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How TO Talk About God

BoyDrawing

This is part two of a two-part series, adapted from Stephen Bullivant's new book, The Trinity: How Not to Be a Heretic (Paulist Press, 2015). Read part one here.


 

"A time to speak"

I ended my last post in this short series with the apparent affirmation that silence is the only appropriate mode for Christian thought and prayer. This is what is known as apophatic theology, the “negative way”, or – as I like to call it – the via Alison Krauss-a.

Far be it from me to denigrate this manner of adoration: it has a long and distinguished history within the Christian tradition. The angel Gabriel, for example, prescribed Zechariah some silent time in preparation for his important task of raising John the Baptist (Luke 1:20). Moreover, popular piety has long imagined the “holy night” of the first Christmas to have been a “silent night.” Throughout Christian history, there have been holy men and women who, singly or together, have devoted themselves to long periods—sometimes even whole lifetimes—of silence. Shorter spells of silent prayer or meditation are practiced by many Christians, of many different stripes, throughout the world on a daily or weekly basis.

Silence certainly has its place, and being “lost for words” is undoubtedly a fitting expression of wonder and gratitude before the One who is “majestic in holiness, awesome in splendor” (Exodus 15:11). We human beings are pretty special ourselves, and our intelligence and language are among our greatest glories. Yet it’s still worth remembering sometimes that we ain’t all that. “So do not become proud, but stand in awe” (Romans 11:20).

On its own, though, silence is, in more ways than one, nothing much to shout about. Christianity just doesn’t work as a completely wordless religion. Some Christians can keep silent all of the time; all Christians should keep silent some of the time; but all Christians can’t (and mustn’t) keep silent all of the time. There may indeed be “a time to keep silence,” but there is also “a time to speak” (Ecclesiastes 3:7). Here we return to a point made earlier. Scripture itself is full to bursting with human words and ideas—our very own, flawed, not-good-enough-for-God words and ideas—about God. More to the point, it insists, time and again, that we should be so too:

"Praise the Lord! Praise God in his sanctuary; praise him in his mighty firmament!
Praise him for his mighty deeds; praise him according to his surpassing greatness!...
Let everything that breathes praise the Lord! Praise the Lord!" (Psalm 150:1-2, 6)

That is, I think you’ll agree, not exactly “shaddap you face.”

This is the great paradox of theology, indeed of Christian living as a whole. It is no wonder that those who have—or hope they have—received the Holy Spirit, whether as a gentle breath (John 20:22) or “like the rush of a violent wind” (Acts 2:2), feel moved both to “treasure and ponder [these things] in their hearts” (cf. Luke 2:19) and to “glorify and praise God for all they have heard and seen” (cf. Luke 2:20). They have also been positively commanded to “Go into all the world and proclaim the good news to the whole creation” (Mark 16:15). Naturally, it is nearly impossible to do any of these things without words, or ideas, or concepts. And yet...the only words, or ideas, or concepts we have to do them with cannot possibly come close to doing God justice. Tasty though McDonald’s food is, we can’t build a Heston Blumenthal meal out of McNuggets and McShakes. And “very good” though Creation is (Genesis 1:31), we can’t construct an accurate picture of our God out of creaturely categories: “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways my ways” (Isaiah 55:8).

Another Parable

Speaking of pictures though, perhaps it is time for another parable—one that might rescue us from the corner into which we (with a lot of help from the scriptures) have painted ourselves.
What, do you suppose, is this?

Pic

I have shown this picture to a good number of different audiences over the past several years. Bemused amusement is the normal first impression. After some reflection, most people agree that the antenna-looking object on the right is some form of flower, perhaps a daffodil or something similar. There is little controversy over the two, worryingly large airborne objects: they are presumably butterflies—although, if your love is like one of those butterflies, it might be time to seek a relationship counsellor. But what of the strange figure on the left? I have heard many creative guesses—it is an alien, or a snowman, or perhaps a Peppa Pig—but no one is ever really sure. “They may indeed look, but not perceive” (Mark 4:12).

“But blessed are your eyes, for they see” (Matthew 13:16): it is a drawing of the delightful Norma Bullivant, my mother, by her youngest son, me. Neither of us can remember when it was drawn, though both of us hope it was a very long time ago.
Now, you have probably never met or seen a photograph of my mother. You’ll have to trust me when I say that this is not a perfect likeness of her. In fact, it is a truly terrible one. For example, she has arms, and hair, and eyebrows, and knees. Even in her thirties, when this was probably drawn, her legs were not quite that thin. On any estimation, it is an extremely inaccurate picture of her. If you happen to see my mother walking down the street, I doubt that you’ll now go up to her and ask, “Don’t I know you from somewhere?”

Considered objectively, this picture is an insult to my mother. Imagine she and I were in a modern art gallery, and hanging there was this picture, but painted by some trendy young artist. Suppose I said, “Mom, why is there a photo of you in the gallery?” Or what if I did this picture for her now, in my thirties: “Look mom, I’ve made you this for Mother’s Day. I’m really pleased with it. Don’t you think it looks exactly like you? See how well I’ve captured your nose!?” Perfectly understandably, I think she would find those kinds of comments very hurtful indeed. If that really is the best picture I can draw of her, flowers or chocolates would be a better Mother’s Day gift. For that matter, so would nothing at all.

"You have searched me and you know me"

Why then has she kept this false, insulting image? Why didn’t she screw it up in hurt and anger, and bin it, all those years ago? Why instead has she lovingly kept it?

Most parents, I expect, have a cherished collection of similarly bad artistic efforts by their children. They have kept them because they were delighted to receive them. Infants are not brilliant artists by adult standards, but they put time, thought, effort, and care, into doing the very best job they can. Parents know this. They also know that the resulting pictures are far more than bad representations of what mom or dad look like; they are excellent representations of what their little children’s love and affection for mom or dad look like.

Look again at the image. One day, when I was very small, I decided to draw a picture. Of all the many exciting subjects I could have chosen, I picked my mother. I placed her in a garden, in spring or summer when the flowers are in bloom, and surrounded her with butterflies. I even put what I’m pretty sure is meant to be a big smile on her face. Someone who knew me well at that age—someone “acquainted with all my ways” (Psalm 139:3)—would understand instantly what I was trying to convey with my flawed, faltering, and false pen strokes—which is why she still has it after all those years.

"Queerer than we can suppose"

As we should have learned by now, even the best metaphor or analogy isn’t perfect. They don’t bear too much prodding or stretching, whether you are comparing love to a butterfly, “the LORD the God of hosts” (Hosea 12:5) to fine dining, or religious language to childish scribblings. Nevertheless, they do tell us something.

Our flawed and fragile thoughts and words are not up to the job of giving a full, wholly sufficient description of the Most High. It is God who is the Truth, the whole Truth, and nothing but the Truth (cf. John 14:6, 17), and not our witness statements about him. (Incidentally, this is not a failure specific to religious thinking and speaking. The great British biologist, J. B. S. Haldane, once famously said: “Now my own suspicion is that the Universe is not only queerer than we suppose, but queerer than we can suppose”1. If that is true of creation, how much more must it be true of the Creator?)

The life of our saintly medieval theologian, Thomas Aquinas, illustrates this point rather well. Thomas wrote book after book of biblical commentary and theology, millions upon millions of words about God. Then towards the end of his life, he had a direct, mystical experience of God himself. After that he laid down his pen, mid-book, and never wrote another word. When asked why, he answered simply: “I can’t.... Everything I have written seems like straw by comparison with what I have seen and what has been revealed to me.”

Those of us who strive to think about, speak of, and pray to God will do well to remember this lesson in humility. “For great is the might of the Lord; but by the humble he is glorified” (Sirach 3:20). In thinking theologically, we are getting better acquainted with who God is—who God has revealed himself to be. But Christians needn’t kid themselves that by the end of this or that book or Bible study program, or even by the end of our lives studying scripture and theology, we’ll know God as well as he knows us. That’s what heaven is for: “For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then we will see face to face” (1 Corinthians 13:12). For the time being, our sight is hampered by both our own short-sightedness, and the gloriousness of what it is we’re trying to glimpse. As another saintly medieval theologian, Anselm of Canterbury, once prayed:

"The truth is, I am darkened by myself
And also dazzled by you.
I am clouded by my own smallness
And overwhelmed by your intensity;
I am restricted by my own narrowness
and mastered by your wideness."

However, we mustn’t let that stop us trying – and most of our tryings will be done through the medium of words. God is indeed “more than words,” as St Thomas (like Extreme) well realized. But note, too, that God let Thomas write over seven million words about him before giving him writer’s block. After all, “The Word became flesh and lived among us” (John 1:14). God became man, and thought and spoke in human language. And we have it on the Holy Spirit’s authority that the languages of “every nation under heaven” can be used to talk meaningfully “about God’s deeds of power” (Acts 2:5-11).
 
 
The Trinity: How Not to Be a Heretic
 
 
(Image credit: News.com.au)

Notes:

  1. Possible Worlds and Other Essays (London: Chatto and Windus, 1927), p. 286
Stephen Bullivant

Written by

Dr. Stephen Bullivant is Senior Lecturer in Theology and Ethics at St Mary's University, England. A former atheist, he studied philosophy and theology at Oxford University, and converted to Catholicism while completing his doctorate on Vatican II and the salvation of unbelievers. In 2010, he was the first non-American to receive the "LaCugna Award for New Scholars" from the Catholic Theological Society of America. Stephen writes and speaks extensively on the theology and sociology of atheism, and the new evangelization. He recent books include Faith and Unbelief (Canterbury Press, 2013; Paulist Press, 2014), and (co-edited with Michael Ruse) The Oxford Handbook of Atheism (Oxford University Press, 2013). His latest book is called The Trinity: How Not to Be a Heretic (Paulist Press, 2015).

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  • Loreen Lee

    The next time I have an opportunity to order a Big Mac, I must remember to give thanks, but not with intellectual acumen, analogy, or proof, but simply as an expression of a grateful heart. I might even consider a side-order of fries!!!!

  • Mike

    This is beautiful, thanks....well done.

    This is the heart of the message i think: "They also know that the resulting pictures are far more than bad representations of what mom or dad look like; they are excellent representations of what their little children’s love and affection for mom or dad look like."

    IMHO human beings have been created for Love among all the other things that we are meant for underlying all of it is a plan of Love for us; to love and to be loved and in the end to be reunited with Love itself...and the more that we choose to move away from that plan the more that we hurt ourselves and those who love us most.

  • Mike

    Speaking of speaking about God, here's an article about some physicists who can't seem to avoid speaking non-sense about something they say they understand in more fundamental terms than anyone else, reality:

    http://aeon.co/magazine/science/is-the-many-worlds-hypothesis-just-a-fantasy/

    • Mike

      More "food for thought"

      "...everything since the Big Bang has been one giant quantum experiment, in which all the particles in the universe, including those we think of as making up the Earth and our own bodies, are involved. But if theory tells us we’re among the sets of particles involved a giant quantum experiment, the position I’ve just outlined tells us we can’t justify any statement about what has happened or is happening until the experiment is over."

      http://aeon.co/magazine/science/our-quantum-reality-problem/

      Isn't that just weird.

  • Krakerjak

    "God let Thomas write over seven million words about him before giving him writer’s block."

  • Kevin Aldrich

    As a Catholic, I enjoyed reading this. However, if I were an atheist, I'm not sure I could see the point of it: that is, beyond the claim theistic philosophers make that we can say true but incomplete things about God.

  • It seems to me that the thrust of this argument is that though it is impossible to do justice to the actual nature of God's nature thorough words, god also requires we talk about him and praise him and evangelize. That our failure to capture all of him would not be held against us.

    This suggests to me that God favours substance over form, he cares about good intentions and will overlook mistakes and misrepresentations. I would consider this a moral position for God, and it seems consistent with recent comments from the Pope about atheists and homosexuals.

    However, it doesn't seem all that consistent with the Old Testament or Catholic history. In watching professor Freedman's Yale course on the early Middle Ages, the question arises as to why issues of heresy were so important to the early church? Why does it matter if we call Jesus God himself, of an inspired prophet? I think the earliest issue was whether God of the Old Testament and the new were the same, the early heresy being the OT god was evil and Jesus was good. If your heart is in the right place and you are a good person, what difference should these theological issues mean.

    Prof. freedman noted that the early church seemed to think that God wasn't so keen on good intentions. There are very specific and detailed instructions in the Old Testament about exactly how and when to worship. An illustrative story would be that of Uzzah who was killed by god for touching the ark protect it. God seems very interested in foreskins in the OT, which is very symbolic (one would hope!) The story of Abraham and Isaac is not that Abraham says "sorry god, I will not kill my son" and god says "of course you wouldn't and I won't hold it against you." I just don't see any real evidence that god cares more about good intentions, over symbolic acts of worship for him specifically. Has this changed, in Catholic theology?

    • scottie1111

      All that speculation... so little substance. All the OT stories are fairy tales, the "NT" is one big fairy tale written about fairy tales. Pick up a science book, it won't warp your mind like all this conjecture about the mating habits of pink elephants.

      • Mike

        When does human life begin?

        • scottie1111

          Vague.
          How about right after this:

          • Mike

            Are you sure ? ;)

          • scottie1111

            What do you mean by "sure"?

          • Mike

            Can you prove it?

          • scottie1111

            Dude, make your point already. I'd like to see which JesusGotchya! you have hiding up your sleeve.

          • Mike

            No no gotcha, take care.

  • I come here seeking evidence and arguments for God. Instead, I get simplistic analogies that boil down to a common apologetic maneuver: We can't comprehend God. To me, this is more reason why I shouldn't bother attempting to learn more about God in the first place.

    • Mike
      • I've read a few pieces by Feser. Nothing compelling so far.

        • Mike
          • I'm familiar with these. Like I said, nothing compelling so far. Think of me as a Doubting Thomas. I require more than second-hand testimonies and improbable events.

          • Mike

            You need to put your finger in christ's wound...hmmm....give me a sec.

          • Mike
          • Seriously? No.

          • David

            Which will break first - the wall or your head?

          • I don't appreciate your comment, David. I need compelling evidence. I haven't come across any, yet.

          • David

            You misunderstand me. Talking to Mike is akin to banging your head against the wall. You'll get nowhere with this. There is no compelling evidence but Mike has a knack for pulling out the least compelling of it all.

          • Mike

            Ouch.

          • My apologies, David. I was unfamiliar with your position.

          • Mike

            How about this guy: math prof at Oxford:

            http://www.johnlennox.org/

          • Point me to one of his arguments, Mike.

          • Mike
          • Mike, you can link to so much information that I'll never be able to read/watch it all. What makes John Lennox different than the rest?

          • I'm 12 minutes in. Nothing but name dropping so far. If there was a portion you wanted me to watch, please point me to it.

          • Mike

            Watch the whole thing it's great.

          • Not without reason.

          • Mike

            Do you ever pray?

          • Not any more, Mike. Please cut to the chase.

          • Mike

            You should it's very healthy.

          • Mike
          • Can you explain this for me, Mike?

          • Mike

            Godel believed that an after life could be proven "mathematically".

          • I thought Godel also proved that math was incomplete.

          • Mike

            Well anyway thx for this Luke, all the best! This was fun.

          • scottie1111

            The Anthropic Principle might be too esoteric for you to understand, but give it a try.
            Check out what Victor Stenger has to say about a fine tuned universe.
            Also:

            http://debunkingchristianity.blogspot.com/2015/02/physicist-sean-carroll-lays-some-of.html

          • Mike

            debunking christianity lol i am sorry but that's really really funny...thx for the back and forth.

          • scottie1111

            Check out his site...
            ....while you still have a few neurons left!

          • Mike

            The site is called debunking CHRISTIANITY and you don't see the humor in that? Dude! that's really really funny not bc christianity might not be false but bc all i can picture is those 2 myth buster guys showing up in the vatican museum and coming up with some wacky way of "proving" that all of that is just a big mistake or sorts! It's funny.

          • scottie1111

            You didn't even take a cursory perusal of the site. It's moderator is a former Christian minister...
            ...he's highly qualified to assess and deconstruct Christianity.
            You just might learn something, although, with the way you communicate, it sounds like you already know everything.

          • Mike

            I know Jesus loves me oh yes he loves me and if you let him Jesus will love you too! LOL

            Dude relax.

          • scottie1111

            I hope he doesn't love me to much...
            ...I'm into women, thanks.

            You and Jesus have fun making out with each other. Film it, you can sell it on the internet, there are plenty of christards like yourself to sell to. Take the money and give it to the poor.

          • Luke Cooper

            Hey, Scottie. You need to read the comment policy for Strange Notions: http://strangenotions.com/commenting Stuff like this isn't productive.

          • scottie1111

            Apologies to you.

          • Guest

            I tried deleting the entire post, but it popped up as guest.

          • Luke Cooper

            Yeah, Disqus is weird like that. The moderators can remove it.

          • scottie1111

            "Despite these assertions, not all witnesses reported seeing the sun "dance". Some people only saw the radiant colors. Others, including some believers, saw nothing at all. No scientific accounts exist of any unusual solar or astronomic activity during the time the sun was
            reported to have "danced", and there are no witness reports of any unusual solar phenomenon further than 64 kilometres (40 mi) out from Cova da Iria"
            and
            "Joe Nickell, a skeptic and investigator of paranormal phenomena, claimed that the position of the phenomenon, as described by the various witnesses, is at the wrong azimuth and elevation to have been the sun. He suggested the cause may have been a sundog.
            Sometimes referred to as a parhelion or "mock sun", a sundog is a relatively common atmospheric optical phenomenon associated with the reflection / refraction of sunlight by the numerous small ice crystals that make up cirrus clouds or cirrostratus clouds."
            I have a tuna melt jesus if you're interested:

          • Mike

            Tuna melt? Yummy!

            But it's authentic though right? ;)

          • Michael Murray

            Makes sense to me. The fishing theme is strong in Jesus so I would expect Him to appear on a tuna melt rather than a cheese melt. Or even a melt made from any other manufacturer of dairy produce.

            Or could be

            http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pareidolia

          • scottie1111

            Pareidolia indeed.

    • Peter

      To lack belief in God just because you can't fully know God is a very brave thing. You may not know God but you can know of God through his creation.

      The evidence of design in the cosmos may not be proof of God but it is a very strong sign which cannot be ignored or overlooked, so strong in fact that to ignore it completely and profess no belief in God becomes almost a reckless act, an act of reckless bravery. That's what it takes to be an atheist.

      • I guess I'd be okay without being able to "fully know" God, as long as I knew enough about God or even anything about God. But we're instead expected to have faith without evidence, and expected to believe that the parts we can't know about God are consistent with the parts of God that we're supposed to believe are true.

        • Peter

          Faith comes from reason. The whole of creation reveals itself as a cosmic blueprint drawn up by some celestial author. Once that realisation is achieved, it is possible to believe anything about God.

          • Faith, to me, is belief without evidence; it is unrelated to reason. The cosmos seem to operate by laws of nature that we're still trying to approximate. I don't agree that a celestial author is needed. If it's possible to believe anything about God, why believe that God is good, just, or caring?

          • Peter

            There is no faith without reason. The two are intertwined. Faith without reason is not faith but fideism, such as a literal interpretation of Genesis.

            Faith that God is good is built upon the realisation that he created the universe, continually creates within it, and sustains it in existence at every moment.

          • Christians are called to have faith in God, even without reason.

            You're making assumptions about God that you cannot claim to know.

          • Peter

            Christians who have faith in God without reason are fideists who cling on to every literal word of Genesis.

          • Papalinton

            No Peter, faith does not comes reason. It may as equally as it may not. Period. Indeed faith is a failed epistemology.

            As Professor Gary Gutting, philosopher at Notre Dame astutely observes:
            "Your religious beliefs typically depend on the community in which you were raised or live. The spiritual experiences of people in ancient Greece, medieval Japan or 21st-century Saudi Arabia do not lead to belief in Christianity. It seems, therefore, that religious belief very likely tracks not truth but social conditioning."

          • Peter

            For a Christian, faith and reason are irrevocably intertwined. According to the Church, God as Creator can be known through his works by the power of reason (CCC 286). This is natural knowledge that every person can have of the Creator (CCC 287). Faith enlightens reason to realise this truth and in turn is strengthened as this truth is realised.

          • Papalinton

            Sorry Peter, but what you write is construed apologetical pablum. If as you say (CCC287) is natural knowledge, how is it that the religious or spiritual experiences of people in 21stC Saudi Arabia or 21stC Pakistan or 21stC India do not lead to belief in christianity? Could it have something to do with two being Muslim countries and the other, overwhelmingly dominated by Hindus? The very presumption that the Catholic experience is supposedly 'natural knowledge' of such universality, is simply christo-centric twaddle of the most specious and misleading kind. It is a thoroughly jaundiced view of the world, a singularly naive perspective seen only through the fractured prism of catholic parochialism. CCC287 and CCC286 do not, never have, will never reconcile with the facts, proofs or the evidence let alone the truth of reality, of life lived outside the Cathosphere.

            No.There is no corollary between faith and reason. For a Christian, faith and reason are irrevocably irreconcilable.

          • Peter

            If you reread my post, you will see that I wrote that faith and reason are intertwined for a Christian. I did not mention Muslims or Hindus. You have introduced them as straw men.

            Natural knowledge of God through reason is based upon the increasingly apparent teleological nature of creation. Even Dawkins' website features a study which claims that life is necessary, suggesting that the universe has a purpose.

            In fact, the evidence is pouring in from all quarters to support a teleological understanding of the cosmos, and this leads ultimately to God.

          • Mike

            "Even Dawkins' website features a study which claims that life is necessary, suggesting that the universe has a purpose"

            Really? I've never been on his site but wouldn't this undermine his beliefs about purpose, intention, teleology in the universe?

          • Peter
          • William Davis

            In fact, the evidence is pouring in from all quarters to support a teleological understanding of the cosmos, and this leads ultimately to God.

            This is much more in support of some type of deism as opposed to the Christian God.

          • scottie1111

            Not unless you're William Lane Craig...
            The big bang happened,
            therefore Jesus was resurrected.
            He's a perfect example of a relatively intelligent "grown-up" believing in children's fairy tales.
            (Although, "the passion" and the crucifix itself are not child appropriate subjects or images. You wouldn't take your child to see "Texas Chainsaw Massacre" , why would you take a child to see Mel Gibson's snuff film?

          • Mike

            Hey even their brightest light in the 60s and 70s converted to theism...Antony Flew!

          • William Davis

            In his old age, Flew was all over the map and started contradicting himself. If anything, he may have started to believe in a deistic god, but not the god of any religion, check it out for yourself:

            http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Antony_Flew#Revised_views

          • Mike

            Don't take offense but you folks seem to have such an easy time dismissing anything and everything that doesn't fit your purposes - here's what i mean: antony flew was easily the most important atheist philosopher for decades and then bc he's older he's just a crank bc of course there's no way he could've really changed his mind...i am just saying.

          • William Davis

            Lol, I don't mind, as long as you don't pretend theists have an easy time dismissing everything that doesn't fit their purposes ;) I thought we all knew we were biased by now.

          • Mike

            Yes we're all biased to some extent; atheists won't admit this but they "want" atheism to be true and so look for the evidence; christians want the opposite to be true...but that's the case to some extent only - but that's just having FAITH/trust in your position that although you can't prove it in every which way you trust/have faith that the evidence that you DO have will "pan out" in the end....although for atheism the "panning out in the end" just ends in disappearance so i am not sure what they're so excited about ;).

          • Peter

            Flew wasn't senile. Read his book "There is a God".

            He was probably a deist, though, which begs the question:
            Is not Flew's route to deism the journey that all atheists will eventually take?

          • William Davis

            I didn't go as far as to say he was senile :P People tend to get more religious as they get older, in general, perhaps this was Flew finding religion. I've chosen Buddhism myself (minus most of the mysticism, I think reincarnation is scientifically plausible through the genome, my son is close enough to be a reincarnation of me, just a little different, close enough for my purposes). Again, deism is plausible, I just think the term God is problematic because of its man-like associations. I have always greatly appreciated Ben Franklin and Thomas Jefferson. I share their secular views, and am by no means anti-theistic, except where God is exploited for control and domination. This was precisely the problem these two great men had with "God", it was also Spinoza's problem.

          • Peter

            If so, why do atheists refuse to believe in any gods, even deistic ones?

          • William Davis

            I believe in Spinoza's God, like Albert Einstein. The problem is that this "God" is the substance of the universe itself, nothing like a human being. The term "God" is so associated with a man-like being that is simpler if I call myself an atheist to avoid confusing people.

            I think Einstein came to agree with Spinoza as he developed his theories. Like most physicists of the time, he started out regarding space as true nothingness, just a container for matter to exist. By the time he was done, it was clear to Einstein that space was actually a substance with properties (space curves around mass, time dilates). Even in quantum physics, the quantum foam extends through empty space, making matter and anti-matter spontaneously form and disappear. When this idea is pushed back into philosophy, we can see that "nothing" does not exist, i.e. there is not correlate to nothing in the real world, we just made it up as an abstraction.

            If "nothing" isn't a true concept, then the question "Why is there something, rather than nothing" becomes and absurd question. Spinoza proposed that only God exists, and he is a substance with infinite properties. Nothing exists outside of God, even space is a substance with properties unique from matter and energy. Why is the universe like it is? I believe it is the only way it could be, but that is just a belief, I think we have no way of knowing. Why questions assume intention, and there is a creator deity with a brain why would we think we could understand his intentions. As far as we can tell, nothing without a brain thinks, and I don't know why we would assume God has a brain, brains are a specific manifestation of organic life. It makes much more sense that we would make God in in our image, as opposed to actually knowing anything about such a brainless being.

            I have yet to see a good answer to the why question from anyone. Buddha rightfully said the question does nothing to relieve suffering or encourage compassion, so it is a useless question for his purposes, he was highly pragmatic. Suppose Christians suppose that God is either a narcissist and God made people to praise him and sing to him for eternity...really? Narcissism is a human trait. Catholics seem a bit better, suppose God created humans out of love, yet this turns God into a father who cares about his children. If caring for offspring is an evolved trait, how can we turn this around on God, did God evolve. Sure, love is the noblest of emotions, but that is from a human point of view, or at the very least a biological one. The biggest problem with the love theory is the problem of evil and senseless suffering that is fundamental to evolution. To me, using the fall as an excuse is ridiculous, it was a setup. Why would God put those trees in the garden in the first place? He knew what was going to happen, I would have known what was going to happen and I'm no deity. Adam and Eve and the fall was just a bronze age story based on Sumerian myths, it seems quite irrational to hinge my world view on that ;)

            Here are Spinoza's proofs about God if your are interested

            http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/spinoza/

          • Papalinton

            "Natural knowledge of God through reason is based on the increasingly apparent teleological nature of creation. Even Dawkins' website features a study which claims that life is necessary, suggesting that the universe has a purpose."

            Sorry Peter, the only increasing realisation of the teleological nature of creation is within the decreasing collective of theological scholarship. Your comment is a most misleading and superstition-guided assertion through which Dawkins makes absolutely no suggestion whatsoever that the universe has a 'purpose'. This is scurrilous misinformation that I cannot allow you to blithely make and let slip by.

            THIS ARTICLE will provide you a starting point into investigating the mountains of latest research on why it is that we imagine a rampant teleological world with all manner of [putatively] live non-human agency manipulating a universe with some form of 'purpose'.

            I commend the article to you. You would do me well to read and to think a little seriously about why it is that the research is informing us a profoundly different and fundamentally conflicting account on why we think the way we do and the reasons for doing so, One must seriously ask, do we listen, heed and account for the very latest investigations and research in our assessment on this matter? Or do we obdurately cling to an unsubstantiated and folkloric worldview established in our ancient past? We do not hold fast to ancient medicine to cure today's diseases, we do not hold fast to the ancient superstitious view of sickness and ill-health but rather now abide by the germ theory of disease. We now know that thunder and lightning are not the doings of an angry God [but then perhaps you do hold to this teleological view]. We have changed our perspective on millions of issues and circumstances that were once misguidedly and mistakenly, through our deep ignorance and lack of knowledge, attributed to God, that have now, today, been quite properly and maturely set aside as figment. Religionists today, almost to a person would rather put their faith, that is, entrust their very life to the medical sciences to perform successful heart surgery than the once prevalent and traditional Christian 'laying of hands' form of surgery.

            The challenge for religionists is how are they going to keep out, to block, to stall the rapid and inexorable incursions into the very foundations of theological thought by scientific research, discovery and scientifically-informed philosophy into the vary nature of the human condition and what makes us human.

            The answer I'm willing to wager will not be coming from Christian theology.

          • Peter

            I can understand how hyperactive agency detection is a survival instinct leading us to imagine danger in otherwise innocuous natural phenomena. However, far from doing the opposite, it actually supports the teleological nature of creation.

            Hyperactive agency detection suggests that human beings are hard-wired to look for things beyond what is perceived by the five senses. It could be the natural force within human beings which drives them to look for God.

            This is entirely consistent with the idea of God creating humans with an in-built desire to look for him. The presence of hyperactive agency detection actually reinforces the notion that human beings are designed to look for God or, more specifically, that nature is designed by God to produce human beings in this way.

          • Papalinton

            No. They are most definitely not straw men. Islam and Hinduism represents the actual reality of a competing, conflictual, contradictory and totally different paradigm of supernatural superstition to that of christian mythos. Their actual presence is a damning indictment and conclusive proof that Christianity is nothing more than a fully wholly-owned, culture-driven artifice of human invention. Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism, Ju-Ju, Traditional Primitive religions, Taoism, Wikken, Satanism, are not straw men to the argument. Their existence are the very proofs that christianity is just another made-up fabrication of cultural activity. Their very existence, and the bewildering array extant in the modern world is an unequivocal testament to the many conjurations, contortions, convolutions, shapes and sizes that can be created. Remember, more than a billion people zealously and faithfully subscribe to Islam and are prepared to kill in its defence. More than a billion people believe as ardently and as feverishly believe in Hinduism, as fanatically and as feverishly as any christian about their own parochial culture-bound religion. Close to a billion people ardently and zealously subscribe to Buddhism.

            So, the $64.00 question. Which is the one true and only religion?

            When you intellectually and honestly know why it is you, yourself, reject all the other religions as the one true and only religion, you may well then have the intellectual capacity to know and understand why it is I reject yours.

          • "Remember, more than a billion people zealously and faithfully subscribe to Islam and are prepared to kill in its defence."

            Your comparative theology and interreligious "dialogue" have never been academically rigorous.

            That statement, above, representative of the rest of the outrageous rant in which it was situated, reveals an animus grounded
            somewhere other than accurate history, sociology or theology. Worse than scientifically inaccurate, it's polarizing rhetoric hurts rather than heals divisions.

          • Papalinton

            PapaL: "Remember, more than a billion people zealously and faithfully subscribe to Islam and are prepared to kill in its defence."
            Johnboy: "Your comparative theology and interreligious "dialogue" have never been academically rigorous."

            As always picking the low hanging fruit.

            Johnboy, what you characterise as outrageous rant and sociologically, historically or theologically inaccurate, as well as scientifically inaccurate, might seem so when viewed, as you do, through the dazzling lights and pretty colours of the fractured theological kaleidoscope.

            The important issue here is not those that would defend their religion with deadly force, but that the very existence of the multitude of religious superstitious belief systems. of which the christian mythos is but one, are an ontological and epistemological testament to the fact that religions are nothing more than wonderful conjurations of the creative mind. They are not based in fact, proofs, evidence, reality, actuality, etc etc. In fact the religious narrative has no epistemological foundation or grounding whatsoever.

            Here is an example:
            Assuming that there are say, 1,000 religions in the world, each with an equal chance of being true and all at least to some degree mutually exclusive, then each religion has a 1/1,000 chance of being true and a 999/1,000 chance of being false. In other words, whatever you believed before the comparison, there is only a 0.1% chance of being correct and a 99.9% chance of being incorrect. [This example borrowed from Dr David Eller, Professor of Anthropology.]

            Johnboy, your distaste for the truth does not lessen the the facts or the accuracy of my contribution. To openly disparage my remarks without offering proofs, facts or evidence to the contrary, simply smacks of intellectual laziness and dishonesty.

          • David Eller has precisely taken to task those who argue against religion pragmatically, specifically Dennett, Dawkins, Harris and Hitchens, who are most noted for engaging fundamentalistic approaches, the so-called low hanging fruit. You'd do well to take that particular counsel of his.

            As I set out, at some length, elsewhere in these conversations, modern interreligious dialogue and serious academic comparative theology have revealed that the great traditions and even indigenous religions largely share an orthodoxic soteriological trajectory, which fosters an essential authenticity (cf. B. Lonergan) through orthocommunal, orthopathic and orthopraxic dynamisms in various asceticisms, practices, rituals and disciplines, which are mostly nonpropositional. These traditions otherwise diverge --- not always in a thoroughgoing, but --- via a somewhat distinct sophiological trajectory as ordered to a sustained authenticity (related to what A. Maslow and V. Frankl called self-transcendental, what Lonergan called being-in-love). To the extent these creedal aspects are propositional, then, they cultivate evaluative dispositions or affective attitudes toward distinctly different attributes of ultimate reality, which aren't necessarily mutually exclusive but would best be conceived pluralistically as a glorious polydoxy.
            The traditions convey the propositional thrust of polydoxic meaning via poetic symbolism and myth, which --- without pejorative connotation --- refers to sacred stories, which while not literally true, nevertheless, evoke an appropriate response to ultimate reality. Each tradition has exoteric and esoteric levels of understanding, has practitioners who, from the standpoint of formative spirituality, engage its teachings and practices, variously, with superficial understandings and/or deeper theological nuance. These traditions are also deeply embedded in socio-cultural milieus, so it requires a great deal of sociologic rigor to parse out the noncreedal elements, such as economic, moral and political stances (iow, re: governance of our relationships to proximate realities, like other people and the environment) from creedal and mythic aspects, which, again, reinforce affective attitudes or evaluative dispositions toward ultimate realities, hardly the type of propositions that
            can be facilely juxtaposed and analyzed in formal syllogisms with excluded middle and noncontradiction and decided as mutually exclusive, especially within a pluralistic or polydoxic interpretation. Eller's analysis is facile, superficial and fundamentalistic. And the Cutting quote that you continue to [alt][cut][paste] reveals a truth about how
            one's primary community gifts faith but says nothing about the true meaning of what's been gifted.

          • Papalinton

            Apart from swallowing a thesaurus, Johnboy, your peculiar overview reflects neither contemporary nor mainstream philosophical thought.

            I read your piece a number of times. It is drivel.

          • Category Error: The first part was a contemporary, mainstrean theology of religious pluralism.

            In the 2nd part: You're right, though, my indictment of logical positivism, radical empiricism and ignosticism was so mid-20th Century, which begs the question of why you bother to traffic in a manner of thinking that, as its own founders readily admitted, eventually, self-subverts.

            Thirdly: As to the relationship between speculative cosmology and theology, below are the references cited per the article previously referenced.

            Lastly, I represent the same pragmatic semiotic realism and evolutionary epistemology employed by Ursula Goodenough and Terry Deacon in their emergentist account of consciousness and morality.

            Have a good weekend!
            johnboy

            Ashtekar, A., 2009. “Loop Quantum Cosmology: An Overview,” General Relativity and Gravitation, 41: 707–741.
            Barnes, E., 1931. “Discussion on the Evolution of the Universe,” Nature, 128: 719–722.
            Barrow, J. and F. Tipler, 1986. The Anthropic Cosmological Principle, New York: Oxford University Press.
            Bojowald, M., 2009. Zurück vor den Urknall. Frankfurt am Main: Fischer Verlag. English translation: Once Before Time: A Whole Story of the Universe. New York: Knopf.
            –––, 2011. Quantum Cosmology: A Fundamental Description of the Universe. New York: Springer.
            Bonnor, W., 1964. The Mystery of the Expanding Universe. New York: Macmillan.
            Byl, J., 2001. God and Cosmos. Carlisle, PA: Banner of Truth Trust.
            Cohen, I., 1978. Isaac Newton's Papers and Letters on Natural Philosophy and Related Documents. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
            Copan, P. and W. Craig, 2004. Creation out of Nothing: A Biblical, Philosophical, and Scientific Exploration. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic.
            Craig, W. and Q. Smith, 1995. Theism, Atheism, and Big Bang Cosmology. New York: Oxford University Press.
            Craig, W., 1997. “Hartle-Hawking Cosmology and Atheism,” Analysis, 57: 291–295.
            Davis, J., 1999. “Cosmic Endgame: Theological Reflections on Recent Scientific Speculations on the Ultimate Fate of the Universe,” Science & Christian Belief, 11: 15–27.
            Deltete, R. and R. Guy, 1997. “Hartle-Hawking Cosmology and Unconditional Probabilities,” Analysis, 57: 304–315.
            Drees, W., 1988. “Beyond the Limitations of the Big Bang Theory: Cosmology and Theological Reflection,” Bulletin of the Center for Theology and the Natural Sciences 8.
            –––, 1990. Beyond the Big Bang: Quantum Cosmologies and God, Chicago: Open Court.
            –––, 1991. “Quantum Cosmologies and the ‘Beginning’”, Zygon, 26: 373–396.
            –––, 2007. “Cosmology as Contact between Science and Theology,” Revista Portuguesa de Filosofia 63: 533–553.
            Earman, J., 1995. Bangs, Crunches, Whimpers, and Shrieks: Singularities and Acausalities in Relativistic Spacetimes, New York: Oxford University Press.
            Eddington, A., 1935. New Pathways in Science, New York: Macmillan.
            Ellis, G., 1993. “The Theology of the Anthropic Principle,” in Quantum Cosmology and the Laws of Nature: Scientific Perspectives on Divine Action, R. J. Russell, N. Murphy and C. J. Isham (eds.), Vatican City State: Vatican Observatory, pp. 367–405.
            Ellis, G., U. Kirchner and W. Stoeger, 2004. ”Multiverses and Physical Cosmology,” Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society, 347: 921–936.
            Gasperini, M., 2008. The Universe before the Big Bang: Cosmology and String Theory, New York: Springer.
            Grünbaum, A., 1991. “Creation as a Pseudo-Explanation in Current Physical Cosmology,” Erkenntnis, 35: 233–254.
            –––, 1996. “Theological Misinterpretations of Current Physical Cosmology,” Foundations of Physics, 26: 523–543.
            Hagen, K., 2006. “Eternal Progression in a Multiverse: An Explorative Mormon Cosmology,” Dialog: A Journal of Mormon Thought, 29: 1–45.
            Hetherington, N., 1993. Cosmology: Historical, Literary, Philosophical, Religious, and Scientific Perspectives, New York: Garland.
            Hoyle, F., 1994. Home Is Where the Wind Blows: Chapters From a Cosmologist's Life, Mill Valley, CA: University Science Books.
            Isham, C., 1993. “Quantum Theories of the Creation of the Universe,” in Quantum Cosmology and the Laws of Nature, Robert Russell et al. (eds.), Vatican City State: Vatican Observatory, pp. 49–89.
            Kelly, D., 2000. Creation and Change: Genesis 1.1–2.4 in the Light of Changing Scientific Paradigms, Ross-shire, Scotland: Mentor (Christian Focus Publications).
            Kraay, K., 2010. “Theism, Possible Worlds, and the Multiverse,” Philosophical Studies, 147: 355–368.
            Kragh, H., 2004. Matter and Spirit in The Universe: Scientific and Religious Preludes to Modern Cosmology, London: Imperial College Press.
            –––, 2011. Higher Speculations: Grand Theories and Failed Revolutions in Physics and Cosmology, Oxford: Oxford University Press.
            Lovell, B., 1959. The Individual and the Universe, Oxford: Oxford University Press.
            Mascall, E., 1956. Christian Theology and Natural Science: Some Questions on Their Relations, London: Longmans, Green & Co.
            May, G., 1994. Creatio Ex Nihilo: The Doctrine of ‘Creation out of Nothing’, Edinburgh: T&T Clark.
            McMullin, E., 1981. “How Should Cosmology Relate to Theology?” in The Sciences and Theology in the Twentieth Century, A. Peacocke (ed.), Chicago: Notre Dame University Press, pp. 17–57.
            Milne, E. A., 1948. Kinematic Relativity, Oxford: Clarendon Press.
            Misner, C., 1969. “Absolute Zero of Time,” Physical Review, 186: 1328–1333.
            Oppy, G., 1997. “On Some Alleged Consequences of ‘The Hartle-Hawking Cosmology’,” Sophia, 36: 84–95.
            Page, D., 2008. “Does God So Love the Multiverse?” in Science and Religion in Dialogue, M. Stewart (ed.), Malden, MA: Wiley-Blackwell, pp. 380–395.
            Penrose, R., 2006. “Before The Big Bang: An Outrageous New Perspective and Its Implications for Particle Physics,” European Particle Accelerator Conference (EPAC 06), Edinburgh, Scotland, pp. 2759–2762.
            –––, 2010. Cycles of Time: An Extraordinary New View of The Universe, Bodley Head, London.
            Pitts, J.B., 2008. “Why the Big Bang Singularity Does Not Help the Kalam Cosmological Argument for Theism,” The British Journal for the Philosophy of Science, 59: 675–708.
            Quinn, P., 1993. “Creation, Conservation and the Big Bang,” in Philosophical Problems of the Internal and External Worlds: Essays on the Philosophy of Adolf Grünbaum, J. Earman et al. (eds.), Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press, pp. 589–612.
            Rovelli, C., 2004. Quantum Gravity, New York: Cambridge University Press.
            Rundle, B., 2004. Why there is Something Rather than Nothing, Oxford: Clarendon Press.
            Russell, R., 2001. “Did God Create Our Universe?” Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences 950: 108–127.
            –––, 2008. “Cosmology and Eschatology,” in The Oxford Handbook of Eschatology, J. Walls (ed.), New York: Oxford University Press, pp. 563–580.
            Sagan, C., 1997. The Demon-Haunted World: Science as a Candidate in the Dark, London: Headline.
            Schwarz, H., 2000. Eschatology, Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans Publishing.
            Smith, Q., 1998. “Why Steven Hawking's Cosmology Precludes a Creator,” Philo, 1(1). [Available online].
            –––, 2000. “Problems with John Earman's Attempt to Reconcile Theism with General Relativity,” Erkenntnis, 52: 1–27.
            –––, 2003. “Big Bang Cosmology and Atheism: Why the Big Bang is No Help to Theists,” in Science and Religion: Are They Compatible?, Paul Kurtz (ed.), Prometheus Books, pp. 67–72.
            Steinhardt, P. J. and N. Turok, 2007. Endless Universe: Beyond the Big Bang, New York: Doubleday.
            Stoeger, W., 2010. “God, Physics and the Big Bang,” in The Cambridge Companion to Science and Religion, P. Harrison (ed.), New York: Cambridge University Press, pp. 173–189.
            Swinburne, R., 1996. Is There a God?, New York: Oxford University Press.
            Tipler, F., 1995. The Physics of Immortality, New York: Doubleday.
            –––, 2007. The Physics of Christianity, New York: Doubleday.
            Veneziano, G., 2004. “The Myth of the Beginning of Time,” Scientific American, 290(5): 54–65.
            –––, 2009. “Did Time Have a Beginning? A Meeting Point for Science and Philosophy,” in The Two Cultures: Shared Problems, E. Carafoli, G. A. Danieli and G. O. Longo (eds.), New York: Springer, pp. 3–12.
            Weinberg, S., 1977. The First Three Minutes: A Modern View of the Origin of the Universe, London: Trinity Press.
            –––, 2007. “Living in the Multiverse,” in Universe or Multiverse, B. Carr (ed.), New York: Cambridge University Press, pp. 29–42.
            Worthing, M., 1996. God, Creation, and Contemporary Physics, Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press.
            Wüthrich, C., 2006. Approaching the Planck Scale from a Generally Relativistic Point of View, Ph.D. Thesis, University of Pittsburgh.

          • Papalinton

            Thanks for your wish for a good weekend, Johnboy.

            

But back to responding to your claim. There is no category error [a most favoured ploy of apologists to circumvent the discussion] on my part.

            Since the advent of modern scientific thought saw science, during the Enlightenment, irrevocably cleave from being a handmaiden of theology to an independent and rival explanatory mechanism in its own right, based on its own principles, by far the greatest energy and effort expended by Christians in recent times, in order to claw back even a modicum of relevance in the modern community, has been singularly devoted to innumerable but forlorn attempts to remarry the two, a shotgun wedding so to speak. The sciences do not require nor need theology in its explications. But religion must of necessity change/alter/reinterpret its narrative in detail to comport with each and every discovery of science. Before Darwin [B.D.] propounded his Theory [read Fact] of Evolution, the religionists claimed: 'God created humans and animals exactly as they are 4000 years ago'. [A.D.] that is, After Darwin, the religionist have had to re-jig their tale: God created people and animals through divinely tweaking evolution. Goodenough the biologist and Deacon the anthropologist represent this somewhat sad and forlorn effort. Two Christians desperately trying to cling to and reconcile a belief in supernatural superstition with the realities of science. For example, while both as scientists give lip service to Darwin's profound and irrefutable discovery of the natural unguided process of evolution the two steadfastly refuse to acknowledge and accept that that process has no need to be tweaked by an ineffable, putatively live, disembodied omni-max non-human entity. Evolution is elegantly explained without the added complication and without the imposition of an phantastical ubermensch. This would explain why there is only one science, a universally acknowledged explanatory tool, and why there is a multitude of culturally-derived parochial religious beliefs all pretending to be universal explanatory tools each with their own set of apparent ‘trooths’(TM).

            No Johnboy, there is little you have presented to date that represents a compelling case to interpose supernatural superstition back into the scientific algorithm.

            Cheers

          • Perhaps you miss my point. Rather than urging the position that anyone has managed to exhaustively explain reality with robust epistemic warrant, I have suggested, instead, that humankind can normatively justify various existential responses (evaluative dispositions or affective attitudes), which entail "living as if" this or that might be the case regarding ultimate realities (including the initial, boundary and limit conditions of the cosmos). While I see no value to be cashed out of a god of the gaps metaphysics, neither would I accept scientism's explanatory promissory notes as collateral to secure those existential options that remain vital and live. I'm the foremost advocate of positivist and philosophic probes, but have no intention of twiddling my existential thumbs or surrendering my license to hope, while waiting for them to answer all begging questions. I'm talking normative justifications not claiming epistemic warrants.

          • Papalinton

            "... neither would I accept scientism's explanatory promissory notes as collateral to secure those existential options that remain vital and live."

            Another pet ploy of the apologist. The moment one advocates others to consider science as a viable, efficacious and astoundingly successful paradigm against which existential realities can be properly and rightly adjudicated as to their correctness or incorrectness, out flips the epithet, 'scientism', a pejorative most loved by those that obdurately persist in subscribing to the tradition of supernatural superstition.

            Johnboy, I think it is becoming plainer and more compelling than ever, there are no existential options that remain vital and alive that are not based on a lie, a falsity, an illusion of primitive fables.

            The reasonable question that must be responded to today is: Do we persist with Theism as our principle explanatory paradigm and add a touch of science into the equation when and if it fits the theological model [the Goodenough/ Deacon approach]; or, do we as a community transpose humanity to the sciences as our standard explanatory model with a little touch of theology and a choice of options consistent with the theological proclivity one indulges in?

            You're in the first camp. I am in the other camp. Let the Culture Wars continue.

          • Because, as I've tried to explain at some length, religious orientations are largely nonpropositional, and because those doctrinal elements that are propositional are largely poetic symbolism and sacred stories conveyed in myth, hence interpretive in the sense of meaning-making and not descriptive in the sense of fact-finding, your atheological critique, like those of the so-called "new" atheism, is not only too narrow but goes wide of its mark, where religion isn't terribly vulnerable.

            Those nonbelievers, like Philip Kitcher and Ursula Goodenough, who get this, advocate a soft atheism, which employs --- not a culture war, but --- a common cause paradigm to engage religion. Kitcher's no Charles Taylor, mind you, but he better grasps religion as the existential orientation it truly is and not as some competing epistemology, which it manifestly is not. Like Eller, Kitcher knows better than to argue against religion on pragmatic and normative grounds. Ursula, for her part, only argues for the truth, beauty, goodness, freedom and love that we all share per Everybody's Story.

            Let us seek Common Cause. Let authentic dialogue continue!

          • Goodenough the biologist and Deacon the anthropologist represent this somewhat sad and forlorn effort. Two Christians desperately trying to cling to and reconcile a belief in supernatural superstition with the realities of science. <<<

            Terry and Ursula aren't believers, at least not since we last corresponded.

            And how many times do I have to say that I reject NOMA? Or that methodological naturalism's our best tool, combined with philosophic norms to probe proximate realities?

            The question emerges regarding how one responds existentially when those tools leave profound questions begging regarding humanity's ultimate concerns. That's a normative question, not a descriptive enterprise.

            You write as if you know Deacon and Goodenough, their work and worldviews. You make assertions regarding what's mainstream or contemporary philosophically or theologically. All groundless.

            Enough already.

          • Papalinton

            "Terry and Ursula aren't believers, at least not since we last corresponded."

            That's interesting.

            "Goodenough describes herself as a non-theist and religious naturalist, and she has written a short book called “The Sacred Depths of Nature,” which sounds like an exposition of something close to Adelphiasophism. However, according to Eugene Selk, she is the daughter of a Professor of the History of Religion at Yale who started out as a Methodist preacher, attends a Presbyterian congregation, sings in the choir, says her prayers, and listens to sermons—a curiously active level of doubt about God."

            It's the bolded bit that caught my eye. You can read the rest of the articleHERE

            A hermaphroditic form of belief it seems: neither one nor the other, depending on the circumstance one finds oneself.

            I'm happy to accept her word that she is not a christian, but I cannot concede to your claim that she is not a believer. She clearly is a religious believer of some sort through which she views her science.

          • You need concede nothing. I respond for the benefit of others who will pass this way, that they would be equipped to defend their hope and enjoy the consolations of faith, all over against Enlightenment fundamentalism, scientism, logical positivism, radical empiricism, ignosticism and especially those who argue against faith on normative grounds, both moral and practical. Your contributions merely provide the object lessons of superficial atheological critiques.

            Today's lesson demonstrates how one's ideological biases, especially when aggravated by animus, can blind one to truth.

            I don't need your links and explications regarding Ursula's nonbelief. She's a friend of mine, the likes of which you'd do well to emulate.

            For those interested:
            http://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ursula_Goodenough

          • Papalinton

            Thanks Johnboy. I'm very happy that Goodenough is a friend of yours. It surely is a good way of knowing something of a person's worldview. And clearly you both share a very similar perspective about the role of the religious impulse in science explication. But its not a view I share, largely but not exclusively, on epistemological grounds. Epistemology, one recalls, is the investigation of what distinguishes 'justified belief' from 'opinion'. But there is a deeper and more fundamentally problematic issue with the Goodenough 'religious naturalism' approach. It muddies the waters. It elevates a belief in supernatural superstition to that of belief in scientific fact and empiricism. There are countless scientists that revere nature, but don't see anything that resembles religiosity in it. Others, Goddenough etc, see a reverence and awe in nature they believe signals a case for mysticism, a Mother Nature Goddess pantheism, a divinity in nature. While laudable to some, such a message is too easily misconstrued by the religiose as a justification for their belief in supernatural superstition. Eller, in citing Earnest Cassirer, makes a most elegant and germane observation:
            "Cassirer, while establishing the profound and no doubt true fact that humans live in a 'mediated' reality in which symbols are the medium, premises his analysis of religion on its self-evident falseness and contingency: "Religion claims to be in possession of an absolute truth; but its history is a history of errors and heresies. It gives us the promise and prospect of a transcendent world - far beyond the limits of human experience - and it remains human, all too human".

            You have not made the case for a Goodenough approach to science. It is in the main, problematically interpretive at best, misguided at worst.

            

It's interesting how you indict me of animus and ideological biases. You, yourself, are not too short of exhibiting a well rehearsed and intensely developed capacity to harbour a deep and abiding animus, driven as it is by ideological biases of your own, to a raft of philosophical positions you describe as Enlightenment fundamentalism, scientism, logical positivism, radical empiricism, ignosticism and particularly against those, such as me, who argue that religious faith is as ephemeral as smelling the taste of oxygen. It is illusory. It is a failed epistemology. I can see why it is you reject epistemology and why it plays no role in informing your philosophical stance on the matter of faith, because to do so would largely not comport with your much looser semiotic, that is, 'interpretive' [re-interpretive?] notion of 'faith'.

            

It's also interesting that your utterances, Enlightenment fundamentalism, scientism, logical positivism, radical empiricism, ignosticism, exactly mimic the sentiments that religious apologists express.

            Whatever the truth is, blind or otherwise, I certainly do not subscribe to your version of the 'truth'.

          • re: And clearly you both share a very similar perspective about the role of the religious impulse in science explication. <<<<

            Meaningless wordplay.

            re: You have not made the case for a Goodenough approach to science.<<<

            That's not been a topic. Since you bring it up, though, she's one of the world's foremost cell biologists and literally wrote THE textbook.

            re: Others, Goddenough etc, see a reverence and awe in nature they believe signals a case for mysticism, a Mother Nature Goddess pantheism, a divinity in nature. <<<

            That's laughably absurd. Her awe expresses an evaluative disposition not derived from a theoretic position. It represents a psychological state, not a philosophical analysis.

            re: You, yourself, are not too short of exhibiting a well rehearsed and intensely developed capacity to harbour a deep and abiding animus, driven as it is by ideological biases of your own, to a raft of philosophical positions you describe as Enlightenment fundamentalism, scientism, logical positivism, radical empiricism, ignosticism <<<

            The discernment of those positions doesn't derive from my psychological state but from a philosophical analysis of your positions, whereby per your walking and quacking one gathers you are ducking fundamental epistemological issues.

          • Papalinton

            Don't go burst a boiler Johnboy, not on my account. Just because I see little value in your worldview contributing to the discussion going forward I really don't hold any animus, of the visceral kind at least. I did enjoy these two:

            "That's laughably absurd. Her [Goodenough] awe expresses an evaluative disposition not derived from a theoretic position. It represents a psychological state, not a philosophical analysis" and

            "The discernment of those positions doesn't derive from my psychological state but from a philosophical analysis of your positions ..."

            Philosophical? vis-a-vis Psychological? Psychological? vis-a-vis Philosophical?

            I say, "Yeah, Right". I also say of your position, as I do of the notion 'Religious Naturalism', if it looks like a duck, walks like a duck, quacks like a duck ..........

          • re: the amorality of atheology <<<

            No such thing was asserted, referred to or discussed or remotely hinted at. You have forfeited the privilege of my dignifying your future contributions by responding.

          • Papalinton

            I've just returned to the computer.

            Oops! Missed this one. That was one of the snippets I sought to edit out as it should not have been there. It doesn't even make contextual sense. Should have read:

            "I do like your 'lesson for the day' from the pulpit on the virtues of atheology".

          • Michael Murray

            Which is the one true and only religion,

            Perhaps this is the reason the Church used to oppose marriage between Catholics and non-Catholics. You risk getting children like me who wonder why their father is in the one true religion and their mother isn't ? Who wonder why they have to work so hard to go to heaven but their mother doesn't ?

          • Papalinton

            In response to your query, I thought it best that the one person who could best explain the Catholic perspective is Johnboy.
            The reason on both counts of your query is that, ... "to the extent these ...aspects are propositional, then, they cultivate evaluative dispositions or affective attitudes toward distinctly different attributes of ultimate reality, which aren't necessarily mutually exclusive but would best be conceived pluralistically as a glorious polydoxy."

            :o)

          • Kevin Aldrich

            I think I could responding to your objections, but because you make them in such an abusive manner I doubt there would be any point.

          • Papalinton

            Even the slightest of contradictory evidence, proofs or facts to a long and dearly held, but ultimately erroneous, belief can feel as if it were written in abusive manner. And I can understand why you emote and react the way you do. You have experienced decades of inculcation from early childhood in the establishment of your particular religious beliefs that will make it extraordinarily difficult for you understand let alone appreciate that there are so many other world views out there that challenge the very existence of your peculiar set of beliefs. Sometimes one has to be tough to be kind. I take my responsibility as a contributor very seriously in bringing these to your attention. One cannot blithely sweep out of contention any of these conflicting, contrasting and often competing world views by pretending that your god and your set of beliefs is the one, true and only proper system known to mankind. That used to work once when christian hegemony pervaded every aspect of individual and family life, monopolising the public square in every town, city and community. We have moved on since those times. It is no longer an acknowledged or intellectually acceptable defence in modern society. We must, as Dennett so eloquently and forthrightly explained, we must 'break the spell' of supernatural superstition in order that we as a species can grow and develop if we are to face and address the very big existential challenges into the future. The overriding impediment to that growth and development in community, towards good governance, towards development of genuine moral and ethical public policy that seeks to protect ALL members of a community, is the preponderance of the closed-circuit, tribal-focussed, exclusivity-bound sectarianism that is the cornerstone of institutional religion. Religion simply cannot hack it any more. We need a different model to the current but moribund Christian explanatory model. Christianity worked well through humanity's age of deep and abiding ignorance, where an abyss best characterised whatever knowledge and understanding we had about ourselves, about the world, about the universe.

            And thankfully, there is every sign that religion is losing its influence in the highly competitive marketplace of ideas, being properly right-sized to a significantly smaller sectional interest in the community, one of many that a truly diverse and multicultural should look forward to.

          • Kevin Aldrich

            That's what I'm talking about.

          • Papalinton

            Well, I'm glad to hear you agree. It would be very hard for you to arrive at a logical, reasoned argument about how religion is failing to provide the real answers to today's problems, despite your decades of immersion in the sanctified pool of religious thought. It would be very hard to reconcile the utterly differing philosophies, particularly in light of the outstandingly impressive. albeit not very long, record of the sciences and scientifically-informed philosophy as epistemically and ontologically robust explanatory tools going forward compared to theology and religion.
            But take it slowly. Gestalt will come and you'll be the better for it.

          • Kevin Aldrich

            What "I'm taking about" is your blizzard of abuse.

          • Papalinton

            You haven't outlined your claim of abuse or defined 'abuse'. I thoroughly disagree with your perspective. I think it is a nonsense. How is that abusive?

            I gave a very clear case of why you might think it abusive. I wrote:
            "Even the slightest of contradictory evidence, proofs or facts to a long and dearly held, but ultimately erroneous, belief can feel as if it were written in abusive manner."

            I'm sorry you feel that way. Perhaps your faith isn't as strong as you imagined, doesn't make you stronger or your resolve firmer. If your faith is that tenuous that you feel slighted by even the mildest criticism perhaps you need to look for a stronger and more robust faith around which you can build a confident worldview.

          • Hi Luke,

            If by evidence you mean reasons, then "belief without evidence" is Kierkegaardian fideism, what Pope Francis describes in his encyclical as "a leap in the dark, to be taken in the absence of light, driven by blind emotion, or as a subjective light, capable perhaps of warming the heart and bringing personal consolation." For better or worse the Church has always vehemently rejected this "faith".

            But if by evidence you mean empirical proof or logical tautologies, then of course both approaches to faith don't rest on evidence. How could they? But then we're on the doomed course of verificationism, where most of what we do and say is cognitively meaningless.

            But even more important than the question of evidence I'd say is the question of who and what is being evidenced: a "celestial author" or demiurge that functions as an explanatory rival to the laws of nature, or Being Itself, the prime ("vertical") cause through which all secondary ("horizontal") causes exist in every instant?

          • Hi Mr. Becklo,

            Thanks for the reply. Yes, the question of God's nature is the one that needs to be addressed before discussing evidence is even meaningful. I'm still waiting for someone to define God in such a way that I could have some way of analyzing the likelihood of its existence vs. non-existence and what qualities it has vs. does not have. Are you saying that I should never expect to have this type of information?

          • Mike

            But luke the answer as you well know is unmoved mover, existence itself, the cause of all causes, etc. the God that Aristotle and plato reasoned their way to; the god that said "i am who i am" the god that told the desert dwellers that there was only 1 god etc. etc.

            What happened to the ancient israelites and in judea 2,000 years ago and is recorded in the books of the bible is a telling of the interaction with this peculiar god that's all...both ways Fides and Ratio are needed bc this god is not among many but is the god of the whole show.

            Don't take this the wrong way but maybe you have this hollywood caricature in your mind when you think of God; like the things that lefties snear at when they think about christians?

            But aquinas argued from the senses only from reality itself to this God and then the things in the bible are a collection of thoughts, stories, etc. a compendium of a people's relationship with this God...like a memoir.

          • the answer as you well know is...

            There is no satisfactory answer I know of, Mike.

            this god is not among many but is the god of the whole show

            Why should I believe this?

            Don't take this the wrong way

            Even if I did believe in a "Hollywood caricature" of God, how would you know whether or not it was an accurate portrayal?

          • Mike

            Ok! argh! i'll try to resist the urge to engage you.

            Take care and seriously, start praying even if you don't believe - it's very healthy!

          • Your evidence that praying is healthier than mindfulness or meditation, please.

          • Mike

            You're awesome! ;)

          • Kevin Aldrich

            Dude, I wish you would slow down and try to be more coherent.

          • Mike

            Luke got my goat!

          • Luke Cooper

            So it's my fault for asking you why you believe what you believe? If you get frustrated because you cannot provide evidence to support your beliefs, that's not my problem.

          • Mike

            I wasn't frustrated i was just being a bit loosy-goosy. Take care and let's catch up again on another post.

          • Well no, I don't think that's true. I think you can demonstrate God's existence before you know anything about his nature. Existence "precedes essence" in the Summa, for instance.

            My point is that assumptions about God's nature can decide the issue before we even set out to determine whether God exists (as opposed to say an apophatic "bracketing" of his nature, which would assume nothing). Stephen explicitly rejects this understanding of God (which many Christians hold) as a big "celestial author" in the sky who exists in the exact same sense we exist. If you respond to his analogical understanding by (also) dismissing a univocal understanding, you'll have stacked the deck to reject both understandings. Stephen is talking about God differently.

            And yes, you should most definitely expect to have "information" to "analyze" eventually. (I think that's a crass way of putting it, but I see where you're coming from). A common misconception about the apophatic theology is that it's total darkness - again, the "leap" of faith. It's a method; it may not yield the whole picture on its own, but what it does yield is sturdy.

          • I think you can demonstrate God's existence before you know anything about his nature.

            How?

            My point is that assumptions about God's nature can decide the issue before we even set out to determine whether God exists

            How do you know that your assumptions are accurate?

            Edit: Formatting.

          • I'm talking about your assumptions re: God as a "celestial" being who rivals scientific explanations of nature.

          • How should I assume God to be?

          • Do you have to make assumptions? Where would modern science be if "make your assumptions" was part of the method?

          • In the absence of reason and evidence, I honestly don't know how else to proceed.

          • I guess I'm wondering, what's the epistemological priority? In an earlier comment you say that God's nature needs to be established "before discussing evidence is even meaningful". Here you seem to be saying the evidence is prioritized first - and there is none - so we have to then make assumptions about his nature.

            Either way, it looks like we're back to your original comment re: evidence. So I would go back to my original response. Whose reason? Which evidence? Is reason analytic logic, evidence empirical science?

          • Luke Cooper

            In your first reply to me, you said "But even more important than the question of evidence I'd say is the question of who and what is being evidenced." I thought you meant that knowing God's nature (the "who and what") preceded knowing God's existence. Then in a later comment you said "I think you can demonstrate God's existence before you know anything about his nature." Then I think we got derailed on the "assumptions" issue.

            Basically, if you think that to know of God's existence necessarily precedes the ability to know of God's nature, then I'm fine with progressing in that way. I don't see how anyone can claim to know of God's existence or nature.

            Whose reason? Which evidence?

            Anything! Analytic logic, empirical evidence, whatever you think makes a compelling case for knowing of God's existence and God's nature, in whichever order works best.

          • Doug Shaver

            Do you have to make assumptions?

            Yes, we all do. There is no reasoning without assumptions.

            Where would modern science be if "make your assumptions" was part of the method?

            Without some assumptions, modern science would not even exist.

          • Ignatius Reilly

            Well no, I don't think that's true. I think you can demonstrate God's existence before you know anything about his nature. Existence "precedes essence" in the Summa, for instance.

            Demonstrate it then or point to a demonstration that you think succeeds. The five ways do not succeed.

            Suppose you can demonstrate that their exists a thing X that was the first cause, and you then identify that as God. First Cause is a much weaker definition of God then the God the original post is talking about.

          • Faith, generally, means a strong belief or trust in someone or something or a firm belief in something for which there is no proof. Evidence presents as a matter of degree in relationship to inferential thinking regarding certain facts. Reason proceeds speculatively and normatively (morally and/or practically).

            Because for many, even if not all, religious faith does proceed via both speculative and normative reasoning, inferentially and evidentially and practically, one might want to argue against a given faith in God, in particular, in a manner that wouldn't otherwise undermine faith as understood and practiced, in general. Otherwise, one will paint oneself into that epistemic corner called logical positivism.

            Some, in an attempt to avoid such a charge of radical empiricism, argue that various conceptions of God remain incoherent, even meaningless, thus embracing a theological noncognitivism or ignosticism. That strategy fails, too, unless one can demonstrate that
            one's criteria for meaningful or coherent discourse haven't been applied to theology arbitrarily.

            For those reasons, Luke, the best atheological critiques, in my view, proceed from an agnostic, not ignostic, stance, on grounds of implausibility, not improbability, arguing that faith's interpretations remain uncompelling, not unreasonable.

          • scottie1111

            I like your post, but can you tell me how God impregnating a virgin to have a baby that goes on a suicide mission to forgive the transgression of eating the wrong produce is reasonable? Sounds reasonable to me...
            ...in a Mel Gibson film.
            Access to information in our modern age redefines common sense, it's reasonable not to believe in talking snakes and a Jewish carpenter zombie.

          • Thanks, Scottie. No, Biblical fundamentalism seems unreasonable to me.

          • scottie1111

            That's refreshing. No sarcasm, I mean that sincerely:)
            There voices in Christianity I have no quarrels with: John Shelby Spong, and the U.Universalists.

          • Hi, Johnboy. Thanks for offering your perspective. What bothers me is that God claims seem to be purposely constructed in such a way that defy all attempts at definition and explanation. All I see is obfuscation.

          • Luke, the nature of the claims varies widely as one's starting point changes, for example, from the merely philosophic to the robustly theological, then, in turn, from a substantially vague theology of nature to a markedly specific dogmatic theology. This requires a great deal of categorical parsing and conceptual nuance.

            While it may seem, sometimes, that believers are presenting ad hoc arguments to counter the objections of sophomore philosophy students, many who've been painfully dispossessed of rather fundamentalistic, hence simplistic, approaches to faith, the truth of the matter is that most such parsing and nuance, in all of the great traditions, has been developed --- not just across centuries, but --- over millennia.

            The difficulties in the subject matter inhere in the nature of the reality being probed.

          • the truth of the matter is that most such parsing and nuance, in all of the great traditions, has been developed --- not just across centuries, but --- over millennia.

            The same could probably be said about alchemy.

          • Poor analogy, WAY too many dissimilarities.

            See, rather:
            http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/cosmology-theology/

          • I did not mean to compare theology and alchemy directly, but to compare how the efforts made by the followers of each have traditions that developed over centuries.

          • Well, per what I said earlier, one needs to be clear regarding which categories are under consideration. When discussing the relationship between faith and reason, what are called preambles to the faith, as well as natural "theology," are essentially philosophical. Developments over the centuries in epistemology and how they impacted natural theology would be on point So, too, would developments in biblical exegesis, like literary and historical criticisms, since those are also scientific. Those traditions that evolve within the faith, after the leap of faith, are less interesting philosophically to me is all.

          • I think I follow. Thanks.

        • Kevin Aldrich

          I don't know who is telling you that you are supposed to believe without evidence.

          There are tons of philosophical writings that explain what God must be like if he exists.

          There are also tons of philosophical writings that argue that God does exist.

          Faith, at least for a Catholic, is assenting to what God has revealed. The Church does not expect you to make that assent until you are certain the grounds for making that assent are true.

          • Nothing I've encountered so far is compelling, so a belief in God for me would be without reason or evidence. For example, how can anyone prove that God is good?

          • Kevin Aldrich

            Tommy asked the same question:

            http://www.newadvent.org/summa/1006.htm

          • This is meaningless to me. Aquinas is working off of assumptions that I see no reason to hold. What does this even mean?

            To have mode, species and order belongs to the essence of caused good; but good is in God as in its cause, and hence it belongs to Him to impose mode, species and order on others; wherefore these three things are in God as in their cause.

          • Kevin Aldrich

            I think you mean that Aquinas is using concepts you don't understand.

          • What is "the essence of caused good?" Why should I believe in that concept?

            Edit: This is just one example of many that I could pull from that source.

          • Kevin Aldrich

            Reply to Objection 1. To have mode, species and order belongs to the essence of caused good; but good is in God as in its cause, and hence it belongs to Him to impose mode, species and order on others; wherefore these three things are in God as in their cause.

            Luke Cooper is a caused good. You are an effect (you were caused by your parents) so the good in you (like your intellect, will, passions, emotions, bodily systems) are also effects.

            Ultimately, God is the cause of the good in creatures. But good is not in God as an effect, otherwise he would not be God, someone else would be. I think this is one reason we can say God is good, which was your original question.

          • Ultimately, God is the cause of the good in creatures.

            How do you know this? Why can't what we call good be attributable to evolutionary means?

          • Kevin Aldrich

            The good in creatures can be attributable to evolutionary means to an extent.

            Aquinas even said something along these lines in his Commentary on Aristotle’s Physics: “Nature is nothing but the plan of some art, namely a divine one, put into things themselves, by which those things move towards a concrete end: as if the man who builds up a ship could give to the pieces of wood that they could move by themselves to produce the form of the ship.”

            The problem is that the material world cannot account for itself but requires a cause--at least that is something natural theologians argue.

            Aquinas and others would also argue that human rationality cannot be a product of evolution.

          • The good in creatures can be attributable to evolutionary means to an extent.

            Why just to an extent? Why not fully?

            Aquinas was writing before we had any idea of natural selection, DNA, neuroscience, etc. Why should I trust his antiquated perspective?

            The problem is that the material world cannot account for itself but requires a cause

            Maybe. Does that cause mean I should believe in the Catholic God and all of the associated claims?

          • Kevin Aldrich

            The reason the good in creatures can be attributable to evolution only to an extent is because rationality cannot be attributed to materiality and because materiality cannot account for itself.

            You don't have to trust Aquinas' perspective but I quoted him because he anticipated the modern view of evolution according to Artigas in "The Mind of the Universe."

            You should only believe in the "Catholic" God if you believe the evidence is sufficient to justify it.

          • rationality cannot be attributed to materiality

            Why not? If the materials developed over billions of years and could give rise to emergent properties such as consciousness, why can't rationality be attributed to material things? I don't claim to know how it came to be, but scientists have developed compelling theories seem to do a good job of explaining portions of it.

          • Kevin Aldrich

            I need @yeoldestatistician:disqus to jump in here. He has all these explanations down pat.

            I think rationality cannot be attributed to materiality because we can apprehend the forms of material things which are abstract and we can even see the forms of abstract things.

          • we can apprehend the forms of material things which are abstract and we can even see the forms of abstract things.

            I don't see how this is a problem for materialism.

          • Doug Shaver

            I don't know who is telling you that you are supposed to believe without evidence.

            I haven't heard it very often, but I have heard it. I wasn't taking notes, though, so I can't tell you whom I've heard it from.

            What I usually hear instead is that I'm supposed to believe even thought the evidence is not sufficient to compel belief. In other words, as long as I have some reason to believe in God, then there is something wrong with me if I don't believe.

      • Doug Shaver

        I don't lack belief because I can't know fully. I lack belief because I can't know at all.

    • Mike

      Ok how about this:

      http://www.firstthings.com/article/2010/10/fearful-symmetries

      Don't you think it impossible given a purposeless random universe that some creature that evolved from immaterial inanimate matter would be able to "invent" abstract math which would seem to point to a "realm" that is somehow beyond materialism AND that that math would then be discovered to be exactly what would be needed to described the physics of certain phenomena in the universe? On an atheistic model/conception of reality that is impossible imho.

      Read it it's fascinating; apparently some of the math was created as a goof hundreds of years before it was discovered that it described precisely some physics issues...strange stuff even if you don't believe.

      • Doug Shaver

        Don't you think it impossible given a purposeless random universe that some creature that evolved from immaterial inanimate matter would be able to "invent" abstract math which would seem to point to a "realm" that is somehow beyond materialism AND that that math would then be discovered to be exactly what would be needed to described the physics of certain phenomena in the universe?

        Yes, but I don't think the universe is random. Delete the word, and I would answer: No, it is not impossible. It is perhaps even inevitable.

        • Mike

          Ok! Seriously i think we may be getting to the "root" of why we agree on the evidence but come to such disparate conclusions.

          IF you agree that the universe is NOT random that it has laws that determine certain parameters and seem to "lead" to certain things like life, like advanced life etc., IF they are also extremely finely tuned like physicists agree they are...why then do you not reason to Mind/intelligence/order something "like" that?

          I am really trying to understand how you folks avoid that conclusion.

          • Doug Shaver

            IF you agree that the universe is NOT random that it has laws that determine certain parameters and seem to "lead" to certain things like life, like advanced life etc., IF they are also extremely finely tuned like physicists agree they are...why then do you not reason to Mind/intelligence/order something "like" that?

            I am really trying to understand how you folks avoid that conclusion.

            By not accepting both antecedents. "Non-random" does not entail "finely tuned."

            As you can discover with a little googling, the fine-tuning argument has been addressed at length by people more familiar than I am with the relevant science. If you would really understand why skeptics find the argument unpersuasive, you should have a look at one or two, at least, of those essays. Meanwhile, I will give you my personal take on why it doesn't work.

            The term "fine-tuning" looks like question-begging to me. It presupposes that the constants in question could, absent divine intervention, have had any value at all and that any particular value was equally probable with any other value. But we don't know that to be a fact. It is a fact that we have no idea, at this particular moment in our history. why they do not differ from their observed values, but it does not follow, from our ignorance of any reason, either that there is no reason or that the one reason we can imagine is the only possible reason. The fine-tuning argument, in other words, assumes facts not in evidence. Or else, it's just the latest God-of-the-gaps argument.

      • Your shotgun approach is tiresome, Mike. I feel like you're just trying to waste my time.

        • Mike

          Did you read it? i think it's fascinating...how can you account for that on pure naturalism/materialism/physical ism?

          • Account for what in particular, Mike? Please be specific.

          • Mike

            Never mind, take care.

      • Kevin Aldrich

        I agree. It is a fascinating piece.

        Reductionism seems to move from complex to simple, but underlying simplicity is an even greater complexity than the complexity we started with.

        • Mike

          There seems to be a "potential" in the simplest to "become" something very very complex.

          • Kevin Aldrich

            Yes, but Barr is saying the simpler the level the more complex the phenomena.

          • Mike

            Yes you're right i don't think i got the nuance of that quite right the first time. He's saying that the "lower" that we go the more complex the explanations of the phenomena are.

    • Kevin Aldrich

      SB is not arguing that we can't know God. He is arguing that we can have a limited but true natural knowledge of God through reason.

      • I don't understand how "limited" can extrapolate to "true." If one admits that there are parts of God's nature that we can't understand / comprehend, how can one be sure that the parts we cannot understand / comprehend are consistent with what we think we know to be true?

        • Kevin Aldrich

          The drawing of SB's mom tells us some true things about his mom, like she has eyes, but they don't capture her actual eyes. So his drawing is true but limited.

          Natural theologians posit that God is unlimited. We can glimpse something of what God's lack of limits entails but we would have to be unlimited ourselves to see the full extent of it.

          I think the principle of non-contradiction would rule out God being good and evil or any other contraries.

          • I don't see how the drawing analogy elucidates God's nature. What if God loves watching its creations suffer and die? How can one disprove the concept of a trickster God?

            Unless I'm mistaken, no one can "glimpse" God. And who's to say that a glimpse reveals anything relevant about something's nature?

            Aren't your limiting God's power by saying what it can't do. Why couldn't God contain contradictions?

          • Kevin Aldrich

            You would be superior to a trickster god. I think that would be absurd and so could not be true.

            There are other absurd things that could not be true, like God could annihilate himself.

          • Do you have any reasons why I should believe these statements? Why would I be superior to a trickster God? Why is it absurd? Why could Got not annihilate itself?

          • Kevin Aldrich

            You would be morally superior to God and it is absurd to believe that the creature can surpass the creator.

          • That's not an absurd belief at all if you think that evolution is true. I do believe I am morally superior to the God described in the Bible. I've never condoned slavery or murder, for example.

          • Kevin Aldrich

            If you read the First Things article by Steven Barr that Mike recommended below, you will get an argument that actually complexity gets deeper the lower down you go.

            I don't think your interpretation of the God of the Bible is correct. It is a reductionist approach that lets you reject everything in it.

          • I will read the article.

            How should I interpret the God of the Bible?

          • Kevin Aldrich

            You can interpret the Bible any way you like but Catholics interpret the Old Testament in light of the entirety of what we call the Deposit of Faith.

          • Why should I interpret the Bible the way that Catholics are told to? Who's the arbiter of how to correctly interpret scripture?

          • Kevin Aldrich

            You are unless you become a Catholic and then the Magisterium is.

          • This brings us full circle. Why are my interpretations of God as a being that condoned slavery and murder incorrect?

          • Kevin Aldrich

            If you just look at passages such as the order to kill all the Canaanites (even the innocent babies) you would be correct. But that leaves out everything else the OT says about murder. It also leaves out everything he NT says about murder.

          • Luke Cooper

            This is getting into divine command theory territory. God-commanded killing is good; other killing is not good. How can I tell the difference between which killings were and were not commanded by God? Or is God being inconsistent or contradictory?

          • Kevin Aldrich

            Catholics definitely reject divine command theory.

          • Luke Cooper

            So was God not being good when it commanded the Canaanite killings? Because it does contradict other passages in the Bible. Which God is the right God?

          • Kevin Aldrich

            Here is a better answer than I could supply: http://strangenotions.com/violence-is-contrary-to-gods-nature/

          • Luke Cooper

            It's not an answer. The author says more than once that it probably won't satisfy atheists. It's more apologetics and calls the inerrancy of the Bible into question even more. Why didn't God make sure that what's in the Bible is what God wanted to be in the Bible? If the Bible got some parts of God wrong, why didn't God bother to have someone correct it along the way? The author tries to pin the fault on "imperfect people." Its own creations!

          • Kevin Aldrich

            Maybe you have too Protestant a view of the Bible. On the Catholic view, every book of the Bible has two authors (the human author or authors and God). Why is it impossible that God would want preserved more primitive and imperfect human understandings of God?

          • Luke Cooper

            It's not impossible, but incredibly irresponsible. If humans were getting fundamental things wrong about God's nature, why didn't God bother to intervene with the human authors and set the record straight?

          • Kevin Aldrich

            It is called the law of gradualism. People are initiated little by little into the truth. For example, Moses allowed divorce because of the hardness of heart of the Jews, but Christ restored marriage to its pre-lapsarian meaning.

            When Moses gave the Ten Commandments to Israel, there was very little rationale. It was basically obey or else. In time, by trying to live the commands, they discovered how good it was.

          • Luke Cooper

            That doesn't really answer my question. We're talking about a misrepresentation of God on the topic of genocide, not divorce. If you're saying that your God would not condone genocide, why didn't God set the record straight on such an important, fundamental aspect of its nature?

          • Kevin Aldrich

            Ez 18:32 "I have no pleasure in the death of any one, says the Lord God."

            There are hundreds of other OT passages that could be cited.

          • Luke Cooper

            Kevin, I'm not asking about the other verses. It's frustrating that you're not answering the question: Why didn't God set the record straight on such an important, fundamental aspect of its nature?

          • Kevin Aldrich

            I don't know what you mean by setting the record straight. What would you consider setting the record straight on the story of Noah, for example?

          • Luke Cooper

            Maybe I misunderstood your position on the Canaanite genocide issue. I thought your position was that God didn't actually command the genocide, that doing so would conflict with God's nature so it was an example of human error in the Bible.

            By setting the record straight, I meant why didn't God ensure that the false information about its nature wasn't canonized.

            I don't know what you believe about the Noah story, sorry.

          • Kevin Aldrich

            I guess that my position is that genocide is against God's nature, that the author or authors who wrote those passages about genocide thought genocide was fine (I think virtually everyone at that time believed in completely wiping out your enemies if necessary), and that God is fine about it being in those books.

            From a Christian perspective, those three contraries have to be reconciled.

            It is also quite possible that that genocide never happened and that it was never even attempted. It is also quite possible that nobody who read these passages has ever been inclined to commit genocide as a result of them.

          • Luke Cooper

            I understand that those things are possible, but I still don't understand why God would have been fine with leaving them in. The Bible is THE source for learning about God; everything else is secondary (at least from a Protestant perspective). If the Bible can't be trusted to get aspects of God's nature right, why should I trust anything else in the Bible about God's nature? This brings me back to one of my original questions: How can anyone claim to know anything about God's nature?

          • Kevin Aldrich

            As far as the Catholic Church goes, these were part of the Sacred Scriptures at the time of Christ and were received into the canon of the Church as such. It is interesting that no attempt was ever made to edit out parts that were more problematic.

            For Catholics the source for learning about God is the Church which draws on Sacred Tradition (that which was written down and that which was passed down orally) as interpreted by the Magisterium or teaching authority of the pope and bishops united to him.

            As far as knowing anything about God's nature, all kinds of things can be known by reason alone.

          • Luke Cooper

            As far as knowing anything about God's nature, all kinds of things can be known by reason alone.

            How? Which things?

          • Kevin Aldrich

            Read the indices of the Summa Theologica or the Summa Contra Gentiles by Aquinas to get an idea.

          • Luke Cooper

            I'm getting the impression that you don't know, either. Otherwise, why outsource me to thousands of pages without guidance? Please tell me where in these writings I should look and why.

          • Kevin Aldrich

            Here is how this thread began:

            I come here seeking evidence and arguments for God. Instead, I get simplistic analogies that boil down to a common apologetic maneuver: We can't comprehend God. To me, this is more reason why I shouldn't bother attempting to learn more about God in the first place.

            Here is the index of the first part of the first part of the Summa:

            The One God

            EXISTENCE: The existence (2) of God.

            ESSENCE: We cannot know what God is, but only what He is not. So to study Him, we study what He has not -- such as composition and motion. His simplicity (3) or lack of composition. His perfection: and because everything in so far as it is perfect is called good, we shall speak of His goodness (6) -- and goodness in general (5) -- as well as His perfection (4). His infinity (7) and omnipresence (8). His immutability (9), and His eternity (10) following on His immutability. His unity (11). How God is known by us (12). The names of God (13).

            OPERATIONS (INTELLECT): God's knowledge (14). The ideas (15), which exist in His knowledge. Truth (16) in God, for knowledge is of things that are true. Falsity (17) in God. The life of God (18), since to understand belongs to living beings.

            OPERATIONS (WILL): God's will (19). In our own wills we find both the passions (such as joy and love), and the habits of the moral virtues (such as justice and fortitude). Hence we shall first consider the love (20) of God, and secondly His justice and mercy (21).

            OPERATIONS (INTELLECT AND WILL): Providence (22), in respect to all created things; for in the science of morals, after the moral virtues themselves, comes the consideration of prudence, to which providence belongs. Predestination (23)and the book of life (24).

            POWER: The power of God (25), the principle of the divine operation as proceeding to the exterior effect. The divine beatitude (26)

            http://www.newadvent.org/summa/1.htm

          • Luke Cooper

            Thanks for the link. I'll check it out.

          • Luke Cooper

            Can you explain the first few sentences in the Essence section? He says that, "We cannot know what God is, but only what He is not. So to study Him, we study what He has not," then he goes on to list all of the things that God is. Isn't this contradictory?

            There are so many problems I see, even within the short page of links. For example, why is everything perfect also good? I think perfection is a concept that could apply to many things. Might Satan be perfectly evil?

            From what I've read so far, Aquinas says things "must" be so without providing compelling rationale why I should take his word for it. I don't accept many of his premises.

          • Kevin Aldrich

            Luke, your question is exactly what SB dealt with in "How NOT to talk about God."

            In his commentary on your quote from Aquinas, Peter Kreeft says, "Note how scrupulously St. Thomas confines our knowledge of God and how fruitfully he develops that knowledge within those bounds . . . : we must choose between positive but analogical knowledge of God (what God is like, not what he is) or univocal but negative knowledge of God (what he is not)."

          • Luke Cooper

            Luke, your question is exactly what SB dealt with in "How NOT to talk about God."

            Which question? I asked three.

            Sigh... What you copied and linked to above are descriptions of what Aquinas is saying God's nature is. Now it seems like you're telling me I'm silly for expecting anything specific about what God's nature is. Which is it? Should I believe what Aquinas says about what God's nature is or is not?

          • Kevin Aldrich

            Sorry. I can't attend to three questions at once. How about one at a time?

          • Luke Cooper

            I'm not asking you answer all three, I'm asking you which of my three questions you were referring to when you said, "Luke your question is exactly what SB..."

          • Kevin Aldrich

            This one:

            >He says that, "We cannot know what God is, but only what He is not. So to study Him, we study what He has not," then he goes on to list all of the things that God is. Isn't this contradictory?

            All the things listed are derived from what he is not. E.g., not mortal (immortal), not composed of parts (so, simple), not limited (infinite), unchanging (immutable), not a mixture of act and potency (perfect, that is, completely what he, is or pure actuality), and so on.

          • Luke Cooper

            Thanks, but I don't see why I should accept much of what he has to say about what God is not, either. It seems to me like he's at a reverse Build-A-Bear, picking and choosing what he thinks God can't be in order to support his own assumptions about how God has to be (e.g., loving, perfect, and good).

          • Kevin Aldrich

            Whatever.

          • Doug Shaver

            Maybe you have too Protestant a view of the Bible. On the Catholic view, every book of the Bible has two authors (the human author or authors and God)

            Most Protestants present the same view, actually. They appeal to human authorship to explain apparent contradictions, and they appeal to divine authorship to explain why those apparent contradictions can't be real contradictions.

          • Marc Riehm

            Sure, but how do you rationalize the bad bits? Even the Big Stories, such as the Deluge and the Exodus, contain wanton death and suffering of innocents. In fact, they are of course _based_ on such suffering.

            To me, the bible is an extraordinary creation, but it is entirely human. You might, in fact, argue that it is among the most human of our creations.

          • I read it. I see no need to believe his claims that there's something else guiding natural processes.

          • Kevin Aldrich

            I don't think Barr is arguing that there is something "guiding natural processes."

            I think he is trying to demolish the reductionist approach that is claimed to rule out God.

            Also, I think he is trying to say that a deeper understanding of the fundamental nature of the material world is more consistent with the idea of a divine Reason being behind it than nothing being behind it.

          • He talks very little of reductionism after the first few paragraphs. I thought his point is that reductionism reduces to simplicity that can't be explained without God.

          • Doug Shaver

            You would be superior to a trickster god.

            I'd probably think I was. But believers in that god would say I had no right to think so. They'd accuse me of excessive pride.

          • Kevin Aldrich

            Then we would be in a Mark Twain universe in which the good people would prefer to be in hell.

          • Doug Shaver

            Twain was writing satire to prove a point. What do you think his point was?

          • Kevin Aldrich

            I'll let you provide the insight.

          • Doug Shaver

            It's been almost 20 years since I read "Letters from the Earth." Rather than trust my memory, I'm re-reading it now. I haven't gotten to the point where he says good people prefer hell, but I'll have something to say about it when I do.

          • Doug Shaver

            I don't find where Twain actually said that good people prefer hell. But the point of the Letters seems to be that Christianity is so absurd that any rational person who actually believed it would hate being in heaven, even if he agreed that hell would be even worse.

  • Peter

    I wonder what God revealed to the Angelic Doctor to cause the latter to believe he had been writing straw. Perhaps God showed him the vast diversity of his creation on a cosmic scale, countless civilisations across time and space praising God, the emergence of a collective consciousness throughout the universe which comes to know and worship its Creator.

    With a universe so clearly revealed to have a purpose and designed to discover its Creator, what need would St. Thomas have of causes to prove God's existence? Nowadays we would not need any special revelation from God to show us the truth, since science is doing that for us. Contrary to the strident claims of atheism, science is bringing us closer to the knowledge of God.