelief because he takes the pseudo attitudes cultivated in atheist circles that science is the only form of knowledge and that science is only empirical observation and "fact."

Empirically God is not "obvious" and there's a perfectly understandably reason why. God is transcendent because he's the basis of reality. Nothing that is the basis of reality is observable empirically. We can't see mathematics. The whole universe can be described mathematically but we can't look at nature and see the math.

God could be self evident in some ways, such as the logic of the modal argument, not in others (such as empirically). Of course even evidence can be disputed if one refuses to accept it. Nothing drives this point home better than HRG's refusal to understand the word "being." He has to believe that the word being is just an idea philosophers made up.

when I say "being = existence," Hans says existence doesn't' exist. Whatever one takes a word to mean it doesn't mean that if the other guy doesn't want it to. I say "I use this operationally." Now in real logic this should mean "this is how I use i don't care how others you use it, it's my argument, you must deal with my usage." In HRG that means "this is the excuse you want to distort my meaning and make up your own."

God is obvious by practical logic. The modal argument is probalby self evident. Even self evidence can be doubted. anything can be doubted if one wishes to doubt.

when first year philosophy students learn Descartes's cogito, I think therefore I am. they often assume it's absolute this is self evident. When they learn that more advanced philosophers (Sartre) have ways of doubting they can't believe it. By the time they become reductionists and take up the brain/mind issue they think Descartes is crap. They are not the only one's who are disatisfied with Descartes. The continental tradition departed from his way also. The phenomenoloical crowd blames him for starting the "metaphysical" tradition. This is metaphysics in the Heideggerian tradition, grouping reality under a single rue brick and herding sense data into preconceived categories, in that sense scinece is metaphysics.

As HRG's thread tells us some things that were considers self evident are no longer. That just means that if God is not self evident ti should be constructed as a big deal. Here we have the contradiction in HRG's way of thinking. HRG, for those who don't read regularly, is an mathematician form Austria, guru to carm atheists, and my Nemesis for about ten years now. Nemesis and friend.

Originally Posted by HRG View Post
You cannot "know" ontology or metaphysics. You can only invent your own, or adopt someone else's inventions.

Christian defender Occam responds:

This post has a great many ontological assumptions buried in it. For example, take the claim that some beliefs count as knowledge, and other beliefs are inventions. This claim only makes sense if your mind exists, there is an objective external world to which a belief in your mind can correspond or fail to correspond, and there is a particular process that you have to perform in order to get your beliefs to correspond to the truth (the end result being "knowledge"). It appears, then, that you're pulling on an ontology containing claims like "I exist," "reality exists," and "truth exists."
The irony here is that HRG has called Thomas S. Kuhn a "windbag" for saying the very same thing about socially constructed knowledge. He said it of scinece so Hans defends scinece as "truth" ala correspondence theory. Here and elsewhere he rejects the correspondence theory. If we take him as a some kind of spokemen for the atheists they don't have a stable theory of truth.

Examples of formerly self evident knowledge include:

Euclidean geometry
Absolute time
Infinite speed of light
"Miasma" as origin of diseases
Impossibility of cutting a 3-D ball into pieces which, when joined together in a different way, make a sphere of twice the original size (Banach-Tarski paradox)
Existence of a greatest conceivable entity

my response to him:

you have evidence or reason for believing that the last one is not self evident. I have basically proved it is by the TS.

you are still arguing from analogy. you are going "some things have disproved therefore everything is disproved." You have given no proof that any of those were ever self evident.


The validity of self evident knowledge is an open question and depends upon one's metaphsyical theories and epistemological theories. I accept the category of self evidence in terms of deduction and include the existence of God in that category. I think what the original poster ("Big Thinker") meant to say is that God is not empirically obvious. I examined why he should not be: Because the basis of reality that puts him "off scale."