Friday, October 16, 2015

Repressed knowledge of God?


Christian apologist Greg Koukl, appealing to Romans 1:18-20, says that the atheist is “denying the obvious, aggressively pushing down the evidence, to turn his head the other way, in order to deny the existence of God.”  For the “evidence of God is so obvious” from the existence and nature of the world that “you’ve got to work at keeping it down,” in a way comparable to “trying to hold a beach ball underwater.”  Koukl’s fellow Christian apologist Randal Rauser begs to differ.  He suggests that if a child whose family had just been massacred doubted God, then to be consistent, Koukl would -- absurdly -- have to regard this as a rebellious denial of the obvious.  Meanwhile, atheist Jeffery Jay Lowder agrees with Rauser and holds that Koukl’s position amounts to a mere “prejudice” against atheists.  What should we think of all this?

I would say that Koukl, Rauser, and Lowder are each partly right and partly wrong.  It will be easiest to explain why by contrasting their views with what I think is the correct one, so let me first summarize that. 

Do we have a natural tendency to believe in God?  Yes, but in something like the way in which someone might have a natural aptitude for music or for art.  You might be inclined to play some instrument or to draw pictures, but you’re not going to do either very well without education and sustained practice.  And without cultivating your interest in music or art, your output might remain at a very crude level, and your ability might even atrophy altogether. 

Or consider moral virtue.  It is natural to us, but only in the sense that we have a natural capacity for it.  Actually to acquire the virtues still requires considerable effort.  As Aquinas writes: “[V]irtue is natural to man inchoatively… both intellectual and moral virtues are in us by way of a natural aptitude, inchoatively, but not perfectly… (Summa Theologiae I-II.63.1, emphasis added), and “man has a natural aptitude for virtue; but the perfection of virtue must be acquired by man by means of some kind of training” (Summa Theologiae I-II.95.1).

Now, knowledge of God is like this.  We are indeed naturally inclined to infer from the natural order of things to the existence of some cause beyond it.  But the tendency is not a psychologically overwhelming one like our inclination to eat or to breathe is.  It can be dulled.  Furthermore, the inclination is not by itself sufficient to generate a very clear conception of God.  As Aquinas writes:

To know that God exists in a general and confused way is implanted in us by nature, inasmuch as God is man's beatitude… This, however, is not to know absolutely that God exists; just as to know that someone is approaching is not the same as to know that Peter is approaching, even though it is Peter who is approaching… (Summa Theologiae I.2.1, emphasis added)

In other words, without cultivation by way of careful philosophical analysis and argumentation, the knowledge of God we have naturally will remain at a very crude level -- “general and confused,” as Aquinas says, like knowing that someone is approaching but not knowing who -- just as even natural drawing ability or musical ability will result in crude work if not cultivated. 

Moreover, few people have the leisure or ability to carry out the philosophical reasoning required, and even the best minds are liable to get some of the details wrong.  This, in Aquinas’s view, is why for most people divine revelation is practically necessary if they are to acquire knowledge even of those theological truths which are in principle accessible via purely philosophical argumentation:

Even as regards those truths about God which human reason could have discovered, it was necessary that man should be taught by a divine revelation; because the truth about God such as reason could discover, would only be known by a few, and that after a long time, and with the admixture of many errors.  (Summa Theologiae I.1.1)

Now, these theses -- that an inclination to believe in God is natural to us, but that without cultivation it results only in a general and confused conception of God -- are empirically well supported.  Belief in a deity or deities of some sort is more or less a cultural universal, and is absent only where some effort is made to resist it (about which effort I’ll say something in a moment).  But the content of this belief varies fairly widely, and takes on a sophisticated and systematic form only when refined by philosophers and theologians. 

Even an atheist could agree with this much.  Indeed, I believe Jeff Lowder would more or less agree with it.  In the post linked to above, he opines that his fellow atheists need to answer the arguments of religious apologists rather than ignoring them because:

The scientific evidence suggests that humans have a widespread tendency to form beliefs about invisible agents, including gods… I can think of no reason to think such tendencies will go away with a contemptuous sneer.

Now, Jeff’s basis for this claim lies at least in part in evolutionary psychology rather than Aristotelian-Thomistic philosophical anthropology.  (It wouldn’t be the first time that the two approaches led to similar conclusions.)  But the bottom line is for present purposes the same: The belief toward which we are inclined is inchoate (“invisible agents, including gods”), but the inclination is a natural one.  Indeed, the inclination goes deep enough in our nature that it takes some argumentation to overcome it (rather than the mere “contemptuous sneer” of the New Atheist).

An implicit acknowledgment of an inclination toward some kind of theism is arguably also to be found in some comments from atheist physicist Sean Carroll, recently quoted by Jerry Coyne in a post to which Jeff refers (and to which I recently replied).  In the passage quoted by Coyne, Carroll says:

[T]he ultimate answer to “We need to understand why the universe exists/continues to exist/exhibits regularities/came to be” is essentially ‘No we don’t.’…

Granted, it is always nice to be able to provide reasons why something is the case.  Most scientists, however, suspect that the search for ultimate explanations eventually terminates in some final theory of the world, along with the phrase “and that’s just how it is.”  It is certainly conceivable that the ultimate explanation is to be found in God; but a compelling argument to that effect would consist of a demonstration that God provides a better explanation (for whatever reason) than a purely materialist picture, not an a priori insistence that a purely materialist picture is unsatisfying.

End quote.  Carroll is essentially acknowledging here that we have an inclination to think that “That’s just how it is” is not an appropriate terminus of explanation, and that we find it “unsatisfying” to leave things there rather than moving on to something which is not a mere unintelligible brute fact but exists of absolute necessity -- the God of Scholastic and rationalist theology.  He just thinks we have good reason to resist this inclination.  (As I’ve noted elsewhere, Carroll in fact does not have a good reason to think we should resist it, but that’s neither here nor there for present purposes.  Even if he had an excellent reason, the point is that Carroll seems implicitly to acknowledge that some kind of inclination is there.  To be sure, whether he’d say the inclination is natural, I don’t know.) 

So, Koukl is, I think, correct to this extent: We do indeed have a natural tendency to infer from the natural world to a divine cause, and this tendency is strong enough that it takes some effort (in the form of philosophical reasoning) to get ourselves to conclude that we ought to resist it.  And again, I think even an atheist could agree with that much (as Jeff and perhaps Carroll apparently do).

However, Koukl also seems to think that the existence of God is simply blindingly obvious, so that our inclination to believe in God is nearly overwhelming -- again, as difficult to keep down as a beach ball under water.  And that, I think, is simply not the case.  He also implies that nothing short of culpable irrationality and blatant self-deception could possibly lead one to resist this inclination.  And that, I think, is simply not the case either.  There is no good philosophical or theological reason to make either of these extreme claims.  And the claims are, I think, pretty clearly empirically false.  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.)  For another thing, there are religious believers who have crises of belief -- who find themselves doubting even though they don’t want to doubt. 

Obviously, such 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.  And the intellectually honest atheist is like someone whose beach ball has completely popped and sunk to the bottom.  What each person needs is, not to be told to stop holding the beach ball down, but rather help in repairing it.

Certainly Koukl does not give a good argument for his extreme interpretation of the thesis that a tendency toward theism is natural to us.  The closest he comes is to appeal to Romans 1:18-20.  But “The Bible says so” is, of course, not a good argument to give someone who doesn’t accept the authority of the Bible in the first place (as the atheist does not).  Nor is it a good argument to give someone who thinks you are misinterpreting the passage in question.  And the passage does not, I think, make the extreme claims Koukl seems to be attributing to it.  For one thing, it need be interpreted as claiming merely that we have a natural inclination of the weaker and inchoate sort, rather than of the overwhelming sort (which is how Aquinas seems to understand St. Paul -- soon after the passage from Summa Theologiae I.2.1 quoted above, in Article 2 of the same Question, he quotes Romans 1:20).

For another thing, St. Paul need be understood as claiming merely that atheism and/or idolatry on the large scale, as mass phenomena are maintained by a kind of sinful suppression of the natural inclination in question.  And I think that’s true.  As I argued in a recent post, the New Atheism -- not atheism in general, but the shallow, boorish, ill-informed atheism of Dawkins, Krauss, Coyne, et al., which has turned into something of a mass movement -- is maintained by intellectual dishonesty, and is fundamentally motivated, not by a genuine concern for truth and rationality, but rather by the pleasure New Atheists take in feeling superior to those they caricature as irrational and ignorant.  It is intellectual pride that drives the New Atheism, and that is, of course, a grave vice.  It is also obvious that many secularists (not all, but many) are motivated by hostility to the sexual morality upheld by traditional religious belief, and that such hostility is (as I argued in another recent post) often extreme and irrational.  Certainly, from a Thomistic natural law point of view, sexual vice is another major component of the hostility to religion found in large sectors of the contemporary Western world.

However, it simply does not follow that every single atheist is fundamentally motivated by pride, lust, or some other vice -- as opposed to simply making an honest intellectual error or set of errors -- and Romans 1:18-20 need not be read as asserting this.  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.  This is in my view completely wrongheaded, but that it is wrongheaded needs to be shown, not merely asserted or proof-texted. 

So, while we do have a natural inclination toward an inchoate theism, and while atheism as a mass phenomenon is, I would agree, sustained by grave vices -- so that to that extent I concur with Koukl -- nevertheless, to dismiss all atheism as such as merely an intellectually dishonest refusal to admit the blindingly obvious would be a serious mistake.  And to that extent I think Jeff is right to hold that the suppression thesis can amount to an unfair “prejudice” against atheists. (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.)

What about Rauser’s remarks?  Well, to the extent that he thinks Koukl’s position is too glib, I agree with him, for the reasons just given.  However, in fairness to Koukl, I don’t think Rauser’s specific example is really a good counterexample.  Rauser writes:

Koukl seems oblivious to the fact that his argument turns every failure to believe in God’s existence and nature with maximal conviction into an immoral instance of rebellion.

Think, for example, of fifteen year old Emil whose family was just massacred in a home invasion gone awry.  As tears roll down his cheeks, Emil looks to heaven and cries out “God, are you really there? Do you really care?”

End quote.  The trouble with this example is that it is not clear that someone like Rauser’s imagined Emil really doubts God’s existence so much as his goodness.  Rauser imagines Emil asking God: “Do you really care?” -- and you can only ask such a thing of someone you believe exists.  (No one who comes to doubt the existence of Santa Claus lets out an anguished cry like: “Santa, do you really care?”)  Moreover, Rauser speaks of a lack of “maximal conviction,” which is not the same thing as atheism.  So, Koukl could respond to Rauser: “I’m talking about someone who outright denies that there is a God.  But you’re talking about someone who merely to some extent doubts the existence of God, or even just doubts God’s goodness rather than his existence.  That’s very different.”

64 comments:

Daniel Carriere said...

But it is a quick step from doubting the goodness of God to doubting the existence of God. No? The CCC points to the bad example of Christians as a major cause of atheism.

2125 Since it rejects or denies the existence of God, atheism is a sin against the virtue of religion.61 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."

and

1735 Imputability and responsibility for an action can be diminished or even nullified by ignorance, inadvertence, duress, fear, habit, inordinate attachments, and other psychological or social factors.

Plus, the problem of evil is not so easy to overcome when one is afflicted with them. For example, the loss of a spouse in childbirth. Or the the birth of a still born child. These can all lead one to doubt that God cares and/or even exists.

Cheers,
Daniel

Scott said...

Well, even if Emil did, under those circumstances, erroneously conclude to the non-existence of God, I don't think his error would rise to the level of culpability required for Koukl's point.

Step2 said...

A quote from Just Shy of Harmony, in a passage where a Quaker pastor confesses to the church elders of struggling with his faith.

“We can’t let this get out,” Fern wailed. “What will people think? They’ll think we’re all atheists, that’s what they’ll think. There go our chicken noodle sales. Did you think about that, Sam? Did you think how this might affect our noodle sales? Of course you didn’t. You were too busy thinking about yourself. It used to be if people didn’t believe in God they had the Christian decency to keep it to themselves.”
Sam hung his head. This is what I get for casting my cares on the body of believers, he thought.

The Frenchman said...

Just ignore Step 2.

To ignore someone, very often is the finest of all weapons.


Plus, people that bigoted don't deserve any attention (that's what i personally feel, at least).

Bigots aren't worth all the hassle.


I'm saying that just in case some of you might consider answering him : they... aren't... worth the hassle.

Pals.

Scott said...

?? I don't have, or know of, any reason to think Step2 is bigoted.

Crude said...

But it is a quick step from doubting the goodness of God to doubting the existence of God. No?

Not for anyone thinking things through, really. If anything, doubting the goodness of God should make one more open to the existence of God - if God's goodness is in doubt, the problem of evil doesn't obtain to begin with. That's before considerations are had regarding the relevance of personally experienced evil to questioning God's goodness.

Thursday said...

Right. We don't usually know God directly, but we see purposes in the world, and infer the existence of God (or the gods) from those. For most people this is done without much explicit reflection.

The evolutionary psychologists note how we attribute agency and purpose to things out in the world. They posit that we think of things in the world in terms of mind and purpose because we that's what we are most interested in and know best, so we naturally relate to things that way. Furthermore, we tend to interpret things in personal ways even when that is not correct, because better to interpret something as personal (it might be a threat) than not. That all seems true as far as it goes. But I don't see how it could be useful to think of things in the world as personal unless there was some genuine likeness between persons (with mind and agency and things in the world.

Thursday said...

Modern life tends to train us to ignore the purposefulness we see in the world. A technological society tends to focus our attention on efficient and material causes, so that many people have trouble taking formal and final causes seriously. Living in an extremely safe, prosperous, predictable, almost entirely human built environment doesn't help either.

It is these habits, formed through our practices, the way we live now, that are the great cause of secularism in the West. We don't need to pay close attention to the world around us like we used to. It has little to do with anything that goes on in the academy and then trickles down to the masses.

Thursday said...

In other words, the mystery of secularism isn't why philosophy profs have argued themselves out of believing in God, the mystery is why so many ordinary people, who don't much reflect on anything, have stopped caring about God (or the gods), even if they aren't total atheists. While most ordinary people don't outright deny God, they tend to find him a bit unreal and not terribly relevant to their lives.

Step2 said...

@The Frenchman
Feel free to do whatever, but a couple of points you should be aware of:
1) Nearly everyone who comments here has been doing so for much longer than you. Your ability to command/persuade them should take this into consideration.
2) I personally have been commenting on Dr. Feser's posts in various forums for a little over a decade, so either Dr. Feser has a uniquely high tolerance for bigots (possible but unlikely) or you are incorrect. For the record, I characterize my own religious view as agnostic with deistic sympathies.

My previous "bigoted" comment was made in reference to a point Dr. Feser made about the pride of the New Atheists; which I grant but my quote from a slyly humorous Christian writer aims to show how pride can affect every human endeavor including religion. To emphasize that point, how truthfully can a theist deal with doubts if someone nearby (like the character Fern) seems more concerned with public appearance?

RD Rauser said...

Thanks for your comments Edward.

You wrote: "I would say that Koukl, Rauser, and Lowder are each partly right and partly wrong."

Fair enough. Except I agree with your critique of Koukl and I don't find your purported disagreement with me to be substantive. (In other words, you should say that Koukl's wrong and I'm right!)

You write of my "Emil" example: "The trouble with this example is that it is not clear that someone like Rauser’s imagined Emil really doubts God’s existence so much as his goodness."

However, the point of my example was this: Koukl's reading of Romans 1 commits him to the view that one must assent not only to beliefs about God's existence but also his nature (presumably including his goodness), and moreover that one must accept this data as "plain and clear" which would seem to entail a strong conviction rather than a wavering one. Consequently, Emil would indeed fall under the indictment as regards Koukl's implausibly strong reading of Romans 1. And that, in my view, would constitute a reductio of Koukl's position.

Scott said...

Or, for that matter, more concerned with doctrine and argument than with charity and compassion. There's nothing wrong with doctrine and argument (in fact they're essential in their proper place), but telling Emil he's drawing an erroneous conclusion isn't likely to comfort him much. (Nor, of course, has anyone here suggested it would!)

Scott said...

(That was in reply to Step2. Sorry.)

Edward Feser said...

Hi Randal,

Welcome, and thanks for your comment. Koukl's remarks in the video are pretty brief and it didn't seem to me that he was too explicit about exactly what he thought could obviously be inferred about God's nature (as opposed to his existence). Hence it seemed to me there was some wiggle room in his position by which he could try to sidestep your example. However, if he would indeed say that God's goodness also is blindingly obvious from creation -- and I wouldn't be surprised if he said that, given what else he does explicitly say -- then it does seem that that would open him up to your objection. (But maybe you know of other places, outside the video, where Koukl has addressed this issue in greater detail.)

John Mitchell said...

Ok, i know that this discussion essentially concerns theism and atheism in general and so far i can agree with most of what Professor Feser has written.

And i could easily see myself accepting the arguments for classical theism as they are formulated by Aquinas and defended by Professor Feser, because i can agree that obviously there is something to them.



That would, of course, mean accepting in addition all the arguments for a broader Aristotlian-Thomistic metaphysical worldview, since these arguments depend on that.

Fine.

And Professor Feser apparently thinks that the five ways are not merely interesting arguments, or good arguments, no, actually they are rationally compelling.

And that seems to me to entail that the arguments offered for AT-metaphysics are rationally compelling as well.

The arguments for the actuality/potentiality account of change, moderate realism, formal and final causes and even hylemorphic dualism and a lot more.... all compelling.

Ok, fine. Granted.


But then, Professor Feser quotes Aquinas himself, saying:





"Even as regards those truths about God which human reason could have discovered, it was necessary that man should be taught by a divine revelation"



OK, i accept that all of the philosophical arguments for theism are bulletproof but then, obviously, there is the tremendous importance of accepting the divinity of Christ.


All that i have heard from Professor Feser about the case for Jesus' divinity on his blog, though i definitely could have missed a lot, is the admission that he thinks 'it can be shown that Jesus was God' (that is not necessarily the exact wording)


And i am not implying that Professor Feser is in any way obliged to argue for that on his blog.


What amazes me however, is that one can go from all these flawless philosophical demonstrations, that are all entirely rationally compelling, to looking at the prints of collections of pieces of well over 1500 year old papyri telling stories about a palestinian jew who gets mad at fig trees and grants wishes to demons and then conclude:

'Yeah, apparently he was the son of God and therefor God.'


Because the evidence for that conclusion is... let me guess... rationally compelling??







Petronius Jablonski said...

"OK, i accept that all of the philosophical arguments for theism are bulletproof but then, obviously, there is the tremendous importance of accepting the divinity of Christ."

You're getting ahead of yourself. Christianity presupposes the prior truth of Judaism: the creator of the universe appeared to approximately 2.5 million people and gave them 613 commandments (gentiles have 7). The burden of proof is on all subsequent traditions to demonstrate how an eternal covenant with a chosen people requires a sequel. The Torah has no expiration date. God spoke to Moses as a friend. Not once did He say, "BTW, FYI, in case you're curious, I'm actually 3 distinct conscious beings that mysteriously share a common essence, one of whom will be King Messiah. What He said is that if anyone tries to lead you away from Me or change the Torah you need to stone that person to death (even if they do miracles!)

Where are all the Noahides!? There's atheists and Christians and the illusion that the middle ground is irrelevant. Quite the contrary: http://noahide.net/index.html

laubadetriste said...

@John Mitchell: "What amazes me however, is that one can go from all these flawless philosophical demonstrations, that are all entirely rationally compelling, to looking at the prints of collections of pieces of well over 1500 year old papyri telling stories about a palestinian jew who gets mad at fig trees and grants wishes to demons and then conclude: / 'Yeah, apparently he was the son of God and therefor God.' / Because the evidence for that conclusion is... let me guess... rationally compelling??"

The incongruity between the necessity and generality obtaining within rational argument, and the contingency and singularity of history, is something felt by many people, including myself. I recall that old epigram, "How odd of God/To choose the Jews."

Let me note, that this incongruity is widely found. What mechanical workings have been found behind evolution, from protein synthesis to RNA transcription! Yet did not Stephen Jay Gould say about the Cambrian Explosion, that if we could "rewind the tape," life on Earth would turn out very differently? What tremendous physical odds are stacked against our very existence, from the values of the fundamental constants to the properties of water! Yet here we are. What great social forces shaped civilization, from imperialism to slavery! Yet did not Pascal say, "If Cleopatra’s nose had been shorter, the whole face of the earth would have been different"? What an iron necessity was dialectical materialism, from the negation of the negation to the revolutionary vanguard! Yet would not Marx have been shocked to find that the revolution happened in that most backward of countries, Russia?

And yes, many people have argued, for some time now, that the evidence is rationally compelling for the divinity of that fig tree-cursing Jew. You can find much of that evidence compiled here.

John Mitchell said...

"And yes, many people have argued, for some time now, that the evidence is rationally compelling for the divinity of that fig tree-cursing Jew. You can find much of that evidence compiled here."

That site is surely a great tool.

I used it and learned a lot and now i am a Docetist.

Still a heretic but, then again, it isn't all or nothing, is it?

Glenn said...

Step2,

@The Frenchman
Feel free to do whatever, but a couple of points you should be aware of:
1) Nearly everyone who comments here has been doing so for much longer than you. Your ability to command/persuade them should take this into consideration.


That looks like it might be an appeal to rank in a weak attempt to cover embarassment over having been pegged so quickly by a relative newcomer. This could be wrong, and may be harsh (even if it's right), so moving on...

To emphasize that point, how truthfully can a theist deal with doubts if someone nearby (like the character Fern) seems more concerned with public appearance?

This actually is a good question, and it can be: a) boiled down to the more general question, "How adequately can one deal with a problem if someone nearby (such as the person he turns to for help) is more concerned with something else?" and, b) answered simply, truthfully and honestly in this manner: "Not very."

A person in a situation like that needs not a Fern but an Asa Peacock:

Sam hung his head. This is what I get for casting my cares on the body of believers, he thought. Asa Peacock cleared his throat. "I think we're being too hard on Sam. He's come to us with a problem, and I think we need to help him, just like he would help us if we were struggling. Sam, what can we do for you?" Asa reached across the table and laid his hand on Sam's.

I say that while the Ferns may be more noticeable, it's the Asa Peacocks who are more numerous.

The Frenchman said...

Step 2,


Oh OKAY !

Jeez, that's NOT how i understood your comment ; sorry !


I thought you were bigoted because i thought your comment expressed your (alleged) idea according to which ALL believers except a few 'elected ones / bright ones' (here, the Quaker pastor), are trying as hard as they can to make their belief prevail over TRUTH itself !

Which is of course, needless to say, delusional !

A generalization i, as a believer, found insulting.


Well, i was wrong.

Please explain your comments, when you post them :/

Without any explanation, as a brute fact, one cannot always see what you mean by them.


Also, well... I wasn't 'commanding' people not to answer to you ; because i thought you were deeply bigoted, i was rather merely saying 'look guys, whatever we're going to say, it's not going to change anything --- therefore, why bothering ?'


I'm expressing myself in another language than my mother tongue, you know...

Therefore, i may use words that, perhaps, have another connotation than the connotation desired (unfortunately).

I'm beginning to notice that.


Anyways.

In all cases, i'm sorry, and i would like apologize for this deep, VERY deep misunderstanding of mine.

The Frenchman said...

"One cannot always see what you mean by them."

- Well, me, at least.

The Frenchman said...

Shame is on me, this is shameful.

Taylor Weaver said...

We all make mistakes, The Frenchman, so don't down yourself so much. As you said, you are using English which is not your first language. And this is the internet, after all! Very easy to misunderstand each other.

Scott said...

And this is the internet, after all! Very easy to misunderstand each other.

I completely disagree! Misunderstanding each other is all too easy; this is, after all, the Internet.

:-)

Tony said...

What amazes me however, is that one can go from all these flawless philosophical demonstrations, that are all entirely rationally compelling, to looking at the prints of collections of pieces of well over 1500 year old papyri telling stories about a palestinian jew who gets mad at fig trees and grants wishes to demons and then conclude:

'Yeah, apparently he was the son of God and therefor God.'


John, nobody should say that the kind of evidence and argument in favor of the A-T God is like in kind to the evidence / argument that Christ is God. The former is metaphysically definitive (if difficult), the latter is probable, based on historical contingencies. It relies on propositions that cannot be resolved into metaphysically definitively certain conclusions, such as "if God is good, he would want to reveal himself and his goodness to man within the world". And Aquinas is not claiming that the arguments in favor of Christ's divinity are of the same kind. We are OK with non-believers commenting (correctly) "that's a probable argument", especially if such non-believers are honestly willing to allow that such probable arguments can have the same kind of weight and evidentiary force that they allow in other matters, like discussions of evolution, or court rooms.

Tony said...

Scott, I don't think those words mean what you think they mean!

You probably meant to say:

I don't incompletely disagree! Understanding or misunderstanding each other isn't all too difficult or easy - irrespectively; is this not, after all, the Internet?

Scott said...

As a character in a dialogue by Raymond Smullyan once said: "I couldn't possibly fail to disagree with you less! (Either that, or I mean the opposite of what I just said.)"

Tony said...

Exactly! Ummmm, what?

Step2 said...

@The Frenchman
I accept your apology but there really isn't any cause for shame. Even without a language barrier sometimes things get lost in translation and it falls upon both of us to try to remedy the miscommunication. To err is human; to forgive, sublime - or something like that :)

The Frenchman said...

Step 2,


"to forgive, sublime" :)

- Amen to that !

Daniel said...

Re John's comment,

I think there is a lot too what he says*, however Ed has never claimed to give an in-depth argument for the Divinity of Jesus or the truth of Abrahamic Revelation. True he presents a sketch of why it would be reasonable to accept that conclusion in TLS though even there he qualifies it to the effect that a sceptic could offer good reasons for not accepting said Revelation.

Going back to something from the previous thread I too would very much like Ed to go ahead with that long-threatened 'Road from Atheism to Catholicism' article.

*Ignoring all troll-renderings of Gospel events is not it a prima facie absurdity for someone to 'claim' rights to Transcendence, to stick a flag in the Godhead? The background of Judaism, with its nationalist history and texts filled with quotes which quotes which if taken in isolation would earn the writer a spell in the prison of Plato's Laws, makes it all the more absurd.

Needless to say here good Catholic will parry such remarks by pointing out that all who are saved will be so brought to God through Christ even if they've never heard of him, and that to what extent Judaic scriptures constitute direct Revelation as opposed to historical records and fables from a people whose growing awareness of the Divine Presence culminated in foreknowledge of the Incarnation.

Scott said...

Step2, thank you for your gracious and exemplary response to The Frenchman. I had no doubt you'd offer such a response but of course it wasn't my place to speak for you.

And to The Frenchman, now that Step2 has replied, thank you as well for your gracious and exemplary apology.

(I realize it may sound odd for a third party to be thanking you, but your exchange was on-list for all to see, and I'm using the word "exemplary" quite deliberately.)

Lauren Sheil said...

"You might be inclined to play some instrument or to draw pictures, but you’re not going to do either very well without education and sustained practice. And without cultivating your interest in music or art, your output might remain at a very crude level, and your ability might even atrophy altogether."

Well said, we learn and grow closer to God as a process of discipleship, learning through what others have called "purposeful proximity". To suggest that God is obvious misses the point. The point is to be drawn into community and learn together.

John Mitchell said...

"John, nobody should say that the kind of evidence and argument in favor of the A-T God is like in kind to the evidence / argument that Christ is God. The former is metaphysically definitive (if difficult), the latter is probable, based on historical contingencies. It relies on propositions that cannot be resolved into metaphysically definitively certain conclusions, such as "if God is good, he would want to reveal himself and his goodness to man within the world"."

I can accept all that. It definitely makes sense.

But if it's all a matter of contingency and probability, then whats wrong with this:


"He most probably suffered, was most likely crucified, was probably buried, probably rose again on the third day, most likely ascended into heaven with the same body, [and] probably sat at the right hand of the Father."



Ok, i get it, creeds are professions of faith.


What i don't really understand is this:


Aquinas seems to admit that, although they are definite demonstrations, philosophical arguments are incapable of convincing the majority of people of God's existence, and they would still be even if the majority of people were confronted with them (the majority of people will still be theists but not because of these arguments)

So even definite metaphysical demonstrations are insufficient.

But then, divine revelation, even though way more important than mere acceptance of theism, can only be accepted on the basis of probabilistic judgements.

But then, where does the notion of culpability come in? Is it not a moral failure not to accept the truth of Christianity while having been aware of, at least, the gospels?

How does one move from intellectual failure to moral failure, especially if, as Aquinas seems to imply, intellectual failure is the norm already with definite demonstrations, let alone probabilistic judgements ?

It seems to me, at this point, you have to invoke the holy spirit, in one way or the other.
But then the view that not being a Christian strongly implies straight-out rebellion indeed, at least for those people who heard the good news, becomes very plausible.

Sure you can point to extreme circumstances, as Professor Rauser does, that would serve as some kind of excuse for certain people, but that excuse would not apply to atheists like Jeffery Jay Lowder, would it ?

Anonymous said...

Below is a quote from Aquinas' commentary on Romans; he seems more in line with Koukl instead of Rauser. Thoughts?

In regard to the first it should be noted that ignorance excuses from guilt, when it precedes and causes guilt in such a way that the ignorance itself is not the result of guilt; for example, when a person, after exercising due caution, thinks he is striking a foe, when he is really striking his father. But if the ignorance is caused by guilt, it cannot excuse one from a fault that follows. Thus, if a person commits murder, because he is drunk, he is not excused from the guilt, because he sinned by intoxicating himself; indeed, according to the Philosopher, he deserves a double penalty. 125. First, therefore, he states his intention, saying: So, i.e., things about god are so well known to them, that they are without excuse, i.e., they cannot be excused on the plea of ignorance: "Whoever knows what is right to do and fails to do it, for him it is sin" (Jas 4:17); "Therefore, you have no excuse" (Rom 2:1). 126. Secondly, he proves his statement at For, although they knew (v. 21). First, he shows that their first guilt did not proceed from ignorance; secondly, their ignorance proceeded from this guilt, there [v. 21b; n.
128] at but became vain. 69 127. That their basic guilt was not due to ignorance is shown by the fact that, although they possessed knowledge of God, they failed to use it unto good. For they knew God in two ways: first, as the supereminent being, to Whom glory and honor were due. They are said to be without excuse, therefore, because, although they knew god, they did not honor him as God; either because they failed to pay Him due worship or because they put a limit to His power and knowledge by denying certain aspects of His power and knowledge, contrary to Si (43:30): "when you exalt him, put forth all your strength." Secondly, they knew Him as the cause of all good things. Hence, in all things he was deserving of thanks, which they did not render; rather, they attributed their blessings to their own talent and power. Hence, he adds: nor did they give thanks, namely, to the Lord: "Give thanks to Him in all circumstances" (1 Th 5:18).

https://sites.google.com/site/aquinasstudybible/home/romans/st-thomas-aquinas-on-romans/chapter-1

Scott said...

John Mitchell:

The argument stops being merely a matter of probabilities once it reaches the point of establishing with reasonable certainty that Jesus founded a Church and reliably promised that the Holy Spirit would lead it into truth and protect it from error. At that point it's reasonable for us to be confident that what the Church teaches in His name is true beyond doubt, even though with our darkened intellects and weakened wills we require the supernatural grace of faith in order to have that confidence.

Our universal need for that gift is one reason why Aquinas says that philosophical arguments aren't usually sufficient to convince people even of the theological truths that are susceptible of metaphysical demonstration—which the Incarnation, the Trinity, and the other truths of revelation are not, and that's the other reason why philosophical argument is insufficient. (Aquinas remarks somewhere that any little old Catholic lady of his own time knows God better than any philosopher, even Aristotle, ever could.)

Scott said...

How does one move from intellectual failure to moral failure, especially if, as Aquinas seems to imply, intellectual failure is the norm already with definite demonstrations, let alone probabilistic judgements ?

Such failure is the "norm" only in the sense of being common; there's nothing normative about it. And strictly speaking, an intellectual failure is a moral failure, since it represents a failure to fulfill our genuine good by realizing the natural end of our intellect/rational faculty.

John Mitchell said...

@ Scott:

"Such failure is the "norm" only in the sense of being common; there's nothing normative about it."

Sure, that's what i meant-


"And strictly speaking, an intellectual failure is a moral failure, since it represents a failure to fulfill our genuine good by realizing the natural end of our intellect/rational faculty. "

Ok,then please help me out.

I guess the majority of people, or say a good many people, are, in principle, incapable of ever fully grasping the proof of Fermat's Last Theorem, no matter the effort.
I think that's uncontroversial. No ?
But you would not say that there is something intrinsically morally deficient about these people, right ?
And even if i am misguided in talking about intrinsic moral deficiency (which i guess i am), then given they undertake the effort and fail to grasp the proof, that constitutes moral failure?

If that's true then i have to ask in which way the notion of moral failure is related to the notion of sin.

John Mitchell said...

Scott

"The argument stops being merely a matter of probabilities once it reaches the point of establishing with reasonable certainty that Jesus founded a Church and reliably promised that the Holy Spirit would lead it into truth and protect it from error"


Ok, so accepting the authority of the church is the 'point of no return', so to say, because of God's special providence over it.
That's reasonable.

Then, given the fact these historical contingencies that would lead one to accept the authority of the church can be established with "reasonable certainty", in which way, if at all, can the Holy Spirit be said to guide people to gain this insight?

I mean, most people are not sufficiently educated on matters of historical methodology, the history of first century Palestine, the history of early Christianity, probability theory and it's relation to the establishment of historical facts, etc

Scott said...

John:

I agree about Fermat's Last Theorem. My remark about "intellectual failure" was about a failure to grasp something that is within one's capabilities (and, probably, that it's for some reason important to grasp) but is willfully ignored or evaded, or otherwise fallen short of as a matter of will. If something is genuinely beyond one's intellectual capabilities, then I'd say there's no moral failure involved in one's inability to grasp it; no exercise of the will could bring one to such a grasp, nor could that grasp plausibly be said to be among our intellect's strictly natural ends.

Something similar, I think, applies to your question about history and its methodology (et cetera). Many, probably most or all, people accept much of the relevant information on authority, which also involves faith of a sort. But what matters is the logical structure of the argument, not that any one single person be in a position to grasp all of it in detail at once; that's sufficient to provide the faith with a rational basis and to warrant that the Church's teaching is reliable on even the preambles of faith.

As for the Holy Spirit, I don't know that divine guidance is (in general and in principle) strictly required until one comes to specifically revealed truths that are inaccessible to natural reason, though probably most or all of us do in fact receive such guidance tailored to our individual needs (e.g. as aid to our darkened intellects, or to overcome inadequacies in our own education or knowledge).

Tony said...

The argument stops being merely a matter of probabilities once it reaches the point of establishing with reasonable certainty that Jesus founded a Church and reliably promised that the Holy Spirit would lead it into truth and protect it from error. At that point it's reasonable for us to be confident that what the Church teaches in His name is true beyond doubt, even though with our darkened intellects and weakened wills we require the supernatural grace of faith in order to have that confidence.

No, I would be very uncomfortable putting it that way. A man investigating the truth about the most important things for men to consider (which is the duty of every man), can rightly and appropriately come to the position that there is good solid historical (i.e. contingent, and resting on human testimony) evidence that Christ is God, and that Christ founded the Church, and (relying on these two) that the Church teaches with the guidance of the Holy Spirit. That leaves him short of FAITH, for faith is belief in things unseen, and it is more certain than belief resting on human testimony. Hence, there is ultimately a gap between "yes, I understand the evidentiary weight of evidence in favor of the truth of Christianity" and "I have faith in the God, in Christ the Son, in His salvific death, and in His Church". Only grace inspiring a man can enable him to exceed the probable force of the evidence to the certainty implied in faith. And only God is the immediate, direct cause of that grace. Therefore, when a man has done all he can to reach to the truth, has honestly followed the evidence as best he can (with no willed distortion), he must still wait upon God's good pleasure to believe with faith. Yet we are confident that when man has done his part, God will do His also; St. Thomas says:

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."

and

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

by which I understand that if a man turns himself to the truth so far as grasped, and wills the good implied therein as his "due end", God will not leave him without aid, but God will "turn to him" with grace as Zechariah promises. (It is, indeed, by God's intention and causality even that the man will to seek the truth and will the good even under the aspect of the natural light of reason, so it is God both pushing and pulling him toward the grace of faith: God is all in all.)

Tony said...

But then, divine revelation, even though way more important than mere acceptance of theism, can only be accepted on the basis of probabilistic judgements.

John, I don't think this quite hits it on the head. Can we say, rather, that a man can believe that the Bible probably is divine revelation without being a Christian, but only a Christian can believe in the Bible?

Josef Pieper makes this point in his treatise on faith: faith in God and Christ and the Church is a kind of belief, but it is not a completely different species of mental behavior than belief in the ordinary things of your daily life. (I don't know if I can do his argument justice, but I will try not to distort it too much.) When you believe in your wife, when you believe in her first declaration of love, when you believe in her vow to love you "for life" during the marriage ceremony, this is a natural act of belief. You belief in the statements she makes, because even more fundamentally you believe in the PERSON who makes them. You have adequate testimony from her actions, her behavior, her words, her personality, her friends and family, for the perfectly normal human act of belief IN HER.

When we hear the evidence (given by friends and family) for the truth of the Christian religion, when we hear about the miracles, when we hear about the transformation of a life from selfish to selfless, this is perfectly adequate basis for the natural act of human belief. The belief is, still, primarily resting on human testimony, and remains but natural. But this is not theological faith. In a intellect well disposed to believe by "doing what he can", God Himself moves the soul in a more complete and more determinate way to assent to the truth, by grace, which is no longer accepted merely as "more probable", it is accepted then as certain. It is still the act of "belief", but now it is on the testimony of (on the basis of) divine support, not human.

How does one move from intellectual failure to moral failure, especially if, as Aquinas seems to imply, intellectual failure is the norm already with definite demonstrations, let alone probabilistic judgements ?

A man commits moral failure either when he refuses the task of directing his attention to the most important issues of life, when he refuses to ASK whether there is a truth he needs to know; or when searching he directs his attention away from evidence because it tends to lead in a direction unpalatable to his preferred life; or when he is aware of the probable weight of evidence in one direction but refuses even such natural, human belief as that evidence justifies, thereby denying the appropriate predisposition toward faith that God seeks as Zechariah's promise tells us: denies God his opportunity to "turn to him".

Scott said...

Tony:

A man investigating the truth about the most important things for men to consider (which is the duty of every man), can rightly and appropriately come to the position that there is good solid historical (i.e. contingent, and resting on human testimony) evidence that Christ is God, and that Christ founded the Church, and (relying on these two) that the Church teaches with the guidance of the Holy Spirit. That leaves him short of FAITH[.]

I agree and I appreciate the clarification/correction. I was speaking (well, writing) of the argument, which I do think is logically sufficient to support reasonable confidence in the reliability of Church teaching as more than a matter of probability. I hope my limited focus didn't leave the wrong impression. I did distinguish (though perhaps not carefully or clearly enough) such confidence from the grace of faith, and I noted that in our fallen state we might not have even "natural" confidence in the relevant conclusions.

Anonymous said...

Dear Prof. Feser,

First off, it is interesting to note that this whole question of whether atheists are ‘suppressing the truth in unrighteousness’ is an empirical question which could be examined and researched. Indeed, I think it would be fascinating to see what the results would be if we conducted a mass study of atheists and their motivations, but where the atheists were, say, placed under lie detectors to see what their unconscious reactions to the God questions were. That would really provide a good answer to this empirical question.

Furthermore, it would also be interesting to see whether a large percentage of the so-called intellectually honest atheists—or at least those that remain atheists throughout their life, rather than simply being seekers—might not be cognitively deficient in some way. For example, the studies showing the possible link between atheism and autism or the very recent study showing that god-belief is reduced when areas of the posterior medial frontal cortex are suppressed from functioning properly give us some indication that atheism might arise from cognitive deficiencies. Nor would this be a surprising conclusion giving the tiny percentage of hard atheists (essentially, naturalists) in comparison to the rest of the population; indeed, much like something like color-blindness, it would not be surprising if the problem is with the atheist’s physiology, not with the rest of us.

Finally, I think the thesis that much of “reasonable” and “honest” intellectual atheism—and I mean atheism even before the arrival of the New Atheism—is due to some type of moral rebellion is a thesis that is quite reasonable and can have a good amount of evidence mounted for it. I think, for example, of a quote from JJC Smart (in his debate with John Haldane) where he admits that even if the Apostles Creed was spelled out by the stars, he would believe he was hallucinating rather than believe that it was a sign from God. And I think of Thomas Nagel and his admittance that he does not want God to exist and that he believes that “the cosmic authority problem” affects a lot of other atheists and motivates their atheism. And I think of Richard Lewontin and his quote that he holds to materialistic science despite its absurdities because a “divine foot” cannot be allowed in the door. And I wonder about how I can consider atheists reasonable and honest when they consistently butcher and misrepresent such things as the cosmological argument, as was being done well before the new atheism. I also wonder how honest and reasonable intellectual naturalists are when they rail against the “faith”, and the appeal to “mystery”, and the “lack of evidence” for religious belief, but when asked for a clear naturalistic explanation and demonstration of the causal capacity of nature to, say, create life from non-life or consciousness from non-conscious matter, suddenly “we just know it happened” or “it emerged (a magic word)” or “it’s a brute fact” is a perfectly good and rational answer. And I wonder about how honest the atheist is who demands extraordinary evidence for extraordinary claims, but then believes that evidence like changes in finch beaks or slight modifications in bacteria is somehow good and powerful evidence to claim that it is reasonable to believe that molecules eventually became men all on there own without plan or guidance or direction. So, for all these reasons and more, I really have started to wonder just how “honest” atheism / atheistic-naturalism really is. Indeed, when I see such hypocrisy and inconsistency in reasoning, I really do start to wonder whether there is something other than intellectual objections going on in the mind of the atheist

Sincerely,

RDM

Tony said...

OK, sounds good. Sorry I missed your point. Better now that it is clarified.

I guess I have always been a little unclear on a really satisfactory way of saying what is our mental state of assent to propositions, contingent, in the concrete, that we accept on the basis of the testimony of one whom we trust fully, for which the alternative evidence is fair but not mathematically definitive. On the one hand, because the evidence is fair but not definitive, we tend to call asset to that tentative or probable or something along those lines. On the other hand, as we typically intend the phrase "I believe in you", we seem to be asserting something stronger than "I tentatively assert that you are telling the truth", or "I accept what you say as probably right", we are affirming more solidly than that. Our assent is confident, not tentative. Which is, pretty much, the state of our confidence in (a) much of what our parents tell us of things before our birth, and (b) much of what we accept from historical documents that purport to describe events. I believe that Lincoln was president of the US. And yet whatever assurance we are affirming with ordinary belief on the testimony of men, that assurance is not as strong as, not as certain as, the assurance that comes when we believe on the testimony of God in the act of faith.

Skeptics typically reject BOTH that the normal, natural act of belief on human testimony either is appropriate, or at least is not appropriate if you mean anything more than "I accept what you say as probable." And more or less a fortiori they reject that the act of belief can be any more appropriate when made on God's testimony, when they assume that the very fact that God exists must rest on the act of belief, so it becomes a snake-eating-tail mental act without justification.

Scott said...

This is only tangentially relevant (both to the OP and to Tony's post), but has anyone else here read any of Michael O'Brien's novels? I'm almost four hundred pages into this one and so far it's really, really good.

I don't want to divert the thread, but I'd at least be interested in hearing whether he maintains his high level of quality over his entire œuvre.

Chris Giles said...

Yes, I've read Father Elijah and really enjoyed it. There are some very moving scenes - the boy and the ending spring to mind.
I'm not usually into "theological fiction" even though I dreamed of writing such stuff once. Can you recommend any other?

I've also read his "Father's Tale" which is massive but doesn't feel long - it was gripping to see how it would unravel, and there were at least two surprises at the end!

You've inspired me to pick up the third of his that I have and actually read it - Voyage to Alpha Centauri. It's not short either at just under 600 pages - we could compare notes on it next year sometime!? Are we founding the Ed Feser Fiction Club?

Chris Giles said...

Just to add: I thought the only real weakness of Father Elijah and of Father's Tale was the treatment of the "love interest". But giving a modern fairly gripping take on major Biblical texts is what he does well in both.
But then I really liked Noah the movie too, so you might not trust my judgment!
That's an end to my thread hijack, apologies.

Daniel Carriere said...

Father Elijah is one of his earliest books I think. It has a real adventure feel to it that is lacking in his other books (at least the ones I've read). The other books are far more focused on aspect of spiritual warfare. None of them are boring though. The other books I've read have a more pictorial character. Like he is painting a portrait. Very vivid in detail and character development. But that was ten years ago or so. I'm tempted to pick them up again to see if my opinion is different now.

Cheers,
Daniel

Sami said...

One thing that does bother me pretty consistently is that theism is not quite as obvious as rational truths usually are. Like, you don't see people argue about mathematical theses the way you see people arguing about theism, yet both are supposed to be based in logic. It's just kinda weird to me.

Also, while I was looking to buy The Last Superstition for myself, I saw a new review for it came up, kinda nuts to see it still getting attention. http://www.atheismandthecity.com/2015/10/an-atheist-reviews-last-superstition.html

Scott said...

Thanks for the replies on O'Brien. I think I'll have to check out his other works. (Chris , Voyage to Alpha Centauri is very much on my list; if we don't have an opportunity to compare notes here, the literature subsection of the Classical Theism forum might be a good choice. Sorry, I don't have any other recommendations as to theological fiction, at least any that aren't obvious and far from contemporary.)

To tie this back into the OP, Tony's post, and even Sami's post: one thing that I think O'Brien has handled extremely well throughout Father Elijah is the insidiousness with which apparently rational discourse can infect even the faithful, let alone the rest of the world.

Scott said...

(That is, of course, "apparently rational but in fact irrational, evil, and destructive of souls.")

Glenn said...

Sami,

One thing that does bother me pretty consistently is that theism is not quite as obvious as rational truths usually are. Like, you don't see people argue about mathematical theses the way you see people arguing about theism, yet both are supposed to be based in logic. It's just kinda weird to me.

Mathematics and theism are concerned with different objects, the former concerned with objects which are more apparent and the latter with objects which are less apparent, so I don't see where it really is all that weird that there might be more arguments over what is less apparent and fewer arguments over what is more apparent.

That the use of logic is common to both mathematics and theism does not, on its own, make weird the fact that there may be fewer arguments in the former endeavor and more arguments in the latter one.

Indeed, some kinds of mathematical proofs are easily verified and accepted, while other kinds are not as easily verified or accepted, even though there is a heavy reliance on logic in those differing kinds of proofs.

Daniel Carriere said...

Regarding Jayman, the commenter at http://www.atheismandthecity.com, he is doing a pretty good job defending A-T over there.

Cheers,
Daniel

Petronius Jablonski said...

"One thing that does bother me pretty consistently is that theism is not quite as obvious as rational truths usually are."

When my feet hit the floor in the AM I'm not inclined to think about the cosmological argument OR the twin prime conjecture. After a cup of coffee I can recall or re-realize how the first works and how we don't currently know the answer to the second.

"Like, you don't see people argue about mathematical theses the way you see people arguing about theism, yet both are supposed to be based in logic. It's just kinda weird to me."

Thank you Lord, for making your children disinclined to argue about math in bars. What that might be like:

"Computers will figure out if there's an infinite number of twin primes. They're fast!"

"You don't get it! No amount of empirical evidence can prove this. It's not that kind of evidence. It has to be a purely logical proof, like the one by Euclid proving there's an infinite number of primes."

"How can you know it's right? How can you test it? That's just a philosophical argument. Show me all the primes!"

This would make crude misunderstandings of the cosmological argument a paradise by comparison. There's more at stake with theism. It's not the position itself; it's the details.

laubadetriste said...

"Now, these theses -- that an inclination to believe in God is natural to us, but that without cultivation it results only in a general and confused conception of God -- are empirically well supported. Belief in a deity or deities of some sort is more or less a cultural universal... / Even an atheist could agree with this much. Indeed, I believe Jeff Lowder would more or less agree with it. In the post linked to above, he opines that his fellow atheists need to answer the arguments of religious apologists rather than ignoring them because: / 'The scientific evidence suggests that humans have a widespread tendency to form beliefs about invisible agents, including gods… I can think of no reason to think such tendencies will go away with a contemptuous sneer.'"

Seems fair. I would add the caveat, that the way in which Jeff seems to more-or-less agree is of signal importance. You say, Dr. Feser, that there is a natural inclination to believe in God, from which (e.g.) belief in "deities of some sort" is derivative; Jeff, meanwhile, says that "humans have a widespread tendency to form beliefs about invisible agents," which is constitutive of an inclination to believe in God. God=>gods=>agency vs. agency=>gods=>God. The theses run in opposite directions conceptually...

...like cranes and skyhooks...

...like the Quarrel of the Ancients and the Moderns...

...like the Battle of the Gods and Giants (*Sophist* 245e–249d)...

...like the pagan gods being really demons (and hence derivative of Satan, and hence of God) in *The City of God,* but God being a projection of Man in *The Essence of Christianity*...

...like Jack Smart and John Haldane talking about cats...

Indeed, I remember that when I first read your post, *The Road From Atheism,* one thing that leapt out at me was your saying about John Cronquist, that "he said that the mind-body problem, which he seemed to think was terribly vexing, really boiled down to the problem of universals. For years I would wonder what he meant by that. (I now think it must have had to do with the way our grasp of abstract concepts features in Aristotelian arguments for the immateriality of the intellect.)" It seemed to me then, and it seems to me now, that the problem of universals is a sort of fault line running deep below the surface of most philosophical disputes, right back to the beginning, including below that between atheism and theism, and hence that while I agree with you, more or less, about your theses here, nonetheless that agreement should not obscure a great difference.

Anonymous said...

Daniel Carriere,

I agree. Both Jayman and Stephen Jake not only are very competent defenders of classical theism, but are saints for putting up with those interlocutors. The reviewer and Mike D, whom I recall encountering before, seem to have little idea of what they are talking about.

Anonymous said...

Does C.S. Lewis add anything to the discussion in his "Man or Rabbit" essay (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=X9fR1vSxNEQ) where he offers J.S. Mill (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=X9fR1vSxNEQ&feature=youtu.be&t=6m14s) as an example of someone in "honest error" and who, by virtue of Luke 12:10 may be forgiven for such? Lewis contrasts Mill with those in a state of dishonest error, those being, I think, those who have heard of Christianity (in Lewis's case) but rejects it (or at least ignores it) without any serious effort to test its hypotheses.

Tony said...

"Computers will figure out if there's an infinite number of twin primes. They're fast!"

"You don't get it! No amount of empirical evidence can prove this. It's not that kind of evidence. It has to be a purely logical proof, like the one by Euclid proving there's an infinite number of primes."

"How can you know it's right? How can you test it? That's just a philosophical argument. Show me all the primes!"


Well painted, Petronius!

Anonymous said...

To me the problem is that Koukl's 'Schaefferian' or 'presuppositionalist' appeal to reason has become more shrill, binary, and incoherent, as time goes on, owing to his reliance upon a Reformation/Enlightenment frame of reference. He's trying to reason people into faith as if faith just 'drops out the bottom' of the process, is simply the necessary conclusion of a set of correct premises.

He cannot but end up as extreme as the soapbox atheists because he's chosen the same turf to fight on using exactly the same weapons, as he tries to make his arguments sound more relevant to Atheists. He's fallen in love with the sound of his own voice.

When that approach is applied to Scripture, you get the complete nonsense he comes out with, which is as confused and erroneous as the way these atheists read Sacred Scripture.

To me he is, in a sense, assuming you can make an omelette with the fillings alone without using eggs.

philstilwell said...

Here are a couple of dialogs representing the objections I have on Romans 1.

https://savagesundayschool.wordpress.com/2015/09/06/biblical-culpability-02/

https://savagesundayschool.wordpress.com/2015/09/15/without-excuse-03/

Petronius Jablonski said...

Just say no to Pascal's wager. Skeptics do it unconsciously. I do it until I catch myself. We're inclined to believe the alternatives are exhausted by Christianity OR Naturalism. Not so. If we're going to look into the Judaic-Christian tradition, we need to start with the former and ask for evidence. This seems stone-obvious, but they're treated as a package deal.

This is Judaism: the Creator of the universe appeared to millions of people at the foot of a mountain. He gave them 613 commandments. Note the maniacal audacity, the absolute singularity of this claim. How would this spread and endure if false? If you're a naturalist thinking about theism (or, as is often the case, trying not to) begin here. Why doesn't God clearly communicate with us? He did. You have 7 commandments. The first is a prohibition of religion. Don't indulge that sweet tooth. In a manner of speaking, "religion" is for Jews. They build a bridge between this world and God by following the Torah. Reason will lead you to the 7 Noahide laws. Do them because God says so and you secure a place in the world to come. Call this theistic minimalism if it sounds smarter. (Bonus points for intuitive plausibility!) Note that the evidence for this is of a different order of magnitude, the whole millions-of-eyewitnesses thing.

What burden of proof do subsequent revelations have? Doesn't the first revelation from God contain the Standard all others must meet? Deuteronomy 13 looms like some great wall of radical monotheism. God demands the death penalty for everyone who adds to the first revelation or subtracts from it. One could make the case that any future prophet who says it's a curse that brings only death is telling us God gets His first Big Message all wrong. (And we might raise an eyebrow upon hearing how there are no righteous men, despite what we've already read about Noah, Job, Lot, Abraham, King David, King Asa, King Hezekiah, King Josiah, Enoch, Moses, and the awesome repentance of the Ninevites.) The very name "everlasting covenant" makes it bulletproof, as if anticipating and refuting all future challenges. It's not the kind of thing that can have updates.

I'm not trolling on a Catholic forum, but skeptics post here and they're dead wrong about the package deal nature of Judaism & Christianity. Like Dr. Feser, I'm a recovering atheist who was taught a crude caricature of the cosmological argument as an undergrad. Feels bad, man.

Miriam said...

"In other words, without cultivation by way of careful philosophical analysis and argumentation, the knowledge of God we have naturally will remain at a very crude level -- “general and confused,” as Aquinas says, like knowing that someone is approaching but not knowing who -- just as even natural drawing ability or musical ability will result in crude work if not cultivated. ".

I would that Kierkegaard had studied Aquinas on that.. If he did show me.

Not understanding the basics of AT metaphysics is a basis of this atheism. Metaphysics was hard hard work to me backing he day, however, now all I have to do is look at something in my world, be it living or not, to be absolutely necessarily sure Of God, (as Aquinas argues to)

Miriam said...

How do you edit. I meant "back in the day"