Tuesday, November 18, 2008

The fundamental nature of reality: Discuss

Jason Streitfeld said:

Rhology,

Thanks for trying to provide a definition of "God." Before I explain the problems I have with your definition, let me point out a couple of assumptions I don't think you should be making.

First, don't assume that I am unfamiliar with the many ways people have defined the term "God." In fact, my arguments here are based on a rather thorough familiarity with many theological traditions.

Second, don't assume that you need some notion of "God" to found epistemology or metaphysics. In fact, I don't see any sense in claiming that God could be a foundation for anything at all. And, frankly, I question the idea that metaphysics is a legitimate subject of enquiry. What used to be called "metaphysics" is most reasonably called "logic" and "linguistics" today.

The foundation of epistemology, however, is rational thought itself. We can approach the subject of epistemology because we are rational beings, because rational thought is an object of enquiry for us. What other foundation for epistemology could there possibly be?

Now, you say that most theologians do not regard the term "God" as being beyond human comprehension.

What about Tertullian, the man who coined the term "Trinity" and who came up with the whole idea that God is the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost? He said, "This it is which gives some notion of God, while yet beyond all our conceptions—our very incapacity of fully grasping Him affords us the idea of what He really is. He is presented to our minds in His transcendent greatness, as at once known and unknown."

In the New Testament, Paul argues that God dwells "in the light which no man can approach unto; whom no man hath seen, nor can see."

For the sources of these quotes, and more information about negative theology, check out Wikipedia's page on the subject:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Negative_theology

Now, of course, many theologians have attempted positive definitions of "God." I never doubted or ignored that fact. However, none of the commonly accepted positive definitions of "God" make any sense.

Let's look at your proposed definition, because it's a very good example of what I'm talking about.

You said, "God is the lone ultimate foundation for reality and reasoning."

Currently, many scientists think that the ultimate foundation of reality might very well be superstrings. Do you suggest that God might be superstrings?

I'm guessing, no, you do not think God is superstrings, because that wouldn't fit with the rest of your definition. According to the rest of that definition, God "is personal, intelligent, all-knowing, omnipotent, the creator of space, time, and energy, just, holy, compassionate, wrathful, good, communicative, and spirit. In short, He is as He is defined in the Bible."

So superstrings are out. But what sort of "foundation of reality" are you talking about, if not superstrings or something else open to scientific discovery?

What does the phrase "foundation of reality" even mean, if not the laws of nature and fundamental entities discovered to make up the universe as we know it?

This is the kind of incoherence I'm talking about. You use a phrase "foundations of reality" in a way that doesn't seem to make sense.

Consider, also, that your definition supposes that God created both space and time. That means that God existed before space and time. And that, some time after God existed for a while, he created space and time. So, there was some time before time when God existed . . . and, I suppose, some space outside of space which God took up. It is clear that your notions of "space" and "time" are confused, and make your "God" impossible to understand.

There are plenty of other problems. For example, if God is good and compassionate, why is he wrathful? If God is good, why has he created a world in which people (including newborn babies) suffer horribly for no apparent reason? Why would a good, compassionate God punish people for sticking to reason and common sense--that is, why would he punish atheists--for all eternity? According to what notion of compassion does that logically follow?

Sure, you can say that God works in mysterious ways, and that it is not our place to question God's will. And we should just accept those aspects of God that are beyond our understanding.

And yet, if you take away those mysterious assertions and take out all the stuff that doesn't make sense, what are you left with? The idea of a very smart, very strong something which, apparently, has created mankind for the sole purpose of punishing those who don't properly respect it.

That is the only sensible meaning left from your definition, and I think you will agree that it does not sound anything like what you and other religious people claim to believe in.

So, no, I'm not going to revise my original post. All you have done is provide an example of the sort of meaningless definitions of "God" that I'm talking about.

You also provided a link to another definition which, like your own, combines a series of easy-to-understand adjectives with nonsensical ontological assertions. Here, God's essence is offered thusly: God "only hath immortality, dwelling in the light which no man can approach unto."

So, God's essence is immortality, and only immortality. What on earth does that mean?

Of course, we are not supposed to know, because "no man can approach" God. It's just beyond our understanding.

I believe you've helped me make my point. Thank you.


I respond:


Hi Jason,

I invite your correction wherever I overstep or mistakenly state your worldview. I'm not trying to misrepresent it.
A good amount of what you're saying seems to be an argument ad incredulum, but not everyone is bound by the same limited understanding.
We say that God is the source of metaphysics and epistemology b/c He has revealed that He is just that. Then, just for fun, I examine other worldviews to see how they account for relevant things like the laws of logic. No atheist I've yet encountered has sufficiently accounted for the existence and nature of the laws of logic, while still remaining consistently atheist, but I invite you to do so.

You place your ultimate value in reason, apparently. Can you prove that reason is the foundation of epistemology, using reason? In other words, can you give me reasons why I should trust reason?
Of course not - that would be begging the question. You have faith in reason as your ultimate foundation. I have faith in God as the ultimate foundation. Fair enough so far?
The question then becomes: Does my ultimate foundation account for all of reality?
Mine certainly does; I'll get to your critiques of mine in a sec. Yours, however, well, it's tough. For one thing, you can't take reason based on reasons alone, since that's question-begging. So you take "reason as ultimate epistemological foundation" on faith. I ask: you got to this ultimate truth thru an exercise of faith. Why, then, abandon faith for other epistemological pursuits? Reason failed you in that most important ultimate question, why go back to it for other, less-important questions?

For another thing, reason tells us precisely zero about how we SHOULD act, once we know stuff. That is an important question - ethics. No atheist I've encountered has given me a foundation for morality, on atheism, that is simultaneously
1) consistent with atheism (of whatever flavor)
2) objective, and
3) not arbitrarily based on what that individual says or a collection of individuals says.

We're looking for a moral foundation that tells us what right and wrong are, independent of whether anyone believes it or not.


One statement of yours that makes me question whether you are up to the task is:
I question the idea that metaphysics is a legitimate subject of enquiry

That in itself is a metaphysical statement. You do realise that, don't you?
Or do you think that asking and answering questions about reason and such things are physical? Where are they located? Of what elements are they composed? What do they smell like?


As for your critiques of my position:
What about Tertullian, the man who coined the term "Trinity" and who came up with the whole idea that God is the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost?

He coined the term, sure, but the concept is clearly expressed all throughout the Bible. He did not "come up" with it at all.


(Tertullian said): "as at once known and unknown."

Exactly - both known and unknown. You're trying to place all the weight on that latter, w/o taking into acct the fact that God has communicated a great deal of Himself in a way that humans can understand.


Paul argues that God dwells "in the light which no man can approach unto; whom no man hath seen, nor can see."

More precisely, the Father dwells there. John 1:18 explains: "No one has seen God at any time; the only begotten God who is in the bosom of the Father, He has explained Him."
Many have seen the Son, Jesus. He is the icon of the Father, as Hebrews says.
Look, don't take this the wrong way, but you're out of your depth when you try to handle Christian theology like this. You don't get to take half of my worldview and try to make it the whole. Let ME define my worldview, then you deal with it as a whole, not only with the parts you like and have cherry-picked. Just a friendly reminder. :-)


negative theology

Yes, a great deal of statements about God are apophatic, but far from all of them.


Currently, many scientists think that the ultimate foundation of reality might very well be superstrings.

1) Yep, currently. Next year it'll be sthg else. I'm not impressed with such things.
2) That's a metaphysical statement, BTW. Superstrings, if they exist, are hardly physical.
3) Scientists are not omniscient. God is and He has said that He is not equivalent to a superstring.
4) If someone were to flesh out a full-orbed epistemology and metaphysics based on superstrings, I'd be happy to critique it like I am critiquing yours.


What does the phrase "foundation of reality" even mean, if not the laws of nature and fundamental entities discovered to make up the universe as we know it?

That's a great question. It does mean that, precisely, but more than that even.
We're trying to account for why the world and the universe are like they are. Such questions include what you said, as well as questions of intelligence, the one and the many, consciousness, personality and personhood, thought, identity, relationship. All of it. TGOTB accounts for all of that. I'd like to see, indeed, I have yet to see, "reason" even get close.


That means that God existed before space and time...some space outside of space which God took up.

God created both time and space, yes. He inhabits neither, however - He is spirit in essence. He "existed", logically, not chronologically, before time. He is the cause of time's existence, therefore logically "before".
He is not physical; rather, He created the physical and the space in which the physical subsists. I have to use SOME language to express that idea.


Then you step into a minefield -
if God is good and compassionate, why is he wrathful?

Uh oh, as an atheist, how do you acct for making moral statements that should apply to anyone else? I'll need to see your justification for that before I accept any outside critique as valid.


Why would a good, compassionate God punish people for sticking to reason and common sense--that is, why would he punish atheists--for all eternity?

You will be punished for all eternity, unless you repent, and that offer is still good and still free, b/c you have broken God's law innumerable times to count. Not b/c you followed "common sense".
You know that TGOTB exists, but you suppress the truth in your wickedness, b/c then you'd have to repent and give up your evil deeds. You won't even admit it to yourself. That suppression of the truth is in itself evil.


God's essence is immortality, and only immortality. What on earth does that mean?

As the London Baptist Confession statement, to which I linked, says: "The Lord our God is but one only living and true God; whose subsistence is in and of himself, infinite in being and perfection..."
Etc. Re-read the statement for more. I'm not saying it can be exhaustively explored by human reason, only sufficiently to know that He is, and that He is great, good, holy, and the Lord.

I look fwd to your thoughts. I'll post this on my blog too, since it's good stuff, deep stuff.

Peace,
Rhology

5 comments:

Rhology said...

Sorry, looks like I have to repost all the comments. For new readers, I never moderate comments unless they are grotesquely profane, contain illicit information, or are spam, but I had a self-inflicted layout template glitch that has set me back. Sorry about that.

Aubrey said...

I think Jason has normal questions but just a general overall idea of God will never answer those questions. The way that Jason looks at evil and good and God and His wrath is just a normal way to view the complexities of life. It is indeed the human(istic) way of seeing things. Sometimes, it is true that things happen in life whose reasons and answers are silent this side of heaven and sometimes, over time, God shows us why. It is almost impossible and quite obviously insane to just trust in God without knowing God personally. We don't easily trust those we don't know for fear of the unknown, fear of being hurt, etc. One good thing to keep in mind is that here on earth is NOT paradise. People have choices and lots of people choose to hurt other people-even unborn babies. That's not a God thing, that's a people thing. People are sinful and this world is marred by sin not perfection nor will it ever arrive to perfection. Only God is perfect. Only God can take evil (that people do to themselves and/or others) and make it good later on. It bears repeating that instead of thinking why bad things happen to good people but why do good things happen to bad people? I guess what I'm trying to say is though I've not exhausted all aspects and crannies of God (I never will), I will say that a lot of your questions could be answered understanding man's true nature (he is evil not good-according to His standards, since He made us) and God's nature (it is possible and necessary for God to be good and full of wrath) better than you do.

Jason Streitfeld said...

I've posted a response on my blog. I hope nobody minds me not posting it here as well. It just seems like it would unnecessarily complicate the discussion.

Dr Funkenstein said...

I was going to post my response here, but I figured it'd be easier to read on my blog.

http://badapplesblog.blogspot.com/2008/11/
theistic-package-deals-all-persons.html

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