Friday, May 09, 2008

Why I believe God exists

An anonymous commenter on a previous post asks the following:
You say that there are good arguments for theism, and you list those who you think made good arguments. For the sake of those of us who haven't read these people, why don't you give us what you see as the strongest argument for theism.
What I said was that there are rational arguments for theism, and I said this because a poster had said there weren't. Some of these (and I didn't say this before, but I'll say it now) I not only find rational, but convincing. And to say that they are the product of a mind akin to "a five year old," as the person I was responding to claimed, is simply ludicrous.

St. Thomas Aquinas offers his "five ways," all of which I think are sound, but the third seems to me the most convincing:
We find in nature things that are possible to be and not to be, since they are found to be generated, and to corrupt, and consequently, they are possible to be and not to be. But it is impossible for these always to exist, for that which is possible not to be at some time is not. Therefore, if everything is possible not to be, then at one time there could have been nothing in existence. Now if this were true, even now there would be nothing in existence, because that which does not exist only begins to exist by something already existing. Therefore, if at one time nothing was in existence, it would have been impossible for anything to have begun to exist; and thus even now nothing would be in existence — which is absurd. Therefore, not all beings are merely possible, but there must exist something the existence of which is necessary. But every necessary thing either has its necessity caused by another, or not. Now it is impossible to go on to infinity in necessary things which have their necessity caused by another, as has been already proved in regard to efficient causes. Therefore we cannot but postulate the existence of some being having of itself its own necessity, and not receiving it from another, but rather causing in others their necessity. This all men speak of as God. (St. Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologica, Part I, Question 2, Article 3)
The soundness of such an argument certainly shows theism is rational, although just because something is rational doesn't mean it is persuasive to them. I find it persuasive, and others don't. But I think few people come to a belief in theism as a result of going through some reasoning process. I don't think people reject theism because it is irrational, and on the other hand, I don't think they accept it because it is rational.

I believe it because it makes more sense of things than any other view of the world. Or do I?

I can't prove it, but I think most people know God exists intuitively, and only abandon the belief because it gets in the way of other priorities. In the final analysis, if you ask me how I am persuaded God exists, I can only sort of stare blankly at you and say: "Love, the law of non-contradiction, sunsets, the Fibonacci Sequence, horses, the Sistine Chapel, something funny my son said this morning, poetry, Mozart's Requiem Mass in D minor, the taste of chocolate, Flannery O'Connor's short stories, seeing my first son being born, Godel's Theorem, charity, a sunny day at the beach ..."

In other words, in the final analysis, I just think the existence of God is intuitive. But I don't know that you can really argue that point. It happens all the time that people look at the very same thing and yet see two completely different things. If you don't think it's intuitive, I think you're mistaken. You either see it or you don't.

Jesus didn't say the Pharisees were irrational; He said they were blind.

29 comments:

Sugar Creek said...

Thanks, While fasinating, the discussion of the movie, Expelled, left me unsettled in the way it was handled. Your words here are timely and appreciated. Truly, many today have professed themselves to be wise but have become fools.

Motheral said...

I don't have a lot of time today, so here's a quick sum-up of why the arguments you quoted don't quite work:

Therefore, if everything is possible not to be, then at one time there could have been nothing in existence.

This conclusion is not supported by the premise. The possibility of a Universe that always existed (though not necessarily in a form recognizable to us now) is not ruled out, save by our own gut-level difficulty in comprehending such a concept.

Here's the huge central problem that undermines this sort of argument: if nothing can be created from nothing, then where did your "first cause" (a.k.a. one or more all-powerful, all-knowing, all-wise Gods) come from? If you can't even create one lousy hydrogen atom out of nothing, then what had to pre-exist to create the huge and awesome God(s) we try to imagine today? Postulating God(s) as your "first cause" doesn't answer the question of where everything could have come from; it only adds one more layer, step or comforting buffer between the known Universe and the terrifying unknown whatever-thingie beyond our comprehension. And if you say "God always existed," then we're back to the possibility that the Universe could have always existed as well.

"It's turtles all the way down" stops the questioning, but doesn't actually answer any questions.

Furthermore, none of this "proof" points to WHICH specific God we're supposed to worship, or whose moral code to follow; so however "rational" it may be, it doesn't really "prove" much at all.

Another major problem with this sort of argument, is that it uses a lot of abstract concepts that aren't defined, and aren't proven to even be relevant in the real world. What's a "necessary thing," and how do we distinguish it from a "non-necessary thing?" What is "necessity," and how is it "received?" How is "necessity" "caused?"

The best I could say about this, is that it's a flawed attempt at rational argument, based on dubious premises. As you kinda-sorta admitted, it's more intuitive than rational; and I strongly suspect that you accept this argument because it reinforces your own intuition, not because it's been proven.

I can't prove it, but I think most people know God exists intuitively, and only abandon the belief because it gets in the way of other priorities.

This opinion is more or less sound, but your wording here is that of the evangelist trying to bully and guilt his target into rolling over and accepting his belief. ("Other priorities" = "My God is real, and only an evil, sinful person would ever disagree with me.") A more honest way of saying this is: We abandon beliefs (with or without adopting new ones later) when they don't seem to "work" in our lives, or don't make sense of the Universe we observe.

Martin Cothran said...

Motheral,

The possibility of a Universe that always existed (though not necessarily in a form recognizable to us now) is not ruled out, save by our own gut-level difficulty in comprehending such a concept.

That may bring an note of contingency to the argument, but then all arguments, unless they are demonstrative proofs, which only exist in mathematics, are contingent to some extent. You bring up a valid question, but your point does not disprove the argument. The question is whether an eternal universe is more likely than a finite one. If we can only decide the case in our gut, then I don't know how we could adjudicate the question.

But it doesn't matter anyway. How is an eternal contingent universe any less contingent than a universe made up of contingent things that had a beginning? An eternal series of unexplained events is not itself explained by the fact that the series is infinite. Just making a series of contingent events infinite doesn't give it any advantage over a universe consisting of contingent things that had a beginning. It is still, as a whole, contingent and in need of explanation from some place outside itself.

Martin Cothran said...

Here's the huge central problem that undermines this sort of argument: if nothing can be created from nothing, then where did your "first cause" (a.k.a. one or more all-powerful, all-knowing, all-wise Gods) come from?

This point may be relevant to the Aquinas's second way argument, since that is an argument having to do with efficient cause, but efficient cause is not the issue here. You seem to think that this argument posits some temporal sequence: A caused B, B caused C, C caused D, therefore A caused D. That is not what he is talking about here.

This argument has to do with possibility and necessity, not a sequence of efficient causes and effects. It is metaphysical, not physical. The "It's turtles all the way down" argument has no force metaphysically (except figuratively) in a metaphysical sequence.

Martin Cothran said...

Furthermore, none of this "proof" points to WHICH specific God we're supposed to worship, or whose moral code to follow; so however "rational" it may be, it doesn't really "prove" much at all.

An argument should be judged on the basis of what it purports to prove, not on what it does not purport to prove.

I was asked about the existence of God, and this was my response. That it doesn't answer every other question is irrelevant to whether it answers the question of the existence of God.

Motheral said...

You bring up a valid question, but your point does not disprove the argument.

Yes, it does, insofar as it shows that: a) there are other possibilities that Aquinas' argument does not disprove; b) the conclusions are not really supported by the premises; and c) a lot of the concepts used here are vague and undefined to the point where they really aren't solid enough to base any reliable conclusions on. I'm not flatly disproving the argument altogether, so much as pointing out that it's incomplete, unreliable, and more rationalization than rationality. At best, it needs more work.

How is an eternal contingent universe any less contingent than a universe made up of contingent things that had a beginning?

Depends...what do you mean by "contingent?" What's a "contingent thing?"

An eternal series of unexplained events is not itself explained by the fact that the series is infinite.

I'm not talking about "An eternal series of unexplained events;" I'm talking about an eternal series of events each of which is explained and caused by its predecessor. In such a situation, we would not necessarily need a God to explain any of it.

Just making a series of contingent events infinite doesn't give it any advantage over a universe consisting of contingent things that had a beginning. It is still, as a whole, contingent and in need of explanation from some place outside itself.

How do you know that? You may feel it in your gut, as I kinda do, but that doesn't make it true.

This argument has to do with possibility and necessity, not a sequence of efficient causes and effects.

What are the meanings of "possibility" and "necessity" outside the context of cause and effect? If the concepts have no firm and well-understood meaning, than neither does any conclusion based on them. Are we making a rational argument here, or just playing games with the choice and meaning of words? George Orwell issued a firm and eloquent warning against thinking in abstractions: if you do too much of it, your words will take on a life of their own and do most of your thinking for you. And that, in turn, means that the validity of your arguments will depend entirely on your choice of words.

An argument should be judged on the basis of what it purports to prove, not on what it does not purport to prove.

No, it is judged on what it DOES prove; which in this case is not bloody much. With no clue (and no attempt to speculate) about the nature of this "first cause" other than what name you insist on giving it (Yahweh? Odin? The Force? Tao? FSM?), you haven't really proven much of anything here. If several different religions can use the same argument to "prove" the existence of opposite and contradictory Gods, then the argument is useless.

Martin Cothran said...

Another major problem with this sort of argument, is that it uses a lot of abstract concepts that aren't defined, and aren't proven to even be relevant in the real world. What's a "necessary thing," and how do we distinguish it from a "non-necessary thing?" What is "necessity," and how is it "received?" How is "necessity" "caused?"

It is not true to say they are not defined. They are not defined in this statement of the argument. That doesn't mean they are not defined at all. They are defined by St. Thomas elsewhere in the Summa and in his other writers. Just go to the link and you will see links that take you else where in Thomas's writings to fuller explanations.

Definitions don't not exist because you don't know them, nor do they not exist because you didn't bother to look them up.

motheral said...

Sorry I took so long to reply here (busy weekend). I had a look at those definitions you mentioned, and quite frankly, they don't seem to add anything to the substance of Aquinas' argument. I never studied philosophy in any depth, and I really didn't have time to read all of the text in that NewAdvent site; so if I'm missing something, please don't hesitate to enlighten us.

The definitions linked in the text you quote do not change the fact that Aquinas was merely saying "Everything has to have a first cause;" sticking "God" onto the beginning-end of things as an arbitrary stopping-point for all questions of origins; and then basically saying "All questions of 'What came before that?' shall end here! Because the Pope and I said so!" The obvious question raised here is, "Yes, but what created this all-powerful, all-encompassing thing you call 'God?'" And Aquinas merely demands we believe, with absolutely no proof or logic, that "God" is somehow "self-existent" or something -- after forcefully stating that nothing else known to Man, big or small, can ever have that quality. This is not a rational proof of anythying, merely a made-up justification for an arbitrary demand that questioning stop at a certain point. Sort of like "It's turtles all the way down, so stop bothering me with worrisome questions."

Furthermore, as I said before (and you have not disputed), if Aquinas hasn't proved anything about the nature of this "first cause" thingie, then for all practical purposes, he hasn't proven anything. In fact, he hasn't even proved the atheists wrong, since they can still maintain there's no proof of the validity of any human religious belief.

One fundamental weakness of Aquinas' argument is repeatedly summed up by phrases like these:

"...and this everyone understands to be God."

"...to which everyone gives the name of God."

"This all men speak of as God."

"...and this we call God."

"...and this being we call God."

So basically, Aquinas is admitting he has absolutely no clue what he's "proving;" he's just capping off all five of his arguments with the assertion that we CALL it "God." Sorry, but labeling doesn't change or prove anything.

There are two important things I remember about arguments like this. First, they're really not rational arguments made to influence any decisions; merely rationalizations to justify decisions already made based on other, non-rational considerations, such as peer-pressure, threats of ostracism, gut feelings, emotional needs, and/or revelations. I've been Catholic, atheist, kinda-sorta-born-again, agnostic, and Pagan, and I've never been swayed by this sort of argument, nor have I met anyone else who was. (Did it convince you to believe in your particular God, whichever that is? Or did you only take it seriously AFTER you made your choice?)

Second, it is important to consider the time in which many of these arguments were first made: before the Renaissance, Reformation and Enlightenment, when religious freedom hadn't yet been invented, and when a philosopher who failed to use his logical tools to reinforce the established religion (or worse yet, used said tools to refute it)would probably not have been allowed to publish.

Thomas said...

Motheral,

A distinction that may make more sense for the argument: a contingent being is one that depends on external beings for its reason for existing (as illumination depends on the sun); whereas an absolute being contains within itself its own reason for existence, it is absolutely self-sufficient in every possible way.

Aquinas' argument can be adjusted (as it was by Duns Scotus and Gottfried Liebniz) to allow for an infinite chain of causes. So even if God wasn't the First Cause sequentially and the causal chain goes back to infinity, there must be a reason for the whole chain, as the totality of causes itself does not contain its reason for being within itself. In other words, even if every event in the chain of causes came to be from the one before it, nowhere in the chain is the cause of the chain as a whole. Even an infinite causal chain is still contingent.

From here, there are two places to go: either the chain itself has no reason or cause (and is therefore absurd) or it has a cause. Two options follow from the latter, the cause again is contingent (which doesn't answer the problem) or it is absolute. If it is an absolute being, then it can be called God (although obviously it does not have all the traits of the Christian God).

It all depends on how you answer the question: does everything have a reason? It could be that the whole chain of events has no reason, but if this is the case there is no reason to think that there is anything like a chain of causes at all (a presupposition upon which science depends).

Martin Cothran said...

I had a look at those definitions you mentioned, and quite frankly, they don't seem to add anything to the substance of Aquinas' argument.

Motheral, are you saying that you don't understand the terms 'necessary' and 'contingent'? That's fine, but if that is what you are saying, then I don't understand how you can critique the argument. These are well-understood terms in philosophy. In order to critique something, shouldn't you first try to understand the argument you are critiquing?

If you don't know what he means by 'necessity' and 'contingency', then how can you even know what his argument is?

And how is your rejection of this argument any different from me saying, "Well, after all, what do terms like 'mass' and 'energy' and 'speed of light' mean anyway? This e=mc squared thing is just stupid"?

And you keep bringing up the canard about what caused the first cause. You did not respond to my answer (which Thomas repeated): How can you consider an uncaused eternal chain of contingent events as having a reason or cause any more than a finite chain of contingent events? Without admitting a necessary being they are equally unexplained.

If you want to say the universe is absurd (in the sense of having no explanation), then that is fine, but I don't see what other alternative you have here.

Motheral said...

Motheral, are you saying that you don't understand the terms 'necessary' and 'contingent'?

No, I'm saying I don't see how those concepts, as defined within New Advent or anywhere else, support Aquinas' conclusions. But I guess this statement of mine is too late to stop you from buggering off on another tangent...

If you don't know what he means by 'necessity' and 'contingency', then how can you even know what his argument is?

Well, why don't you explain how I've got Aquinas' arguments wrong? IF you can point out what I've missed, then we can talk about my alleged ignorance of the subject-matter.

How can you consider an uncaused eternal chain of contingent events as having a reason or cause any more than a finite chain of contingent events? Without admitting a necessary being they are equally unexplained.

What are you asking for -- a "reason" or a "cause?" They're not the same thing.

As long as they can be "explained" by known physical laws governing causes, effects, and interactions, then why do we need a "necessary being?" Unless of course, said being's existence, nature, and impact on the Universe can be proven?

If you want to say the universe is absurd (in the sense of having no explanation), then that is fine, but I don't see what other alternative you have here.

You're moving the goalposts. I'm merely saying that Aquinas has not proven that the Universe needs "God" in order to explain its existence or nature. There are other explanations that his arguments have not ruled out. Are you going to address my counter-arguments directly, or not?

And you keep bringing up the canard about what caused the first cause.

Excuse me, but that's not a "canard" -- it goes to the very substance and validity of Aquinas' arguments. IF everything in the Universe requires a "first cause" to explain it, then how can this "first cause" NOT require some cause of its own to explain it? Your repeated refusal to address this issue raises serious questions about your intellectual honesty.

Now on to thomas:

...whereas an absolute being contains within itself its own reason for existence, it is absolutely self-sufficient in every possible way.

Whoa, dude, you're, like, actually addressing my arguments DIRECTLY? Wow, gimme a minute to adjust here. (Are you sure you're in the right blog?)

Right...okay...breathe...I've done this before...here we go...

Once we've established that all of the things we've observed in the known material Universe are NOT absolute, in this sense of the word, then how can we be certain that any such "absolute being" can exist at all? And once we establish/assume that an "absolute being" CAN exist, then how can we rule out the possibility that the Universe itself is, in your words, "self-sufficient in every possible way?" Maybe our known Universe is self-sufficient; or maybe matter, energy, space and time came from another Universe(s) yet unknown to us, parts of a larger whole that IS "self-sufficient." Either way, the supreme intelligent cause we tend to label "God(s)" is/are possible, but not necessary, to explain the Universe(s) we see.

So even if God wasn't the First Cause sequentially and the causal chain goes back to infinity, there must be a reason for the whole chain, as the totality of causes itself does not contain its reason for being within itself. In other words, even if every event in the chain of causes came to be from the one before it, nowhere in the chain is the cause of the chain as a whole. Even an infinite causal chain is still contingent.

Here you seem to be confusing, or conflating, "cause" with "reason." The former is objectively verifiable (i.e., we can prove that certain thermonuclear reactions in the Sun cause light and heat); the latter is more of a value-judgement (what is the "reason" for the Sun?). We certainly need "causes" to explain the objects and events we observe; but do we need "reasons?" Maybe for our own subjective emotional satisfaction, but not for an objective explanation or proof of what is or is not real.

It all depends on how you answer the question: does everything have a reason? It could be that the whole chain of events has no reason, but if this is the case there is no reason to think that there is anything like a chain of causes at all (a presupposition upon which science depends).

This is a non-sequitur, arising from the aforementioned confusion/conflation of two very different concepts. (Besides, even if we postulate a supreme intelligence, we may still not be able to discern or understand the reasons WHY she/she/it/they does whatever he/she/it/they does/do.)

Martin Cothran said...

Motheral,

Did you not notice the stricture on questioning people's integrity or did you just ignore it? I wish you weren't congenitally incapable of having a rational discussion without being rude, which is one of the reasons why, after we finish this discussion, you're banished from the blog.

So you get to rant a rave for just a little while longer while we finish this one out.

Well, why don't you explain how I've got Aquinas' arguments wrong? IF you can point out what I've missed, then we can talk about my alleged ignorance of the subject-matter.

Motheral, I didn't say you didn't understand Aquinas's terms, you said it. My questions was, if you don't understand the terms 'necessity' and 'contingency', which are central to Aquinas's argument, how can you judge the argument. I don't think there is anything even debatable about the fact that if you don't understand the terms in an argument, then you can't understand the argument. Are you really disputing this?

But you want to go on discussing the argument without an understanding its central terms. And do you really think a discussion of the central terms of an argument is "going off on a tangent" from that argument?

I think part of the problem here is that you are interpreting Aquinas's use of the term 'cause' as what Aristotle would call "efficient cause." When you use the term 'cause' that what you seem to be thinking of. But he is talking in terms of necessity and contingency, not efficient cause. His previous argument in the same article (the "second way") does argue from efficient cause, but this argument doesn't have anything to do with efficient cause.

This is at the root of your misunderstanding of point both Thomas and I made about the fact that even an eternal series of contingent things is, as a whole, a contingent thing. A contingent thing is a thing that does not contain within itself the explanation or reason for its own existence.

To this you respond:

As long as they can be "explained" by known physical laws governing causes, effects, and interactions, then why do we need a "necessary being?"

All you're doing is throwing in more contingent things. The physical laws governing causes, effects and interactions themselves need an explanation. They are contingent. Just piling on more contingent things does nothing to make the whole body of contingent things any less contingent. Now, instead of having individual contingent things, you have a set of contigent, which is, as a set, still contingent. The only thing that explains a body of contingent things is a necessary thing. And if there is no necessary thing, then nothing--the set of contingent things nor any of the individual contingent things--has an ultimate explanation.

Which is why I said that your only rational response to this, as it was for someone like Sartre, is to say that the whole universe is without explanation, which, as Thomas points out, sort of gives up the store in terms of science, the whole idea of which is to detect the causes of things.

Either there is a necessary being and the universe has an ultimate explanation or there is no necessary being and the universe is absurd.

You are trying to avoid this dilemma by appealing to more continent things, but it doesn't get you out of the dilemma.

Motheral said...

Martin: if you don't like having your integrity questioned, then perhaps you should stop doing things that make us question your integrity -- such as pretending that questioning a central part of Aquinas' argument is merely a "canard."

I did the honest thing and admitted the limits of my knowledge of philosophy at the outset. Instead of respecting my honesty, you tried to use it against me, by pretending that my admission of ignorance somehow won the argument for you, without pointing out what I got wrong in my ignorance, or how my counter-arguments were thereby invalidated. This is a standard tactic of con-artists and demagogues: using an honest admission of limited knowledge as an excuse to refuse to address someone else's points.

Aquinas' central argument is (in a brief and hasty nutshell) that everything has to be caused, created, or necessitated by something else, and that there must have been some sort of all-powerful "first cause" to set everything in motion. The obvious question raised by such reasoning -- which has been occurring even to grade-school kids for at least as long as I've been alive -- is "Yes, but if everything has to come from a first cause, doesn't that mean the first cause has to come from something too?" And when I ask this obvious question, instead of trying to answer it, you pretend it's a "canard" and refuse even to admit it's a valid question. This, too, is a form of dishonesty: you're taking a rational argument only as far as you want to take it, then stopping arbitrarily and demanding that the same argument be taken no further, without giving any reason why the argument has to stop there and not somewhere else.

Just piling on more contingent things does nothing to make the whole body of contingent things any less contingent.

Perhaps -- but I'm not sure we know enough about the Universe to decide whether that's true or not. However, arbitrarily assuming a "first cause," merely to provide an endpoint to the unanswerable questions, is nothing more than the pretense of an answer, not a rationally-derived, reliable answer. If that's good enough for you, fine. It pretty much works for me too, but that's only because Mankind currently have neither the time nor the resources to do anything better in this matter; we pretty much need a default-position until more information becomes available, but we also need to admit it's a default position, not the final answer.

"It's turtles all the way down until further notice."

Which is why I said that your only rational response to this, as it was for someone like Sartre, is to say that the whole universe is without explanation, which, as Thomas points out, sort of gives up the store in terms of science, the whole idea of which is to detect the causes of things.

Since when does questioning a line of philosophical reasoning constitute "giving up the store in terms of science?" It's a pseudo-rational argument I'm questioning here, not a scientific process of inquiry. Science can still do whatever it wants.

One more thing: next time you accuse me of being incapable of ratinal argument, just remember I was able to respond to thomas without questioning his honesty, even though he strongly disagreed with me.

And speaking of rules, the text of your rules appears to be incom

Thomas said...

Once we've established that all of the things we've observed in the known material Universe are NOT absolute, in this sense of the word, then how can we be certain that any such "absolute being" can exist at all? And once we establish/assume that an "absolute being" CAN exist, then how can we rule out the possibility that the Universe itself is, in your words, "self-sufficient in every possible way?" Maybe our known Universe is self-sufficient; or maybe matter, energy, space and time came from another Universe(s) yet unknown to us, parts of a larger whole that IS "self-sufficient." Either way, the supreme intelligent cause we tend to label "God(s)" is/are possible, but not necessary, to explain the Universe(s) we see.

First, I wouldn't call God anything like an "intelligent" cause. Intelligence is an analogy I don't think is particularly useful as it plays into the notion of God as a cosmic engineer which was popular during the 16th-18th century. Whatever God is, he isn't anything like an engineer.

Second, if our universe comes from another universe, that simply pushes the question back. So the important question is this: can a universe be self-sufficient? Usually we mean universe as the sheer totality of things, whether it is defined as matter, energy, or just observable "stuff" doesn't matter. What in this causes itself? How could it cause itself? We need to make clear how we determine whether something is absolute or contingent. It is conceptually possible that the universe could never have come into being. Therefore the universe is contingent in that it is not necessary a priori. God, on the other hand, is -- by definition -- a necessary, absolute being who contains within himself the reason for his own existence. God is conceptually necessary, but this does not automatically mean that he actually exists (as Kant pointed out). Rather, if God exists, then he exists necessarily.

Hopefully that makes the argument little more clear. Either the universe exists without a reason as a whole (because it is contingent in the sense that it is not conceptually necessary), or the universe finds its meaning in an absolute being which we would call God (though not necessarily a personal God). Of course it is possible to say the universe as a whole is without reason, but this would mean that it is possible for things to exist without a reason. This opens the possibility that particular events simply have no cause and are brute facts, which is problematic for science.

Here you seem to be confusing, or conflating, "cause" with "reason." The former is objectively verifiable (i.e., we can prove that certain thermonuclear reactions in the Sun cause light and heat); the latter is more of a value-judgement (what is the "reason" for the Sun?). We certainly need "causes" to explain the objects and events we observe; but do we need "reasons?" Maybe for our own subjective emotional satisfaction, but not for an objective explanation or proof of what is or is not real.

I'm using cause in its most broad sense of the term as that which, once known, explains something. Reason as I'm using the term is simply an articulated cause; a cause, once known (by science or philosophy or whatever), becomes a reason. It doesn't really matter whether we're talking about material causes or logical causes for the purposes of this debate: the point is we are talking about the answer to why something is the case. So one reason the sun exists is the material causes which brought it into being.

Besides, even if we postulate a supreme intelligence, we may still not be able to discern or understand the reasons WHY she/she/it/they does whatever he/she/it/they does/do.

In the vast majority of theology, ancient and modern, you find very little mention of a "supreme intelligence"; which strikes me as a very odd way of talking about God. I mentioned above that manner of speaking comes not from theologians, but a particular brand of early-modern philosophy. I think you may find it of interest that Christians are not as dogmatic as their apologetics sometimes suggest. In fact, the Cappodician fathers -- models of austere Christian spirituality -- considered the highest knowledge of God to be found in the understanding that God doesn't exist. This wasn't a concession to skeptical philosophy, nor a forfeture of their faith, but what they considered the highest expression of spirituality.

At bottom, all notions of God as personal, as emotive, as a "him" or a "her", are only analogies. God is absolutely transcendent, he is beyond any concrete conceptual understanding (and thus the above argument, if held to as anything more than an indication, might be theologically problematic). This is why a Christian can agree with Derrida when he says he is an atheist, but yet he prays (the Cappodician fathers would have been impressed). Even a more western, English-minded theologian such as John Macquarrie says that while it is inaccurate to say that God does not exist, it is also inaccurate to say that he does exist. God is not an existing thing or person.

Probably not all Christians would agree with this (probably most would be uncomfortable with the terms employed, at the very least), but the fact that it nevertheless falls within Christian theology to say these things demonstrates both that Christian theology is not as dogmatic as its detractors suppose, and that theology eludes positivism.

Sorry for the length.

Motheral said...

Second, if our universe comes from another universe, that simply pushes the question back.

True. But postulating "God" as the "first cause" does the same thing; those who do so just refuse to admit it.

God, on the other hand, is -- by definition -- a necessary, absolute being who contains within himself the reason for his own existence.

By OUR "definition," which we have adopted for our own purposes. Not (so far at least) by any objective proof. And since we're repeatedly asserting that nothing in the known Universe can exist in this fashion, then it's logically inconsistent to believe in something else that does. (Sort of like saying "We know horses can't fly here on Earth, but we're certain they can fly somewhere else.") Satisfying on a personal or emotional level, and good for capping off a chain of troublesome questions so we can get some sleep; but logically inconsistent nonetheless.

Either the universe exists without a reason as a whole (because it is contingent in the sense that it is not conceptually necessary), or the universe finds its meaning in an absolute being which we would call God (though not necessarily a personal God).

Neither possibility is ruled out by what we currently know (subject to change without notice, of course). Hell, there may be other possibilities we're not even grasping yet.

Martin's original point in this post -- that there are rational arguments for the existence of "God" -- simply does not stand. Aquinas' arguments are not rational arguments; they're carefully tailored (and, from a mental-health standpoint, possibly necessary) rationalizations aimed at propping up certain fundamental beliefs, and making some really nerve-wracking questions go away until we can find real answers to them.

Martin Cothran said...

Aquinas' central argument is (in a brief and hasty nutshell) that everything has to be caused, created, or necessitated by something else, and that there must have been some sort of all-powerful "first cause" to set everything in motion.

If you really think this is an adequate summation of the argument, then you clearly don't understand it, and it's hard to argue with someone who just understand the thing in dispute.

Motheral said...

Martin: you rightly condemn that quick summation for its inadequacy, which I've already admitted. I stated it merely for the purpose of leading up to the obvious question raised by Aquinas' reasoning. A question I ask in the very next sentence. And you still haven't answered the question, or given an adequate rational reason not to answer it.

Martin Cothran said...

Motheral,

Okay, that's fine. That makes sense. Here's what I think the problem is. You are seeing the argument as an argument for a First Cause, which in one sense it is (and there are some forms of the cosmological argument which that's all it is). But that is not all it is in this argument. This argument says, basically, "There is a First Cause because if there isn't, then the universe cannot be explained; but the universe must have an explanation; therefore, there is a First Cause."

The argument does not necessitate that you accept the conclusion, all it does is say that if you don't accept the conclusion, then you are forced to accept the idea that the universe cannot be explained.

In that sense, it is sort of a psychological argument. It is betting that you won't want to accept that the universe cannot be explained. And I think most people don't want to accept that.

So in that sense I do think it comes down once again to intuition (as all arguments outside mathematics must come eventually). In this case the intuition it comes down to is that the universe (as a whole) has an explanation.

It is not any more or less rational (in the sense of logical) to reject than to accept that intuition, but I do think it violates common sense to do so. I know you don't like the term "common sense," and in some sense I can see why. But I am using the term simply to mean something we all just sort of take for granted as self-evident.

And it seems more self-evident to me that the universe has an explanation than that it doesn't have a First Cause. So if I am forced to choose between the two, as this argument forces me to do, then I'm going to choose the former over the latter.

By the way, I did get a chuckle out of the ending of your last post (about my post being cut off).

Motheral said...

It is not any more or less rational (in the sense of logical) to reject than to accept that intuition, but I do think it violates common sense to do so. I know you don't like the term "common sense," and in some sense I can see why. But I am using the term simply to mean something we all just sort of take for granted as self-evident.

It kinda feels like "common sense" to me too, but "common sense" and "self-evident" can't be trusted when we're dealing with something as far outside our common experience as the origin and explanation of the Universe. That's even crazier than asking a human sailor to use his experience of the North Sea to predict how a storm will play out on Venus or Jupiter.

The truly rational answer here is: "We don't really know yet, nor do we have the tools to know; so for the foreseeable future, your guess is, quite literally, as good as mine."

thomas said...

Motheral,

"True. But postulating "God" as the "first cause" does the same thing; those who do so just refuse to admit it."

The point of the argument is that the universe, by definition (and before empirical observation), requires an external cause. God, whether or not he exists, does not require an external cause; and if in fact he had an external cause, he wouldn't be God.

Also, the "first cause" doesn't mean the first cause in sequence, it refers to the supreme cause makes possible all other causes. Theoretically, there may be an infinite chain of causes (even material causes). The first cause is prior ontologically, not necessarily temporally.

"By OUR 'definition,' which we have adopted for our own purposes. Not (so far at least) by any objective proof. And since we're repeatedly asserting that nothing in the known Universe can exist in this fashion, then it's logically inconsistent to believe in something else that does. (Sort of like saying "We know horses can't fly here on Earth, but we're certain they can fly somewhere else.") Satisfying on a personal or emotional level, and good for capping off a chain of troublesome questions so we can get some sleep; but logically inconsistent nonetheless."

It doesn't matter where the definition came from, whether it came from us or somewhere else. It's the definition we are using in the debate. You're right to say that the definition of God as necessarily existing doesn't mean that he actually does. But it does mean that if God exists (as we've defined him) then he exists necessarily because that's the kind of being he is.

"Neither possibility is ruled out by what we currently know (subject to change without notice, of course)."

If this is true, and the evidence is not in which would say whether the universe is absurd or not (and thus, whether it is based on an absolute being or not), why are strong atheists (i.e., not the kind of atheist that is simply not a theist) any more rational than theists?

And really, these arguments serve more as signs than proofs. Jacques Maritain asserts that Aquinas probably did not intend his arguments to compel the non-believer, but to lead the believer into an understanding of the contingency of things given by God. The arguments work more as indication or signs of the finitude of things which point beyond themselves, and so while they take the form of deductive argumentation, they still go beyond argument to a more basic understanding of things. Aquinas does not attempt to force the unbeliever to assent by his argument, he attempts to open up a religious mindset.

Motheral said...

The point of the argument is that the universe, by definition (and before empirical observation), requires an external cause. God, whether or not he exists, does not require an external cause; and if in fact he had an external cause, he wouldn't be God.

First, if you're not sure whether this God person even exists, then how can you be sure he/she/it/they "does not require an external cause?" And second, the last clause of that paragraph pretty much admits that you're postulating something out of thin air, then defining it to be what you need it to be. Which is perfectly okay for our purposes here, as long as we're honest about it.

It doesn't matter where the definition came from, whether it came from us or somewhere else.

Actually, it kinda does matter that we're making up a definition based on our own emotional and philosophical needs, without regard for evidence or logical consistency. A different species of sapient creature, whose minds may function quite differently from ours, might use different definitions. Again, that's okay; but again, we need to be clear and honest about it.

...why are strong atheists (i.e., not the kind of atheist that is simply not a theist) any more rational than theists?

A strong-atheist might be considered more rational if he/she admitted a gap in our current knowledge, instead of postulating an undefined, incomprehensible super-being with no evidence for the existence (or even the possibility) of such a being.

It is more rational to postulate something close to what we already know is at least theoretically possible (such as the known Universe existing for an infinite amount of time, or being created from matter from elsewhere) than to postulate something completely unsupported by available evidence (such as a supernatural Creator on whose nature we then forbid ourselves to speculate).

Also, the "first cause" doesn't mean the first cause in sequence, it refers to the supreme cause makes possible all other causes. Theoretically, there may be an infinite chain of causes (even material causes). The first cause is prior ontologically, not necessarily temporally.

I have a huge problem with this: I use the definition of "first cause" as a sequential/temporal cause (as in, it happened first and thus caused other things to happen, which could not have happened before, or in absense of, the first thing) because it's concrete and easily comprehensible. (I believe in keeping things moored in reality, because if they become unmoored, they become irrelevant. That's just the kind of guy I am.) When you take that concept out of the temporal context, you take the argument to a level of abstraction I find unacceptable. How else can one thing "cause" another except temporally? Or is there more than dimension of "time" that we humans don't comprehend?

And as far as I know, you may still be stuck with the same problem: if the Universe requires a "first cause," either temporally or ontologically, then how can we be sure that "first cause" doesn't require a cause of its own, either temporally or ontologically?

Infinity...it's a bitch and you can't get around it...

Thomas said...

"First, if you're not sure whether this God person even exists, then how can you be sure he/she/it/they "does not require an external cause?" And second, the last clause of that paragraph pretty much admits that you're postulating something out of thin air, then defining it to be what you need it to be."

First, it's not quite accurate to say either that God exists or doesn't exist, because he isn't a thing or person in the world that would be discoverable in the way of inner-worldly things. More technical theology normally avoids talking about God in this way. God is what gives existence to things, not in any mechanical kind of cause (as I give existence to something I make), but in an ultimate way. Aquinas distinguished between primary and secondary causality; secondary causality being the kind of causes that can be observed in nature and primary causes being the ontological condition for all secondary causes. (What exactly a primary cause is in itself is a more complicated question)

"Actually, it kinda does matter that we're making up a definition based on our own emotional and philosophical needs, without regard for evidence or logical consistency. A different species of sapient creature, whose minds may function quite differently from ours, might use different definitions. Again, that's okay; but again, we need to be clear and honest about it."

This isn't a matter of "making up definitions." What I mean when I say God is not an arbitrary definition, but the meaning of a word in the context of this dialogue. When words are divorced from their meanings and become "arbitrary definitions" dialogue becomes impossible: I could just as easily accuse you of making up arbitrary definitions for "sapient", "creature", "honest", and so on and cast aspersions on your motives for the definitions of these terms. Words divorced from their context and reduced to mere terms and definitions lose their value and make discussion impossible.

"I use the definition of 'first cause' as a sequential/temporal cause (as in, it happened first and thus caused other things to happen, which could not have happened before, or in absense of, the first thing) because it's concrete and easily comprehensible. (I believe in keeping things moored in reality, because if they become unmoored, they become irrelevant."

Even if you regard 'first cause' as a sequential cause, keep in mind that Aquinas does not primarily mean it in this way. For Aquinas, God acts super-temporally; that is, the first cause can't be limited to any one period of time, but is always operative. True, this kind of cause is less easily comprehensible, but it does not follow that it is unmoored or irrelevant. Sometimes the things most fundamental to experience are the most elusive, such as "I" and "being". We always act with some understanding of ourselves and of being, but we don't understand either very easily when we stop and think about them. The proper way to understand these types of questions in philosophy is phenomenology, easily the most difficult branch of philosophy.

In any case, the seeming difficulty of understanding "first cause" in an ontological sense doesn't necessarily mean the word is meaningless or meaningful. First one must come to a complete understanding of what such a first cause would be, and then that decision can be made.

aquinas fails said...

the "huge central problem" that undermines this particular argument is that it is NOT valid to begin with-- aquinas makes a huge mistake right here:

Therefore, if at one time nothing was in existence, it would have been impossible for anything to have begun to exist[...]

aquinas says that everything has the ability to variously exist or not exist, and then says that there could have been a time at which nothing existed, and if there was such a time, then there must have been a 'God'. but he doesn't show that there must have been a time at which nothing existed, and so he cannot claim to have proved that a 'God' exists.

unfortunately the logical structure of this argument looks something like this:

A -> B;
A is possible;
Therefore B.

which is pretty obviously invalid.

Anonymous said...

I read much of this discussion on the evidence for a God. And, I am saddened by the way we can approach an understanding of an infinite an eternal being (if one exists).

If a God exists He is not merely a philosophical entity. If a God exists, we should be able to note His existence in His creation (if this is a creation).

First, scientifically, I can’t look on creation without seeing intelligence in its formation. Things don’t naturally turn from chaos into order. The 2nd law of thermodynamics says that any spontaneous, irreversible change, increases the entropy of the universe. Entropy is disorder, and logically, I don’t see the laws of this universe working backward to bring forth sentient beings and a highly complex universe. For me, nature, apart from Scripture, is the greatest testimony for a God. Romans 1:20 reads, “For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made, so that they are without excuse.”

In this discussion, I have only read personal opinions on philosophy. But, I think philosophy is not the strongest point on which to base evidence for God. Because, philosophy apart from a God means nothing, because apart from a God what goes on in our minds is just chemical reactions, and how are we supposed to base our lives off of chemical reactions?

If we (I say we as in Christians) wish to defend our belief in one true God, we must have some context or truth by which to base our claims. Far beyond the logic of philosophy are the words of the Bible.

The Bible is a historically accurate document, written by men who were eyewitnesses (or interviewed eyewitnesses) to the actual events recorded in scripture. The Christian faith should not come down to our philosophical beliefs, but on our trust in the Bible: Christians believe what the Bible says, Atheists don’t. The Bible is the best defense for a God, it is filled with hundreds of accounts of men who testify about the same God, a God who spoke to them, saved them, and died for them. The men in the Bible died for their belief in the Bible, they were brutally murdered for their beliefs in this God. Who are we to say they were liars and idiots when everything they wrote about history is true? Logically, we should believe their accounts, unless we can find them liars. And, if they are true, then this God of theirs should be appealing to us also. 1st Peter 3:18 reads, “For Christ also died for sins once for all, the just for the unjust, in order that He might bring us to God.”

Wayne Grudem, in his book Systematic Theology writes, “How then does a Christian, or anyone else, choose among the various claims for absolute authority? Ultimately the truthfulness of the Bible will commend itself as being far more persuasive than other religious books (such as the Book of Mormon or the Qur’an), or than any other intellectual constrictions of the human mind (such as logic, human reason, sense experience, scientific methodology, etc.). It will be more persuasive because in the actual experience of life, all of these other candidates for the ultimate authority are seen to be inconsistent or have shortcomings that disqualify them, while the Bible will be seen to be fully in accord with all that we know about the world around us, about ourselves, and about God.”
“The Bible will commend itself as being persuasive in this way, that is, if we are thinking rightly about the nature of reality, our perception of it and of ourselves, and our perception of God. The trouble is that because of sin our perception and analysis of God and creation is faulty. Sin is ultimately irrational, and sin makes us think incorrectly about God and about creation. Thus, in a world free of sin, the Bible would commend itself convincingly to all people as God’s Word. But because sin distorts people’s perception of reality, they do not recognize Scripture for what it really is. Therefore it requires the work of the Holy Spirit, overcoming the effects of sin, to enable us to be persuaded that the Bible is indeed the Word of God and that the claim it makes for itself is true.”
“Thus, in another sense, the argument for the Bible as God’s Word and our ultimate authority is not a typical circular argument. The process of persuasion is perhaps better likened to a spiral in which increasing knowledge of Scripture and increasingly correct understanding of God and creation tend to supplement one another in a harmonious way, each tending to confirm the accuracy of the other. That is not the say that our knowledge of the world around us serves as a higher authority than Scripture, but rather that such knowledge, if it is correct knowledge, continues to give greater and greater assurance and deeper conviction that the Bible is the only truly ultimate authority and that other competing claims for the ultimate authority are false.”

I have probably written enough. But, the Bible should be the Christians defense, should the Bible be wrong, even if we could prove a God exists through philosophy, we shouldn’t know Him or know His commands. The Bible is everything we need for life and godliness.

What is life worth if a holy, loving, and just God doesn’t exist? If love and mercy are simply chemical reactions then what are they worth? And, if there is nothing beyond this earth, then we ought to burn others’ lives for our own personal reward. Either the moral basis of life is a huge accident, which only lasts until people rot in their graves and turn to dust. Or, perhaps man was created from dust, by the hands of a loving God. Why is this world so battered and scarred? Why is this world such a painful place?

Either nature is battering us like an invisible wind, or someone great is punishing mankind for a failure to listen. Are we shutting out God? Remember, there is always the blood of Calvary, calling out your name. The blood of Calvary is crying to save you. But, is this too much to believe? But, nature is even harder to comprehend; happenstance had created such a thing as pain? Had formed love out of nothing?

- Stephen

thomas said...

"If a God exists He is not merely a philosophical entity. If a God exists, we should be able to note His existence in His creation (if this is a creation)."

What exactly is a "philosophical entity", and how is it different from any other entity? I suppose some things would be distinctively philosophical (synthetic a priori judgements, perhaps), but these things aren't really entities, but the equipment philosophy uses to talk about entities. I get what you're saying, that (as Kierkegaard said) philosophies God isn't the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob--but he was talking about Hegel's God, not rejecting all philosophical approaches to God. Philosophy provides a common ground where believers don't have to make their listeners assent to sources of specific revelations--and the conversation here is simply following Paul's command to offer reasoned proofs to pagans for faith... the same Paul whose Scriptural writings are overtly Platonic in their treatment of body and soul (though its something of a misreading of Plato probably).

"Philosophy apart from a God means nothing, because apart from a God what goes on in our minds is just chemical reactions, and how are we supposed to base our lives off of chemical reactions?"

From a Christian perspective, of course philosophy must have to do with God as God is the source of being. However, if you mean philosophy must overtly acknowledge God to be meaningful, I would heartily disagree. Accusations like that result in Christians being labelled irrational--and quite justifiably. Paul's command to a reasoned defense aside, Christians have from the early days engaged in philosophical dispute (including the Apostles).

On more standard philosophical grounds, the "mind" is not characterized by chemical reactions, the brain is. You're confuting metaphysical materialism with philosophy as a whole, which is no small error.

"Things don’t naturally turn from chaos into order. The 2nd law of thermodynamics says that any spontaneous, irreversible change, increases the entropy of the universe. Entropy is disorder, and logically, I don’t see the laws of this universe working backward to bring forth sentient beings and a highly complex universe."

You misunderstand the law of entropy. In a closed system, entropy tends to increase, however entropy can and does decrease in a certain area while the whole system sees an increase. It happens all the time actually. Wikipedias page on the second law of thermodynamics should clear this up for you.

"If we (I say we as in Christians) wish to defend our belief in one true God, we must have some context or truth by which to base our claims. Far beyond the logic of philosophy are the words of the Bible.""

The Bible is not intended as a defense of the faith against unbelievers, its target audience is rather those who already believe and are within the church. Using it as an apologetic tool would be taking it out of its context and thereby stripping it of its essential content, in the same way that using it as a science or history textbook would.

Further, using the Bible -- whose veracity is in dispute -- commits the fallacy of begging the question. That is, you are assuming as a tenet of your argument that which you intend to prove. It's not only ineffective, it's unreasonable.

The quoted section of Wayne Grudem's book strikes me as quite suspect. The Bible is not an absolute authority in any strict sense of the word "absolute"; God is absolute, and so the Bible's authority is contingent (i.e., by definition not absolute). If by "absolute" Grudem really means certain, he is incorrect when he denies knowledge of the world around us is less certain than the truth of the Bible. In fact, without the general knowledge and context of the world, without our faculty of understanding, the Bible would make no more sense than randing ink on a page. This isn't to denigrate the Bible, far from it, it is to defend it from misappropraition and desacrilization.

"What is life worth if a holy, loving, and just God doesn’t exist? If love and mercy are simply chemical reactions then what are they worth? And, if there is nothing beyond this earth, then we ought to burn others’ lives for our own personal reward..."

A couple things:

-Technically speaking, it is theologically incorrect to say that God does exist just as it is incorrect that he doesn't. Though God is present in existence, he is also above it; claiming he exists as a being (except analogously) trespasses against his transcendence.

-Just because God doesn't "exist" doesn't mean love and mercy are chemical reactions. This is a false dichotomy between theism and naturalism.

-Your third claim here is actually kind of disturbing. If God doesn't exist, we ought to burn others lives for our own reward? If this is Christian sentiment, what moral superiority pious atheists possess! If one man is cruel to his neighbor when he doesn't expect an eternal reward, while on the other hand his atheist neighbor is kind without that same expectation, who is it who more truly understands love? If without the psychological guarantee one of heaven one cannot act with kindness, I would venture to say the whole of Christ's message is lost. The love of Christ is direct and unmediated, it is personal, it consists in one "movement". That is to say, Christ did not have to first love God, and only after that movement had been performed could he love others in a second movement. He loved others directly, in one movement, without mediation, and only in doing so manifested the love of God. I don't mean to be harsh, but the idea that one must first have a belief in God (and in eternal reward) in order to love another is fundamentally misguided and very basically unchristian. It negates the meaning of Christ's sacrifice into a system of rewards.

I agree with your sentiment that philosophy shouldn't be the sole form of outreach the Christian has to the unbeliever, but let's not get caught up in the kind of hubris that denies the meaningfulness of the unbeliever's engagement with others.

Anonymous said...

Thanks Thomas for replying to my previous post. You pointed out some very blatent holes in my arguement, and some points I wasn't really trying to mean.

I shouldn't have shut down philosophy like I did. In fact, I was using philosophy to defend my arguements, being hypocritical. If God is real (as I believe He is) then He created philosphy, and philosophy itself can clue us in to an existent creator.

When speaking of love and mercy, I don't mean that we must understand or believe in a God to possess these qualities. But, when it comes down to how one approaches life; love and mercy are pointless without there being more (heaven). If there is no foundation for righteousness, how can we as humans comdemn others to prison and death? Sure, we can make laws in order to stop violence, but from a human perspective, there is no basis for right and wrong, it is what we make it to be, unless there is some higher or natural law. I mean to say that without there being some higher law (this wouldn't have to be a God, though it makes one wonder how it was designed in the universe) all humans should rightfully seek self-indulgence, or shouldn't be seen as evil for hurting others.

You implied that there could be love and mercy without a God. I agree, but I was trying to argue, where did they come from? Or more, how do we as humans have knowledge of them? Was it an accident that we as humans should understand something as sacrifice or mercy?

I see the holes in my arguement about mercy and love being something simply in the mind, they are actions (direct actions like you said). But, if this world is an accident, who knows if what goes on in our minds is correct? Who knows if love and mercy are actually worthwhile, who knows if we are right and wrong? Thank you again for pointing out the holes I had, I don't wish to believe that mercy and love aren't actions, its just that without a standard, nothing can be labeled as right and wrong. And this standard points to a divine being.

One thing I must argue with you though is your comment that, "The Bible is not intended as a defense of the faith against unbelievers, its target audience is rather those who already believe and are within the church."In the Bible there are many times the writers use philosophy, but there are also numerous times when they use the Bible (the recorded history and events) to defend their faith.

Paul quotes scripture all throughout his books. Peter when addressing the unbelievers at pentecost quotes scripture (Acts 2:17-21). And Stephen addresses the jews with scripture in Acts 7:3, 6, 7, 18, 28, 29, 30, 31, 32, 33, 34, 35, 37, 40, 41, 42, 43, 49, and 50. Philip uses scripture as an apologetic source in Acts 8:32-33. Jesus also used scripture in His ministry. And He did not command His apostles to spread His philosophies, but He told them, "Go into all the world and preach the gospel to al creation" (Mark 15:15).

"For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart." (Hebrews 4:12)

"For they deliberately overlook this fact, that the heavens existed long ago, and the earth was formed out of water and through water by the word of God," (2 Peter 3:5) - It is the word of God and not philosophy that proclaims God.

Without the Bible as a standard, we are fighting a pointless battle, because how do we know philosophy is pointing out a loving God, or just one that will send everyone to hell?

1 Timothy 4:13 reads, "Until I come, give attention to the public reading of Scripture, to exhortation and teaching." This is public reading, to be heard by unbelievers.

It is the gospel that saves, how are people to be saved without belief in the gospel of Jesus Christ?

You claim that the veracity of the Bible is in dispute. Do you not believe what it says? Can you find anything wrong with it? It is not unreasonable to believe historically accurate accounts that give evidence for a God. All the great men in the Bible quote the Scriptures of the Bible and see them as factual. Are you greater than Moses, or even Jesus? Are you afraid of defending your arguments with the same word Jesus used. One example of Jesus using the Scriptures is when He is tempted by Satan.

Finally, you said, "On more standard philosophical grounds, the "mind" is not characterized by chemical reactions, the brain is. You're confuting metaphysical materialism with philosophy as a whole, which is no small error."

What do you mean by saying there is a difference between the mind and the material brain? You can't separate the two. If the brain is removed, so is the mind. Otherwise people can live pure lives in their minds while murdering people with their physical bodies.

Thanks for your response, but please hear what I am saying.

- Stephen

Martin Cothran said...

Stephen your argue against Thomas's point that the Bible was addressed to believers by pointing out that the Bible itself quotes Scripture. But why is this evidence for it being addressed to unbelievers? Isn't this, in fact, evidence that it is addressed to believers? Scripture has no authority with the unbeliever.

Also, your quote from 1 Timothy 4:13, although talking about what may be heard by unbelievers, is addressed to believers. It is believers, not unbelievers who will be doing the public readings.

Thomas said...

"But, when it comes down to how one approaches life; love and mercy are pointless without there being more (heaven). If there is no foundation for righteousness, how can we as humans comdemn others to prison and death? Sure, we can make laws in order to stop violence, but from a human perspective, there is no basis for right and wrong, it is what we make it to be, unless there is some higher or natural law."

-I'm not so sure that love and mercy would be pointless without heaven. Many cultures who do not believe in an afterlife have nevertheless been compassionate (Buddhism being the obvious example). Love and mercy may not have a "point" at all in the sense that they serve no end outside of themselves. One doesn't really "love" for some extraneous reason (especially to abide by some ethic or rule), but for its own sake. Your case for God's existence here is a practical one, and in this respect your argument is similar to Kant's. God can't be proven to exist, but belief in his existence is useful, and therefore we should consider him to exist. The flaw lies not only in the fact that this shows God only to be a useful idea, but that it's not really necessary (as can be seen by a survey of various cultures).

"One thing I must argue with you though is your comment that, "The Bible is not intended as a defense of the faith against unbelievers, its target audience is rather those who already believe and are within the church."In the Bible there are many times the writers use philosophy, but there are also numerous times when they use the Bible (the recorded history and events) to defend their faith."

"For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart." (Hebrews 4:12)

"For they deliberately overlook this fact, that the heavens existed long ago, and the earth was formed out of water and through water by the word of God," (2 Peter 3:5) - It is the word of God and not philosophy that proclaims God."

-I've never quite understood the common use of "word" to mean "Bible." Here the clear reference is to the logos, which John identifies with God. The Bible didn't form the earth, obviously, nor should the Bible be identified with God. Without a very compelling reason, "word" in the Bible should be held to refer to the second person of the trinity. Interestingly, logos is a heavily loaded term from Greek philosophy, and the Scriptural use of it intentionally borrows from Greek philosophy.

"1 Timothy 4:13 reads, "Until I come, give attention to the public reading of Scripture, to exhortation and teaching." This is public reading, to be heard by unbelievers."

-Here, public reading very clearly refers to the reading of the Old Testament to the ecclesial community, not to unbelievers. However, in the earliest days of the apostles' ministry, their ministry was not to "unbelievers" generally, but to the Jews--at this point Christianity was still a Jewish cult. Appealing to Scripture meant appealing to the OT which the Jews held to be true. This is very different from appealing to Scripture to Gentiles, however even here Scripture served something of a purpose: Christian apologists used it as proof of the antiquity of Christianity, an important mark of truth to the Greeks. Note, however, they did not attempt to argue simply that the Greeks must consider Scripture to be true.

"It is the gospel that saves, how are people to be saved without belief in the gospel of Jesus Christ?"

-I would think that the gospel itself does not save, that rather Jesus Christ saves the Gospel relays this message and points to it. In fact, the "Gospel" refers to more than simply the Bible, it is the account of the salvific mission of God which takes many forms-some even philosophical.

"You claim that the veracity of the Bible is in dispute. Do you not believe what it says? Can you find anything wrong with it? It is not unreasonable to believe historically accurate accounts that give evidence for a God. All the great men in the Bible quote the Scriptures of the Bible and see them as factual. Are you greater than Moses, or even Jesus? Are you afraid of defending your arguments with the same word Jesus used. One example of Jesus using the Scriptures is when He is tempted by Satan."

-I didn't say that I questioned the veracity of the Bible, I said it was in question in a debate between believers and unbelievers. In other words, if you are intending to prove the truth of the Bible you can't start out by assuming it. It's logically invalid and rhetorically ineffective. However, while I don't question the truth of the Bible, that doesn't mean I accept it as a perfectly historical account either. The truth of the Bible does not consist in it being historiography, but in its revelation of God to man. This means a poetic or symbolic interpretation best reveals the truth of the Bible. This shouldn't be taken to extremes: many things in the Bible are pretty historically reliable, but not all of them are (or need to be for the Bible to be true).

Ironically, the way Christians look at the Bible more closely resembles Spinoza's approach than that of Athanasius. Spinoza sees truth as a 1:1 correspondence, whereas truth is actually original unveiling. If this is too vague, I have an essay about it called "Biblical Truth and Modern Biblical Criticism" (http://tearingdownthemaskofmaya.blogspot.com/2008/03/biblical-truth-and-modern-biblical.html).

"What do you mean by saying there is a difference between the mind and the material brain? You can't separate the two. If the brain is removed, so is the mind. Otherwise people can live pure lives in their minds while murdering people with their physical bodies."

-In one sense the mind depends on the brain, in that if the brain is damaged the mind is affected as well. In another sense, the brain is only possible if the mind can conceive of it. Both of these fall short by either trying to conceive of the mind as the brain or vice versa (though I think the idealists have a more defensible position than the materialists. This is a rather well-tread issue in philosophy -- and an interesting one. For now, I'll just direct you to the idealist treatment in Leibniz (http://books.google.com/books?id=FsQYAAAAIAAJ&pg=PA326&dq=leibniz+brain&as_brr=1&client=firefox-a), though the best work on this is Merleu-Ponty's Phenomenology of Perception. I would recommend it, but aside from it not being free on the internet, it's very difficult. Check Liebniz out, he's pretty readable.

Stephen Berry said...

Thomas,

I finally got to read your article on truth. It was interesting, and thought provoking. But, I find myself questioning what your beliefs really are.
I mean, is truth simply a greater understanding of humanity? A greater comprehension of mankind’s nature? Human nature is corrupt, man is depraved as Psalm 53:3 says: “They have fallen away; together they have become corrupt; there is none who does good, not even one.” Why should we seek a greater understanding of human nature, we ought to seek after God, “But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness . . .” (Matthew 6:33).
Moreover, I think you should attempt to more biblically define truth, rather than philosophically. It is true that the Bible is based to some extent on philosophy, but the Bible is inerrant (as you said) and so should be our foundation of truth. Truth should not be defined as simply understanding humanity. The following verses point out what truth is:

John 17:17: Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth.

2 Timothy 2:15: Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth.

John 14:6 Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.

Ephesians 1:13 In him you also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit,

It is extremely important to recognize that understanding does not necessarily lead to truth. The more we understand the world, does not mean the more we grasp the truth. The truth is the word of God, the gospel of Jesus Christ. Many a brilliant man can go through life blind to the truth. Read 2 Timothy 3:1-9 (especially verse 7).
The fact is that Jesus Christ, the gospel, and the Word of God, is truth. There is understanding of things beyond the gospel, but there is no truth apart from the God and His Word.

Getting off of the subject of truth, I would like to ask you a couple of questions:

Should we be getting our understanding and interpretation of God and reality from scripture?

Where should an unbeliever go to get their understanding and interpretation of God?

Do you believe God makes Himself known in scripture, or is the Bible merely human insight and not God breathed?

Finally,

When Peter preaches to the non-Christian crowds in Acts, and quotes the Scriptures, was He wrong? Should He not have used the scriptures to present His belief in God? And, when Jesus commands His disciples to preach the gospel, what does this mean? Does it, or does it not mean to teach from the Word of God?