Friday, October 23, 2015

Repressed knowledge of God? Part II


We’ve been discussing the thesis that human beings have a natural inclination toward theism, and that atheism, accordingly, involves a suppression of this inclination.  Greg Koukl takes the inclination to be so powerful that resisting it is like “trying to hold a beach ball underwater,” and appears to think that every single atheist is engaged in an intellectually dishonest exercise in “denying the obvious, aggressively pushing down the evidence, to turn his head the other way.”  (Randal Rauser, who has also been critical of Koukl, calls this the “Rebellion Thesis.”)  In response to Koukl, I argued that the inclination is weaker than that, that the natural knowledge of God of which most people are capable is only “general and confused” (as Aquinas put it), and that not all atheism stems from intellectual dishonesty.  Koukl has now replied, defending his position as more “faithful to Paul’s words” in Romans 1:18-20 than mine is.  However, I don’t think this claim can survive a careful reading of that passage.

St. Paul’s intent in chapters 1 and 2 of Romans is, in part, to argue that Gentiles are just as much in need of salvation as Jews are.  It might seem otherwise because the Gentiles did not have the Mosaic Law or, more generally, any special divine revelation like the one embodied in the Old Testament.  Hence one might suppose that their moral failures and theological errors can be excused on grounds of ignorance.  But Paul argues that the Gentiles do have available to them knowledge of God’s existence and nature of the sort enshrined in natural theology (1: 19-20), and the moral knowledge embodied in the natural law (2:14-15).  Hence, though they lacked the Old Testament, they nevertheless had at least some significant knowledge of moral and theological truth, and are therefore culpable for failing to conform themselves to it. 

The example St. Paul gives of the sort of theological error the Gentiles were guilty of is idolatry.  He criticizes them for conceiving of God on the model of “mortal man or birds or animals or reptiles” (1:23), even though they should have known that in fact the creator must have attributes of “eternal power” (1:20) and immortality (1:23) and thus cannot properly be compared to such creatures.  St. Paul’s chief example of the immorality the Gentiles fell into is homosexual behavior (1:26-27), and he also says that they are guilty of envy, murder, treachery, gossip, disobedience to parents, and many other sins (1:29-31). 

Now, there are several things about these chapters that should give pause to anyone hoping to read off the “Rebellion Thesis” from them.  The first is that the “Rebellion Thesis” is not even what is in view in the passage.  For one thing, St. Paul is not talking about atheism here in the first place, but rather idolatry.  For another, his emphasis is not on psychological repression per se but rather on what can be known via natural theology.  That is not to deny that what he says is relevant to the issues of whether atheism can be known to be false apart from special divine revelation, and of whether some kind of repression plays a role in atheism.  Of course it is relevant.  The point is that the psychology of atheism is simply not the topic he is addressing.  Again, his topic was rather whether the Gentiles had sufficient moral and theological knowledge available to them to be culpable for their sins, and thus to be as in need of salvation as were those who had the Mosaic Law.  To treat Romans 1 as a straightforward statement of the Rebellion Thesis is therefore anachronistic.  You might try to argue for the Rebellion Thesis on the basis of the principles St. Paul sets out there, but he is not himself addressing that particular topic.

A second problem is that even where his criticism of idolatry is concerned, what St. Paul gives us is very far from a comprehensive list of which lines of argument demonstrate the existence of God and exactly which of the divine attributes can be known by way of such arguments.  He tells us that from “the things that are made” by God, we can know of his power, eternity, and immortality, and therefore can know that he isn’t comparable to a mere man or an animal.  And that’s pretty much it.  Does God have all power or only a high degree of power?  Is he omniscient?  Is he perfectly good?  Is he timeless, or merely everlasting?  Is he simple or composite?  Is he immutable?  Is he best known by way of an Aristotelian argument from motion?  A Neo-Platonic argument from composite things to a non-composite cause?  A Leibnizian argument for a Necessary Being?  A moral argument?  A Fifth Way style teleological argument?  A Paley style design argument? 

Paul doesn’t address these issues in the passage and, more to the point, he doesn’t say that the Gentiles in general should be expected to know the answers.  Indeed, his emphasis isn’t on how much we can know about God by natural means, but rather merely on how we can know at least enough to be able to see how stupid it is to think of God on the model of a man or an animal. 

To be sure, we Thomists certainly think that all of these particular questions, and many others, can be answered via purely philosophical arguments.  Our claims about natural theology are if anything much more bold than those of most Christian apologists. But the issue here is not what fancy-pants philosophers and theologians can know about God apart from special divine revelation.  The issue is what the average person can be expected to know apart from special divine revelation.  And contrary to what Koukl implies, what St. Paul actually says in Romans 1 is perfectly compatible with Aquinas’s position that most people are capable of only a “general and confused” knowledge of God apart from special divine revelation.

Then there’s a third problem.  Proponents of the “Rebellion Thesis” maintain that each and every single atheist is engaged in an intellectually dishonest, culpable suppression of what he knows deep down to be true.  I have argued that that isn’t the case, and that what is true of atheism as a mass phenomenon isn’t true of each and every atheist in particular.  Koukl claims that it is the Rebellion Thesis rather than my position that is actually supported by Romans 1:

[T]hough many atheists are not consciously aware of their rebellion (some are, of course) and may feel they have intellectual integrity in their atheism (some demonstrate a measure of integrity in their reasoned rejection of God), still, when all the cards are on the table in the final judgment, when men’s deepest and truest motives are fully revealed (Lk. 12:2), rebellion will be at the core.  This rebellion-at-the-core, I think, is what Paul had in mind in Rom. 1—a fairly ordinary, run of the mill biblical point, it seems.

End quote.  Leave aside the point that St. Paul isn’t even addressing atheism, specifically, in the first place.  The problem for Koukl is what St. Paul does say.  Again, speaking of the Gentiles in general, Romans says that “they… changed the glory of the incorruptible God into an image made like corruptible man -- and birds and four-footed animals and creeping things” (1:22-23), that “their women exchanged the natural use for what is against nature” and that their men did likewise (1:26-27), and that they are also guilty of sins such as murder and inventing evil things (1:29-30). 

Now, if the defender of the Rebellion Thesis is going to appeal to Romans 1 in support of the claim that each and every single atheist is guilty of an intellectual dishonest, culpable suppression of what he knows to be true, then to be consistent, he will also have to regard Romans 1 as establishing the claim that each and every Gentile, or at least those who had lived up to St. Paul’s time, was guilty of thinking of God on the model of “birds and four-footed animals and creeping things,” of homosexual behavior, and of murder and of inventing evil things.  And there are two problems with such a claim.

First, we know that it is false.  We know that not every single Gentile conceived of God in this crude and idolatrous way.  (For example, Xenophanes and Aristotle did not.)  We know that not every single Gentile engaged in or even approved of homosexual behavior.  And obviously, not every Gentile committed murder or invented some evil thing. 

Second, the claim would simply not be a plausible reading of Romans 1 in any case, even apart from this empirical point.  For to infer from what St. Paul says about Gentiles in general to the conclusion that each and every single Gentile was guilty of all of the sins he describes is to commit a fallacy of division (as some of my readers have pointed out in the combox). 

But it is no less fallacious to infer from what he says about “suppressing the truth in unrighteousness” to the conclusion that each and every single atheist is engaged in a culpable act of intellectual dishonesty.  Nor, I would say, is this much less empirically dubious than the claim that each and every Gentile is guilty of murder.  Even Koukl implicitly admits this when he tells us that the rebellious suppression he attributes to atheists is often “sub-conscious” -- thus making his position immune to empirical testing.  And some of Koukl’s defenders appear to think that if it seems empirically false to say that every single atheist is being intellectually dishonest, then this empirical evidence is trumped by (their interpretation of) Romans 1.  But that is like saying: “Each and every one of the Gentiles must have been guilty of murder, because the Bible says so!”  If the text can naturally be read in a way that comports with the actual empirical evidence, then that is a good reason to read it that way -- in the case of atheists who are to all appearances intellectually honest no less than in the case of Gentiles who are to all appearances innocent of murder. 

Here is another consideration.  When someone calls himself an “atheist,” we need to get clear about exactly what he means by that, exactly what he is denying, before we conclude that he is engaged in some sort of intellectually dishonest suppression.  Many religious people themselves have a very crude understanding of God’s nature, and of other theological matters as well.  When an atheist who is simply unfamiliar with more sophisticated accounts rightly rejects these vulgar accounts, he may well believe -- mistakenly but sincerely -- that this entails rejecting theism as such.  And if so, it doesn’t follow from the fact that he calls himself an “atheist” that he is engaged in any sort of intellectual dishonesty or suppression of the truth.  Rather, he may be simply following the limited evidence he has to where he honestly thinks it leads, and rejecting what is in fact false.  If presented with a better understanding of theism, be might change his mind.   Of course, he might not change his mind even then, and it might turn out that intellectual dishonesty is what prevents him from doing so.  But the point is that the fact that someone at some stage of his life calls himself an “atheist” simply doesn’t entail by itself that he is engaged in intellectual dishonesty.

Thus does the Catechism of the Catholic Church, while affirming that “atheism is a sin against the virtue of religion,” also go on to say:

The imputability of this offense can be significantly diminished in virtue of the intentions and the circumstances. "Believers can have more than a little to do with the rise of atheism. To the extent that they are careless about their instruction in the faith, or present its teaching falsely, or even fail in their religious, moral, or social life, they must be said to conceal rather than to reveal the true nature of God and of religion.” (2125)

144 comments:

Vincent Torley said...

Hi Ed,

It seems to me that the nub of Koukl's case can be found in the following excerpt from his reply to you:

"As to whether or not my take on Romans 1 is an “extreme interpretation” or not, I can only commend you to Paul’s wording itself. I don’t think it is the least bit vague, ambiguous, or moderate. He says that certain of God’s attributes have been “clearly seen” and “understood” (1:20), and certain particulars about God are “known” being “evident within them,” since “God made it evident to them” (1:19). Yet men still "suppress” (katecho, "to hold down, repress," Wuest) these truths “in unrighteousness.” It’s difficult to see how a more moderate (vs. my “extreme”) understanding of the passage could actually be faithful to Paul’s words.

"Further, if our knowledge of God is merely “general and confused” (Aquinas), it’s hard to see how God can hold us accountable for it (“without excuse” 1:20), making us properly subject to his “wrath” (orge, 1:18).

Even after reading Feser’s critique (et al), it still strikes me that, regarding man’s innate knowledge of God, Paul is saying something quite a bit stronger than that man has “a natural inclination of the weaker and inchoate sort." Thus, his unbelief is properly culpable."

End quote.

You are right to point out that St. Paul is not addressing atheism as such. Nevertheless, the topic of the passage is whether people to whom a Divine revelation has not been given can be morally excused for their actions. St. Paul says no.

You correctly point out that St. Paul may not have been referring to each and every pagan or Gentile. Nevertheless, it is quite clear that he is describing what he sees as typical behavior by these people. Hence he is referring to the great majority.

You add that St. Paul's list of knowable Divine attributes is rather short. That may be so, but if even ONE of these attributes is an attribute that no creature could possess, then St. Paul must be implying that people who worship pint-sized deities such as Zeus (pagans), as well as people who refuse to worship any deity, are morally culpable, because they should know better. Again, there may be noble individual exceptions to the rule, but as the saying goes, the exception proves the rule.

Finally, you argue that if atheists' repressed knowledge of God is subconscious, it's empirically unverifiable. I'm not so sure: there are ways of psychologically testing for subconscious beliefs and desires. Recall the case of H.M., who lost his ability to form new memories after a botched operation that was performed to suppress his epileptic seizures. One odd result that subsequently emerged was that he was curiously reluctant to shake hands with an individual who had given him an electric shock the previous day, despite having no conscious memory of him. In a similar vein, I'd suggest that if an atheist's pulse rises when uttering blasphemies against God but not when cursing the Flying Spaghetti Monster, there could well be a subconscious belief that the atheist is repressing here.

Let me add that I have known many fine people who are atheists, some of whom will reach the pearly gates long before I do (if I ever do, which is doubtful). But as regards the straightforward question of who is reading St. Paul more correctly, I'd have to side with Koukl.

Glenn said...

Vincent,

You [Ed] are right to point out that St. Paul is not addressing atheism as such... But as regards the straightforward question of who is reading St. Paul more correctly, I'd have to side with Koukl.

If Ed is right that St. Paul is not addressing atheism as such, then Koukl would be wrong in holding that St. Paul is addressing atheism as such. Yet it is said that Koukl is reading St. Paul more correctly. How might a wrong interpretation be more correct than a right interpretation?

If Ed is right that St. Paul is not addressing atheism as such, and Koukl likewise holds that St. Paul is not addressing atheism as such, then neither of Ed or Koukl is reading St. Paul more correctly than the other. Yet it is said that Koukl is reading St. Paul more correctly. How might one of two equal interpretations be more correct than the other?

If both Ed and Koukl hold, and are equally correctly in so holding, that St. Paul is not addressing atheism as such, then the difference between Ed and Koukl regarding what St. Paul says has less to do with what St. Paul says per se, and more to do with taking what St. Paul says about one subject, the idolatry of Gentiles, and applying it to another subject, the atheism or unbelief of both Gentiles and Jews.

On Ed's application of what St. Paul says about the idolatry of Gentiles to the atheism or unbelief of both Gentiles and Jews, inexcusableness is not to be blindly applied. On Koukl's application of the same, however, inexcusableness is to be blindly applied. So, who is more correctly "reading" St. Paul?

In addition to returning to the actual case lucidly made in the OP, it might be recalled that St. Paul said of a man who had been violent against belief and believers, and said so clearly and unequivocally, that he was excused, and that he was excused precisely on account of the fact of his unbelief and ignorance.

Vincent Torley said...

Hi Glenn,

You may or may not be aware that the passage in Romans (1:18-32) is heavily influenced by the Wisdom of Solomon. In chapter 2 of the book of Wisdom, the author explicitly refers to atheism, as opposed to idolatry, which is discussed in chapters 13 to 14. In 2:2, the godless are said to reason as follows:

"For by mere chance were we born, and hereafter we shall be as though we had not been;
Because the breath in our nostrils is smoke, and reason a spark from the beating of our hearts."

In Wisdom 2:21-22, after cataloging the amorality of the godless and their persecution of the righteous, the author of the book of Wisdom continues:

"These were their thoughts, but they erred; for their wickedness blinded them.
And they did not know the hidden counsels of God; neither did they count on a recompense for holiness nor discern the innocent souls’ reward."

The fact that the godless are described as blinded by wickedness speaks for itself.

I might add that Fr. Reginald Marie Garrigou-Lagrange, in his 1914 work, "God: His Existence and His Nature" (1914, p. 28) wrote that “speculative atheism is an impossibility for any man who has the use of reason and is in good faith.”

Maurice Blondel, in his 1934 work "La Pensee," writes that if the "mysterious beyond" were to manifest itself, we would be forced to confess our illusions and errors (in denying this reality). He continues: "But we should not pretend that we have been entirely ignorant" (pp. 390-391).

In his 1953 book, "Approaches to God," Thomist philosopher Jacques Maritain speaks of a "primordial way of approach through which men become aware of the existence of God" (p. 2). Maritain argues that philosophical arguments, such as the Five Ways, are secondary attempts to capture our basic, pre-philosophical intuition of God, and he gives the example of a child who, for the first time, refrains from telling a lie, not from fear of being found out and punished, but simply because it is bad (p. 75). Such a child, contends Maritain, "knows God without being aware of it." Maritain maintains that a man professing atheism who has nevertheless chosen the way of the good for the sake of the good, is not a true atheist but a pseudo-atheist (p. 81).

The point I'm making here is that although Vatican II left open the possibility of salvation for atheists, it's a very new development in Church teaching. As far as I can make out, nobody even suggested the idea before the 1930s.



Glenn said...

Vincent,

Thanks for the additional comments.

The point I'm making here is that although Vatican II left open the possibility of salvation for atheists, it's a very new development in Church teaching. As far as I can make out, nobody even suggested the idea before the 1930s.

St. Thomas wrote, "On the contrary, Vice is opposed to virtue. Now faith is a virtue, and unbelief is opposed to
it. Therefore unbelief is a sin." (ST 2.2.10.1)

Immediately after that, he wrote, "I answer that, Unbelief may be taken in two ways: first, by way of pure negation, so that a man be called an unbeliever, merely because he has not the faith. Secondly, unbelief may be taken by way of opposition to the faith; in which sense a man refuses to hear the faith, or despises it, according to Is. 53:1: "Who hath believed our report?" It is this that completes the notion of unbelief, and it is in this sense that unbelief is a sin. If, however, we take it by way of pure negation, as we find it in those who have heard nothing about the faith, it bears the character, not of sin, but of punishment, because such like ignorance of Divine things is a result of the sin of our first parent. If such like unbelievers are damned, it is on account of other sins, which cannot be taken away without faith, but not on account of their sin of unbelief." (ibid)

Edward Feser said...

Vincent,

Your comment is utterly baffling. You say:

You are right to point out that St. Paul is not addressing atheism as such.

Well, OK. But I'm not sure Koukl would agree.

Nevertheless, the topic of the passage is whether people to whom a Divine revelation has not been given can be morally excused for their actions. St. Paul says no.

Yes. That's what I said myself -- so what's with the "Nevertheless"?

You correctly point out that St. Paul may not have been referring to each and every pagan or Gentile.

OK. Again, it seems that Koukl would not agree.

Nevertheless, it is quite clear that he is describing what he sees as typical behavior by these people. Hence he is referring to the great majority.

Yes -- that's what I said myself. (I said that he was speaking of Gentiles "in general," and I said that it would be applicable to atheism as a "mass phenomenon.") So, again, what's with the "Nevertheless"? Why do you keep saying things that I said myself while implying that you are somehow disagreeing with me?

You add that St. Paul's list of knowable Divine attributes is rather short. That may be so,

Once again, this seems to put you at odds with Koukl, since he wanted to emphasize, against my position and as an interpretation of Romans 1, how much could be known naturally, by everyone and not just philosophers, about the divine nature.

but if even ONE of these attributes is an attribute that no creature could possess, then St. Paul must be implying that people who worship pint-sized deities such as Zeus (pagans), as well as people who refuse to worship any deity, are morally culpable, because they should know better. Again, there may be noble individual exceptions to the rule, but as the saying goes, the exception proves the rule.

Where did I deny this? I never said that people in general are not culpable -- indeed, and again, I indicated that people in general are culpable. I merely said that not each and every singe specific person is culpable for not believing in God.

Now, that is the main issue between Koukl and me. And you agree with me on that and disagree with Koukl. So why, despite that and given everything else you say which I quote above, do you go on to say:

But as regards the straightforward question of who is reading St. Paul more correctly, I'd have to side with Koukl.

???

Re: your statement that "there are ways of psychologically testing for subconscious beliefs and desires" etc., tell you what: Ask Koukl if there is some empirical evidence of the behavioral sort you describe which he would agree would falsify the Rebellion Thesis. Since he seems to be committed, on what he takes to be biblical grounds, to the thesis that each and every single atheist is culpable, I suspect that he would say No, and that he thinks the Rebellion Thesis is just known a priori to be true on the basis of Romans 1 and thus cannot be falsified by any such behavioral evidence. If so, then once again, it is me you are agreeing with rather than Koukl.

scbrownlhrm said...

Dr. Feser,


In large part I agree with you on the content of Romans 1.


I would add that the problem of our own volitional "trading away truth" for what is ultimately the "sake of the Self" is, while not expressly specific to Romans 1, yet intact within Scripture's claim (and our experience of reality as such) upon each individual per se and that such does have a (factual) root in the pains of our (factual) privation.


To unpack that a bit:


It seems obvious that the three options of “Yes / No / Agnostic” present a very small set of actual options on the question of “the truth of God X”. The list (should we make it complete) need not include every human emotion as “distinct options” from the ground up as such relate to the question of God, however, with respect to a specific intellectual claim about a specific God the available options do seem to fall into still other valid categories relative to several distinct intellectual postures. In fact, more broadly speaking, the initial set of three intellectual postures can quickly become a set of six intellectual postures without any actual “massaging” of the human experience.


Before those six “intellectual postures” are listed, there is something which I don’t want to add even though it may be valid, and it is something which W.L. Craig terms “ultimate (lifelong) nonculpable unbelief”. We can perhaps then add this: “ultimate (lifelong) culpable unbelief” in the terms of his quote:


“…….You seem to be saying that there is ultimate (lifelong), nonculpable unbelief, and so one needs stronger arguments to support the truth of Christianity….. Now I don’t think we’re in a good position to say with any confidence that there is ultimate (lifelong), nonculpable unbelief….”


To continue.....

scbrownlhrm said...

Dr. Feser,

Continued:

We could add the word "culpable" as Craig did there but I am specifically refraining from doing so because that carries us into other (valid) concerns which are distinct from my point here. Obviously we would attribute "culpable" to self-deception or irrational disbelief or autohypnosis or bias running free (or whatever). But that point is not needed if our goal is to find Mankind culpable – for – that subtle trading away of “the good” and that subtle trading away of “the true” for the sake of the Self is ubiquitous to every individual – both Christian and Non-Christian.


The proof of such is the concrete and ubiquitous reaction in every individual against John Doe should Mr. Doe here, today, claim for himself the same moral spotlessness which Christ claimed for himself. Why is that? That is simply because we each perceive our own affair of Truth-Trading for the sake of that which is the Self at some factual seam somewhere and – well – we know that anyone who claims to be “above” humanity’s stock-exchange is somehow a liar – or else a lunatic. My moral failure *period*, or our truth-trading in general *period* all as such justifiably grant culpability irrespective of one's claim about God.


If we grant that Christianity is true then culpability does not magically vanish secondary to “holding the proper intellectual posture” as the Christian too still qualifies daily, as we all know, for offending a line of moral culpability amid the peculiarities of volitionally trading truth in exchange for the Self . Of course intellectual vs. moral guilt are factually “interconnected” but the intentional distinction here between intellectual guilt (on the one hand) and moral guilt (on the other hand) is related to the following obstacle noted by Craig:


“……we have an amazing ability to rationalize things so as to justify our behavior….. If we can convince ourselves that our obstacles to faith are intellectual rather than moral or emotional that makes our unbelief respectable in our own eyes and in the eyes of others….”


Leaving the moral and existential arenas to the side just for a moment, the focus on the intellectual “side” of our struggle to define truth can arguably generate the following six intellectual postures in order to isolate them from (on one side of the coin) the separate issue of a pure "my moral failure / sin culpability" in order to clarify (on the other side of the coin) what seem to be factual (valid) intellectual postures related to a specific intellectual claim about a specific God:


1) Rational disbelief.
2) Rational belief.
3) Rational agnosticism (unable to comment period, mouth is shut).


4) Irrational disbelief.
5) Irrational belief.
6) Irrational agnosticism (sly meandering, mouth isn’t shut).



Indeed,


“The problem with your question is that it assumes a purely humanistic, and perhaps even naturalistic, point of view with respect to finding the knowledge of God. It takes for granted that it’s basically up to us to figure out which religion is true. But whatever other religions may teach, this is not the point of view of Christianity. If God were to abandon us to our own intelligence and ingenuity to work out whether or not He exists, He would be a very cruel God indeed. As one of the students in my Defenders class remarked, getting into heaven should not be like getting into Harvard!” (W.L. Craig)

To continue.....

scbrownlhrm said...

Dr. Feser,


Finally:



The existential and the intellectual both saturate mankind’s experiential geography and it is plausibly a worthwhile effort to incorporate the entire map. The peculiarity found ubiquitously tasted by all of us through the eons of the human experience is a certain offence against love’s grain at some seam somewhere in life, in our own life, and, a certain offense against truth’s grain at some seam somewhere in life, in our own life, such that Reason’s attempt to hide behind the morality of “as-if” fails and Reason is herself found factually contradicting the constitutional grain of reality. Such is so utterly concrete that the one among us who denies his own membership in humanity’s stock-exchange is immediately counted a liar – or a lunatic – and we know this given the fact that should one among us today claim of themselves the moral spotlessness which Christ claimed of Himself the reaction would be…… ubiquitous.


“……in their almost too fastidious spirituality, admit divine sinlessness, which they cannot see even in their dreams. But they essentially deny human sin, which they can see in the street. The strongest saints and the strongest skeptics alike took positive evil as the starting-point of their argument……” (G.K. Chesterton)


In the face of the ubiquitously known Christ reminds us that – yes – we must both seek and respond to truth – but that – no – we need not “fret ourselves to death” about the unknown particular:


Father, forgive them, for they do not know……


The trading away of the irreducibly obvious – of both truth and love – for the gain of the obscure, or for the gain of the unintelligibility of the eliminative, or for whatever, is a dance which we all, unfortunately, partake of amid perceived contours of reality. Such obtains in a thousand different forms and in a thousand different fashions amid a thousand different cultures amid a thousand different norms. But the dance itself, that mode itself, the trading itself, is of a singular nature, or of a singular archetype. All of that sums to nothing less than the trading away of truth for the sake of the Self which all of us, both Christian and Non-Christian, volitionally move within at many and various seams amid interfacing with The-Real. Such is, unquestionably, intimately related to the factual pains of our own privation. We find that love's peculiar acquiescence of the Self – being found ceaselessly within the Triune God – is not a motion which Man ought to think he can simultaneously avoid and yet somehow come to know fullness. Reality cannot be otherwise, as the Self-Sacrificing God makes Man in His Own Image and – therein – is the way of it.

Edward T. Babinski said...

Hi Edward, this is Edward...

The "rebellion thesis" is a one size fits all sort of deal, quite popular with Christians, and certainly not limited to "atheists."

For instance Christians cry "rebellion" and "heresy" whenever they see other sects of Christians going their own way in "rebellion" to some churchly authority, or when they see other sects being more prone to leading folks down the slippery slope to damnation than members of their own community, or when people refuse to convert or follow sacramental rules, be they Jews, gays, Muslims, atheists, whatever...

The idea of "Rebelling" against God and treating people other than one's in-group (of Jews in the OT, or Christians in the NT) as "rebels" is also ingrained in Scripture:

Exodus 23:21 Give heed to Him, listen to and obey His voice; be not REBELLIOUS before Him or provoke Him, for He will not pardon your transgression; for My Name is in Him...

Numbers 14:9 Only do not REBEL against the Lord...

Deuteronomy 13:5 But that prophet or that dreamer of dreams shall be put to death, because he has talked REBELLION and turning away from the Lord your God

Deuteronomy 31:27 For I know your REBELLION and stubbornness; behold, while I am yet alive with you today, you have been rebellious against the Lord; and how much more after my death!

1 Samuel 15:23 For REBELLION is as the sin of witchcraft, and stubbornness is as idolatry and teraphim (household good luck images). Because you have rejected the word of the Lord, He also has rejected you from being king.

Jeremiah 6:28 They are all the worst [kind] of REBELS and utter and total revolters against God, going about publishing slander...

Jeremiah 28:16 Therefore thus says the Lord: Behold, I will cast you from the face of the earth. This year you will die, because you have uttered and taught REBELLION against the Lord.

Ezekiel 20:38 And I will purge out and separate from among you the REBELS and those who transgress against Me...

Ephesians 5:5-7 For be sure of this: that no person practicing sexual vice or impurity in thought or in life, or one who is covetous [who has lustful desire for the property of others and is greedy for gain]... Let no one delude and deceive you with empty excuses and groundless arguments [for these sins], for through these things the wrath of God comes upon the sons of REBELLION and disobedience. So do not associate or be sharers with them.

2 Thessalonians 2:7 For the mystery of lawlessness (that hidden principle of REBELLION against constituted authority) is already at work in the world, [but it is] restrained only until he who restrains is taken out of the way.

Hebrews 3:8 Do not harden your hearts, as [happened] in the REBELLION [of Israel] and their provocation and embitterment [of Me] in the day of testing in the wilderness,

Hebrews 3:13 But instead warn (admonish, urge, and encourage) one another every day, as long as it is called Today, that none of you may be hardened [into settled REBELLION] by the deceitfulness of sin [by the fraudulence, the stratagem, the trickery which the delusive glamour of his sin may play on him].

Hebrews 3:15 Then while it is [still] called Today, if you would hear His voice and when you hear it, do not harden your hearts as in the REBELLION [in the desert, when the people provoked and irritated and embittered God against them].

James 3:16 For wherever there is jealousy (envy) and contention (rivalry and selfish ambition), there will also be confusion (unrest, disharmony, REBELLION) and all sorts of evil and vile practices.

Jude 1:11 Woe to them! For they have run riotously in the way of Cain, and have abandoned themselves for the sake of gain [it offers them, following] the error of Balaam, and have perished in REBELLION [like that] of Korah!

All passages above are from THE AMPLIFIED BIBLE (AMP)

Tony said...

The point I'm making here is that although Vatican II left open the possibility of salvation for atheists, it's a very new development in Church teaching. As far as I can make out, nobody even suggested the idea before the 1930s.

I don't know specifically about the "atheism" part of that. But I think that St. Thomas taught it clearly about non-Christians, and I think what he said implies about certain, very few, atheists.

In tackling mortal / venial sin in the young, he says:

before a man comes to the age of discretion, the lack of years hinders the use of reason and excuses him from mortal sin, wherefore, much more does it excuse him from venial sin, if he does anything which is such generically. But when he begins to have the use of reason, he is not entirely excused from the guilt of venial or mortal sin. Now the first thing that occurs to a man to think about then, is to deliberate about himself. And if he then direct himself to the due end, he will, by means of grace, receive the remission of original sin: whereas if he does not then direct himself to the due end, and as far as he is capable of discretion at that particular age, he will sin mortally, for through not doing that which is in his power to do. (Ia. IIae Q. 89 A.6)
...
Reply to Objection 3. The child that is beginning to have the use of reason can refrain from other mortal sins for a time, but it is not free from the aforesaid sin of omission, unless it turns to God as soon as possible. For the first thing that occurs to a man who has discretion, is to think of himself, and to direct other things to himself as to their end, since the end is the first thing in the intention. Therefore this is the time when man is bound by God's affirmative precept, which the Lord expressed by saying (Zechariah 1:3): "Turn ye to Me . . . and I will turn to you."

Now, I submit that the reason St. Thomas describes that first turning as "to the due end" instead of "to God", is that not every child will SEE the due end under the aspect of "God" simply as such. If raised by a Roman Stoic, he might see the due end under the notion "Virtue". If raised by pagans, he might see it under the aspect of "piety to the gods" as a whole. If raised by atheists who have the moral law, he might see it under the aspect "complete integrity toward human nature". Which, I suggest, are fair game for what the child coming to the age of discretion might see as "the due end".

And Thomas goes on to suggest that even if a child might not sin by omission right off the bat in the first moment if he fails to accept that "the due end" he is striving for is one and the same as God, he is not excused from seeking that due end, and - upon realizing that it is none other than God - then embracing that end by "turning to Him".

I am left with no other conclusion that, according to Thomas, a child dies soon after reaching the age of discretion, and after he directs himself to "the due end" so far as he has grasped that, and after he has received by grace the remission of sins, he may die not FORMALLY believing in God but in a state of grace. (This grace, in which will be the theological virtues of faith, hope, and charity, will give him the habit of faith, but not the explicit belief in definite propositions, until he discover such propositions either through hearing, reading, or pondering.) It is, thus the natural outflow from what Thomas taught that atheists can (if rarely) be saved.

Tony said...

I meant "If raised by atheists who have the NATURAL moral law..."

Edward T. Babinski said...

Hi Edward, this is Edward yet again...

The trouble is that orthodox Christianity seems to damn (and imply the foolishness of) just about everybody who is not a Christian, or who disagrees with Christian teachings and/or sacramental practices, INCLUDING ATHEISTS. It's like the tale of the guy who threw some strangers off a cliff, and in justification of his action he added, "Yeah, but I'd throw my own family members off a cliff too." Which does not make Christianity sound any more appealing for treating every non-Christian, from atheists, Jews and Muslims to gays and even members of any heretical or merely rival Christians sects as if they are the ones sliding down the slippery slope to hell.

In so far as the Bible teaches that "he who does not believe is damned already" (John 3), and in so far as the Bible calls people "fools" (even Jesus who warned against such a practice called the Pharisees fools), and the words "fool," "foolishness," etc., appear often enough in both Testaments, it would appear that calling atheists "damned fools" is pretty much within range of Christian theology WHETHER OR NOT Romans 1 refers to "atheists."

So Romans 1 isn't needed for Koukl to treat atheists like he does the souls of any and all other people who believe differently than he does.




Vincent Torley said...

Hi Ed,

Sorry if my post sounded a little harsh. You wrote:

"I never said that people in general are not culpable -- indeed, and again, I indicated that people in general are culpable. I merely said that not each and every single specific person is culpable for not believing in God.

"Now, that is the main issue between Koukl and me. And you agree with me on that and disagree with Koukl."

I'm glad you agree that St. Paul views the great majority of people who disbelieve in God as morally culpable. The reason why I was unsure of that was because of a remark near the end of your post, which seemed to suggest that a high proportion of atheists might be free from the vice of intellectual dishonesty:

"Many religious people themselves have a very crude understanding of God’s nature, and of other theological matters as well. When an atheist who is simply unfamiliar with more sophisticated accounts rightly rejects these vulgar accounts, he may well believe -- mistakenly but sincerely -- that this entails rejecting theism as such. And if so, it doesn’t follow from the fact that he calls himself an 'atheist' that he is engaged in any sort of intellectual dishonesty or suppression of the truth."

I have no wish to pass judgment on atheists, but I don't think St. Paul would agree with the notion that an atheist who is unfamiliar with the best arguments for God's existence or with what sophisticated believers say about God is thereby cleared of the charge of intellectual dishonesty. That isn't what you say, of course, but your wording might suggest that interpretation to some readers.

As for Koukl: if he indeed maintains that each and every atheist is morally culpable, then I would agree that his position is rather extreme. But in his latest reply, he did not specifically defend this particular claim, so I doubt whether he actually holds it. He also agreed with you about the beach ball analogy:

"Regarding beleaguered Emil, I am inclined to agree with Feser: 'A religious believer is not like someone trying to hold a beach ball underwater; rather, he is like someone trying to get a submerged beach ball with a leak in it to come back up to the surface.' Nicely put."

Perhaps there is less theological distance between you and Koukl than you think.

Tony said...

Edward T, either orthodox Christianity DOES actually teach what you say it "seems to" teach that "just about everybody who is not a Christian" is damned, or it does not.

If it does actually teach this, either the teaching is TRUE, or it is FALSE. If it is true, then why call it a "problem", as in "the trouble is that..."? If it is NOT true, then orthodox Christianity is a false religion. I.E. Christianity is a false religion. No problem - just don't credit it with truth.

If orthodox Christianity does not teach this but it seems so to YOU, then you have grasped an inaccurate picture of orthodox Christianity. The solution to "the problem", then, is for you to learn what it actually teaches.

Or, if it does not teach this but manages its own message so poorly that it seems to teach this to those who listen carefully, then the solution is to CORRECT orthodox Christianity's unsuccessful manner of teaching its own doctrine.

The last of the 4 options seems somewhat implausible, since (as you say yourself) that way of transmitting Christianity started with Christ. Seems unlikely that Christ was unsuccessful in saying what he meant to say, if (as orthodox Christianity claims) He was God.

Scott said...

Vincent:

That isn't what you say, of course, but your wording might suggest that interpretation to some readers.

Ed's statement seems to me to be entirely clear and admirably precise. If "some readers" manage to come up with your "interpretation," it's not because Ed's "wording…suggest[s]" it—as you yourself appear to acknowledge in observing that "of course" it isn't what he said.

Scott said...

As for Koukl: if he indeed maintains that each and every atheist is morally culpable, then I would agree that his position is rather extreme. But in his latest reply, he did not specifically defend this particular claim…

He didn't?

…so I doubt whether he actually holds it.

You do?

Even after reading Feser’s critique (et al), it still strikes me that, regarding man’s innate knowledge of God, Paul is saying something quite a bit stronger than that man has “a natural inclination of the weaker and inchoate sort." Thus, his unbelief is properly culpable.

For the record, I take this knowledge to be dispositional (known even if not currently or consciously aware of), not occurent (in mind and currently aware of) for the reasons that Feser (and others) pointed out. So man’s state of awareness of God, and his heart’s disposition towards rebellion against God are both sub-conscious.

Thus, though many atheists are not consciously aware of their rebellion (some are, of course) and may feel they have intellectual integrity in their atheism (some demonstrate a measure of integrity in their reasoned rejection of God), still, when all the cards are on the table in the final judgment, when men’s deepest and truest motives are fully revealed (Lk. 12:2), rebellion will be at the core. This rebellion-at-the-core, I think, is what Paul had in mind in Rom. 1—a fairly ordinary, run of the mill biblical point, it seems.


How about now?

Tim Lambert said...

I'd like Babinski to define what he means by 'damn'... as in 'every orthodox Christian would want to damn someone for disagreeing with their views on x, y, z' (not Babinski's words, but the spirit of it is there).

I don't think I'd be far off from guessing that Babinski would only find allowable the type of Christianity where the Christian views his beliefs as being tantamount to a particular flavor of ice cream that he likes: no metaphysical truth to it, nothing to ever be used as a guiding light for determining right from wrong.

Glenn said...

Vincent,

In chapter 2 of the book of Wisdom, the author explicitly refers to atheism, as opposed to idolatry, which is discussed in chapters 13 to 14. In 2:2, the godless are said to reason as follows:

"For by mere chance were we born, and hereafter we shall be as though we had not been;
Because the breath in our nostrils is smoke, and reason a spark from the beating of our hearts."

In Wisdom 2:21-22, after cataloging the amorality of the godless and their persecution of the righteous, the author of the book of Wisdom continues:

"These were their thoughts, but they erred; for their wickedness blinded them.
And they did not know the hidden counsels of God; neither did they count on a recompense for holiness nor discern the innocent souls’ reward."

The fact that the godless are described as blinded by wickedness speaks for itself.


1. Actually, in 2:1-20 it is the wicked (see 1:16) who are said to reason as follows:

2:1 ..."Brief and troubled is our lifetime;
there is no remedy for our dying,
nor is anyone known to have come back from Hades.

2:2 ["]For by mere chance were we born,
and hereafter we shall be as though we had not been;
Because the breath in our nostrils is smoke,
and reason a spark from the beating of our hearts,

2:3 ["]And when this is quenched, our body will be ashes
and our spirit will be poured abroad like empty air.

2:4 ["]Even our name will be forgotten in time,
and no one will recall our deeds.

["]So our life will pass away like the traces of a cloud,
and will be dispersed like a mist
Pursued by the sun’s rays
and overpowered by its heat.

2:5 ["]For our lifetime is the passing of a shadow;
and our dying cannot be deferred
because it is fixed with a seal; and no one returns.

2:6 ["]Come, therefore, let us enjoy the good things that are here,
and make use of creation with youthful zest.

2:7 ["]Let us have our fill of costly wine and perfumes,
and let no springtime blossom pass us by;

2:8 ["]let us crown ourselves with rosebuds before they wither.

2:9 ["]Let no meadow be free from our wantonness;
everywhere let us leave tokens of our merriment,
for this is our portion, and this our lot.

2:10 ["]Let us oppress the righteous poor;
let us neither spare the widow
nor revere the aged for hair grown white with time.

2:11 ["]But let our strength be our norm of righteousness;
for weakness proves itself useless.

2:12 ["]Let us lie in wait for the righteous one, because he is annoying to us;
he opposes our actions,
Reproaches us for transgressions of the law
and charges us with violations of our training.

2:13 ["]He professes to have knowledge of God
and styles himself a child of the LORD.

2:14 ["]To us he is the censure of our thoughts;
merely to see him is a hardship for us,

2:15 ["]Because his life is not like that of others,
and different are his ways.

2:16 ["]He judges us debased;
he holds aloof from our paths as from things impure.
He calls blest the destiny of the righteous
and boasts that God is his Father.

2:17 ["]Let us see whether his words be true;
let us find out what will happen to him in the end.

2:18 For if the righteous one is the son of God, God will help him
and deliver him from the hand of his foes.

2:19 "With violence and torture let us put him to the test
that we may have proof of his gentleness
and try his patience.

2:20 ["]Let us condemn him to a shameful death;
for according to his own words, God will take care of him."

(cont)

Glenn said...

Vincent,

Now, the book of Wisdom continues:

2:21 These were their thoughts, but they erred;
for their wickedness blinded them,

2:22 And they did not know the hidden counsels of God;
neither did they count on a recompense for holiness
nor discern the innocent souls’ reward.

2. Who are the wicked said by the Book of Wisdom to reason as outlined in 2:1-20? Each and every unbeliever, or those unbelievers who, according to 1:4, plot evil in their soul?

Another question: is it your sincere belief that an unbeliever, by virtue of being an unbeliever, necessarily plots evil in his soul (and along those lines indicated in 2:1-20)?

- - - -

I might add that Fr. Reginald Marie Garrigou-Lagrange, in his 1914 work, "God: His Existence and His Nature" (1914, p. 28) wrote that “speculative atheism is an impossibility for any man who has the use of reason and is in good faith.”

Since that is being added, what GL meant by 'good faith' should be added as well:

"Good faith, in the sense in which the Church understands the term, differs considerably from what the world generally means by it. It implies not only that sincerity which is contrary to deceit, but it also denotes that one has made use of all the means at his disposal in order to arrive at the truth. In the quest of truth one may fail deliberately, not only in a direct way, when one does not want to see the truth, but also in an indirect way, when one does not want to avail oneself of the means that one ought to use, or when through a perversion of the intellect, one agrees to doctrines that one ought to reject."

Notice the past tense: "one who has made use of all the means at his disposal". And notice that the present tense isn't employed, i.e., that GL isn't referring to one who is presently making use of all the means at his disposal. This one, the one presently making use of all the means at his disposal, may be not yet out of his unbelieving stage. Wouldn't a Christian worthy of the name want to help this one along -- isn't a Christian worthy of the name obligated to help him along -- rather than misguidedly condemn him as a godless person blinded by wickedness?

... ... ...

Etc., etc., so on and so forth.

Glenn said...

(Sorry, that s/b "...isn't a Christian worthy of the name obligated to help him along (if he can)...")

Remington said...

Dr. Feser,

You state that Paul is speaking of Gentiles generally. You appeal to empirical evidence to support your reading of Romans 1. And you understand Paul to have a narrow understanding of idolatry in Romans 1 that is limited to bowing-down-to-wood/stone sort of idolatry (call this literal idolatry). Does empirical evidence really teach you that people (Gentiles) generally suppress the truth and (literally) worship idols? I doubt it. So would you say that Paul's indictment in Romans 1 is no longer true, even at the general level? Would Ed Babinski be your cheerleader on this point (Gentiles generally practice literal idolatry)? I doubt it.

malcolmthecynic said...

Mr. Babinski hit the nail on the head: We're ALL damned.

Luckily, somebody has offered to rescue us. We should accept the offer.

The trick of Christianity is that Christians really aren't any better than anybody else. We just accepted the offer. Lewis's "The Great Divorce" is illustrative. The thing about the Solid Beings in "The Great Divorce" that seems to baffle the Ghosts the most is how readily they concede their flaws. "You were a murderer." "Yes, I was!" "You were no better than I was." "So what if I wasn't? Who cares?"

Now, certain people may not fully understand the offer, or don't know about it, and to them we pray that God has some method of delivering full knowledge before death. Obviously an offer they're not aware of or don't understand can't apply in exactly the same way.

We all know there's more to Christianity, but this is the heart of it. Let's say you're aware of the claims Christianity is making. What does that mean to you? Are you ready to admit you're wrong? To concede the difficult things Christianity requires you to?

The heart of Christianity is not the external acts of Churchgoers, but the giving of the Sacraments. In other words, the heart of Christianity is not us reaching out to the world, but God reaching out to us.

Even more concisely: A man who has been wicked his whole life can achieve Heaven if he but repents at the last moment.

Anonymous said...

Academic philosophers and "theologians" continue to persist in the silliest kind of sophomoric debates about the existence of God. The arguments always range between the "proof" offered by left-brained reason, and the "proof" offered by some presumed historical Revelation - but both kinds of "proof" are nothing more than the poor servants of the adolescent dilemma of spirit killing left-brained rationalism.

To ask if God exists is already to doubt god's existence absolutely, and it reflects a commitment to the presumption that God does not exist until it is absolutely proven otherwise. Once it is presumed that the existence of God is in doubt or in need of proof, the dreadful dilemma of separation from God or The Living Divine Reality has already solidified, and neither inner reason nor outer revelation has sufficient power to liberate the individual from the subtle and fundamental despair that is inherent in such Godlessness.

Reason & Revelation are the mind-created gods or idols of separated and self-possessed man.

The existence of God cannot be "proven" to the point of ecstasy, or the awakening of the opposite of irreducible doubt. The question "does God exist or not?" is itself a proposition. It IS doubt, it IS the idea of separation from ecstatic Fullness or Sat-Chit-Ananda which is our Real Condition. It is the self-image of narcissus, it IS the emotional contraction of the entire body-mind (and flight from) God, Life, and all relations. Reasons and Revelations are only an impenetrable hedge around the pond of Narcissus - a false sanctuary for the wounded self, who presumes himself to be trapped in the dead ends of the Machine of Nature

Anonymous said...

People who irrationally accept various religious beliefs and so adhere exclusively, and often fanatically to a particular historically dominant cult are engaged in false religion. This applies to all of the usual suspects who engage in the polemics of "apologetics". It is true of all conventional "establishment" religious institutions.

The Process that is True Religion is not a matter of uninspected belief, or fanatical adherence to an historical system of "objective" beliefs that excludes ALL other systems of belief from the right to Truth.

True Religion is a higher human Process enacted in the body-mind of the individual and in the communities of all individuals who are consciously involved in the same Process. It is a Process that can only begin if it is founded on profound self-critical consideration and insight, followed by emotional conversion, or release, of the entire body-mind into the Life-Power, the All-Pervading and ultimately Divine Energy, that may be directly and bodily experienced and also clearly revealed and obvious to the intuitive mind.

The Process that is True Religion is the mechanism in Nature whereby Man (both male and female) evolves and transcends himself, both individually and collectively (as a species and as a cultural and social order.

laubadetriste said...

@Edward T. Babinski: "The trouble is that orthodox Christianity seems to damn (and imply the foolishness of) just about everybody who is not a Christian, or who disagrees with Christian teachings and/or sacramental practices, INCLUDING ATHEISTS."

Is that the problem? How adolescent and disappointing.

So the problem is not (say) that Christianity is *false*; or the doctrine of damnation *as such*; but that the damned are those who are not Christian, or (and?) those who disagree with Christian teachings? How is that not merely a crude restatement of a necessary condition of there being any Christian doctrine of damnation whatsoever? I am reminded of lines from *House, M.D.*:

"Cuddy: 'How is it that you always assume you're right?' / House: 'I don't, I just find it hard to operate on the opposite assumption.'"

Give me J. Gresham Machen and a pride of five-point Calvinists any day over mealy-mouthed adherents of Christianity-and-water. At least I'm not nailing jelly to a wall, or punching smoke.

That, or concede--like those advocates of Moral Therapeutic Deism as American civil religion--that we are bracketing the claim of truth, in the interest of domestic peace.

The doctrine of damnation may be an immoral one. But I have more often seen concern for the damned on the part of those Christians who believe it, than I have seen concern for the truth on the part of those Christians who don't. This blog itself, over the last few posts, has been an example of humble and earnest inquiry into related matters, and a counterexample to canards about the faithful.

(*Also* orthodox Christianity famously affirms, not the foolishness, but the wisdom of many non-Christians.)

@Scott: "Ed's statement seems to me to be entirely clear and admirably precise."

Agreed.

@Anonymous 10:43 PM:

There is about your words something somewhat familiar, like a faint stench. At first I could not place it. But then I marked the needless Capitalization of some abstract Nouns, imparting to the careless and ignorant Reader an impression of Teutonic Gravity, and Asiatic Insight. And I marked too the words wrenched out of context--power, energy, intuitive, evolves...--and press-ganged into service as metaphors. Aha!, I thought, I know where last I smelled that smell!:

'"It is quite simple," she said; "the fundamental propositions of Christian Science explain it, and they are summarized in the four following self-evident propositions: 1. God is All in all. 2. God is good. Good is Mind 3. God, Spirit, being all, nothing is matter 4. Life, God, omnipotent Good, deny death, evil, sin, disease. / "There—now you see." / It seemed nebulous; it did not seem to say anything about the difficulty in hand—how non-existent matter can propagate illusions. I said, with some hesitancy: / "Does—does it explain?" / "Doesn't it? Even if read backward it will do it." / With a budding hope, I asked her to do it backwards. / "Very well. Disease sin evil death deny Good omnipotent God life matter is nothing all being Spirit God Mind is Good good is God all in All is God. There do you understand now? / "It—it—well, it is plainer than it was before; still—"'--Mark Twain, *Christian Science,* ch. 2.

Vincent Torley said...

Hi Scott,

I'm afraid I can't see anything in your bold highlighted statements by Koukl which affirms that each and every atheist is morally culpable. Koukl may well hold that view, but he may also allow for the possibility of rare exceptions to St. Paul's generalization about unbelievers. He doesn't clearly say.

You accuse me of misreading Ed on the question of whether the great majority of atheists are morally culpable. Ed does speak of atheism being morally culpable as a mass phenomenon, but there are other passages in his first post which appear to suggest that a substantial number of atheists may be morally inculpable and free from the vice of intellectual dishonesty. Consider the following:

"For one thing, there are lots of atheists who, though deeply mistaken, are nevertheless intellectually honest and do not have a difficult time resisting belief in God. (I used to be such an atheist, and I knew, and know, other such atheists.)

"It is perfectly possible for someone mistakenly but sincerely to believe that there are good arguments for atheism, and thus good arguments for resisting our natural tendency to believe in some sort of deity. He might think that such a tendency is like our tendency to commit various common logical fallacies -- a kind of congenital cognitive defect.

"(In my atheist days, I used to roll my eyes at the suggestion that all atheists are simply sinfully repressing what they know deep down to be true, and I can certainly understand why other atheists would roll their eyes too.)"

A casual reader might get the impression from the above passages that Ed thinks lots of atheists are not personally at fault for their unbelief. Ed has now declared unambiguously that he doesn't hold that view. Good for him. Maybe I'm uncommonly dense, but I just think he could have been a little clearer from the get-go.

One more thing. As a former apostate myself, and as someone who ceased believing in a personal God for many years, I was never under any illusion about what the Church teaches regarding apostasy. The short answer is that for someone who has received the gift of faith at baptism and who has been brought up in the faith, there is absolutely no excuse. The Fathers are unanimous on that. God does not take back the supernatural gift of faith; hence if any of those who have received it and who have been cultivated in it subsequently fall away from it, it's their own fault. Sounds harsh, but that's what the Church has always taught.

Vincent Torley said...

Glenn,

You ask: "Who are the wicked said by the Book of Wisdom to reason as outlined in 2:1-20? Each and every unbeliever, or those unbelievers who, according to 1:4, plot evil in their soul?" The latter is more correct, but it doesn't go far enough. What the writer is saying, I believe, is that unbelief is highly conducive to wickedness; hence unbelievers who do not engage in wicked practices are the exception rather than the rule.

You ask: "is it your sincere belief that an unbeliever, by virtue of being an unbeliever, necessarily plots evil in his soul (and along those lines indicated in 2:1-20)?" No, of course not.

Let me also add that we live in very troubled times, when many children are not brought up in the habit of belief by their parents. Others are raised as believers but subjected to so many assaults on their faith in a secular culture that they fall into unbelief. I do not wish to throw stones at anyone. As I've written above, I know of many atheists who are far better people than I, and I'm sure God has His own ways of saving them.

All I'm saying is that Koukl's robust exegesis of Romans appears closer to what St. Paul intended than Ed's - especially when Koukl writes, "it still strikes me that, regarding man’s innate knowledge of God, Paul is saying something quite a bit stronger than that man has 'a natural inclination of the weaker and inchoate sort.'"
Even today, I think that at the subconscious level, nearly everyone feels a strong inclination to believe in God. And although they may really believe they have good intellectual grounds for resisting that inclination, I think that the predominant reason that they actually resist it is a culpable desire for personal autonomy: on some level, they don't want God to be real.

Daniel said...

Malcolmthecynic wrote

Mr. Babinski hit the nail on the head: We're ALL damned.

Luckily, somebody has offered to rescue us. We should accept the offer.


With all respect this is a fantastic claim – why one earth should anyone accept it. One might claim that we are all to an extent sinners but to claim that alone (transgressions of finite effect?) damns people seems tantamount to denying we have any capacity for self-correction and purification, activities the moral importance of which was central to many philosophically sophisticated accounts of human-divine relations long before Christianity became central.

Laubadetriste wrote,

That, or concede--like those advocates of Moral Therapeutic Deism as American civil religion--that we are bracketing the claim of truth, in the interest of domestic peace.

The doctrine of damnation may be an immoral one. But I have more often seen concern for the damned on the part of those Christians who believe it, than I have seen concern for the truth on the part of those Christians who don't. This blog itself, over the last few posts, has been an example of humble and earnest inquiry into related matters, and a counterexample to canards about the faithful.


At first I thought Moral Therapeutic Deism was just a pejorative for Unitarian type affairs, but after a quick search it turns out there is such a position. Leaving that itself aside (if the summary of its positive views with what it purports to reject on Wikipedia is true then it’s adherents are at least guilty of illiteracy) there is no a priori justification for extending the claim of putting civil peace above truth to all non-doctrinal moral forms of Theism. After all that can appeal to Natural Theology in the same way as Ed and other Catholic thinkers can, if not more.

Of course you may claim that these people simply are not Christians. There may be something in this though it’s not an argument I can really comment on.

I stress this because too often modern (19th-20th century) Christianity has been the ice-breaker for atheism in its chronic persistence in splitting the world into the religious verses atheists.

Scott said...

Vincent:

You accuse me of misreading Ed on the question of whether the great majority of atheists are morally culpable.

Actually I didn't, although now that you mention it I'll note that he's said nothing either way about relative numbers. "People [or atheists] in general" ≠ "the great majority," although I suppose at the absolute least a simple majority is probably implied.

Ed does speak of atheism being morally culpable as a mass phenomenon, but there are other passages in his first post which appear to suggest that a substantial number of atheists may be morally inculpable and free from the vice of intellectual dishonesty.

Again we're playing a bit fast and loose with actual proportions. Even if "the great majority" are culpable, there could still be a "substantial number" who were not (e.g. if there were a billion atheists ten thousand of whom were inculpable); your implied suggestion that these are contraries is false. At any rate, Ed has said nothing either way. (Moreover, being an intellectually honest atheist is surely not the same thing as being altogether free from the vice of intellectual dishonesty, period. You're either begging a question or poisoning a well.)

More importantly, I'm not sure why you wrote the following:

The reason why I was unsure of that was because of a remark near the end of your post, which seemed to suggest that a high proportion of atheists might be free from the vice of intellectual dishonesty:

The reason. A remark. So what's this nonsense now about all those other passages that supposedly misled you?

Anyway, here we come back at last to your claim that I accused you of misreading Ed. You quoted "the" passage you allegedly found confusing and then carried on as follows:

I don't think St. Paul would agree with the notion that an atheist who is unfamiliar with the best arguments for God's existence or with what sophisticated believers say about God is thereby cleared of the charge of intellectual dishonesty. That isn't what you say, of course, but your wording might suggest that interpretation to some readers. [Emphasis mine.]

This seems to be where you think I "accused [you] of misreading Ed." But that's not what I said.

Here's the problem I had (and have). The passage you quoted does not say the thing you think St. Paul wouldn't agree with, and you expressly acknowledge that it doesn't. So what's up with your coy, pussyfooting claim about Ed's wording somehow suggesting that interpretation to some readers?

scbrownlhrm said...

Rational Disbelief Exists:

An excerpt from a slightly longer comment which is linked at the end of the comment:


The concern seems centered on two categories of culpability at the inflection point of the Perception/Response curve:



1) The In General category – which rationally and coherently affirms that all human beings engage in trading away some contour of Truth (the price) for the sake of some contour of the Self (the gain).

2) The This-Specific-Atheist category – which either does (on the view of some) or does not (on the view of some) take the first category and zooms that lens in to look at the express interior ruminations of all claims of atheism vs. some claims of atheism.


Given the conceptual unpacking of my series of three comments in this thread (posted yesterday), we inevitably ask: Can and does large swaths of “that” effervesce upward into the conscious act of this or that particular Atheist? Well of course. Similarly, does all of that effervesce upward into the conscious act of every single human claim of no-god that has ever passed the lips of any human being? Well of course *not*. Okay – STOP: That is a question about intellectual culpability in a specific human being at a specific point in time in his or her particular life. Full stop. It is *not* about moral culpability – that in general stock-exchange of Truth Trading for the gain of the Self described earlier and which is, unfortunately, ubiquitous. The distinction here is intentional in order to drill down to the question at hand. Granted, the intellectual and the moral are not separate boxes floating in midair entirely disconnected from one another. But, again, the question at hand.


Feser and Koukl have far, far more convergence than they do divergence:


Rational Disbelief is intellectually non-culpable and can exist in this or that particular human being at this or that particular time in this or that human being’s particular life. And yet that very same rational disbelief is found intimately amalgamated with the expressly ubiquitous In General category – which rationally and coherently affirms that all human beings engage in trading away some contour of Truth (the price) for the sake of some contour of the Self (the gain).


Like most sane apologists, Koulk affirms rational disbelief, as we recall the obvious – that – like Feser, much of Koukl’s work is ipso facto engrained in interfacing with our own (their own) culture’s peculiar brand of Atheist:


“But arguments have limits; they don’t always work. When that happens, some are tempted to think that arguments themselves are useless. This is a mistake. If you’re searching for that perfect line of logic capable of subduing any objection, you’re wasting your time. There is no magic, no silver bullet, no clever turn of thought or phrase that’s guaranteed to compel belief. Yes, rational reasons can be a barrier to belief. The Christian message simply doesn’t make sense to everyone, or it raises questions or counter-examples that make it difficult to even countenance Christianity until those issues are addressed.” (Koukl)




Today’s culture is ripe with that and to disaffirm the very real intellectual and existential “locations” of different human beings as they (perhaps for the first time) encounter these kinds of questions would be assuming the role of the ostrich. Fortunately, neither Feser nor Koukl have their head in the sand.


All of this is just a start as it is an excerpt from another comment which I posted at STR’s thread on this topic to avoid multiple posts here. The comment in question is time stamped October 25, 2015 at 05:44 AM.

scbrownlhrm said...

Well – for the sake of completeness that linked comment time stamped “October 25, 2015 at 05:44 AM” has one minor typo which is corrected in the comment time stamped October 25, 2015 at 06:43 AM.

Edward T. Babinski said...

There is little point to Christians like Edward and Randal trying to reduce "anti-atheist" prejudice when Christians remain prejudiced against ALL non-Christians of whatever sort (atheists just being a single category) and even remain prejudiced against Christians of rival Christian denominations and sects -- all by virtue of Randal and Edward's Christian belief that they and their denomination/sect/tradition remain on the most solid possible ground when it comes to eternal judgment, while all the rest remain at least in subtle danger of eternal damnation if not already on the slippery slope to eternal damnation.

Glenn said...

Vincent,

You ask: "Who are the wicked said by the Book of Wisdom to reason as outlined in 2:1-20? Each and every unbeliever, or those unbelievers who, according to 1:4, plot evil in their soul?" The latter is more correct, but it doesn't go far enough. What the writer is saying, I believe, is that unbelief is highly conducive to wickedness; hence unbelievers who do not engage in wicked practices are the exception rather than the rule.

I don't recall anyone arguing that the exception is nearly as much a rule as is the rule it is said to be an exception to. Maybe it isn't, and maybe it is; that is a separate topic, and isn't the point. Although not initially expressed in these terms, the point originally was, and has continued to be, that what might be collectively true of unbelievers is not necessarily distributively true of them. To acknowledge that there are so-called exceptions to the so-called rule is to acknowledge, even if only tacitly, that what is collectively true is not distributively true.

But let's take a different tack by descending from abstract considerations to practical considerations:

If you have any concern for the troubled times we live in – and, obviously, you do -- then the exceptions to the rule are, at least potentially, our allies. And it is probably not a good idea to be alienating them by lumping them with those who give life to the rule.

Edward T. Babinski said...

Who cares if atheists have genuine intellectual questions/difficulties with theism and Christian theology, or, whether atheists have "darkened hardened damned hearts?"

No doubt it irks Christians to learn about all the ways evolutionists, psychologists, and sociologists explain people's desire to believe and attach themselves to various religions, sects and cults. For instance they claim that religious beliefs arise and sustain themselves out of fear of death, illusions, delusions, peer pressure from family, city, nation, or other social pressures, a desire to feel loved/special, desire for justice, a desire to join one's ego to an enthusiastic mass movement and thereby feel enlarged and empowered (I am nothing, the movement and its beliefs and practices are everything), not to mention confirmation bias, and the way our species places itself inside each story it reads, how characters in stories are made alive in our minds, how we anthropomorphize objects, see minds in dolls, faces in clouds, imagine certain objects have magical connections with those who touched or wore them, or believe that things happen to US for a reason, usually a reason that we imagine applies strictly to us and/or our beliefs.

Yes, those sorts of explanations are irksome to Christian apologists and theists in general. So I guess they require a supernatural explanation like "original sin and blindness of heart" to explain how people could fall for atheism or for the thousands of different denominations, sects and alternative religions and mystical views, or even agnosticism.

But can anyone prove the "darkened hardened damned heart" proposition? And prove it to atheists? And also prove it is true of every atheist?

Equally, one wonders if one could prove the evolutionary and psychological and sociological explanations for religious belief to a Christian apologist. (Though one can at least point to cognitive science experiments that demonstrate beyond a doubt the existence of a plethora of cognitive biases to which we are all subject.)
___________________

Let's just say that Christians from Jesus to Paul and today typically believe only members of their denomination or sect has the clearest understanding of Jesus's authority, the authority of the Holy Spirit, biblical authority, and the beliefs and sacramental practices necessary for eternal salvation. While everyone else has only partial truth, truth of a slightly lesser degree, or untruths in comparison with them and their denomination, sect or tradition.

Apologists should stick to trying to prove the existence of God and the inspiration of Scripture, and trying to make rational and moral sense of Christian theology.

Meanwhile, everyone else (not just atheists) shall continue to debate such "answers" and raise questions for Christian apologists.

And so it goes.

Scott said...

Edward T. Babinski:

Let's check our math here.

You are immortal, and the Almighty Creator of the Cosmos has invited you to spend eternity in the bliss of His company.

If you turn the invitation down, you won't be forced to attend. But if you accept it, He'll gladly prepare you to be worthy to enter His holy presence by making you holy yourself. Jesus Christ, God the Son made flesh, has made that possible by dying for you, and He loves you enough that He'd have done the very same thing even if you'd been the only person in all of history who needed to have it done.

And that's it! Sure, it's a fiery, demanding love that won't be satisfied until you've achieved your genuine good by becoming holy and perfect. But all you have to do is acknowledge that you're utterly unworthy of such a gift, throw yourself on His mercy, and cooperate with His grace. And all that will cost you is your life.

Now, I know you aren't accepting that offer (yet). But supposing that at some future time you do accept it, do you dream for one instant that you'll be doing so out of e.g. confirmation bias, fear of death, peer pressure, or egotism? (Do you think it's even possible to accept it for such reasons?)

And if not, why would you fancy that anyone else had done so?

Daniel said...

Alright, I intend to make enemies on all sides (I'm in rebellion against the Aristotelian notion of Man as a social animal so it's in keeping). I've said enough about sticking a flag in the Godhead so it's time to let the other side have it too.

Who cares if atheists have genuine intellectual questions/difficulties with theism and Christian theology, or, whether atheists have "darkened hardened damned hearts?"

Philosophically it seems to be mainly atheists themselves. Even then they trade on the Christian idea that a. knowledge of God is salvational and b. we have only a limited time to acquire it.

Yes, those sorts of explanations are irksome to Christian apologists and theists in general. So I guess they require a supernatural explanation like "original sin and blindness of heart" to explain how people could fall for atheism or for the thousands of different denominations, sects and alternative religions and mystical views, or even agnosticism.

Why should be inconvenient to theists in general? The abstract 'deist' will just blink and say that though whether or not we have a natural disposition to believe X goes doesn't justify our claiming X is true neither is it a reason to believe it's false. The religiously inclined theist will just claim there are divers reasons why we have a disposition to believe X and that by reflection on some these we can recognize that we have prima facia justification to hold X as true. Even Ed and for all I know even Koukl, could accept them(though presumably the latter would think we are also sub-consciously aware of a reason which justifies our holding X as true - all extremely dubious but no more suspect but no more so than the original unconsciousness knowledge claim).

I leave aside all points about confirmation bias and the human tendency to accept group opinion, both of which are going to hold for any knowledge claims.

Daniel said...

(For the record that post should be read as being written before Scott's)

JohnD said...

Ed,

Any update on the natural theology project you were working on? Perhaps we'll see it released this fall?

scbrownlhrm said...

Debilis takes a look into the Undefended Claim Behind “I Simply Lack Belief” in a concise essay.

laubadetriste said...

@Edward T. Babinski: "There is little point to Christians like Edward and Randal trying to reduce 'anti-atheist' prejudice when Christians remain prejudiced against ALL non-Christians of whatever sort (atheists just being a single category) and even remain prejudiced against Christians of rival Christian denominations and sects -- all by virtue of Randal and Edward's Christian belief that they and their denomination/sect/tradition remain on the most solid possible ground when it comes to eternal judgment, while all the rest remain at least in subtle danger of eternal damnation if not already on the slippery slope to eternal damnation."

What is valuable in your words, Christians said before, and better. For example:

"He who begins by loving Christianity better than truth, will proceed by loving his own sect or church better than Christianity, and end in loving himself better than all."--Coleridge, Aids to Reflection, "Moral and Religious Aphorisms," aph. 25.

The rest is mere slander, aided by sloppy language--for example, your use of "prejudice" as if it meant something like "bigotry." I recommend asking what it would *mean,* for Feser and Rauser to be without *prejudice*. (If this proves obscure, I recommend Dalrymple's *In Praise of Prejudice,* to be followed by Stephen's *Liberty, Equality, Fraternity*, and perhaps Mencken's or Nisbet's *Prejudices*. Note that at least two of these authors are skeptics in matters of religion.)

"Who cares if atheists have genuine intellectual questions/difficulties with theism and Christian theology, or, whether atheists have 'darkened hardened damned hearts?'"

To judge by appearances, most of the people here.

"Yes, those sorts of explanations are irksome to Christian apologists and theists in general. So I guess they require a supernatural explanation like 'original sin and blindness of heart' to explain how people could fall for atheism..."

(cough) Bulverism (cough cough...)

It is so very rare to see a skeptic sincerely interested--as opposed to merely polemically interested--in explaining "religions, sects and cults." The last I remember reading was David Stove (who also attacked Darwinism, and is now somewhat neglected):

“People like Voltaire and Euripides are no one’s idea of profound thinkers, and yet, in scarcely more than a generation, the immortal gods succumb to their attacks as meekly as dew to the sun. Partly for this reason it is a great mystery, to the people of the Enlightenment, how it was that religion had acquired its hold over human life in the first place… For Enlightenment critics, there are only two answers to [this question] (broadly speaking)… Unfortunately, all the known variants of either theory are nearly worthless… The result is that, to heirs of the Enlightenment such as myself, the reasons for the very existence of religion have remained an absolute mystery. Nor is this a minor matter: not to understand religion is, quite simply, not to understand nine-tenths of human history.”—*The Oracles and Their Cessation*

MikeT said...

If we are going to talk about repressed knowledge we need to address the issue of the nature of the knowledge that is being repressed. Specifically, how is this knowledge obtained, how is it justified? One thing that seems to be obvious is that this knowledge is not based upon reason. First, because the vast majority of people “since the creation of the world” have never been presented with these various proofs of the existence of God. Furthermore, Paul tells us that what can be know of God is “plain to them” and “clearly perceived” because “God has shown it to them”. First, the message is not “general and confused”, it is plain and clear. Second, the message gets thru because God makes sure the message gets thru. Clearly, this isn't about people using their intellectual ability to reason their way to God but God communicating to people in such a manner as to make sure the message gets thru loud and clear.

So if this knowledge isn't justified via reason, what is it and how is it justified? I think Calvin had it correct when he described it as implanted knowledge “engraven upon men's minds”. It is innate. It is immediate knowledge, mediated thru the things that are made. What Alvin Plantinga described as knowledge that is properly basic. And what Bertrand Russel described as knowledge by acquaintance – having a direct cognitive relation with the object (facts), unmediated thru any sort of inference. We all have instances of this sort of knowledge: 1+2 = 3, I am not my neighbor, the music is painfully loud, etc. Clear, indubitable, non inferential.

However, Ed understands this to be a mass phenomenon and not applicable to every individual. Why? As stated earlier, this isn't about man's efforts but God's successful effort to reach out to man. If God chooses to reveal himself to people in such a manner that the message has to get thru, why wouldn't he reveal himself to all people? Ed believes that some people have honest intellectual doubts but Romans 3:11 says that no one searches for God “there is no one righteous, not even one”. It repeats that idea three times for emphasis. I don't believe that Ed has sufficiently considered the capability of the human heart for self-deception.

Finally, there is the issue of how much is revealed concerning the nature of God. It says that his “eternal power and divine nature” have been revealed. Where “divine nature” literally means “God-ness” (I. e. what it is about God that makes him God). That would include his righteousness, his holiness. And that's why the truth is suppressed. Why would anyone bother to suppress the truth concerning a generic God who created them and them let them do whatever they wanted?

You can accept or reject Gods offer. Just realize that no one gets a pass on judgement day.

Mr. Green said...

Edward T. Babinski: There is little point to Christians like Edward and Randal trying to reduce "anti-atheist" prejudice when Christians remain prejudiced against [...]

This was an original way to let us know that you have not the remotest clue what the word "prejudice" means, but it would have been more constructive simply to come out and ask someone to provide you with a definition.

Jack said...

Quote from St. Thomas, "Super Boethium De Trinitate", Question I, Article III, Answer to Objection VI

"Nevertheless, to us, who do not behold His essence, it is not self-evident that He exists; though cognition of it may be said to be innate inasmuch as it is through principles which are innate in us that we are easily able to perceive that God exists."

http://www.dhspriory.org/thomas/BoethiusDeTr.htm#13

Jack said...

@MikeT

You said:

>If we are going to talk about repressed knowledge we need to address the issue of the nature of the knowledge that is being repressed. Specifically, how is this knowledge obtained, how is it justified? One thing that seems to be obvious is that this knowledge is not based upon reason. First, because the vast majority of people “since the creation of the world” have never been presented with these various proofs of the existence of God. Furthermore, Paul tells us that what can be know of God is “plain to them” and “clearly perceived” because “God has shown it to them”.

Let's quote Romans 1:20:
"For the invisible things of him, from the creation of the world, are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made; his eternal power also, and divinity: so that they are inexcusable."

An article from the First Vatican Council affirms:
'The same Holy mother Church holds and teaches that God, the source and end of all things, can be known with certainty from the consideration of created things, by the natural power of human reason : ever since the creation of the world, his invisible nature has been clearly perceived in the things that have been made."

St. Paul does not explicitly use the term "natural power of human reason" as the article of the Vatican Council does, however, St. Paul's statement here, ". . . are clearly seen, being UNDERSTOOD by the things that are made . . ." clearly refers to the natural power of human reason. St. Paul does not say that the "invisible things of him, from the creation of the world, are clearly seen . . ." innately to us; St. Paul could just have easily have said, "are clearly seen by the knowledge innate to us, graven on our hearts", but instead he invokes the power of understanding, i.e. reason, as the method by which we come to this knowledge, namely, reasoning from "the things that are made", i.e. we reason from the knowledge that comes to us of the natural world, via the senses, to knowledge of its Creator.

You say that most people have never been presented with the proofs of God's existence. True, and of those that have had them presented to them not all them will have understood the proofs. However, the formal proofs of God's existence are not the only way of acquiring knowledge of God by reason. We often grasp concepts without being able to explain formally all the principles involved and all the deductions made which allowed us to grasp the concept in the first place. Children can grasp basic language and mathematics without understanding the formal principles of linguistics and mathematics. It's the same in theology. People can grasp the concept of God by looking at the order of creation without being able to explain the cosmological argument themselves.


Jack said...

@MikeT

You also said:

>So if this knowledge isn't justified via reason, what is it and how is it justified? I think Calvin had it correct when he described it as implanted knowledge “engraven upon men's minds”. It is innate. It is immediate knowledge, mediated thru the things that are made. What Alvin Plantinga described as knowledge that is properly basic. And what Bertrand Russel described as knowledge by acquaintance – having a direct cognitive relation with the object (facts), unmediated thru any sort of inference. We all have instances of this sort of knowledge: 1+2 = 3, I am not my neighbor, the music is painfully loud, etc. Clear, indubitable, non inferential.

Actually, I think your example of us being able to recognise, "the music is painfully loud", will be useful here. Look at the quote of St. Thomas I posted above:

"Nevertheless, to us, who do not behold His essence, it is not self-evident that He exists; though cognition of it may be said to be innate inasmuch as it is through principles which are innate in us that we are easily able to perceive that God exists."

St. Thomas is saying that our knowledge of God is not innate, but that our intellectual faculties are such that we are easily able to grasp the existence of God. It's the same with music. A child has no knowledge of music, but it's faculties that dispose it to sound and melody and rhythm make it so that a child can easily grasp the basic idea of music, even if it can't analyse music in terms of harmony and progression, etc., the way a musicologist would. So if this is the case, why are people generally so deaf to God but not to music? The answer must be that people blind their intellects in a culpable way, analogous to man making himself deaf so that he couldn't hear music. I think that this is the case. Our intellects are set up in such a way as to be immediately able to grasp at least some idea of God, and if you talk to a child about God they will often be able to contemplate a basic idea of Him, even if it is anthropomorphic, more than an adult intellectual will be able who has wilfully blinded his intellect over the years with pride and false philosophy. This is why Christ said, and many of the saints have said, that you have to accept Christ's doctrine the way a child would. Most people's intellectual faculties are withered before they even come of age because of the chasing after of sensual pleasure, and the pride which makes one resist learning because one already considers oneself learned.

Daniel said...

I wonder if the term 'God' is in fact unhelpful here (all the more so today when most atheists and a sizable proportion of Christian theists don't understand the meaning behind it)v - maybe it would make more sense to speak of immanent moral order which points beyond the world - thus by Paul's standard the Epicureans would fall into the category of atheists whilst the Stoics for instance are still expressing, albeit in a flawed way, Man's natural recognition of God. This would be more akin to Kant's idea of the Ought pointing beyond nature to the sphere of a holy will than Thomist Cosmological Arguments however.

malcolmthecynic said...

Daniel,

With all respect this is a fantastic claim – why one earth should anyone accept it.

For one thing, it's a really great deal. For another, the alternative is pretty terrible.

What we "want" to be true, what seems fair to us, is literally irrelevant. We must deal with what is.

malcolmthecynic said...

That's the thing that stands out to me most here. "Christianity is bigoted, Christianity is prejudiced, Christianity is unfair, it's terrible, atheism is so much better."

Well, all right.

But is Christianity true?

Daniel said...


For one thing, it's a really great deal. For another, the alternative is pretty terrible.

What we "want" to be true, what seems fair to us, is literally irrelevant. We must deal with what is.


I struggle to see how A, your point in the second paragraph has anything to do with what I've said, and B, how it squares with the two claims in your first paragraph.

malcolmthecynic said...

I struggle to see how A, your point in the second paragraph has anything to do with what I've said...

It's a more general point about the whole conversation as I've seen it, which seemed to work as a good follow-up to my first point. I put it in a poor spot without thinking very hard about it, and I apologize about that. It doesn't apply to you.

As for your B, there's no contradiction, so there's nothing to answer. Why couldn't it be important both that Christianity is true and the deal being offered is really great?

Daniel said...

(For what it's worth I always interpreted the Pauline passage about making God in the images of beasts as a demographic claim about the decline of human civilization from a Golden Age, a concept familiar to both his Hellenic and Jewish readers , and one which later Christian Platonists like Justin Martyr and Clement of Alexandra would also appeal to. The threat of succumbing to decadence was a leitmotif in Roman civilization - after all Augustus purportedly made the same accusations, that they made the immortal gods in the image of vile beasts and engaged in unmanly debauchery, against the Ptolemaic Egypt of Cleopatra's time)

@malcolmthecynic,

Apologies accepted!

Re point B, put like that I have no qualms with it. My contention was against claims to the effect 'Christianity is important because the deal being offered is really great'

laubadetriste said...

@Daniel: "I wonder if the term 'God' is in fact unhelpful here (all the more so today when most atheists and a sizable proportion of Christian theists don't understand the meaning behind it)v - maybe it would make more sense to speak of immanent moral order which points beyond the world - thus by Paul's standard the Epicureans would fall into the category of atheists whilst the Stoics for instance are still expressing, albeit in a flawed way, Man's natural recognition of God. This would be more akin to Kant's idea of the Ought pointing beyond nature to the sphere of a holy will than Thomist Cosmological Arguments however."

This makes sense to me as a *first* step, and yes, as a somewhat different approach than the Thomist one as it has been presented here. It is also consonant with what was perhaps the primary meaning of the term "atheist" from the Renaissance through the early eighteenth century, as a term of abuse for one who denies providence.

Too, it has the virtue of suggesting common ground with the New Atheists, some of whom, as you put it in another post, "appeal to what can only be called Herd Morality, that is they prey upon people's unreasoned acceptance that certain actions e.g. torturing a child for fun, taking part in the Holocaust et cetera et cetera are wrong without any formal ethical theory to back that up."

Also it contains echoes of *The Abolition of Man,* which is never a bad thing. :)

@malcolmthecynic: "That's the thing that stands out to me most here. 'Christianity is bigoted, Christianity is prejudiced, Christianity is unfair, it's terrible, atheism is so much better.' / Well, all right. / But is Christianity true?"

Yup.

laubadetriste said...

I should add--and not merely in a spirit of pas d'ennemis a gauche--that I retain tremendous sympathy for the rejection of Christianity on moral grounds, *even if it is true.* I suspect serious Christians would do the same. It was on such grounds that (e.g.) D. B. Hart admired Ivan Karamazov, in the face of the scandals of the Turks; and that Lewis eulogized the Norse, who followed the Gods even though in the end the wolf Fenrir would swallow the sun.

MikeT said...

Jack,

Paul states that God (and his nature) is clearly understood but he also states that this clear understanding occurs because God has revealed himself to man. So what does Paul mean by “understanding”? You can understand sometime without the use of reason. You gave the example of the child listening to music. The child doesn’t have to think 1) this music has a good melody and 2) it has good rhythm 3) and infer from 1 and 2 that this is good music. It’s just automatic. It doesn't require the use of reason.

A crow sees three hunters go into a hunters blind. The crow does not approach the food in front of the blind because it knows there are hunters in the blind and doesn’t want to get shot. It sees two hunters go out and still does not approach. Then another hunter leaves the blind and after that the crow approaches the food. So the crow understands that 2 doesn’t equal 3 and 1+2 does equal 3. But it didn’t have to reason that 1) 3 men went into the blind, 2) 2 men went out, 3) 2 doesn’t equal 3 and 4) infer from 1, 2 and 3 that someone is still in the blind. It knows this automatically. Similarly, I doesn’t have to use reason to understand that a cat is standing in front of me when I see the cat. I doesn’t have to 1) realize that I am having a visual experience of a cat, 2) determine that I can trust my senses under these circumstances and then 3) infer from 1 and 2 that a cat is indeed standing in from of me. I just know automatically that the cat is there. That’s the sort of direct, immediate and implanted knowledge that Calvin, Plantinga and Russell are talking about.

Knowledge obtained via human reasoning can be fallible. That’s why evolutionary theory had such a negative impact on people’s belief in God. According to evolutionary theory, complex organisms that appear to be designed only have the appearance of design. That’s why it’s so important we recognize that man doesn’t reason his way to God. Instead God takes the initiative and reveals himself to us. This allows us to have confidence that our knowledge of God is correct (although it can be suppressed).

Anonymous said...

Does it not bother anyone here that none of the responders are women. I mean really.

Daniel said...

Yes, I think Hart and others make too much of Ivan's overall speech pre the Grand Inquisitor interlude as argument for atheism, rather than a Promethean declaration that even if God exists and has a reason which justifies allowing such actions he, Ivan, still can't forgive Him (the same point is made even more explicitly by Ippolit in The Idiot who claims that he always believed God existed but concluded that many of ours lives were evil and that we could have no possible duty to continue them).

I never found such arguments construed as atheistic at all compelling. Had I been in Aloysha's place when asked do 'Do you like children?'* I would have responded 'It depends on what you mean by a child - if the core of their being, the very essence of what it means to be a person, is an eternal, unperishing good which points beyond itself to an absolute good then the answer is Yes; if on the other hand they are arbitrary collections of matter then: only as far as they are arbitrary means to aesthetic amusement to my equally arbitrary will'.

(And I'd reached these conclusions long before I saw theism as a serous option - if there was an objective reality it had to be some hidden cosmic standard and not the mixture of strong arm tactics and emotional blackmail most people I encountered employed)

*Having said that I suspect there's actually something deeply morally bankrupt in the tacit assumption that evils to children are somehow worse than those done to others. It's close to claiming that the sufferings of those one finds aesthetically appealing are worse than those of whom one doesn't: in other words the confusion of a subjective if widely-held preference for objective morality. The true saint or hero should show compassion to the cynical libertine, ravaged by syphilis and filled with hatred to all mankind, dying amidst his wealth, as much as to the sweet curly locked boot-button-eyed child dying of meningitis in an earthquake or what have you.

Daniel said...

P.S. And if we're dissecting The Brothers Karamazov let me add that I think it's a great shame Smerdyakov wasn't depicted as an overt sadist who licked his lips at the thought of all the child suffering in the world: the true 'Man of the Future' who was consistent in taking these ideas forward to their logical conclusion in a way Ivan never could, and who, realising this, demonstrates his 'superiority' over Ivan by manipulating that latter by his remaining moral scruples.

P.P.S. Damn combox ate my post-script first time around!

Scott said...

MikeT:

I don't think you're distinguishing sufficiently among perception, intellectual understanding, and discursive reasoning.

Sure, you can see/perceive a cat standing in front of you without stepping through a process of inference. So can a dog. But you do need your intellect in order to see it as a cat and (in your words but with my emphasis) understand [the propositional truth] that a cat is standing in front of you. That, dogs can't do. (Nor can dogs draw inferences from that proposition, as e.g. that oops, I must have accidentally left that door open again.)

Likewise, I wouldn't say that crows understand that 2 ≠ 3 and 1 + 2 = 3; if they did, why don't they understand that 10 + 20 = 30, or even that 1 + 5 = 6? For they don't; they can be fooled very easily by even slightly larger groups of hunters. I'd say they do something strictly perceptual, involving phantasms, that depends on those arithmetical truths but doesn't require that they be understood—somewhat in the way someone can throw a baseball accurately without solving a system of partial differential equations.

As far as knowledge of God through discursive reason is concerned, I think the important point is that such knowledge isn't salvific. Whether the psychological process by which one arrives at such knowledge is "infallible" is neither here nor there; if someone correctly reasons that God exists, then he's correctly reasoned that God exists, and that's that, and if his reasoning isn't correct, then his conclusion (qua conclusion) isn't properly "knowledge" even if it happens to be true (and even demonstrable on other grounds).

malcolmthecynic said...

My contention was against claims to the effect 'Christianity is important because the deal being offered is really great'

Yeah, in general my comment was poorly phrased.

One can believe that Christianity is true and also refuse the offer, though. Take Satan - better to be a king in Hell indeed.

I'd bet a pretty penny that a lot of these so-called intellectually honest atheists would rather be kings in Hell too. Just look at a lot of the nonsense about how we can make what WE want out of our life without God. Better a king, I suppose.

"The Great Divorce" is again instructive, as is what I consider Lewis's very best essay, "Man or Rabbit".

MikeT said...

Scott,

"Sure, you can see/perceive a cat standing in front of you without stepping through a process of inference. So can a dog. But you do need your intellect in order to see it as a cat and (in your words but with my emphasis) understand [the propositional truth] that a cat is standing in front of you. That, dogs can't do. (Nor can dogs draw inferences from that proposition, as e.g. that oops, I must have accidentally left that door open again.)"

How do you know a dog doesn't see a cat as a cat? And if the dog doesn't see it a cat why does he chase after it? I would say the dog's comprehension is limited compared to ours but it's still genuine understanding. If I'm wrong it doesn't really matter because the same argument can be made using children who do have genuine (if limited) comprehension.

"Likewise, I wouldn't say that crows understand that 2 ≠ 3 and 1 + 2 = 3; if they did, why don't they understand that 10 + 20 = 30, or even that 1 + 5 = 6? For they don't; they can be fooled very easily by even slightly larger groups of hunters. I'd say they do something strictly perceptual, involving phantasms, that depends on those arithmetical truths but doesn't require that they be understood—somewhat in the way someone can throw a baseball accurately without solving a system of partial differential equations."

Perhaps the reason crows understand 1 + 2 = 3 and don't understand that 10 + 20 = 30 is because they can't keep track of larger numbers in their minds. Neither can people. The difference is that people have aids for keeping track of larger numbers like counting on their fingers or developing symbols (called number) to can represent larger groups of objects.

"As far as knowledge of God through discursive reason is concerned, I think the important point is that such knowledge isn't salvific."

The knowledge itself isn't salvific but it is information used by a person in deciding whether to accept or reject Christ. So its pretty important.

"Whether the psychological process by which one arrives at such knowledge is "infallible" is neither here nor there; if someone correctly reasons that God exists, then he's correctly reasoned that God exists, and that's that, and if his reasoning isn't correct, then his conclusion (qua conclusion) isn't properly "knowledge" even if it happens to be true (and even demonstrable on other grounds)."

For making a decision of this nature I would say that the quality of the knowledge used is extremely important. After all, we are talking about our eternal destiny. Maybe you are comfortable basing your eternal destiny on blind faith. Not me.

laubadetriste said...

@MikeT: "Maybe you are comfortable basing your eternal destiny on blind faith. Not me."

To imply that Scott has said that he or anyone else should "base their eternal destiny" on "blind faith" seems to me to be an egregious mischaracterization. It goes quite against the spirit of most everything he has said.

(Is there *anyone* on this blog who might plausibly be described as a fideist or some such? It's been years since I can remember anyone even bringing up, say, Kierkegaard or Unamuno or Credo quia absurdum...)

@malcolmthecynic: "I'd bet a pretty penny that a lot of these so-called intellectually honest atheists would rather be kings in Hell too. Just look at a lot of the nonsense about how we can make what WE want out of our life without God. Better a king, I suppose."

I won't claim to be an intellectually honest atheist. In the context of this post, that would clearly be begging the question. Also it would be immodest. But I will claim to be one who has put in some effort.

I have the luxury of regarding the question of what Paul may have meant as exemplary, without being authoritative--as with Shakespeare, or Spinoza. And so the live question, so to speak, in the last few posts has been to ask whether I recognize in myself the self-deception or hardness of heart sometimes glancingly described.

I have had the experiences, in other contexts, of being hard of heart, of not wanting something to be true, of being blind because I did not want to see. I have had these experiences in contexts personal, political, and philosophical.

I have also had the experience of being led back towards God--or perhaps, back towards something like God--by philosophical argument, not least by this blog, and its arguments against materialism, and so on.

And what I can report is, when I read such things as that I might rather be a king in hell, and make what I want of my life without God, that it is not like that. I do not recognize such a thing within myself. And what has led me, perhaps, back towards God, is not plausibly described as being contrary to what it is claimed may have led me away.

When I read such things, I am reminded of nothing so much as what Nietzsche said--

--I say with some trepidation, since quoting Nietzsche usually leads people to believe one means rather more than one does--

--that, 'Under Christianity neither morality nor religion has any point of contact with actuality. It offers... an imaginary psychology (misunderstandings of self, misinterpretations of agreeable or disagreeable general feelings -- for example, of the states of the nervus sympathicus with the help of the sign-language of religio-ethical balderdash -- , "repentance," "pangs of conscience," "temptation by the devil," "the presence of God")...'--*The Antichrist*, §15.

I suppose, if I would rather be a king in hell, that that is the sort of thing I *would* say. (How easily the questioning of motives turns upon itself!) Yet how odd that I might have (say), as MikeT put it, knowledge of God that is "immediate knowledge, mediated thru the things that are made... properly basic... having a direct cognitive relation with the object (facts), unmediated thru any sort of inference... [c]lear, indubitable, non inferential...," and yet not have such knowledge of my own motives and experience!

laubadetriste said...

@Anonymous 3:34 PM: "Does it not bother anyone here that none of the responders are women. I mean really."

How do you know none of the responders here are women?

Is there something about a woman responding, instead of a man, that would be relevant to questions that have been asked here (as opposed, that is, to questions that have been asked elsewhere)?

If you are a woman, is there some response you would like to make, or have made, about which one should pay especial attention to your sex or gender?

If you are not a woman, is there some reason why you should think a woman could not respond for herself, if she chose to? Or that she has not done so?

Paul said...

It's not repressed knowledge of God if all you know are straw man versions of religious arguments.

Tangential, I know, but I sat through a class today in which my professor horribly butchered the Five Ways. It started with "the argument from motion states that if this desk is moving, it has to be moved by something else." The guy was teaching and didn't understand that Scholastic definitions of movement were different than ours.

I didn't know whether to laugh or cry. I had 4 pages of notes describing everything wrong.

laubadetriste said...

P. S. Scratch the Kierkegaard bit. On part 1 of this post, Miriam (a woman?) mentioned Kierkegaard.

Still don't think I've spotted any fideists, though...

malcolmthecynic said...

And what I can report is, when I read such things as that I might rather be a king in hell, and make what I want of my life without God, that it is not like that. I do not recognize such a thing within myself. And what has led me, perhaps, back towards God, is not plausibly described as being contrary to what it is claimed may have led me away.

I am genuinely and non-sarcastically happy to hear it.

scbrownlhrm said...

An interesting read is where Feser describes his journey out of Atheism, with content that is (obviously) related to this thread.

Daniel said...

I'd bet a pretty penny that a lot of these so-called intellectually honest atheists would rather be kings in Hell too. Just look at a lot of the nonsense about how we can make what WE want out of our life without God. Better a king, I suppose.

I think some of that stems from this implicit voluntarist idea that morality is a question of will and that God, were He to exist, would just be a maximal will capable of over-willing everyone else. This is where all that rhetoric about God being a tyrant comes in - of course were they consistent in this line of thought they'd see just the same point arises when morality is derived from mass agreement. The ‘WE’ in question can of course be nothing more than the royal ‘we’.

- Historically I would have loved someone to share that line with Sartre and Camus only to throw it back at them as a justification for their (the speaker's) enthusiastic support of the Vichy Regime.

*There is also the puerile tendency to look upon theistic morality as analogues to the human legal system, as a matter of judicial rewards and punishments, a tendency which does not speak well of modern man’s moral make up over all.

Scott said...

MikeT, for the most part I'll content myself here with quoting laubadetriste:

To imply that Scott has said that he or anyone else should "base their eternal destiny" on "blind faith" seems to me to be an egregious mischaracterization. It goes quite against the spirit of most everything he has said.

I thank laubadetriste and add that it goes quite against the letter as well.

The difference is that people have aids for keeping track of larger numbers like counting on their fingers or developing symbols (called number) to can represent larger groups of objects.

The difference that makes this possible is that people have intellects. And on my view, the intellect is fully engaged in our knowledge of God; it is your view that seems to imply otherwise, which is why I questioned it.

MikeT said...

Scott,

"To imply that Scott has said that he or anyone else should "base their eternal destiny" on "blind faith" seems to me to be an egregious mischaracterization."

I was simply responding to the last comment in your last post directed at me. It seemed (to me) to indicate that. Apparently I misunderstood. I stand corrected.

"The difference that makes this possible is that people have intellects. And on my view, the intellect is fully engaged in our knowledge of God; it is your view that seems to imply otherwise, which is why I questioned it."

Just because an animal is limited in its ability to comprehend and interact with the world doesn't mean it has no intellect at all. It simply means it's intellects is limited compared to ours. As I indicated earlier, if I am wrong about this it has no impact on my position because the same argument can be made with respect to children who certain do have genuine (if limited) intellects. So I don't understand how my view implies our intellects aren't fully engaged in our knowledge of God. The main point is that God is the one that takes the initiave and reaches out to us to ensures our knowledge of him is correct. To repeat my earlier point - Paul tells us that what can be know of God is “plain to them” and “clearly perceived” because “God has shown it to them”.

Anonymous said...

Maybe I'm way off course, but in relation to knowledge of God, does the Gettier problem pose a threat?

Anonymous said...

'Maybe I'm way off course, but in relation to knowledge of God, does the Gettier problem pose a threat?'

Why would you think it would?

Anonymous said...

'Maybe I'm way off course, but in relation to knowledge of God, does the Gettier problem pose a threat?'

This is only a problem, if indeed it is a problem, for proponents of JTB.

Glenn said...

MikeT,

Out of curiosity...

Paul tells us that what can be know of God is “plain to them” and “clearly perceived” because “God has shown it to them”.

How does that square with Paul's well known tri-fold claim (that now he knows only in part, that later he would know more, and that what he now knows only in part he sees as through a glass darkly)?

- - - - -

Also, that Scott was speaking of non-intuitive knowledge was plain for all to see. Yet it was missed. Granted, Scott is not God. Still, it was awfully obvious (and much more visible than the invisible things of God), and one is hard pressed to see how it might have been missed. Shall it be said that you, necessarily, were trying to suppress the truth? Personally, I think not.

laubadetriste said...

@malcolmthecynic: "I am genuinely and non-sarcastically happy to hear it."

Thank you.

It is suggestive to note how one's interpretation of what Paul said (in *English*) has been taken to be a constraint on what must be going on inside atheists; as opposed to the reports of atheists being taken to be a constraint on what Paul must have meant. If I were more logically astute, and had a better gift for delightfully silly hypotheticals ("Could Socrates have been an alligator?"), I would construct an argument from the testimony of other minds to the character of the inspiration God must have given the Apostles.

But as it is, I will instead take as my text a passage from the Umpteenth Book of Chesterton: *The Thing: Why I Am a Catholic,* ch. 29. The corpulent faller-on-tin tells us that his eye was arrested, when reading the papers, by the mention of his own name. The writer in the papers "delicately implied that there was more in me than met the eye; that I had that within, which passed all these Papistical shows,
but that it was hopeless to vivisect me and discover the secret. He said: 'Mr. Chesterton does not mean to enlighten us; for all we know he is Modernist enough in his own thoughts.'" Chesterton proceeds to think how annoying it would be if an atheist were to say of a Protestant, that he too might really be an atheist, in contradiction to everything he said. He goes on to wonder, of a man who has no religious beliefs, whether he might hide under his bed and overhear him muttering Latin prayers in his dreams, or discover his hidden hair shirt. He concludes, "It might be hinted that, until I could produce some such PRIMA FACIE case for my suspicions, it would be more polite to suppose that [his opinions] were what he himself said they were. And if I were sensitive on such things, I might make a rather sharp request, that people who cannot possibly know anything about me except what I say, should for the sake of our general convenience believe what I say."

I concede that, for a believing Christian, the words of Paul would in fact constitute such a prima facie case; and also that the obdurate and dunderheaded misreadings by Coyne and Kraus do likewise; and that the phenomenon of mass atheism is at least a little suspicious-looking, and cries out for some investigation. And so I can watch these hermeneutical discussions with profit, and only the occasional tincture of irritation. :)

Eric MacDonald said...

I have to admit to a feeling of mystification regarding the discussion so far (not that I have read the many comments with great care - tempus fugit, as they say). What seems to be missed here is that Paul's remarks about the knowability of God from the things that God has made cannot, in the nature of things, be something revealed. It is an argument, and arguments are not revealed, but made. And I have to say that Paul puts no bones in the argument that would allow it to stand on its own

The same, I think, goes for his claim that the Jews have failed to recognise their own Messiah. Again, this needs evidence, and cannot simply be a revealed truth, and Paul does not provide the evidence. There would have to be an argument showing that Jesus not only was the prophesied Messiah, but that it is reasonable to think this to be true on the basis of Jewish expectation. However, despite Christian reinterpretations of OT passages to constitute messianic prophecy, he never shows that the Jews are responsible for their misunderstanding (supposing it to be such), on which account they were seriously in error in not recognising Jesus as the Messiah when he came.

In neither of these cases can either accusation be reasonably thought revelatory in any canonical sense. And we know this because Paul's expectation of Jesus returning in glory is more or less exactly how the Jewish expectation of the coming of the Messiah would have been described (as near as makes no difference). Paul's point, made later in the letter to the Romans, that God had abandoned the Jews so that in the end the Jews might be saved, is simply an unconvincing way of claiming (as Paul does) that being a Jew is of the first importance.

I have always found the letter to the Romans confusing in that Paul protests too much about the importance of the Jews in God's scheme of things, and provides much too little to support the claim that the Jews were subordinated by God so that first the Gentiles and then, through them, the Jews would finally be saved. Paul was dealing with far too much intractable material to make his arguments plausible, and if he can't make them plausible (and I believe he cannot), then, as arguments, they simply fail to stand up (as I believe they do). Much of the dispute between Protestants and Catholics over the letter to the Romans can be referred back, I think, to this failure. And the failure is due mainly to the fact that Paul is so adicted to argument, rather than straightforward declaration, and is so bad at it (as he was in his dispute with the Athenians regarding the altar to the unknown God).

George LeSauvage said...

"The corpulent faller-on-tin". Also the Grand Fleet putting in a bit of gunnery practice off the Nore. Which Mulliner is that from? (I know it's the one where the protagonist is said to be writing a monumental History of Spats, but cannot remember the name.)

The Thing is one of GKC's best, and that's saying something.

George LeSauvage said...

Q: Does it not bother anyone here that none of the responders are women. I mean really.

A: No.

George LeSauvage said...

@Eric McDonald: And I have to say that Paul puts no bones in the argument that would allow it to stand on its own and And the failure is due mainly to the fact that Paul is so adicted to argument, rather than straightforward declaration, and is so bad at it

The problem, at least with this passage, is that Paul is not presenting the argument, but merely referring to it. It cannot be said, from what Paul presents, that his argument is either good or bad, and more than one can reasonably object to St Thomas when he refers, in one article, to an earlier one, with "as has been shown."

Scott said...

MikeT:

[T]he same argument can be made with respect to children who certain do have genuine (if limited) intellects. So I don't understand how my view implies our intellects aren't fully engaged in our knowledge of God.

And I don't understand your puzzlement. You've just said that children have limited intellects, and surely your claim is that they know God anyway. As you yourself put it earlier, "One thing that seems to be obvious is that this knowledge is not based upon reason."

If that doesn't mean "this knowledge" doesn't engage the intellect, I don't know what it does or could mean. That you appear to think non-human animals have intellects differing only in degree from ours tells me that, at the very least, you're not thinking of the intellect, or indeed the rational soul, along Thomistic lines.

Can you perhaps explain what (if anything), in your view, does distinguish us from non-human animals? Surely you're not claiming that crows understand God in the same way they understand that 1 + 2 = 3.

Scott said...

(What I mean in my first paragraph is that you seem to be claiming that human children know God even though they're not yet capable of attaining to such knowledge intellectually via reason.)

Anonymous said...

"This is only a problem, if indeed it is a problem, for proponents of JTB."

I assumed that was the definition of knowledge accepted. Is it not?

Anonymous said...

'I assumed that was the definition of knowledge accepted. Is it not?'

Accepted by who?

MikeT said...

Scott,

What I am trying to say is that we don't use reason to acquire knowledge of God (the knowledge of God that Paul is talking about in Romans 1). However, once this knowledge is acquired, the person's intellect comprehends the meaning and significance of this knowledge. I. e. The person's intellect engages this knowledge. The person also look into his heart and acquires an understanding of his own fallen nature. The person uses his intellect to think about the implications of these facts about God and himself. And we go from there. Hope this clears up the confusion.

laubadetriste said...

@George LeSauvage: "Also the Grand Fleet putting in a bit of gunnery practice off the Nore. Which Mulliner is that from? (I know it's the one where the protagonist is said to be writing a monumental History of Spats, but cannot remember the name.) / The Thing is one of GKC's best, and that's saying something."

Seems to be "The Story of Cedric." Can't find to confirm.

Yes, *The Thing* is my favorite of his books.

Why, and it's not at all so easily confused as people say it is with the 1982 Antarctic horror film of the same title...

@Anonymous 5:24 PM

I at least don't accept that--because of the Gettier problems (and the *Theatetus*).

But I'll admit I don't have a good positive account with which to replace justified true belief.

If we could establish that this or that item under discussion is likely true, or that we were justified in believing it to be true, then I would not cavil about whether we *know* it to be true, if that is what you mean.

If not, do tell.

laubadetriste said...

(I would venture to guess that Anon, who wrote so many posts without signing them, was often a woman. One need have neither money nor a blog of one's own to discuss A-T metaphysics.)

George LeSauvage said...

Yes, Cedric it is (though I don't know where my copies are.)

Plum managed to hit two of my favorite things in that story: Chesterton, and the RN in WWI. (My wife will sometimes tease me, when I'm reading some book on warships, with the terms Wodehouse uses to describe Clarence reading On the Care of the Pig.)

Gerard O'Neill said...

On the subject as to whether Theism is the so-called "natural state" of the human mind, I say YES! Theism derives from a state of ignorance, which is the natural condition of Man. Only through millimetric educational progress do you find that the world is built from the bottom up, and the Higher Power is a childish fantasy.

Anonymous said...

@Anonymous 5:24 PM

@ laubadetriste

'I at least don't accept that--because of the Gettier problems (and the *Theatetus*).

But I'll admit I don't have a good positive account with which to replace justified true belief.

If we could establish that this or that item under discussion is likely true, or that we were justified in believing it to be true, then I would not cavil about whether we *know* it to be true, if that is what you mean.

If not, do tell.'

I am not committing myself to a particular account that seeks to provide the necessary and sufficient conditions for knowledge here. I was only responding to anonymous at 12.24 because I was keen to understand whether he thought that JTB was a kind of Thomistic account of propositional knowledge. I personally don't think it is and would agree with Stump that Aquinas can be fruitfully read as an externalist (of something like the reliabilist variety).

That aside, I have come across vigorous internalist/JTB responses to Gettier-type objections although names escape me.

As for Plato, whilst JTB seems to find its origins in Theatetus and Meno, the infallibilism on display in Republic gives him adequate resources for dealing with Gettier type objections but, unless we buy into Plato's rich epistemology and metaphysical support, we might be unsatisfied with the constraints implied by this alternative.

Scott said...

MikeT:

What I am trying to say is that we don't use reason to acquire knowledge of God (the knowledge of God that Paul is talking about in Romans 1). However, once this knowledge is acquired, the person's intellect comprehends the meaning and significance of this knowledge. I. e. The person's intellect engages this knowledge. The person also look into his heart and acquires an understanding of his own fallen nature. The person uses his intellect to think about the implications of these facts about God and himself. And we go from there. Hope this clears up the confusion.

Okay, good; that helps. Thanks. Now let me unpack it a little bit in Thomistic terms.

For St. Thomas, reason is not a distinct power from the intellect, which is the power by which we understand, i.e., apprehend intelligible truth. For humans, reason is the discursive process by which we arrive at such understanding (knowledge of intelligible truth). Angels apprehend all intelligible truth directly and therefore don't need to reason discursively. But human reasoning begins from what is "simply understood" (his example is "first principles"), that is, grasped by the intellect, and goes in steps. So we don't somehow bring the intellect to bear on things that we "understand" non-intellectually; understanding something (having knowledge of intelligible truth) non-intellectually would be a flat contradiction in terms.

Now, in those terms, you appear to be saying that we don't arrive at our knowledge of God via discursive reasoning, but directly apprehend the intelligible truth that God exists. In Thomistic terms, as I've said, such knowledge is already intellectual. However, you appear to be using the term "intellect" in a different sense—more restrictive in one respect (denying that it's involved in simple apprehension) and less restrictive in another (attributing it to non-human animals).

The latter suggests that you're also assimilating such direct apprehension to perception, which according to St. Thomas is performed by an interior "common sense" (with, in certain cases, the assistance of imagination and memory, and, specifically in humans, ideas).

All of which is why I say you're not sufficiently distinguishing among these various things. Even if you don't accept the Thomistic way of slicing the pie, such distinctions need to be made somewhere and somehow. Apprehending the truth of the intelligible proposition God exists is very different, I should say obviously so, from perceiving an object in physical space. Moreover, I see no plausible account of the intellect that removes such knowledge (however direct) from its province; at the very least I'd say we have to regard it as "conceptual."

Scott said...

If[!] all of the foregoing makes sense, then we arrive at the heart of the issue, namely whether the intellect (under whatever name) really does directly apprehend that God exists and/or have direct knowledge of His essence. But I'll save that for another round.

Gottried said...

Gerard O'Neill,

If you're going to make drive-by trolling comments like that, you probably shouldn't use your real name and photo.

Gottfried said...

sigh, and I spelled my name wrong. I need coffee.

Anonymous said...

'If you're going to make drive-by trolling comments like that, you probably shouldn't use your real name and photo.'

Nice.

Tim Lambert said...

Gerard O'Neill, ladies and gentleman....
8pm show is the same as the 5pm.

Scott said...

MikeT:

And one more brief point.

The main point is that God is the one that takes the initiave and reaches out to us to ensures our knowledge of him is correct.

I take your point to be both that (a) God actively reveals His existence to us rather than passively waiting for us to discover it, and that (b) we receive this knowledge passively rather than arriving at it as the conclusion of an active process of discursive reasoning.

But if the revelation/discovery results in our knowing something, then no matter who or what is active or passive, our "knowing faculty" must be involved. Even if all the work is on God's side, He must still reveal Himself to our understanding—that is, to our intellects.

In the end it seems that you're basically saying only that God is the one Who plays the active role in our coming to know that He exists. If so, then you may be causing needless confusion by insisting that such knowledge isn't (in your sense) intellectual—although, if you're right, such knowledge wouldn't be "rational" in the Thomistic sense because it wouldn't be the result of a step-by-step process of inference.

Scott said...

(By the way, that's why I said your view seemed to imply that our intellects aren't fully engaged in our coming to know that God exists: because your view seemed to imply that the knowledge isn't apprehended by our intellects at all. You seemed to be saying it was something that we either perceive, or at least receive via some non- or pre-intellectual faculty.)

laubadetriste said...

@Anonymous 6:15 AM: "I am not committing myself to a particular account that seeks to provide the necessary and sufficient conditions for knowledge here. I was only responding to anonymous at 12.24 because I was keen to understand whether he thought that JTB was a kind of Thomistic account of propositional knowledge. I personally don't think it is and would agree with Stump that Aquinas can be fruitfully read as an externalist (of something like the reliabilist variety)."

Hey, no need for commitment. Why, I've only just met your opinions...

But seriously, this sounds like it would be useful. You'd have to spell it out a bit. I confess I'm not current with the internalism/externalism debates, but there are a couple of philosophy teachers and grad students around here who could throw in their ten coins--

(Get it? *Ten coins.* Gettier joke. Heh heh.)

--and, as for a "Thomistic account of propositional knowledge," you can see by the nearby comments that some folks know a bit about that, too.

"That aside, I have come across vigorous internalist/JTB responses to Gettier-type objections although names escape me."

That would be interesting to hear. And if it relates to Aquinas--or can be dressed in Dominican drag--then it might be apropos.

"As for Plato, whilst JTB seems to find its origins in Theatetus and Meno, the infallibilism on display in Republic gives him adequate resources for dealing with Gettier type objections but, unless we buy into Plato's rich epistemology and metaphysical support, we might be unsatisfied with the constraints implied by this alternative."

No austere desert landscapes around here.

@Gottfried: "If you're going to make drive-by trolling comments like that, you probably shouldn't use your real name and photo."

:)

laubadetriste said...

@Gerard O'Neil: "On the subject as to whether Theism is the so-called 'natural state' of the human mind, I say YES! Theism derives from a state of ignorance, which is the natural condition of Man. Only through millimetric educational progress do you find that the world is built from the bottom up, and the Higher Power is a childish fantasy."

There goes that needless Capitalization again. Same guy?

I'd bet you dollars to donuts that if you tugged a string or two, this knot of confusion would come undone. For example, is theism *derived* from a state of ignorance, or *is* it a state of ignorance? (I presume you used "state" and "condition" interchangeably there.) If it is *derived,* by what is it derived? (Note: just *try* to think of an account of derivation that doesn't involve something tending *away* from the blankness of ignorance.)

Is the natural condition of Man the natural state of the human mind?

A fantasy is of course an edifice of thought, and not some hovel as might be implied to have been found at the rude beginnings of the race. False it might be, but not *ignorant.* (Also, I would knock you on the count that fantasy, to be fantasy, must include a germ of truth.)

"Progress" if of course an idea "derived" (to steal your word) largely from Christianity. "Childish" implies a progressive account of our emancipation from our self-imposed minority. "Natural state" implies a social contract account of society (as opposed to, say, an ethological one, which is likely where this conversation would go).

"Higher power" is the tofu of religious conceptions. I can't see anyone here using it if they first had the choice of something else. It also seems to be a rather late conception, not an early one.

"[T]he world is built from the bottom up." Seems like this claim would be vulnerable to arguments from our ability to grasp abstract concepts. Also Wittgensteinian private-language arguments. Also the anti-Cartesian tendency of Heidegger's "thrownness." Pick your poison.

Notice the words the Christians have been using?--"evidence," "inference," "knowledge," "inclination"? We're talking about, at the nearest, moments of a process--not a "state." (I mean, I guess you could argue that, say, Paul was talking about a state of reprobation or whatever. Are you being that subtle?)

You're picking an awful lot of fights with one paragraph, and in an awful lot of places, historical, philosophical, anthropological, and dogmatic. Ready, fire, aim may not be the best approach. Are you sure you would not like walk it back somewhat?

Scott said...

laubadetriste:

Get it? *Ten coins.* Gettier joke. Heh heh.

Ha, I knew that was a Gettier joke! It turned out I was thinking of the wrong example, but oh, well; I was right anyway.

…wasn't I?

laubadetriste said...

@Scott:

I see what you did there. :)

My, but we would bomb on stage...

Anonymous said...

@ laubadetriste

Hello again,

I’m going to have to be superficial here as I lack the time (but not the will) for a developed response and for that I apologise. I'm certainly no scholar but I do have a layman's interest in philosophy.

‘But seriously, this sounds like it would be useful. You'd have to spell it out a bit. I confess I'm not current with the internalism/externalism debates, but there are a couple of philosophy teachers and grad students around here who could throw in their ten coins--

(Get it? *Ten coins.* Gettier joke. Heh heh.)'

(chortle)

I’ll quote Stump’s Plantingian interpretation of Aquinas rather than paraphrase her: ‘On Aquinas’s account, when they function as they were designed to function in the environment in which they were designed to function, our cognitive faculties, and in particular our senses and intellect, work in a reliable way to yield knowledge of ourselves and everything else as well.’ (Aquinas, 234)

If Aquinas can be read as a kind of reliabilist then I think he/Thomists need not worry if JTB collapses under the weight of Gettier’s infamous counter-examples. I think pimped forms of reliabilism that require the ability to discriminate between relevant posibilities or its progeny reliable virtue epistemology (such as Sosa’s triple A model) can adequately deal with Gettier-type objections.

‘That would be interesting to hear. And if it relates to Aquinas--or can be dressed in Dominican drag--then it might be apropos.’

Most of the internalist responses add a further condition such as ‘No false lemmas’ to the tripartite theory in light of Gettier however there have been other attempts identified in the IEP article on Gettier problems to dissolve Gettier-type objections (http://www.iep.utm.edu/gettier/).

I also just chanced upon a recent response that argued that Gettier’s counter-examples have only illusory force: https://philosophynow.org/issues/63/The_Gettier_Problem_No_Longer_a_Problem

Infallibilism does offer an interesting alternative to JTB, for example by strengthening the justification condition to a kind of Cartesian (as opposed to a purely psychological) certainty or dropping appeal to belief/doxa altogether and advancing a Platonic version of infallibilism. However if we are unable to convincingly show how such certainty is possible we might find ourselves mired in scepticism.

Again, apologies for my brevity - I fear this will have been more obfuscation than clarification - however I hope some of it is of use.

MikeT said...

Scott,

Lets start with your first paragraph. Maybe once I understand that I can figure out the rest.

"For St. Thomas, reason is not a distinct power from the intellect, which is the power by which we understand, i.e., apprehend intelligible truth."

Agreed on this point. As I would put it: Intellect (used as a noun) is the faculty (capability) that humans use to reason and understanding objectively.

"For humans, reason is the discursive process by which we arrive at such understanding (knowledge of intelligible truth). Angels apprehend all intelligible truth directly and therefore don't need to reason discursively. But human reasoning begins from what is "simply understood" (his example is "first principles"), that is, grasped by the intellect, and goes in steps. So we don't somehow bring the intellect to bear on things that we "understand" non-intellectually; understanding something (having knowledge of intelligible truth) non-intellectually would be a flat contradiction in terms."

I would agree with the next to last sentence. However, the last two sentences appear to contradict each other. In the first sentence you say that there are "first principles" (presumably in this case the knowledge of God that Paul talks about) that we "simply understand" (non-intellectually, without the use of reason). And that these first principles are then grasped (understood) by the intellect and we go in steps (reason from there). In the second sentence you say we don't bring the intellect to bear on things that we "understand" non-intellectually (first principles).

Scott said...

No, I certainly did not say and do not mean that when we "simply understand" something, we do so "non-intellectually. Intellect, as I said, is (for St. Thomas) the power by which we apprehend intelligible truth, whether or not we have to reason our way to it in steps or (like the angels) grasp it immediately.

And no, St. Thomas certainly does not include knowledge that God exists among such "first principles." That is precisely why Thomists and their sympathizers are disagreeing with you.

Scott said...

I also recommend following my links if you haven't done so already. That's a great site generally.

Scott said...

This may also be helpful on each of the two points in my post before last.

Daniel Carriere said...

Hi Ed,

I hope that you will be able to get Scholastic Metaphysics and TLS in audible format. I often listen to Philosophy of Mind and Aquinas this way.

Cheers,
Daniel

Eric MacDonald said...

George LeSauvage, precisely what I said. Paul only refers to the argument (that is, he doesn't give it bones so that it can stand on its own). The problem here is that he doesn't show it anywhere else either. It is silly to say that a mere reference to an argument is revealed, and even less so an argument that is worked out. It either stands to reason or it doesn't, and Pau needs much more than that to show that all have sinnned. Indeed, despite its place in the canon, it seems to me that Romans is impossibly muddled. Quote it as much as one likes, it will never show what Paul intended to show. Argumentation was simply not his forté, though people seem to take him seriously when it comes to his claims about natural theology.

Scott said...

Eric MacDonald:

It is silly to say that a mere reference to an argument is revealed[.]

I don't see why. The statement that such arguments exist can be inspired whether the arguments themselves are given or not, and that statement is sufficient for Paul's purposes in Romans 1.

I don't offhand see why this is any more problematic than the New Testament's statements that Tradition exists. Surely those can be inspired without giving the content of that Tradition.

Gerard O'Neill said...

Gottfried: ☹

laubadetriste: Humans are a poorly-constructed product of the biological world, which was built from the bottom up. Humans have also accumulated knowledge about the world very slowly ("millimetric") for the most part. This is just the kind of thing you'd expect if there were no 'grand design' or designer.
The religions that were created in the pre-scientific era are exactly what you'd expect from a species trying to make sense of the universe with very little empirical evidence to help them.

Anonymous said...

"Accepted by who?"

I assumed by pretty much everyone here.

"I am not committing myself to a particular account that seeks to provide the necessary and sufficient conditions for knowledge here."

Am I mistaken in thinking that Paul appears to me to be claiming that we know God's existence, and the necessary and sufficient conditions for this is that it is plain and clear?

Cheers for the responses by the way :)

Anonymous said...

correction: 'implying'* not 'claiming'.

Scott said...

Gerard O'Neill:

The obvious question is, of course, if human beings are so poorly constructed and such awful knowers/reasoners, how you could possibly have any good reason to believe any of what you've written (including what sorts of thing we could reasonably "expect" under this or that set of conditions). Conversely, if you're able to offer any such reasons, then that fact alone tends to undermine claims about how crappy we are at understanding stuff.

Anonymous said...

'"Accepted by who?"

I assumed by pretty much everyone here.

"I am not committing myself to a particular account that seeks to provide the necessary and sufficient conditions for knowledge here."

Am I mistaken in thinking that Paul appears to me to be claiming that we know God's existence, and the necessary and sufficient conditions for this is that it is plain and clear?

Cheers for the responses by the way :)'

Are you claiming that Paul was a tripartite theorist? I can't see why his position (or Aquinas') is not compatible with externalist accounts such as those mentioned above, and I would argue that these positions can effectively meet Gettier-type objections.

Tony said...

I would agree with the next to last sentence. However, the last two sentences appear to contradict each other. In the first sentence you say that there are "first principles" (presumably in this case the knowledge of God that Paul talks about) that we "simply understand" (non-intellectually, without the use of reason). And that these first principles are then grasped (understood) by the intellect and we go in steps (reason from there). In the second sentence you say we don't bring the intellect to bear on things that we "understand" non-intellectually (first principles).

MikeT, there are many elements of confusion here. As Scott says, you don't have to accept Thomas's mental lay out, but you do need to not conflate things that are clearly distinct.

The intellect is the non-physical faculty by which we can know non-physical truth. But that faculty has more than one operation. First, it has the operation of forming ('conceiving') concepts, of abstracting from sensible experience that which is universal to the same KINDS of things: the nature of dog being distinct from the nature of cat, the conceptualization that allows a 2-year old to say "that's a cat"! about a cat he has never seen before, and has 3 legs. Next, there is the power of relating concepts together to form complete thoughts: sentences. Propositions. Expressions which are capable of being "true" or "false". Then, there is the operation of reasoning, that discursive act of putting proposition together with proposition in such a way that a conclusion, distinct from but related to each premise via middle terms, is made manifest. (I am not supposing these are the only operations of the intellect, I am just saying there ARE these 3.)

Just as some New Atheists mistake the First Way as claiming a premise "everything is caused", some skeptics make the mistake of thinking "everything that is known is the conclusion of a process of reasoning." And they reject knowledge, the same way NAs reject God - without basis. Some premises of an argument are known directly by simply knowing the meanings of the terms therein: "The whole is not less than the part." There is no need for reasoning to get involved, the intellect grasps the truth of this immediately. The truth is self-evident. It needs no additional truth as evidence. Self-evident truths serve as first principles of arguments and of demonstrations of other truths. So do definitions.

But note that all 3 of these operations are operations of the intellect. They are all "intellectual" in that sense. Generically, the act of apprehending the meaning of a proposition is necessarily an intellectual operation, as it involves apprehending ideas or concepts, and it requires relating distinct concepts, and both these require intellect. So, affirming or denying the truth of a proposition would also be an intellectual act. Belief of a proposition, which is an affirmation of a proposition without adequate evidence to make it _known_, is an intellectual act because it requires apprehension of the meaning, which is intellectual.

God is the first principle of being, but he is not, for man, a first principle of knowing. Man comes to know from sensation: he grasps natures out of sensible experience, and works up from there. God is not material and cannot be sensed, so man cannot apprehend God as a first principle of knowing and understanding, so (working under his own steam) he can only apprehend truth about God indirectly. God can reveal himself more directly, but it remains true that the act of understanding and apprehension that thus occurs takes place in the intellect.

Anonymous said...

'correction: 'implying'* not 'claiming'.'

Sorry I just read this. I still don't see why this implies JTB rather than some other externalist account of propositional knowledge.

Apologies if I have completely missed your point.

Christ our Lord said...

Christ our Lord says,

"My dearly beloved Mr. Feser has previously written that there is no sex or romance in Heaven.

Well, my dear sir, try telling that to Thomas Aquinas, whose asshole is covered with my Son of God cum!!"

----Jesus Christ,

In Heaven, with cock in hand.

Brandon said...

Gerard O'Neill said:

Humans are a poorly-constructed product of the biological world, which was built from the bottom up. Humans have also accumulated knowledge about the world very slowly ("millimetric") for the most part. This is just the kind of thing you'd expect if there were no 'grand design' or designer.

Humans can only be poorly constructed if there are normative guidelines human beings should already, by nature, be meeting, but are consistently failing to meet. That's what's called 'design'. Likewise, whether or not the accumulation of knowledge is "very slow" can only be determined relative to some normative speed for accumulating knowledge; without such a normative speed, one couldn't rule out the claim that human beings accumulate knowledge very quickly because it only takes them millenia to do so (after all, someone might think, why would anyone think it should take less?). And to say that there is such a normative speed is just to say that there is some general design-plan that knowledge-accumulators like human beings are supposed to be following, and that human beings are failing to follow well.

So your argument seems to boil down to: human beings are supposed to implement a design-plan that they fail to implement well, and they accumulate knowledge more slowly than they should according to that design; therefore they have no design. If you really want to claim there is no design or design-plan for human beings, you can't claim that they are poorly constructed -- they are just whatever they happen to be -- or that they do anything slowly -- they just do things at whatever speed they happen to do them.

MikeT said...

Scott,

OK, I got it. Conceptual knowledge is intellectual even if it isn't obtained via the use of reason.

"If[!] all of the foregoing makes sense, then we arrive at the heart of the issue, namely whether the intellect (under whatever name) really does directly apprehend that God exists and/or have direct knowledge of His essence. But I'll save that for another round."

OK. Round two.

So I'll repeat a point I made earlier: Paul tells us that what can be know of God is “plain to them” and “clearly perceived” because “God has shown it to them”. So when it says that "God has shown it to them", I interpret that to mean that God has provided this information to them. Just as if I show you a picture of a person or a mathematical proof. And then visual experiences of the world (or an awareness of their own sinfulness) serves to bring about an awareness of this information, and this awareness can then be suppressed, and so forth.

It seems this is different than the example you gave: "A child has no knowledge of music, but it's faculties that dispose it to sound and melody and rhythm make it so that a child can easily grasp the basic idea of music, even if it can't analyse music in terms of harmony and progression, etc., the way a musicologist would."

Tony,

"God can reveal himself more directly, but it remains true that the act of understanding and apprehension that thus occurs takes place in the intellect."

OK, how can God reveal himself more directly?

Gerard O'Neill said...

Scott:
Everything I write is an opinion, not a fact.

Brandon: A 'normative guideline'for human progress would include a unit of time measurement, eg. a modern human lifetime (approx. 80 years). We only have to go back five HLs to the beginning of the Scientific Age, but 100 or so to the beginning of the Agricultural Age, and 2500 HLs to the emergence of anatomically modern humans.

laubadetriste said...

@Gerard O'Neill: "Humans are a poorly-constructed product of the biological world, which was built from the bottom up. Humans have also accumulated knowledge about the world very slowly ("millimetric") for the most part. This is just the kind of thing you'd expect if there were no 'grand design' or designer. The religions that were created in the pre-scientific era are exactly what you'd expect from a species trying to make sense of the universe with very little empirical evidence to help them."

Cool, much less troll-like, thank you. I appreciate the effort to re-phrase, I do. And sorry for your frown-face. I feel somewhat bad now. But Gottfried *was* funny, what with you charging in all half-cocked, and clearly not having read the older posts on this blog.

I see Scott beat me to the argument from reason, so I'll leave that alone. It's a doozy, though. Aaaaand I see Brandon has started in with his patented forensic Death-by-a-Thousand-Cuts. You know, I once saw him slice an unwarranted assumption so thin, we had to stain it with phlogiston just to find it under the microscope!

(Mixed metaphors, I know. But some guys hog all the fun. :) )

"Biological world," ok. Very different from "the world," which sets philosophical alarms ringing. Still--I'm going to guess that by "built from the bottom up," you are referring to a broadly Darwinian account of descent with modification. (Please correct me if I mistake you.) If so, let me inform you that, 1. The type of cosmological argument advocated here can accept Darwinism without trouble, and 2. There is good reason to believe that Darwinism, when pressed, yields philosophical results congenial to classical theism.

(Of course, I did not just now *argue* for those conclusions. Part of my point in my first response to you was, that people here and elsewhere *have been arguing* for some time now, into the middle of which you just jumped and started shooting, which is why we thought you were a troll. To start with, I suggest reading Dr. Feser's "roundup" posts. I promise they are worth your time.)

Note the words: "constructed," "built." Constructed by *whom*? Built by *whom*? Oh, I'm sure you were just speaking loosely--but try to replace them with other words, and then check out Dr. Feser's posts on the failure of eliminative materialism.

"Humans have also accumulated knowledge about the world very slowly ("millimetric") for the most part."

So what? Unless you mean to imply, that because we have learned slowly, that therefore we could not have learned that there is a God before we learned, say, the germ theory of disease... But no, you could not have meant something like that, for that would be a silly argument.

"The real objection to modernism is simply that it is a form of snobbishness. It is an attempt to crush a rational opponent not by reason, but by some mystery of superiority, by hinting that one is specially up to date or particularly 'in the know.' To flaunt the fact that we have had all the last books from Germany is simply vulgar; like flaunting the fact that we have had all the last bonnets from Paris. To introduce into philosophical discussions a sneer at a creed's antiquity is like introducing a sneer at a lady's age. It is caddish because it is irrelevant."--Chesterton, "The Case for the Ephemeral"

laubadetriste said...

"This is just the kind of thing you'd expect if there were no 'grand design' or designer."

I think you're taking the historical tardiness of the invention of contemporary science to be an instance of the sort of fault that would be out of place in the work of a perfect designer--like the ichneumon wasp, or the appendix. This is a powerful thread of argument, but it rather misses the point in this case. To see why, check out the "ID versus A-T" roundup.

Also it seems rather presumptuous of your knowledge of the divine plan. Folks who write about the problem of evil have considered this--just what would we expect a world created by a perfect God to look like, and why? Some would argue that, without God, having an expectation at all of what the world should look like makes no sense.

"The religions that were created in the pre-scientific era are exactly what you'd expect from a species trying to make sense of the universe with very little empirical evidence to help them."

You know, when I read accounts of the first Quest of the Historical Jesus, what amazed me was how historically naive some of those questers seemed. They had this extraordinary faculty of invention, postulating geologic events to explain the parting of the Red Sea, or submerged rocks to support Jesus as he walked on the waters--but it seemed they had to be so inventive, because they took gospel history to be a sort of chronicle. The very first sorts of questions that other people asked--about allegorical meaning, say, or about redaction history--never even came up. "Well, it says Jesus walked on water, but there are no miracles, so he must have *walked on rocks just under the water!*" (I caricature.) Similarly, sometimes when I read secular explanations of the origin of religion, I am amazed by what it seems the explainers take the first religious people to have been doing. They seem to take the first religious people to have been precocious scientists with inadequate JSTOR access.

laubadetriste said...

"A 'normative guideline'for human progress would include a unit of time measurement..."

No, Brandon said "normative." Then he gave examples. You mean something like "standardized." Very different.

laubadetriste said...

@Anonymous 4:33 PM:

I ain't forgot about you. Superficial and brief, hmn? I wonder what at length and in depth looks like. Gonna make me have to go look stuff up and learn things, harrumph... :)

Brandon said...

A 'normative guideline'for human progress would include a unit of time measurement, eg. a modern human lifetime (approx. 80 years).

No, that's quite clearly entirely a purely arbitrary unit of time measurement that you just picked out of nowhere for no good reason. For one thing, a unit of time measurement is not even a plausibly correct unit for measuring progress -- time goes on independently of any progress, regress, or stagnation human beings could possibly engage in, so it does not measure any of these things at all. Eighty years pass whether human beings progress, regress, stay the same, or even cease to exist.

What's more, there's nothing normative about it, either, since you deny the existence of normative guidelines for human beings, so even if you did give a unit for measuring accumulation of knowledge over time (rather than just treating units of time as such units), there is no reason whatsoever to regard it as of any use or value in determining whether accumulation of knowledge is slow or fast.

Scott said...

MikeT:

Paul tells us that what can be know of God is “plain to them” and “clearly perceived” because “God has shown it to them”.

…His invisible attributes being understood through what has been made. Sounds like inference to me.

The example of the child with no knowledge of music is Jack's, not mine, so I'll leave him to elaborate if he wants to do so. But it seems apt enough.

MikeT said...

Scott,

"…His invisible attributes being understood through what has been made. Sounds like inference to me."

Except that if you are figuring it out for yourself then God isn't showing it to you. Its the difference between showing someone a completed mathematical proof (they don't have to figure anything out for themselves) and asking them to do it themselves. In the first instance they are obtaining the information thru a visual experience of the proof drawn on a piece of paper but the information is still being given to given to them.

Scott said...

MikeT:

Except that if you are figuring it out for yourself then God isn't showing it to you.

Leaving aside for the moment the fact that I don't accept that dichotomy, there's still the fact that St. Paul does say that God's invisible attributes are understood through what is made. So even if the dichotomy were genuine, I'd still think you had the wrong side of it as far as interpreting Romans 1 is concerned.

laubadetriste said...

@MikeT:

More curious than anything else:

What is the (relevant) difference between "showing someone a completed mathematical proof (they don't have to figure anything out for themselves)" and "asking them to do it themselves"?

When shown, that someone doesn't have to figure out *anything*? Really? Or, when that someone *does it for himself*, does that mean *from scratch*, ab ovo? (Say, day the first of geometry class, and also this person never noticed that two things equal to the same thing are equal to each other...?)

I'm gonna guess that Euclid 1.47 is the most-shown, most-done mathematical proof in history. It even (speaking of *showing* someone) has a wonderful famous visual demonstration here. But all I remember when first "getting" it, or that I ever heard of, came from working through the steps *even though they were already laid out on the page*. Absent that, I might as well have been reading a repair manual upside down in a foreign language...

Scott said...

(laubadetriste's post ↑ illustrates one reason why I don't accept the dichotomy in question as genuine.)

Glenn said...

In connection with, Paul tells us that what can be know of God is "plain to them" and "clearly perceived" because "God has shown it to them", it was subsequently said, I think Calvin had it correct when he described it as implanted knowledge "engraven upon men's minds"), so let's see what Calvin himself had to say.

In Chapter 2 of Book 1 of his Institutes, Calvin wrote,

"By the knowledge of God, I understand that by which we not only conceive that there is some God, but also apprehend what it is for our interest, and conducive to his glory, what, in short, it is befitting to know concerning him."

IOW, and according to Calvin, to have knowledge of God involves two things:

a) to conceive that there is some God [1]; and,

b) to apprehend what is appropriate or suitable for us to know regarding him (i.e., regarding the 'some God' that is conceived) [2].

If Calvin is right that the knowledge of God involves two things, then simply conceiving that there is some God (i.e., having one of the two things which constitute 'knowledge of God') doesn't cut it.

St. Thomas put it this way (ST I q 2 a 1 ad 1): "[T]o know that someone is approaching is not the same as to know that Peter is approaching, even though it is Peter who is approaching[.]"

And Calvin, later in the same chapter, put it this way: "But although our mind cannot conceive of God, without rendering some worship to him, it will not, however, be sufficient simply to hold that he is the only being whom all ought to worship and adore, unless we are also persuaded that he is the fountain of all goodness, and that we must seek everything in him, and in none but him." [3]

- - - - -

[1] "to conceive..." -- sounds like an operation of the intellect.

[2] "to apprehend..." -- sounds like another operation of the intellect.

[3] A side issue here:

I think it is right to take Calvin's basic point to be that something more than holding that God is the only being whom all ought to worship and adore is required (in order to have knowledge of God as he 'defines' it).

But when he writes that ... it will not be sufficient simply to hold that he is the only being whom all ought to worship and adore, unless we are also persuaded that he is the fountain of all goodness, and that we must seek everything in him, and in none but him ... it sounds like he's saying, e.g.,"W alone is not sufficient unless X, Y and Z are included", and I confess to having difficulty understanding this (or why Calvin thought it might make sense (or why the translator thought it might be a good translation)).

For if W alone is not sufficient, how might including X, Y and Z make W alone sufficient?

And if W alone is not sufficient, but X, Y and Z along with W constitute a sufficient something, where is the sense in saying that it is W which is the sufficient something?

Why not say that it is X which is the sufficient something? Or Y? Or Z? (Not that one of these alternatives would be any better.)


- - - - -


laubadetriste,

I might as well have been reading a repair manual upside down in a foreign language...

I like that. ;)

Glenn said...

I forgot to include/add that the first mention in Calvin's Institutes of something which is 'engraven' is in chapter 3. Chapter 3 is entitled "The knowledge of God implanted in the human mind".

Given the dual constituency of the 'knowledge of God' given in chapter 2, one might infer from the title of chapter 3 that both constituents are held to be implanted in the human mind.

But that they both are supposed to be implanted wasn't clear to me when reading through chapter 3.

What was clear to me is that it is "some sense of Deity", "some idea of God", and/or "a sense of Deity" which is implanted.

The second constituent, however, isn't mentioned.

Apparently, one is supposed to infer that because W is implanted, and W alone is sufficient only if, e.g., X, Y and Z are also included (???), then so too are X, Y and Z implanted.

If that is what one is expected to infer, then the logic of the expected inference is well beyond the grasp of what must be my puny intellect.

Glenn said...

Okay, self-correction time: I've been misreading what Calvin wrote. I overlooked, and more than a few times, an important pair of words -- "by which".

So, one of the things previously said can be amended, one thing retained, and the rest discarded (it's too late and I'm too tired just now to go back and see what of the rest might also be retained).

1. The amendment is:

According to Calvin, there is something by which, and because of which, humans can:

a) conceive that there is some God; and,

b) apprehend what is appropriate or suitable for us to know regarding him (i.e., regarding the 'some God' that is conceived).

This something by which, and because of which, humans can do a) and b), is called 'the knowledge of God'.

2. And the thing retained is:

Both the conceiving and apprehending mentioned are operations of the human intellect (even if it is because of 'the knowledge of God' that such operations are possible and actually occur).

MikeT said...

Scott,

"there's still the fact that St. Paul does say that God's invisible attributes are understood through what is made."

The fact that his attributes are understood thru something else is neither here nor there. The example of the mathematical proof shows that information can be directly transmitted via an intermediary. If you don't like the example of a mathematical proof, fine. We can use the example of words and sentences instead.

Laubadetriste,

I was thinking of a situation that has happened to me numerous times. I struggled to come up with a proof. The problem is clearly understood but I can't get the final step (or two). Then someone points out the solution. I instantly get it. I don't have to think it thru. Once its pointed out the solution is obvious.

Scott said...

MikeT:

The example of the mathematical proof shows that information can be directly transmitted via an intermediary.

It doesn't, however, show why that "intermediary" can't be one's own reasoning process.

Scott said...

I don't have to think it thru. Once its pointed out the solution is obvious.

That means you grasp the final steps in the proof all at once, not that there aren't any steps there to grasp.

Scott said...

The fact that his attributes are understood thru something else is neither here nor there.

You seem dangerously close here to denying the very dichotomy on which your claim originally rested. If having something revealed directly doesn't rule out being led to it "through" an "intermediary" by a series of inferential steps (which are still steps even if they're grasped all at once), then it's not the case that "if you are figuring it out for yourself then God isn't showing it to you."

Glenn said...

Calvin: It being thus manifest that God, foreseeing the inefficiency of his image imprinted on the fair form of the universe, has given the assistance of his Word to all whom he has ever been pleased to instruct effectually, we, too, must pursue this straight path, if we aspire in earnest to a genuine contemplation of God;—we must go, I say, to the Word[.]

Okay, fine.

But if it is true that God's image imprinted on the fair form of the universe is ineffecient, and God Himself forsaw the inefficiency of it, why do some humans, including some Calvinists, hold not only that that image is effecient, but that it is sufficient?

Glenn said...

From the Rev. John Murray's introduction to Calvin's Institutes:

One feature of Calvin’s exegetical work is his concern for the analogy of Scripture. He is always careful to take account of the unity and harmony of Scripture teaching. His expositions are not therefore afflicted with the vice of expounding particular passages without respect to the teaching of Scripture elsewhere and without respect to the system of truth set forth in the Word of God. His exegesis, in a word, is theologically oriented. It is this quality that lies close to that which was par excellence his genius.

If it is a vice to expound particular passages of Scripture without respect to the teaching of Scripture elsewhere, and without respect to the system of truth set forth in the Word of God, then isn't there something legitimately questionable about adopting a laser beam-like focus on, say, Romans 1:1-23, and refusing to take into consideration, say, Romans 1:26-27 and 1:29-31? Or is it that Romans 1:26-27 and 1:29-31 are much too close to Romans 1:1-23 to be considered 'Scripture elsewhere'?

- - - - -

Anyway, I think I've said enough.

MikeT said...

Scott,

"You seem dangerously close here to denying the very dichotomy on which your claim originally rested. If having something revealed directly doesn't rule out being led to it "through" an "intermediary" by a series of inferential steps (which are still steps even if they're grasped all at once), then it's not the case that "if you are figuring it out for yourself then God isn't showing it to you."

I didn't say they were being lead through an intermediary by "inferential" steps. Any more than having a visual experience of a cat requires you to use your reason to infer that a cat is standing in front of you.

"It doesn't, however, show why that "intermediary" can't be one's own reasoning process."

The reason the intermediary can't be ones own reason process is that your reasoning process is fallible. Paul tells us that on judgement day these people will be without excuse. They will not be able to stand before God and say "I thought it was probably you but I wasn't sure. I reasoned it was you but sometimes I make mistakes in my reasoning. I just couldn't be sure I got it right." But on your account that could happen.

Scott said...

MikeT:

I didn't say they were being lead through an intermediary by "inferential" steps

And I didn't say you said they were being led through a series of inferential steps. I said you haven't ruled that out as inconsistent. That much, at least, is shown by your own example of grasping the "final step (or two)" of a proof, in which you yourself acknowledge that what you're grasping are, in fact, steps.

The reason the intermediary can't be ones own reason process is that your reasoning process is fallible.

Even when directed by God? That's a curious view. Nevertheless, a process of reasoning doesn't need to be "infallible" in order to be correct. Also, as I've noted elsewhere, the concept of "infallibility" doesn't make sense as applied to arguments. An argument, in and of itself, is just as sound whether I'm led to it fallibly or infallibly.

Paul tells us that on judgement day these people will be without excuse.

Which people? You still haven't produced any reason to think St. Paul's statements specifically in Romans 1 apply distributively to each and every individual person, despite having been given some pretty danged good reasons to think otherwise on the basis of the rest of the passage itself.

I think we're officially going in circles now, so I'll bow out until/unless something else of importance turns up. Thanks for the interesting chat.

MikeT said...

Scott,

"a process of reasoning doesn't need to be "infallible" in order to be correct."

True but a process does need to be more than correct in order for the person to be without excuse. If the person knows that even if he is correct, his rational processes are fallible and could very well be wrong, that person could say "I thought it was probably you but I wasn't sure. So I was an atheist or I worshiped another god because I thought that might be the truth". He would have an excuse before God.

"You still haven't produced any reason to think St. Paul's statements specifically in Romans 1 apply distributively to each and every individual person"

It doesn't need to for the argument I am making (although I think it actually does apply to everyone). It only needs to apply to those people that are without excuse.

"I think we're officially going in circles now, so I'll bow out"

I enjoyed our conversation. Hopefully we can talk in the future.

Andy Simmons said...

Koukl is correct. Mr. Feser, you are wrong. His arguments come from the Holy Bible, yours come from Papal bull. You don't want to condemn atheists like they deserve because Catholics and atheists are the same thing who go to the same place when they die.

Mr. Feser, you do not follow Jesus, you follow a pagan shaman in a white robe followed by munchkins in red. You do not trust in Jesus for your salvation; you trust fortune cookies administered by black-collared sodomites. You do not pray to Jesus; you make graven images out of statues of Mary. Unless you become part of the Bride of Christ by accepting Jesus as your personal savior and leave the Great Whore of Babylon you will burn for eternity in the Lake of Fire right alongside Krauss, Coyne, Dawkins and the rest of the atheists you claim to be against!

Scott said...

Oh. Well, that settles that, then. [shrug]

laubadetriste said...

Five'll get you ten Andy is actually a high school Catholic apologist with a crude sense of satire, catfishing to make Protestants look bad.