Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Being Does So have to be, Answering Blowfly


I recently put up a new version of my major God argument, cosmological necessity, on CARM. I changed the basic trust and made it more in line with Tillich on being itself and less about cosmology. I call it "being has to be." Atheists just went wild They were totally incensed by the idea of the audacity to actually argue for God. I don't understand this because they spend all their time going "show me some evidence, there's not one thing to prove God exists, show me something." So I did and they went wild wiht angrily "how dare you try to prove God exists?" One of them actually said belief in God is a dangerous idea that must be silenced adn trying to prove God exists is usurping scinece and reality. You can see my reports on their comments on Atheist Watch: "Orwellian Atheism."

After the smoke cleared, Blowfly puts up a piece trying to disprove the argument by ridicule and misrepresentation. Here's what he says:


It's because Being is just... wait a minute, let's get rid of that capitalization, it's misleading. "being". That's better.

It's capitalized to distinguish the eternal necessary aspect (which proved in the nature of the argument, see link above) from the particular examples of "the beings," the contingent temporal aspects of being that come and go all the time.

Now, "being" is just an abstract concept. It's not something profound ontological foundation which forms the ultimate fabric of reality demanding some philosophy account. It's just an abstract concept, like "love", or "The number 12", or "pinkness". Abstractions exist in our heads, not in some Platonic realm, or in some strange manner weaving their way through each of their instantiations.

this concept that being is an abstraction is wrong and is completely repudiated by Tillich. There's a long passage in Systematic Theology II (10-11) where he shows that this is merely a modernization of a nominalist position (for Tillich "nominalist" is correlated with to modern reductionism or scientism).

When a doctrine of God is initiated by defining God as being itself, the philosophical concept of being is introduced into systematic theology. This was so in the earliest period of Christian theology and has been so in the whole history of Christian thought. It appears in the present system [meaning in his systematic theology] in three places, in the doctrine of God where God is called being as being or the ground and the power of being; in the doctrine of man…and in the doctrine of Christ where he is called manifestation of New Being…In spite of the fact that classical theology has always used the concept of “being” the term has been criticized from the standpoint of nominalistic philosophy and that of personalistic theology. Considering the prominent role which the concept plays in the system it is necessary to reply to the criticisms and at the same time to clarify the way in which the term is used in its different applications.

The criticism of the nominalists and their positivistic decedents to the present day is based upon the assumption that the concept of being represents the highest possible abstraction. It is understood as the gneus to which all other genera are subordinated with respect to universality and with respect to the degree of abstraction. IF this were the way in which the concept of being is reached, nominalism could interpret it as it interprets all universals, namely, as communicative notions which point to particulars but have no reality of their own. Only the completely particular, the thing here and now, has reality. Universals are means of communication without any power of being. Being, as such, therefore, does not designate anything real. God, if he exists, exists as a particular and could be called the most individual of all beings.

The answer to this argument is that the concept of being does not have the character that nominalism attributed to it. It is not the highest abstraction, although it demands the ability of radical abstraction. It is the expression of the experience of being over against non-being. Therefore, it can be described as the power of being which resists non being. For this reason the medieval philosophers called being the basic transcendetntale, beyond the universal and the particular. In this sense was understood alike by such people as Parmenides in Greece and Shankara in India. In this sense its significance has been rediscovered by contemporary existentialists such as Heidegger and Marcle. The idea of being lies beyond the conflict of nominalism and realism. The same word, the emptiest of all concepts when taken as an abstraction, becomes the most meaningful of all concepts when it is understood as the power of being in everything that has being.

The concept is old and has been floating around philosophy for centuries it's even older than Christianity itself.

Blowfly again:

And so "being" doesn't need to have any sort of existence beyond a simple abstract concept in our heads. And so I reject these "ground of being" arguments.

Being can't be an abstraction if byt hat we mean only an summation in the mind of all such things which a certain characteristic. Being has to be a valid concrete force that actually gives rise to temporal contingency, since the argument proves that things must always been, nothingness as a putative state is impossible, thus something eternal must always exist. That eternal aspect is what we call "being itself" or "primordial being." It's a way to distinguish not only the eternal aspect of being but the fact that we are not talking about a localized being such a big man in the sky. We are talking about an aspect of reality, the aspect that is always underlying all temporal contingent appearances of existence.

Atheist poster Magnus understands this and actually came to the aid of the argument at least to that aspect of the argument:


No, this is 100% wrong. Being is all that exists. To put it another way, being *is* existence. That fact there is something means that it is being. I don't know where you got the idea that being, or existence, was an abstract concept.

Originally Posted by blowfly View Post
But you're still reifying "Being". I don't see why that's necessary. Existence is a property we ascribe to things, not the foundation for their existence.

HRG called it reification as one of his usual usages of a term to give the illusion that he has an idea. What's really going on there is merely his knee jerk reaction to an idea that challenges his nominalistic tendencies.

this other guys jumps in:

Originally Posted by Spacemonkeyadb View Post

Well, you can define 'being' as simply the totality of existence if you like. But to then go on to say that God is being itself (as Metacrock likes to do) would reduce theism to the atheistic kind of pantheism. You don't get to say that the fact there is something means that it is 'being', unless you want to say that something is everything.

No one would say something is everything. They would say that all things are part of being, which is of course correct. That doesn't mean that things are not distinct in other ways. Something doesn't need to be everything to be part of being.

The bottom line is Tillch's statement that being has depth. If you know being has depth you can't an atheist. So the atheist have to deny that being has depth and since they don't understand what that means all they do is keep insisting that being can't be (whatever they think that means) and that existence is merely the fact of not being nothing. At this point they are not even coherent. Without understanding what it means to way being has depth there's no way you can deny that it does.

Tillich's statement:
(the shaking of the Foundations)

The name of infinite and inexhaustible depth and ground of our being is God. That depth is what the word God means. And if that word has not much meaning for you, translate it, and speak of the depths of your life, of the source of your being, of your ultimate concern, of what you take seriously without any reservation. Perhaps, in order to do so, you must forget everything traditional that you have learned about God, perhaps even that word itself. For if you know that God means depth, you know much about Him. You cannot then call yourself an atheist or unbeliever. For you cannot think or say: Life has no depth! Life itself is shallow. Being itself is surface only. If you could say this in complete seriousness, you would be an atheist; but otherwise you are not.

what it means to say being has depth

all of these arguments are documented by reference to Tillichs ST v II 10-11 or 163-164 except also reference to John MacQuarrie, Principles of Christian Theology, op cit (find where he says being and the beings)

Tillich tells us that the notion of God as being itself is old; it can be taken back to the pre-Socratics. It has been used throughout the history of the church. The two major criticisms are the idea that it is nothing but an empty abstraction and that is means an impersonal view of God. As will be seen both criticisms are false. The criticism that it is an empty abstraction is basically a reductionist criticism, going all the way back to the nominalists. In its modern incarnation it is a reductionist criticism. In refuting this argument Tillich implicitly denies that his concept of God is anything like an atheistic concept. He denies that his view is that the fact of existing things is God, or God is nothing more than the sheer fact of existence. The alternative to mere abstraction that Tillich offers is the “power of being.” By that he means being as an active force that resist nothingness. He almost makes it sound like nothingness is an active force, or like gravity, pull us to the center of mass, or like water draining out of a sink. We are being sucked down the drain to the sewer of nothingness except the drain stopper of being prevents this. The transcendental transcends both universal and particular according to Tillich. In Platonic analogy that would give being itself the role of “the one” as the form of the forms. That’s probably somehow analogous to the role the idea played in Tillich’s understanding. What he says about the same word can be either the emptiest or the most meaningful of terms depending upon one’s assumptions, is actually a good fleshing out of what he means by being having depth. Not only is he saying that things are not as they seem on the surface, but one way in which they are not the same is that there’s a power to being that resists nothingness. Being is “on,” by that I mean it’s a positive force; it is the most basic thing aside from nothingness.

The quotation given above continues:

No philosophy can suppress the notion of being in this latter sense. It be hidden under presuppositions and reductive formulas, but it nevertheless underlies the basic concepts of philosophizing. For “being” remains the content, the mystery and the eternal aporia of thinking. No theology can suppress the notion of being as the power of being. One cannot separate them. In the moment in which one says that God is or that he has being, the question arises as to how his relation to being is understood. The only possible answer seems to be that God is being itself, the sense of the power of being, or of the power to conquer non being.

At this point the terminology gets sloppy and hazy. Is God the power of being? Is being itself the power of being? Is being the power of being? If being is the “power of being.” This is a redundant phrase. What does “being is the power of being” tell us about what being is? Of course we can always sort it out in our own way and hope we are on the same page with Tillich. God is the power of being, but that would mean that God is also something other than being which furnishes being its power. Unless we want to say that Being is power. What is being? Power. What is power, being? What in the heck are we saying? The answer is that Tillich says himself this phase “God is being itself” is a metaphorical way of speaking. It’s a symbol, it’s not meant to be a literal and precise formation tracing the essence of the divine. We might also note that John MacQuarrie makes a distinction between Being and “the beings.” Contingent being are “the beings” and they cohere in reality because they participate in Being as creatures of the Being itself. Being is the power to resist nothingness, the power to be. Thus we can say God is the basis upon which all that is coheres and has its being. God is the basis upon which “the beings” (all existing things) have their being. The power of being is its nature to generate becoming. Just as existentialism presupposes an essential to play off of, so becoming presupposes state of Being to develop from. Yet, these statements must be taken as metaphors, as Tillich himself says. We cannot understand these terms as scientific style terms which accurately tell us the physical make up and dimensions of a given object. These are not ways to promote a scientific understanding of God, or could hey be nor should they be.

That being itself indicates the power of being is part is metaphorical, at the same time it is part of the concept of the depth being. Being is not merely the fact of existence but it also contains the basis upon which all being is. That would correlate to God as creator. In MacQuarrie’s terms, “being let’s be.” This may imply a more passive role than Tillich had in mind. He views God’s creative role from the standpoint of a check on nothingness, but what both are really talking about is an active force of creative power that brings more being out of being itself. Being let’s be is such a passive way to register the idea of “resisting” nothingness, but at the same time both are means avoiding the direct statement, “God is the creator of all that is.” Nevertheless that’s obviously what’s they are saying, or trying not to say. Obviously, then Being is necessary and “the beings” (in McQuarrie speak) are contingencies. Being itself is necessary being, the being are contingent being. This is another aspect of the depth of being. It’s not just so simple that all we need to do is to rattle off a list of concrete things we can observe in the world. There are two level, necessity and contingency, or two modes of being. Within each role there are different roles. On the level of necessity being is eternal, on the level of contingency being is temporal. Tillich makes much of this distinction. The difference in the two and the sense of the numinous it evokes are very important for Tillich and will figure prominently in the arguments that can be made in terms of reasons to believe.

The reason Tillich take such a backwards way of expressing God creative force is to emphasize the distinction between being and nothingness. This is the primary first and original distinction in reality, the bottom line so to speak between something and nothing. The first distinction in existence is that between being and nothingness. The power of being to resist nothingness (God’s creative force) is the first basis upon which anything is at all. That means we can look at this creative force as the nature of being the basic bottom line of what it means to be and what being is. Thus if we choose for some reason to call this force “God” if we want to use that term, which Tillich says in the quotation above is the meaning of that term, we can say that God is “being itself.” God is this basic force that is the first dentition in all of reality. It is both first temporally (it would be the basis of time) it would be “fist” ontologically. Tillch is thinking in a way that modern scenically ensorcelled people are not really able to think, and have never thought in. McQuarrie puts it into a passive sense “let’s being,” for a different reason. He warns of Heidegger’s tendency to “stretch language” or the awareness of Heidegger (and himself) that to speak of being at an ontological level is a stretch beyond the confines of fact based conceptualism. For him being role as the fomentation of more being, or “the beings” is expressed in a passive sense to remove the emphasis upon the activity of a creative agent.

Another aspect of the depth of being is the diversity of being. Tillich develops many themes of meaning, diversity, and historicity in laying out the Gospel framework and translating it into his phenomenological take on the diversity of being. Human being, fallen nature, sin, redemption, new being in Christ, these are standard Christian themes but a good deal of his Systematic Theology is devoted to exploring them from the perspective of their relationship to being. What he’s doing there is demonstrating the depth of being ontologically and in terms of human experience. Part II of Systematic Theology vol I is about “Being and God.” Here he deals with topics of “The Question of Being: Man, Self and World.” “God is the answer to the question implied in Being” he says. He first deals with reason and revelation. Then he moves into the question of being and its meaning. He says that in coming to term with reason and its take on existential conflicts, ond one is forced into asking the most essential question of all, why is there something rather than nothing at all? But I have given this in Heidegger’s terms. Tillich puts it a big differently “why is there something, why not nothing?” He points out that to ask “why is there not nothing?” is to attribute a kind of being to nothingness. Thus as he puts it “one cannot go behind being.” What he’s saying is, like trying to imagine one’s own non existence, it can’t be done. We cannot get under being itself, its’ the furthest we can go back in our understanding, and it eludes our understanding. Thought is based upon being and it can’t go beyond its base. One can imagine the negotiation of things, however, and it can “describe the nature and structure and structure of everything that is the power of resisting non being.” Ontological questions, he points out, are not tautologies because of this ability to mentally play with being and non being. We are not merely saying “being is being” when we try to define what it is, because there’s a possibility of negating any particular form of being. The possibility of universality and less than universal aspect of forms of being make ontology possible. There are concepts which are less universal than being but more universal than any concept about being, thus these are “categories” of thought.

These categories form the basis of theological significance. These are central concepts that make theology “go,” so to speak (not Tillich’s phrase). These are ontological concepts, ontology is not theology. One can be an atheist and totally secular and do ontology as part of philosophy, and such a thinker would have to deal with these concepts. But in like manner all theologians must deal with them as well. While they are not theology per se they are essential to theology. The concepts are: (1) the structure implicitly in the basic ontological question (why is there something rather than nothing?); (2) the elements which constitute ontological structure; (3) characteristics of being which are the conditions of existence; (4) categories of being and knowing. The structure (1) is that the question presupposes an asking subject, and an object being asked about. This is the subject/object structure that is presupposed and that in turn assumes the structure of world and self; this as the basic articulation of being. That the self has a world to which it belongs and from which it will deduce the nature of its being precedes all other structures and will be the basic analysis which precedes all other analysis. The elements of the ontological structure he groups into three sets of pairs: individuality and universality, dynamics and form, and freedom and density. These are polarities and the first expresses self referential nature of being.

The ontological concepts pertaining to number (3) (characteristics of being) “expresses the power of being to exist,” in Tillich’s own words, “and the difference between essential and existential being.”


Kristen said...

This is really good but really dense (lots of concepts), Metacrock. I'm reading through it, but slowly. I'll try to make more comments when I'm done.


J.L. Hinman said...

thanks.It's unfortunate becuase they will never know. anything that requires any real thought atheist will stay well away from.

Kristen said...

Some thoughts that occurred to me after digesting the whole post-- about "being having depth." To me that seems to be about the spiritual side of Being, if I may put it that way.

Tillich said:

"The name of infinite and inexhaustible depth and ground of our being is God. That depth is what the word God means. And if that word has not much meaning for you, translate it, and speak of the depths of your life, of the source of your being, of your ultimate concern, of what you take seriously without any reservation."

If we were not to use the word "God," what would most people say is their "ultimate concern," or that which they "take seriously without any reservation"? I think it would be "love." But if there is no spiritual dimension to life, if all there is or can be is the physical, then love itself has no depth-- it is only a series of chemical impulses within the brain. And yet does any human manage to live as if he or she really believed that was so?

And if the spiritual does exist-- where does it come from, and why does it exist? A sophisticated theology might say that "Love" is more than a feeling; it is the root and ground of spiritual being; it is what causes the spiritual to be. When one has done that, then one has postulated that which is usually called "God" or "the Divine."

If there is a God, then all versions of the "ultimate reality" are speaking of the same thing. And to seek this is to take our "ultimate concern" seriously-- to agree, as Tillich put it, that "being has depth."