Friday, October 5, 2012

Who wants to be an atheist?


Suppose something like Erich von Däniken’s Chariots of the Gods? hypothesis turned out to be true, and the God of the Bible was really an extraterrestrial who had impressed the Israelites with some high tech.  Would you conclude: “A ha!  Those atheists sure have egg on their faces now!  Turns out the Bible was right!  Well, basically right, anyway.  True, God’s nature isn’t exactly what we thought it was, but He does exist after all!”  Presumably not, no more than if the God of Exodus turned out to be Moses with an amplifier and some red fizzies he’d dumped into the Nile.  The correct conclusion to draw in either case would not be “God exists, but He wasn’t what He seemed” but rather “God does not exist, He only seemed to.”

Or suppose something like Frank Tipler’s Omega Point theory turned out to be correct and the universe is destined to evolve into a vastly powerful supercomputer (to which Tipler ascribes a kind of divinity).  If you had been inclined toward atheism, do you think you would now conclude: “Wow, turns out God does exist, or at least will exist someday!”  Or rather only: “Wow, so this really weird gigantic supercomputer will exist someday!  Cool.  But what does that have to do with God?”

Now suppose that someone said: “You know, it’s not just that I don’t think von Däniken’s alien ‘gods’ or Tipler’s supercomputer ‘god’ actually exist.  I wouldn’t want them to exist.  I wouldn’t want the world to be like that.”  Perhaps he fears that von Däniken’s alien “gods” might end up like the extraterrestrials of the Twilight Zone episode “To Serve Man,” or that Tipler’s “god” might end up like the supercomputer of Harlan’s Ellison’s chilling short story “I Have No Mouth, and I Must Scream.”  But perhaps not.  Perhaps he just finds the ideas inherently distasteful or unattractive.  Would there be anything wrong with this attitude?  It’s hard to see how.  It would be like hoping that unicorns don’t exist, or that there is no life on Mars, or indeed that Thor, Jupiter, or Quetzalcoatl don’t exist.  There might be some suspect motive on the part of someone with such an attitude -- a strange belief that the existence of unicorns would somehow put unwelcome moral constraints on his sex life, or a fear that Thor might end up acting like a superhero and interfere with his criminal activities, or whatever -- but it seems implausible to suppose that there has to be.

But now consider a statement like Thomas Nagel’s famous remarks from his book The Last Word:

I want atheism to be true and am made uneasy by the fact that some of the most intelligent and well-informed people I know are religious believers.  It isn't just that I don't believe in God and, naturally, hope that I'm right in my belief.  It's that I hope there is no God!  I don't want there to be a God; I don't want the universe to be like that. 

Is this evidence of some suspect motive on Nagel’s part?  Well, obviously I cannot know Nagel’s mind.  And judging from his work over the years, including The Last Word itself and his recent and fascinating book Mind and Cosmos (my review of which will appear soon), one had better think twice before accusing Nagel of intellectual dishonesty.  Few naturalists are as frank as he is about the difficulties facing their position, or as open to hearing intelligent criticism.  Suppose, then, that Nagel’s view of God is something like that of Antony Flew, who opined in the Introduction to the 2005 reissue of God and Philosophy -- after his own conversion from atheism to a kind of deism, mind you -- that:

It should perhaps be noted here that not only the God of Islam but also the God of Christianity was originally conceived on the model of an Oriental despot -- such as Saddam Hussein -- insistent that his subjects should be always obedient to, and forever praising of, their master.

Now this is of course a ludicrous caricature, and perhaps Flew should have known better than to peddle it -- as with Nagel, I have no way of knowing his mind.  But suppose someone sincerely thought that the God of the Bible, of the creeds, and of thinkers like Augustine, Anselm, and Aquinas, was essentially a cosmic Saddam Hussein -- an egomaniac who issues arbitrary commands and backs them up with nothing more than threats, but who also happens to be disembodied, immortal, unbelievably powerful, and extremely well-informed about everything that happens in the universe.  Would it necessarily be unreasonable or dishonest to hope that such an essentially anthropomorphic “God” did not exist?  Why?

The point, as my longtime readers will have already guessed, is once again to underline the importance of fidelity to the tradition of classical theism.  In the combox to my most recent post on the subject, a reader complained:

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

Well, the point has nothing to do with self-congratulation.  And it has nothing to do either with my personal views or those of any other individual thinker, not even Aquinas.  Classical theism is the common heritage not only of Thomists and other Scholastics, not only of orthodox Roman Catholicism, not only of Eastern and Protestant Christians whose thinking is informed by the greatest thinkers of Christian history, but also of Jews and Muslims, and of philosophical theists of the Platonic and Aristotelian stripes.  And there are also elements of it to be found outside the West (unsurprisingly given that the basic truths of natural theology are, naturally, accessible in principle to all human beings).  As a Catholic I would of course maintain that the doctrine of the Trinity represents a more penetrating understanding of the divine nature than non-Christian conceptions.  And of course I happen to think the Thomistic way of articulating classical theism is philosophically and theologically superior to the alternatives.  But that is all neither here nor there for present purposes.  What is to the point is that in the general dispute between atheism and theism, classical theists of all the varieties named are at one with each other -- and at one with atheists -- in rejecting crudely anthropomorphic conceptions of deity.  No Christian, Jew, or Muslim who understood his religion would say “Well, if it turned out that God did not exist and Thor was the best we could do, I guess we would have to worship him instead.”  

One reason for emphasizing the importance of classical theism, then, is to make it absolutely clear what is really at stake in the dispute between atheism and theism, and to push aside certain obstacles which for some atheists of good will may stand in the way of their taking theism seriously.  I would suggest that the obstacles in question concern a misleading perception of arbitrariness in theism, arbitrariness of which classical theism cannot justly be accused but which is indeed to be found in cruder forms of theism.  Such arbitrariness is of at least three sorts:

1. Metaphysical arbitrariness: Some atheists suppose that belief in God is essentially belief in a kind of “magical” being, where magic is a kind of pseudo-explanation and indeed something inherently unintelligible.  Or they suppose that the existence of God would be a kind of unintelligible “brute fact” that is certainly no more plausible that the existence of the universe as a brute fact, and indeed less plausible than the latter alternative given Ockham’s razor.  But all of this is precisely what the classical theist denies.  Classical theism maintains that there are no ultimate “brute facts,” that reality is in itself intelligible through and through.  And its reasons for saying so are grounded in sophisticated metaphysics, not crude appeals to magic.  (I have addressed these matters at length here and here.)  

Hence, when classical theists say that God does not have a cause, that is not because He is an arbitrary exception to a general rule.  Other things require causes because they have potentials that require actualization, or parts (whether material or metaphysical) that need to be combined, or have an essence or nature that is distinct from their existence and thus needs to be conjoined to it.  But God is pure actuality and devoid of potentiality, and thus cannot in principle be actualized by anything else; He is absolutely simple and thus does not have parts which need to be combined; and He is Subsistent Being Itself and thus cannot have being or existence imparted to Him.  This makes God not less intelligible than things that require a cause but more intelligible.  (I have said much more about this in various posts on classical theism and the cosmological argument.)

By contrast, whatever is not metaphysically simple, or pure actuality, or subsistent being itself, would -- however otherwise impressive in its strength, knowledge, or moral qualities -- be less than ultimate and would thus require an explanation outside itself.  This would apply to all the gods of the various heathen pantheons, who typically have material and temporal limitations of various sorts.  It would also apply to any view about the God of the Bible that would deny that He is metaphysically simple, purely actual, etc.  These views implicitly make of Him a brute fact and something that differs from created things only in not happening to have a cause of His own.  They essentially reduce Him to a glorified Zeus or Odin.

So, atheists rightly object to the metaphysical arbitrariness of these crude conceptions of deity.  But their objections have no force against classical theism.

2. Moral arbitrariness: Many atheists suppose that to attribute goodness to God is to say that He is a moral agent like us, only much better behaved.  Or they suppose that God’s status as a moral lawgiver must involve the issuance of arbitrary commands backed by threats, and that to avoid this result would require acknowledging that there is a moral standard independent of Him and to which even He must answer.  And they might wonder in light of all this exactly why God’s demands on us are ones we should be expected to follow.  Does it really boil down to His having the ability to threaten us with damnation?  What does that have to do with morality per se (as opposed to self-interested calculation)?  But all of this rests on a trivialization of the notion of divine goodness.  For the classical theist God does not merely “have” goodness, as we do but to a higher degree.  He just is Goodness Itself, that by reference to which other things are good or bad to whatever degree they are.  To say:

God’s demands on us are arbitrary; or if not, then He must be appealing to some standard outside Himself.

is thus like saying:

Euclidean triangularity as such makes arbitrary demands of particular Euclidean triangles when it requires of them that they have straight sides and angles that add up to 180 degrees; or if not, then Euclidean triangularity as such must be appealing to some standard outside itself.  

It is, in other words, a category mistake, a basic failure to understand the nature of the reality in question -- or purported reality, for whether one actually believes in either Euclidean geometry or classical theism is beside the point.  (I have addressed these issues at greater length here and here.)  

Damnation, in turn, is ultimately a matter of one’s character having become permanently corrupted so that one is, as it were, forever incapable of even wanting to be near that which just is Goodness Itself.  One’s will has become fixed on evil and thus cannot be in the divine presence.  It is a matter of metaphysical necessity rather than arbitrary divine whim.  (As General Honoré might put it, the damned soul is one that has become metaphysically “stuck on stupid.”)

By contrast, whatever is less than Goodness Itself is something that would be subject to a standard external to him, and would be something about which we could intelligibly ask why we should respect its demands.  Now all the gods of the heathen pantheons are like this (which is precisely why they are described as having various moral virtues or vices to varying degrees).  And views of the God of the Bible that would interpret Him merely as a particularly admirable moral agent would also make it intelligible to ask why we should obey His commands and whether He must be subject to a standard external to Him.  Again, they essentially make of God a glorified Zeus or Odin.

Here too atheists are right to object to the arbitrariness of the conceptions of deity in question.  But their objections have no force against classical theism.

3. Epistemological arbitrariness: Atheists often suppose that to hold that God is the ultimate cause of things is to assert a lame “god of the gaps” hypothesis subject to overthrow by future scientific discoveries.  Or they think that it is, even worse, a sheer appeal to faith understood as the will to believe without evidence.  Understandably, they wonder why belief in Zeus or Quetzalcoatl couldn’t be equally “justified” by faith, or why one of these pagan deities would be any less plausible a “god of the gaps.”  But the main arguments for classical theism are precisely the opposite of “god of the gaps” arguments; and far from resting on an irrational faith commitment, the very content of classical theism is inextricably tied to a commitment to the rational intelligibility of the world.  

The explanations of common sense and empirical science explicitly or implicitly presuppose a world of changing things, of causal relationships, of complex entities whose parts require composition by something outside them.  When the classical theist says that God is pure actuality, subsistent being itself, and absolutely simple, what he is saying is precisely that none of the explanations of common sense or science could in principle count as genuine explanations at all unless there is a cause of the world that is like this.  In particular, change -- the actualization of potential -- would not be possible unless there is something that is pure actuality and thus can impart the power to actualize to other things without having to derive it from anything else.  Things could not exist even for an instant unless there were something which, as subsistent being itself, could cause their existence without having to be caused itself.  Composite things could not exist unless there were a source of reality which, being absolutely simple, did not have to be composed itself.  In short, the explanatory resources of common sense and of science are intelligible in principle only within the context of a classical theist metaphysics.  That -- and not some arbitrary faith commitment -- is why classical theism will not be overthrown by science.  It is rationally and metaphysically more fundamental than science, not less fundamental.  For its rational foundations are to be found, not in the gaps in current science but in the necessary preconditions of any possible science.  That, at any rate, is what the classical theist argues, and he does indeed argue for his claims rather than merely assert them.  (I have said much more about all this in various posts on the cosmological argument.)  

By contrast, it is hard to see how the deities of the heathen pantheons could be argued for in anything other than a “god of the gaps” manner.  Why suppose that Thor exists (say) unless this were somehow the “best explanation” among others of lightning phenomena, or of certain apparitions people in northern Europe have had?  Precisely because these entities would be metaphysically less than ultimate, no appeal either to the ultimate explanation of the world or to the necessary presuppositions of the very practice of explanation could be used to argue for their existence (as such an appeal can be deployed in arguing for the existence of the God of classical theism).  And any view of the God of the Bible that would make Him metaphysically less ultimate than the classical theist conception of God would, similarly, reduce Him to the sort of thing for which “god of the gaps” arguments might seem the best we can do.

Once again, atheists are right to object to the arbitrariness they see in lame arguments of this sort.  But once again, these objections are irrelevant to classical theism.

So, why would anyone want atheism to be true?  Well, I might want it to be true if I thought theism was essentially the silly, vulgar thing atheists often suppose it to be.  (Indeed, I was an atheist for about a decade, before I had any clear understanding of what the classical theist tradition really had to say.)  To paraphrase Aquinas, serious defenders of theism ought to know and uphold the classical tradition lest in their disputes with the other side they “bring forward reasons that are not cogent, so as to give occasion to unbelievers to laugh” (Summa Theologiae I.46.2).  Or, more importantly, lest they cause well-meaning atheists to reject theism on the basis of entirely avoidable misunderstandings.

161 comments:

Crude said...

I get what you're saying in this kind of post. But this is one of the areas I find myself disagreeing with you.

You have a lot of arguments with theistic personalists, I know. Certainly the God of classical theism is not the God of theistic personalism. But to read you here, your charge would be that theistic personalists are, after all, atheists. Naturalists, in fact. So are people who believe in Zeus, Thor, etc. That's quite a thing to say, along the lines of saying that 'polytheism' itself is not only wrong, but intellectually impossible, on the level of '2 + 2 = 5'.

Gene Callahan said...

@Crude: "But to read you here, your charge would be that theistic personalists are, after all, atheists."

That is an extraordinary conclusion! I can't see a single thing in this essay that says or even hints at this conclusion. Instead, the essay indicates that personalistic theism is vulnerable to certain atheistic arguments.

Crude said...

Gene,

That is an extraordinary conclusion! I can't see a single thing in this essay that says or even hints at this conclusion.

From Ed's post:

Or suppose something like Frank Tipler’s Omega Point theory turned out to be correct and the universe is destined to evolve into a vastly powerful supercomputer (to which Tipler ascribes a kind of divinity). If you had been inclined toward atheism, do you think you would now conclude: “Wow, turns out God does exist, or at least will exist someday!” Or rather only: “Wow, so this really weird gigantic supercomputer will exist someday! Cool. But what does that have to do with God?”

[...]

Suppose something like Erich von Däniken’s Chariots of the Gods? hypothesis turned out to be true, and the God of the Bible was really an extraterrestrial who had impressed the Israelites with some high tech. Would you conclude: “A ha! Those atheists sure have egg on their faces now! Turns out the Bible was right! Well, basically right, anyway. True, God’s nature isn’t exactly what we thought it was, but He does exist after all!” Presumably not,

Now, I could be misunderstanding him. But in the above quotes, he seems to be saying that if God were something like Thor, or Zeus, or etc, the proper conclusion for Christians wouldn't be 'God exists, but not as we thought' but rather 'These things are not God or gods, and it would be wrong to conclude theism is true if these exist'.

I could of course be wildly wrong. But between this and past posts (The Trouble with William Paley, etc) that's the impression I'm getting. I believe Ed even expressly said that such gods are entirely compatible with naturalism.

But if I'm wrong, I look forward to being corrected.

Christian said...

Great post Professor

Anonymous said...

the explanatory resources of common science and of science are intelligible in principle only within the context of a classical theist metaphysics.

Bravo kind Sir. Truer words were never spoken!

BenYachov said...

I must meditate & Think as to if I agree with Crude, disagree or other?

I'll chime in later since I am all about the Classic Theism & I kinda, extremist that I am, hate Theistic Personalism. I don't hate Theistic Personalists however.

Crude said...

Ben,

I can just flat out be wrong here, since this is about what Ed himself is saying - if he says 'no, some form of theism would be true if a theistic personalist god existed, it just wouldn't make classical theism true', that's that, and I made a mistake. Wouldn't be the first time.

James Redford said...

Hi, Prof. Edward Feser.

For more on physicist and mathematician Prof. Frank J. Tipler's Omega Point cosmology, which is a proof of God's existence according to the known laws of physics (i.e., the Second Law of Thermodynamics, General Relativity, and Quantum Mechanics), and the Feynman-DeWitt-Weinberg quantum gravity/Standard Model Theory of Everything (TOE), see my following article:

James Redford, "The Physics of God and the Quantum Gravity Theory of Everything", Social Science Research Network (SSRN), Sept. 10, 2012 (orig. pub. Dec. 19, 2011), 186 pp., doi:10.2139/ssrn.1974708, http://archive.org/details/ThePhysicsOfGodAndTheQuantumGravityTheoryOfEverything

Regarding the congruities and unique attributes of the Omega Point cosmology with Christianity:

The Omega Point is omniscient, having an infinite amount of information and knowing all that is logically possible to be known; it is omnipotent, having an infinite amount of energy and power; and it is omnipresent, consisting of all that exists. These three properties are the traditional haecceities of God held by almost all of the world's leading religions. Hence, by definition, the Omega Point is God.

The Omega Point final singularity is a different aspect of the Big Bang initial singularity, i.e., the uncaused first cause, a definition of God held by all the Abrahamic religions.

As well, as Stephen Hawking proved, the singularity is not in spacetime, but rather is the boundary of space and time (see S. W. Hawking and G. F. R. Ellis, The Large Scale Structure of Space-Time [Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1973], pp. 217-221).

The Schmidt b-boundary has been shown to yield a topology in which the cosmological singularity is not Hausdorff separated from the points in spacetime, meaning that it is not possible to put an open set of points between the cosmological singularity and *any* point in spacetime proper. That is, the cosmological singularity has infinite nearness to every point in spacetime.

So the Omega Point is transcendent to, yet immanent in, space and time. Because the cosmological singularity exists outside of space and time, it is eternal, as time has no application to it.

Quite literally, the cosmological singularity is supernatural, in the sense that no form of physics can apply to it, since physical values are at infinity at the singularity, and so it is not possible to perform arithmetical operations on them.

And given an infinite amount of computational resources, per the Bekenstein Bound, recreating the exact quantum state of our present universe is trivial, requiring at most a mere 10^123 bits (the number which Roger Penrose calculated), or at most a mere 2^10^123 bits for every different quantum configuration of the universe logically possible (i.e., the powerset). So the Omega Point will be able to resurrect us using merely an infinitesimally small amount of total computational resources.

Miracles are allowed by the known laws of physics via the principle of least action by the physical requirement that the Omega Point final cosmological singularity exists. If the miracles of Jesus Christ were necessary in order for the universe to evolve into the Omega Point, and if the known laws of physics are correct, then the probability of those miracles occurring is certain.

Additionally, the cosmological singularity consists of a triune structure: the final singularity (i.e., the Omega Point), the all-presents singularity (which exists at all times at the edge of the multiverse), and the initial singularity (i.e., the beginning of the Big Bang). These three distinct aspects are actually one singularity which connects the entirety of the multiverse.

Christian theology is therefore preferentially selected by the known laws of physics due to the fundamentally triune structure of the cosmological singularity, which is deselective of all other major religions.

Arthur said...

"...theistic personalists are, after all, atheists."

Perhaps it would be better to say that theistic personalists should be atheists, but this makes sense to me. It seems to me that once you admit that God differs from people only in degree and not kind, then all sorts of problems arise and you make theism needlessly vulnerable to all the stock atheist objections.

Talk of Flying Spagetti Monsters shamefully misses the mark when applied to Classical Theism, but I think it works just fine on Theistic Personalism. If God is just some larger human-like thing, why couldn't He be caused by an even larger human-like thing? Why should his commands be more important than anyone else's? Why haven't the sciences detected such a thing, floating around somewhere in the cosmos? How did He become so omnipotent? To my mind, most of these questions are actually rather muddled, but you can't adequately expose the muddle without Classical Theism.

Basically, the same crude conception of God that allows atheists to indulge in Flying Spagetti Monsters is a conception that Theistic Personalists share.

That's why for me, it's Divine Simplicity or nothing. I haven't been interested in anything else ever since I encountered Anselm's definition of "greatest concievable existant". If I became convinced that God was complex (as Richard Dawkins believes) I think I'd convert to atheism overnight.

George R. said...

Thanks for the little primer on Tipler's Omega Point cosmology, James. I always like to start my Saturday with a good laugh.

Sean Robsville said...

Regarding classical theism, as the Good Book says: "For the LORD your God is a jealous God". But can jealousy possibly be a divine attribute? Or is this just anthropomorphism as well?

Benyachov said...

>Regarding classical theism, as the Good Book says: "For the LORD your God is a jealous God". But can jealousy possibly be a divine attribute? Or is this just anthropomorphism as well?


I reply: Yes it is an anthropomorphism God has no emotions or passions. That's theology 101.

No Church Father would take that hyper-literally anymore than passages that speak of God enfolding us in His wings should be taken to mean God is a giant Chicken.

BenYachov said...

The Cosmological Singularity has some unique properties and the fact the normal Laws of Physics don't apply to it makes any modern Physicist who might be an Atheist with his unconscious Humean Philosophical dogma of "immutible laws" a tad bit uneasy hence Hawkings labors in Quantum Cosmology to find a way to apply the Laws of Physics all the way back to the Big Bang event and before.

At best a Cosmological Singularity allows for the conditions so a Paley style Deistic or Theistic Personalist "god" can be a creator without Hume getting in the way.

But a Cosmological Singularity can't be "god" in the Classical Theistic sense since the Singularity under goes change.

The Cosmological Singularity is all the matter & energy in the Universe crushed down to an infinity dense point with no physical dimensions. At the Big Bang event it surges into Time, Space, Energy and Matter. It changes & thus can't be immutable & thus can't be God in the Classic Sense.

The Classic Theistic God can cause the Cosmological Singularity to exist & then BANG just as it can cause a Hartle/Hawking space time to exist cause it via it's essential properties to produce a Cosmic Wave Function then cause the Wave Function to collapse starting the Bing Bang.

But the CS isn't God in the Classic Sense.

Benyachov said...

>I believe Ed even expressly said that such gods are entirely compatible with naturalism.

I think that is what he said too & I think I might agree.

In the pagan Babylonian creation myth in the beginning there was Primordial Chaos & out of the Chaos sprang the "gods" who in turn fashioned the rest of the Chaos into the world & created man as slaves to serve them.

Contrast that with Genesis where God always existed brought the Cosmos into existence out of Nothing and fashioned the world and created Man to love and serve Him.

The only difference between the pagan "gods" and modern Atheist Cosmology is the "gods" are for all intensive purposes merely personified Laws of Nature nothing more.

In many pagan cosmologies Something arises from nothing Un-caused & out of that Something the so called "gods" are born.

From a Classic Theistic perspective it does sound Atheistic to me. The only difference are the particulars of cosmology and the personification of the Laws of nature.

Crude said...

Well, this is interesting. See, I'm a classical theist myself, or at least that's where my sympathies strongly lie. I'll defend classical theism. But people here have this impression that theistic personalism is in horrible shape, and I simply don't share that view. And I have to reject the idea that, if you're not a classical theist, you're an atheist. Not "is classical theism is false, then atheism is most likely true", but literally, "theism itself can only be true if classical theism is true". That, to me, seems entirely wrong-headed, and a warping of common language.

So I guess I'll be running some defense of theistic personalism today. Arthur says,

Talk of Flying Spagetti Monsters shamefully misses the mark when applied to Classical Theism, but I think it works just fine on Theistic Personalism.

That depends on what you mean. Works fine as in 'the question can be asked to begin with, rather than being rooted in a fundamental misconception'? Maybe. Works as in 'provides an argument that scuttles theistic personalism, because they have no reply'? This I doubt.

If God is just some larger human-like thing, why couldn't He be caused by an even larger human-like thing?

The thing is, this was exactly the case with (for example) Zeus. Zeus was third generation, I think, and everyone knew it. I always liked how the answer to the sarcastic question of 'If god created everything, who created god?' was, for greek pagans, easy. "Cronos and Gaia. Next question!"

But that establishes some of the problem for me. Zeus was, for all his limitations, a god. To believe in Zeus was to be a theist of some sort (a polytheist). Even philosophers seem content with recognizing this... at least at first. This is an area where I get the impression some people (usually atheists) want to have it both ways, where Zeus and the Zeus-like are gods only as long as they're convenient to be so in concept. Then suddenly you have to be omnipotent, omniscient, and omnibenevolent. Something isn't right there.

It gets more complicated since, if I understand Ed - and again, here I may be misunderstanding things severely - Plantinga and Craig are both theistic personalists. First, if that's true, then classical theist critics should at least pause a moment and realize that the theist with an extremely good reputation for debating and defending the idea of God is a theistic personalist. Second, Craig rejects Aquinas' divine simplicity, but in his own words defends a 'weaker' divine simplicity. On the flipside, Arthur mentions Anselm's formulation, but what's odd to me is that Aquinas AFAIK rejected that argument - but one of its modern defenders is Plantinga, at least a modal version of it.

So right off the bat, it looks as if theistic personalists don't have to be in the shape people are suggesting they do here.

I think part of the problem here is that people put Zeus up against the God of Classical Theism, and it's no contest - the latter is majestic, powerful, fundamental, etc. But then they take another step and reason that, if they don't find Zeus very impressive, he can't be a god - as if something being a god hinges critically on 'Am I driven to worship this?' That to me seems plainly wrong, and the proper reply is that theism can be true, but said god may simply not be worthy of or even desiring worship.

James Redford said...

Hi, George R. People also laughed at the notion that the Earth revolved around the Sun, so counterintuitive was the idea. One cannot veridically use commonsense as a guidepost to science, since all the major physics theories are extremely counterintuitive and anticommonsensical.

BenYachov, you state, "But a Cosmological Singularity can't be 'god' [sic] in the Classical Theistic sense since the Singularity under goes change." Actually, the singularity is outside of spacetime, and so is not subject to time. It is eternal.

Further, the cosmological singularity has all the unique properties (i.e., haecceities) claimed for God in the traditional religions, particularly Christianity, and so by definition is God. (If *a thing* has even a single unique property given by a word's meaning, then logically that thing is *the thing* referred to by the word, otherwise it's not actually a unique property in that it would also apply to different things not meant by said word.)

I'll also point out that the concept of man becoming God is simply traditional Christianity, going all the way back to Jesus's teachings, that of Paul and the other Epistlers, and that of the Church Fathers. In traditional Christian theology, this is known as apotheosis, theosis or divinization. For many examples of these early teachings, see the article "Divinization (Christian)", Wikipedia, August 30, 2012, http://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Divinization_(Christian)&oldid=509902415 . Though this traditional position of Christian theology has been deemphasized for the last millennium.

Indeed, the words "transhumanism" and "superhumanism" originated in Christian theology. "Transhumanism" is a neologism coined by Dante Alighieri in his Divine Comedy (Paradiso, Canto I, lines 70-72), referring favorably to a mortal human who became an immortal god by means of eating a special plant. For the Christian theological origin of the term "superhumanism", see the Oxford English Dictionary (2nd ed.).

For much more details on these matters, see my aforecited article: James Redford, "The Physics of God and the Quantum Gravity Theory of Everything", Social Science Research Network (SSRN), Sept. 10, 2012 (orig. pub. Dec. 19, 2011), 186 pp., doi:10.2139/ssrn.1974708.

Anonymous said...

I'm going to have to agree with Crude on this one. I don't think Theistic Personalists (Plantinga, Craig, Swinburne et al.) are in as bad shape as it is often made out to be.

Also, as far as Craig is concerned, I think he has done a marvelous job dwarfing most of his atheistic opponents in debates and has been a catalyst in showing just how reasonable and substantive Theistic claims are in contrast to the idiotic picture painted by village atheists of what Theism allegedly entails.

BenYachov said...

>But people here have this impression that theistic personalism is in horrible shape, and I simply don't share that view.

Horrible shape in reference to what? Classic Theism? Of course it's more correct and neatly side steps many objections a TPG is vulnerable too.

I am the first to acknowledge Gnus & some serious Atheists of good will might make some bad arguments against Theistic Personalism.

Theistic Skepticism for example might be employed to blunt evidentialist arguments form Evil polemics.

After all one can't absolutely know a "divine" moral agent might not have some unknown moral reason to allow some evil.

The fact atheists might not have an objective standard to charge even a "god" who is a moral agent with the crime of negligence.

Compared to the polemics of the Gnus even the Theistic Personalist idol is a better explanation than Something comes from Nothing.

Anonymous said...

@Ben

...Or that something "creates" itself.

Anonymous said...

@James


Thanks for sharing the article. I have read about Teilhard de Chardin's ideas before and found them to be quite interesting. I will try put some time aside to read your article but due to its length, I think it will take some time to finish.

Anonymous said...

@James

If you don't mind. Can you give me a quick overview for the sake of this discussion of how the Omega-point can be interpreted as a personal God? You mention that the haecceities are the same but can you elaborate on that a bit? Apart from its infinite computational power (omniscience?), how does it fit well with the notion of a personal God who is wise and willful?

Anonymous said...

Re: Cosmological Singularity
Congratulations, you found the Primum Mobile. Aristotle is pleased (and deeply satisfied, possibly a little smug).

rank sophist said...

I loved this article. And I must agree that it's not enough merely to be "one option" next to personalism. Of the two, classical theism is the only option. The personalistic God is not worthy of worship--he's just a very powerful tyrant. And we can know that he is a tyrant by taking a look at modern "theodicies", which show God causing evil to gain a greater "net good". Some are thrown under the bus for the sake of others--for the "greater good". We are talking about an all-powerful being who orders the world according to a utilitarian scheme hardly less ruthless than the sort in A Modest Proposal. How could such an entity be anything other than a lower-g god? The differences between this god and Zeus are hardly noticeable.

I understand that Crude doesn't want to toss out personalism on account of its prestigious defenders. But their arguments for personalism itself are horrendous, as are their theodicies. I believe that Plantinga is an intelligent man, and I appreciate his EAAN very much. But it's hard not to be shocked by his pitiful defense of theism as a "basic belief". It's no wonder that Nagel brushes it aside.

I've tossed this quote around several times, but I honestly don't think that any indictment of personalism has been more powerful than David Bentley Hart's:

"[...] the God thus described is a logical nonsense: a being among beings, possessing the properties of his nature in a composite way, as aspects of his nature rather than as names ultimately convertible with one another in the simplicity of his transcendent essence, whose being and nature are then in some sense distinct from one another, who receives his being from being as such and so is less than being, who (even if he is changeless and eternal) in some sense becomes the being he is by partaking of that prior unity (existence) that allows his nature to persist in the composite reality it is, a God whose being has nonexistence as its opposite.... This God is a myth, an idol, and one we can believe in and speak of only so long as we have forgotten the difference between being and beings."

Anon at 10:31 AM,

Craig is a quasi-classical theist. He's not as big of a personalist as Swinburne, in particular, who endorses a "brute fact" God (in his own words) of the kind Prof. Feser is complaining above. He's also not as bad as Plantinga in that regard. Several of his arguments--particularly his excellent case for the resurrection--can be used equally well by classical theists. However, his fine-tuning and moral arguments are weak, and the God he manages to reach with his five-point argument is little more than a divine watchmaker. He creates the universe, pulls some levers to make it habitable, puts in place some moral laws and then sends in Jesus.

Honestly, I don't think that such a being is worthy of worship. As Arthur said, Anselm's "that than which nothing greater can be conceived" is a good test for measuring conceptions of God. Hart makes a similar point when discussing a separate quasi-personalist version: "Among other things, this means that this God fails the text of Anselm's id quo maius cagitari nequit: a standard whose provenance may not exactly be biblical, but whose logic ultimately is, and that is a rule that teaches us to recognize when we are speaking of God and when we are speaking of a god, when we are directing our mind toward the transcendent source of being and when we are fabricating for ourselves a metaphysical myth." Craig's fails Anselm's test, because it is very easy to conceive a God greater than his.

James Redford said...

Hi, Anonymous at October 6, 2012 11:08 AM.

Regarding your question on the personal nature of God, I answer this in Sec. 7.1: "The Haecceities of God" of my aforecited "Physics of God" article.

In summation, the Omega Point (i.e., the physicists' technical term for God the Father) is the Ultimate Personality. It is all action, all thought, all knowledge completed and perfected--and infinitely so. It knows all that can logically be known, and It knows it all at once, due to the singular nature of Its mind. Since It exists outside of spacetime, It is eternal. It interacts in universal history via the principle of least action, as the known laws of physics (i.e., the Second Law of Thermodynamics, General Relativity, and Quantum Mechanics) logically require the universe to evolve into the Omega Point, and so any event that is required in order for this evolutionary process to occur is certain to occur. Because of this, the Omega Point can, e.g., talk with us right now such as by affecting our brain states, or by Incarnating a Divine Person in Hypostatic Union in order to save the world, and so It can pass the Turing test.

Crude said...

rank,

I loved this article. And I must agree that it's not enough merely to be "one option" next to personalism. Of the two, classical theism is the only option.

Sure, I'm not advocating that. 'Of the two', yes, I think classical theism is superior.

I'm making two claims here. 1) Personal theists are theists still. They are not atheists. If personal theism is true, God or god or gods exist, and atheism is false. It's possible for this God/gods to be a tyrant - that's its own argument, and it applies where it doesn't in classical theism.

But atheists, they are not.

I understand that Crude doesn't want to toss out personalism on account of its prestigious defenders. But their arguments for personalism itself are horrendous, as are their theodicies.

Well, no. I'm not trying to defend them on account of their prestige. I'm pointing out that far from being easy pickings, WLC has a well-earned reputation as being a great debater and offering some powerful arguments for his view of God, in addition to not completley rejecting divine simplicity. Plantinga I brought up in part because someone mentioned Anselm, and I know Plantinga offers an Anselmian argument.

I'd also disagree that his argument for belief in God as a basic belief is horrible - but that I see less as an argument for theism rather than an argument about epistemology and what I understand are foundations. Given what he's working with, I think he makes a powerful case.

Again, I am not denying the theistic personalist God is in principle open to various arguments that cannot be mounted against the classical theist. I am denying the claim that these guys are in terrible shape, or that they are in fact atheists.

I'll go further. James Redford here is defending the Omega Point concept of God. No, I disagree with James and think that this is absolutely not an orthodox view of God. It's wildly unorthodox. But can this be called a god? We're back to Zeus. The Omega Point makes Zeus look like Nikola Tesla with brain damage. If Zeus is a god - and critically, I think on any reasonable definition of theism we must conclude Zeus is - then certainly the Omega Point would qualify.

Can it be a tyrannical god? Sure. Unworthy of worship? Perhaps. All this and much more. But you're still left with a god, and you're still left with a version of theism, even an unorthodox version of one, at the end of the day with the Omega Point.

James Redford said...

Hi, Crude. Actually, the Omega Point cosmology confirms that traditional Christian theology is correct per the known laws of physics (i.e., the Second Law of Thermodynamics, General Relativity, and Quantum Mechanics). However, by itself the Omega Point cosmology does not prove that the Incarnation and miracles of Jesus Christ took place, but it does prove per the known physical laws that such events are perfectly allowed. Prof. Frank J. Tipler proposes tests on particular relics associated with Jesus which, if the relics are genuine, could verify whether in fact said miracles took place via the physical mechanisms which make such miracles possible.

But when it comes to the unique attributes of God as claimed by traditional Christian theology, the Omega Point cosmology is uniquely Christian in its implications, such as regarding the triune nature of God. So far from the Omega Point cosmology violating any tenet of traditional Christian theology, it instead uniquely confirms traditional Christian theology.

Indeed, there a many exacting--yet highly improbable and counterintuitive--congruities with reality as proclaimed in the New Testament and the Omega Point cosmology, particularly concerning eschatology. For many such examples of this, see Sec. 8.2.2: "The Mark of the Beast" and Sec. 9: "The Omega Point Cosmology Vis-à-Vis the New Testament" of my following article:

James Redford, "The Physics of God and the Quantum Gravity Theory of Everything", Social Science Research Network (SSRN), Sept. 10, 2012 (orig. pub. Dec. 19, 2011), 186 pp., doi:10.2139/ssrn.1974708, http://archive.org/details/ThePhysicsOfGodAndTheQuantumGravityTheoryOfEverything

As I pointed out to BenYachov, the cosmological singularity has all the unique properties (i.e., haecceities) claimed for God in the traditional religions, particularly Christianity, and so by definition is God. (If *a thing* has even a single unique property given by a word's meaning, then logically that thing is *the thing* referred to by the word, otherwise it's not actually a unique property in that it would also apply to different things not meant by said word.)

I also pointed out that the concept of man becoming God is simply traditional Christianity, going all the way back to Jesus's teachings, that of Paul and the other Epistlers, and that of the Church Fathers. In traditional Christian theology, this is known as apotheosis, theosis or divinization. For many examples of these early teachings, see the article "Divinization (Christian)", Wikipedia, August 30, 2012, http://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Divinization_(Christian)&oldid=509902415 . Though this traditional position of Christian theology has been deemphasized for the last millennium.

Indeed, the words "transhumanism" and "superhumanism" originated in Christian theology. "Transhumanism" is a neologism coined by Dante Alighieri in his Divine Comedy (Paradiso, Canto I, lines 70-72), referring favorably to a mortal human who became an immortal god by means of eating a special plant. For the Christian theological origin of the term "superhumanism", see the Oxford English Dictionary (2nd ed.).

Crude said...

James,

Well, it's not like Frank Tipler or even the Omega Point are new names to me. I read up on Frank Tipler's arguments years ago, including his disagreement with Deutsch, and I think Tipler came out the winner there. But I also know classical theism to a degree, and enough about Christian teaching to really question any claim the the Omega Point is somehow orthodox.

If you don't mind my asking, what are your professional qualifications if any? Note: I'm not asking to play the "if you're not a physicist you're not worth listening to" card, which is nonsense. But I'd like to know your educational background on this, and where you're coming from, if you're willing to offer it up.

Charles said...

Here's a webpage that belongs to James Redford. Pretty self-explanatory.

Charles said...

http://web.archive.org/web/20090729130208/http://geocities.com/vonchloride/

Sorry, forgot to link.

Anonymous said...

While I think that the God of Classical Theism is certainly self-evident, I do question sometimes how the God of Abraham can be the God of Philosophers. We can reduce all Biblical language to anthropomorphism, but then we have to ask to what extent Biblical people could be said to have a superior (and hence, genuinely revelatory) understanding of God. I mean, in some ways the Tao or even Atum-Ra seem less anthropomorphic than the God of the Bible.

To what extent could the Israelites then be the Chosen People? (Please do not misunderstand this as anti-Semitism). Why not the philosophically-minded Greek sophists? Wouldn't they be a more plausible Chosen People?

We can say they possessed the unique of idea of unrivaled, uncreated monotheism. But their understanding of this God sometimes seems positively crude.

Jay Kay said...

"But to read you here, your charge would be that theistic personalists are, after all, atheists." (Crude)

"That is an extraordinary conclusion! I can't see a single thing in this essay that says or even hints at this conclusion." (Gene Callahan)

Ummm...how about this? "And any view of the God of the Bible that would make Him metaphysically less ultimate than the classical theist conception of God would, similarly, reduce Him to the sort of thing for which 'god of the gaps' arguments might seem the best we can do."

Feser, of course, thinks that the God of any theistic personalist system is "less than" the static God of classical theism, so right there he IS saying that theistics personalists are atheists.

But if we think about it rationally, the God of classical theism is less than all theistic personalists conceptions of God. CTG is static, PTG is dynamic. Dynamic is greater than static. Thus, CTs are atheists by Feser's own argument. Thus I rephrase his argument:

And any view of the God of the Bible that would make Him metaphysically less ultimate than the theistic personalist conception of God would, similarly, reduce Him to the sort of thing for which 'god of the gaps' arguments might seem the best we can do.

Jay Kay said...

As to the last paragraph:

...serious defenders of theism ought to know and uphold the classical tradition lest in their disputes with the other side they “bring forward reasons that are not cogent, so as to give occasion to unbelievers to laugh” (Summa Theologiae I.46.2). Or, more importantly, lest they cause well-meaning atheists to reject theism on the basis of entirely avoidable misunderstandings."

It seems to me atheists laugh at classical theism even more than personal theism. Here you are arguing for the existence of a God who has no feelings, no emotions, who is completely static...why, that's not even a God! Classical theism really doesn't differ one jot from the atheistic belief that the universe just always existed. The difference is only that you guys insist on using the term 'God' when you really mean the universe. You're the laughing stock, not personal theists.

Vincent Torley said...

Hi Ed,

Thanks very much for this post. I was struck by what you said in the first paragraph. You wrote that if the God of the Bible were shown to be an alien, the correct conclusion to draw would be: "God does not exist, He only seemed to." I am shocked that you could say that. After all, classical theism could still be true, even if the Bible were false.

You also make the (entirely correct) point that under classical theism, God is Goodness Itself, so the question, "Why should I obey God?" answers itself. True, but the epistemic question, "How do I decide whether this command, which purports to be an utterance of God, is actually what it claims to be?" To answer that, you need to appeal to an external, pre-existing standard of goodness: the natural law. Even God's spoken commands still need to be judged by reference to this standard.

This invites the question: "What should I do if I am commanded to perform an action which appears to violate this standard?" This is where the atheist usually presses home his point, invoking Numbers 31:16.

We both know how Professor William Lane Craig has answered this question. I've discussed Craig's answer in my online reply to Richard Dawkins, at http://www.angelfire.com/linux/vjtorley/dawkins.html . I also look at what Aquinas has to say in Question 9, and put forward my own view at the end of the essay.

My question for you is: do you see eye to eye with Craig with regard to the passages in the Old Testament where God commands mass slaughter of innocents?

Jay Kay said...

In fact, I would take what I said above a step further. When atheists argue against the existence of God they are pretty much ALWAYS arguing against the God of classical theism. Why? Because the idea that God must be absolute in every sense, absolutely omnipotent, absolutely omniscient, absolutely benevolent, is easy to refute. Just your basic omnipotence (having all power that can be had), basic omniscience (knowing everything that can be known, but the future can't be exhaustively known), basic omnibenevolence (being as good as is possible for a creator of a physical universe without throwing it into the lazy chaos of a cosmic welfare state)...that is too hard for atheists to attack. But the absolute God of classical theism, whose various absolute qualities either contradict each other, or contradict concepts like prayer and other concepts which the Abrahamic faiths must make work, is so easy to refute. Atheists love the classical theist God because he's their strawman for refuting God!!!!!

BenYachov said...

I'm going to take a shot at this one before Dr. Feser.

>Numbers 31:17

There is the easy answer to this vs the hard one.

First the easy one.

The easy answer the word "taf" often popularly translated "little ones" or "children" can refer to any dependents in a household of any age excluding the head of the household.

The Mishna says infant boy Midianites where at the command of God killed in their cribs but in a tradition preserved by Philo of Alexandra who is a little earlier he says infant boys and young boy children where spared.

The Septuagint (LXX) Numbers 31:17
is rendered this way.

Now then slay every male in all the spoil, slay every woman, who has known the lying with man.

The Septuagint is ambiguous as to the age of the male victims. As always since we Catholic don't believe in Sola Scriptura it is plausible Philo's claim is the correct one & God never technically ordered any human to slay a baby.

OTOH there is the hard answer which I will take on in the next post.

BenYachov said...

additional:

My Reformed Jewish translation of Number 31:17 renders "Taf" as "dependents".

Slay all the Males from among the dependents etc...

Crude said...

When atheists argue against the existence of God they are pretty much ALWAYS arguing against the God of classical theism. Why? Because the idea that God must be absolute in every sense, absolutely omnipotent, absolutely omniscient, absolutely benevolent, is easy to refute.

This is just silly. You may dislike classical theism, but most of us here have seen the arguments directed at theism ranging from Dawkins, Coyne, Law, and others. No, they are not aware of classical theism even dimly, much less either the replies or the problems of getting most of their criticisms so much as off the group against such. You're addressing people who have seen this, repeatedly, far too many times to count.

Stop saying things that pop into your mind as 'the most outlandish claim you can possibly make to get attention', at least if you want to be taken seriously. They very fact that you're suggesting most theists, particular of the Cult of Gnu variety, can even explain the difference between classical and personal theism (or are even aware of the difference) is bad enough.

BenYachov said...

Then there is the hard way.

It is never immoral for God to take human life at any time or for any reason at His good pleasure. God creates life sustains existence & as such has the absolute moral right to end life as he sees fit & we may not take any human life for any reason without authority from Him to do so.

Augustine said if a private individual took it upon himself to slay an evil doer without authority he would be counted a murderer for he dared usurp that which belongs to God alone.

There is no moral difference between God taking the life of an infant or Him ordering the Angel of Death to do it or ordering the Israelites to do it.

Haram the command by God to whip out a wicked people can only be given via a public revelation. Since the death of the Last Apostle all public revelation has ended till the Second Coming.

I've talked to hypocrite Gnu Atheists who get upset over child murders commanded in a text they believe is all myth & Fiction but support Partial Birth Abortion which kills real children. Or like Dawkins support Peter Atkins who supports Euthanasia of born babies up to a month after birth if the parents decide they don't want them.

The Bible is suppose to be a myth to these people getting upset over Number 31:17 makes about6 as much sense as getting upset at Anakin Skywalker for killing Younglings or Grand Morf Tarkin for blowing up Alderaan.

Hypocrites the lot of them.

BenYachov said...

Crude

Jay Kay is a nutjob an a troll. He's like a fundamentalist Christian version of Paps. He refuses to learn any Philosophy like Linton and yet want to argue anyway.

I would treat him like Linton with some primitive "god" belief.

Jay Kay said...

"Dawkins, Coyne, Law, and others. No, they are not aware of classical theism even dimly," (Crude)

They are indeed arguing against the classical theist view (absolute perfection in every way possible, outside of time). They simply bring in the Bible to show how this view doesn't even fit with it. That strengthens their case. Then they mock "The claim absolute omniscience for their God, but the Bible shows him saying 'it never entered my mind' concerning burning their children to Baal" and the like. So they attack the God of classical theism with the Bible and attack the Bible with the God of classical theism, and then feel they've proven God doesn't exist. All they've actually proven is that classical theists and Christians are operating in totally different religions.

BenYachov said...

After reading Jay Kay's wacko nonsense I almost believe Paps might have a better understanding of Classic Theism vs Theistic Personalism then he does?

Dawkins attacks "Classic" Theism?

Of course and Jerry Fodor is a Young Earth Creationist Baptist.

Vincent Torley said...

Hi Ben Yachov,

Thanks for your helpful exegetical comments. Re the legitimacy of slaying at God's command, if He commands this in a public revelation, are you aware of what Aquinas wrote on the matter?

For Aquinas, murder, adultery and theft are defined as violation of a person's legitimate claims to their life, their spouse or their property. Human beings have no such legitimate claim against God, according to Aquinas. In his Summa Theologica I-II q. 94 art. 5, (reply to objection 2), Aquinas applies the same logic to the Biblical commandments against adultery and theft: everything (including goods and spouses) ultimately belongs to God.

"Reply to Objection 2. All men alike, both guilty and innocent, die the death of nature: which death of nature is inflicted by the power of God on account of original sin, according to 1 Samuel 2:6: 'The Lord killeth and maketh alive.' Consequently, by the command of God, death can be inflicted on any man, guilty or innocent, without any injustice whatever. In like manner adultery is intercourse with another's wife; who is allotted to him by the law emanating from God. Consequently intercourse with any woman, by the command of God, is neither adultery nor fornication. The same applies to theft, which is the taking of another's property. For whatever is taken by the command of God, to Whom all things belong, is not taken against the will of its owner, whereas it is in this that theft consists."

Aquinas is assuming here that everything and everyone belongs to God, and that anything we have - spouses included - is merely allotted to us by God. That kind of logic appears to imply that human beings are of merely instrumental importance, from God's point of view: we are just God's chattels. I think that as sons and daughters of God, humans are "ends in themselves" even from a "God's eye" perspective, and that God treats them as such.

Thus I would maintain that the only justifiable reason for God to order a human being to kill an innocent person would be in order to protect that person from an even worse fate that death, were it to survive. One could argue that this condition was satisfied in the ancient Near East, because of the barbarous practices of the cultures Israel waged war against.

Crude said...

Jay,

They are indeed arguing against the classical theist view (absolute perfection in every way possible, outside of time).

Since 'outside of time' is one of the first things the gnus tend to completely miss, no, they do not.

They simply bring in the Bible to show how this view doesn't even fit with it. That strengthens their case.

No, you're betraying here that you don't even read what the Cultists of Gnu say, much less classical theists.

Look, this is going to be the last thing I'm going to bother saying to you for a while, but let me be direct: I've glanced at your blog, and I think I've got a pretty good read on your type: you throw yourself into every argument full force and with certainty. You read something for five minutes, think of the first refutation that comes to mind, and you latch onto it like a dog on a chew toy. You're probably young, late teens, early 20s.

Realize that passion and force of language are not substitutes for reading, understanding and care when discussing things. At least, not with people who actually do read and comprehend what they're talking about. Around here, most of us have read up on what classical theism is, and what the Cult of Gnu "arguments" actually tend to be. So when you start whirling around about 'The gnus all attack classical theism and play it off the bible!', the stench of BS is coming off you like you cannot believe.

Feel free to blow off the advice - if you really are young, you'll likely do that - but really, if you think you're coming off as a forceful debater here, you're not. Closer to 'typical internet pissant'.

Jay Kay said...

Crude, I'm betting you're a Calvinist. Typical Calvinist "nobody knows what Calvinism is" crap. Or maybe its just that every nonsensical cult whines that nobody understands them when they've been sufficiently refuted.

BenYachov said...

>Crude, I'm betting you're a Calvinist.

You lost that bet he is by the Grace of the one true God the God of Abraham and Aquinas and Scotus a Catholic Christian in communion with the Pope of Rome like Feser, Vince, The O'Flynn, Rank Sophist and myself.

What are you? Some guy with a KJV and a handful of Chick tracts who belongs to a Church about half as old as my late Grandmother?

You have very little.

BenYachov said...

@Hey VT

>Aquinas is assuming here that everything and everyone belongs to God, and that anything we have - spouses included - is merely allotted to us by God.

Amen! That is flawlessly logical we are owed nothing by God. We need not have existed and all that we have and are we get from God.

>That kind of logic appears to imply that human beings are of merely instrumental importance, from God's point of view: we are just God's chattels.

So you are making an unequivocal comparison between God & a mere human oriental tyrant who enslaves his inferiors? That’s your first mistake. God is not equivalent to us or compared to us unequivocally. Chattel can only be owned by material rational beings. We are not God’s chattel we are at minimum His creations and can treat us like creations. My late Cat was my chattel but I was not her creator.

Your second mistake is assuming God owes you anything and is a moral agent who owes duties to you. He doesn’t. Sure by nature He can’t command something intrinsically evil. He can dissolve a natural marriage and marry off a woman to another man. But he can’t command that man to sodomize her. He can’t command evil as an end in itself nor can he command intrinsic evil at all which is why God cannot command us to torture babies but He could put them to death so they would not succeed their parents and continue their nation that He has judged shall not exist anymore.

He is not a moral agent so he can’t be called immoral for doing so & it doesn’t change the fact he is Purely Actual & therefore Goodness Itself.

Vince I have read too much Brian Davies to ever be moved by any theodicy or think of God as a moral agent. I reject all modern Theodicy as a starting point. A Classic view of God needs a Theodicy like a fish needs a bicycle.

>I think that as sons and daughters of God, humans are "ends in themselves" even from a "God's eye" perspective, and that God treats them as such.

No He treats us like creations and by merely giving us “being” in the first place He gives us something good which we cannot give ourselves & which he doesn’t owe us nor can be compelled to give us.

But He may take back His natural gifts as he sees fit.

>Thus I would maintain that the only justifiable reason for God to order a human being to kill an innocent person would be in order to protect that person from an even worse fate that death, were it to survive.

You have been hanging out with the ID people to long brother. That sounds like Theistic Personalist talk. God has no moral obligation to create you or maintain you in a natural state of biological life.

He can to borrow a praise from CS Lewis “un-body” you as He sees fit. He can allow someone to do something intrinsically evil to you & He is under no obligation to you to stop them but His Divine Justice will punish them in this world or the next. But God is ontologically good and metaphyically good but He is not a moral agent & I can’t love and worship any “god” who is one since it wouldn’t be God.

>One could argue that this condition was satisfied in the ancient Near East, because of the barbarous practices of the cultures Israel waged war against.

Or he simply judged the Midianites no long worthy to have the natural gifts he grants them like life or the gift to continue as a Nation.

It's that simple.

BenYachov said...

additional:

Remember God's Divine Justice is Distributive not commutative. He owes you nothing Thank God & you owe Him everything and then some.


http://readingthesumma.blogspot.com/2010/07/question-21-gods-justice-mercy.html


http://www.lonang.com/exlibris/aquinas/sum22061.htm

BenYachov said...

additional additional:

Question 21. The justice and mercy of God

Is there justice in God?
Can His justice be called truth?
Is there mercy in God?
Are justice and mercy in every work of God?

http://www.newadvent.org/summa/1021.htm

QUOTE"There are two kinds of justice. The one consists in mutual giving and receiving, as in buying and selling, and other kinds of intercourse and exchange. This the Philosopher (Ethic. v, 4) calls commutative justice, that directs exchange and intercourse of business. This does not belong to God, since, as the Apostle says: "Who hath first given to Him, and recompense shall be made him?" (Romans 11:35). The other consists in distribution, and is called distributive justice; whereby a ruler or a steward gives to each what his rank deserves. As then the proper order displayed in ruling a family or any kind of multitude evinces justice of this kind in the ruler, so the order of the universe, which is seen both in effects of nature and in effects of will, shows forth the justice of God. Hence Dionysius says (Div. Nom. viii, 4): "We must needs see that God is truly just, in seeing how He gives to all existing things what is proper to the condition of each; and preserves the nature of each in the order and with the powers that properly belong to it."

Anonymous said...

Regarding John Kay's comment that classical theism is no better than atheism, I believe he has a point but also that this is one of the strengths of classical theism - namely, that if God is defined properly He is utterly self-evident. Now, I disagree that God is synonymous with the universe; however, God really does not require belief that He exists.

God should be perfectly coherent to everyone through reason alone given "God" is properly defined. Even atheists know of "God" if by what they mean the undifferentiated, brute fact at the beginning of everything. Belief should be centered in trusting God and His Providence.

Theistic personalism on the other hand posits God as an "extra" which the universe does not necessarily require.

Jay Kay said...

Anonymous, I think you just contradicted yourself. You praise classical theism because in it God is nothing more than the obvious "brute fact at the beginning of everything," and you think that "Theistic personalism on the other hand posits God as an 'extra' which the universe does not necessarily require." But you also say "Belief should be centered in trusting God and His Providence." Well, why should be trust the "brute fact at the beginning of everything"? Why should we even think of a "brute fact" as having "Providence"? Providence sounds 'extra' to me. Providence isn't obvious at all.

ozero91 said...

"But if we think about it rationally, the God of classical theism is less than all theistic personalists conceptions of God. CTG is static, PTG is dynamic. Dynamic is greater than static."

You are going to have to back up that last assertion. It is true, that for biological organisms, dynamic equilibrium is greater than static equilibrium. This is because for biological organisms, static equilibrium only occurs when the organism is dead.

Of course, God is not a being in the same sense that we are. He cannot be born, he cannot die, he is not biological, etc.

With that being the case, I don't see how being static is bad. Dynamic implies that there are forces that are strong enough to change God. If God is subject to external changes, is he really "God" rather than "god?"

And a question for the serious Classical Theists: Does an omniscient being need to think? If a being is omniscient, what is there to think about? Is thinking intrinsically good? Or is it not good because it implies that there are obstacles to arriving at the truth?

Anonymous said...

John Kay, I agree with you to a degree. On the one hand, I think we can say that God is Good because the universe exists which indicates that He wanted other things to be outside of Himself - which is a type of love.

Now, on the other hand, I do not think you can prove God is love or Providential in the Abrahamic sense. The ancients knew of God to be sure, but they - as you said correctly - did not think Providence obvious at all. The pagans knew their gods to be supremely irrational for this reason - even positively wicked.

It takes Revelation from God to show that the universe is fundamentally meant to be and is loved in a Christian sense. I'm sorry. I hadn't thought the whole reply out yet. God is self-evident. Providence in our sense of the term is not.

I guess what I'm saying is that one can believe God is either amoral or super-moral as in Hindu sense or is the Natural Law in the Christian sense. What one cannot do is say that God, properly defined, does not exist.

Vincent Torley said...

Hi Ben Yachov,

Thank you for your posts. You argue that God is our creator, and that as such He is not a moral agent. He owes us nothing. I would argue that although He did not have to create us, by virtue of freely choosing to do so, He voluntarily assumed certain responsibilities towards us.

Two examples will serve to illustrate my point. First, if God owes us nothing, then God could legitimately not only take our lives, but annihilate us as well. You might reply that having created us with an innate desire for immortality, it would be contradictory of Him to do that, so we don't need to worry. However, I would go further and argue that having created us with such a desire, He would indeed be wronging us by terminating our existence.

Second, if humans have no rights against God, then humans have no right NOT to be deceived by God, in which case God would do us no wrong by lying to us in any way He saw fit. Now, you might would respond that because God is a Being who is by nature good and truthful, He could never lie to us in any way, but you would still deny that humans have a right NOT to be deceived by God. To me, that sounds profoundly counter-intuitive. Surely a child has a right not to be lied to by his/her own Father, over a matter of substance (I'm not talking about Santa Claus here).

If God has some obligations towards us, then He is a moral agent after all.

Tony said...

Jay Kay: But if we think about it rationally, the God of classical theism is less than all theistic personalists conceptions of God. CTG is static, PTG is dynamic. Dynamic is greater than static. Thus, CTs are atheists by Feser's own argument.

Ha ha hahahahaha!!! LOL. Jay Kay, that's a knee slapper, you could be a comedian! If you wrote like that all the time, you would bring smiles and laughter everywhere.

Oh, wait. You meant that seriously? You thought that actually cogent? You weren't trying to do parody? Oh my.

Well, in that case, I have to retract my comment above: all you are is a laughingstock. You have indeed brought laughter, but only upon yourself and your folly, your obliviousness, your obtuseness to EVERYTHING everyone else is saying.

rank sophist said...

I'm pretty sure that Jay Kay is a troll, given that his name boils down to "JK", which is an abbreviation for "just kidding". That's my theory, at least.

ozero91 said...

Saying that God could directly deceive us is logically invalid, I assume. Thus, if God "tells" us something, it must be true. But, he could also refrain from "telling" us anything at all.

Crude said...

rank,

Troll is possible. A very animated one if so - just a bad one. The whole 'all this time the Gnu atheists have been arguing against classical theism!!!' thing is just so braindead may be the giveaway there. It's pretty obvious he's looking for whatever claim he thinks is going to sound the most outrageous to pursue in the hopes he gets attention or riles people, even if it sounds amazingly stupid.

BenYachov said...

>Thank you for your posts. You argue that God is our creator, and that as such He is not a moral agent. He owes us nothing. I would argue that although He did not have to create us, by virtue of freely choosing to do so, He voluntarily assumed certain responsibilities towards us.

This argument is not valid either since it implicitly makes an unequivocal comparison between God as Creator with human parents as procreatory beings. God has no "responsibilities" towards us the concept is incoherent when applied unequivocally to God. We as human parents must guide and protect our children because we don't know what will befall them. God knows all things & via Divine Providence wills all thing to so say he is "responsible" is incoherent as if God could somehow fail to be "responsible".

VT you have too much of an anthropomorphic view of God. Remedy that.

>two examples will serve to illustrate my point. First, if God owes us nothing, then God could legitimately not only take our lives, but annihilate us as well.

No because he willed from all eternity we should have immortal souls & that would be our nature to do as you say would be for Him to contradict Himself which is why annihilation of our souls would be intrinsically evil. Sure He could have created creatures with conditional immortality but they wouldn't be human beings they would be something else and they wouldn't be us. They would be beings with a different essence.

Our desire for immortality(whatever that means) is not relevant to the brute fact it is our nature our essence to have immortal souls. To annihilate our souls would be against nature and God could no more cause it then He could command Sodomy.


>Second, if humans have no rights against God, then humans have no right NOT to be deceived by God, in which case God would do us no wrong by lying to us in any way He saw fit.

God doesn't owe us any explanations nor is he obligated to see that we should figure everything out nor does he owe it to us to prevent us from coming to wrong conclusions but lying is against nature. God is not a Being who is by nature good and truthful, rather God is Being Itself and Truth Itself thus He can't coherently be said to be able to lie then one could say He could cause Himself not to exist.

VT you have too much of an anthopormorphic Theistic Personalist view of God. It is mere milk eat the meat of the Church's Tradition of Classic Theism.

>He could never lie to us in any way, but you would still deny that humans have a right NOT to be deceived by God.

Rather it is not coherent that Reality Itself would tell me something that is not real which is the nature of a lie. Rather God has no obligation to me that I know any particular truth or be prevented from misunderstanding the truth or fail to learn it.

God is Just so if I misunderstand threw no moral failing of my own there will be no consequences in the World to Come.

God is not a moral agent and He cannot coherently be conceived as such in the Classic Sense. Only heterodox idols false Theistic Personalist "gods" can be moral agents but they are too inferior to be worthy of human worship.

Only the God of Abraham, Aquinas and Scotus of Classic Theism is worthy of worship and we are unworthy of Him.

Anonymous said...

Ben Yachov,

Let me just preface this by saying I am a classical theist and Catholic, but I do have one question. I agree that God has no obligations towards us. However, acting immorally would still not be consistent with God's nature. For example, you said, "God could no more cause it than command us to sodomize."

However, this has always bothered me. Doesn't God command the Israelites to forcibly...um...adulterate with the Canaanite women whom they captured?

I have no problem with God acting in His sovereignty through secondary causes to execute justice where He will but commanding people - who are on an "equal playing field" morally with the Canaanite women as fellow human beings so to speak to contravene moral standards does not seem protected by the sovereignty of God.

Now, while this could be a case of anthropomorphism, doesn't this seem to question the validity of true revelation in Scripture at all?

I mean, if enough of the Scripture is designated anthropomorphism and the Israelites merely possessing a "primitive" idea of God, then the Israelites do not seem any more unique in conception of God than any other people of the Ancient Near East. From this perspective, one would think the Greeks were the Chosen People.

This kind of goes back to my earlier post concerning whether the Israelites show any signs of revelation concerning the nature of God as understood in classical theism.

Thank you.

Jay Kay said...

@ozero91

To me you object I don't see how being static is bad but to the CTs If a being is omniscient, what is there to think about? -- this is the answer on both counts. The CTs put forth a god who is said to be an 'infinite mind' yet he is a static mind which knows everything and therefore doesn't ever think, really more like an infinite data storage device than a mind at all. That's what's bad about being static. What's the point of existing if you won't even be able to think? Would you really want to be a giant USB stick? Anselem said "God is the being greater than which none can be conceived" and CTs love to claim only their god fits that bill. But their god is not properly a 'being' at all but a giant non-physical hard-drive. The "being greater than which none can be conceived" must of necessity be capable of thought, and thus must only be omniscient in the less than absolute sense, that is, of knowing all wisdom, knowledge, skill, everything done everywhere in the the past and present, but without exhaustive knowledge of the future.

BenYachov said...

>However, this has always bothered me. Doesn't God command the Israelites to forcibly...um...adulterate with the Canaanite women whom they captured?

Chapter & verse please I refuse to do you homework for you.

BTW the oral Torah teaches any Israelite who has sex with a gentile woman in public may be summery executed by Zealots without trial.

There is a verse about marrying beautiful captive women(the exception that proves the former rule) but Josephus says such a woman must of her own free will convert to Judaism & she may ultimately refuse marriage to the man who captures her. She may not be forced to have sex.

Oral Torah says a wife may refuse her husband sex & if he forces her it is a sin & or crime. But the oral torah also says a husband may not except on medical grounds refuse his wife.

As far as I know Rape is never commanded.

Enlighten me if you think I am wrong.

Anonymous said...

I believe that was the episode I was thinking of. You may not be, but you come across as quite frustrated in that post - which I can understand if I essentially accused the Chosen People of a particularly heinous act falsely. If that is indeed the case, I apologize. I am aware that the Talmud and other rabbinic commentaries added a number of ethical stipulations concerning the more brutal actions described in the Torah (like Joshua leaving one flank open so that the residents of Jericho can escape the carnage). However, I generally did not attribute historical reliability to these traditions. Evidently, it would be wise to do so in your opinion?

Glenn said...

JayKay,

As a rule, I provide attributions for what has been written by others; in this case, however, I am making an exception:

One might suggest that static, indifferent, and callous are how Aquinas positively describes God as being. But this suggestion seems somewhat implausible given what we have now seen Aquinas to be saying. Far from being static as is a stone, the God of Aquinas is actively present and freely at work throughout the created order. The range and extent of his activity is unsurpassed. And far from being indifferent and callous, the God of Aquinas freely gives creatures the goodness they posses, is drawn to (or positively wills) goodness in its various forms and as it exists perfectly in him, and sends us his Son to live and die so as to bring us to beatitude (assuming that what we want is what the Son of God incarnate wants). How less than static, indifferent, or callous could the God of Aquinas possibly be?

If you want to know who the author of this is, and the author's rationale for having written it, you'll have exert some effort and do a little research.

In lieu of exerting some effort and doing a little research, however, you can simply answer in the affirmative the third of three questions put to you on the previous blog (The Avengers and classical theism) by Arthur at October 4, 2012 6:54 AM: You also accuse Classical Theism of having a "static, dead god". ...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?

Crude said...

Anon,

I think what Ben may be getting at is that when we encounter such OT descriptions, they tend to be pretty brief and leave a lot of questions unanswered. So it's not a question necessarily of 'attributing historical reliability to the traditions', but speculating about particulars that aren't spelled out in the passages mentioned.

To use a far, far more muted example, if I tell you that a hypothetical guy "Mitch" didn't feed his child dinner some night, and if I know Mitch to be a good father as far as I know, there are speculations that can come up. "Maybe his child was being punished for something." or "Maybe his child wasn't hungry." or "Maybe Mitch didn't have any food that day" or... etc.

At that point, I have no historical proof for my claims - I'm working off Mitch's character, and a pretty small claim lacking context.

Vincent Torley said...

Hi Ben Yachov,

Just a few quick comments. You argue that the concept of responsibility has no application to God because God, being omniscient and omnipotent, can never fail to provide for us. I would answer that the impossibility of God's failing to meet His responsibilities does not preclude His having them. All it precludes is the possibility of His having them simply by virtue of being God. But I never maintained that. What I maintain is that He has them because He is our Creator.

The creator or generator of some morally significant being (let's call it X) can sometimes fail to provide for X. That is why the language of responsibility is legitimately employed. Since our Creator is God, He cannot fail to provide for us, but qua Creator, nothing stops Him from doing so.

You write that for God to create us with immortal souls and then annihilate us would be for Him to contradict Himself, and would that's why it would be "intrinsically evil" for Him to do so. I'm puzzled by your logic here. It would be contradictory for God to will the existence of a square circle, but it wouldn't be evil for Him to do so. Why, then, do you think it would be evil for God to annihilate us?

But if you agree with me that it would be intrinsically evil for God to break His promises, then it follows from this that God should keep His promises. And from that, it follows that God is morally obliged to keep His promises. So God does have obligations (or responsibilities) after all.

You also claim that it is our nature to have immortal souls. Why? It is our nature to have rational souls. "Rational" doesn't necessarily equate to "immortal." The mere fact that matter can't destroy the human soul doesn't make it immortal by nature. All that follows is that only God can destroy the human soul - and Who is to stop Him, if He decides to do so?

That's why I think the only really good argument for immortality is that we have a natural desire for it. (Some people dispute that fact, of course.) If there is a natural desire for immortality, it could only have come from God.

Finally, I would argue that (i) if human beings are persons, they are Kantian ends-in-themselves, who matter in their own right; (ii) every intelligent agent (Divine or otherwise) has an obligation not to irreparably harm any innocent being that matters in its own right; therefore (iii) God has an obligation not to irreparably harm innocent human beings. That seems watertight.

The relevance of the foregoing argument to animal suffering & theodicy depends on whether non-human animals are capable of mattering in their own right.

Crude said...

Vincent,

But if you agree with me that it would be intrinsically evil for God to break His promises, then it follows from this that God should keep His promises.

Not as Ben is saying, I don't believe. Ben seems to be saying something (speaking loosely) along the lines of: 2 + 2 = 4. It cannot equate 5. It's not that 2 + 2 *should* = 4, as if equaling would be morally wrong and thus math shouldn't do that or else it deserves punishment. 'Should' and 'shouldn't' talk, in terms of obligation, don't arise. Neither do they arise for God.

BenYachov said...

@VT

>Just a few quick comments. You argue that the concept of responsibility has no application to God because God, being omniscient and omnipotent, can never fail to provide for us.

Not true I said it is incoherent. Like saying because God contains all perfections He must have perfect muscle tone. God has via His divine providence already willed our end & he is not unequivocally compaired to a mere human parent with "responsibility".

You are dogmatically insistent here on making unequivocal comparisons between God and creatures. You are equally dogmatically insisting God be treated like another being that is an unequivocal existent alongside other existents only more uber.

The rest of your responses keeps making that mistake as far as I can tell.

That is not Classic Theism.

>You write that for God to create us with immortal souls and then annihilate us would be for Him to contradict Himself, and would that's why it would be "intrinsically evil" for Him to do so.

Don't you believe in the dogma of the Immutiblity of God's Will?

God willed from all eternity to create creatures with essences that are intrinsically immortal. True or False? He did not will from all eternity to create beings that are conditionally immortal. If he did they would be creatures other than what we are now. Sure he could have created beings whose essence and nature are conditionally immortal and based on His Justice he could revoke their existence but he didn't do that with us.

VT you act as if God is a being along side us who exists in Time and can change His mind. Do you even believe in the Divine Immutiblity? It is evil for God to go against the nature he created. Evil is according to Thomas Merton a contradiction.


>I'm puzzled by your logic here. It would be contradictory for God to will the existence of a square circle, but it wouldn't be evil for Him to do so. Why, then, do you think it would be evil for God to annihilate us?

Because God willed to create unconditionally immortal creatures. He did not will to create conditionally immortal ones he could blot out from existence.

>But if you agree with me that it would be intrinsically evil for God to break His promises, then it follows from this that God should keep His promises. And from that, it follows that God is morally obliged to keep His promises. So God does have obligations (or responsibilities) after all.

Rather I don't believe it is logically possible for Him to do so and it would be evil to go against nature. God can kill since death is a natural part of animal biological nature. Killing an unconditionally immortal soul is against nature & a contradiction like making 2+2=5.

>You also claim that it is our nature to have immortal souls. Why?

This is the teaching of the Holy Church is it not?

>That's why I think the only really good argument for immortality is that we have a natural desire for it. (Some people dispute that fact, of course.) If there is a natural desire for immortality, it could only have come from God.

I am not interested in arguing for immortality as much as arguing that God is not a moral agent who can coherently be said to owe us anything & that God because of His nature cannot simply do what He wants with us as if He where a large boy playing with a helpless bug.

But make no mistake God is not a moral agent. Nothing can "obligate" God but His own Will.

>Finally, I would argue that (i) if human beings are persons, they are Kantian ends-in-themselves, who matter in their own right; (ii) every intelligent agent (Divine or otherwise) has an obligation not to irreparably harm any innocent being that matters in its own right; therefore (iii) God has an obligation not to irreparably harm innocent human beings. That seems watertight.

This again makes an unequivocal comparison between God and Creatures which is unexceptible. Even a Scotus wouldn't go there.

I will get back to you later the wife is bugging me to help her.

BenYachov said...

And Crude simplifies it even better than I could.

Crude said...

I'd like to point out what I think is another problem with Vincent's approach here. Bolding the relevant portion.

Finally, I would argue that (i) if human beings are persons, they are Kantian ends-in-themselves, who matter in their own right; (ii) every intelligent agent (Divine or otherwise) has an obligation not to irreparably harm any innocent being that matters in its own right; therefore (iii) God has an obligation not to irreparably harm innocent human beings. That seems watertight.

What harm can God not repair?

Jay Kay said...

I think the function of 'irreparably' in that sentence was more of a will than a can.

Tony said...

(iii) God has an obligation not to irreparably harm innocent human beings. That seems watertight.

(1) Annihilation is not "harm" in the usual sense. Once you don't exist anymore in any sense, there is no defect in your being that "ought" to be repaired, that "needs" a fix. Simple negation isn't privation.

(2) Anyway, God is lord over the economy of all creation, including what "end" it serves an entirety. If His economy includes an intelligent being that lives for a while and then ceases to exist altogether, that isn't "harm" to the creature, it served its purpose, which is "for" the entity.

(3) Vincce's three points will have a hard time dealing with God's creating Satan and everyone else who goes to hell, when he could have created a universe in which they DIDN'T go to hell. Some personalists assume either that God annihilates them at the end of time, or that Hell isn't forever, God gets everyone out after a while. I know the latter is explicitly contradictory to doctrine.

BenYachov said...

@Anon

> I am aware that the Talmud and other rabbinic commentaries added a number of ethical stipulations concerning the more brutal actions described in the Torah (like Joshua leaving one flank open so that the residents of Jericho can escape the carnage). However, I generally did not attribute historical reliability to these traditions. Evidently, it would be wise to do so in your opinion?

Are you sure you are Catholic Anon? This sounds like something a Protestant would say.

Examples:

"Why should you Catholics believe Mary was taken up Body & Soul into Heaven? That is not in the Bible! Where does the Bible tell us the Bishop of Rome inherits Peter's Authority? etc...

We are Catholics we don't follow Martin Luther's human tradition of Men of Sola Scriptura.

BenYachov said...

Interesting points Tony.

Anonymous said...

Ben Yachov,

I do not appreciate this accusation. I am a new poster (although I have read Edward Feser's blog for some time). I have tried to be honest and cordial with everyone here. Of course I am Catholic, and I hold our Tradition with utmost regard; however, I honestly do not believe the Oral Torah - i.e., the Talmud, Mishnah, and rabbinic commentaries - to be part of Catholic tradition.

Nor do I believe Catholics are required to do so. I would like to believe many of the wonderful contents in Second Temple Judaism - one of my favorites being the Life of Adam and Eve. I have the utmost respect for the Oral Torah. However, asking me to believe the Oral Torah as a matter of faith is simply wrong. Essentially, it is apocryphal - that is to say, akin to the Book of Enoch or the Gospel of James. They may contain historical information and may be spiritually illuminating. However, we are not required to hold them as Public Revelation.

I do not deny and fully believe the Immaculate Conception, the authority of the Church, the Assumption, and the truth of Sacred Tradition.

I thought this would be a charitable discussion done as fellow members of the Body of Christ, and I was simply asking a question. If I get attacked uncharitably and maligned for a heresy (Sola Scriptura) which I detest and disown vehemently, I find that un-Christian to the extreme.

I consider myself a knowledgeable Catholic observant to the Traditions of all the Apostolic Churches and reject with tenacity and with my entire soul any accusation to Bibliolatry.

Please do not make presumptions about someone you do not know.

Also, please do not simply pass me off as "a troll" as I can assure you am not.

I am sorry, but I will cease posting here for the time being.

God Bless You and Everyone Here.

Vincent Torley said...

Hi Ben Yachov,

Thanks for your response. Three quick points.

1. Of course I believe in the immutability of the Divine Will, as God is timeless. However, from our time-bound perspective, that does not preclude God's will for us seeming to change. For instance, the people chosen by God may be subsequently punished for their sins.

So the question is: if God creates a rational being, can we be sure that He will grant immortality to the soul of such a being?

2. It is indeed a dogma of the Church that the human soul is immortal, according to the Fifth Lateran Council. However, it is not a dogma that it is naturally immortal, and many Scholastics took the view that the arguments for the soul's immortality were at best suasive rather than demonstrative. There was quite a big theological controversy about these issues from the fourteenth to the sixteenth centuries. Scotus, Ockham, Pomponazzi and Erasmus are just a few names that come to mind. The Church took a very broad approach to this controversy, and condemned only the view that the rational soul is mortal.

If someone tells me that the human soul is naturally subsistent, then I know what they mean. It can act in its own right - e.g. understand and choose. But that doesn't make it naturally immortal. It merely makes it naturally immaterial. That was what I meant.

As far as I can tell, the only sense in which the soul is naturally immortal is that it naturally desires (and thus its telos would be incomplete without) immortality.

3. You write that nothing can "obligate" God but His own Will. In a way that's true. But I would add that God is by nature reasonable, and that He cannot intend that which is contrary to the ends that are built into the natural order.

These ends can be said to "obligate" the Divine Will, insofar as God (being all-wise) cannot fail to recognize these ends as good, and hence recognize them as being "due" to the creature who possesses them.

I'll say more about my syllogism about God having an obligation not to irreparable harm innocent human beings later.

Vincent Torley said...

Tony and Crude,

Thank you for your comments. In my syllogism about irreparable harm, I was careful to say that it related to innocent human beings. It would therefore not apply to souls in Hell. Beside, the harm they suffer is self-inflicted.

What kind of harm could be irreparable? Think of psychological harm - e.g. permanent insanity, or irreversible trauma. In this life, it certainly seems that some individuals are in such a condition. Frances Farmer's "Will there really be a morning?" describes one such horrific case: a woman in a lunatic asylum, who went into a catatonic state from which she never recovered, after being raped by a lesbian inmate. More broadly, any life-long injury to body or soul is an apparent case of irreparable harm. Cases of irreparable harm therefore create a prima facie problem for any theodicy. The only satisfactory solution to such cases is to posit an afterlife, in which God shall heal these terrible wrongs.

As for annihilation: one might argue that it's not harm if no injury is done to the individual, prior to death. Negation isn't privation. However, frustration of an end could be called harm. If a creature has a natural desire for immortality, its annihilation would therefore qualify as harm.

Finally, I would argue that if "should" and "shouldn't" talk don't arise for God, then it is hard to see how God could be the ontological ground of beings (e.g. organisms) to whom these terms do apply. If God is "should-less" then He can no more ground moral "oughts" (or any other "oughts") than the number 5 can.

BenYachov said...

Anonymous you are rather testy and over sensitive for someone who conceals their identity and thus can't have their reputation damaged.

>I do not appreciate this accusation.

My "accusation" if you could call it that doesn't merit this overreaction.

Also considering you are "Anonymous" you have no identity or reputation that can be damaged from any type of "accusation".

Also for the record I never called you a troll. But I did call Jay Kay one and I am not sorry for it.

It seems you doth protest too much?

Anyway I always treat Anon posters with suspicion & I won't change that now.

Come back in the future with more questions & I will oblige you. If not oh well.

BenYachov said...

@Hi VT

I hope you are well.

Reply to 1. The real question is what type of creatures might God choose to make. I don’t deny God could have made creatures with superior reason skills who where either conditionally immortal or mortal.

Reply to 2. I am of course talking about the rational soul since in common speech that is what we mean by the soul & what people mean when they say “animals don’t have souls” they mean immortal rational ones not mortal sensitive ones. The rational soul is “naturally immortal” in that God created it to always exist and have that essence and thus he couldn’t have created it to potentially not exist. He didn’t make it naturally filled with “Everlasting Life” in the sense of Grace and Heavenly life. That is not nature that is Grace. The Church teaches God made the rational soul immortal thus logically it can’t be anything other than what God made it to be. If God willed deprive a soul of existence then it would not have been immortal.

Reply to 3: I don’t think I am disputing this other then to say God may take human biological life at will and is not obligated to sustain any human biological life because He is not a moral agent.

Cheers.

Tony said...

Finally, I would argue that if "should" and "shouldn't" talk don't arise for God, then it is hard to see how God could be the ontological ground of beings (e.g. organisms) to whom these terms do apply. If God is "should-less" then He can no more ground moral "oughts" (or any other "oughts") than the number 5 can.

I don't think you are giving enough effect to what we mean when we say God was FREE to create or not create, and what kind of universe he might create.

(1) There is no such thing as "the best possible universe." There always an infinite gap between God and any creation he makes, so there is always a possible better creation that could be made. So God was free to make some other universe, that has other types of beings. God is free to make any universe that manifests good, and that is a sufficient reason.

(2) Although God cannot do anything that is self-contradictory, he can do ANYTHING else. It is not (so far as I know) absolutely clear, for example, that there metaphysically cannot be rational creatures without free will. The evidence we have from nature is all about rational creatures that DO have free will, which is insufficient ground to draw conclusions about other scenarios. Nor does revelation tell us directly. Maybe it implies something, but such implications need to be drawn carefully when it is not a question that is necessary for our salvation.

(3) Whether God "could" make a rational being who is not designed for immortality in an afterlife depends (it seems to me) on what God intends to manifest with his totality of creation. If part of what he is manifesting includes the effects that you get when some rational entity does not persist into eternity, then his freedom would imply that he CAN make such a creature, and then not have that creature persist eternally. You cannot call that result "harm" to the creature if God's plan from the first moment of creation for that creature was that it not persist. The only thing God is "required" to do (on the assumption that he free wills to create) is good, and so any created universe must needs be a good one. Beyond that, he is not required to satisfy anything else except not contradict himself.

kuartus said...

I dont think Wlliam Lane Craig is too far off from Classical Theism. He holds the view thay God is metaphysically necessary, meaning that God CANNOT fail to exist, and that there is no possible world in which God does not exist as well as holding that ONLY God is self-existent and nothing else. He does reject divine simplicity, but holds an interesting view. Since he believes that properties and parts have no existence apart from being useful fictions, God is not made of parts because parts dont exist! At least thats how I understand him. But he does hold that God is simple in being an immaterial unembodied mind.

http://www.reasonablefaith.org/is-god-a-being-in-the-same-sense-that-we-are

http://www.reasonablefaith.org/proof-of-divine-simplicity

Tony said...

Actually, I am on board with Vincent T on the question of how to talk about God being a moral actor. While there is validity to drawing a distinction between what good action means to humans and what it means to God, it remains the case that there are acts that we rightly say are not "permissible" to God because they are not good acts. Just because they are actions that contradict his nature and thus are also impossible to God as well as impermissible doesn't change the fact that goodness itself implies they are not OK for God.

For example, God's unique relationship to Truth makes it self-contradictory for God to make some kind of supernatural revelation that is an out-and-out lie.

It is also the case that God's own nature is not different from the "goodness" that defines the right kind of actions that are permissible. And at the same time God's nature is not different from the ACT of his nature, so that what he wills to do is the same thing as his being God. So (unlike humans) in God's case the ultimate source of rightness is not independent of "what he wills". For men, our willing something doesn't make it right, its rightness is independent. So where in us humans what defines "right action" comes from our nature as designed and created by God, from which we can depart by defective will, for God what defines "right action" just IS his own being and act. But that doesn't mean he doesn't have rightness about it.

As Augustine put it (IIRC), God's "responsibility" to act rightly about creation is not a responsibility TO CREATURES, but rather that of being true to his OWN nature. So he can never be self-contradictory. But outside of acts that would constitute oxy-moronic Divine behavior, he is not "obligated" to us in any way.

Mr. Green said...

Ozero91: Does an omniscient being need to think? If a being is omniscient, what is there to think about? Is thinking intrinsically good? Or is it not good because it implies that there are obstacles to arriving at the truth?

We sometimes talk about God's "thoughts" to refer to his knowledge, which He has as the Creator of everything, and not because He has to observe things or figure them out: so you're right, of course; God has no need to engage in any process of thinking, the way we do. Being finite, temporal, material creatures, we do need this process, and so it is good for us — it's a limitation that is proper to human nature. But to suppose that God's knowledge requires Him to "think" in any way as we do would be like supposing that God's power requires Him to exercise.

Mr. Green said...

Anonymous: I am sorry, but I will cease posting here for the time being.

Ah, I hope you don't let BenYachov scare you off. Unfortunately, he has absolutely no bedside manner. Just ignore his attitude, or ignore him altogether. You asked a perfectly good question, and I don't know what the problem was. It has nothing to do with Catholic Tradition or teachings like the Assumption. The rabbinic commentaries are like small-T Christian traditions: some of them are no doubt true, some are pious legends, and some are false. I wish I knew more about them, as I think there is a lot of value in them (and a lot of value in BY's posts, when he isn't flipping out). I think that, aside from historical or doctrinal reasons to the contrary, these traditions and commentaries should be taken seriously, in their proper context.

I mean, if enough of the Scripture is designated anthropomorphism and the Israelites merely possessing a "primitive" idea of God, then the Israelites do not seem any more unique in conception of God than any other people of the Ancient Near East. From this perspective, one would think the Greeks were the Chosen People.

Well, we are all chosen in one sense. But the Jews were chosen by God in a special way: they are the people with whom He made His covenant, it's as simple as that. He did not choose them because they understood him better than the Greeks, or because they were holier, or more powerful, or anything else. God didn't choose them because they were special, they were special because God chose them. Now, the Jews of course had an advantage in knowing God because of revelation; but because they did not have Aristotelian philosophy, that revelation still had to be presented in figurative language. (Eastern religions certainly can be less anthropomorphic, but by making the opposite error; they make God impersonal, a force rather than a living Person.) Even still, the Jewish conception of God clearly differs from the surrounding cultures. I think, though, that to those of us who have the benefit of a few extra millennia of theological development, that fact that Scripture does not use technical philosophical terminology sometimes gives us the impression that it sounds more like other ancient views than it really does.

Mr. Green said...

Vincent Torley: Finally, I would argue that if "should" and "shouldn't" talk don't arise for God, then it is hard to see how God could be the ontological ground of beings (e.g. organisms) to whom these terms do apply.

I think this is the root of the confusion around this point. God is not the ultimate standard for good the way a platinum bar in Paris can be the defining standard for the length of a metre. Our human nature, our form (aka Idea(l)) is what defines the standard we must fulfill. God is the cause or source of morality because He is the cause of our nature, He determines what that nature consists of. But He himself has no nature; God is supernatural, beyond any restricted existence that is defined [=limited] to be this way or that way. Indeed, it is precisely because God is supreme in this way that He can ground morality. A platinum bar can be the definition but not the ultimate ground of metre-stickiness because the bar itself has to be created by someone who determines its length.

Hence God cannot have "responsibilities" because a responsibility is a response, it is something that you give back to someone, something you owe him. God owes us nothing, there is nothing to give back, because everything comes from God in the first place. Even to say that God is obliged by reason to do something is, I think, somewhat figurative. It is of course true, as you said, that because God is reasonable, He cannot act contrary to what He wills, but that is not a moral obligation. It is simply that God, especially since He is outside time, cannot "change His mind". It's not even that once God has decided to make humans a certain way, that He is required to stick with it (though we might anthropomorphically sometimes talk that way); it is that His decision in the first place spans across all times. (I don't think the Kantian description is helpful, because Kant missed the boat on natural law.)

James Redford said...

Hi again, Crude.

Prof. Frank J. Tipler's Omega Point cosmology has advanced since the time when you last took inspection of it.

Regarding your inquiry on my educational background: it is that of self-study.

Crude said...

James,

Prof. Frank J. Tipler's Omega Point cosmology has advanced since the time when you last took inspection of it.

Keep in mind, the last time I looked at it wasn't 'when he originally wrote his book'. I know he updated things after the 'big bounce' scenario didn't look likely. Who has been working on it since then?

As for self-study, fair enough, thank you. Just was curious.

James Redford said...

Hi, Charles.

Thank you for linking to a Yahoo! website I set up in 2001. It's always warming to the heart to see others take an interest in the truth. Although you should know that I use the term "Illuminati" on that page in a generic sense to refer to the globalist oligarchy (who are very deep into the Satanic occult), not to the Bavarian Illuminati. I have since dropped using the term "Illuminati" since it causes more confusion than it provides clarity.

You state that this old website is "Pretty self-explanatory." Unfortunately, such things as evidence and reason figure very lowly in the affairs of man when it contradicts the feel-good fantasies he would rather believe.

Regarding the Satanic and occultic globalist oligarchy, see Sec.: "The New World Order: Government's Attempt at Autoapotheosis", pp. 87-98 of my following article:

James Redford, "The Physics of God and the Quantum Gravity Theory of Everything", Social Science Research Network (SSRN), Sept. 10, 2012 (orig. pub. Dec. 19, 2011), 186 pp., doi:10.2139/ssrn.1974708, http://archive.org/details/ThePhysicsOfGodAndTheQuantumGravityTheoryOfEverything

The reason it is necessary for me to discuss the globalist oligarchy's self-termed New World Order world government and mandatory world religion is because what I am doing is demonstrating that Biblical Christianity is true. Jesus Christ in the Gospels (Matthew 24:1-25:46; Mark 13; Luke 21:5-36) and John of Patmos in Revelation prophesy a massive End Time governmental conspiracy. Further, this massive conspiracy is a Satanic conspiracy. What I do in my aforecited article is show that this is historically true: that there is a globalist oligarchy, that they are occultic and Satanic in their beliefs, and that they are setting up the Beast system prophesied in the New Testament.

Hence, no Bible-based Christian ought to object to the historiographic program itself that I have undertook in my aforecited article, as all that I am doing is showing that the New Testament is true in its prophecy (i.e., to date, regarding historical citations--but then I also thereby show what the globalist oligarchy's goal is, which also validates New Testament prophecy, which includes the Mark of the Beast, as I detail in Sec. 8.2.2: "The Mark of the Beast" of my above-cited article).

c matt said...

CTG is static, PTG is dynamic. Dynamic is greater than static.

Not sure what you mean by "greater"? In the context of comparing CTG to PTG, the question should be which is more fundamental.

Static and dynamic correspond to being and change. I would see being (static) as more fundamental than change (dynamic) and therfore "greater" (higher importance).

(PS - the anti-robot software is killing my eyesight).

BenYachov said...

@VT

I like Tony's analysis thus far?

Your thoughts?

E.H. Munro said...

This place is turning into quite the party town for ASChole alumni; now that LvC has started posting here we apparently have four. (I'm assuming that Charles is a member/ex-member as he knew that Jimmy Redford & LvC were the same person.)

James Redford said...

Hi, E.H. Munro.

It's been a long time since we last talked. I hope things have been going well in your life.

ozero91 said...

This is kinda off-topic, but I have a question about A-T metaphysics. Let's say God creates something from nothing. Is He actualizing "nothing's" potential to be something? If so, it would follow that "nothing" has infinite potentials, because there is no limit to the number of different things that "nothing" could potentially be. This seems absurd, and I feel as though I am muddling things up. Can someone explain things for me? Also, does Feser have any blog posts where he addresses this?

James Redford said...

Hi, Ozero91.

Yes, everything is contained in nothingness, mathematically speaking. Thus:

0+0 = 0

-1+1 = 0

-2+2 = 0

-3+3 = 0

-4+4 = 0

And so on. For the physics details of this, see the excerpt of Prof. Stephen Hawking on p. 16 of my following article:

James Redford, "The Physics of God and the Quantum Gravity Theory of Everything", Social Science Research Network (SSRN), Sept. 10, 2012 (orig. pub. Dec. 19, 2011), 186 pp., doi:10.2139/ssrn.1974708, http://archive.org/details/ThePhysicsOfGodAndTheQuantumGravityTheoryOfEverything

Mr. Green said...

Ozero91: Let's say God creates something from nothing. Is He actualizing "nothing's" potential to be something?

No — that would be treating "nothing" as some stuff that God manipulates to get some something out of it. Literal creation is a cause that doesn't act on anything, which is why only God can create ex nihilo; only a being with infinite power can cause the existence of a thing, rather than actualising the potential of something which already has an act of existence. Ed discusses this in "A first without a second".

glassmaker said...

Mr. Redford

The state of 0 energy is not nothing. It's more like a flat string. When you pluck it, some parts of it are up and some are down (particles and anti particles) and can thus still add up to 0 total extension...but it is not nothing when it is not vibrating...Energy has to be energy of something.

ALSO

PLEASE stop posting on fantastical physics turned bad theology. Your Pseudo-neoplatonic confuting of mathematical abstractions with living beings is embarassing. To boot, the science is nowhere near settled on the supposedly factual aspects of the "Omega Point" cosmology. You are making us physicists look bad.

Anonymous said...

Hi glassmaker,

What about the contention that the total energy of the universe is 0, the "negative" energy of gravity cancels out the "positive" energy of matter? Thus, the universe coming into existence does not violate the conservation of energy.

glassmaker said...

Anon:

In order for energy to be conserved in such a scenario, the energy before and after the event must be the same. What on earth is the energy before there are things to have energy???

Again. Energy is the energy of SOMETHING in motion being acted on by SOMETHING else. Physics simply can't speak of the energy of nothing, whatever that would mean.

Daniel Smith said...

What about the contention that the total energy of the universe is 0, the "negative" energy of gravity cancels out the "positive" energy of matter? Thus, the universe coming into existence does not violate the conservation of energy.

This kind of logic drives me crazy: it equates "nothing" with "things that add up to zero".

Anonymous said...

Off topic: Does the species problem have any implication for the concept of Aristotelian forms?

Eduardo said...

Anon above me.

Use the search bar to check for some things that Feser had to say about Darwinism and forms.

Also, the net warriors around here might have spoken something in the comboxes.

So if you search I know you will find something relevant. Sorry for being of no help, as in explain with careful details and examples what forms are... but I myself am not a knower of the subject.

rank sophist said...

Off topic: Does the species problem have any implication for the concept of Aristotelian forms?

No. If you want a detailed breakdown, I recommend David Oderberg's Real Essentialism.

Mr. Green said...

Crude: And I have to reject the idea that, if you're not a classical theist, you're an atheist. Not "is classical theism is false, then atheism is most likely true", but literally, "theism itself can only be true if classical theism is true". That, to me, seems entirely wrong-headed, and a warping of common language.

I agree with your point that theistic "personalism" is not so horribly positioned, and that it even provides a better metaphysical foundation than atheism or naturalism; but I read Ed as approaching it from the angle of, "1+1=2, period, anything else is just wrong, and demonstrably so without too much difficulty, so quit wasting time with other suggested answers." In one way, claiming "1+1=1.99999967" is a lot less horrible than suggesting "1+1=0", but on the other hand, they're both just wrong, and quibbling that the former is pretty close is not a productive way to do mathematics. And since Ed's mission is to get people back on metaphysical track, that's a reasonable way to go. (Which I guess is a practical matter — again, in theory, I think you make a perfectly good point.)

But then they take another step and reason that, if they don't find Zeus very impressive, he can't be a god - as if something being a god hinges critically on 'Am I driven to worship this?' That to me seems plainly wrong, and the proper reply is that theism can be true, but said god may simply not be worthy of or even desiring worship.

Zeus certainly qualifies as a "god" according to the traditional meaning of the word; and "worship" (worth-ship) means respect or reverence, such as one might give to a mayor, etc. — or at least it used to, before becoming narrowed to refer specifically to worship due the transcendental God. A lesser god would presumably be worthy of a lesser kind of "worship", if he actually were in a ruling or fatherly position with respect to some people (and, you know, if he actually existed).

What is interesting is that it is the often-unrecognised success of classical theism that has led to this dismissal of non-transcendental gods. It's so compelling that competing "lowercase" theologies just aren't taken seriously any more. Of course, this was driven by the spread of Christianity, to the point where even non-Christians generally conceive of God in a more or less Judeo-Christian sense, rather than anything like Zeus or Odin. Hence the practical dichotomy of classical theism vs. atheism, because "natural theism" just isn't a serious option any more.

("Natural theism" because gods like Zeus have natures. Thanks to classical theism, the divine got associated with the supernatural, and the term was then stretched back to include things like angels and gods. Leading to confusion alongside (near-?)meaningless denotations for "matter"….)

Anonymous said...

I enjoyed this posting.

I only have one "quibble" with the following line:
As a Catholic I would of course maintain that the doctrine of the Trinity represents a more penetrating understanding of the divine nature than non-Christian conceptions.

This could be read as suggesting that the doctrine of the Trinity is a matter of natural, rather than revealed, religion.

Am I correct in assuming that this is not what you intend?

Mr. Green said...

Rank Sophist: And we can know that he is a tyrant by taking a look at modern "theodicies", which show God causing evil to gain a greater "net good". Some are thrown under the bus for the sake of others--for the "greater good".

This is a valid criticism, up to a point; but the world is full of evils, and there has to be an explanation for them. God is the primary cause of everything, and noting that God cannot create evil qua privation is metaphysically correct but ignores the question of why God permits suffering, which is of course what is really being asked. I don't think it's fair to present, say, Craig or Plantinga as claiming that God "throws some people under the bus". But even classical theism acknowledges that He does allow some people to get run over because there truly is a greater good.

I believe that Plantinga is an intelligent man, and I appreciate his EAAN very much. But it's hard not to be shocked by his pitiful defense of theism as a "basic belief".

I don't know how Plantinga argues for that, but it seems to me theism is a basic belief, regardless of classic vs. personalistic.

Craig's fails Anselm's test, because it is very easy to conceive a God greater than his.

Presumably Craig and Plantinga would claim that their understanding of God is the greatest that makes sense. Does anyone know if either of them has ever addressed classical theism directly (as in, written a piece called "Why I am not a Classical Theist"!)?

James Redford said...

Hi, Glassmaker.

As Prof. Stephen Hawking points out in the excerpt I give of him on p. 16 of my "Physics of God" article, "Now twice zero is also zero. Thus the universe can double the amount of positive matter energy and also double the negative gravitational energy without violation of the conservation of energy."

Hence, if both sides of the additional sign are 0 regarding the negative and positive energy, then there would be no energy on either side of the sign. Yet starting with literally no energy on both sides of the addition sign there can be created any amount of positive and negative energy.

Your analogy is a false analogy, because a string is made out of positive matter energy. Thus, when you say that a string isn't nothing, that's quite true but also quite irrelevant. Yet zero energy on both sides of the addition sign is literally no energy.

And I quite agree with the fact that -1+1, etc., isn't nothing--that's precisely my point: on either side of the plus sign it's certainly something. Yet 0 negative energy + 0 positive energy really is no energy however one wishes to look at it. Yet from literally no energy can be created any amount of positive and negative energy (in literal terms: creatio ex nihilo).

Regarding your comment on Prof. Frank J. Tipler's Omega Point cosmology, it is now a mathematical theorem per the known laws of physics (i.e., the Second Law of Thermodynamics, General Relativity, and Quantum Mechanics). The only way it could be wrong is if one or more of these laws of physics are wrong, yet they have been confirmed by every experiment to date. Hence, there exists no rational reason for thinking that the Omega Point cosmology is incorrect.

Regarding "confuting [sic--I suppose you mean conflating] of mathematical abstractions with living beings", this is simply an unavoidable consequence of the Bekenstein Bound, which itself is required by the aforesaid known laws of physics.

For much more on the above matters, see my following article:

James Redford, "The Physics of God and the Quantum Gravity Theory of Everything", Social Science Research Network (SSRN), Sept. 10, 2012 (orig. pub. Dec. 19, 2011), 186 pp., doi:10.2139/ssrn.1974708, http://archive.org/details/ThePhysicsOfGodAndTheQuantumGravityTheoryOfEverything

Tony said...

Redford, I strongly urge you to take your pet theories elsewhere, somewhere there is a desire for excessively stupid claptrap, rather than clog up this commbox with this junk. You aren't going to convince anyone here that you understand a shred of physics or of theology or philosophy.

Glass, please do not feed the trolls. We can have a perfectly good discussion here about worthwhile questions, if only we concentrate on worthwhile questions and not silly make-believe word games.

glassmaker said...

Tony

I know I know. I'm sorry. It just hurts me to think that some one might be convinced by this painful sophistry. But I should remind myself of the axiom: "No One Was Convinced in a Blog" and that it's not my job to save the world.

Vincent Torley said...

Dear Ben Yachov, Tony and Mr. Green,

Thank you all for your thoughtful responses.

As I define the word "obligation", to say that A has an obligation to B means that either:

(1) There is some good, which is due to B, from A

or:

(2) There is some evil, the prevention of which is due to B, from A.

Where do these "dues" come from? What I'm suggesting is that there are certain kinds of entities which are morally significant "others". Their nature makes them so.

Rational agents such as human beings fall into this category. By creating them, God voluntarily enters into an I-you relationship with such creatures. That in turn entails a commitment.

More tentatively, I'd suggest that some non-human animals are also morally significant "others" in some lesser sense. They're not just organisms. The Catechism of the Catholic Church itself declares that "men OWE them kindness" (emphasis mine). What about God? Does He owe them anything? Consider the following scenario. Imagine a hideous sadist who has figured out a way to keep a sentient animal alive indefinitely, and to continually torture it throughout its miserable existence. Is God morally obliged to intervene at some point? Or would it be perfectly all right for Him to allow the animal to be tortured forever? I think He would have to stop it somehow, if He were good.

Mr. Green also argues that "God cannot have 'responsibilities' because a responsibility is a response, it is something that you give back to someone, something you owe him. God owes us nothing, there is nothing to give back, because everything comes from God in the first place."

But I don't see why it follows from the fact that everything comes from God, that God owes us nothing. As far as I can tell, it makes sense to say (as I do) that God was under no obligation to create us, but that having freely chosen to do so, He assumed certain obligations as a logical consequence of His choice.

I would however agree with Mr. Green when he writes that "because God is reasonable, He cannot act contrary to what He wills, but that is not a moral obligation." If the notion of Divine obligations towards creatures has any basis, it can only be based in Nature.

Tony writes that "there are acts that we rightly say are not 'permissible' to God because they are not good acts." Here I agree.

But I cannot agree with the statement that "God's nature is not different from the ACT of his nature, so that what he wills to do is the same thing as his being God." God's act of creating the world was a free, contingent act. God's nature is necessary. That which is contingent cannot be the same as that which is necessary. Hence God cannot be the same as His free choices.

Finally, Tony writes: "As Augustine put it (IIRC), God's 'responsibility' to act rightly about creation is not a responsibility TO CREATURES, but rather that of being true to his OWN nature." Why not both, I would ask?

Ben Yachov, you write that "God may take human biological life at will and is not obligated to sustain any human biological life because He is not a moral agent." Um, I take it you believe that the resurrected body is a biological life? Are you saying that God, having given us a resurrected body at the Last Judgement, has no obligation
to sustain it?

You also write: "The Church teaches God made the rational soul immortal thus logically it can't be anything other than what God made it to be." Only if God made the rational soul immortal by nature is it impossible for it to be otherwise. To my mind, what makes the rational soul immortal by nature is that its natural ends transcend the realm of the mortal and perishable, as shown by (a) our innate longing to share eternity with God, and (b) our ability to contemplate objects which transcend time and space (e.g. universals).

Perhaps on this last point we are more in agreement than we think.

BenYachov said...

>Or would it be perfectly all right for Him to allow the animal to be tortured forever?

The question is based on a set of invalid premises (i.e. it is possible to torture an animal forever & that animal suffering is morally significant & equivocal to a being with a rational soul suffering & not like mere matter being damaged by matter).

1. The 2nd Law of Thermal dynamics forbid it. Our Sun will burn as Red hot Red giant & destroy normative biological life(sans the resurrected in the New Jerusalem who would likely be immune).

2. Animals don't have immortal rational souls so how do we know their mere physical suffering is the same as a human child being perpetually tormented in a similar manner?

>Um, I take it you believe that the resurrected body is a biological life?

It's supernatural and preternatural so category mistake.

I address the rest of this later. I am behind in my work.

Anonymous said...

"Animals don't have immortal rational souls so how do we know their mere physical suffering is the same as a human child being perpetually tormented in a similar manner?"

Just...wow.

BenYachov said...

@Anon

>Just...wow.

Try reading WHAT'S IT LIKE TO BE A BAT by Thomas Nagel a Philosopher and an Atheist.

Also you may want to look up the Anthropomorphic Fallacy.

Just trying to help so you will have something more to work with then "wow".

rank sophist said...

This is a valid criticism, up to a point; but the world is full of evils, and there has to be an explanation for them. God is the primary cause of everything, and noting that God cannot create evil qua privation is metaphysically correct but ignores the question of why God permits suffering, which is of course what is really being asked. I don't think it's fair to present, say, Craig or Plantinga as claiming that God "throws some people under the bus". But even classical theism acknowledges that He does allow some people to get run over because there truly is a greater good.

Certain flawed versions of classical theism acknowledge this, but it is a false doctrine. Any system that implicates God in evil of any kind--including acts done for a "greater good"--is automatically broken. David Bentley Hart has written about this at length. God must be seen as completely innocent, completely outside of blame for any evil, if we are to get beyond the idea that God exists "over against" humanity. I recommend this essay of his on the subject, in which he attacks Baroque Thomists and others who magnificently fail at keeping God innocent: http://tinyurl.com/8pgvydn (click "Page 34").

rank sophist said...

To be clearer: I don't think it's wrong to say that God allows certain things to happen. I'm taking issue with the idea that he allows things to happen for a "greater good"--this is an economic God, a tyrant.

JesseM said...

BenYachov:
Try reading WHAT'S IT LIKE TO BE A BAT by Thomas Nagel a Philosopher and an Atheist.

Nagel never suggested in that paper (available online at http://www.princeton.edu/~gdetre/writing/conch/reference/articles/Nagel%20-%20What%20is%20it%20like%20to%20be%20a%20bat.htm ) that the experience of an animal suffering is likely to be completely different from the experience of a human suffering, his point about the unknowability of the bat's experience was more focused on its sonar sense, a sense that is presumably somewhat different from any of our own senses. Similarly, a blind person would have no idea what it's like to be a sighted person, but Nagel wouldn't deny that a blind person can infer a sighted person's sensation of pain is similar! Look at the following section of Nagel's paper:

"we believe that bats feel some versions of pain, fear, hunger, and lust, and that they have other, more familiar types of perception besides sonar. But we believe that these experiences also have in each case a specific subjective character, which it is beyond our ability to conceive. And if there's conscious life elsewhere in the universe, it is likely that some of it will not be describable even in the most general experiential terms available to us.6 (The problem is not confined to exotic cases, however, for it exists between one person and another. The subjective character of the experience of a person deaf and blind from birth is not accessible to me, for example, nor presumably is mine to him. This does not prevent us each from believing that the other's experience has such a subjective character.)"

I don't think Nagel would suggest that the case for a bat's sensation of pain being "similar" to ours is significantly worse than the case for one person's sense of pain being "similar" to another's, although he points out in a chapter of his book "What Does It All Mean?" that we can never really be sure that other people's sensations are at all similar to our own.

Mr. Green said...

Rank Sophist: I'm taking issue with the idea that he allows things to happen for a "greater good"--this is an economic God, a tyrant.

St. Paul and the Romans he addresses in 8:28 might demur. But I rather think we have here only a difference of interpretation, since it sounds like you are disagreeing with the same thing I disagree with. (Of course, God actually is a tyrannos, an absolute ruler — indeed, the ultimate ruler; a human who sets himself up as absolute dictator will descend into cruelty, hence the English sense of "tyrant", but that problem does not apply to God.)

Certain flawed versions of classical theism acknowledge this, but it is a false doctrine. Any system that implicates God in evil of any kind--including acts done for a "greater good"--is automatically broken.

Depends what you mean by "implicates" and "evil". Hart's chapter is concerned with moral evil — committing free acts for which one is morally responsible. In referring to "suffering" I was of course referring to so-called "natural evils". God's providence is not ordered to eliminating physical discomfort in this life, but rather to uniting us with Himself in the next: out of love, He wills the best end for us (the end, in fact, for which we were created). But I think that by "throwing people under the bus", you meant condemning people to hell, for which God cannot be held responsible in any determining way.

BenYachov said...

@VT

I will get back to you but with the VP debate and watching the lastest Red Dwarf I have been busy.

But I have not forgotten you.

Glenn said...

JesseM,

I took away from BenYachov's comment not that he was suggesting that humans and (other animals) are completely different, but that he was asking what might be the justification for thinking they are completely the same.

Also, I was puzzled by your following up the assertion that Nagel's "point about the unknowability of the bat's experience was more focused on its sonar sense" with a quotation specifically having to do with its non-sonar experience.

I also don't see how this quotation might counter anything said by Ben. In fact, my reading of the quotation has it supporting the generic point Ben was making (i.e., that we're on shaky ground in asserting with confidence that the experience of humans and other animals are completely the same).

BenYachov said...

Briefly to JesseM,

Obviously Nagel being an Atheist & a Naturalist(unlike my Theist & Thomistic self) would think or infer because Bats are material beings like the rest of us that what they subjectively experience in the pain & suffering dept would likely be similar to us.

Of course we can't know & via Nagel's argument it is impossible to directly know the subjective experiences of a Bat & what it is like to experience existence as a bat. This is across the board.

He can have no direct empirical knowledge of the subjective experience of a Bat. He can only infer based on philosophically.

My reason for citing him is to point out this fact.

Naturally since I have a different philosophy I might infer we are spirit and matter while the bat is matter alone. I can't know what it is like to be a mere material being alone & according to Nagel I can never know what it is to be something other then what I am.

But I can infer what a bat experiences is likely not what I do. I can concieve of myself intellectually as a being who exists. I can reflect intellectually on my suffering. A Bat like all animals is just a creature of blind sensation without intellect.

JesseM said...

BenYachov:
"Of course we can't know & via Nagel's argument it is impossible to directly know the subjective experiences of a Bat & what it is like to experience existence as a bat. This is across the board. "

Yes, and according to his argument, I as a sighted person can't know what it is like to experience existence as a blind person, in an equally across-the-board way. Obviously you have philosophical beliefs that suggest to you that there is much more basis for thinking the sensations of other humans are "like your own" in some way, but it's odd that you would present Nagel as supporting your case since he clearly feels it is part of the very nature of subjective experience that it the experience of others is unknowable (but that we can make informed guesses about similarities to our experience based on behavioral/physiological similarities, in both the case of another person and a bat), his argument has absolutely nothing specifically to do with animals vs. humans, he just used the case of a bat because it throws this problem into star relief.

BenYachov:
"But I can infer what a bat experiences is likely not what I do. I can concieve of myself intellectually as a being who exists. I can reflect intellectually on my suffering. A Bat like all animals is just a creature of blind sensation without intellect."

Well, does a baby have any more of an intellect than a bat? I imagine that someone who adheres to the Aristotelian-Thomistic philosophy would say something along these lines: "a baby does have a rational soul, but it just hasn't yet realized its potential for intellectual thought." If so it seems to me that this would basically just be a guess made by Aristotle/Aquinas which others have taken their word for, I don't suppose they had any evidence or clear philosophical arguments to support the notion that there is a "rational soul" fundamentally distinct from the "sensitive soul", or that if they do exist, they are both acquired by humans at the same time, or that the rational soul is completely lacking in animals (one could imagine that animals have it too, but that the soul's abilities are severely limited by the smaller size of their brain and its lack of specialized language-processing areas, in much the same way an A-T might say the abilities of the rational soul are limited in the case of a baby, or of a person with severe mental retardation who was never able to learn language).

Glenn:
"Also, I was puzzled by your following up the assertion that Nagel's "point about the unknowability of the bat's experience was more focused on its sonar sense" with a quotation specifically having to do with its non-sonar experience. "

Because the quotation was about his claim that it experienced "some versions of pain, fear, hunger, and lust" and "more familiar types of perception besides sonar". He did also say "these experiences also have in each case a specific subjective character, which it is beyond our ability to conceive", but I think his use of the phrases "some versions of" and of the phrase "more familiar types of perception" suggests he thinks the bat's sensation of pain/sight is in some sense "similar" to our own sense of pain/sight, even if it may not be exactly alike and we can't really conceive of what the differences would be (this is particularly apparent in the case of lust, which would be directed at another bat and is therefore more difficult to imagine than pain--but perhaps not so much more difficult than imagining the subjective character of the lust felt by a person who is attracted to a gender or body type that holds no attraction to ourselves!)

JesseM said...

Mr. Green:
'But I think that by "throwing people under the bus", you meant condemning people to hell, for which God cannot be held responsible in any determining way.'

Well, He can be held responsible in part if He has "middle knowledge" (see http://www.iep.utm.edu/middlekn/ and http://www.leaderu.com/offices/billcraig/docs/middle1.html ) of what a person would have chosen in different external circumstances, and knows that in an alternate history with different external circumstances (living an extra twenty years, say) the person would have eventually made the right choices to avoid being sent to Hell, but God chooses instead to actualize a history where the person's external circumstances result in them being condemned to eternal suffering. As Craig says in the essay I linked to, this behavior seems to conflict with the idea that God is omnibenevolent and wants the best fate for everyone compatible with the needs of justice--Craig's own attempts to reconcile the idea of Hell with the idea of God's ominbenevolence don't seem very convincing to me.

rank sophist said...

But I think that by "throwing people under the bus", you meant condemning people to hell, for which God cannot be held responsible in any determining way.

I agree that it seems like we're saying the same things in different words, but I'd like to clarify on this one point. I was not referring to sending people to hell--rather, I was talking about the idea that "everything happens for a reason", including random suffering. It's all part of some "plan" that serves the "greater good". This is the kind of theodicy offered by most modern apologists, and by certain Christian writers during the rest of history. But it makes God responsible for every action of the world, which now operates according to a "plan" that is not mere prevision but determination. God's permission for the holocaust becomes part of--not a deviation from--his plan; and the distinction between God's will and his permission is destroyed. Further, modern apologists like Plantinga sometimes say that God allows "necessary suffering"; to do otherwise, they say, would violate some mysterious "order" that would lead to greater evil. But this is nothing less than what Hart, in other work, calls the "sacrificial logic" of pagan society. One man takes an unjust fall for the greater good--the stability of some order. To say that God individually allows or disallows every event, as part of his plan, and to say that he cannot do otherwise because some "greater good" would then be violated, is to commit yourself to a vision of God as a tyrannical pagan ruler. It's disastrous theology.

This is why I was getting on the cases of guys like Plantinga and Swinburne. Their personalistic theodicies invariable lead to the above conclusions.

Brian said...

Rank, I am an unwavering Catholic, but I think you miss the point of the "problem" of evil. You think making the proper distinctions in God's will smoothes over the problem, but the problem is not whether God permits or wills any evil. The problem is that any evil exists at all when he could intervene to stop it.

Tony said...

Further, modern apologists like Plantinga sometimes say that God allows "necessary suffering"; to do otherwise, they say, would violate some mysterious "order" that would lead to greater evil. But this is nothing less than what Hart, in other work, calls the "sacrificial logic" of pagan society. One man takes an unjust fall for the greater good--the stability of some order. To say that God individually allows or disallows every event, as part of his plan, and to say that he cannot do otherwise because some "greater good" would then be violated, is to commit yourself to a vision of God as a tyrannical pagan ruler. It's disastrous theology.

Rank, I think you are conflating things that don't have to go together. It is not only possible but necessary that everything that happens happens with God causing it (if it is good) or permitting it (if it is moral evil). The only other option is that God is not in charge, is not omnipotent, and is not providential.

But nothing about that requires that God arrange "the best" world. The only requirement for God is that the entire economy of creation be a good one - that as a whole it is a good creation. It doesn't have to "justify" evils by "greater goods" in any sense other than that the entire order is, well, ordered, whole, integrated toward its final summation. Any of the millions or billions of possible universes that have that characteristic could have been created by God, and that's good enough. He is free to create ANY good universal order. He doesn't have to create the best of them. But whatever creation he decides to form, of course he is in charge of it, lock, stock and barrel.

rank sophist said...

Rank, I am an unwavering Catholic, but I think you miss the point of the "problem" of evil. You think making the proper distinctions in God's will smoothes over the problem, but the problem is not whether God permits or wills any evil. The problem is that any evil exists at all when he could intervene to stop it.

Well, I understand that. But I'm not addressing the problem of evil, here, which I find to be a fairly anemic argument anyway. My concern is rather with a particularly bad kind of theology--Heidegger called it "onto-theology"--that reduces God to little more than a "best cause" on top of a heap of "lesser causes". God becomes a kind of cosmic tyrant who is described univocally, and who enacts arbitrary control over every minor detail of the world. Certain versions are little better than occasionalism. This is, of course, the modern theistic personalism with which we are all familiar, but a bit more fleshed out than usual.

It is not only possible but necessary that everything that happens happens with God causing it (if it is good) or permitting it (if it is moral evil). The only other option is that God is not in charge, is not omnipotent, and is not providential.

Permission must be viewed in a certain way, or else you're led into the problems about which I'm complaining. Is God's permission little more than a direct allowance of evil in specific situations? If so, then it's indistinguishable from tyranny, particularly if God allows evil in order to achieve a greater good. God's specific allowance of evil becomes a choice in itself, and the distinction between positive willing and allowance is destroyed. He sacrifices an innocent few for the safety of the many, or to maintain "order", or to prevent some worse event.

Evil must be allowed to stand as evil, without any justification or "divine plan" or "soul building", if God is to be excused from responsibility for it. He must will directly contrary to the events that actually unfold; and this is only a coherent idea if God is not a "highest cause" above "lesser causes", whose will has a direct causal relationship with these events. Secondary causes must be able to stand on their own, as an entirely different order than that of God. Otherwise, not only is evil a choice, but the difference between a miracle and God's normal actions is collapsed. Miracles are events in which God invades secondary causes directly--this is why they're special and out of the ordinary in the first place. The correct view of the allowance of evil is that it is not special event: God does not have to choose to allow it in one situation and to disallow it in another. Evil simply happens, for no reason at all, and God does not enact a miracle to stop it.

rank sophist said...

It doesn't have to "justify" evils by "greater goods" in any sense other than that the entire order is, well, ordered, whole, integrated toward its final summation. Any of the millions or billions of possible universes that have that characteristic could have been created by God, and that's good enough. He is free to create ANY good universal order. He doesn't have to create the best of them.

I'm aware of this. Again, as I told Brian, I am not arguing about the problem of evil, and I find your objections to it wholly convincing. The notion of a "best of all possible worlds" is incoherent, and God's "it was very good" is a prerequisite to any decent theology. My concern, rather, is with a vicious strain of thought nicely embodied by thinkers like Plantinga and Swinburne. If we accept it, then we are left with a "god", rather than with God. Perhaps this god is benevolent, but he could never deserve Anselm's "that than which nothing greater can be thought". He is ultimately a tragic accomplice in evil, as Hart might say, whose "perfection" never leaves that of the finite order: he is the best dictator imaginable.

Jay Kay said...

"if God is to be excused from responsibility for it. He must will directly contrary to the events that actually unfold; and this is only a coherent idea if God is not a 'highest cause' above 'lesser causes', whose will has a direct causal relationship with these events." (rank sophist)

Yes, absolutely. Who is it that decided anyway that God must be the first cause of all events rather than simply of existence? Obviously that sort of wooley-headed thinking is based on a deterministic presupposition that the very act of creating the world absolutely determined all the events that would happen in the world, which is not a one iota different from atheistic nihilism.

rank sophist said...

Yes, absolutely. Who is it that decided anyway that God must be the first cause of all events rather than simply of existence? Obviously that sort of wooley-headed thinking is based on a deterministic presupposition that the very act of creating the world absolutely determined all the events that would happen in the world, which is not a one iota different from atheistic nihilism.

Given your trollish hostility to classical theism above, I'm not sure whether you're being sarcastic here or not. Regardless, you should know that I myself am a classical theist, and that the positions I endorsed in the post you quoted are none other than classical theist tradition. Further, my main resource while writing them was David Bentley Hart, who is one of the leading classical theist theologians today. Nothing I said was original: only parts of the phrasing were my own.

So, if your comment is meant somehow to constitute an attack against CT, it does not succeed. If anything, you only help to strengthen the case against the various strains of theistic personalism, occasionalism and general onto-theology that I am attacking.

Tony said...

Rank Sophist: Secondary causes must be able to stand on their own, as an entirely different order than that of God.

Yes, a different order, but not an order that is separated from God's causality: when Bill causes a good good act the original source of the good act is God, but God's causality is give to Bill his secondary causality by which he brings about the good thing.

It is because of this that God's causality is Providential, even with respect to the evils that befall men. Unlike men who write stories and thus "create" predicaments and events which show the truths they wish to display, God uses events and history itself to 'write' his Truth upon the world. This is why in the Old Testament God can use types to present truth to the chosen people. God is the cause of Joseph being a type representing Jesus, when Joseph is sent into Egypt and then becomes the savior of his family. Although God providentially rules everything about those events, he is not the source of the evil will of the brothers willing Joseph's evil situation: God is the cause of everything that they did EXCEPT the sinfulness of their wills.

Evil must be allowed to stand as evil, without any justification or "divine plan" or "soul building",

Romans 8: And we know that to them that love God all things work together unto good: to such as, according to his purpose, are called to be saints. 29 For whom he foreknew, he also predestinated to be made conformable to the image of his Son: that he might be the Firstborn amongst many brethren. 30 And whom he predestinated, them he also called. And whom he called, them he also justified. And whom he justified, them he also glorified. 31 What shall we then say to these things? If God be for us, who is against us? 32 He that spared not even his own Son, but delivered him up for us all, how has he not also, with him, given us all things? 33 Who shall accuse against the elect of God? God is he that justifies: 34 Who is he that shall condemn? Christ Jesus that died: yea that is risen also again, who is at the right hand of God, who also makes intercession for us. 35 Who then shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation? Or distress? Or famine? Or nakedness? Or danger? Or persecution? Or the sword? 36 (As it is written: For your sake, we are put to death all the day long. We are accounted as sheep for the slaughter.

Traditional teaching of the Fathers about the evils we suffer is that we ought to count God himself as the cause of all of them, excepting only the malice the sins, and therefore to accept all our sufferings in good faith. So, for example, God put it into the heart of Nebuchadnezzar come upon the Israelites and treat them hardly, because they needed chastisement, but God was not the cause of Nebuchadnezzar's bad will in carrying out the program.

Jay Kay said...

"So, if your comment is meant somehow to constitute an attack against CT, it does not succeed. If anything, you only help to strengthen the case against the various strains of theistic personalism, occasionalism and general onto-theology that I am attacking." (rank sophist)

I think you are as confused about what theistic personalism is as you think I am confused about what classical theism is. And perhaps we both actually are confused. Everyone I've ever encountered who claimed to be a classical theist was a preacher of determinism who used the concept of God's being "outside of time" in classical theism to "prove" determinism. If you don't agree with them, then it shows there is more wiggle room in classical theism than it seemed like there was. At the same time, you apparently think all theistic personalists are determinists, but you're wrong. So yes, I think we were both confused. But just as some atheists are determinist and some believe in free will, so also it seems that classical theists can be found on both sides and theistic personalists can be found on both sides. It seems the most basic presupposition we humans have is really not whether God exists or not or what his nature is like but whether free will is real or not. That's where more disagreement tends to lie. Of course, to me, compatibalists are the same as determinists, so here's to hoping you aren't a compatibalist trying to trick me. :)

rank sophist said...

It is because of this that God's causality is Providential, even with respect to the evils that befall men. Unlike men who write stories and thus "create" predicaments and events which show the truths they wish to display, God uses events and history itself to 'write' his Truth upon the world. This is why in the Old Testament God can use types to present truth to the chosen people. God is the cause of Joseph being a type representing Jesus, when Joseph is sent into Egypt and then becomes the savior of his family. Although God providentially rules everything about those events, he is not the source of the evil will of the brothers willing Joseph's evil situation: God is the cause of everything that they did EXCEPT the sinfulness of their wills.

Ah, so you're a Banezian (or Molinist). I completely disagree with you, and I concur with Hart that this doctrine is not only false, but evil. It destroys free will and leaves us with a God who creates certain people from eternity for the sole purpose of damnation. This is exactly the kind of thing I was complaining about. Further, this doctrine (premotion) was not even taught by Aquinas himself--it's the invention of a few extremely limited thinkers centuries afterward.

Traditional teaching of the Fathers about the evils we suffer is that we ought to count God himself as the cause of all of them, excepting only the malice the sins, and therefore to accept all our sufferings in good faith.

This contradicts everything I've read about the Fathers--including Augustine--, and the quote you provided is not evidence against my position. Also, Paul's passage on predestination has been taken out of context by various people for almost two thousand years, and the influential Augustinian reading of it has led numerous times to theology hardly distinguishable from Calvinism. This would include, I might add, Banezianism.

rank sophist said...

Tony,

If you want to see a full-bodied critique of premotion and Baroque Thomism, I recommend this piece, linked earlier in this combox, by Hart: http://tinyurl.com/8pgvydn (click "Page 34").

Jay Kay,

Everyone I've ever encountered who claimed to be a classical theist was a preacher of determinism who used the concept of God's being "outside of time" in classical theism to "prove" determinism. If you don't agree with them, then it shows there is more wiggle room in classical theism than it seemed like there was.

Interesting. Rest assured that classical theism does not entail divine determinism. In fact, I would say that CT almost precludes divine determinism; because, if this doctrine is true, then God is lowered to the level of a greatest secondary cause. As Hart points out, this is what Banezianism does.

At the same time, you apparently think all theistic personalists are determinists, but you're wrong.

I don't think that they're determinists--I simply think that their version of God is broken, because he becomes responsible for evil through direct allowance. The difference between miracles and secondary causes is erased. As I said before, this god is little more than a touched-up Zeus: a mostly benevolent, unpredictable being who is willing to achieve the greater good by any means necessary. Your sister dies in a car crash? Welp, God didn't stop it because it would have interfered in some greater good. Perhaps saving her would have created some major disaster in a few years. How, exactly, does this differ from callous political leadership? How is this god worthy of worship?

Of course, to me, compatibalists are the same as determinists, so here's to hoping you aren't a compatibalist trying to trick me. :)

I might be described as a compatibilist, but not by any standard usage of that term. Following Aquinas and the Church Fathers, I don't believe that the will is absolutely free in all cases. It cannot will evil: this only comes about indirectly. Further, the will cannot will contrary to the reasoning prior to a decision. However, that reasoning can occur in a split second, and the will is involved in it. If you want to read more, see the debate between intellectualists and voluntarists. Intellectualism is kind of the meeting point between pure libertarian free will and loose compatibilism; but it is not determinism--not even a disguised determinism.

Charles said...

(I'm assuming that Charles is a member/ex-member as he knew that Jimmy Redford & LvC were the same person)

Nope. Google Search. I'm working on my dissertation to complete a PhD from the Center for Thomistic studies in Houston.

Tony said...

Ah, so you're a Banezian (or Molinist). I completely disagree with you, and I concur with Hart that this doctrine is not only false, but evil. It destroys free will and leaves us with a God who creates certain people from eternity for the sole purpose of damnation. This is exactly the kind of thing I was complaining about. Further, this doctrine (premotion) was not even taught by Aquinas himself--it's the invention of a few extremely limited thinkers centuries afterward.

Well, since I have argued most vociferously against the Molinists, it hardly seems likely that I am a Moninist. I haven't checked out Banez, so I can't speak to that directly. I have read Garrigou-Lagrange, whom I believe is Banezian, and I have argued against his thesis as well. Rather, I (attempt to) simply follow St. Thomas, who says things like "God causes in us not only our faculty of will, but even our actual volition," and "God is the cause of every action" and St. Augustine, " "God makes of the wills of men what He wills, when He wills it." Just trying to keep it all straight.

Tony said...

Looking at the cite from Hart, he says:

The minimal – if not yet sufficient – condition for any coherent account of God’s providential activity in time must be something like Thomas’s distinction between what God directly and of his nature wills, on the one hand, and what he does not will but nevertheless permits, on the other.

That's the principal distinction I was getting at. You seemed to deny this distinction above:

God's permission for the holocaust becomes part of--not a deviation from--his plan; and the distinction between God's will and his permission is destroyed.

The Bible is replete with God saying that he is the cause of things that look like bad things to us - plagues, wars etc. We can dismiss these sayings as purely mythic or purely anthropomorphic language to point to something else (like God's wings), but Christians since before Augustine struggled to accept them as more than those. In that tradition, God is both the cause of good alone, and the cause of a created order that harbors evil, and the cause under which that created order will (does?) fulfill his 'purpose' in creating.

I object to the theories of premotion and predetermination that were put forward by Banez and Molina, and followed by G-L, but not because they attempted to maintain all three of those points.

Look up Fr. William Most on grace and free will. He too disagrees with Molina and G-L, and does a masterful aggregation of the entire range of the early and late Fathers, together with the Doctors (especially St. Thomas) on the point.

Jay Kay said...

@rank sophist

Interesting. Rest assured that classical theism does not entail divine determinism. In fact, I would say that CT almost precludes divine determinism; because, if this doctrine is true, then God is lowered to the level of a greatest secondary cause. As Hart points out, this is what Banezianism does."

I don't see how you avoid the Banezian conclusion when you accept that past, present, and future are all exhuastively known by God. It results in too much temporal paradox which leads to determinist conclusions. So I do think classical theism is flawed and leads to deterministic thinking.

As to theistic personalists who end up in deterministic thinking I believe its because they are holding on to remnants of classical theism's view that God is "outside of time" and trying to harmonize that with a personal God, which is impossible. Anyway, whether you think God is personal or impersonal is irrelevant here since so long as you hold to the "outside of time" doctrine, you will end up in determinism.

Jay Kay said...


"I don't think that they're determinists--I simply think that their version of God is broken, because he becomes responsible for evil through direct allowance. The difference between miracles and secondary causes is erased. As I said before, this god is little more than a touched-up Zeus: a mostly benevolent, unpredictable being who is willing to achieve the greater good by any means necessary. Your sister dies in a car crash? Welp, God didn't stop it because it would have interfered in some greater good. Perhaps saving her would have created some major disaster in a few years. How, exactly, does this differ from callous political leadership? How is this god worthy of worship?"

I don't see how classical theism without its God of absolute omnipotence and absolute omniscience escapes from the same criticism. If anything, because of the absoluteness he's more liable to it. If you believe that God is only as omniscient as its possible to be and that its not possible for a physical world to exist without physical evil (i.e. death) because it would become so overcrowded everyone would be literally piled up and living in each others' feces after a while, then God is no longer liable for the evil, the nature of physicality is. The same thing with time: if God can't know the future exhuastively because the future is unkowable in an absolute or exhuastive sense then God is free of the charge "You knew this would happen!" and the like. The absolute nature of the classical theist view of God is what brings forth these charges. The problem with most theistic personalists is they are mimicing you classical theists, trying to make a God who is absolute in power and foreknowledge. This monkey see monkey do results in yet another view of God which is liable to these charges.

Now, you can say "But if God is not absolutely omnipotent or absolutely omniscient then he is a god and not God." Not so, for there is only one, and he created the world, so he is still God. The definition of God should not be "that which is so uber awesome nothing greater can be conceived" but rather "that which created the world." But then you will say "Big deal, he created the world, but he's not worthy of worship!" That's a subjective judgment of course. I fail to see what's worthy of worship in a God who is absolute in every way. After all, if an absolute God does great things, big deal, of course he does, since he's absolute. If a no absolute God does great things, its more impressive because he's not absolute. That's why we tend to root for the underdog, isn't it? What makes Luke Skywalker more worthy of praise than Darth Vader or Emperor Palpatine? Palpatine is more powerful, so let the classical theists praise him! Ah, but because he is so powerful when he does anything great we're not surprised. When weak old Luke does its shocking. Plus the moral dimension. (I know my analogy is bad but you get the jist I hope.) Basically, classical theism seems to me to be nothing but the tired old Calvinist worship of raw power with no moral concern whatsoever.

JesseM said...

rank sophist:
Ah, so you're a Banezian (or Molinist). I completely disagree with you, and I concur with Hart that this doctrine is not only false, but evil. It destroys free will and leaves us with a God who creates certain people from eternity for the sole purpose of damnation.

If you reject Molinism, that seems to imply that God does not really do everything in His power to help people avoid going to hell, even given whatever limits are placed by the needs of justice. In any instance where a person dies and goes to hell (including cases where people die young due to natural disasters), God genuinely doesn't know whether, if He had intervened in some way to allow the person to live a few more years, they might have repented for their sins/accepted Jesus and ended up going to heaven. So it seems like God cannot really be seen as maximally loving or omnibenevolent in this case.

rank sophist said...

Well, since I have argued most vociferously against the Molinists, it hardly seems likely that I am a Moninist. I haven't checked out Banez, so I can't speak to that directly. I have read Garrigou-Lagrange, whom I believe is Banezian, and I have argued against his thesis as well.

Ahhh. I see.

That's the principal distinction I was getting at. You seemed to deny this distinction above:

I am denying a very specific version of that distinction. Let me see if I can make it more clear.

Let's say that a man is sitting in front of a switchboard, and two switches are available: these are labeled "act" and "do not act". Now, let's say that this machine at which he is seated emits a string of ticker tape, which he reads as it is printed. At specific points in the ticker tape message, he must flick the "act" or "do not act" switches. Before doing so, he consults a large manual that provides the entirety of the ticker tape string from beginning to end, so that he may make the best decision given the circumstances. Afterwards, he flicks one of the switches.

Now, ignore that this situation, interpreted literally, contradicts divine impassibility. My point is related only to the brand of decision made here. Withholding action itself becomes a choice, made for particular reasons, and so we are left with the conclusion that God specifically did not intervene during the 2011 Japanese earthquake and subsequent nuclear crisis, for instance. He allowed it to happen for some reason--"soul building", perhaps--, and we are left quite possibly shaking our fists at him. Why? Because, simply, this version of God's permission makes bad events in a way his fault. The core problem is that it puts God in the same order as creation: he is, in the end, a "best secondary cause". It means that what God wills must be identical to what occurs. It would be incoherent to say that the ticker tape man wills otherwise than he allows, because his allowance itself is an act of will.

Now, let's consider a second kind of permission: a father allowing a son to join the military and fight in a war. He knows, somehow, that this will result in the death of his son. But he allows otherwise than he wills--that is, he allows the death of his son while willing his life. He gave his son the freedom to go to war out of love, and he continued to will his life out of that same love. He might have interfered--gone overseas later and hauled his son back--, but this would have been a special event that no one could have expected. Unlike with the ticker tape man, the father is capable of willing one thing and allowing another, and he has no obligation to make a choice based on some "manual". His son dies for no reason at all--not because he intentionally let him die; not because he let him die for a "mysterious reason". This is a true split between primary and secondary causality that the ticker tape man could never hope to achieve, because, unlike him, the father is able to stand "above" the situation entirely.

Needless to say, something like the second version is what Hart has in mind. It preserves divine impassibility and innocence, the distinction between primary and secondary causality, the difference between nature and miracle, and so on. Recall that the father could have intervened in some major, unheard-of way, but did not. Compare this to the ticker tape man, whose every action is a type of intervention. His every allowance is a thinly disguised action in itself, for whose consequences he may be blamed. The father, on the other hand, has enough distance from the situation to allow what he does not will, without receiving blame for not intervening in some incredible way.

Black Luster said...

Rank,

"His son dies for no reason at all--not because he intentionally let him die; not because he let him die for a "mysterious reason.""

No reason at all? Seems tough to square with something like the PSR. Or is there a reason, just not one that can be "traced" back to the father?

rank sophist said...

The Bible is replete with God saying that he is the cause of things that look like bad things to us - plagues, wars etc. We can dismiss these sayings as purely mythic or purely anthropomorphic language to point to something else (like God's wings), but Christians since before Augustine struggled to accept them as more than those. In that tradition, God is both the cause of good alone, and the cause of a created order that harbors evil, and the cause under which that created order will (does?) fulfill his 'purpose' in creating.

And all of these three things can be obtained without thinking that God decides ticker tape-style, as Aquinas clearly showed us. He gives existence to everything, and evil is only a privation of existence: nothingness. He pre-directs all things toward the good, grants all things motion and supplies all things with their goodness. But, again, this is an act of primary causality that is beyond any secondary causality. God's gift of motion is not the same as that provided by a "big engine"; nor is his pre-direction toward the good some sort of "force" enacted on creatures; nor is his gift of goodness one of a "higher good" to a "lesser good". Otherwise, again, we are left with a "best secondary cause". As Hart says:

"He would not really be beyond suffering at all, but simply incapable of it; to call him impassible would be then to say no more than that, in the order of the mutable, he is immutable; or that, in the order of the contingent, he is rescued from contingency simply by virtue of being that force that is supreme among all other forces. This would, in a very real sense, place God in rivalry to all finite things, though a rivalry that—through the sheer mathematics of omnipotence—he has already won."

Look up Fr. William Most on grace and free will. He too disagrees with Molina and G-L, and does a masterful aggregation of the entire range of the early and late Fathers, together with the Doctors (especially St. Thomas) on the point.

Might have to check that out after I've finished Hart's book on this very subject, The Doors of the Sea. Thanks for the recommendation.

rank sophist said...

Black Luster,

No reason at all? Seems tough to square with something like the PSR. Or is there a reason, just not one that can be "traced" back to the father?

Well, there's a sufficient reason, in that the son is killed by some event. My point is that there isn't a deep reason, in that the son's death is utterly meaningless. As Hart says, this is why it is a tragedy: because it cannot be rationalized or blamed on any larger, inevitable force. He says in one book that, because the Resurrection overturned any possibility of such rationalization or blame:

"One must now confront loss without the comfort of a speculative return to the self; the tragic speculum [i.e. the "heroic tragedy" of "inevitable fate" in pagan society] is shattered by resurrection, and faith is made to see in every death only the meaningless and hopeless destruction of the beloved, the injustice that consumes the other, and hope henceforth must consist in a rebellion against tragic wisdom, against the logic of totality, and a desire for the other in the other's beauty once again. [...] In the light of Easter, the singularity of suffering is no longer tragic (which is to say, ennobling), but merely horrible, mad, everlastingly unjust; it is the irruption of thanatos into God's good creation."

JesseM,

If you reject Molinism, that seems to imply that God does not really do everything in His power to help people avoid going to hell, even given whatever limits are placed by the needs of justice. In any instance where a person dies and goes to hell (including cases where people die young due to natural disasters), God genuinely doesn't know whether, if He had intervened in some way to allow the person to live a few more years, they might have repented for their sins/accepted Jesus and ended up going to heaven. So it seems like God cannot really be seen as maximally loving or omnibenevolent in this case.

God knows everything that will ever happen, but this does not mean that the total pre-determination of Molinism is true. Why would it?

Jay Kay,

Anyway, whether you think God is personal or impersonal is irrelevant here since so long as you hold to the "outside of time" doctrine, you will end up in determinism.

I don't see an argument for your position.

I don't see how classical theism without its God of absolute omnipotence and absolute omniscience escapes from the same criticism.

The definition of God as "omniscient, omnipotent and perfectly good" is a theistic personalist innovation. Those words are not applicable to classical theism, which sees God as transcending basically any label we give him: classical theism is, by and large, apophatic. If you are genuinely interested in understanding CT, I recommend that you start here: http://edwardfeser.blogspot.com/2012/07/classical-theism-roundup.html. As someone who has come upon CT in the past year, and who has had concerns similar to yours in the past, I can tell you that you do not even have a beginner's understanding of the system.

Jay Kay said...

"The definition of God as 'omniscient, omnipotent and perfectly good' is a theistic personalist innovation. Those words are not applicable to classical theism, which sees God as transcending basically any label we give him:" (rank sophist)

And who's system of 'classical theism' are you talking about exactly? Because when I read Book I of Aquinas' Summa Theologica he used those terms.

Q6 he argues that God is absolute goodness.
Q8 he argues that God is omnipresent.
Q14 he argues for omniscience.
Q25 he argues for omnipotence. He does however seem to argue in Q25.3 that God cannot do what is absolutely nonsensical. And in Q25.4 that God cannot change the past.


Further, Aquinas clearly teaches some species of determinism becaue in Q14 article 8 an objection is raised: "Objection 1. It seems that the knowledge of God is not the cause of things...." And Aquinas says "I answer that, The knowledge of God is the cause of things." So if your 'classical theism' derives from Aquinas or you claim so, I think its you who is confused and not me.

rank sophist said...

So if your 'classical theism' derives from Aquinas or you claim so, I think its you who is confused and not me.

Again, if you are genuinely interested, read the material in that linked post. Otherwise, I'm done talking to you. The very fact that you do not realize the apophatic nature of the ST says enough about your interest in seriously engaging Aquinas's thought.

Mr. Green said...

Rank Sophist: He pre-directs all things toward the good, grants all things motion and supplies all things with their goodness. But, again, this is an act of primary causality that is beyond any secondary causality.

Isn't that what we're all saying? Of course, even calling it "pre-direction" could sound a little "deterministic". This is a very subtle topic, and it's easy to go off course. That's why I'm leery of calling someone on the carpet for saying that God acts for the greater good. If someone is going wrong about that, it's because of trying to fit a true idea into a false philosophy, not because the idea itself is bad. After all, what you've said about God's not planning could easily be (mis)interpreted as arguing for some sort of unconcerned, deistic being. Similarly, there is a way to misinterpret claims about God's providence that would treat Him like a secondary cause (and which you have been arguing against); but there is also a correct way to interpret such claims.

God does not predetermine beforehand nor react afterwards — nor does He remain aloof while creation does its own thing. Just as where existence is concerned, God exists "in, around, and through" every creature, so, in terms of history, does He "plan" though every event. In both cases, to see God as a secondary cause would be wrong; indeed, the only way God can exists "in" things without being part of them, or plan "through" events without "manipulating" them is precisely because He acts on a different level of causality.

The analogy I'd use is an author creating a story: the author (being finite) has a limited sort of transcendence, but he clearly exists on a different level than the characters in his story. He does not act through "secondary causes", i.e. as one of the characters. He co-exists with — or rather above — their motivations and actions; events in the story have their natural, secondary causes within the tale, but at the same time, they are caused by the author's plan to write a story that goes a certain way. This is all the more so with God, who is infinitely transcendent and can create living beings with intellect and will. Our wills are free because they are not forced on the level of secondary causes; nor are events (evil or otherwise) "manufactured" by God at the secondary level. But everything that happens is part of God's plan at the level of primary causation. (Of course, God can also act as a secondary cause, if and when He so chooses.) But we want to make it clear that God's providence is real and meaningful, not trivial or tacked-on (if such a thing even made sense).

Jay Kay said...

"The very fact that you do not realize the apophatic nature of the ST says enough about your interest in seriously engaging Aquinas's thought."

If he's trying to be apophatic then why does he make direct statements that God is this or that? Its supposed to be all negative right. No, it doesn't count that an opponent provides a negative "God doesn't know the future" and Aquinas negates it "On the contrary, God does not not know the future." That's not apophatic. If anyone was not serious, it was Aquinas himself because he only gives apophatic theology lipservice. He's so ridiculously dogmatic in defining exactly what he thinks God is.

rank sophist said...

Mr. Green,

As before, I agree with you. This is a very subtle subject, and it's easy to get confused by slight wording problems, particularly when dealing with the shaky history of post-Aquinas Thomism. However, we seem to be in near-perfect alignment on the issue. There doesn't seem to be anything for us to argue about.

rank sophist said...

Although I will add that one must be careful talking about God's "plan" for the world, because, before you know it, you're stuck in the Calvinistic hole of God planning for and causing the fall of man. It is only here that I think your author analogy has problems. God did not plan for or cause the fall of man, but he did know from eternity that it would happen. I think that the father-son analogy is stronger, in this regard, because it gets this point across more clearly: God in no way causes what he allows. My analogy has problems, of course, in nailing down the exact nature of God's way of inhabiting and sustaining what he allows, which you portrayed more clearly.

JesseM said...

rank sophist:
God knows everything that will ever happen, but this does not mean that the total pre-determination of Molinism is true. Why would it?

My argument was not specifically about pre-determination. Rather, it was just about the question of whether God has knowledge of the answer to what-if questions (counterfactuals), like "would this person, who died in an earthquake at age 16 and went to hell, have repented/accepted Jesus and gone to heaven if they had survived the earthquake and lived another 60 years?" And while I do not say that the notion of omniscience necessarily requires knowledge of counterfactuals, my point is that if God doesn't know the answer to what-if questions, then if He would allow any person to die (especially at a young age) in a state that results in them going to hell, that suggests that God is not really interested in doing everything in His power (compatible with other demands, like justice) to give everyone the best possible chance to make the right choices that will allow them to avoid eternal damnation. So in this case God cannot really be seen as omnibenevolent--He is much less concerned about helping each person avoid a terrible fate than, say, a loving parent would be.

Molinists can avoid this problem by supposing that God knows what free choices a person would have made in each possible set of external circumstances, so if a person goes to hell, it is either because God knows that they wouldn't have made the right choices to avoid hell even if their external circumstances had been different, or that the "different external circumstances" would imply a universe that was worse in other ways, perhaps because more other people would end up in hell as a result of the circumstances God actualized, or because the circumstances would require God to lie, for example. In the essay I linked to earlier at http://www.leaderu.com/offices/billcraig/docs/middle1.html William Lane Craig defends the Molinistic idea that God does know what free choices people (and angels/demons) would make in each possible history and therefore chooses the external circumstances (beyond the control of any free-willed individual) that result in the history that is "best" in some sense. I think there are major problem's with Craig's view, even granted the assumption of a theistic God and the necessity of sending unrepentant sinners to hell, but I won't get into this unless there are any pro-Molinists who agree with Craig's view. For non-Molinists who think of God as maximally good and loving, I think the argument of the previous paragraph presents a problem (perhaps you don't think of God as maximally good and loving given your comments about the apophatic approach above, but I don't get the impression that all classical theists would agree).

Glenn said...

rank,

Well, there's a sufficient reason, in that the son is killed by some event. My point is that there isn't a deep reason, in that the son's death is utterly meaningless. As Hart says, this is why it is a tragedy: because it cannot be rationalized or blamed on any larger, inevitable force.

In another book of Hart's, to which you earlier referred, he said he was being "bloodlessly clinical". Perhaps here he is being merely overly clinical. Whether he is or isn't, however, is somewhat beside the point. The point is that he is free to convince himself that the son's death is meaningless, and free to fail to see that it is not. Others, of course, are free to agree with him. The meaning of the son's death has to do with, amongst other things, the life which transcends the life of being merely alive. As such it also transcends philosophy, so no philosophical argument is offered in support of what has being said.

rank sophist said...

Glenn,

The meaning of the son's death has to do with, amongst other things, the life which transcends the life of being merely alive. As such it also transcends philosophy, so no philosophical argument is offered in support of what has being said.

As a Christian, Hart would, of course, agree with you here. But notice that you are not placing value on death itself, which is Hart's point. There is nothing ennobling or tragically heroic about death, in the pagan sense, after its inevitability has been overturned by the Resurrection. As a result, death is allowed to be death: the thing that wasn't supposed to happen, that has no redeeming qualities, that is never inevitable. The Christian tradition discusses the Resurrection as the overcoming of death, and the promise of that overcoming for the average Joe: death itself, when separated from the Beatific Vision and general ressurection, is conceived wholly as negation. You'd have to read the entire (very long) passage in The Beauty of the Infinite to understand the context of his comment.

JesseM,

I have to ask: are you an atheist? No offense intended if not. It's just that your comments here strike me that way.

So in this case God cannot really be seen as omnibenevolent--He is much less concerned about helping each person avoid a terrible fate than, say, a loving parent would be.

What you described is exactly the sort of "ticker tape" scenario against which I was arguing. It makes God little more than a best secondary cause--a callous political leader who aims for the least terrible result, but not without breaking a few eggs. Further, it makes it so God not only sees the choices made, but actually chooses which choices will be made.

To say that God is "omnibenevolent" means nothing like this, for the classical theist. Everything he does is gratuitous, in that it is done without necessity. He does not act for the "greater good", nor is he obliged to save anyone, nor did he create "the best of all possible worlds". His goodness is that of primary causality, whereas Molina located it on the level of secondary causality. This is to say that God's goodness is utterly different in kind, and not just degree, from any created goodness.

For non-Molinists who think of God as maximally good and loving, I think the argument of the previous paragraph presents a problem (perhaps you don't think of God as maximally good and loving given your comments about the apophatic approach above, but I don't get the impression that all classical theists would agree).

"Maximally" means "best", which implies degree. Classical theism denies that God can be described by degrees. If you increased a created goodness by an infinite amount, you still would not reach God's goodness, because the difference is in kind and not in degree. To say that God is good has nothing to do with morality, which is an idea applicable only to creatures: it relies on natural law, or compliance with nature. God has no limited nature with which to comply, thanks to divine simplicity. God's justice is the same as his mercy, and his goodness is the same as his beauty; one aspect is not divided against another. Hence, it is incoherent to expect God to act according to some set of moral laws, because it is impossible to posit moral laws without limitations of nature. For CT, everything that God is, he is all at once: there is no weighing of "justice" against "mercy", for instance.

Also, needless to say, God's love is not the same as a created love. At best, an analogy can be drawn between created love and God's love; but there is no univocal connection. God can be said to be infinitely loving without acting in the way that Molina's "best secondary cause" would act.

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Tony said...

before you know it, you're stuck in the Calvinistic hole of God planning for and causing the fall of man. It is only here that I think your author analogy has problems. God did not plan for or cause the fall of man, but he did know from eternity that it would happen

When you say things like this you appear to reject the very "caused vs permitted" distinction that Thomas makes that you earlier accepted. What about the phrase "Oh Happy Fault" of St. Thomas, and St. Thomas's dictum that God's primary intention of creation was the Incarnation, which, taken together with the Bible's repeated statement that Christ came because of sin, leads one to the necessary conclusion (accepted by Thomas) that God planned to make use of the Fall, though it does not lead to the conclusion that God CAUSED the Fall.

I agree that this topic is extremely delicate, and it is difficult for mere mortals to say just what we mean (and to mean just what is right), but we can affirm Providence in God in which we accept that He plans for (and uses) even the evils that people do without ascribing any causality of evil to Him. If your most critical point is that God is not the cause of evil, then you must allow that there is more than one way of describing that. Neither I nor Glenn are suggesting anything of the sort.

Anonymous said...

Slightly off topic, but do Aristotelian forms have causal powers?

JesseM said...

rank sophist:
I have to ask: are you an atheist? No offense intended if not. It's just that your comments here strike me that way.

No, but I am not a Christian. My own inclination (I am not sure about these things, obviously) is towards a kind of idealistic pantheism where all of reality is God's experience, and all specific facts about this experience are ultimately just as necessary (non-contingent) as the facts of mathematics. I find a lot that is valuable in the writings of thoughtful Christians about their beliefs--I've started Hart's "The Beauty of the Infinite" and like it a lot so far, for example--but the doctrine of eternal damnation has always seemed to me to be a completely horrible one with no redeeming features, so the dilemma I'm presenting here is an attempt to pinpoint why I think it doesn't make sense, even if we grant other Christian premises such as free will and the need to bar from heaven those who don't repent for their sins and accept salvation.

So in this case God cannot really be seen as omnibenevolent--He is much less concerned about helping each person avoid a terrible fate than, say, a loving parent would be.

What you described is exactly the sort of "ticker tape" scenario against which I was arguing. It makes God little more than a best secondary cause--a callous political leader who aims for the least terrible result, but not without breaking a few eggs. Further, it makes it so God not only sees the choices made, but actually chooses which choices will be made.

I think you misunderstood the context of my "so in this case" in the statement above, the case I was referring to had been explained earlier in that paragraph as the non-Molinistic view of God where He doesn't know what choices people would have made under different circumstances, and so in no way can He be said to "choose which choices will be made". As an aside, I think it's a somewhat misleading description of Molinism to say that God "chooses which choices will be made" (God can see all possible histories, but in each one He has no control over what choices are made by the possible souls in that history, so God still has no control over what choices are made in whichever possible history He makes actual), and I also think that, for a Molinist who is willing to follow the argument to its most reasonable conclusion, it would make far more sense to conclude that God will not need to "break a few eggs" but rather will find and actualize a possible history where everyone is saved. But since you reject Molinism, then before discussing such issues I would first request your comment on the other horn of the dilemma, the one where Molinism is false and God doesn't know the answer to what-if questions.

Consider the example I offered earlier of a 16-year-old who dies unsaved in a natural disaster, like a building collapse in an earthquake--if you reject Molinism, then you would say God doesn't know for sure whether he might have repented and accepted salvation if he had survived the earthquake and lived another 60 years. And even if God can't accept the 16-year-old into heaven in the state he died, there would be various things it would be within God's power to do to give this person further chances to make the right choices, like intervening to make sure he didn't die at that moment, or giving him further chances to repent after being resurrected in the future (C.S. Lewis once suggested that God would accept the repentance of anyone in hell, but none of them choose to leave--this would avoid the problem I bring up, but I think most Christians would see this idea as incompatible with the standard doctrine on hell.) Wouldn't a loving and merciful God who was unsure of what people would do if given more time want to give anyone who hadn't accepted salvation more time to do so, or at least give everyone the same amount of time?

JesseM said...

reply to rank sophist, part 2:
To say that God is "omnibenevolent" means nothing like this, for the classical theist. Everything he does is gratuitous, in that it is done without necessity. He does not act for the "greater good", nor is he obliged to save anyone, nor did he create "the best of all possible worlds".

This is why it's useful to consider justice separately from love/mercy (at the level of human conceptualization, without denying divine simplicity)--a Christian can certainly believe that God has no moral obligation to save anyone, but at the same time it would be hard to see Him as infinitely loving or merciful if He simply condemned everyone since Adam and Eve to hell without even a chance at salvation. Love and mercy may not be moral obligations, but a being can't really be described as "loving and merciful" if they make no attempt to help others avoid horrible fates whenever they aren't obligated to do so by some code of justice.

"Maximally" means "best", which implies degree. Classical theism denies that God can be described by degrees.

At least according to Dr. Feser, the classical theist God can be understood in analogy to finite beings--see for example http://edwardfeser.blogspot.com/2012/09/the-divine-intellect.html where he says:

'When the classical theist says that God has power, what is meant is not that God has what a mere creature has or might be imagined to have – large muscles, political influence, rhetorical skill, or even telekinesis – only more of it. What is meant is rather that there is in God something analogous to what we call power in us, though it cannot be the same thing since God is immaterial, incorporeal, absolutely simple, etc.

Now this does not entail that God is less than powerful in the sense of “power” we have in mind when we speak of human power. Rather it entails that He is unimaginably more than powerful in that sense.'

People use these kinds of analogies when evaluating claims about things done by God--both individual claims about things told to them by God, and also when evaluating the claims of different revealed religions, at least for people who aren't already completely sure which religion is the true one. That's essentially what I'm doing here with claims of eternal damnation. Do you think a classical theist would say that such analogical reasoning should have absolutely no place in our judgments about human claims of things God has said or done?

JesseM said...

reply to rank sophist, part 3:
To say that God is good has nothing to do with morality, which is an idea applicable only to creatures: it relies on natural law, or compliance with nature.

I don't really understand why "compliance with nature" could have "nothing to do with morality"--are you defining "morality" in a way that requires that it involves making choices between competing courses of action, rather than behaving morally by nature? In the context of theological discussions I usually understand the term more broadly, so that moral behavior just means acting in a way that conforms to some objective moral laws, regardless of whether there was any real possibility of choosing to act in a way that doesn't conform to these laws. Anyway, keeping in mind the human conceptual distinction between justice and love, I would say that morality is a matter of behaving justly, while my criticism of the notion of hell is based on its incompatibility with the notion of God as infinitely loving.

God has no limited nature with which to comply, thanks to divine simplicity. God's justice is the same as his mercy, and his goodness is the same as his beauty; one aspect is not divided against another. Hence, it is incoherent to expect God to act according to some set of moral laws, because it is impossible to posit moral laws without limitations of nature.

Why? Do you think it is impossible to posit mathematical or logical laws without limitations of nature? Most theists who have considered the question would say that God does not have the power to violate the laws of mathematics or logic. Couldn't there be timeless moral truths just as there are timeless mathematical truths, both being grounded in God rather than being independent limitations on Him?

For CT, everything that God is, he is all at once: there is no weighing of "justice" against "mercy", for instance.

I didn't say anything about a "weighing" of one aspect against the other, as if more of one would require less of the other. I don't see why it would diminish God's justice one bit to allow people infinite time to repent if they so chose, or even just to make sure that everyone had the same amount of time to repent.

James Redford said...

Hi, Tony. You said:

""
Redford, I strongly urge you to take your pet theories elsewhere, somewhere there is a desire for excessively stupid claptrap, rather than clog up this commbox with this junk. You aren't going to convince anyone here that you understand a shred of physics or of theology or philosophy.

Glass, please do not feed the trolls. We can have a perfectly good discussion here about worthwhile questions, if only we concentrate on worthwhile questions and not silly make-believe word games.
""

Prof. Frank J. Tipler's Omega Point cosmology is a mathematical theorem per the Second Law of Thermodynamics, General Relativity, and Quantum Mechanics. As Prof. Stephen Hawking wrote, "one cannot really argue with a mathematical theorem." (From p. 67 of Stephen Hawking, The Illustrated A Brief History of Time [New York, NY: Bantam Books, 1996; 1st ed., 1988].)

The Omega Point cosmology has been peer-reviewed and published in a number of the world's leading physics and science journals. Even NASA itself has peer-reviewed Prof. Tipler's Omega Point Theorem and found it correct according to the known laws of physics. No refutation of it exists within the peer-reviewed scientific literature, or anywhere else for that matter.

For the details on that, see my following article:

James Redford, "The Physics of God and the Quantum Gravity Theory of Everything", Social Science Research Network (SSRN), Sept. 10, 2012 (orig. pub. Dec. 19, 2011), 186 pp., doi:10.2139/ssrn.1974708, http://archive.org/details/ThePhysicsOfGodAndTheQuantumGravityTheoryOfEverything

Regarding your other comments, they are the logical fallacy of ad hominem attack, as well as being factually erroneous.

Tony said...

Anyway, keeping in mind the human conceptual distinction between justice and love, I would say that morality is a matter of behaving justly, while my criticism of the notion of hell is based on its incompatibility with the notion of God as infinitely loving.

JesseM, first, there are other virtues than justice, so "behaving justly" cannot encompass right action altogether.

Second, your criticism of hell is a criticism of a God of perfection. "My ways are not your ways", and "you say My ways are unjust. Is it not your ways which are unjust?" A critical part of Christianity is leaving behind fallen human, degraded, benighted ways of thinking (like "he hit me so the universe will be out of order unless I hit him") and putting on Divine, spiritual, grace-filled ways of thinking, like "turn the other cheek" and "forgive your enemies". God will not force his company permanently on those who simply WILL NOT choose to become like Him enough to be able to enjoy his presence.

(C.S. Lewis once suggested that God would accept the repentance of anyone in hell, but none of them choose to leave--this would avoid the problem I bring up, but I think most Christians would see this idea as incompatible with the standard doctrine on hell.)

Let's look at it a different way: the nature of angels are such that (unlike humans who think discursively, part by part by part one after another not all at once) they see all the logical consequences of starting points, all at once and in one fullsome act of thought. As a result, when they make choices they do not make them with the limitations like we have, such as "oh, I didn't realize that Z result followed from my X choice. When they make a choice, they are choosing all of the ramifications which necessarily follow from the choice. They literally CAN'T reverse their choices based on later results that follow from those choices, their choices are fixed and permanently dispositive, they have already fixed their wills in all of the parts which follow. Their choices are definitive. So, for the angels who are in hell, God can't bring them to heaven because they have permanently and fixedly chosen to repudiate God, to reject His sovereignty.

Although here on Earth we humans regularly change our minds, there is no reason to assume that the afterlife is like this current life in that regard: it may be literally impossible, oxymoronic, for God to "give men a chance" to change their minds because that's not what the afterlife is like. When C.S. Lewis constructs his hypothetical, he wasn't assuming that even though people CAN (retain the capacity) to change their minds in hell, God knows with perfect omniscience that they won't, and that's why nobody goes from hell to heaven. Rather, his hypothetical was in the nature of a "if it weren't impossible to change your mind (though it really is)," God could allow a person to go from hell to heaven were he to change his mind. He was not claiming the reverse of the fact that the very structure of heaven and hell remove the space needed in which a choice of a new direction can take place.

Mr. Green said...

Anonymous: Slightly off topic, but do Aristotelian forms have causal powers?

Sure, a form is a formal cause of anything that participates in said form.

Of course, if you were thinking specifically of efficient causes, then no.

JesseM said...

Tony:
God will not force his company permanently on those who simply WILL NOT choose to become like Him enough to be able to enjoy his presence.

But I didn't suggest God should force His company on anyone, just that since humans are changeable creatures, if God doesn't know what a person would do if given more time to change their mind than they got before their earthly death, He should find some way to give them more time rather than treating their rejection of salvation at the time they died as final and irrevocable.

They literally CAN'T reverse their choices based on later results that follow from those choices, their choices are fixed and permanently dispositive, they have already fixed their wills in all of the parts which follow. Their choices are definitive. So, for the angels who are in hell, God can't bring them to heaven because they have permanently and fixedly chosen to repudiate God, to reject His sovereignty.

OK, if we grant that angels work this way that could be a reason why a non-Molinist would say there's nothing God could do to increase the chances a given angel will make a different choice. (incidentally, is this view of angels something that's part of official Catholic dogma, or just a speculation by Aquinas or others that theologians have accepted as plausible?) That still wouldn't explain why hell is usually seen by Christians as a place of torments ordained by God, but perhaps you don't see it that way. In any case, humans are another story, as your next comment suggests:

Although here on Earth we humans regularly change our minds, there is no reason to assume that the afterlife is like this current life in that regard: it may be literally impossible, oxymoronic, for God to "give men a chance" to change their minds because that's not what the afterlife is like.

But here you seem to be defining "afterlife" to mean some different sort of metaphysical state, rather than just treating it as meaning "whatever happens to me after my Earthly death". Why couldn't God just resurrect people to the same metaphysical state they had in life, something we might call "new life" rather than "afterlife"? I think most Christians who believe the story of Lazarus would be inclined to think that Lazarus still had the ability to change his mind and either accept or reject God after his physical resurrection, no? Or are you suggesting it is really not within God's omnipotent powers to resurrect people in the same changeable state they had in life, even though it seems like a logical possibility? And even if it isn't possible, why couldn't God just intervene to prevent people from dying in the first place if they hadn't made the right choices to accept salvation? Perhaps God could even do this in a way that wasn't obvious--say, "teleporting" each person to a different planet at the moment where they were about to die, leaving an identical-looking lifeless body in their place so that no one on Earth would know that unrepentant sinners couldn't die (avoiding the problem that this would create temptation to reject salvation just to live longer on Earth). As long as there are options God could take that could give more people the chance to make the right choices and avoid eternal damnation, options which don't conflict with other divine characteristics such as the need for justice, then if God doesn't bother taking these options it seems incompatible with the idea that He is really infinitely loving and merciful. Of course, a simple way out of this is to just speculate these teachings about hell aren't true in the first place, so if one is already not 100% convinced of the reality of hell, then I think this is a good argument against it.

Anonymous said...

Jesse,

What you describe in your reference to pantheism reminds me a little bit of panENtheism. A worldview that many Christian thinkers such as Hart and Eastern Orthodox are sympathetic to. Are you familiar at all with that view?

In your worldview is there life after death by the way?