Sunday, September 30, 2012

The Avengers and classical theism


Watched The Avengers again on Blu-ray the other night.  In a movie full of good lines, a few stand out for (of all things) their theological significance.  Take the exchange between Black Widow and Captain America after the Norse god Thor forcibly removes his brother Loki from S.H.I.E.L.D.’s custody, Iron Man gives chase, and Captain America prepares to follow:

Black Widow: I’d sit this one out, Cap.  

Captain America: I don’t see how I can.

Black Widow: These guys come from legend, they’re basically gods.

Captain America: There’s only one God, ma’am.  And I’m pretty sure he doesn’t dress like that.

Or consider the scene in which Nick Fury, director of S.H.I.E.L.D., exchanges words with the imprisoned Loki:

Loki: It burns you to have come so close.  To have the Tesseract, to have power -- unlimited power -- and for what?  A warm light for all mankind to share?  And then to be reminded what real power is.

Nick Fury (walking away from Loki’s cell contemptuously): Well let me know if real power wants a magazine or something.


Loki: Enough!  You are all of you beneath me.  I am a god, you dull creature.  And I will not be bullied by…

[The Hulk grabs him, repeatedly smashes him to the floor like a rag doll, then walks away as Loki lays there moaning]

Hulk: Puny god.

We cannot assume Captain America to have had time between battles to study classical philosophy and theology, but his words could be read as containing implicitly the answer to pop atheism’s “one god further” objection (which I have discussed here, here, and here).  The God of classical theism is not “a god” among others, precisely because He isn’t an instance of any kind in the first place, not even a unique instance.  He is beyond any genus.  He is not “a being” alongside other beings and doesn’t merely “have” or participate in existence alongside all the other things that do.  Rather, He just is ipsum esse subsistens or Subsistent Being Itself.  He is First Cause not in the sense of being the cause that came before the second, third, fourth, fifth, etc. causes, but rather in the sense of having primal or absolutely underived causal power whereas everything else has causal power in only a derivative and thus secondary way.  He is not “a person” but rather the infinite Intellect and Will of which the persons of our experience are mere faint reflections.   Since He has no essence distinct from His existence which could even in principle be shared with anything else, He is not the sort of thing there could intelligibly be more than one of.  And so forth.  Nothing less than this could be the ultimate source of all things and thus nothing less could truly be divine.  (See my earlier posts on classical theism for the rundown.)

Hence the good Captain was correct to insist that there is only one God and that He just isn’t the sort of thing that wears a superhero costume, wields a hammer, can get knocked around by Iron Man, etc.  (Whether you think the God of classical theism actually exists is not to the point -- for the point is that if He exists, He is not the sort of thing of which Thor, Loki, et al. are instances.)  Fury was right to mock Loki’s claim to be “real power” since even if Loki existed, his power, however great, would still be merely participated or derived power rather than the Power Itself that is the God of classical theism.  The Hulk was right to dismiss Loki as “puny” despite his claim to divinity, since any god would, even if he existed, be merely one creature among others and thus (like everything else) be puny compared to the God of classical theism.  

Such beings, if they existed, would differ in no significant respect from the powerful extraterrestrials, other-dimensional beings, etc. of modern science fiction.  And thus it is no surprise that that is exactly how they are treated in contemporary pop culture.  Thor, Loki, and Co. would simply not be worthy of worship even if they existed.  But let’s give ‘em their due: They make for some bitchin’ comic book and movie characters!

160 comments:

marycatelli said...

A number of sober and sensible comic book atheists have rejected the actual existing gods of their universes as evidence against them on the grounds that most superheroes fit the same bill, without the worship bit.

Douglas Beaumont said...

Argumentum ad holcas?

Maolsheachlann said...

Dawkins actually says in the God Delusion that he doesn't see why polytheism makes any less sense than monotheism. I don't know what you can do with someone like that.

The "one god further" argument seems like saying: "Every theory as to the identity of Jack the Ripper has failed to convince. Isn't it clear by now that there never was a Jack the Ripper?"

As for superhero films, I have decided not to patronise them anymore. I reckon one or two superhero films per decade would be sufficient. A flamboyantly dressed, strangely named hero is stretching my sense of the ridiculous far enough, but when they consistently face flamboyantly dressed, strangely-named antagonists-- and nobody seems to notice anything odd about this-- my sense of the ridiculous snaps.

And so many of them take themselves oh so seriously...

TheOFloinn said...

@Maolsheachlann

I mentioned your complaint to Syllogisman, who used his Way Kool mind powers. These are the superpowers that he uses to demolish bad arguments wielded by villains like Ad-Hominman.

Christian said...

I like how you closed things with that last sentence.

Aaron said...

I guess it's a little ironic that Captain America's religious beliefs turn out to be an accurate representation of the God of classical theism, given that the movie was written and directed by a flaming atheist.

Edward Feser said...

I guess it's a little ironic that Captain America's religious beliefs turn out to be an accurate representation of the God of classical theism, given that the movie was written and directed by a flaming atheist.

Yes, I had the same thought. But it speaks well of Joss Whedon that he didn't let his personal views get in the way of writing the character in a plausible way.

Maolsheachlann said...

The OFloinn said: "I mentioned your complaint to Syllogisman, who used his Way Kool mind powers. These are the superpowers that he uses to demolish bad arguments wielded by villains like Ad-Hominman."

OK, I would make an exception to go see THAT superhero movie...!

Scott W. said...

As for superhero films, I have decided not to patronise them anymore

As have I. There is a kind of scotosis among conservatives about superheroes. The only one I know who really notices it is film-critic James Bowman. See his article: The Hero Vanishes

Maolsheachlann said...

Thanks for that. I wouldn't actually agree with that fellow entirely though. He seems to have his guns trained on all fantastical cinema whatsoever. Whereas I think fantastic storytelling is more venerable than realistic storytelling. It's just the superhero genre I find exasperatingly juvenile, ludicrous and repetitive.

OK, I'm going to shut up now.

Anonymous said...

@Maolsheachlann

But Christ was a superhero!

Frank said...

I feel like this might be the post to ask a question which will expose an embarassing dearth of philosophical knowledge on my part; I know plenty about Marvel Comics after all so I'm more at home amongst the comments here than on most posts!

Dr Feser writes that God is not the first cause in the sense of coming before the 2nd, 3rd, 4th...etc. If I understand correctly this is related to the 'here and nowness' of God's sustaining power. I understand this most of the time in an 'up and down' sense: at 'bottom' (and 'top' if you follow a separate chain of causes holding a thing together) God is holding things together, spinning all the plates as it were.

My question is: doesn't Aquinas' second way concern what a person might reasonably term 'left-to-right' (ie temporal) causality, in a way similar to the Kalam cosmological argument?

PS: Thanos, a super-baddie in love with death, makes an appearance after the Avengers end-credits suggesting he will feature in a subsequent movie tie in...just thought it would be polite to share some of my, uh...'cough'...knowledge.

The Masked Chicken said...

I just bought the Avengers DVD, since it came out this week (as far as I know from shopping brick and mortar places). Captain America's line struck me, as well. It was the most sensible thing in the movie. Of course, most comics before 1967 held this sentiment. There is an interesting line of demarcation in comics history from holding a largely Christian viewpoint to an occultist viewpoint, from a hierarchical concept of beings to pure materialism. I can't read comics beyond the silver age. They terrify me much more than the Strange Tale comics of the 1950s. I wish a social psychologist would study how comics came to be so screwed up after 1970 or so.

Crude said...

marycatelli,

A number of sober and sensible comic book atheists have rejected the actual existing gods of their universes as evidence against them on the grounds that most superheroes fit the same bill, without the worship bit.

I've heard this before, and I understand the reasoning behind it. But I think it doesn't work. Just because you don't think much of the gods in question doesn't suffice to make a man an atheist, or at least it shouldn't.

I know we're talking about comic book characters, but at the end of the day comics (at least Marvel and DC) are filled to the brim with full-blown mythology deities who really did quite a lot of what was attributed to them (creating worlds, beings, etc.) Now, maybe someone could argue whether or not those beings are worthy of worship. But I don't think it works to make that the standard - it turns atheism into almost a purely subjective opinion thing.

When I now and then read about atheists in those comics (and they seem to outnumber the sincere Christians - assuming any exist in comics other than caricatured villains), I can't help but think they are such because the writers want atheists in the comic, period. If you're aware that you sit next to Thor every other week in a jet, it doesn't matter if you think Thor's a jackass or something. You're a theist of some flavor at that point.

Crude said...

The Masked Chicken,

There is an interesting line of demarcation in comics history from holding a largely Christian viewpoint to an occultist viewpoint, from a hierarchical concept of beings to pure materialism. I can't read comics beyond the silver age. They terrify me much more than the Strange Tale comics of the 1950s. I wish a social psychologist would study how comics came to be so screwed up after 1970 or so.

I agree with you, and it's across all media as well. Comic books, video games, cartoons, etc. Christians and the Christian perspective is rare to find. I'm pretty sure, in cartoons and comics, the number of obvious and practicing jews outnumber the Christians at this point.

flammeusgladius said...

Actually, Captain America could say this and be a Mormon. And Mormons do not believe in the God beyond contingency of classical theism.

I certainly believe in such a God -- but I don't think it's very Christian of Christians to be constantly congratulating ourselves on our superior philosophical acumen.

Nor would I say that the Norse Thor was merely a glorified superhero. Certainly Odin is an adumbration of Christ -- which C.S. Lewis has pointed out.

Edward Feser said...

Actually, Captain America could say this and be a Mormon. And Mormons do not believe in the God beyond contingency of classical theism.

I certainly believe in such a God -- but I don't think it's very Christian of Christians to be constantly congratulating ourselves on our superior philosophical acumen.

Tell you what, I'll make it up to my Mormon readers by voting for Mitt Romney.

Anonymous said...

@Edward Feser

Are you planning on doing a review on Nagel's new anti-materialist book?

Edward Feser said...

Anon,

Yes, soon.

Anonymous said...

Great! I really look forward to it!

Jay Kay said...

"He [the god of classical theism] is not 'a person' but rather the infinite Intellect and Will of which the persons of our experience are mere faint reflections."

Nor is he three persons. He's an impersonal formless blob with no emotions and no will, and a purely static mind since he can take in no new information and thus cannot think. All his "thoughts" were expended in one moment or less because he is "immutably" in the most absurdly absolute sense of being incapable of thinking in linear terms. He cannot answer prayer because he cannot think, and exists outside of time, locked in a prison created by philosophers run amok. In short, he is not the God of the Bible, nor even the Trinitarian God of pre-Augustinian times. He's an Augustian/post-Augustinian abstraction who doesn't command the respect or fear of anyone on earth because he's not even a "he" nor is he three hes. He's a formless impersonal blob.

Maolsheachlann said...

I can respect a God who is pure act, and who answers my time-bound prayers from his eternity outside time, more than I could a God who is caught up in the whirls and eddies of contingency. Maybe that's just me.

Anonymous said...

I've heard this before, and I understand the reasoning behind it. But I think it doesn't work. Just because you don't think much of the gods in question doesn't suffice to make a man an atheist, or at least it shouldn't.



Indeed. Some great thinkers in antiquity DID refure 'the gods', but not 'God'... they refused the idea of the mythological gods because they found it implausible, but accepted that there was a God... i.e. some supreme power above all else (like Aristotle's unmoved mover, etc)

Of course these thinkers were also labelled as 'atheists' (and so were Christians btw), but the meaning of 'atheist' was very different from what we mean today.

Also they were clearly smarted than Dawkins & co.

Anonymous said...

I certainly believe in such a God -- but I don't think it's very Christian of Christians to be constantly congratulating ourselves on our superior philosophical acumen.



Why not? Christians are constantly under attack, being ridicules and called 'ignorant' and 'stuipid'.

I think it's not only a privilege but also a DUTY to show that Christianity (or at least classical theism) is more often than not intellectually superior to the beliefs and philosophies of those who critique it, since such critics are often in the wrong... and fraternal correction is a Christian virtue.

Adam said...

Christianity (or at least classical theism) is more often than not intellectually superior to the beliefs and philosophies of those who critique it

I'm curious about how you can justify that position.

Accepting any proposition without evidence will never be intellectually superior to requiring the evidence first.

Anonymous said...

Accepting any proposition without evidence will never be intellectually superior to requiring the evidence first.


Proposition: "Science/empiricism is the only way of knowing facts about the world"

Skeptic: "The proposition that "Science/empiricism is the only way of knowing facts about the world" does not have any evidence to support it (the mere attempt to provide said evidence will be a circular fallacy).

Conclusion: Empiricism, scientism and any other doctrine based on some evidentialist belief is therefore intellectually inferior.

Adam said...

@Anonymous:

Your proposition is invalid.

The correct form of that proposition is as follows:

Before accepting a method as valid for knowing facts about the world, it should prove to reliably identify true positions and limit the number of false positions accepted.

Skeptic: "I evaluated several mechanisms and thus far, science/empiricism has proved to be successful. Others have not. However, other mechanisms will continue to be evaluated. Science/empiricism will also continue to be re-evaluated to ensure it continues to prove reliable."

Conclusion: We continue to search for the best mechanism, and tentatively accept Science/Empiricism until other more successful systems are discovered.

Brian said...

I'm pretty sure Catholicism is evidentialist. Evidence is the best and most sure way to acquire knowledge. The theologians are all pretty clear on that.

Glenn said...

Accepting any proposition without evidence will never be intellectually superior to requiring the evidence first.

Let proposition P = "There is no God."

Adam said...

@Glenn

If you're asserting there is no God, you assume the burden of Proof.

Valid Positions:

1. There is a God or many Gods
2. There is/are no God/Gods.
3. I'm not convinced of 1 or 2.

The default position is 3.

2 is actually impossible to prove.

Some people assert 2. When they do, they acquire the burden of proof - i.e. they acquire an impossible burden.

The only provable position is 1.

2 is impossible to prove.

3 requires no proof but must be abandoned if 1 is proven.

TheOFloinn said...

Accepting any proposition without evidence will never be intellectually superior to requiring the evidence first.

Do you have any evidence for that claim?

Glenn said...

Adam,

If you're asserting there is no God,

Silly person.

- - - - -

I provided a proposition upon which to test your proposition. Your response has been to show what I implied--that, according to your proposition, it is a mark of intellectual inferiority to accept as true the proposition "There is no God" without requiring evidence first.

In the event that the response to my comment re proposition P ("there is no God") had been founded on the claim that that proposition may be taken as the negation of an earlier proposition ("There is a God"), I was prepared to inquire as to how you could be sharp enough to take that tack, yet miss [what TheOFlonin has already called attention to].

Anonymous said...

@adam

I evaluated several mechanisms and thus far, science/empiricism has proved to be successful. Others have not.

This is not only fallacious it's also not true. Pre-scientific thought upon which science is based on does a fantastic job of helping us discover facts.

Again, using your own claims about empiricism being "they way" the method itself ends up being self-refuting. Any attempt to claim otherwise is circularly fallacious. The claim that empiricism is somehow "better" than other methods is not itself empirically verifiable.

Your argument fails.

Glenn said...

Inadvertent transposition; my apologies; s/b TheOFloinn.

Adam said...

@TheOFloinn,

The argument rests upon the subjective definition of "intellectually superior". Which, while up for debate, I suggest should be "that which most reliably arrives at the truth."

If we can't agree upon that definition of "intellectually superior", I'm curious what you would propose.

@Glenn,

I used a poor choice of words, I should have said "If one asserts there is no God" instead of "you assert".

Your assert God(s) / assert No God(s) dichotomy is pretty common in these discussions, but it's false. It misses the base position from which one makes those decisions. While one is picking a position, which of your two categories do they fall into?

@Anon,

You're right - the statement "Others have not" is false.

Numerous systems may produce correct results. Some of those however, may produce more correct results than others. The "pre-scientific" methods which are used to determine truth are still evidence based systems which evaluate results.

Do you claim that valuing evidence is circular because we rely upon the evidence of it's efficacy to begin to value it?

We could play word games replacing the words or inserting extra steps to make it triangular etc, but I'm just going to go ahead and agree with you to get past this point.

If you don't value evidence, what evidence can I provide to convince you? (Rhetorical)

TheOFloinn said...

I evaluated several mechanisms and thus far, science/empiricism has proved to be successful. Others have not.

Actually, mathematics has been far more successful. Any theorem, having been demonstrated with a valid proof, stands for all time, whereas all theories determined by empirical methods are tentative and can and will be demolished by other empirical evidence to be discovered at a later time.

Or to put it another way, the scientific methods have been successful at doing what scientific methods are supposed to do. They will not be sufficient, or even useful at all, in other fields, like art, justice, literature, et al., unless one stretches "empirical method" to such a broad generality as to be meaningless for methodology.

As Einstein remarked to Heisenberg, "Theory determines what can be observed." The scientific failure of pure and unadulterated empiricism is the supposition that you can collect answers without first having questions.

Anonymous said...

The "pre-scientific" methods which are used to determine truth are still evidence based systems which evaluate results.

Evidence is often used to refer to sense data. That's the definition I was going by. Your definition is a lot more broad. I don't have an axe to grind if you define as "evidence" things that go beyond sense data.

If you don't value evidence,

I never said that and I don't know why you would think that. My critique is pertinent to empiricist claims trying to raise empiricism to a status above other forms of inquiry, which are ironically superior to empiricism.

If your statement was not a blanket endorsement of empiricism but rather a statement with a much broader scope that goes beyond sense data then I don't think there is much disagreement.

TheOFloinn covers the issue rather well in his last response by the way.

TheOFloinn said...

Some X-posting here.

I had pointed out that the proposition P
P = "Accepting any proposition without evidence will never be intellectually superior to requiring the evidence first."
must be accepted without first requiring evidence. It has not to do with the squishiness of the term "intellectually superior."

If P is true, then the truth of P is founded on an intellectually inferior basis, which by this reasoning puts it on shaky footing.

the subjective definition of "intellectually superior"...should be "that which most reliably arrives at the truth."

Which puts us in a dilemma. How do we know it relies at truth unless we have an external determination of truth.

The supervisor of a metrology lab once bragged to a tour of visiting specialists that his lab was "more accurate than the Bureau of Standards." To this, one of the tour group whispered, "How would he know?" Same issue.

"Reliability" has a technical meaning that does not seem to apply here; but perhaps it might be that "useful" would. The empirical method that is sometimes used in natural science is definitely useful, in that engineers may use the results to build valuable products, but it is useful in achieving facts, not truth. Nothing in it helps a couple remain true to each other. In fact, any effort to use the empirical method -- say, by hiring a detective to spy on your Gspusi -- would probably destroy the truth.

Adam said...

Sorry, Blogger ate my lengthy reply, so I'm going to be lazy in my reconstitution of it - omitting several points for brevity.

@Anon,
I'm curious about your definition of evidence. Not an attack, or a defense of any other point, almost disconnected from any previous posts. What's your definition of it?

@TheOFloinn,
It has everything to do with the term "intellectually superior". If one defines it as "other people agree with it", it's very different from "requiring less assumptions", which is different from "arrives most reliably at the truth".

If you rely upon the final definition, then we go to the method which has been most reliable at finding the truth - evaluation of evidence. If that changes at some point to be a different system (hard to even imagine what it could be), then the statement would be false. However, currently, evaluation of evidence is verifiably our most reliable mechanism for arriving at the truth.

How do we determine if something is true: rather lengthy debate on it's own, but I'll go back to evaluation of evidence for and against.

Now you go to a definition of truth which is different from facts, for which there should be a different word to avoid this argument - maybe "dedicated", "faithful", "honest", etc.

Eduardo said...

The word truth means what ???

If the word truth is molded after a characteristic of reality, then what characteristic is that?

If truth is to find a way to guess future states of a system, then a cluster of enquiry systems is used to predict those * you will get science in its full spectrum, not just the experiment and model that wanted to be tested, but all philosophical assumptions that come with the territory *

If truth is to be less wrong, then we have to identify what sytem can separate right and wrong statements, and yet we wouldn´t know if we know the truth, or we are just playing mind games with ourselves and the data.

If truth is simply the person´s own metaphysics and overall assumptions about reality, then truth is just whatever group of ideas that is not incoherent with those assumptions.

If you can not stablish the ruler (TRUTH), you can´t get close and far away form it because you would have no way to know IT. So we are back at the bootstrapping point, to save scientism/empiricism, not that Adam is a defender of both but you catch drift, we have seen this before.

Anonymous said...

@adam

What's your definition of it?

Like I said, when the term evidence is in use, I hold that what is meant is the standard definition used in the sciences, which is sense data.

I don't mind if you change the definition or broaden it nor do I necessarily have a preference so long as the person using the term is clear what what he/she means.

For example, the undeniable existence of teleology in reality is something that I have no problem referring to as evidence (broader definition). However, due to the limits of scientific inquiry that is not something that scientists can investigate in the strict empirical sense and would thus not be defined as evidence (narrow definition).

The problem with scientism/empiricism is that it becomes blind to other aspects of reality and in the extreme dogmatic cases even denies certain realities. Justice for example, is not something that science can investigate because science is too inept. As a result, one can deny (and many have) that there is no such a thing as justice simply because science cannot investigate it. That is of course the narrow-mindedness of modern anti-intellectualists and nothing more.

ozero91 said...

The point is, empiricism is damn good at what it does, but, it cannot do everything. That's why metaphysics has not died.

TheOFloinn said...

How do we determine if something is true: ...I'll go back to evaluation of evidence for and against.

Which makes it all very circular. If we define truth as something arrive at via the empirical method, then of course the empirical method is the best way to arrive at it. But begging the question is not really all that intellectually reliable.

+ + +
Now you go to a definition of truth which is different from facts, for which there should be a different word to avoid this argument - maybe "dedicated", "faithful", "honest", etc.

Actually, I used "truth" in its actual meaning: O.E. triewð (W.Saxon) "faithfulness, from triewe, "faithful" Hence, its related second meaning: "accuracy, correctness" (as in a true line of bricks or true north).

There are already two distinct words. The confusion of many folks comes from conflating "truth" with "fact," which obscures the fundamental difference between them. In natural science, the criterion is "true to the facts," that is, "faithful to the facts." The is called the "correspondence definition of truth." (And of course, a finite set of facts will always support multiple interpretations, and it is easy to make the further error of conflating the facts with interpretations of the facts.)

So for example, the Copenhagen theory is true to the facts of quantum mechanics. So is the many-worlds theory. So is Cramer's transactional theory. So is... I think there are five or six quantum theories. All of them are true (faithful) to the facts of quantum mechanics.

Mathematics otoh uses the criterion of "true to its axioms" -- called the "coherence" definition of truth. Her theorems are not arrived at by induction from empirical facts, but by deduction from first principles.

Literature uses the criterion of "true to life," which is empirical but of a different sort than in natural science. Even a fable can be true. Beauty and the Beast is true, even though none of it is factual; and the truth of it is that "sometimes a person has to be loved before he becomes lovable."

Anonymous said...

@the OFloinn

Actually, I used "truth" in its actual meaning: O.E. triewð (W.Saxon) "faithfulness, from triewe, "faithful" Hence, its related second meaning: "accuracy, correctness" (as in a true line of bricks or true north).

Can you elaborate on the connection between faithful and true?

Eduardo said...

O_O OMG ... U_U don't know why but that definition or truth was profound man. It gave me goosebumps

ozero91 said...

"O_O OMG ... U_U don't know why but that definition or truth was profound man. It gave me goosebumps"

"You can't handle the truth!"

Eduardo said...

I KNOW!!!

Adam said...

@TheOFloinn,
That was a very nice response. I really enjoyed reading it.

I already admitted above that I'd simply admit that valuing evidence is circular because we rely upon the evidence of it's efficacy to begin to value it.

What I'm curious about now is what mechanism you'd suggest as a viable replacement for finding truth.

I'm open to taking your (very nice and well formed) statement about Beauty and the Beast as poetry if you'd like, but I'm curious about what mechanism you used to arrive at the fact that it's true to life, or that one must be loved before they can become lovable. Did those facts become arrived at through a mechanism other than evaluating evidence for and against them?

Arthur said...

"He's an impersonal formless blob with no emotions and no will, and a purely static mind since he can take in no new information and thus cannot think."

I'm actually interested what the answer to this problem is, since it's occurred to me, too. I'm aware that God is meant to be timeless, changeless, and so on, but doesn't that leave God static, in a way, "dead", and thus not sufficiently God-like?

Couldn't an atheist agree that there's a timeless, changeless ground of being but say that it's misleading to call it God?

21st Century Scholastic said...

@Arthur:

>>>I'm actually interested what the answer to this problem is, since it's occurred to me, too. I'm aware that God is meant to be timeless, changeless, and so on, but doesn't that leave God static, in a way, "dead", and thus not sufficiently God-like?

One should not be misled into thinking that God’s immutability is like the immutability of a rock only more so. What God and rocks appear to have in common is only the fact that they do not change. The reason for their unchangeableness is for polar-opposite reasons. The Rock of Gibraltar does not change or changes very little because it is hardly in act at all, and the change that it does undergo is mainly from outside causes—wind and rain. God is unchangeable not because he is inert or static like a rock, but for just the opposite reason. He is so dynamic, so active that no change can make him more active. He is act pure and simple... (Thomas G. Weinandy, Does God Suffer? pp. 78-79)

>>>Couldn't an atheist agree that there's a timeless, changeless ground of being but say that it's misleading to call it God?

Not so easily, given how "a timeless, changeless ground of being" has all the properties commonly attributed to a God (and that's whay Aquinas famously said of the actus purus that "this all men call God". For a thorough demonstration, see q. 3-26 of the Treatise on God in the Summa).

Tony said...

What I'm curious about now is what mechanism you'd suggest as a viable replacement for finding truth.

Well, there are them there self-evident truths: "The whole is not less than the part," for example. Or "a thing cannot both 'be' and 'not be' in exactly the same respect.

We simply do not need evidence to pile up before us, instance after instance, to know these truths. Once we know what the terms mean, we know that the propositions are true.

The fact that you are willing to allow empiricism to be circular, but not allow other methods to do so, is a bit silly, isn't it?

Eduardo said...

Basically truth is found by your mental abilities, being one of them empirical data that you gather around.

Scientism and Empiricism just try to get this idea and shrink until it become just the method of enquiry that the defender likes/supports.

It is a common thing for us to put trust on a system that works often, is just that some people go a step further and idolize the damn method as some sort of STARGATE towards reality!!!

basically saying, we get addicted easily to methodological/systematical approach.

Glenn said...

@Glenn,

I used a poor choice of words, I should have said "If one asserts there is no God" instead of "you assert".


Oh well. You can't beat City Hall, so fair enough.

Your assert God(s) / assert No God(s) dichotomy is pretty common in these discussions, but it's false. It misses the base position from which one makes those decisions. While one is picking a position, which of your two categories do they fall into?

Actually, I mentioned one proposition, then subsequently responded to your response by stating that I had been prepared to make an inquiry had you raised the dichotomy (more specifically, had you responded by saying that that proposition was the negation of an earlier proposition).

That said, regarding the "base position" to which you refer, are you of the opinion that, e.g., Aristotle or Aquinas missed it?

This question brings us back full circle to your question regarding whether evidence is (to be) relied upon in reaching conclusions thought, believed or taken to be true, as well as to the additional question of what may be taken as constituting evidence.

Anonymous' simple counter to your original proposition had to do with (self-defeating) assertions regarding the sufficiency of empirical evidence in all instances--the point being that not all evidence is necessarily empirical. In defending against Anonymous' simply counter, you seemed to be taking sides in favor of the contrary--i.e., you seemed to be aligning yourself with the position that all evidence that is evidence is necessarily empirical (or, to put it another way, anything alleged to be evidence which is not empirical is not evidence in fact).

marycatelli said...

"I'm aware that God is meant to be timeless, changeless, and so on, but doesn't that leave God static, in a way, "dead", and thus not sufficiently God-like?"

This is because you think of a lack of change as a failure to realize potentials. God, being fully actualized, is never merely potentially something.

We are glad when children grow up, but we are not glad when the aged lose their hair, their mobility, their reason -- because they are losing actualized potentials, not actualizing potential.

Arthur said...

"This is because you think of a lack of change as a failure to realize potentials."

You know, I think that's it. Thanks, guys.

Arthur said...

Hang on, I've just realized that there's more to this.

If God is changeless, sure, I can can see how that means that God isn't, say, failing to learn something that He might otherwise learn, and so on. God's changelessness doesn't contradict His perfection. Indeed, it seems to be a precondition for it.

However, where does changelessness leave God's thoughts or desires? I take it that, in at least some analagous sense, God is meant to have those. What is a thought if not a temporal, changing process? That seems to be what motivates the worry that a changless God would be, in some sense, "dead".

TheOFloinn said...

@Anon
Can you elaborate on the connection between faithful and true?

1.0 faith (n.) mid-13c., "duty of fulfilling one's trust," from O.Fr. feid, foi "faith, belief, trust, confidence, pledge," from L. fides "trust, faith, confidence, reliance, credence, belief," from root of fidere "to trust"

2.0 truth (n.) O.E. triewð (W.Saxon), treowð (Mercian) "faithfulness, quality of being true," from triewe, treowe "faithful" (Notice that troth and truth are the same term.)

1.1 faithful (adj.) c.1300,"full of faith," also "firm in allegiance," from faith + -ful.

2.1 true (adj.) O.E. triewe (W.Saxon), treowe (Mercian) "faithful, trustworthy," from P.Gmc. *trewwjaz "having or characterized by good faith" (cf. O.Fris. triuwi, Du. getrouw, O.H.G. gatriuwu, Ger. treu, O.N. tryggr, Goth. triggws "faithful, trusty") Cf., from same root, Lith. drutas "firm," Welsh drud, O.Ir. dron "strong," Welsh derw "true," O.Ir. derb "sure."

3.0 trust (n.) c.1200, from O.N. traust "help, confidence," from P.Gmc. *traust- (cf. O.Fris. trast, Du. troost "comfort, consolation," O.H.G. trost "trust, fidelity," Ger. Trost "comfort, consolation," Goth. trausti "agreement, alliance"). Related to O.E. treowian "to believe, trust," and treowe "faithful, trusty" (see true).

Basically, faith is the Latinate equivalent of the Germanic truth. Someone who remains true is worthy of trust and you can have faith in him.

Special bonus:
4.0 belief (n.) late 12c., bileave, replacing O.E. geleafa "belief, faith," from W.Gmc. *ga-laubon "to hold dear, esteem, trust" (cf. O.S. gilobo, M.Du. gelove, O.H.G. giloubo, Ger. Glaube), from *galaub- "dear, esteemed," from intensive prefix *ga- + *leubh- "to care, desire, like, love" (see love).

Thus, "belief" is faith with love attached. You can have faith in science; but you believe in your spouse.

TheOFloinn said...

Couldn't an atheist agree that there's a timeless, changeless ground of being but say that it's misleading to call it God?

Except that the logical deductions from the existence of a being of pure act (BPA) is that it has the attributes traditionally supposed of God.

Imagining timelessness is well-nigh impossible for beings embedded in the flow of time. It's like imagining irrational numbers or conjoining topologies on a function space. General relativity helps. We know from there that time does not exist in itself, but is a consequence of changing matter. (Aquinas: "Time is the measure of change in corruptible matter.") Hence: no matter = no time.

To imagine this as "static" is incoherent. Static is within time: a particular thing does not change from one moment to another. But for an immaterial being, there is no one moment or another, and therefore no stasis.

Glenn said...

However, where does changelessness leave God's thoughts or desires? I take it that, in at least some analagous sense, God is meant to have those. What is a thought if not a temporal, changing process? That seems to be what motivates the worry that a changless God would be, in some sense, "dead".

Something not temporal not having something in the temporal sense motivates worry? Or is it predicating something temporal of something not temporal that is worrisome?

Arthur said...

I suppose it's predicating thoughts and desires (even analagously) to God when God is meant to be changeless. So yeah, option B, "predicating something temporal of something not temporal".

Anonymous said...

@TheOFloin

Thank you for the linguistic genealogy. It was truly enjoyable to read.


Someone who remains true is worthy of trust and you can have faith in him.

Correct me if I am wrong, but here the term true addresses the actions of a person towards you. To deconstruct it, it addresses a general disposition of a given person to behave in at least one of (if not all) the following ways towards you: friendly, consistent, affectionate, rational, interested, empathetic, cooperative etc.

In this respect truth, trust and faith are terms whose subject is not an abstract proposition but instead a dynamic and mindful person.

Am I getting this right?

In addition, what is the connection between this form of Personal Truth and the Platonic/Intellectual Truth that is usually the core of metaphysical contemplation?

Jay Kay said...

"Hang on, I've just realized that there's more to this....However, where does changelessness leave God's thoughts or desires?"

By the classical theist definition of change, wouldn't creating the world be a change? When God created the world, he entered a new relationship. One moment he is not a creator, the next he is. Oh no! Change! Therefore, the god of classical theism cannot be the creator! He's too immutable to create anything.

The only way around this difficulty (and I know they will take it) is to say that since in their system God exists outside of time, to him its as if the world always existed, as if he had always already created it and is always still creating it. But to assert this, is to assert that the creation is just as eternal as God himself!!!! Thus classical theism really posits two eternal substances, God and the universe.

Anonymous said...

Whose "classical" theism?

It certainly has nothing whatsoever to do with the Reality Teachings as described by Shankara, Nagarjuna and Gautama Buddha, or what is described and pictured in the Krishna and Rama traditions.
Or the "theism" that was lived by Saint Francis or Meister Eckhardt.

All of the "God" and "Gods" of humankind are, whether male or female in their descriptive gender, merely the personal and collective, and entirely dualistic , or conventionally subject-object-bound myths and projects of the human ego-mind.

Kiel said...

But to assert [God exists outside of time], is to assert that the creation is just as eternal as God himself!!!! Thus classical theism really posits two eternal substances, God and the universe.

I don't think it follows that creation has eternally been in existence (act). But I do think it means that God eternally has the idea of creation.

But I'm a n00b.

Jay Kay said...

Whose "classical" theism?

Thomas Aquinas'.

TheOFloinn said...

1. In this respect truth, trust and faith are terms whose subject is not an abstract proposition but instead a dynamic and mindful person. Am I getting this right?

Well, I can trust that my micrometer, properly used, will provide measurements good to +/- 0.0006". And I may have faith in a properly calibrated instrument.
+ + +


2. One moment he is not a creator, the next he is. Oh no! Change!

What moment? To have moments you must have time and to have time you must have matter and to have matter you must have creation. There is no moment before creation. How can there be a moment before time?

This is why we must rely on the intellect rather than the imagination.

BenYachov said...

@Jay Kay,

>By the classical theist definition of change, wouldn't creating the world be a change? When God created the world, he entered a new relationship. One moment he is not a creator, the next he is. Oh no! Change! Therefore, the god of classical theism cannot be the creator! He's too immutable to create anything.

I reply: You are seriously confused. Perhaps I can help?

>By the classical theist definition of change, wouldn't creating the world be a change?

The Doctrine of Divine Immutability means God's Substance/Nature cannot be changed you are confusing changing His substance with changing His Cambridge Properties.

Relations would fall under Cambridge Properties. God can change His Cambridge Properties not His Substance.

For example my substance unlike God's is mutable/changeable. Over the years I have become fatter then in my youth. But 13 years ago I became a Father & that change in relationship really had no effect on the substance of my weight. Eating did.

Or let's take the nature of my species. I am, like most of us, I hope, a homosapien sapiens. Well becoming a Father changed my relationship but not the substance of my species. I was a HSS both before & after becoming a Father.

So it doesn't logically follow the Doctrine of Divine Immutability is false because God can change His Cambridge Properties.

I read your Blog on Classic Theism.

Sorry but you need to hit the books.

BenYachov said...

additional: Thus God creating a Universe would be another example of Him changing His Cambridge Properties(i.e. becoming in relation to the Universe a Creator) but His Divine Substance would still be immutable/unchanged.

Anonymous said...

All of the "God" and "Gods" of humankind are, whether male or female in their descriptive gender, merely the personal and collective, and entirely dualistic , or conventionally subject-object-bound myths and projects of the human ego-mind.

Is this the typical "there are so many interpretations of God therefore no God" atheistic nonsense?

Anonymous said...

Consider the One God Universe: OGU. The spirit recoils in horror from such a deadly impasse. He is all-powerful and all-knowing. Because He can do everything, He can do nothing, since the act of doing demands opposition. He knows everything, so there is nothing for Him to learn. He can't go anywhere, since He is already fucking everywhere, like cowshit in Calcutta.

The OGU is a pre-recorded universe of which He is the recorder. It's a flat, thermodynamic universe, since it has no friction by definition. So He invents friction and conflict, pain, fear, sickness, famine, war, old age and Death.

The Magical Universe, MU, is a universe of many gods, often in conflict. So the paradox of an all-powerful, all-knowing God who permits suffering, evil and death, does not arise.

-- William Burroughs

Anonymous said...

Ah, it's the Theodicy question in disguise.

Such new and interesting stuff...

Jay Kay said...

"There is no moment before creation. How can there be a moment before time? This is why we must rely on the intellect rather than the imagination."

This is exactly why we must rely on the intellect rather than the imagination, to avoid error like this one you are making. Nothing can happen without time, hence there must always be time. Time is not an existence. Its not something that can be created or destroyed. Time has no beginning or end. Only markers for time have a beginning or end. We mark time by the Sun and the moon. But if the Sun and moon weren't there, there would still be time. There just wouldn't be a clear method for marking it. Although it wouldn't really be "there" because it doesn't "exist" -- its just a concept not a thing.

Jay Kay said...

"The OGU is a pre-recorded universe of which He is the recorder."

Actually, since its asserting he is outside of time and we are in time, its kinda like he's watching us on DVD. When I watch a DVD I'm outside of time, outside the time the people in the idiot box are experiencing anyway. I know everything that will happen in my DVD-verse, because I've seen every episode 100 times. Every moment is past, present, and future to me too, because if I'm at the 30 minute mark of episode 3, its past to me because I watched it before, its present to me because I'm watching it now, and its future because I'll watch it again. So in classical theism, its almost like God is just watching the same DVD over and over again. He needs to upgrade to something interactive, like buy an Xbox or something.

"Cambridge Properties" -- hmmm, what about his Oxford Properties? (zing)

Arthur said...

"Nothing can happen without time, hence there must always be time. Time is not an existence. Its not something that can be created or destroyed. Time has no beginning or end... Although it wouldn't really be "there" because it doesn't "exist" -- its just a concept not a thing."

I don't pretend to be completely conversant in these competing views of time, but it seems to me that this paragraph contains a contradiction. First you tell us that "nothing can happen without time", and that time is eternal. Then, however, you admit that time is "just a concept". So what were you talking about? Why would events require the presence of a mere concept to happen?

It seems to me that you're mixing two, mutually-exclusive kinds of objection. On the one hand, you want to disagree with the Thomists in a symmetrical way; they're wrong that time is created, you're right that time is eternal. But then you also want to say that time is merely a "concept", which is a whole different kind of objection. If that's the case, you should tell the Thomists that all their talk about the nature of time is merely about a concept, not a real thing, and not indulge in it yourself. You can't have it both ways.

Anonymous said...

Gravity bends both time and space. This has been experimentally proven. It suggests that time is, for want of a better word, a substance or thing, not an idea. So Aquinas might have been well ahead of his time in terms of physics. It's certainly valid to point out that all measurements of time measure increasing entropy, which Aquinas all but said outright.

It is accepted that without space, there is no time, IIRC.

Maolsheachlann said...

I have a difficulty which one of you Thomists might help me with.

God is pure act (although perhaps I do not understand that proposition fully). There is no unfulfilled potential within him, or he would not be the unmoved mover.

But take for instance Luke 4:27: "And there were many lepers in Israel in the time of Eliseus the prophet: and none of them was cleansed but Naaman the Syrian."

So surely God acted in one way to bring about a state of affairs rather than another. He did not act to bring about any other state of affairs in that instance, which He could have. So does He not have the unfulfilled potential of so doing?

TheOFloinn said...



More correctly, time cannot happen with nothing. See Einstein, general relativity.
"Formerly, people thought that if matter disappeared from the universe, space and time would remain. Relativity declares that space and time would disappear with matter."
-- Albert Einstein

...hence there must always be time.

So, you're a Big Bang denier?

See Einstein, above, or Augustine, below.
"With the motion of creatures, time began to run its course. It is idle to look for time before creation, as if time can be found before time."
-- Augustine of Hippo

+ + +
if the Sun and moon weren't there, there would still be time. There just wouldn't be a clear method for marking it.

You are still relying on images rather than concepts. What you mean is that you cannot imagine timelessness. You can't "picture" it. Here is where mathematicians have an advantage.

We don't measure time today be the sun and moon, nor even by the ratcheting of weights or the swings of a pendulum, but by the decay of cesium atoms. In every case, there must be some thing that changes and that gives us time. Time is the measure.
+ + +
Although [time] wouldn't really be "there" because it doesn't "exist" -- its just a concept not a thing.

But then how can you say it cannot be created or destroyed? How can you say it is eternal? By saying it is a concept, you are requiring a pre-existing being with a rational soul; so either time did not exist until biological humans became metaphysical humans or else (hmm) you postulate a rational being that conceived the universe from all eternity.

Syllabus said...

"and they seem to outnumber the sincere Christians - assuming any exist in comics other than caricatured villains"

I think the religious attitude of most people in comics can best be described as moralistic therapeutic deism.

And I can think of at least one Christian character - a Catholic, no less - who is portrayed positively: Nightcrawler.

Crude said...

And I can think of at least one Christian character - a Catholic, no less - who is portrayed positively: Nightcrawler.

I'm not sure of the Catholic status of Nightcrawler now, but yeah, he's one.

Another would be Daredevil, and the portrayals of him that I recall in the main comics were actually (by those standards) good.

I remember in the past few years a moment where Daredevil (who, being Daredevil, was being put through a tremendous psychological wringer at the time) had an affair, and was supremely guilty about it. Afterwards, the girl tried to console him.

Girl: "Come on, Matt. You made a mistake in a moment of passion. It's not a sin."
Daredevil: "Yeah, I think you may be wrong about that..."

An interesting moment.

There are others I vaguely recall being Catholic or Christian at least in name. But really, at this point, if someone strongly identifies as a Christian in comics you can count on them being either a villain, way off into the liberal end of things to show the other, non-liberal Christians what bad people they are, or someone who's going to 180 and lose their faith/go from orthodox to supremely liberal.

And in animation? Nearly non-existent. I think if you did a tally in the last 10 years of all mainstream western animation, you'd find sincere and 'not just here for mocking purposes' Christians outnumbered by jewish, homosexual and quasi-eastern-buddhist-hindu types. And not collectively, I mean individually. Freaking anime has christians and christian themes show up more often.

Just to cap off the rant, it's as bad or worse in video games. I recall the stupidity in the opening of Red Dead Redemption where an obvious sap of a girl was talking to a priest on a train.

'Father, I heard that some 'Wright Brothers' have invented a machine that can fly!'

"*chuckle* Nonsense, child. Only angels can fly."

Putting aside the more obvious 'Christians don't think technology is even possible' bit, at that point all I could think was, "I'm pretty sure priests were aware that ****ing birds existed".

Anyway, rant over. The status of Christians and religious/political thought in media is something I think about often, and it always pisses me off.

Josh said...

Crude,

Hey, Fiddler's Green in the Sandman series was Catholic, wink wink

Crude said...

Josh,

I never read that, though somehow you just reminded me of one series where, time and again, I've seen Christians and clergy pop up in a positive light.

Hellboy.

They're mostly incidental characters when they do pop up in what I've read, but there they are. Fantastic series too.

Syllabus said...

"Hey, Fiddler's Green in the Sandman series was Catholic, wink wink"

Well, he's bloody G. K. Chesterton, isn't he.

And I have to give props to Gaiman for wanting and succeeding in making his characters not just little strawmen. For the most part.

Anonymous said...

Having read the article again...


Why do we still use the term God exists. I think that's quite confusing and maybe one of the many sources that lead people astray into thinking God as a lesser god. Existence is a word used to refer to spatio-temporal objects, substances and the like. As Kierkegaard once put it "God does not exist he is eternal, he does not think he creates".

Also and in all honesty (not trying to offend anyone), why do we even preface God with if he exists. There really is no if. Certainly intellectual humility is a virtue, but when the alternative is the epitome of sophistry, delusion and banality, one ought to call a spade a spade. The choice is clear. It's between Theism and logic on one hand and atheism and irrationality on the other.

Tony said...

Nothing can happen without time, hence there must always be time. Time is not an existence. Its not something that can be created or destroyed.

Jay Kay, you are contradicted not only by Einstein, but even by the atheistic, uber-naturalist Stephen Hawking and other Big Bang cosmologists. You don't have to believe in God to recognize time as something that has elastic aspects and has the possibility of having a beginning.

Brandon said...

Maolsheachlann said: So surely God acted in one way to bring about a state of affairs rather than another. He did not act to bring about any other state of affairs in that instance, which He could have. So does He not have the unfulfilled potential of so doing?

The simple answer is that He does not. Since everything is capable of acting to the extent it is actual, and God is purely actual, God is still active, but being active without any passive potentiality means that He does not need anything to make Him act and cannot be made to do one thing rather than another; thus He is completely free, not because He has potential to some end that can be actualized in more than one way, but because He does not need to be actualized by anything at all. It does mean that God's action has to be immutable, eternal, etc., rather than changing and temporal, but it doesn't mean that He can't cause one effect rather than another; it just means that He does not need anything else to do so, and that nothing could make Him do so, anyway.

But it's a question that gets into a lot of issues.

Anonymous said...

Amen to Anonymous at October 3, 2012 2:16 PM. That little word "exist" seems to cause a great deal of confusion. But without it, atheists and theists wouldn't have anything to fight over, and both Dawkins and Feser would have to go without their profitable schticks.

Jay Kay said...

"More correctly, time cannot happen with nothing." (TheOFloinn)

Nothing can happen without time, and time cannot happen with nothing. Therefore, time requires something to exist, and for something that exists to be able to do anything time is required. (By time is required, I merely mean that if something is doing something there is time, because time is a mere concept not a thing.) So, since God always existed, time always could "happen" -- thus your statement "time cannot happen with nothing" doesn't go anywhere. But since you claim God is "pure act," that is, that he's always doing something, then obviously time must always exist for him.

"Gravity bends both time and space."

That's idiocy. Gravity may bend perception of time, but it doesn't bend "time." See my post on the 2 meanings of the word time. There is time, that which is required for movement to take place. And then there is the means by which time is counted. The later can be distorted certainly.

"Jay Kay, you are contradicted not only by Einstein, but even by the atheistic, uber-naturalist Stephen Hawking and other Big Bang cosmologists." (Tony)

Why would you think that atheistic uber-naturalists will sway me to believing in absurdity? I'm not an atheist if that's what you're implying. I believe God is a personal being whereas you believe him to be an abstraction. If one of us is an atheist, its you.

Anonymous said...

It may be useful to consider William Lane Craig's thoughts on the subject as written in his wonderful book "Time and Eternity: Exploring God's Relationship to Time."

His passage follows: "Time, it has been said, is what keeps everything from happening at once. When you think about it, this definition is probably as good as any other. For it is notoriously difficult to provide any analysis of time that is not in the end circular. If we say, for example, that time is duration, then we shall want to know what duration is. And duration turns out to be some interval of time. So time is some interval of time--not very enlightening! Or if we say that is a dimension of the world, the points or inhabitants of which are ordered by the relations earlier than and later than, we may ask for an analysis of those relations so as to distinguish them, for example, from similar relations such as behind and in front of or less than and greater than, only to discover that earlier and later, on pain of circularity, are usually taken to be primitive, or unanalyzable, terms. Perhaps we may define earlier and later in terms of the notions past, present, and future; but then this triad is irreducibly temporal in character. Even if we succeed in defining past and future in relation to the present, what is the present except for the time that exists (where "exists" is in the present tense)? (13).

Tony said...

But since you claim God is "pure act," that is, that he's always doing something, then obviously time must always exist for him.

That's idiocy. Gravity may bend perception of time, but it doesn't bend "time."

Oh, brother. You are just asserting things left and right. Your assertions contradict all sorts of understandings that people have of the world, including that of philosophers and scientists. Why don't you back up your assertions instead of just asserting them?

Time cannot both be merely an "abstraction" (as opposed to some real thing) and also "necessary" for something to happen. Oh, and by the way, abstractions can be real also. As, for example, real relations.

Therefore, time requires something to exist, and for something that exists to be able to do anything time is required.

You are equiovocating on what is meant by "do anything". Time is present when there is change according to a mode of before and after. God, (yes, even the personal God of the Bible) is unchanging, as the Bible tells us. "Before" God created the universe, there was NO CHANGE. (That's what is meant by "In the beginning", after all.) His "doing" was constant, unchanging, unmoving, unaltered, eternal, perfect loving. Therefore, one cannot assert there was time, before God created the universe, except by meaning something different by time.

Jay Kay said...

"You are equiovocating on what is meant by 'do anything'. Time is present when there is change according to a mode of before and after. God, (yes, even the personal God of the Bible) is unchanging, as the Bible tells us." (Tony)

His character is unchanging, but obviously he must change in some sense or he wouldn't be alive. If nothing fired in his mind he wouldn't be able to think. But that's change. Oh no! To create and thus enter a new relationship with the newly formed universe, that's change! You can abstract away that fact by talking about Cambridge Properties, or Oxford Properties, or Harvard Properties, or Devry Properties, or University of Phoenix Properties, or whatever you like. But the fact remains that's a type of change. All the Bible means by him not changing is that his character remains the same, not that he's the static, dead god of classical theism.

Arthur said...

"To create and thus enter a new relationship with the newly formed universe, that's change! You can abstract away that fact by talking about Cambridge Properties, or Oxford Properties, or Harvard Properties, or Devry Properties, or University of Phoenix Properties, or whatever you like. But the fact remains that's a type of change."

Translation: "I don't know, or even care, what 'Cambridge' properties are. I just know I'm right!"

Really, Jay Kay, can you honestly not tell that you're begging the question here? Whether entering "a new relationship" is "a type of change" is exactly what your opponents are arguing with you about.

Could you at least look up Cambridge Properties on Wikipedia or something so that you can make a semi-informed decision, rather than making cheap jokes about Oxford and Harvard properties?

You also accuse Classical Theism of having a "static, dead god". I actually agree that the objection is worth making; I made it myself, but did you look at 21st Century Scholastic's answer? Do you even care what it is? Or does "the fact remain" that you're right and they're wrong?

I'm with Tony on this one. "You are just asserting things left and right." Think harder. One of us might learn something.

BenYachov said...

So Jay Kay is the flip side of Gnu Atheist trolls like BI, Paps, djindra or Stonetops?

He is some type of Fundamentalist Christian who is as theologically and philosophically illiterate as they & also like them he refuses to learn or understand what he criticizes & consequently comes off just as unlearned foolish.

We shouldn't waste our time on him. He has no intelligent criticism to offer. But it might be entertaining to watch him & let's say Paps go at it.

He is more at Paps intellectual level. Yes that might be funny to watch. Fundie Theist vs Fundie Atheist.

Gorgeous!

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=v0DXFQG5H2U

Paps if you are reading this argue with Jay Kay.

Amuse us!

ozero91 said...

"Paps if you are reading this argue with Jay Kay."

Ben what are you doing. We are not ready for that. Just tell Jay Kay to read Feser's Aquinas or something. Or even to read Craigs/Plantingas criticisms of divine simplicity first so Jay Kay can present a coherent case, instead of just saying "Lol your God is a dead blob with X properties! (Where X = a random university)

BenYachov said...

@ozero91

You are free to do that yourself guy. Nobody here is stopping you. Least of all moi but from reading the guy's weird blog and reading his responses thus far he is clearly here to preach & "teach" not to learn.

But if he wants to prove me wrong by promising to read TSL or AQUINASI'm not against that either but my gut tells me Paps will read TLS or AQUINAS before this fellow.

It's up to him.

BenYachov said...

additional:

Also I don't see how Craig or Plantingas will help him since Craig believes God was A-temporal and eternal sans creation but temporal after creation. Plantinga believes God is outside of our Time but exists in His own divine time.

This guy has a hyper unequivocal anthropomorphic view of God that is clearly temporal.

I don't see any common ground between him, Craig or Plantinga.

Mr. Green said...

Maolsheachlann: A flamboyantly dressed, strangely named hero is stretching my sense of the ridiculous far enough, but when they consistently face flamboyantly dressed, strangely-named antagonists-- and nobody seems to notice anything odd about this-- my sense of the ridiculous snaps.

I guess when you live in a world full of flamboyantly dressed superhumans, there isn't anything odd about it. But you might appreciate The Tick (specifically, the original dozen comic books, although the cartoon is also very good, in a slightly different way).

And so many of them take themselves oh so seriously…

That's probably a result of nobody's noticing anything odd about them. When the people around you tolerate everything you do, you end up overly self-absorbed and self-important… like Hollywood celebrities.

Mr. Green said...

TheOFloinn: >"1. In this respect truth, trust and faith are terms whose subject is not an abstract proposition but instead a dynamic and mindful person."
Well, I can trust that my micrometer, properly used, will provide measurements good to +/- 0.0006". And I may have faith in a properly calibrated instrument.


Of course, the instruments were designed and built by a dynamic and mindful person, so I think we could say that trusting a thing is an indirect or metaphorical way of trusting a person. And all things trace back to the design of persons, so it seems right to me to root all real trust in a relationship between persons.

Mr. Green said...

Crude: Daredevil: "Yeah, I think you may be wrong about that..."
An interesting moment.


Interesting that the word "sin" would be used at all, and interesting that the character would say "may be" instead of "well freaking of course like there's any doubt"… but I guess we are cursed to live in "interesting" times.

Christians outnumbered by jewish, homosexual and quasi-eastern-buddhist-hindu types. And not collectively, I mean individually. Freaking anime has christians and christian themes show up more often.

Isn't that a manifestation of the same thing, namely showing something different by picking a religion from the other side of the planet? So to make a character more interesting to westerners, use Buddhism (or its fashionable caricature); and to the Japanese, use Christianity. From an artistic point of view, that's not indefensible, but it's rather a cheap way of doing it. If a writer cannot come up with an interesting Christian character in a western setting, then either he's a poor writer, or his view of Christianity is even more caricatured than his idea of Buddhism (or both).

Anyway, rant over. The status of Christians and religious/political thought in media is something I think about often

It's a curious thing. Perhaps you can slightly lessen your grief over the whole matter [or form] by playing this fun game: look for unwittingly Christian themes, and try to figure out whether they sneaked in because the thinkers[?] involved absorbed them from the surrounding (historically) Christian culture; or simply because the world (history, human nature) are ultimately all oriented towards Christianity.

Maolsheachlann said...

Mr. Green, I wasn't complaining that superheroes themselves take themselves too seriously. I was complaining that the movies take themselves too seriously. It's the combination of psychological realism and baroque grandiosity with, as I said, flamboyantly dressed characters with outlandish names battling other flamboyantly dressed characters with outlandish names that loses me.

I mean, I think the Sam Raimi Spiderman was a fine film, but I also think it pretty much exhausted the possibilities of the genre.

What next? A heart-rending, gritty take on Tom and Jerry by Martin Scorsese?

Mr. Green said...

Frank: My question is: doesn't Aquinas' second way concern what a person might reasonably term 'left-to-right' (ie temporal) causality, in a way similar to the Kalam cosmological argument?

Well, God as First Cause doesn't have to be first in the numerical sense, but that isn't ruled out either. The point is just that even if you come up with a sophisticated series that does't have a countable "first member" (because it's circular or infinite or whatever), then that isn't enough to defeat the argument. In the First and Second Ways, if we accept that the series is enumerable, then God will be first in that sense too. If we allow that, say, the universe has always existed, God will end up being first "vertically" instead.

Mr. Green said...

TheOFloinn: Beauty and the Beast is true, even though none of it is factual; and the truth of it is that "sometimes a person has to be loved before he becomes loveable."

Just to quibble off-topically: only the loveable can, of course, be loved at all. But we sometimes use "-able" to mean "-worthy", perhaps because in some cases, the ability in question is trivially applicable and not worth using up a word that could be employed more interestingly. Perhaps it's related to the general English idiom of saying "you can't" to mean "you shouldn't" (i.e. one can't do whatever and be in accordance with some unstated norm). Do other languages share this tendency? In any case, it's certainly a truth that some must be loved to be love-worthy. (Indeed, it might be said to be the truth: history in a nutshell.)

Mr. Green said...

Arthur: Couldn't an atheist agree that there's a timeless, changeless ground of being but say that it's misleading to call it God?

An atheist could, and many have, but he'd still be wrong. Even if it were "dead" and at first glance quite unlike our (anthropomorphic) idea of God, the ultimate ground of being would by definition be higher than any "more personal" god, and thus people would in fact call it God, even if meant changing their conception of God. Now others have pointed out that once one makes the effort to trace out what this Being might be like, it turns out to be in accord with our naive idea of God after all; but I wanted to point out that it's still a bad stalling tactic. (Similarly for objecting "can't the first cause be the universe" — the argument doesn't make any assumption against that, but it is clear that if the First Cause doesn't sound like God, it sounds even less like the universe, and then we're back to studying what it is like.)

goddinpotty said...

the ultimate ground of being would by definition be higher...

I couldn't help note the incoherent metaphor in that. "Ground" is generally lower, and the "ultimate ground of being" sounds like it should be underneath everything else, not higher. (No that is not an argument for anything, just an observation)

...than any "more personal" god, and thus people would in fact call it God, even if meant changing their conception of God.

So, let's posit that almost everyone believes that "the ultimate ground of being" (UGOB) is a coherent concept (some of the antifoundationalists would disagree, but let's leave them out for now). Your basic atheist materialist thinks that UGOB is physics, a relatively simple structure following simple mathematical laws, and that other phenomena, such as life and consciousness, are based on top of this physics layer and emerge from it. Theists believe that UGOB has to be a person or something that can only be understood as a person. The latter call it God, the former do not, except jokingly (eg the recent fuss over the supposed discovery of the Higgs boson aka "the god particle").

I'm about 90% an atheist myself, but I retain a bit of sympathy for the theist view for pragmatic reasons (yes, maybe I am an antifoundationalist at heart). Being a human, I find it hard to base my life on a worldview that puts humans as accidental growths in an obscure corner of a vast and uncaring universe. Even if that is true, perhaps it is not the entire truth.

Crude said...

Mr. Green,

Isn't that a manifestation of the same thing, namely showing something different by picking a religion from the other side of the planet?

That would make more sense if it weren't for the considerable number of jewish characters, along with the extreme absence of Christian characters and themes, save for the variety I mentioned, across quite a number of titles.

At some point it stops coming across as 'Well, perhaps they're being lazy' and more as Christians, certainly anything close to sincere orthodox/traditional Christians, being airbrushed out of the entire culture, Stalin style.

It's a curious thing. Perhaps you can slightly lessen your grief over the whole matter [or form] by playing this fun game: look for unwittingly Christian themes, and try to figure out whether they sneaked in because the thinkers[?] involved absorbed them from the surrounding (historically) Christian culture; or simply because the world (history, human nature) are ultimately all oriented towards Christianity.

I do that already. But I can't pretend there isn't a problem where there is one - and here, there is one. It seems to be the blind spot of Christians in particular.

And it's not so much grief as annoyance. Something I intend to do something about, Godwilling.

Mr. Green said...

Maolsheachlann: It's the combination of psychological realism and baroque grandiosity […] that loses me.

Ah, right. And a problem that applies to movies more generally, I think. Once upon a time, the good guys wore white and the bad guys wore black — it was exaggerated, but everything's bigger than life on a movie screen, so you need some exaggeration to keep things in proportion. Plus it's easier to be grandiosely entertaining than to provide detailed psychological insight into the human condition. (Even the costumes seem hard to get right: something that works with primary colours and solid black outlines doesn't always translate into fabric-based realism.)

What next? A heart-rending, gritty take on Tom and Jerry by Martin Scorsese?

I dunno about Tom and Jerry, but I've always found Wile E. Coyote a bit heart-rending. (Though Scorsese would be better-suited to some more New York-ian creature, say, pigeons.)

Glenn said...

gip,

>> the ultimate ground of being would by definition
>> be higher...

> I couldn't help note the incoherent metaphor in
> that. "Ground" is generally lower, and the "ultimate
> ground of being" sounds like it should be underneath
> everything else, not higher. (No that is not an
> argument for anything, just an observation)

To add to the observation, let it be noted that amongst various definitions of 'ground' to be found are:

1. Merriam-Webster:

2 a: a basis for belief, action, or argument (ground for complaint) — often used in plural (sufficient grounds for divorce) b (1) : a fundamental logical condition (2) : a basic metaphysical cause

2. TheFree Dictionary:

The underlying condition prompting an action; a cause.

- - - - -

> I'm about 90% an atheist myself, but I retain a bit
> of sympathy for the theist view for pragmatic reasons
> (yes, maybe I am an antifoundationalist at heart).
> Being a human, I find it hard to base my life on a
> worldview that puts humans as accidental growths in
> an obscure corner of a vast and uncaring universe.
> Even if that is true, perhaps it is not the entire
> truth.

Here is Tom Wolfe in his Sorry, But Your Soul Just Died:

I have heard neuroscientists theorize that, given computers of sufficient power and sophistication, it would be possible to predict the course of any human being's life moment by moment, including the fact that the poor devil was about to shake his head over the very idea. I doubt that any Calvinist of the sixteenth century ever believed so completely in predestination as these, the hottest and most intensely rational young scientists in the United States at the end of the twentieth.

And here is Leonard Mlodinow in his Feynman's Rainbow:

The belief that all natural phenomena can be explained by fundamental physical law is called reductionism. The belief in reductionism is widespread in physics... That means that most physicists believe that nothing happens in the universe that is not the result of one or more of the four fundamental forces--from the birth of a child to the birth of a galaxy.

That is from page 64. Back on page 60, he writes,

Few real physics problems can be what you would, strictly speaking, call "solved". To a physicist[,] solving a problem involves judging which aspects of a phenomenon are its essence, and which can be ignored, what part of the mathematics to be faithful to, and what to alter.

On the next page, page 61, he writes,

To solve a physics research problem involves assumption after assumption, approximation after approximation, and those great leaps of imagination people call thinking outside the box. It involves the ability to move forward, follow your intuition, and accept that you don't fully understand what you are doing. And most of all, it entails believing in yourself.

rank sophist said...

Prof. Feser,

If I might be so bold, I'd like to ask why you enabled comment moderation on that old combox in which dguller and I were debating. Has our endless bickering over the tiny details of A-T gone too far?

Anonymous said...

@Rank

I could be wrong but my guess is that the system might initiate moderation of comments automatically after the thread has been live for an x number of days or a set time internal.

BenYachov said...

RS

I think it does that automatically after a certain period of time but Dr. Feser would know better than I.

Edward Feser said...

Hello all, yes, that's all it is -- after a couple of weeks or so (I don't remember what I set it to way back when) the moderation function automatically kicks in. Kind of a pain, I know, since it sometimes takes me a while to get around to approving comments, but otherwise I wouldn't know about comments on older posts. (As it is I don't have time to read most of the ones posted under current posts.)

rank sophist said...

Ahhh, I see. I didn't know about that. I guess I've never had a combox argument run that long. Sorry for the trouble.

Maolsheachlann said...

Mr. Green:

Heh, heh, heh. Now there would be a movie.

Mr. Green said...

Crude: But I can't pretend there isn't a problem where there is one - and here, there is one. It seems to be the blind spot of Christians in particular.

Oh, it's certainly a problem, and I shouldn't have implied that that was the only reason. Laziness is surely one of the reasons, but also ignoring Christianity, and attacking it, and just plain misunderstanding it. Even piety is a reason — perhaps a misplaced sort of piety, and not so much nowadays, but I think a past reluctance to embrace religion in popular entertainment has contributed keeping true Christianity out of view. (That is, keeping religion out of stories so as not to be seen making light of it in some way. It's a legitimate concern, but I think it must have played some role in making a lack of religion seem more ordinary or acceptable.) But however it developed, we have ended up with a very bizarre attitude that being a Christian is something one does for one hour a week on Sunday morning, at most.

And it's not so much grief as annoyance. Something I intend to do something about, Godwilling.

Hey, you're not by any chance an eccentric billionaire who's planning to launch a media empire, are you? I've always wanted to start TV network for shows that are set in actual Christian culture!

Crude said...

Mr. Green,

Hey, you're not by any chance an eccentric billionaire who's planning to launch a media empire, are you? I've always wanted to start TV network for shows that are set in actual Christian culture!

Sadly, no. I'm just one guy with meager skills. But I'd like to be the guy making games and media where Christians and Christianity show up in proper and positive lights, and is seen by enough people. Thanks to the internet, that's now within reach.

Note that I don't mean 'Christian media'. I can think of some exceptions, but whenever I see something branded as that, it tends to be kind of schlocky. I'd settle for something like Tolkien or CS Lewis' worlds, or stories where you can point at a positively portrayed character and note that a sincere Christianity was part of their intellectual makeup.

Maolsheachlann said...

Crude

I wish you luck with that, it sounds like a very worthy venture.

Crude said...

Maol,

Thanks. Hopefully I can turn this into action, not just talk.

Also, to underline a point I touched on here earlier: here's a study about the number of 'LGBT' characters on TV.

Notice that this is something LGBT groups not just praise, but lobby for. They want people to see LGBT characters in a positive light, and be used to them. Because they know this (and I'd argue, this general sort of thing more than anything else) sways opinions.

Now compare it to the Christian presence I talked about, and in what way it manifests.

Maolsheachlann said...

I have sometimes wondered if authors will soon be open to prosecution or at least censorship for not including gay characters in their work.

It sounds crazy now but, as Dr. Feser has so well pointed out, what seems crazy at one time is often liberal orthodoxy before too long.

Crude said...

Maol,

I have sometimes wondered if authors will soon be open to prosecution or at least censorship for not including gay characters in their work.

It's not nearly as extreme as that nor even the same topic, but I recall that The Hobbit is going to have some lead female character(s) included. The reasoning being that as it's written and has been presented in the past, The Hobbit is pretty much an all-male story, and the producers weren't comfortable with that.

So, no, I don't think that's too far off, at least on the censorship front. I can only wonder what the reaction would be to, say, a character with same-sex attraction who was open about it, and also willingly celibate. Or a lesbian character whose lesbianism wavered.

rank sophist said...

Just noticed this fascinating conversation about Christianity in media. It's strange to see people "in the know" about contemporary comic books, animation and video games discussing them in a positive light on a Thomist blog. But, if it was going to happen anywhere, it would have to be here. At the risk of butting in, I'd like to add my two cents on this matter.

First, I must disagree with Crude's statement that "Christian media" is "kind of schlocky". On the contrary, it's unbelievably bad; it has no value at all. We have been reduced from the great Christian art of antiquity--from music to writing to painting to architecture--to the travesty of "CCM", "Christian fiction" and so on, which barely make it to the level of that recently restored Ecce Homo. If theistic personalism is the embarrassment of Christian theology and philosophy, then these would be the embarrassments of our artistic heritage. Even depictions of Jesus have suffered. We've gone from the serious and dignified Christ Pantocrator, for instance, to "Michael Jackson Jesus" and "Chuck Norris Jesus". It's no wonder that Christianity is not taken seriously when this what the average Joe sees of it.

Second, I have to agree that the standard portrayal of Christianity and Christians is pretty bad. You get the delusional megalomaniac, the goofy antisocial, the fanatic, the "evangelical", the hypocrite, the corrupted priest--and that's pretty much it. (Not that such stereotypes are entirely false to history, but that's beside the point.) In all honesty, I think that the cause is two-fold. First, it's the perception of the religion in our society. Dostoyevsky wrote about monsters finding redemption after titanic struggles with sin; but, today, Christianity is seen as blind faith in the face of contrary evidence--a force that brainwashes but does not save. How are you going to get quality drama out of that? Second, it's that a huge portion of contemporary artists, writers and so forth are atheists. These days, higher education (which these creators usually go through) often equals a loss of religion, because A) the teachers are often atheists; B) the crippled philosophy and theology of modern-day Christianity doesn't have a leg to stand on against grown-up arguments; and C) the "arbitrary moral rules" imposed by Christianity simply fade in the face of the Gomorrah that is college culture.

With that in mind, it makes perfect sense that quality portrayals of Christianity are mostly absent. If the religion itself is mere blind faith and wishful thinking, and the creators are atheists (or nominal believers), then the result will be caricature at best and outright aggression at worst.

rank sophist said...

Third, I'd like to agree with Crude that the answer is more informed Christians creating stuff with real importance. Several legends of the 20th century--T.S. Eliot, Tolkien, Igor Stravinsky, Evelyn Waugh, Arvo Part, Graham Greene, Flannery O'Connor--were Christians, even though this fact is generally forgotten or airbrushed. Unfortunately, in the video games, animation and comic books with which Crude is concerned, this has (to my knowledge) never been the case. I hope that Crude and people thinking along the same lines will be able to change this situation for the better. I don't think it's fair to settle for Hellboy, as cool as it is--and you'd be hard pressed to find an equally interesting version of Christianity in a video game or animated project.

Crude said...

Rank,

First, I must disagree with Crude's statement that "Christian media" is "kind of schlocky". On the contrary, it's unbelievably bad; it has no value at all.

As much as I dislike specifically 'Christian media' most of the time - I don't think that's fair. Most of the time? The vast majority of the time? Sure. But I've come across, here and there, some things which were well executed. In college I used to, more or less by accident at first, listen to Adventures in Odyssey during my drives to class. For what it was (a radio drama), it was very well executed. A bit preachy at times, but it did a good job. I can think of some other examples here and there. I never saw it myself, but in the 80s the Vatican called in some pretty big guns to produce an animated series for them.

But yeah, most of the time it tends to be pretty generic, abysmal stuff that really seems phoned in more than anything. Not done with care or skill. I just can't wholesale condemn it, because I'm aware of some better things. (I'd throw in The Passion of the Christ too - I won't praise it as a masterpiece, but it was very well done. As are some Thomas More dramatizations I've seen.)

These days, higher education (which these creators usually go through) often equals a loss of religion,

While higher education has a rotten culture, I don't think it's that bad. I recall that there's still a high proportion of theists, etc even among professors and PhDs, though I'd guess it's more of a liberal and such bend. Where media and culture is concerned, I think 'atheists' aren't the only problem, or even I suspect the largest problem. Throw a very theologically liberal or social liberal of the right bend behind a project, and you're going to get the same result.

If the religion itself is mere blind faith and wishful thinking, and the creators are atheists (or nominal believers), then the result will be caricature at best and outright aggression at worst.

I think that makes it too benign. I think most of the creators who attack these things know they're attacking or presenting primitive caricatures and strawmen. That's rather the point. You see the same exact thing with politics: it's not that there's a lack of, say, good arguments for such-and-such position half the time. It's that the good arguments would make the primary or secondary goal (bashing this position) more difficult. So it's ignored.

I don't think it's fair to settle for Hellboy, as cool as it is--and you'd be hard pressed to find an equally interesting version of Christianity in a video game or animated project.

Well, not settle, it's just an example.

(more)

Crude said...

With video games or animation, it's absolutely tough. I can name more quasi-buddhists and jews in animation than I can Christians (in terms of characters.) And what Christians I can name or almost-name are, uh. Bad examples. The best offhand example I can recall - and this is piecemeal - is Fallout 3 having Revelations 21:6 as a major clue and central theme, and the fact that the character's mother even had a favorite bible quote was pretty exceptional.

Of course, there's another problem with this: christians themselves. Look at the LGBT groups, and what they've accomplished culturally. They did not manage this with superior intellectual arguments. They avoided those like the plague. But they lobbied and kicked up a storm forever, fighting tooth and nail against any negative depiction and in favor of any positive depiction. It worked. They paid attention to vocabulary, they paid attention to media.

To use a comparison: I can think of several *muslims* positively portrayed in comics and animation and even video games. Do you think they pulled that off because of superior skill with metaphysical discourse?

That's, unfortunately, the fierce lesson here. Sound metaphysics, philosophy and grounding of faith is important. Essential. But in some areas, it doesn't mean a thing.

Maolsheachlann said...

Uh, Crude, you forgot to mention the Left Behind series...

(Kidding. Actualy I've never read a word of them so they could be up there with Dickens for all I know. Somehow I doubt it, though.)

Frank said...

@Mr. Green:

Thanks.

Crude said...

Maol,

Uh, Crude, you forgot to mention the Left Behind series...

You know, I never read word one of those either, and here's where I get worried. I've heard over and over 'it's bad, it's bad, it's bad', and instinctively I assume it is. But I'm not sure I'm being fair when I think that.

To compare, Passion of the Christ was attacked all over the place when it came out. It's divisive! It's insulting to jews! Anti-semitic! It's not very good! It's too violent! People are watching it because of the violence! It's harmful to Christianity! And so on.

Well, it was also hugely popular, and what I saw was (in my view) very well done. The criticisms were nonsense. And I really believe that part of the reason that absolutely so many people in the media heaped scorn on the movie was because 'Here's a movie being boosted as an orthodox, traditional depiction of the central Christian event, by a creator who apparently wants to spread orthodox, traditional Christian views. This thing is a threat, and it will be treated as such.' was the prevailing view on the part of many people in media and journalism.

Now, LB is by all accounts a protestant, evangelical series, and that's the perspective used in the books, films and movies. So okay, I'm going to disagree with it right there as a Catholic in all likelihood. Well, I disagree with a lot of flicks and games that ultimately end up being pretty damn good.

So that's another hurdle to keep in mind. It's not just a matter of 'have a Christian produce something good and entertaining and not schlocky'. It's also 'and if it IS at all good and popular, get past the inevitable dumping on it's going to take in the popular press'.

Crude said...

I'll add on, more controversially... I more and more feel that this should be the aim for Christians generally, and Catholics particularly, as I see the Pope and the bishops are gathering to talk about the new evangelization. Changing the modern culture is important goal to pursue. But thanks to the internet, we now have another avenue we can explore as well: making our own culture, and limiting that modern culture within it.

rank sophist said...

Where media and culture is concerned, I think 'atheists' aren't the only problem, or even I suspect the largest problem. Throw a very theologically liberal or social liberal of the right bend behind a project, and you're going to get the same result.

True enough. Hence my later condemnation of "nominal Christians", which, in my view, is a term synonymous with "very theologically liberal".

I think that makes it too benign. I think most of the creators who attack these things know they're attacking or presenting primitive caricatures and strawmen. That's rather the point. You see the same exact thing with politics: it's not that there's a lack of, say, good arguments for such-and-such position half the time. It's that the good arguments would make the primary or secondary goal (bashing this position) more difficult. So it's ignored.

In all honesty, I don't think that this is the case in most situations. I have spoken with numerous atheists who just don't understand that there are arguments for Christianity. The most they've heard is Pascal's Wager and perhaps a little ID theorizing. Even the watchmaker argument is foreign to them. And the distorted Christianity that they know (cannibalism via transubstantiation, Zeus-like god, blind faith, biblical literalism, etc.) is simply hard to take seriously. This is why many of the most compelling contemporary dramatizations of Christianity are about grappling with doubt--the writers literally cannot even conceive of an alternative. Even if faith wins in the end (and even if this event is portrayed in a positive light), it's a Life of Pi-esque choice of "the better story"--which is to say self-delusion in the face of suffering. (Other almost-watchable characterizations include the "semi-sympathetic fanatic", such as Eli in There Will Be Blood.)

I don't think that there's a secret war against Christianity in entertainment. The problem is, as I said, that we have caricature at best and aggression at worst--either they try to take us positively and get us wrong, or they are downright hostile, or somewhere in between. I honestly do not believe that there is a system-wide conspiracy against Christianity--the aggressive people are not the rule.

rank sophist said...

The best offhand example I can recall - and this is piecemeal - is Fallout 3 having Revelations 21:6 as a major clue and central theme, and the fact that the character's mother even had a favorite bible quote was pretty exceptional.

The Deus Ex series is rife with biblical imagery and references. I mean, seriously--the main character of the first game goes by the initials "JC" and his brother is named "Paul". Halo is likewise packed with biblical material. One prominent example is that the protagonist is named "John-117", which breaks down to John 1:17: "For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus". (The protagonist is a messianic figure, it should be added.) And that's hardly unique for the series. The fanatical alien race that you're fighting is called "the Covenant", and there's a second race--which wipes out pretty much everything in its path--called "the Flood". It's just ridiculous what they got away with in that series. Even title is biblical.

In animation, Wall-E is probably the best example I can think of. The director (Andrew Stanton) is a Christian, and the film is basically a science fiction rendering of the flood and the Ark. I'd forgotten that Stanton was a Christian, actually--so it's not entirely true that animation, at least, is totally dominated by non-believers.

I agree that you aren't often going to find explicitly Christian characters in video games or Western animation--let alone positive ones--, but explicitly Christian themes are not that uncommon.

Crude said...

rank,

I honestly do not believe that there is a system-wide conspiracy against Christianity--the aggressive people are not the rule.

Against Christianity itself, as in people say 'Let's rip down Christianity!'? No. Against various social and political positions that are tightly associated with Christianity? At that point, yes. I don't think it's a conspiracy so much as the overwhelming sentiment of several subdivisions of artistic culture. They may not be content creators, but when you have freaking Anonymous targeting the Vatican, it's telling.

And sure, the aggressive people are not the rule. But the aggressive people are able to hammer the middle of the road people into line far out of proportion to their numbers (again, see the LGBT success), and then there's the culture itself to consider. One of the problems I have with this sort of discussion is that it tends to get interpreted as 'conspiracy' when you notice a widespread trend - but conspiracies aren't necessary. You just need various mixes of pressure and cultural effects in play.

(The protagonist is a messianic figure, it should be added.)

Man, I don't know. I didn't get into the Halo series, and that sort of thing... I'm not sure it counts as 'rife with biblical references' when you're dealing with some serious obscurity where you have to connect the dots that much. To use a comparison, Half-Life 2 makes a fairly overt criticism of eugenics, and has a priest show up in a ... positive role. I mean, he was a shotgun-wielding alien-killing Rasputin sort of priest, but c'mon, let's take what we can get here.

I agree that you aren't often going to find explicitly Christian characters in video games or Western animation--let alone positive ones--, but explicitly Christian themes are not that uncommon.

It depends on your standard. I think you have to do some serious reading in to come to the interpretation you just said with Wall-E. And I won't say that animation is completely bereft of Christian influence. But the proportional influence and presence is pretty small.

I have spoken with numerous atheists who just don't understand that there are arguments for Christianity.

At this point, that would have to be nearly willful ignorance. Of course, why should I doubt there are willfully ignorant people, or just plain intellectually lazy people.

Whatever the case, the culture I think is in a rotten state on this question, and is in need of better change and influence. To paraphrase something I heard long ago, I'd give 10 William Lane Craigs for 1 popular series with an orthodox Christian portrayed prominently and positively, without any overt apologetics in play. At least in terms of cultural effect.

Scott W. said...

And sure, the aggressive people are not the rule. But the aggressive people are able to hammer the middle of the road people into line far out of proportion to their numbers (again, see the LGBT success), and then there's the culture itself to consider. One of the problems I have with this sort of discussion is that it tends to get interpreted as 'conspiracy' when you notice a widespread trend - but conspiracies aren't necessary. You just need various mixes of pressure and cultural effects in play.

Exactly. The fact that society is in the process of driving Christians back to the catacombs without a band of conspirators machinating it is more creepy, not less.

dover_beach said...

There was movie 'The Book of Eli' which I rather enjoyed.

ozero91 said...

"I'd give 10 William Lane Craigs for 1 popular series with an orthodox Christian portrayed prominently and positively, without any overt apologetics in play. At least in terms of cultural effect."

Doesn't WLC have a TV show now?

Anonymous said...

Can't read all of the comments, but I thought it was nice that Captain America was representative in his character of the general Christian attitude of the US at the time of his icecapade. Something America seems to be reluctant to admit in our own day.

Ron

Crude said...

dover,

There was movie 'The Book of Eli' which I rather enjoyed.

I heard some good things about that one. Actually, so long as I'm being complimentary, I recall Babylon 5 actually had (though I didn't see them) some episodes with religious characters. I had a soft spot for that, since usually the move with a sci-fi flick based in 'our' universe is "in the future, act as if Christians don't exist anymore".

ozero91,

Doesn't WLC have a TV show now?

Not sure, I'll have to check up on that - it seems unlikely given his medical condition. But I'm talking in terms of fiction and fantasy foremost anyway.

jhall said...

Crude and others,

Have you seen Joss Whedon's Firefly by chance? One of the characters aboard the ship includes a devout priest, or 'Shepard' as he's called on the show. Now, this is a great series in general, but the portrayal of Christianity tends to border on patronizing at best, which isn't really all that surprising given that Joss Whedon has identified himself an atheist in interviews (if I recall). Though to give credit where credit is due, Whedon is at least trying to give religion a role to play, albeit a minor and often caricatured one.

There is a scene in particular in which a ship-mate points out to Shepard Book all the "logical inconsistencies" and "contradictions" in his Bible, at which point Book responds with something along the lines of, well (paraphrasing), it may not make any logical sense, but that's not what the Bible is really about. It's about having faith and something to believe in (the standard, very modern, conception of faith). So yeah, scenes like that leave a bad taste in the mouth.

Crude, you mentioned that media portraying Christianity in a positive light tends to be either schlocky or just down-right misrepresentative, and I agree. So, I'll mention two movies that feature probably the most honest and pure portrayals of Christianity I've encountered in film. In fact they're probably two of my most appreciated movies for that reason. They are "Léon Morin, Priest" by Jean-Pierre Melville and "The Island" by Pavel Lungin (not to be mistaken with the American film of the same name). The former features a Catholic priest, and the latter a Russian Orthodox monk. If you can get a hold of these movies, I would highly recommend both. From IMDB:

http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0055082/

http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0851577/

I suspect that most modern, secular types wouldn't know quite how to react to movies like this, because they don't include all the typical cliches and caricatures so prevalent in film/media today.

Crude said...

jhall,

Have you seen Joss Whedon's Firefly by chance?

Despite multiple people raving about how great it is, no. And Joss Whedon, I believe, is the guy who directed the movie the OP is talking about - so yeah, an atheist.

And yeah, it's nice to know there was a priest even included, but 'Oh yeah the Bible totally doesn't make sense but making sense has nothing to do with religion' makes me cringe. Exactly what I mean.

The former features a Catholic priest, and the latter a Russian Orthodox monk. If you can get a hold of these movies, I would highly recommend both.

I'll check them out sometime. I think among less popular media there are some other good choices - A Man for All Seasons (some version of it) was, to me, fantastic.

grodrigues said...

@Crude:

"I think among less popular media there are some other good choices - A Man for All Seasons (some version of it) was, to me, fantastic."

Dreier, Bresson, Rossellini, Tarkovsky, etc. If we expand the list to films with thouroughly Christian themes you end up with an embarassment of riches, including films by atheists like Kieslowski or Goddard. But none of these examples are what you would call mainstream or popular. This is probably a typically European phenomenon; and there are no continuators of this tradition anyway.

When the only decent film about Jesus Christ that I have seen was "The Gospel according to St. Mathew" and was directed by Pasolini, a confessed atheist, marxist and homossexual, then this is the surest sign that there is something deeply wrong in our culture.

Mr Veale said...

In Britain 2000AD, the comic which gave us "Judge Dredd", turned towards nihilism and occultism in the 1990s, in an effort to draw an adult audience. I'm not sure that comics needed to grow up. In fact, I think it's a sign that we live in an infantile culture.

So I'd like to see a post on the "Day Gwen Stacey Died!" When we moved into the 1980's many comics became sadistic and cruel. If Spidey had saved Gwen, would we all be better off?

Graham

Maolsheachlann said...

I think 2000 AD was always pretty nihilistic. I agree with you, Mr. Veale (at least I think I do)-- the more "grown-up" comic books seek to become, the more infantile they actually become. Personally I can take the Bash Street Kids a lot more seriously than Arkham Asylum.

Step2 said...

The problem here is that a cosmic force is about to appear in the movie series, and it won't be pretty when it happens. Google The Avengers and The Infinity Gauntlet to see what I mean. Long story short: Thanos wants the Infinity Gauntlet to court Death herself, and in the comic books the gauntlet gives him total mastery over reality, not simply unlimited power but the ability to transcend every law in the universe.

rank sophist said...

To use a comparison, Half-Life 2 makes a fairly overt criticism of eugenics, and has a priest show up in a ... positive role. I mean, he was a shotgun-wielding alien-killing Rasputin sort of priest, but c'mon, let's take what we can get here.

True enough. I loved Father Grigori.

It depends on your standard. I think you have to do some serious reading in to come to the interpretation you just said with Wall-E. And I won't say that animation is completely bereft of Christian influence. But the proportional influence and presence is pretty small.

I agree. But that information comes from the creators themselves: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/WALL-E#Themes

At this point, that would have to be nearly willful ignorance. Of course, why should I doubt there are willfully ignorant people, or just plain intellectually lazy people.

I think it's more what McGinn calls "post-theism". It just isn't an issue to these people anymore--particularly the kids. That's the part I find scariest.

Whatever the case, the culture I think is in a rotten state on this question, and is in need of better change and influence. To paraphrase something I heard long ago, I'd give 10 William Lane Craigs for 1 popular series with an orthodox Christian portrayed prominently and positively, without any overt apologetics in play. At least in terms of cultural effect.

I think I'd have to agree. Craig hits a certain demographic, but he can't reach out to the general population like a Christian character could.

In any case, I wish you luck with your attempts to reshape the world.

Crude said...

rank,

I think it's more what McGinn calls "post-theism". It just isn't an issue to these people anymore--particularly the kids. That's the part I find scariest.

Of course, Ed argues rather persuasively that McGinn's 'post-theism' is actually 'pre-theism'.

And... I highly doubt it manifests the way those words would suggest. Post-theism, a la McGinn, is a kind of atheism of the conviction that God clearly doesn't exist and the issue is settled, such that there's nothing to argue about anymore. I think there are far fewer resolute atheists than people think.

(I noticed today that 30% of people under 30 in the US have no religion. For a laugh, check out how many of the self-declared atheists/agnostics - not the merely irreligious, but the actual atheists/agnostics - 'believe in God or a higher power'.)

And thanks for the encouragement.

Crude said...

By the way - not animation/comics/games, but here's a timely example of theism getting the Stalin treatment.

New Scientist is running a special on reality. We're talking open metaphysical speculation about what is 'ultimate'. Not even physically ultimate necessarily, but straight up 'foundation of the universe in philosophical terms, they even brought in philosophers for this' talk.

Check the list of what they cover. At a glance: the idea that the universe is 'made of numbers', or that 'nothing' really exists, or that consciousness produces reality a la Copenhagen, or we're living in a computer simulation, or maybe solipsism is true, or maybe it's all matter and energy.

I have severe trouble believing that whoever made this story simply forgot 'theism' was a live option, philosophically defended, for an 'ultimate' answer. That's not post-theist "oops it just didn't even occur to us" behavior. In this case, it's cultural Stalinism - theism was there, but was edited out of the picture.

Mr Veale said...

Crude

Yes - isn't it odd that Bostrom's or Tegmark's universe is deemed plausible to secularists, while a theistic universe is deemed implausible?

Step2
Yes - the "metaphysics" of Marvel and DC became decidedly odd in the 1980s. As I understand it, Thanos becomes God, but then quits because it's boring. Or something.
I don't think the films will play Thanos that way - you probably needed to smoke something illegal in the 1960s to find that storyline entertaining.

Maolsheachlann
The Bash Street Kids win every time! Gnash, Gnash.
I remember reading 2000AD as a young teen and feeling decidedly rebellious. There was enough political satire to make the comic feel a little "grown up"; but, basically, it was still aimed at kids.
I can't help feeling that my son has been robbed of similar experiences. Comics can be so grim and violent and sexual - there's so little restraint, nothing interesting can happen.


Graham

Anonymous said...

Well since we are talking about pop culture, I found these quotes interesting. They're from Advance Wars: Days of Ruin, a game which I completed recently.

Caulder: The man in the armored tank speaks of rights! How very tiresome...
Whatever you may think of me, I have always been faithful to my curiosity. I
am not motivated by greed, or fame, or the interests of society. If my
research causes suffering or moral quandaries, I care not. I seek only to
learn. In that sense, I am a pure and simple man.

Caulder: Pah! Spare me your overworn lectures and tired morality. You have
simply been conditioned to accept the values of society. And now you
unthinkingly spout those same values to me. Do you not fight? Do you not
kill? Is this not for selfish reasons? You cannot justify your war while
condemning my research!

Mr. Green said...

Crude: Sadly, no. I'm just one guy with meager skills. But I'd like to be the guy making games and media where Christians and Christianity show up in proper and positive lights, and is seen by enough people.

Good! I think part of the problem is that Christians simply aren't producing enough good Christian material. It's one thing to exercise a degree of accommodation in a secular society; it's another to give up and leave producing such works to others. (Which is how a historically Christian society gets so secular in the first place…) Of course, the Internet also makes it possible for more rubbish to spread as well, but if good material is made available, I think people will find it.

Note that I don't mean 'Christian media'. I can think of some exceptions, but whenever I see something branded as that, it tends to be kind of schlocky.

Yup. Some of that is technology making it easier to produce and distribute schlock (when you had to copy out your books by hand, you made sure they were worth it!). Some of it is giving in to the "professionals" (if you want Hollywood production-values, then you go along with Hollywood attitudes). Some of it is trying too hard (any time you produce for a goal that isn't "good art", it probably will turn out badly — e.g. sentimental or preachy, in this case). And the general decline of artistic standards, and, heck, lots of reasons.

Throw a very theologically liberal or social liberal of the right bend behind a project, and you're going to get the same result.

And there's another reason: artists seem to tend to be liberal. I'm not sure if this is just an accident of our present moment in history, or there is some sort of selection going on. (The type of person who is drawn towards creating art vs. the type who is drawn to creating products or services?) Turning art on its head, inverting (perverting) its purpose from inspiration to self-expression, has had unsurprisingly horrible results, and drives away people who would make constructive contributions.

I think most of the creators who attack these things know they're attacking or presenting primitive caricatures and straw men.

Sometimes, absolutely. But things are so bad nowadays that even sincere Christians are appallingly ignorant of their cultural heritage (including the intellectual side). So I think there are plenty of people who attack strawmen without knowing it (or who attack caricatures of the strawmen!).

New Scientist is running a special on reality. […] I have severe trouble believing that whoever made this story simply forgot 'theism' was a live option, philosophically defended, for an 'ultimate' answer.

It is kinda surreal. (If numbers are ultimate, aren't we returning to a Pythagorean matheism??) And speaking of Zeus-worship [in the other thread], Bostrom's simulation argument implies that naturalists likely all ought to be theists, since the programmer-creator of our (probably) simulated world qualifies as a god, and deserves some (non-transcendental) reverence.

Mr. Green said...

JHall: Book responds with something along the lines of, well (paraphrasing), it may not make any logical sense, but that's not what the Bible is really about. It's about having faith and something to believe in (the standard, very modern, conception of faith).

Ouch. I think that's even worse than a flat-out attack or airbrushing out of the picture. Uninformed Christians — which is most of them — will naively see that as some form of support, as an attempt to present a balanced view, thus reinforcing their mistakes in a way that the alternatives would not. Without large amounts of television rooted in true philosophy, I don't know how this sad state of affairs will get reversed. (Well, there's always catastrophic economic collapse and Chinese take-over, or whatever is due for the next civilisational collapse!)

Crude said...

Mr. Green,

Sometimes, absolutely. But things are so bad nowadays that even sincere Christians are appallingly ignorant of their cultural heritage (including the intellectual side). So I think there are plenty of people who attack strawmen without knowing it (or who attack caricatures of the strawmen!).

Really, there are times when I think this doesn't matter so much. If we're being frank, then absolutely anyone discussing any topic that has an 'intellectual side' in popular media is absolutely abysmal and shallow. Even 'secular/atheist' ideas - darwinism, liberalism, atheism itself - are presented in such watered-down, incorrect, schlocky ways whenever they are, in fact, presented. Even sympathetically!

As I said with the LGBT thing, the cultural success of that group had little to nothing to do with arguments. Yes, they made and make strawmen out of Christians in all media, but their own views were paper tigers anyway (to keep up with the arts and crafts metaphors.) It's not like they put up powerful intellectual arguments against weak Christian/dissenting rejoinders.

In fact, that's part of my complaint here. The arguments, the intellectual aspect, these things are all important in many ways. But not all ways. Not even most ways.

And speaking of Zeus-worship [in the other thread], Bostrom's simulation argument implies that naturalists likely all ought to be theists, since the programmer-creator of our (probably) simulated world qualifies as a god, and deserves some (non-transcendental) reverence.

I am overjoyed that someone aside from me is making this point, without prompting. My view is that both the simulation argument and the multiverse arguments that make simulated universes a certainty result not in atheism, but in a bizarre form of theism/polytheism. We should say as much.

Crude said...

then absolutely anyone discussing any topic that has an 'intellectual side' in popular media is absolutely abysmal and shallow.

Before someone hits me for being too extreme with this - I'm sure, in some situations, the ideas and arguments are presented better.

But far and away most of the time? Not really. Especially in anything live action or animated, most of the time you're getting the most boiled down strawman/paper tiger matchup. "Here's a creationist, as all Christians are. He believes dinosaur bones were hidden in the ground by mischievous elves. Now watch as the smart scientist proves him wrong: he's going to say the words 'natural selection', and then call the creationist fat. Everyone's going to laugh at the creationist, and agree that the scientist is very smart and right and all the evidence is on his side."

Mr. Green said...

Crude: If we're being frank, then absolutely anyone discussing any topic that has an 'intellectual side' in popular media is absolutely abysmal and shallow.

Or indeed, any topic that doesn't have an intellectual side! I would note that this is not the fault of the medium itself, although a story (as opposed to a documentary or a filmed lecture) does not by its nature lend itself to explicit preaching or academic discussion. This is a practical problem, because people are generally so out of touch with the intellectual background that merely presenting stories with a Christian context (e.g. Tolkien) will be misinterpreted. (Perhaps a certain amount of preachiness is a necessary evil?)

As I said with the LGBT thing, the cultural success of that group had little to nothing to do with arguments. Yes, they made and make strawmen out of Christians in all media, but their own views were paper tigers anyway

Well, that argument was pretty much lost before it began. But it can be pushed emotionally to seal the deal. And appealing to (or subtly shaping) emotions and instincts can be more effective than an intellectual argument because one doesn't need to worry about one's audience failing to follow the argument, or responding with a counter-argument. But that's a problem if you want to reform the media, because you need to be more honest about the views you're presenting, and not simply "trick" people into buying them. So I think you're right that the intellectual aspect is not the most important in analysing what currently happens, but doesn't it need to be in developing any response?

My view is that both the simulation argument and the multiverse arguments that make simulated universes a certainty result not in atheism, but in a bizarre form of theism/polytheism.

Yes, that does need to be said. And let me add: to those who object that "maybe the first cause isn't God, why not the universe?", before we even get to studying the attributes of the First Cause, the answer is that if it is the universe, that is still what men would call "God". And such a person is a pantheist. Pantheism arguably has a more respectable pedigree than atheism, why not just come out and admit it? An impersonal pantheistic god is perhaps less likely to be seen as a valid object of veneration, but then again, some atheists boast that they can feel the same awe and thankfulness towards …nature?… that theists do, which is either delusional (if there is no such object of their thanks and admiration), or else worship of their universe-god. (Surely "scientism" is a thinly-veiled religion for modern pantheists.)

Crude said...

Mr.Green,

This is a practical problem, because people are generally so out of touch with the intellectual background that merely presenting stories with a Christian context (e.g. Tolkien) will be misinterpreted. (Perhaps a certain amount of preachiness is a necessary evil?)

Oh, I think some measured preaching can be effective. If you get too subtle, you won't be noticed by any but the most piercingly detail-oriented people.

But that's a problem if you want to reform the media, because you need to be more honest about the views you're presenting, and not simply "trick" people into buying them. So I think you're right that the intellectual aspect is not the most important in analysing what currently happens, but doesn't it need to be in developing any response?

The intellectual side absolutely needs to be developed. But I think that emotional pull and association, sans argument, is also something that needs to be done. Or even more simple associations, as simple as 'have the traditionalist priest / the orthodox christian be a person worthy of respect or friendly or positive in the story'. These are things that can actually be communicated in a film or comic or tv show that's meant to otherwise entertain, and they need to be done.

Detailed arguments and a solid intellectual foundation are great things, important things. But culture is a lot more than that. The little, incidental-seeming things - who's the hero and who's the villain in a given cartoon, the number of sympathetically portrayed orthodox Christians there are in a story that has little to nothing to do with religion, etc - matter a lot. They communicate, they shape imagination and day to day experience.

And let me add: to those who object that "maybe the first cause isn't God, why not the universe?", before we even get to studying the attributes of the First Cause, the answer is that if it is the universe, that is still what men would call "God". And such a person is a pantheist.

Part of the problem there is that the word 'pantheism' itself has been watered down to basically mean 'I like nature documentaries' for a lot of people. Or better yet, 'I want to think of myself as deep and spiritual, or at least get other people to think of me as that'. My understanding of Spinoza-style pantheism is that it's radically different from what most people seem to mean when they discuss pantheism ('sexed up atheism' goes the Dawkins quote.)

As for scientism - you know, I actually reject the claim that scientism is at all prevalent, even among New Atheists. It suggests that these are people who believe science is the only valid route to knowledge, or worse, 'people who are inordinately respectful of or devoted to science' - I think the latter is demonstrably false, and the former gets amended into oblivion. (See Jerry Coyne and company defining science down to the point where a plumber or even a squirrel is a scientist.)

Mr. Green said...

Crude: Oh, I think some measured preaching can be effective. If you get too subtle, you won't be noticed by any but the most piercingly detail-oriented people.

Agreed. I just think it's difficult to do that without getting schlocky. But I guess that kind of refinement is a luxury reserved for societies that aren't coming apart at the seams.

The little, incidental-seeming things - who's the hero and who's the villain in a given cartoon, the number of sympathetically portrayed orthodox Christians there are in a story that has little to nothing to do with religion, etc - matter a lot. They communicate, they shape imagination and day to day experience.

I don't know how much of this is deliberate plotting (er, in both senses of the word!), and how much is a self-perpetuating stereotype (i.e. some people write religious characters that way because they actually think that's how religion is, even when they're portraying the rare sympathetic figure, because actual religious people themselves believe it nowadays). You do occasionally see, say, a priest appearing as an "ordinary" character (not a villain or a caricature) where you didn't a few decades ago, but you won't see him appearing in a way that support or defends or explains orthodoxy.

However, there are lots of little details that don't make an explicit statement but that imply all sorts of sneaky things; part of being a writer is knowing how to handle these subtleties, but they aren't handled honestly. It's hard to pick out: one can always respond, "Hey, they never said ALL religious people are psycho killers, obviously it was just one character" or "Maybe you can interpret that as meaning faith is just a feeling, but they didn't actually SAY that." But a lot of people pick up on the attitude without stopping to analyse it (or being able to).

There's also the cheating: outright misrepresentation (deliberate or not), but also word-games, such as calling religious people "anti-scientific". I've certainly never met anyone who was against "science"; it's tempting to label those who ignore the plain biological facts about abortion, sexuality, etc. as being against science (and with at least a smidgen of truth!)... but of course that wouldn't be right.

My understanding of Spinoza-style pantheism is that it's radically different from what most people seem to mean when they discuss pantheism ('sexed up atheism' goes the Dawkins quote.)

Hah. Interesting that Dawkins would note the connection, even if tries to make it point backwards.

As for scientism - you know, I actually reject the claim that scientism is at all prevalent, even among New Atheists.

Well, I was taking it for granted that the "science" being worshipped couldn't be real science, but maybe that's not quite standard usage. (It's hard to make even a pseudo-religion out of true science, because it so obviously isn't up to the job.)

Ray Ingles said...

I've stayed away from here while I (slowly) work through TLS, but I saw a link to this.

I just have one question: Why couldn't someone be fully Asgardian and fully divine?

Mr. Green said...

Ray Ingles: I just have one question: Why couldn't someone be fully Asgardian and fully divine?

Depends what we mean by "divine". If "a" god means not the Ultimate Cause but some being with certain (great) powers, then sure, a god could be Asgardian or Olympian or anything else.

Ray Ingles said...

Mr Green, you miss my point. Loki and Thor could "get knocked around by Iron Man", and Feser states that therefore they could not be "the God of classical theism".

OK, fine. But Jesus was reportedly knocked around - in fact, killed - by Roman centurions. And yet, Jesus was also 'fully human and fully divine'.

By this logic, would it not be the case that, whatever God Jesus may have been, he could not be "the God of classical theism"? Why couldn't the centurions have said "puny god" about Jesus?

Mr. Green said...

Ray Ingles: By this logic, would it not be the case that, whatever God Jesus may have been, he could not be "the God of classical theism"?

I see — yes, in that sense, it's certainly possible for God to become incarnated in some creaturely form. But of course, that's not the scenario presented in the comic books. Thor's godly powers consist of being able to pick up dump trucks and fly or whatever, so clearly he is only "a" god. Jesus was weak because as a man, he was just that — a man; being also God didn't make him a man with superpowers. If you wanted, you could have a fictional character who was also supposed to be the infinite God (as Lewis did with Aslan).

Ray Ingles said...

being also God didn't make [Jesus] a man with superpowers

You mean no 'superpowers' aside from commanding the weather, transmutation, matter duplication, healing up to and including resurrection, etc?

Now, you can say that it was God the Ultimate Cause that really did those things, and God-As-Jesus just asked for them. But how do we know that Loki, say, didn't just pray for the effects he produced?

My point is, you can't - say as Feser does - 'Loki got the beatdown from the Hulk, therefore he wasn't God (or even God incarnate)'. I mean, the centurions came awfully close to saying 'puny God'... yet they were allegedly wrong.

The syllogism:

1. Loki got the beatdown.
2. God can't get a beatdown.
3. Therefore, Loki isn't God.

...is invalid. Because if you substitute 'Jesus' for 'Loki' in the syllogism, suddenly I'd assume Feser (along with all other Christians) would reject it.

Mr. Green said...

Ray Ingles: Now, you can say that it was God the Ultimate Cause that really did those things

I almost did; after all, that's the whole point.

Because if you substitute 'Jesus' for 'Loki' in the syllogism, suddenly I'd assume Feser (along with all other Christians) would reject it.

We have to be more precise in our formulation: Jesus's human nature got beaten; God cannot get beaten; therefore Jesus's human nature is not divine. You can equally conclude that Loki's Asgardian nature is not divine. The relevant difference is that Jesus has two natures, while Loki has only one. (At least, that's how the story is presented in the comics/movie. As I already said, Loki is not called a god in the comic books because he's supposed to be Being Itself incarnated in some extraterrestrial body; he's called a god because he's supposed to be one of many beings with the ability to fly (or whatever his powers are). I guess you could say, "But what if he was supposed to be Being Itself, and what if really he's meant to look like a lion, and what if he lived in Narnia instead of Asgard?" ... but I think I already addressed that too.)

Ray Ingles said...

I think we're sort of in violent agreement. My sole point is that you can't conclude someone isn't divine simply because they can be defeated in battle. (Which, of course, was a historic objection to Jesus being divine - 'what kind of God dies on a cross'?)

So you need some other information to conclude Loki wasn't also Being Itself. All I'm saying is that Feser's analysis in this post is incomplete at best, facile at worst.

Unknown said...

This is merely more assertionist wibble of the sort we see all the time from supernaturalists. It's a classic example of a favourite bait and switch amongst supernaturalists, namely, asserting blindly the existence of various fantastic magic properties (without, of course, ever supporting that assertion), followed by asserting blindly in turn that the supernaturalist's pet choice of invisible magic man is purportedly the only candidate for the possession thereof.

Feser has it completely backwards. Until the existence question is settled in a suitably rigorous manner first, all assertions about fantastic magic powers possessed by this entity are mere speculation and fantasy.

Trying to conjure your pet magic entity into existence by asserting the existence of special, privileged attributes and properties, without bothering to support this assertion, then trying to use this to conjure your pet magic man into existence, as well as being farcical, is a duplicitous discoursive bait and switch.

Needless to say, I suspect this comment will be sent to the bin shortly after posting, because supernaturalists have a habit of trying to delete things that don't conform to their presuppositions. Index librorum prohibitorum, anyone?