Friday, February 03, 2006

Defining God into Existence?

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the problem:
I am so sick of the atheist ploy to denude Christianity of its' intellectual heritage by throwing up smokescreens of ignorance at the best arguments. A good example of this is found on my message board, Sense of the Numinous: (the Advantrue of faith board) when an atheist friend says:

If it is stupid to ask who created God then its stupid to ask who created the universe. Some "stuff" always was, it seems but who says that stuff is God? Maybe if your theist brethren's had not tainted that word throughout the century.

There are things that we do not know but filling that gap with God really does not do us any good. Generally I see theists trying to define him into existence. All God arguments are silly to me.

He had asked who created God, in repines to consideration of the origin of the universe. I responded by saying that Naturalistic phenomena are contingent, God is necessary and not contingent (given all necessary covets--if God exist, God exists necessarily and as ontological necessity). Thus God is eternal while nature is not. Therefore, we can ask how nature got here, we cannot ask how God came to be for there was no becoming, God Always was. To this he responds

I find it somewhat disingenuous to try to prove God's existence by defining God as Being Itself. You have admitted you believe God to be the traditional concept of a personal agent of infinite power, wisdom and benevolence who created the universe.

It is certainly not obvious that "Being Itself," if that term has any real meaning other than the totality of everything that exists, has any of these attributes.

Of course he's ignoring all the special analysis as to why that would be the case. On the other hand, we are getting the cart first again, because I never actually sad that I believe God to be "the traditional personal agent of infinite power..." I have said God is a mystical reality that is beyond our understanding. I do think God loves, and has will and volition, but I avoid using the term "personal" as it connotes an anthropomorphic kind of prosiness that thinks and ponders and has personality hang-ups. I prefer the term "consciousness" when speaking of God and I capitalize it: "Consciousness." God is the Conscious itself.

The idea that being itself has consciousness, or actually is consciousness per se, is not something any atheist can refute. Perhaps I can't prove it, but it is logical. If consciousness is "ground up," it makes sense that it's foundation is rooted in the ground of all being. But just as water is based upon dipolar molecules yet that doesn't mean such molecules are wet, so we cannot say that the foundation of all consciousness is anthropomorphic. We don't know how things register on the consciousness of God. But what I assume is that in some sense, perhaps beyond my understanding, God loves. But really none of this is an actual reason to quibble with the concept that God is being itself.

He argues that it is not established that God is being itself because there are conceptual problems with understanding Being itself in personal terms. Of course he fails to establish why those are the terms we must accept. I've always argued that consciousness is not a primary quality of God. In other words there are many kinds of being that are conscious, so that is not something that makes God uniquely God. Thus it really seems irrelevant to pick out this trait to base an attack against defining God as being itself. The problem is a lot more complicated, however, because the very idea of challenging the defineition in no way proves that using it in the first place is "defining God into existence." The whole issue is really just a white rabbit and stems from that typical atheist outrage at being given a version of Christianity that doesn't' suffer from any of the conventional woes. OF course his overall argument merely overlooks all the reasons I've given as to why Tillich thinks of God as Being. But I will get back to that later.

Atheist #2 goes on:

MMP is quite right. This seems little more than an effort to define God into existence by reducing the definition of God to an absurdly minimal form.

It really is little better than this argument for the existence of God:

1. My best friend Larry had his name legally changed to "God."

2. Larry is alive.

3. Living things exist.

4. Therefore Larry exists.

5. Larry is God.

6. Therefore, God exists.

This argument is valid and establishes the existence of God, but only in the sense of a person whose legal name is "God."

Of course this is mererly arguing form a straw man argument and has nothing to do with the logic of any of my arguments. He adeptly sees I've taken up the ploy of finding some aspect of reality that we know exits, and linking that to God. But what he forgets is that there is no particular reason why this is an invalid way of doing things, especially if some aspect of reality just happens to manifest the primary qualities that we think make God. After all, if we are seeking to remain in the Christian tradition we cannot choose an aspect of nature, such as moutin or a tree and say "here is God." Being itself is about the only thing we can use. Look at it logically, before God creates what exists? God. What potential for being exists apart from God? None. So in a very litteral sense God is being, since all being stems from God. Notice I have not tried to link God to any physical aspect of the natural world. He also makes the mistake of thinkign that being is just the analogue of all things, he still doesn't' understand the concept. Of course the difference in his straw man and the real argument is that the real argument doesn't' take something we know cannot be compared with God and calls it "God," it actually takes something that evokes the sense of the numinous, the basis of religious feeling, and thus something that is an actual object of religious devotion. This is hardly doing what the straw man argument is doing.

It is a waste of time to debate whether being exists. If you believe that Being Itself has the attributes of infinite power, wisdom and benevolence, as you have previously admitted and that Being Itself created the universe in an act of volition, of conscious choice, then give us an argument for these things.

Give us an argument! Give us an argument!!!!!!! what do you think my whole website, ey my whole presence on the net is about? How about the three pages of arguments Here. The Tillich argument
And my another version of the argument here and, yes, I did link to that first one in the same thread. Atheists are notoriously lazy about clicking on links. That's been my experience.

Simply arguing that "Being Is" and thinking that proves anything is only marginally better than Larry's Logical Proof of the Existence of God.

If that's what I was doing I would agree with him. Of course he's just ignoring the reasons I constantly give, never deal with the analysis and admits he doesn't undersigned the concept. He's never read a page of Tillich, and he doesn't even try to read any theologian who might be able to explain it better than I. But the net is full of people who pontificate upon theology having never read a page of it in their lives.

Now let's move from the sorrows and woes of message board hi jinx and present again some of these arguments. This time I shall try to make the grand summary and somehow to explain it better than I have before.

Grand Summary:

Why do we do we talk about "God" anyway? To the atheists this makes little sense because they can only think in terms of a big guy with a white bread. Where did he come from? Well, they can't really be blame because the laziness of mind of churches has led Christians to settle for this Santa Clause-like figure. To account for it the atheists fall into lock step with the answer atheists have been giving since the days of August Compt (early 19th century). That answer is nothing more than the warmed over assumptions of scutructural functionalism in sociology: there is a need in society for a certain function, religion fills that need for the moment, when more sophisticated answers come religion will dwindle away. That need, of courses is to explain the physical world. Thus, they cast religion in the role of afield primitive science. Yet structural functionalism had very ideological reasons for pursuing materialism. It was no more a scientifically objective account of the origin of religion than is Mr. Data's discourse on his desire to be human an objective scientific account of the possibilities of AI.

Modern students of world religion, such as Huston Smith, realize that the sense of the numionious is at the heart of religious experience:

"Transpersonal Childhood Experiences of Higher States of Consciousness: Literature Review and Theoretical Integration" (unpublished paper 1992 by Jayne Gackenback

"The experience of pure consciousness is typically called "mystical." The essence of the mystical experience has been debated for years (Horne, 1982). It is often held that "mysticism is a manifestation of something which is at the root of all religions (p. 16; Happold, 1963)." The empirical assessment of the mystical experience in psychology has occurred to a limited extent."

Mysticism stands at the core of all organized religion:

David Steindl-Rast

Brother David Steindl-Rast, O.S.B., is a monk of Mount Savior Monastery in the Finger Lake Region of New York State and a member of the board of the Council on Spiritual Practices. He holds a Ph.D. from the Psychological Institute at the University of Vienna and has practiced Zen with Buddhist masters. His most recent book is Gratefulness, The Heart of Prayer (Ramsey, N.J.: Paulist Press, 1984).

"If the religious pursuit is essentially the human quest for meaning, then these most meaningful moments of human existence must certainly be called "religious." They are, in fact, quickly recognized as the very heart of religion, especially by people who have the good fortune of feeling at home in a religious tradition."

All religions hold this in common:

Cross currents

Thomas A.Indianopolus
prof of Religion at of Miami U. of Ohio

"It is the experience of the transcendent, including the human response to that experience, that creates faith, or more precisely the life of faith. [Huston] Smith seems to regard human beings as having a propensity for faith, so that one speaks of their faith as "innate." In his analysis, faith and transcendence are more accurate descriptions of the lives of religious human beings than conventional uses of the word, religion. The reason for this has to do with the distinction between participant and observer. This is a fundamental distinction for Smith, separating religious people (the participants) from the detached, so-called objective students of religious people (the observers). Smith's argument is that religious persons do not ordinarily have "a religion." The word, religion, comes into usage not as the participant's word but as the observer's word, one that focuses on observable doctrines, institutions, ceremonies, and other practices. By contrast, faith is about the nonobservable, life-shaping vision of transcendence held by a participant..."

Smith considers transcendence to be the one dimension common to all peoples of religious faith: "what they have in common lies not in the tradition that introduces them to transcendence, [not in their faith by which they personally respond, but] in that to which they respond, the transcendent itself..."(11)

So the basis of all religous impulse is this sense of the nunionous, which is the foudnation of mysticism. The sense that something is unique, something is different. We see it in Japan where a water fall is designiated as a "Komie" and thoguht of as divine, because it has some outcrop of rock, or some amazing height or some rainbow quality, something that sets it apart form everything esle. Little rock islands around Japan are held to be Komie because they sit in isolation and thrust up out of the sea in defience to their sourroundings, they are the exception, t he opposition to the rest of their environment; something special about them. We see it in the Bull jumping of ancient Spain, or the mound building cultures of the American south, anytime anywhere where people realize a unique feeling about something, that something is sublime, set apart from the rest, otherworldly. We see it in the very primitive Hebrew prohibition on eating pork. This sense shows up in idolatry where the divine energy is thought to be collected in a single physical object. This is the basis of religion. This is why some aspects of life are "sacred" and other are profane. In the Levitical books God tells the Hebrews they must learn to see the distinction in that which is divine and that which is profane; this is how he introduces ritual purity laws to them. So even the most legalistic laws about how to dress and eat are nothing more than outgrowths of this sense that there is something special, something different, something that connects to a transmission of life and that explains not just the physical workings of the world, but the reason for our being.

There is a continuum from phenomenological apprehension, to formal logic. Now I contend that what Anselm really discovered was what Schleiermacher really discovered, the feeling of utter dependence (which is a speicilized sense of the numinous). Lacking the conceptual tools averrable to Schleiermacher to explain phenomenology, Anslem trnalsted it into formal logic and tried to make an argument. Schleiermacher, having read Kant, having been born at a time when the scholastic thing was pretty over in Europe except in a few little monestaries--Maithaus Joseph Scheeben would publish Nature and Grace just a few decades latter--Schleiermacher had the rudimentary machinery to make a phenomenological descrition and thus did not try to translate the feeling into formal logic. So I see a continuum of God reasons, ranging from the phenomenological to the formally logical. At this point we are discussing the latter end, latter I will say a few things about the form, as both end offer reasons to think of God as "being itself."

So where does the idea of God come from? The athiest answer of structural funciotnalism, reilgion is primative failed sicnece, would see God in particular as the ghost of the father. The father used to take us on the hunt and protect us. Then stopped moving and we had to stick him in the ground. But should he not continue to take us on the hunt and protect us? Is it not he who is at work when the trees shake? When spirit moves, that is his spirit." Some such rot, which is the litteral answer given by H.G. Wells in his Outline of World History. The probmle is this model assumes so many things, why would they automatically euqate wind with spirit, and spirit with father? Father was not in the picure, why would they have a concept to transur him to some position in the coulds as unsee protector? It also assumes, like account of religion itself, that religion exists just to epxlain things, not because one has this basic evockative sense of the sublime which gives way to the need to worhsip. Even if the atheist accounts are true in shedding light upon the development of the guy in the sky notion of God, this is far from the only notion of God.

So why do we talk about God? Because we have a sense of the numionous. We sense the sublime, the speical nature of things, the speicial sense of how our own being in the world is laid out in relation to everything else. and "everything else" this gaint web of related things, in relation to some higher sense of the speicial. That is the core essence of the religious a priori. Why else would one talk about God? What's the point of even beileving in God if it isn't some sense of the speicial? If it is not life transformation, why bother with it? If there were no sense of the "big religoius fix,"If that wasn't real for me I would still be an atheist, so I would say the atheits are right. But they are not right because I do have that snes of the sublime in relation to thoughts of the divine, and a sense of utter dependence in the face of God talk.

Now why is this a reason to understand God as being itself? Well, let's just think about what that term means for a second. It's the very essence of the thing that being is, the apprehension of being in the very act of doing what it does, so to speak. So Being itself is the foundation or the basis upon which being is, that's why it is also so called The ground of Being. What is that basis? So many atheists baulk at the idea that it would be bound up with conciousness, but that makes ultiamte sense, which I will get to in the next instuallment, but I must spend a bit more time explaining why we should think of God as being itself. So Being itself is the ground of being, the basis upon which being is, and the core nature of what being is. What is being? Being's basic fucniton is being. Being is, thta's what it does.

Why equate it with God? First, because what we have said so far inplys that we find in the nature of being the naure of the Holy.We find an aspect of being Which John Macquarrie calls "Holy Being." In other words its a certain aspect of all of these senses of the religious a priroi that we find the link, we find it phenomenologically. when Tillich gives his basic notino of God as Being itself, he is speaking i the sense of Phenomenolgoicla method no 2, in other words, the approach to describing a phenomeon by listing or explicating all the aspects of it uncqiturally to paint the clearest picture possible of the phenomena free of pre concieved bias. So a phenomenological account of the way we find being and its relation ot our own being in the world, vis the feeling of utter dependence, we sense this nuninal quality abuot it. We recongize in it the divine.

Now of coruse the atheits will say,irrelivantly, "thas subjective!" Why irrlivant? Because at this point there is no better to reason to speak of anything in live much les God. There is no other reason or no better reason to find belief in God than that God is real to us. If we sense God in the nature of Being itself, then who is the atheist to quibble. Of course it's subjective, so what? Tahts' their magic word, wave that word over something and it goes away. But we do not have to subject God matheamtical forulas, we don't have to take his blood presusure we don't have to shoot himto space, sow e don't need "objective." Of cousre they will amke as though this s jsut tanamount to making it up. That is just an index to their confussion about the subject/object dichotomy. Since we ahve no objective data to go by around the most fundametnal epistemic truths, there is no reason to think we have to be objective about God. What we can be, however, is inter-subjective. We are not just one lone kook, this sense of the numinous is multipled by every believer in the world ni any kind of religious outlook. In one form or another they all have it. It may not always be the same, but it is all a sense that something speicial about life desreves resonse through emotions like awe, reversense, worship and devotion. I can't imagine that there could ever be any better reasons.

But before we turn to formal laigc, let's just complete the thoguht by syaing that Tillich hmiself aruges that whatever form being takes, some form of being has always existed. He doesn't give my analysis about how we can't start form a position of absolute nothingness, but he does argue that being is eternal. Being eternal, the juxtoppossition between the finite and the infinite is the thing that evokes the religious sensablities. I don't think it's the only thing, but it is definatley one of the triggers for this sense of the numinous. That would mean that the notion of eternal being itself is clearly a valid object of religious devotion. That is God. This is what my friend's straw mana argument fails to consider. It's not just picking something at random, it's centering on the very thing evokes religious sesibilites. There can be no better resaon to be a religious believer. That is even more valid an than kind of formal logic such as the ontological argument. Formal logic can only be hypotehtical; the sens of the numinous is direct confrontation with the divine.

This is not for people who just hear about it on paper. This is the real thing. This is the outgrowing of really confronting God and having God be real for you. How could there be a better reason? This is the sumation of the existneial moment, thsi is C.H. Dodd's "zero hour." The fact that this comes to us through our apprehensions of our own being in the world, and the unity of our life world, and our relation one to the other, and that ot the higher preication of the whole, this is the very heart of understanding why being itself evokes the sense of the Holy. It is the feeling of utter dependence, and in that sense our own existential conditions is revelaed to us, our need of transofmative power, the nature of the human problematic, this the very heart and soul of religion. It was out of this realization that the redactors and trasnlators of the LXX translated God's words to Moses as "I am being itself." Which is a third reason because it's in the bible.

so that's three reasons on the phenomenolgoial side of the continuum as to why we should identify God with being:

(1) The phenomenological realization that Being is holy

(2) The sense of the infite nature of being evokes the numinous

(3) It's in the LXX.

Now we can move to the formal logic side of the continuum.

When we say that God is being itself, we are not speaking a single being like a man, who stis on a throne. We are speaking of a whole category which is totally by tiself unique and apart form anyother. There cannot be two being itselfs any more than there can two frist causes. There cannot be two versions of "that which nothing greater than could be concieved." They would cancel each other out, which one would be greater? This is the same with being itself. It has to transcend any kind of category becuase it's one of a kind. We say "a bird" we mean one bird out of many. When we say "a being" we mean one being out of many. Atheits expect us to talk this way of God, because they don't understand the distinction between the contingent non crative creatures of pagan myth and the one of a kind unqiue in a category byitself nature of that which Christians call "God." So we cannot call God "a person" we canot call God "a being." We cannot think of God as being along side other beings in creation. God is the foundation of creation the foundation of creatureliness.

The formally logical reason for speaking of God would be because God is the supopssed origin of the universe. This is the religious person's account of how things came to be, why there is something rather than nothing, and atheits see that as the only reaosn to believe in God at all. In thinking of God as the origin we are forced to think of the origin in this unique way. Why? Because as the Ultiamte orign, nothind could come before it. Thus the question "who created God" is idiotic to begin with because by defition there cannot be anything before God. It's the same as asking what comes before time? Now here's where it getes tricky because the atheits stick in their no one trick of equating a defitional answer with defining something into existence. But I've already given plenty of reasons why we should think of God as being anyway. We really don't need another one, but there are a couple. This is not defining God into existence, its' merely keeping the conept stairght. If God is what and who we claim God is, than God really can't be the product of any other things. That means that God has to be synonimous with the ground being at least functionally because they ocupy the same lignauistic space; the ground of being is the basis upon which being is, God is the basis upon which being is. There can only be one Being iself, remember? So we have to see the two as synonious. Just like if we see Suerman and Clark Kent share the same DNA, fingerprincts Hair folecles, superpowers, the only logical conclusion is that Kent is Superman.

If the two, God and being, share the very same qualifies, and if those qualifies are mutually exclsive, then it is a mere matter of the law of identiy (a = a) that God and being itself are the same.

For my next number I will deal with objections to seeing God as personal and as being itself at the same time, and with the quantifier argument.


(1) The phenomenological realization that Being is holy

(2) The sense of the infite nature of being evokes the numinous

(3) It's in the LXX.

(4) Ultimate Origin cannot be contingent: Both Being and God share idenity as the necessary eternal origin of all things.

Coming SOON to a blog near you!

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