Friday, November 6, 2009

The Greek atomists and the god of Paley

In recent posts, I have been defending classical theism and criticizing Paley-style “design arguments” as time wasters at best and theologically dangerous at worst because of their implicit anthropomorphic conception of God. Here’s another way to look at the problem.

As is well known, the ancient Greek atomists were forerunners of modern naturalism. They pioneered the mechanistic approach to the study of nature. They were critical of traditional religion. They denied that there is any Uncaused Cause sustaining the world in being. But they were not atheists as that term is understood today. They generally acknowledged that the gods existed. They just regarded them as one part of the natural order among others. Were they writing today, they might have expressed their position by comparing the gods to extraterrestrials or beings from another dimension.

If you are a Christian, suppose it turned out that there really was such a being as Yahweh, but he was an alien from Alpha Centauri who had decided for a few centuries to have a little fun with the ancient Israelites. In particular, suppose it turned out that something like the events recounted in the Old Testament really did happen, but only as interpreted by Erich von Däniken in Chariots of the Gods. Would you feel vindicated? Would you expect Richard Dawkins to repent and race over to the nearest revival meeting? No, because even Dawkins is not that foolish, and neither are you.

Certainly the atomists would have responded with a gigantic yawn. And rightly so, because if God were really a space alien, then He wouldn’t be God. He certainly wouldn’t be worthy of worship. Scary, maybe. Perhaps for that reason someone you might not want to tick off. But still merely a cosmic despot, or (if we’re lucky) a cosmic kindly old grandfather. It really doesn’t matter for religious purposes, because, again, he would not in that case be any more worthy of worship than Superman.

Thus, if contemporary naturalists were wise, they would stop getting so upset over the arguments of ID theorists, given that those theorists themselves keep insisting, quite rightly, that their arguments don’t (and, I’ve been arguing, can’t) strictly get you anything more grand than E.T. If the ancient atomists could happily accept that, why couldn’t the American Atheists? Perhaps someday they’ll wise up and realize they can. For with respect to the anthropomorphic god of Paley, you might as well say: “There probably is such a god, but stop worrying and enjoy your life anyway.”

You see, there is a reason why Athanasius, Augustine, Anselm, Aquinas, and all the others among the very greatest thinkers of the Christian tradition insisted on classical theism. There is a reason why it is reflected in the creeds and councils, and why it is the infallible, irreformable doctrine of Holy Mother Church. Nothing less gets you beyond the naturalism of the ancient atomists. Which, if ID theory ever gained wide acceptance, would simply become the naturalism of the modern naturalists. Darwinism will have been defeated, but a redefined naturalism will bop along unscathed. The last laugh will belong to Democritus rather than Dembski. Then many will say bitterly, in the wake of their Pyrrhic victory: “Even the naturalists believe, and tremble not at all.”

65 comments:

Anonymous said...

Certainly the atomists would have responded with a gigantic yawn. And rightly so, because if God were really a space alien, then He wouldn’t be God. He certainly wouldn’t be worthy of worship. Scary, maybe. Perhaps for that reason someone you might not want to tick off. But still merely a cosmic despot, or (if we’re lucky) a cosmic kindly old grandfather. It really doesn’t matter for religious purposes, because, again, he would not in that case be any more worthy of worship than Superman.

But he would be god. It all depends on how advanced this alien being was. An alien being sufficiently advanced would be able to manipulate space-time, would be capable of creating universes, and would be able to bring everyone who ever was back to life - such a being would be the God of the Bible. What else does the God of the Bible promise but eternal life in a nice place?

You present a straw man simply because you fail to imagine a sufficiently advanced being because you're an ideologue, not a true thinker.

John Farrell said...

Anon, by definition, any entity that is subject to the same laws of nature --no matter how impressively, Star Trekly powerful-- that we are, is NOT the God of Christianity.

There's nothing ideological about Ed pointing this out.

Maolsheachlann said...

Well, Anonymous, if God is a necessary being, as per Aquinas and Feser, he couldn't make himself necessary, no matter how contingently powerful he would be. He would not be "I am that I am".

In a way, it's a pity, because it squashes Bill Murray's theory in one of my favourite Groundhog Day quotations: "Well, maybe the real God uses tricks. Maybe he's not omnipotent, he's just been around so long, he knows everything."

But I've been very struck by the arguments I've been discovering, in this recent sequence of posts and "Aquinas", that God-- far from being the finger that got the clockwork machinery of the cosmos going-- is required to sustain existence at every moment. Regardless of the philosophical arguments, such a God is much more satisfying and thrilling emotionally, to me, anyway. I guess I should have seen God in that light already, but reading it argued philosophically impressed the idea upon me. Thank you!

I have also been wondering whether these arguments from irreducible teleology might be taken to prove that consciousness itself points to a God, as this idea has always seemed compelling to me.

On the other hand, are the ID theorists really committing to naturalism? After all, all Christians believe in miracles. What's the difference between an occasional supernatural intervention in the world, and a micromanagement of evolution?

Eric said...

"Regardless of the philosophical arguments, such a God is much more satisfying and thrilling emotionally, to me, anyway."

Hi Maolsheachlan

Thomas Merton felt the same way. In 'The Seven Storey Mountain,' he wrote:

"In this one word [aseitas], which can be applied to God alone, and which expresses His most characteristic attribute, I discovered an entirely new concept of God -- a concept which showed me at once that the belief of the Catholics was by no means the vague and rather superstitious hangover from an unscientific age that I had believed it to be. On the contrary, here was a notion of God that was at the same time deep, precise, simple, and accurate and, what is more, charged with implications which I could not even begin to appreciate, but which I could at least dimly estimate, even with my own lack of philosophical training...I never had an adequate notion of what Christians meant by God. I had simply taken for granted that the God in Whom religious people believed, and to Whom they attributed the creation and government of all things, was a noisy and dramatic and passionate character, a vague, jealous, hidden being...What a relief it was for me to discover not only that no idea of ours, let alone any image, could adequately represent God, but also that we should not allow ourselves to be satisfied with any such knowledge of him. The result was that I at once acquired an immense respect for Catholic philosophy ans for the Catholic faith."

Maolsheachlann said...

Thanks for that, Eric. It reminds me of something my religion teacher said in secondary school. Even though I went to a Catholic school, the religious instruction was so watered down that it was mostly pop psychology and watching "inspirational" videos, but this one stray remark lodged in my mind. She said that a mystery was not to be thought of as something you could never understand, but something you could never stop learning more about. It might sound trite but I found myself coming back to that idea again and again. I must read Thomas Merton some day.

Anonymous said...

John, you have not even considered my objection. Let me clarify. If a being sufficiently advanced is able to create universes and does so, then that being is by definition not subject to the laws of those universes, assuming it can create virtually any kind of a universe. Out universe, then, could be one of such creations. Which then raises the question, how would this hypothetical alien being be different from the God of the Bible?

Maolsheachlann. If he were powerful enough, he could do whatever he wanted. If a hypothetical alien being creates a universe he makes himself necessary to those who live in that universe, no?

But what's interesting in this discussion is how limited the God of the Bible is in the Bible. He can't, for instance, alter time. He cannot wipe away original sin by going back in time (in his Stark Treky space ship) and preventing Adam from sinning. So he is not all powerful. If he were, he could merely say so and the past would be unmade. No, he has to work within the flow the time and so he is subject to time himself.

RP said...

Anon,
"Q" was a character on Star Trek, your definition of God does not approach the God of classical theism, that of God as pure act.

PS. Do your Vulcan ears make you a true thinker? If not, maybe you can buy a Triquarter and a phaser at the next ST convention, that might save you from becoming an ideologue.

Mike Flynn said...

Maolsheachlann said...
Well, Anonymous, if God is a necessary being, as per Aquinas and Feser, he couldn't make himself necessary, no matter how contingently powerful he would be.

Anonymous said...
If a hypothetical alien being creates a universe he makes himself necessary to those who live in that universe, no?


Anonymous does not understand what "necessary being" means.

Anonymous said...

RP said...

Anon,
"Q" was a character on Star Trek, your definition of God does not approach the God of classical theism, that of God as pure act.

PS. Do your Vulcan ears make you a true thinker? If not, maybe you can buy a Triquarter and a phaser at the next ST convention, that might save you from becoming an ideologue.

But how can you be sure that classical theism has anything at all to say about God? At best classical theism is just an argument. And as such, it is no better than the argument for a Star Treky god. Sadly, you seem unaware of that fact.

RP said...

Anon, your hypothetical alien is a contingent being, his being is dependent on another for existence. In such a case, he would be as E. Feser suggested no more than a super-whatever. Does he have the ability to create from nothing? No! Because of these 2 things, you still must appeal to something that brought him into existence, that would be the God of classical theism.

Anonymous said...

Anon, your hypothetical alien is a contingent being, his being is dependent on another for existence. In such a case, he would be as E. Feser suggested no more than a super-whatever. Does he have the ability to create from nothing? No! Because of these 2 things, you still must appeal to something that brought him into existence, that would be the God of classical theism.

Anonymous does not understand what "necessary being" means.

But whoever said that the ability to create from nothing actually exists? That's just an argument some have made. It is not an observable law of nature. A contingent being can still be the God of the Bible because the God of the Bible acts in limited ways and so cannot be a perfect-being.


A necessary being is one that could not have failed to exist.

But the perfect-being argument for God's necessary state makes no sense in the light of The Bible, which clearly shows that God of the Bible has limited powers. First, he cannot simply wish away original sin. Why not? If he were all-powerful and perfectly sovereign of all things, he could do so. Second, he must rely on messengers rather than come himself as God being God. Why can't the necessary God of theory reveal himself? There is only one reason - something prevents him from doing so.

Mike Flynn said...

Anon appears to be a fundamentalist of some sort, by his constant insistence not only that the text of the Bible is the only source of knowledge about God, but that the text must be read only in the historico-literal manner. Them Ortho-Cathlicks is always messing things up with like logic and reason and that philosophy stuff.

djr said...

I suppose we could grant a modicum of sense to Anonymous' arguments if we assume first that classical theism is at best a coherent and possible way of thinking about the universe, but comes nowhere close to being compelling. If we then imagine that we encountered an alien sufficiently advanced to create universes and bring people back to life and all that, we might reasonably identify him with 'the God of the Bible,' particularly if he told us that he did some of the things described in the Old Testament.

The trouble is with the assumption that classical theism is just one coherent and possible, but nothing like a compelling, way of thinking about the universe. Its proponents, of course, argue that it is rather a very compelling way of looking at the universe; some, like Ed, take its premises to be rationally certain, while others would hold rather that they are at least as good if not better than their rivals. At any rate, if the arguments are compelling, then there just is a transcendent being who causes the universe to exist and to whom we can analogically ascribe certain attributes, including omniscience and omnibenevolence. Now, suppose that this is true and then we encounter our super-powerful alien Yaweh. We might still acknowledge that he is the God of the Bible in that he is the being who did at least some of the things described there. But we will also acknowledge that he is not the transcendent cause of everything that exists, even if he created the 'universe' that we live in (Anonymous seems not to appreciate the different senses of 'universe' used in traditional cosmological arguments and contemporary speculative theoretical physics, but it should be apparent by now that classical theists mean by 'universe' the whole collection of particular finite beings, even if those turn out to exist in multiple and distinct dimensions or 'universes').

Now, you might say, "Okay, fine, but the alien is still God, because he's the God of the Bible, whereas your transcendent first cause thing is just some aloof, mysterious thing that we can't even talk about without stretching our language beyond the bounds of complete clarity. Call the transcendent thing something else, because the super alien is obviously God." As a purely semantic matter, I might actually welcome this result, because it seems to me that one reason why it's so hard to get people to abandon anthropomorphic conceptions of God is that the word God just is understood by so many as a personal name for a very powerful mind who happens to have had an important part in crafting the universe. So I might embrace the idea of leaving the word 'God' to name really powerful but still finite, created beings, and pick some new word for the transcendent source of all existence. But one reason why attempts by theologians to do just that have failed is that the word 'God' still evokes even for many atheists the idea of a being who is worthy of our awe, reverence, gratitude, and worship. But if you ask me whether the transcendent source of all existence is more or less deserving of my awe, reverence, gratitude, and worship than the super alien who just happens to have created this one of indefinitely many 'universes,' the answer just seems obvious. That isn't to deny that I might justly feel awe, reverence, and gratitude toward the super alien, much as I feel awe, reverence, and gratitude toward many human beings. But as much as my feeling of those emotions toward the super alien would have to surpass my feeling of them towards mere humans, my sense of those emotions toward the transcendent source of all existence would be incomparably greater than anything I could bring myself to feel toward the super alien.

djr said...

Call me sacrilegious, but if the hypothetical situation we've been imagining here were to become real, I would much sooner conclude that the so-called God of the Bible is not God, whatever the implications of that for the rest of theology. For unless I can be shown that classical theism is false or at least that it rests on premises that are markedly inferior to rival premises, I will have no reason to treat any limited being as an object of worship.

In my case, at least, it may be easy for me to be so flippant with biblical passages because I came to classical theism as a philosophical doctrine before I returned to Catholicism as rooted in God's self-revelation, and still have many doubts and difficulties and uncertainties about Catholicism and about revealed religion in general, whereas I see classical theism as, at the very least, markedly superior to its rivals. It is worth pointing out, however, that the early Church did not think it obvious that the Old Testament gave them a set of literal propositions about the nature of God, or even that the 'god' of the Old Testament was in fact the God of Jesus Christ. The view that the God of the Old Testament was in fact a different being altogether from the God of Jesus (an evil god, in fact, in opposition to the God that Jesus represented) was condemned early on as heretical, but it is worth remembering that the decision to treat the OT as part of the record of God's revelation required rational debate. It is also worth remembering that one of the crucial components of classical theism, the clear conception of God's transcendence, was not a part of pagan monotheism, but was only brought out clearly by Christians. Though there were clear antecedents of the idea of transcendence in the OT, Christians arrived at a view of God as transcendent in part because it was necessary to make sense of the Incarnation, which was itself in part necessary to make sense of the basic experiences that formed the core convictions of the Apostles in the period immediately following Jesus' death. If anything is clear, it is that the super alien is not a transcendent being -- even if he is 'transcendent' in the attenuated sense of being transcendent to our 'universe' alone, he is certainly not transcendent in the sense that the source of all existence is transcendent. My point is simply that classical theism, though it rests on arguments that do not rely on revelation for support, also articulates a conception of God that would have been very difficult if not impossible for people to arrive at if it had not been a part of the Jewish and Christian religious tradition. So, lest you think that classical theism is merely a Hellenic imposition on pure Hebrew monotheism, it is worth considering that the two most basic distinctive doctrines of Judaism (that God is the creator of everything that is; try reading Isaiah) and Christianity (that Jesus was the incarnation of God himself) are largely responsible for the clear conception of divine transcendence that makes it impossible for the super alien to be God in any meaningful sense.

Anonymous said...

it is worth considering that the two most basic distinctive doctrines of Judaism (that God is the creator of everything that is; try reading Isaiah) and Christianity (that Jesus was the incarnation of God himself) are largely responsible for the clear conception of divine transcendence that makes it impossible for the super alien

I think the problem here is, how would the classical theist know the difference between some alien god and the God of human invention? My argument is that he would not know the difference, if the alien were sufficiently advanced. (And what do you mean transcendent? If it is too transcendent then what realm does it exist in? Or is it its own realm? I suppose that you could argue that it is some sort of a Buddhist being that is beyond the exist/does not exist dichotomy, but then why can't that be just some sufficiently alien alien being? There is no reason to think that Buddha was not accessing some different alien realm. )

Anonymous said...

Think of this thought experiment: suppose god appears. How would you know it was God? What tests would the classical theist devise to test God's Godness? Further, what tests could humans as limited beings devise to test God as God? My point is that we cannot think of a test to test God as God. Therefore a sufficiently advanced alien would be God to us, given our limited power of knowing, since we could not devise a test to differentiate between them. Without some rational set of rules, it would all come down to idiosyncratic, irrational choices about whether to believe.

Warren said...

>> it is worth remembering that the decision to treat the OT as part of the record of God's revelation required rational debate

Yes. The Church accepted the OT as authentic revelation pretty much entirely on Jesus' authority, as far as I can tell. If Jesus had rejected the OT's authority (as Buddha rejected the authority of the Vedas), the Church certainly would have followed suit.

Q said...

"Think of this thought experiment: suppose god appears. How would you know it was God? What tests would the classical theist devise to test God's Godness? Further, what tests could humans as limited beings devise to test God as God?"

So, are you actually impying that a Sola Scriptura fundamentalist would actually be best capable of distinguishing between a "Q" alien and the Yahweh?

Kindly entertain us some more by providing exactly the kind of test/ability you suppose makes the fundamentalist far more superior in this regard.

Q said...

"I think the problem here is, how would the classical theist know the difference between some alien god and the God of human invention? My argument is that he would not know the difference, if the alien were sufficiently advanced."

And the fundy is able to distinguish how, exactly?

Maolsheachlann said...

Personally, I think it's an interesting thought experiment and I'm not sure what the answer would be. Except a rather Cartesian one, that the classical theist would have attained a conception of God through pure reason, and could be confident that an omnipotent and omnibenevolent God would not allow him to be hoodwinked by a Q-type being. I'm only offering that as a possible answer.

Q said...

Well, if you grant such a being as 'Q', how then would you know that 'Jesus' as well as even 'Yahweh' himself, were both nothing more than 'Q'-type beings themselves?

Anonymous said...

The point, Q, is that a "fundy" would not know, and neither would a philosopher, or any human, for that matter. Therefore, since human reason is limited in its ability to know, we would not be able to distinguish between a necessary being or a contingent one, if such a being were sufficiently advanced from us and in command of the laws of nature, such as the Star Trek Q character.

And so Feser is wrong in his post because there is no man-derived algorithm that could test God as God and hence prove that God is God. Such an algorithm is an interesting idea in itself because if we did have such an algorithm, then we could prove that God exists.

Since we don't and we never will, then we can never know that God exists unless he makes us know him, but then we still would not know if this God is true God or merely a contingent but far advanced being that is making us believe (by giving us faith in him) that he is God the necessary being.

Q said...

Yet, isn't the 'Q' character a product of the imagination?

So, why would a determination of the Divine Being, as God, be contingent upon the existence of some 'test' that tests for an imaginary being such as 'Q'?

Free-Thought-Free-Man said...

I think there's something alot of you might be missing.
Think of it just for a second. If we're going to say that all of this (universe, stones, cups, et al) were created by some guy in the sky then you have to answer this; what created the guy in the sky?
I think the problem with theists is this: they see something so complex they think "woah, no how could this possibly come about by chance." The naturalist looks at the same thing and thinks, "ah ha, time and opportunities.... time and opportunities".

If I'm walking through the barren desert and come across a robot and needed to explain this robot's existence, it wouldn't make any sense to point to a larger robot that was actually producing smaller robots because that still doesn't answer the question about who or what actually created anything because then you would have to account for the other robot and unless there would be yet an even larger robot making the large robots that make the small robots you'd still not truly have explained anything except some temporal and spatially constrained manifestation of some very current fluxuation of matter.

This is no slam on theists, I just think that naturalists aren't afraid of digging a bit deeper.
If you'd have two attorneys and let's say hypothetically you knew them both very well, you knew the behaviors, their tendencies, et al... and you knew enough to know that one of them is very detailed, always going the extra mile but the other one is good, but that's it... he's just 'good'. You'd probably want the one who is going to dig deeper, who's not going to be satisfied with the easy answer.

I've used this reasoning alot of times to help family and friends see that one of the big differences is this devotion to understanding it all. Not just finding the fruit that is the most palpatable and saying "no more for me, please."

I hope this kind of helps.

Q said...

Free-thought-Free-Man:

"If I'm walking through the barren desert and come across a robot and needed to explain this robot's existence, it wouldn't make any sense to point to a larger robot that was actually producing smaller robots because that still doesn't answer the question about who or what actually created anything because then you would have to account for the other robot and unless there would be yet an even larger robot making the large robots that make the small robots you'd still not truly have explained anything except some temporal and spatially constrained manifestation of some very current fluxuation of matter."


And it wouldn't make much sense to claim that lightning just happens and there is nothing responsible for causing it in the first place.

For example, how do you supposed the Big Bang occurred (assuming, of course, that such an event happened in the first place -- which theory, incidentally, was formulated by a Catholic priest, Monsignor Georges Lemaître)?

Did it all just happen magically?

If you should believe that, then it would be just as foolish as supposing that lightening just magically appears and nothing caused it.

However, if you should believe something was indeed responsible for the Big Bang, then what do you suppose was the Cause of it?

Yet, if you should happen to believe in a Cause (or causes) but don't necessarily subscribe to an Uncaused Cause, then what you have left is the absurd notion of infinite regress, that something cause something ad inifinitum.

djr said...

I often feel that Ed is too harsh and vitriolic when he talks about opponents of classical theism, but reading these posts is making me much more sympathetic.

Anonymous' thought experiment asks how I could "tell the difference" between the super alien and God. Well, if the super alien had, say, a body, then he couldn't be God in any straightforward way unless the classical theistic view is completely mistaken. So far as I can tell, this thought experiment just begs the question by assuming that the classical theistic view is, at best, a coherent and possible view, but nowhere near compelling. But classical theists do think that it's much closer to compelling. You don't give us any reason to doubt that by posing this question, since, unless we are just mistaken, God is simply not a finite being who could, say, 'appear' to us in any straightforward way.

You might ask how a classical theist could make sense of the claim that Jesus was God, then, and the answer to that question is indeed extremely complicated, but the only coherent way of answering it presupposes a classical theistic conception of God. Essential to the idea that Jesus was God is that he was also a complete human being; but if God is a particular, finite being rather than the transcendent source of existence, then this doctrine and any conception of the Incarnation can make absolutely no sense, since it would then be like claiming that my dog is both fully a dog and also fully an oak tree. I don't maintain that classical theism makes the Incarnation make perfect sense; there's a reason it's called a mystery. But if God is a finite being, it can't be a mystery; it can only be an absurdity.

When you ask me what I mean by transcendence, you show that you haven't even been paying attention to the arguments for classical theism, so I don't know how much point there is in me going on any further.

As for Free-Thought-Free-Man, well, I'm almost speechless. Here I've been trying to show that, on a classical theistic conception of God, any finite created being couldn't count as God because he couldn't be the transcendent source of all existence, and here comes a lone man of brilliant insight to point out to me that I can't explain who created God. Since this objection could only come from someone who hasn't read more than a few words of what Ed has written or ever given a careful reading to Aquinas or any serious Thomistic philosopher, I won't bother to explain why the objection is, frankly, moronic. If Free-Thought wants to know why, he'll have to be a patient and careful reader; but if he's willing to be that, then he can just go read one of Ed's books. The only thing I'll point out is that Free-Thought's objection is precisely the objection I've been making to Anonymous, just turned inside out. Whereas for Free-Thought it's somehow an objection to the childish superficiality of "theists," for classical theists it's part of an argument to show why nothing conceived as "a guy in the sky" could possibly be God, even if something very much like "a guy in the sky" happens to be responsible for creating life on earth or the solar system or whatever. Given that Free-Thought either hasn't read or hasn't understood even the faintest outlines of Ed's post, I'm not sure that he'll be able to appreciate how his objection is a sort of deformed version of my own. In any event, I don't think I'm the one who needs to be told to be willing to dig a little deeper. Go read a book, kid.

Mike Flynn said...

Free-Thought Man:
Think of it just for a second. If we're going to say that all of this (universe, stones, cups, et al) were created by some guy in the sky then you have to answer this; what created the guy in the sky?


Perhaps if you thought about it for more than a second? Free-thought... Worth every penny.

First of all, "universe" is not a thing, like stones and cups. It is a set of all things. See Russell's Paradox, re the logical hazards of treating a set as a member of itself.

Second, the "guy in the sky" model is suitable for children, atheists, and fundamentalists. But you cannot hold children to blame for their immature rational faculties. We don't depend on the "common man's" mental model of the atom or his understanding of the quantum theory when we try to draw physical conclusions. Why should it be any different when it comes to drawing metaphysical conclusions?

Third, the old "who created God" chestnut is circular reasoning. Reasoning from causation in the world leads to the conclusion that there must be an uncaused cause. (And an unmoved mover, and so on.) Further logical analysis reveals that these are all the same being. (The unmoved mover is the uncaused cause is the etc.) And that this being has several deducible properties (it is Pure Act, it is singular, etc.). In particular, it is equated with Existence itself. If it could speak, it would call itself "I AM." That is, it is a being whose existence is necessary, not contingent. Only contingent being requires something else to bring it into being.

Given that it has the properties of the traditional idea of God, it is entirely reasonable to equate the being of Pure Act with that God. Especially since it can be logically established that there cannot be two such beings.

Fourth, this concept of God is not the same kind of being as tooth fairies, Thors, or flying spaghetti monsters. So comparisons to these critters are essentially silly, like equating gravity with love because they both attract others.

Hope this helps.

Anonymous said...

Transcendence means existence outside of something. If God is transcendent being, then he exists outside of our reality/universe. So what?

God can still have a body and be a physical being and be transcendent. And my point stands - classical theism cannot distinguish between an alien and God.

Here is my proof. A physical being (Bob) in universe A creates universe B in a computer as a simulation. Bob is in complete control of universe B and all things in it. He can make all things happen that he desires. But Bob still has a body and eats and has sex and dies in universe A. But to those living in universe B Bob is God and they worship him because he is transcendent to them and they can't get over the idea that classical theism with its ridiculous insistence on itself could just maybe be just an idea and nothing more.

Second, Bob has no need of universe B. He just made it up for fun. He can dispense with it at any time with zero loss to him.

Finally, Bob is incomprehensible to the beings living in Universe B because he programmed them not to be able to comprehend him - they are an experiment and nothing more.

And he is infinite to them because the way that time passes in the simulation he created.

Now suppose that Bob is also living in a simulation but doesn't know it. Suppose that the real God is Joe in Universe 0. Joe is more powerful that Bob. Joe finds out about Bob's project and wants to visit Universe B. He uses his superior power to enter the simulation inside the simulation, enter Universe B from Universe 0, through a projection. At the same time and quite unwittingly, Bob also enters his creation. Both meet in a village and both claim to be God. How does a villager decide who is more real?

Q said...

anonymous:

Please, stop. You're embarassing yourself.

Even your proof revolves more around tautological reasoning than it does genuine reason.

If mankind is unable to distinguish between a made-up Star Trek figure and the Actus Purus, then, damn it, he deserves to be damned.

Anonymous said...

I am not embarrassing myself. I am merely asking basic questions. Asking a question or proposing a thought experiment are hardly tautological.

My question is how does the villager know? (Also, assume that the holographic projection is so perfect that the villager is unable to distinguish it from a real body such as his own.) And you can't answer the question, nor can Feser.

Q said...

Anonymous:

Please, really, this is getting ridiculous.

The day that an infinitely divine entity visits somebody's War of Warcraft game, that's perhaps the day would have proved your point in what seems more like a demonstration of your idiocy than anything else.

Yours draws upon the false equivalency between humans and what are essentially binary beings, which even then would make no sense.

Anonymous said...

Joe and Bob can play a game wherein they alter the villager's memory and perception. Sometimes Bob appears evil, sometime Joe. The villager becomes confused. Whom shall he worship> Who is more worthy, Joe or Bob? How does the villager chose? Can anyone help him?

Anonymous said...

No no no. Q. Feser claims he can tell an alien God from real God. I want to know how he can do so. How does the villager know whether to worship Joe or Bob? You can't answer the question. Case closed. There is no answer. The Villager cannot tell. Feser cannot tell. Classical theism is a bunch of junk.

Anonymous said...

But I am not the idiot here. The philosopher who cannot answer the villager question is.

Q said...

Anonymous,

Your syllogism is such that:

To prove God exists, one must prove he is not Q.

One cannot prove he is not Q, therefore God does not exist.


Do you now know what's wrong with your 'thought' experiment (or the lack thereof) as well as your logic?

Anonymous said...

Q, how does the villager tell who to worship? Just an answer to a simple question. Can you provide an answer or not? You cannot. And neither can classical theism. Can you understand that?

Q said...

The villager in the software would be incapable of distinguishing some Jesus-Made-Tron-like figure from some 'Q' because it would be beyond his limited programming.

djr said...

Alright, one last try.

Anonymous says:

"Transcendence means existence outside of something. If God is transcendent being, then he exists outside of our reality/universe. So what?

God can still have a body and be a physical being and be transcendent. And my point stands - classical theism cannot distinguish between an alien and God."


Classical theism argues that the universe taken as the set of all contingent entities must be sustained in being by a non-contingent, i.e., necessary being. As I've pointed out a few times now, your conception of the alien's 'transcendence' takes 'universe' to be one of indefinitely many 'universes,' but that is not at all what classical theists mean by 'the universe.' Suppose there are multiple 'universes' in the sense you give that word; classical theists can accept that, but will insist nonetheless that those multiple universes themselves still consist of contingent beings, and so an adequate explanation of their existence requires appeal to a non-contingent, i.e., necessary being. Classical theists have given further arguments to support the claim that there could not conceivably be more than one necessary being, typically because a necessary being could not be finite, and numerically distinct beings must be finite. Just to make clear how different classical theism's sense of 'transcendence' is from yours, God is understood as transcending time, space, material, and even individuality as that applies to finite beings -- quite a far cry from merely existing in some other spatiotemporal dimension! Since any being with a body, no matter how relatively 'transcendent' he would be relative to our 'universe' would still be a finite, contingent being, he could not be God unless classical theism is entirely mistaken.

I'm still waiting for the part where you make some effort to show that classical theism is somehow even just implausible.

Anonymous said...

"Perhaps the strongest motivation for thinking that God exists necessarily is perfect-being or Anselmian theology. On an “Anselmian” conception of God, God is the greatest possible being; it is in the very nature of God that he essentially (and necessarily) possess all compossible perfections. Necessary existence is a perfection, it is thought, and therefore God must possess it" Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy.

But such a being cannot exist. Here is why. If it is perfect as the above suggests, then it cannot abide imperfection nor can it be its author. Yet our world with its imperfection and lies mocks this perfect being who presumably created it. How can this be? It cannot be and so classical theism is false.

Only senile academics and Church officials cling to it and refuse to move on and accept my Joe and Bob idea when its just as good, if not actually more possible than classical theism is with its unreasoning insistence on absolutes and perfections, none of which exist as actualities in our reality.

All we know from out experience is corruption and decay and ceaseless if pointless change from one state into another. How can this festering mess be the handiwork of the greatest of all possible beings?

Let me see you explain how a perfection gives rise to a festering heap of junk.

Maolsheachlann said...

Djr, do you mean that God would be unable to even manifest himself within the universe as a finite thing, like a pillar of fire or whatever?

Anonymous said...

Well, we can be certain this world does have festering heaps of junk in it. We just have to look at the argument the other anonymous is giving to realize that. ;)

Mike Flynn said...

How can this festering mess be the handiwork of the greatest of all possible beings?

Ah, the Gnostic heresy never dies. The hatred of the material world is a prime component. Along with Bob.

Q said...

"But such a being cannot exist. Here is why. If it is perfect as the above suggests, then it cannot abide imperfection nor can it be its author. Yet our world with its imperfection and lies mocks this perfect being who presumably created it."

Okay, there are just as many things wrong with this one as well.

For starters, how do you know that it is imperfect and not actually the best of all possible worlds?

A Perfect being cannot be mocked by what is, in all actuality, the best of all possible worlds; indeed, it ultimately becomes a testament to that being's perfection.

In the Christian view, the very testimony to this perfection can ultimately be found in the Word-Made-Flesh (Exultet).

Anonymous said...

Q, this is not the best of all possible worlds because it is possible to tell a lie. A lie is an error. A perfect being could not create a world in which there are errors. And lies are just one class of errors in our world. There are DNA mutations etc.

Before you say that DNA mutations are good, the point is that a perfect being could create only a perfect world, one in which there would be no need for evolution.

Or take suffering, if you don't like the error example. A perfectly good being could not abide even the smallest suffering. But suffering exists. So there is no necessary being as imagined by classical theists. And what about evil? Eh? How can the greatest of all beings allow evil?

Q said...

Anonymous:

Wow! The Problem of Evil? I guess you have me stumped! That is the most original argument that I've ever come across. However, the more interesting part is the fact that it's not so orginal and not even a fraction as good as those from more knowledgeable folks who actually know what they're talking about.


"So there is no necessary being as imagined by classical theists."

So, the creation of the universe via the Big Bang just magically occurred.

Just like how lightning magically happens and comes out of nowhere.

Anonymous said...

Here is another way of looking at it. Suppose that there is a God of classical theism. If so, then he is unknowable. If he is unknowable, then he is irrelevant to us as human beings. He's like a tree falling in a forest with no human to hear it.

Why? Because to make himself known to us, limited creatures, he would have to limit himself, if only for a moment, in order to become comprehensible to us. At that moment of limiting himself he ceases to be the best of all possible beings, becoming a lesser, comprehensible entity. Since he ceases to be the best of all possible beings, he cannot be that being to being with because not only can he embrace imperfection and limits in order to make himself known to us, once he knows imperfection and limits, how can he make himself perfect again?

Anonymous said...

But how do you reconcile, Q, evil with the best of all possible beings? It's actually irrational to posit a perfect being and the insist that evil can coexist along with that being.

Q said...

Anonymous,

I'm curious -- are you by any chance in elementary school?

Such a flawed, not to mention, puerile understanding of Catholic theology, let alone, classical theism betrays a mind that can only come from a First grader.

It may be better for you to educate yourself first in these matters concerning the Uncaused Cause prior to your demonstrating yet again the rather sad extent of your ignorance, not to mention, immaturity.

One cannot even attempt an argument with somebody who is obviously devoid of not only such knowledge but also apparantly common sense, too.

Anonymous said...

So you are saying there is no way that you can engage with what I wrote because you are too smart for that? In that case, I am afraid that I don't care about your ideas, friend. I reject them and substitute my own.

Q said...

It has nothing to do with being 'smart' as it does with being informed.

If I were to engage in a discussion concerning the subject matter of quantum mechanics, that person with whom I shall be having dialogue with should at least have had rudimentary knowledge concerning the physical sciences.

From what you've presented thus far, the only thing you've shown is some vague comprehension that seems more of the kindergarten variety as opposed to an actual intelligible understanding of what Classical theism itself consists.

Learn first concerning the latter; then, you might have something to argue about, friend.

Anonymous said...

But how does God make himself known to a lesser being without becoming lesser himself in the process? Do you have an answer, Q? Do you even comprehend the problem posed by the idea? Let me help you. It is the same as trying to explain classical theism in its fine points to someone like me. Not so easy to boil down the entire philosophy to a few sentences, is it? Now imagine the problem multiplied by infinity. Imagine God trying to make himself known to man. God would have to reduce himself somehow, but in doing that, he would cease to be God. He could not cease to be God because God's perfection could not abide him choosing an imperfect state.

You just don't appreciate my argument because you're no more than an amateur, like me. If you were a trained thinker, you'd immediately see my point.

Anonymous said...

Anon, God making Himself known to man does not mean 'having man utterly and completely comprehend Him'. Not even classical theists (certainly not Aquinas or other Christians, who always stressed God's infinitude) believe that. Luckily, that's not necessary. We can understand "enough". And God can also increase a lesser being to know Him, not just reduce Himself.

Your argument isn't an argument. It's just a complaint, at most.

Anonymous said...

If God promotes man, in any measure, then man no longer remains man but becomes a lesser god. So man ceases to be.

And how can a perfect being abide having to settle for half measures and the imperfection inherent of providing only "enough" knowledge about himself? Enough is a summary. God can't summarize himself because he would reduces himself to that summary in the eyes of man. The summary becomes an idol. Any lesser measure than a full measure acts as a blasphemous image. So "enough" can't really work at all.

Anonymous said...

Anon stated,

But how does God make himself known to a lesser being without becoming lesser himself in the process? Do you have an answer, Q?

This is like potty training a 2 year old. Anon, You assume that God making himself known requires an action on the part of God, classical theism holds that man can know God via reason. Let me ask you a question: Does your knowledge of infinity lessen infinity? No! In the same analogous sense, knowledge of God in no way lessens God.

Anonymous said...

All declaration, no argument, anon. Boring.

Try actually reading up on classical theism (and theism in general) and understanding it. This is on the level of "Can God make a rock so heavy..." antics.

Q said...

"But how does God make himself known to a lesser being without becoming lesser himself in the process?"

So man's knowledge of a singularity would somehow make a singularity lesser than what it actually is?


"Do you have an answer, Q? Do you even comprehend the problem posed by the idea? Let me help you. It is the same as trying to explain classical theism in its fine points to someone like me. Not so easy to boil down the entire philosophy to a few sentences, is it?"

And, yet, Pi is only 3.14?


"Now imagine the problem multiplied by infinity. Imagine God trying to make himself known to man. God would have to reduce himself somehow, but in doing that, he would cease to be God."

Well, as far as the Christian Faith is concerned, there is such a thing where the Word was Made Flesh, “Who, being in the form of God, did not count equality with God something to be grasped but emptied himself, taking the form of a servant...”

If God is omnipotent, surely, nothing would be impossible for a Supreme Being such as He, no? Therefore, I hardly think it beyond the omnipotence of such a Being to reveal Himself in such a manner to Man.

Yet, I still do not see how such an event would somehow render His omnipotence null. Ironically, you're the one imposing limitations on a Being that basically has no limits -- i.e., that than which no greater can be conceived.

If performing such a simple feat as this is beyond a being's capability, then, surely, this being is not that than which no greater can be conceived; and, therefore, not God.


"You just don't appreciate my argument because you're no more than an amateur, like me. If you were a trained thinker, you'd immediately see my point."

I'm sure that in some strange universe where mediocrity was capital, the argument "Since there exists not a diagnostics test that could distinguish god from 'Q'; therefore, there exists no god" is assuredly devestating.

Mike Flynn said...

It's actually irrational to posit a perfect being and the insist that evil can coexist along with that being.

You will have to establish that. It is not self-evident.

Anonymous said...

And, yet, Pi is only 3.14?

So God is analogous to a number? But Pi doesn't care that it is not know fully because Pi has no perfect justice. God has perfect justice, which could not abide man knowing God imperfectly, if God id also perfectly good. Why? Becuase perfect justice requires that perfect good be known to all since it is perfect. How can God perfect justice allow for any contingent being to know less of God than the full measure? God's justice cannot settle for half-truths, for "enough" or for the evil that results when he is not known fully.
-------------------------------------
It's actually irrational to posit a perfect being and the insist that evil can coexist along with that being.

You will have to establish that. It is not self-evident.

If a perfect being is perfectly good, powerful, and just, then it would be obliged by its justice to make all contingent beings who do not know its goodness able to know it fully. Further, since God is the ultimate form of existence, any other existence is less than his and so involves the absence of perfect good which means an existence of suffering. Perfectly good/just God cannot abide this and so he is obliged to make all contingent beings as he is, to share in his delightful existence.

Anonymous said...

It is irrational to argue that two fundamentally opposite things can be part of the same thing or be present in any one thing, including an instance of time. Either one is present or the other is not.

If, as classical theists assert (see below), God is everywhere, he and evil cannot be in the same place any at one time (because God's perfect justice cannot abide evil.) Yet evil is in our world so God cannot be in our world, but since he is everywhere, such an idea cannot be sustained.

God "is present everywhere, the creator and sustainer of the universe, a free agent, able to do everything (i.e. omnipotent), knowing all things, perfectly good, a source of moral obligation, immutable, eternal, a necessary being, holy and worthy of worship." This depiction is largely drawn from Richard Swinburne.

Q said...

Anon:

"It's actually irrational to posit a perfect being and the insist that evil can coexist along with that being."

If that's the case, then there would not be that little thing we know as the Transitional States of energy wherein the existance of 2 opposites actually does occur and, indeed, kinetic and thermodynamic arguments do allow for such a thing.


"And, yet, Pi is only 3.14? So God is analogous to a number?"

(1) I was not saying God was analogous to a number; although, I'm not at all surprised why you took it to mean that way given the rapidity of your comprehension.

(2) Pi does not actually equal 3.14.



Concerning the later comments, instead of plagerizing people's works, would you simply cite those works instead of pretending that these are actually your thoughts?

At the very least, you've come to some realization that your own thoughts in the matter (as well as all your other remarkably inferior attempts at some semblance of argumentation, not the least of which was that unassailable 'Q' refutation of God) are in reality deficient.

The Deuce said...

Hi, Ed, not sure if you'll read this comment, what with you having 60 already on this thread, but there's still something I'm not clear on.

When you talk about the god of Paley, and how ID assumes mechanism and so forth, what precisely do you mean?

Are you trying to say that the ID argument implies a mechanistic universe, or that IDists proponents assume it, or both, or neither?

Here's the structure of the ID argument as I understand it to be:

1) Living things are and/or have features that are more than the sum of their parts, exhibit function, or appear to be specified in some way.

2) The parts that make up living things are not specifically tailored toward the functional wholes that they comprise (ie, the atoms that make up a bacterial flagellum are not specific to the flagellum, but could be arranged in any number of unrelated ways). Therefore, the whole can't be accounted for by the existence of the parts.

3) It is logically possible to have the same physical laws that we know about without the existence of the whole we're trying to explain (ie, a universe with the same laws as ours could exist, but with no flagellums or humans). Therefore, the whole isn't accounted for by the existence of physical laws.

4) The whole we're trying to explain is too unlikely to have come about by chance.

5) Therefore, the whole was planned.

Okay, assuming I've summarized the argument accurately, which part of this do you think implies a mechanistic universe or a limited god? Or is what you're calling the ID argument different from this?

Anonymous said...

Classical theism is irrational because it posists a God who"is present everywhere, the creator and sustainer of the universe, a free agent, able to do everything (i.e. omnipotent), knowing all things, perfectly good, a source of moral obligation, immutable, eternal, a necessary being, holy and worthy of worship."

Present everywhere. omnipotent, perfectly good (and presumably just) yet there is right in his face Evil, error, corruption. Haha. What possible logic (I reject the free will defense) can you propose to explain the contradiction? None! Why is this so hard people? What's the problem? I am still waiting for anyone to present a coherent argument that reconciles the God of classical theism with the existence of error and evil.

RP said...

Anon,

How can God be present everywhere when there is evil? That's easy, anyone who has ever read Plato or Aristotle, and it is apparent you haven't, could solve that one.

Since there is no change in the God of classicial theism, there is no corruption or imperfection. So, evil is merely a lack of what should be there in terms of the perfection. No evil, no change, evil is merely a lack of the perfection and exists only because of the perfection. NEXT!

Anonymous said...

Since there is no change in the God of classicial theism, there is no corruption or imperfection. So, evil is merely a lack of what should be there in terms of the perfection. No evil, no change, evil is merely a lack of the perfection and exists only because of the perfection. NEXT!

You know, I don't really care if Augustine or Aristotle proved this to be true. If they thought that the idea of a perfect being is consistent with presence of evil in the world then they irrational. I certainly will not waste my time trying to understand them so that I can become like you and thoughtlessly repeat irrational ideas.

Zach said...

"You know, I don't really care if Augustine or Aristotle proved this to be true. If they thought that the idea of a perfect being is consistent with presence of evil in the world then they irrational. I certainly will not waste my time trying to understand them so that I can become like you and thoughtlessly repeat irrational ideas."

Someone's been reading too much Dawkins ...