Tuesday, September 19, 2017

A Problem for the Problem for the problem of Evil

On his blog The Secular Outpost Jeff Lowder writes "a Problem for the Problem of Evil."[1] The "problem of evil" (POE) is how philosophers refer to the atheist argument that says theists usually construe God is all good and all powerful, yet if such a God existed he would not allow evil to exist. Evil exists, therefore, either God does not exist or "he" is not all good or all powerful. Here Lowder is concerned with a very specific aspect of the argument. Some theists try to flip the argument over into an argument for God on the basis that  there is no metaphysical ground for evil without appeal to God's existence.

But, for now, I want to focus on just one of the top ten objections, the idea that the argument from evil (for atheism) can be flipped on its head into an argument from evil (for theism). I’ve refuted this objection over and over again, which might lead some regular readers of this blog to complain that I am beating a dead horse. But, since this is a meme which won’t die, I think a better analogy than dead horses is the game of “whack-a-mole.”[2]
He takes a writer named Doug Wilson to task for his simplistic take on the argument. Wilson grounds his approach in the Greek Epicurus and ignores recent developments over the last 30 years where a host of atheist super stars of philosophy, including Paul Draper, and others, [3] have hatched much more complex and sophisticated versions, (see last Monday where I attack Draper's sophisticated version). I am not concerned with Wilson or with this history of the argument, not right now). I am concerned with one particular aspect of this argument, involving possible worlds. In general my answer to the POE I call "soteriologocal drama" it can be found on my site The Religious a priori [4] Specifically, in terms of this argument, the problem for the problem is that there is no possible world in which evil can exist without God unless we dis-value the term "evil" and reduce it to the level of disapprobation rather than metaphysical moral motions.
The one point he uses Wilson to introduce is the flip over, the idea that without belief in God there is no basis for the idea of evil. Here we need to mention  the idea that POE is often called "the evidential  argumemt from evil," (EAE). Lowder says:
This [Wilson] is not a serious response to arguments from evil. First, even if it were the case that “there is no such thing as evil” if there is no God, that doesn’t refute evidential arguments from evil, which say that, other evidence held equal, known facts about ‘evil’ (such as I listed above) are much more probable on naturalism than on theism, and hence strong evidence against theism.[5]
I assume he refers to a list he makes of issues that are part of the new sophisticated version of the argument mentioned above, the superstar list: "pain and pleasure (which includes the problem of animal suffering), virtue and vice, flourishing and languishing, triumph and tragedy, autonomy and heteronomy,[6] empathy and apathy, and the like." The criticism I would level against Jeff at this point is just referring to the list does not establish a basis for the concept of "evil.." That does not answer the argument that without God there is no basis for evil,. All of those aspects of the problem assume there is a concept of evil they don't predicate it, They don't establish a basis for the concept apart from God. With no basis for evil that list becomes meaningless. Maybe the work of those philosophers does establish that, but the list doesn't. In fact I might agree that there is a basis for the notion of evil even for an atheist but that would have to be discussed. Jeff does not  go into that here.I am sure he has elsewhere.

Here he makes a second argument, that theists don't apply the same level of skepticism to their attempts to link POE to the moral argument ( turn POE into argument for God) that they do in disputation the Original POE. They don't think skeptically about their own proofs. In other words, we accuse atheists of being unable to ground a POE in any metaphysical basis for evil, but  we don;t demand enough of our pro God arguments to fill the gaps where atheists find  doubt.

...logical arguments from morality, which claim that God’s nonexistence is logically incompatible with the existence of evil. Critics of logical arguments from morality can point out that they fail for a parallel reason: there are possible worlds in which God doesn’t exist and evil exists. Of course, theists could deny that a world without God is a possible world. Apart from massively begging the question against atheists, this response carries with it an enormous burden of proof. It is one thing to claim that a world without God is not a possible world; it is another thing to prove that. Given the failure of the notorious ontological argument for God’s existence, I’d say the prospects for that line of defense are dim.[7]

So the upshot here is that some would make an argument such that we know there is evil we can't deny that but we have no metaphysical basis for evil without appealing to God as the moral standard that makes evil meaningful as the opposition to good, therefore,  there must be a God to explain the evil, Those who make this argument need to be more skeptical of their own assertions because there is no way to demonstrate that God's existence is necessary in a possible world where evil exists. 

It is not begging the question as Lowder asserts. He wants to tie it to proof of God's existence and without such proof he thinks it's begging the question, He means something by "evil;" but it wont have the same impact, the same dynamic that it has if based upon the morality of a God bearing universe, We don't need to prove that God exists to know that much all we need  is to understand the meaning of the term "evil" and it's distinction from the same term when used of a naturalistic universe. We don't have to know God is real to say--If God is real evil has this impact and it differs from that of a  universe not created by God. 

In what way does it differ? A God ordained universe revolves around a moral center which is God's love. This gives evil a metaphysical moral  gravity as the absence of good. "Evil" in secular terms means dis-approbation, We dis-value x therefore to do x is evil, In that sense evil is the violation of  social agreement or the offense of bad taste. In God ordained universe evil is the antithesis of God's purpose, God's love.

Does that mean that that we can flip the POE into a argument from evil, a pro God argument? It might work as the classic moral argument, but it can't be flipped into a reverse POE. The two seem like two sides to the same coin but the same connection to the dynamic we get from the metaphysical connection  to evil as the opponent of God is lost when flipped because it becomes a different universe when God doesn't create it; evil takes on a different connotation, That also means that we might recognize an intuitive warning in the nature of evil but that's not a logical proof,

The real lesson to be learned here is that belief in God is not just adding another thing to the universe. God is not just another fact in the universe but is the transcendental signified, the basis upon which the universe is predicated. A universe not created by God is a universe not ordained by God,it is a totally different universe than one that is God-ordained. One of those basic differences is in the meaning of evil in such a world. Another such  difference is the nature of being itself. In a world created by God, God is being itself and being has depth. In a naturalistic world being is surface only, meaning limited to the fact of existence.[8] While in the God created world depth of being means nuances such as the metaphorical valuation of evil.

Lowder is wrong, there is no possible world in which there is no God and evil persists, not evil in the sense in which theism uses the term. Nor do we need to prove the existence of God. There are two axiomatic concepts here that are involved in my argument, (1) the nature of evil given a God created universe and how it differs from a  naturalistic  reading of evil.  (2) That God is either necessary or impossible. The first point I've already discussed. If There is God then evil is moral if noGod evil is social/aesthetic, it's either/or, if no god then no evil in that sense,.As for Point (2) this is axiomatic, God cannot be a maybe.  If God exists he exists necessarily,(not to say he necessarily exits,) and if he does not exist it is because it is impossible thiat he could exist. That means if God exits he must exist is all possible worlds. ala Planitinga,[9] If God is impossible and thus does not exist then evil does not exist in  the moral sense of theism. But Jeff is right about the no-flip. While it may look like two sides to the same coin the distinction in evils has to be made clear and thus the flipped argument disappears, it would be taking evil out of context,

Post Script:
 The OA has not failed, Jeff needs to read Hatshorne, I challenge Jeff or any poster of the SOP to debate me on the OA anytime,


[1] Jeff Lowder, "A Problem for the Problem of Evil," Secular Outpost, (Aug 30, 2017) blog URL

[2] Ibid

[3] Jefff points to William Rowe, Paul Draper, Quentin Smith, Richard Gale, John Schellenberg, Bruce Russell,

[4] Joseph Hinman, "Soteriological Drama,". The Religious a priori, website. apologetics

[5] Lowder, op cit
[6] Heteronomy is a very important term im theology ised by Tillich a lot.the term heteronomous adjective
  1. subject to a law or standard external to itself.
    • (in Kantian moral philosophy) acting in accordance with one's desires rather than reason or moral duty.
    • subject to different laws.

Google search

[7] Lowder op cit

There is a typo in the original text which I removed. The text above with blue box and blue word: "is" is my edit. Below is the original which Jeff agrees is a typo. the"no" does not belong there, No reflection on Jeff. Hey I've made more than my share of typos!
there are possible worlds in which God doesn’t exist and evil exists. Of course, theists could deny that a world without God is not a possible world. Apart from massively begging the question against atheists, this response carries with it an enormous burden of proof. It is one thing to claim that a world without God is not a possible world; it is another thing to prove that. Given the failure of the notorious ontological argument for God’s existence, I’d say the prospects for that line of defense are dim.
[8] Paul Tillich, the Shaking of the Foundations,New York: Scribner and Sons, 1948,52
or my own idiomatically this point see my article, "another take on being itself,"

Depth of Being and Tillich's Ontological Argument

[9] Alfred Plamtimga, The Nature of Necessity, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1974

Sunday, September 17, 2017

Why God Allows Pain, my answer to Draper

Pain and Pleasure: An Evidential Problem for Theists Author(s): Paul Draper Source: Noûs, Vol. 23, No. 3 (Jun., 1989), pp. 331-350 Published by: Wiley Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/2215486 accessed 12/24/16


disclaimer: my views on God's motives are always theoretical, accept for the assumption of God's love

Paul Draper is a major philosopher in this day, he is one of the top two or three atheist philosophers,. He is the real deal, No mere Dawkings but a real thinker and formidable. He's a favorite of the Secular Outpost crowd. His major argument is the evidential argumnet on theodicy,. I know i'll probably fail but i take my turn as trying to whack his argument. My real goal is to hold my own, As Billy Abraham said of his great debate with Schubert Ogden "I attacked his destroyer iwth ny nine sweeper." At least he had a mine sweeper. I attack Draper's destroyer with my dilapidated tug boat.

I will argue in this paper that our knowledge about pain and pleasure creates an epistemic problem for theists. The problem is not that some proposition about pain and pleasure can be shown to be both true and logically inconsistent with theism. Rather, the problem is evidential. A statement reporting the observations and testimony upon which our knowledge about pain and pleasure is based bears a certain significant negative evidential relation to theism.' And because of this, we have a prima facie good epistemic reason to reject theism-that is, a reason that is sufficient for rejecting theism unless overridden by other reasons for not rejecting theism.[1] [2]

In other words we can't prove God has moral reasons for allowing POE and POP. He calls it epistemic and says the problem is evidential. So I assume he's saying we don't have good evidence, This is a catch 22 because to have good evidence we have to have something empirical to study if we had empirical evidence of God there would be no need to prove that God had good reasons,He would be God and that's all he needs, Now I do not way that as a  divine command guy, not the kind who thinks God is arbitrarily right all the because as God he can make evil good and so on,I say that because as the creator of all the basis of reality he would have the inside track in knowing good from evil and right from wrong even though it is not arbitrary and has a reasoned rationale.

So the argument is a chatch 22 because if we had the evidence he seeks we wouldn't need it. But God is not given in sense data, and thus is not empirical, We have no ready made undeniable proof of God.,That's why it's called a "belief," That's not to say we don't have good reasons for belief, it is to say that I suspect Draper is playing games with concepts of evidence. Notice his standard is  "we have a prima facie good epistemic reason to reject theism..." He's not demanding actual proof but a PF reason. That means we can meet the standard after all. That is to say the PF standard works both ways,If that's the standard he feels can live up to then it's also the standard he has to accept if I meet it,

He goes on to say  "a reason that is sufficient for rejecting theism unless overridden by other reasons for not rejecting theism." I can definatley give reasons for not rejecting it. I will ma,e a couple of proviso's: (1) by "theism" I include Panentheism; (2) I don't have to prove X is the case only that i have rational warrant for belief.

I find Draper's challenge to theism to be somewhat narrowly focused, although probably not as narrow as Dawkins.

There exists an omnipotent, omniscient, and morally perfect person who created the Universe. I will use the word "God" as a title rather than as a proper name, and I will stipulate that necessary and sufficient conditions for bearing this title are that one be an omnipotent, omniscient, and morally perfect person who created the Universe. Given this (probably technical) use of the term "God," theism is the statement that God exists. [3]
He is ruling out Tillich's view, probably without knowing it, because he stipulates God is "a person." Then he includes the omnis with no discussion as to their modern understanding, That's going to figure into a an understanding of defense for theiodicy since most of the blaming of God for pain and suffering assumes God is totally free to end all such suffering regardless of other goals.

He constricts a view Hypothesis of Indifference, (HI) with which to compare theistic views. He says essentially there or may not be such supernatural intetieds but ifso they are indifferent to human pain or evil. They are not donig evil they are just not conscenred,

Unlike theism, HI does not entail, that supernatural beings exist and so is consistent with naturalism. But HI is also consistent with the existence of supernatural beings. What makes HI inconsistent with theism is that it entails that, if supernatural beings do exist, then no action performed by them is motivated by a direct concern for our well-being. Now let "O" stand for a statement reporting both the observations one has made of humans and animals experiencing pain or pleasure and the testimony one has encountered concerning the observations others have made of sentient beings experiencing pain or pleasure. [4]

The problem here is really two fold. First, it's not really an argument to support atheism because it would allow for a God provided God is  not concerned, Said another way he limits his view of what God could be to the fundamentalist view so that any liberal modern view such as process theology or Tilllich's view of God as being itself would go under the category of indifferent even though neither process theologians nor Tillich would  understand God as indifferent, Secondly, if there is an indifferent God that's still God and thus atheism is false. This leads me to wonder ab out the ultimate bottom line of his argument, what is the final reasoning rumination? It can't be to support the view that there is no God. It's apparently just to disingender positive feelings for God. He does intimate that his ultimate goal is the rejection of theism,whatever that means, [5] That still leaves us hanging with the problematic situation that there may well be reason to believe in God but God woudl not qualify as theism so it's unclear as to how he would score that in relation to his argument,

Therefore I am going to show that there are good reasons to believe in God, to accept that God is not indifferent but am using the Tillich view of God so Draper's arguments don't apply, First I will show what my alternative is, and then show how Draper's argument fails to disprove my view. This will demonstrate that  we have a prima facie good epistemic reason to believe in God weather or not we codifier it theism...

The ultimate issue is an evidently based warrant for belief (which is how I interpret a PF reason to believe. Given what's already been said about this standard I think the defense that I will put up, my twist on FWD, counts as evidence because it not only fits in with the larger evidential scheme that I argue from but it also demonstrates in its own right that God can have rational reasons, I will briefly discuss two other kinds of evidence, but only go into details on the soteriological drama,

Soteriological Drama

My view is called "Soteriologiocal Drama," please read the link to the whole idea.[6] It begins with observations:

(1) The assumption that God wants a "moral universe" and that this value outweighs all others.

The idea that God wants a moral universe I take from my basic view of God and morality. Following in the footsteps of Joseph Fletcher (Situation Ethics) I assume that love is the background of the moral universe (this is also an Augustinian view). I also assume that there is a deeply ontological connection between love and Being. Axiomatically, in my view point, love is the basic impitus of Being itself. Thus, it seems reasonable to me that, if morality is an upshot of love, or if love motivates moral behavior, then the creation of a moral universe is essential. 

(2) that internal "seeking" leads to greater internalization of values than forced compliance or complaisance that would be the result of intimidation. 
That's a pretty fair assumption. We all know that people will a lot more to achieve a goal they truly beileve in than one they merely feel forced or obligated to follow but couldn't care less about. 
(3)the the drama or the big mystery is the only way to accomplish that end. 
The pursuit of the value system becomes a search of the heart for ultimate meaning,that ensures that people continue to seek it until it has been fully internalized. 
I don't think those are unreasonable assumptions, They are pretty standard.

The argument itself.

(1)God's purpose in creation: to create a Moral Universe, that is one in which free moral agents willingly choose the Good. 
(2) Moral choice requires absolutely that choice be free (thus free will is necessitated). 
(3) Allowance of free choices requires the risk that the chooser will make evil choices 
(4)The possibility of evil choices is a risk God must run, thus the value of free outweighs all other considerations, since without there would be no moral universe and the purpose of creation would be thwarted. 

This leaves the atheist in the position of demanding to know why God doesn't just tell everyone that he's there, and that he requires moral behavior, and what that entails. Thus there would be no mystery and people would be much less inclined to sin. 
This is the point where Soteriological Drama figures into it. Argument on Soteriological Drama: 

(5) Life is a "Drama" not for the sake of entertainment, but in the sense that a dramatic tension exists between our ordinary observations of life on a daily basis, and the ultiamte goals, ends and purposes for which we are on this earth. 
(6) Clearly God wants us to seek on a level other than the obvious, daily, demonstrative level or he would have made the situation more plain to us 
(7) We can assume that the reason for the "big mystery" is the internalization of choices. If God appeared to the world in open objective fashion and laid down the rules, we would probably all try to follow them, but we would not want to follow them. Thus our obedience would be lip service and not from the heart. 
(8) therefore, God wants a heart felt response which is internationalized value system that comes through the search for existential answers; that search is phenomenological; introspective, internal, not amenable to ordinary demonstrative evidence. 

In other words, we are part of a great drama and our actions and our dilemmas and our choices are all part of the way we respond to the situation as characters in a drama. 
This theory also explains why God doesn't often regenerate limbs in healing the sick. That would be a dead giveaway. God creates criteria under which healing takes place, that criteria can't negate the overall plan of a search. 
One might object that this couldn't outweigh babies dying or the horrors of war or the all the countless injustices and outrages that must be allowed and that permeate human history. It may seem at first glance that free will is petty compared to human suffering. But I am advocating free will for the sake any sort of pleasure or imagined moral victory that accrues from having free will, it's a totally pragmatic issue; that internalizing the value of the good requires that one choose to do so, and free will is essential if choice is required. Thus it is not a capricious or selfish defense of free will, not a matter of choosing our advantage or our pleasure over that of dying babies, but of choosing the key to saving the babies in the long run,and to understanding why we want to save them, and to care about saving them, and to actually choosing their saving over our own good. 

If I understand him correctly I think he's saying we know that biological organisms avoid pain and seek pleasure but we have no proof of any kind that there are moral reasons that excuse allowing pain,[7] Moreover, given the nature of biology it makes more sense to to think any kind of SN being that may have created the universe is indifferent to pain merely cause there is so much pain,

Mystical Experiece Provides both unshakable empirical evidence for the reality of God and for the love (compassion and concern) of God. This is backed by certain empirically based arguments taht I develop in my book The Trace of God.[8] This is more empirically based than  anything Draper offers. It may well constitute the evidentail aspect they seek.

From this background ai derive my founding observation:

(1) The assumption that God wants a "moral universe" and that this value outweighs all others.
The direct implication both of the transformative experience behind the observation establishes the goodness of Gd and the loving nature of God. Since that gives us a reason to believe in God we can trust that reason despite the seeming evidence to the contrary in Pain and suffering, That is a dimension with which Draper does not deal, we can know God is worthy of trust. Thus being worthy of trust we need not be necessarily certain of God';specific reasons,

Nevvertheless we can go further because we have a valid theoretical rationale,to explain God's preseasons in terms of the soteriological drama. That term means the dramna of salvation is based upon the need to seek for truth in order to internalize the values of the good. That means the search must be inviolable. So God can't clear the world of pain and suffering,If God did that there woudl be no search, None of the three counter thedocieies taht Draper answers include this facet.

this should count as PF evidence because it givs a logical rationale for god's allowance for pain while fitting into the larger framework that shows us god cares. However deep the depths of pain and evil in this would it is not gratuitous and does not outweigh my reasons for belief.,Whatever abstract logical victories Draper wins he does not ofer a final reason for abandoning belief that outweighs my PF reasons for beloief.


[1] Paul Draper, Pain and Pleasure: An Evidential Problem for Theists Author(s): Paul Draper Source: Noûs, Vol. 23, No. 3 (Jun., 1989), pp. 331-350 Published by: Wiley Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/2215486 accessed 12/24/16, 331
(accessed 12/20/16)

[2] Jeff Lowder, "Index:Draper's Evidential Argument"Secular OUTPOST ,December 7, 2014,blog

[3] Draper, op cit,331

[4] Ibid 332

[5] Ibid 334

[6] Joseph Hinman, ",Soteriologocal Drama," The Religious a priori, on line resource, URL
accessed 1/2/17

[7] Deaper, op ciot336

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

The Evolution of the God Concept (part 2)

,,,,The assumption that humans are projecting their own attributes is no more supported by the facts than the idea of progressive revelation. It could just be that our conceptions of God have to grow as our understanding of reality grows. How could Stone Age people start out understanding God in terms of quantum theory or transcendence in relation to the space/time continuum? As our understanding has grown our conceptions of God have become more grandiose, they have kept pace with our understanding of the nature of the universe. How could it be other wise? We can’t understand what we have never experienced or that to which we have never been exposed. New psychological research has indicated that children don’t have to understand God’s attributes by first understanding human attributes, but become able to distinguish between different kinds of agents at an early age (six).[1] We might still limit our understanding to our own experience of mind, yet as thinkers we are capable of conceptualizing beyond our own experience. This is born out by research which shows that people often have two understandings of God that conflict, especially in relation to ceremonial uses, they can anthropomorphize when explaining belief but recite doctrines they don’t understand when called upon to state beliefs.[2] That research pertains to Christian children but research has shown the same disparity with Hindus.[3] The real argument against the projection theory has to be the data discussed in the chapter on supernatural, the “m scale” studies by Hood that show universal nature of religious experience. If the concept of God is just the result of psychology how could it be that psychology is universe to all cultures and all times? It is true that the human mind is universal to humans, but it’s also the case that religion is thought of as a cultural phenomenon. The projection idea would be more than just a universal aspect of the human mind it would have to be the product of culture as well because it’s tied to specific cultural ideas of God. Yet all the mystics are having the same experiences regardless of their doctrine.
            Moreover, a positive transformative effect is tied to the experiences that indicates that something more fundamental than just cultural constructs is at work.
Examples of transformative effects
Sullivan (1993) (large qualitative study) The study concludes that spiritual beliefs and practices were identified as essential to the success of 48% of the informants interviewed.[4]  A study by Loretta Do Rozario of the religious practices of the disabled and those in chronic pain, the study demonstrates that religious (“mystical,” or “peak” experience) not only enables the subjects to cope with the trials of the challenges but also provides a since of growth even flourishing in the face of adversity.[5] The study methodology is known as “hermeneutic Phenomenology” it uses both intensive interviews and biographical essays. The Wuthnow study used questionnaires and the sample included 1000 people in San Francisco and Oakland. He asked them about experience of the transcendent, 68% of those experiencing within a year said life is very meaningful. While 46% of those whose experiences were more than a year old answered this way, that life was very meaningful. 82% of those experiencing within a year found they felt they knew the purpose of life, and 72% whose experiences were more than a year old. Only 18% and 21% respectively of those who had not had such experiences felt they cold say the same things.[6]
            Naturalistic assumptions about religion theorized it was explanation for natural phenomena. Linked to magical thinking because they assume it’s primitive and superstitious. Its real origin is found in the actual experiences and their transformative effects. The transformative effects are what links religious orientation with a concept of God. The sense of exercising God or “the divine” with the transformational effects has to be more than just projecting anthropomorphism since it takes us beyond our understanding and into a real that we can’t even express; yet the noetic qualities of the experience that impart meaning and significance to the events indicate that something real and larger than ourselves has been experienced. If we are projecting human qualities we have at least found, through religion, a way that those qualities connect us to come inherent meaning in life. It’s more likely that this something beyond ourselves. The sense that the power is beyond us is often part of the experience. This is a basic aspect of the definition of spirituality.[7]
            Over the last forty years or so the idea of a brain chemistry solution to the concept of God has become fashionable. Scientific research demonstrates a connection between the concept of God and certain aspects of brain function. This has led many theorize a totally naturalistic origin for the God concept.[8] Contrary to wishful thinking along these lines the association between thoughts about God and certain kinds of brain function is no proof that the concept of God originates totally within the brain as a side effect of brain chemistry. First, since we now understand that brain chemistry has to play a role in the communication process there should be no surprise that we find this association between God concept and brain chemistry. We find the same association between any two ideas. This is not proof that the idea of God is purely a side of brain chemistry any more than it is a proof that the ideas of mathematics are purely the result of brain chemistry. Secondly, the notion probably stems from the assumption of skeptics that God is supernatural and brain chemistry is natural and never the twain shall meet. As we have seen in chapter (on supernatural) that term was coined to describe an experience which is toughly a part of naturalistic life. Supernatural describes mystical experience, which we know is a very real experience.
            The idea that ties to brain chemistry are disproof of supernatural assumes that religious experience is seen as a miracle or something is wholly removed form naturalistic functions. This is merely a fallacy. As we discussed in chapter six (on supernatural) God created the natural, God is present in the natural, God is able to use the natural. The idea that the concept of God grows out of an accident or misfiring of brain wiring is merely a fallacious assumption. The probability is totally against any kind of “misfire” producing such an astounding sense of personal growth and transformation of life. Andrew Newberg and Eugene D’Aquili, after many years of research, specifically rejected that assumption; Newberg cited the realization of religious experience as a reality that connects us to the ultimate.[9] “the mind is mystical by default.”[10] What he means by that is that the same physical processes that carry messages from the body to the brain and make reality meaningful to us would have to be involved regardless of the reality of the external causes. God would have to use the chemical processes of our brains to communicate with us, and if God is real than that’s he made us. The view point that sees religious experience and belief as genetic adaptation is really missing the point about the nature of evolution. As Lee Kirkpatrick points out the simpler concept is the more evolved. Rather than evolving an elaborate structure such as religious experience to deal with anxiety, why would the human brain not just evolve an efficient and simple mechanism for coping with stress?[11]
            There is also an argument to be made that the relation between brain chemistry and God concept is a good justification for belief in the reality of God. The basis for a hard wired God concept need not be evidence of a “God gene.” It could also be the result of a combination of genes working together (Spandrels), either way the odds are against it happening by total accident. That in itself is a good indication of some pre planning on the part of nature or something behind nature. Again the universality argument comes into play. We can’t assume the universal nature of cultural constructs. It would have to be genetic. The problem is evolution and genes can’t really provide for the content of ideas. They couldn’t really account for the universality of the God concept. Some skeptics have been known to argue that universal behaviors are genetic.[12] These pertain to things like men finding symmetrical faces and women’s figures are more attractive. Those are not the content of ideas, they are just behaviors. That’s not instinct not idea. The universality of the God concept draws upon the content of the idea not just a behavior:
In Western Religions and In Hinduism, the higher Being has been called “God.”

In all theistic religions God is perceived as the ultimate, externality (transcendent), the ultimate internality, (immanent), and sometimes both simultaneously. Often, God is not perceived simply as a higher being but in many ways 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 reality. In fact, in the mystical tradition of the Western religions, the goal of the practice of meditation is to become intensely united with God and in so doing to become, in a sense, a part of ultimate reality involving release from the cycle of birth and death.[13]

The content of the ideas is what is universal, as well as the experiences (see chapter six—Hood’s argument and data). The way we as a species experience things can’t be genetically heritable especially when that experience has given rise to the content of an idea. That would be like positing the notion of innate ideas, which was supposed to be abandoned in the enlightenment. Innate ideas are assumed to be planted by God and are seen as the old religious way of looking at things. Innate ideas were assailed and dispatched by John Locke, in his Essay Concerning Human Understanding.[14]
            God was not invented by man and then evolves as a fictional concept, but God reveals himself/herself to man in progressive stages of revelation; our knowledge of God is ever deeper as people continue to seek the infinite. We can see the current result of this progressive revelation in the high state to which the concept of God had developed. The theological concepts we propose, sheer guess work in relation to the actual truth of the Holy, are evolved to a high stage of understanding regardless of their origin around the time of St. Augustine (354-430). The basic concept is that of transcendent reality that form the basis of reality as a whole, being itself, the ground of being. The basic attributes of the concept include eternal (timeless), necessary (meaning not contingent—not dependent upon any prior conditions or causes for its being) the ground of being. The secret to the continuing modernity of this concept is that it is no longer a concept about a guy; it’s an equation. It can’t be a maybe it has to be either a certainty or impossibility. There’s no reason why it should be impossible so it must be a certainty. The real kicker is it’s not about a magnified man or a jumped up state of being human, but with great powers added; it’s about a category. That’s what “being itself” or “ground of being” refers to. God is not another guy, God is not one of many others like itself, God is a whole category of being, a category that functions as the basis of all actuality. God might be likened unto the Hegelian dialectic, a form of logic that works by point counter point rather than a linear progression. In fact one of the major schools of thought about revelation (Barth, Bultmann) saw Biblical revelation as a dialectic between reader and the text.[15]
            This high level of philosophical development in the concept of God has culminated in several major theological ways of understanding God. Of course there’s the Tillich view of God as being itself, or ground of being, that understands God as a category of reality rather than an individual. Then process theology (Alfred North Whitehead), based upon the Hegelian concept of progressive revelation already discussed, this view sees God as di polar; in the potential realm God is unchanging because God is the basis of all potential, in the consequent realm God is moving into concrete being by evolving with creation. What God is doing in that state is bringing into and out of existence actual entities (that’s something like sub atomic particles). This doesn’t see God as stable static unchanging reality as a “society of occasions” like a movie made up of individual moments or frames but played fast creates a totally different illusion that of a moving picture show. Process theology is always unrated in its popularity. It is the most popular modern liberal alternative in terms of understanding God. It also spawned a popularized version called “open theology.”  Then there’s  Jurgen Moltmann’s notion of God working backwards from the future. That doesn’t really deal so much with the nature of God as with his orientation toward the future. The idea is not that time is running backwards but only that God’s position in time is to regard the horizon of the future and understand reality from there back (in other words, God is beyond time he can afford to pick his persective). Thus man is constantly moving toward a future horizon that he never actually achieves, but is already there drawing us on.
            These views are only guesses; the reality is beyond our understanding. That’s the secret of God’s success; he’s not only real but inexhaustible. Our best ideas about his nature are inadequate, yet they are modern they are keeping pace with our scientific understanding. We can quantum theory to understand aspects of God. For example the notion that the energy in the big bang is created in the expansion, it is not eternal, that can be understood by reference to quantum theory which would suspend the Newtonian laws at the singularity. Thus, no conservation of energy, so energy can be created. Or the Trinity might be better understood if we understood if we understood wave/particle duality. Yet these are ideas are bound to some day be lost to history and seem old fashioned. The theologies that spin off of them will no doubt pass out of fashion. Whatever comes into fashion will include a God concept and it will keep pace with human advancement. This is not because man is reinventing a concept he made up, but because there is continually more of God to discover. It’s the actual personal experiential discovery that is the secret to God’s success. There’s always more to be experienced in the each moment, in each life, in each generation.

[1] J. L. Barrett,  R.A. Richert, , A. Driesenga,  “God's beliefs versus mother's: The development of nonhuman agent concepts.”  Child Development, 72(1), (2001).  50-65
[2] J.L.  Barrett, F.C.  Keil, “Conceptualizing a Nonnatural Entity: Anthropomorphism in God Concepts.” Cognitive Psychology, 31(3), (1996). 219-247.
[3] J.L. Barrett, “Cognitive constraints on Hindu concepts of the divine,” Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion, 37(4), (1998). 608-619.
[4] W. Sullivan, “It helps me to be a whole person”: “The role of spirituality among the mentally challenged”. Psychological Rehabilitation Journal. 16 , (1993),125-134.
[5] Loretta Do Rozario, “Spirituality in the lives of People with Disability and Chronic Illness: A Creative Paradigm of Wholeness and Reconstitution,” Disability and Rehabilitation, An International Multi-Disciplinary Journal, 19 (1997) 423-427.
[6] Robert Wuthnow, “Peak Experiences: Some Empirical Tests,” Journal of Humanistic Psychology, (18) 3 (1978) 66, see also 176-177
[7] K. Krishna Mohan, “Spirituality and well being, an overview,” The following article is based on a presentation made during the Second International Conference on Integral Psychology,
held at Pondicherry (India), 4-7 January 2001. The text has been published in:
Cornelissen, Matthijs (Ed.) (2001) Consciousness and Its Transformation. Pondicherry: SAICE.
Avaivble on-line through website of Indian Psychology Institute. On-line resource. URL:
Mohan defines spirutality in terms of “experiencing a numinous quality, knowing unity of the visible and invisible, having an internalized relationship between the individual and the Divine, encountering limitless love, and moving towards personal wholeness” which accords with mystical experience in terms of the M scale. He sites: (Canda, 1995; Gaje-Fling & McCarthy, 1996; Decker, 1993; King et al., 1995; Wulff, 1996). That is also in harmony  with Hood’s understanding of mystical experience, (see chapter six, on  supernatural).
[8] Matthew Alper, The God Part of the Brain, Naperville Illanois: Soucebook inc, originally published in 1996 by Rough Press, 2006, 11.
[9] Andrew NewbergWhy God Won’t God AwayBrain Science and the Biology of Belief. (New York, Ballentine Books), 2001, 157-172.
[10] Ibid., 37
[11] Lee A. Kirkpatrick, “Religion is not An Adaptation.” Where God and Science Meet Vol I: Evolution, Genes and The Religious Brain. Westport: Praeger Publishers,  Patrick McNamara ed. 2006, 173.
[12] Anders Rassmussen, “Universal Human Behavior”Anders Rassmussen Blog, Friday, December 39, 2006.
URL:    http://rasmussenanders.blogspot.com/2006/12/universal-human-behaviors.html
[13] Eugene d’Aquili and Andrew B. Newberg, The Mystical Mind: Probing the Biology of Religious Experince. Copywright by the estate of Eugene d’Aquili and Anderw Newberg.1999. 3.
[14] John Locke, Essay Concerning Human Understanding, Amherst, New York: Prometheus Books, Great Books in Philosophy series, 12.
[15] Avery Dulles, Models of Revelation. Maryknoll New York:Orbis Books, Reprint edition, 1992,  84.

Sunday, September 10, 2017

Evolution of God Concept

All experiences of the divine must be filtered through cultural constructs, or symbols. God is beyond our understanding, thus beyond language. If we are talk about our experiences, however badly, we must filter them through culture.
RELIGION, although inherent in man, borrows its expressions from the setting or milieu in which man appears. The forms through which man expresses the supernatural are all drawn from the cultural heritage and the environment known to him, and are structured according to his dominant patterns of experience.In a hunting culture this means that the main target of observation, the animal, is the ferment of suggestive influence on representations of the supernatural. This must not be interpreted as meaning that all ideas of the supernatural necessarily take animal form. First of all, spirits do appear also as human beings, although generally less frequently; the high-god, for instance, if he exists, is often thought of as a being of human appearance. Second, although spirits may manifest themselves as animals they may evince a human character and often also human modes of action.[1]

Narrative is psychologically important to humans because it enables us to put things in perspective, to put ourselves into the story and to understand. Anything can be narrative. Even when events are taken as historical and the consciousness of myth falls away, the narrative is no less naratival. The resurrection of Christ, the existence of Jesus and his claims to be Messiah, all I take to be history and truth. Yet these are also part of the meta-narrative of Christianity. The meat-narrative is not closed or not an ideology or truth regime as long as it can be open to outside voices and to adult itself to them. For that reason the narrative hast to be fluid. The reason for this is that it has to explain the word in a new way to each new generation. To the extent that it can keep doing this it continues to be relevant and survives. This is equivalent to Kuhn’s paradigm absorbing the anomalies. Even when a certain set of fact is held out as historical and more that, but “the truth” such as Jesus’ death, burial, and resurrection, there is still an interpretation, a spin an understanding of just exactly how to put it, that varies from time to time and culture to culture. The facts of the event don’t change, the historical significance of it doesn’t change, but the way of relating it to each generation anew does change. This is not say that ideology doesn’t change, but the change is much slower and less obvious and less fluid. Even when the meta-narrative of a given religious tradition features factual material it’s not closed in the sense that ideology is closed and it’s still fluid.
            This is not to say that religious traditions don’t get infected with ideology. When traditions take on ideology they usually form something more than Orthodoxy, something like “fundamentalism.” Orthodoxy is just the recognition of stable boundaries that ground the fluid nature of the narrative in expression of continuity. While ideology seeks to create a black hole, like the eternal conflict between communism and anti-communism, that absorbs all light and allows nothing to escape; the attempt to suck everything in one eternal understanding. Ideology in religious tradition probably is most often he result of literalizing the metaphors. When we forget that the metaphor bridges the gap between what we know and we don’t know—through comparison--and that it contains a “like” and a “not-like” dimension, we begin to associate the metaphor with truth in literal way then we begin to formulate ideology. Critics of religious thinking might be apt to confuse dogma with ideology. Religious ideas are not automatically ideological, dogma is not automatically ideological. It’s the literalistic elements in some religious thinking (not all of course) that closes off the realm of discourse and crates a closed truth regime. The danger of form ideology may be acute in a religious setting since it is easy to confuse the metaphor with literal truth by casting over it the aura of the sacred. We often associate the things pertaining to belief in God with God, and in so doing forger a literalism that closes off discourse. Yet religious belief as a whole is too fluid to be fully ideological. Ideology is self protecting and self perpetuating. Thomas Kuhn’s talk about damage control in paradigm defense is a good example of the self defending nature of ideology. While meta-narrative often reflects concepts of divine truth, it’s too changeable to be ideological. Even though theology resists change and novelty is a bad thing in theological parlance, meta-narrative changes in spite of it all. The fact of changed is noted in the many examples of different versions of the same myth. One such change turns upon a burning question that must be raised at this point, why did religious thinking move from numatic realization to a theocentric nature?
            Why “God?” The same can be asked of the female form? Why a pseudo-parental, suzerain figure who creates the world and is in charge of the cosmos? Why not, since this model is obviously a metaphor comparing the unknown with some aspect of reality we know well, why that aspect and not another? What did people worship before they worshipped gods? Anthropology tells us that the shamanistic style of animism is older than the concept of a creator god.[2] This form of belief dates back to the stone age. Native American tribe “Shosoni, like other hunting people in Africa, Asia, Europe, and North America, have an idea of a “master of the animals,” or an “owner,” a supernatural being who is in charge of the animals:
Hunting peoples in Africa, Europe, Asia and America have developed the idea of a supernatural owner of the animal species, or of all animals, who protects them, commands them, and at request from hunters delivers them to be slayed and eaten. The concept is not infrequent in North America. The master of animals is a spirit, generally figured as an animal. The Shoshoni have possibly in very remote times known the coyote, or rather the mythical Coyote, as a master of animals. With the impact of Plains Indian culture the buffalo and the eagle have halfway achieved the position as master of animals and master of birds, respectively. In all fairness it should be pointed out, however, that this type of concept is very little noticeable among the Shoshoni.[3]

We must be cautious but since “shamanism” is connected to animism this owner of the animals might imply a transition between animistic thinking and beliefs in gods. We can’t say that all religions evolved in the same way in every location, but it does seem that in general it was an evolution from nameless “spirits” to specific pantheon of gods. The development of the concept of God was probably influenced by thoughts of parents, of tribal chiefs, or the leader, long before they became complex enough to fit a suzerain model. Yet it does seem that the concept of God evolved out of an understanding of nature oriented religion and evolved slowly over time based upon comparison with the authority figures we know best in life.
            In his work The Evolution of God,[4] Robert Wright distills the work of anthropology over the last two centuries and demonstrates an evolutionary development, form early superstition that personified nature (pre-historic people talking to the wind)[5], through a polytheistic origin in pre-Hebrew Israelite culture,[6] to monotheistic innovation with the God of the Bible.[7]Wright is distilling a huge body of work that stretches back to the ninetieth century, the work of countless archaeologists, historians, and anthropologists. Another such successful distiller of scholarship in recent years is Karen Armstrong. In her work A History of God: The 4000 year Quest of Judaism, Christianity and Islam, [8] she presents a similar evolutionary story, focusing specifically upon the Biblical religions. She sees the pre-historical religious scene through the eyes of wonderment at the world around us. The cave paintings she understands as an attempt to record participation in the all pervasive aspect of the enchanted world.[9] The general agreement between scholarship, social sciences, and the work of anthropologists is that the concept of God is a product of the evolution of human thought.[10] At one time the concept was not, then it began and it has developed over time. Of course the great body of this work is coming out of naturalistic assumptions, especially in the ninetieth century. In the anthropological study of the evolution of religion those assumptions centered around the concept of projection in human thinking. People are projecting the relationship with the father or the king. This assumption can be traced to the work of Ludwig Feuerbach, social critic and precursor to Marxian analysis (God is the mask of money). He understood the concept of projection in terms of Hegel’s philosophy of spirit.[11] In The Essence of Christianity Feuerbach argues that superhuman deities are involuntary projections based upon the attributes of human nature.[12] How this thesis came to be the basis of modern anthropological understanding of religious evolution is not hard to seek. As Harvey puts it “It became the Bible to a group of revolutionary thinkers including, Arnold Ruge, the Bauers, Karl Marx, Richard Wagner, Frederic Engles.[13] This circle became a major part of the basis of modern social thought. While modern anthropology has not necessarily played out Feuerbach’s actual inversion of Hegel it has taken its que from him by making assumptions about theoroes of prodjection of one kind or another.
            Hegel did not think of God as some projection of human imagination. Feuerbach inverted Hegel’s concept to produce the idea. Hegel understood stages of human culture as “moments in the unforlding of absolute spirit.”[14] Thus, as Harvey points out, the various stages in religious development can be seen as stages in the self manifestation of Spirit.[15] In other words, from the cave paintings, to the shamans and the wind talkers to the highest aspirations of Judo-Christian ethics, Spirit (God), is making himself aware of himself by moving through progressive revelation to humanity. “In other words, the history of religion culminating in Christianity was a progressive revelation of the truth that the absolute is not merely an impersonal substance but a subject.”[16] Feuerbach inverts this principal by asserting that finite spirit is becoming aware of itself through externalizing its own attributes and then projecting them into magnified from.[17]On Feuerbach’s part this was the result of a long struggle with idealism. Be that as it may, and for both sides, it’s clearly the roots of ideology. It sowed the seeds of ideology in terms of the social sciences naturalistic assumptions. Now we find those same kinds of assumptions being made with regard to the laws of physics. Paul Davies has been quoted to say that the traditional view of the laws of physics are just seventeenth century monotheism without God, “Then God got killed off and the laws just free-floated in a conceptual vacuum but retained their theological properties,”[18] The assumption of modernity is always that belief in God is dying out, religion is of the past, these are the things that are dying. Armstrong sounds the death knell and starts singing the dirge in first book. She observes that “one of the reasons why religion seems irrelevant today is that many of us no longer have the sense that we are surrounded by the unseen.”[19] It’s so irrelevant she’s writing books about it.
We can just hear those atheists saying "yes this proves man invented God," not so fast. see part 2 on friday.

[1] Ake Hultkrantz, “Attitudes Toward Animals in Shashoni Indian Religion,” Studies in Comparative Religion, Vol. 4, No. 2. (Spring, 1970) © World Wisdom, Inc. no page listed,online archive, URL:
[2] Weston La Barre, “Shamanic Origins of Religion and Medicine,” Journal of Psychedelic Drugs, vol 11, (1-2) Jan. June 1979 no page listed, PDF, URL: http://www.cnsproductions.com/pdf/LaBarre.pdf  accessed 3/22/13.
[3] Hultkrantz, op. cit.  the author also cites other works by himself on the matter: Cf. Hultkrantz, The Owner of the Animals in the Religion of the North American Indians (in Hultkrantz, ed., The Supernatural Owners of Nature, Stockholm Studies in Comparative Religion, Vol. 1, 1961). Hultkrantz, The Masters of the Animals among the Wind River Shoshoni (Ethnos, Vol. 26:4, 1961).
[4] Robert Wright, The Evolution of God, New York: Back Bay Books, reprint edition, 2010.  The book was Originally published in 2009. The company “Back Bay books: is an imprint of Hachette Books, through Little Brown and company. Wright studied sociobiology at Princeton and taught at Princeton as and University of Pennsyania. He edits New Republic and does journalistic writing of science, especially sociobiology.
[5] Wright, ibid, 9
[6] ibid. 10
[7] ibid, 11
[8] Karen Armstrong, A History of God: The 4000 Year Quest of Judaism, Christianity and Islam. New York: Ballantine Books, 1994.
[9] Ibid, 4-6
[10] T. M. Manickam,, Dharma According Manu and MosesBangalore : Dharmaram Publications,1977,6.
[11] Van A. Harvey, Feuerbach and The Interpretation of Religion, Carmbridge: Press Syndicate for the University of Cambridge, Cambridge Studies in Religion and Critical Thought, 1995/1997, 4.
Harvey is professor emeritus, taught religious studies at Stanford Univesity. His Ph.D. from Yale in 1957. His thesis supervisor was H.Richard Neibhur.
[12] Cited by Harvey, ibid., 25.
[13] ibid, 26.
[14] ibid.
[15] ibid.
[16] ibid.
[17] ibid, 27
[18] Dennis Overbye, quoting email message from Paul Davies, “Laws of Nature, Source Unknown,” “Science” New York Times. December 19, 2007. on line edition URL: http://www.nytimes.com/2007/12/18/science/18law.html?pagewanted=all&_r=1& accessed, 3/25/13.
[19] Armstrong, op.cit. 4.