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And This All Men Call God

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Wheaton College’s decision to suspend a Christian professor who proclaimed that Muslims and Christians worship the “same God” has sparked a debate among Christians. Despite the dogmatic differences between Christians and Muslims, is the same God the object of our worship and belief?

Ours is not the first age in which a Christian culture has clashed with the Islamic world, nor the first in which Western states have lived in fear of violence or occupation. It is not even the first time that Christian university professors overtly influenced by Islamic thought have engendered controversy.

I refer, of course, to the Middle Ages. Many luminaries teaching at medieval Christian universities in the shadows of a militant Islam were strongly indebted to the likes of Ibn Sina (Avicenna) and Ibn-Rushd (Averroes). Thomas Aquinas, as is so often the case, is a paradigm instance, drawing on Muslim thinkers for fundamental elements of his thinking about God.

St. Thomas, of course, draws heavily on Islamic thinkers for his famous “five ways” to demonstrate the existence of God and for his strong distinction between essence and existence. The affinity, however, goes much deeper than the genealogy of ideas: St. Thomas’ insistence (echoing St. Paul) that God may be known partially through ordinary experience would be completely unintelligible were Christians and Muslims (and pagan philosophers in the Platonic and Aristotelian traditions) not referring to the same God.

In fact, in his Summa Contra Gentiles, St. Thomas opens the chapter on the demonstrations for God’s existence by pointing out that not only Catholic teachers, but also “philosophers” (by which he means both pagans like Aristotle and Muslims like Averroes) have already proven God’s existence. In fact, after concluding that there exists a transcendent, immutable, and metaphysically necessary Source of physical, contingent beings, Aquinas concludes without hesitation that “This we call God”—with the “we” including not only Catholic teachers, but also pagan and Muslim philosophers.

In the present controversy, some Christian thinkers have taken up the opposite position, arguing that Muslims do not believe in the “same God” as Christians do, because they deny the Christian doctrines of the Incarnation and the Trinity. There is a certain truth to this. Americans who think that our President is well-motivated and those who do not in some sense do not in the trivial sense believe in the existence of the “same” president, as they disagree about certain of his attributes. Yet in the more substantial sense, they clearly are referring to the same person.

The classic philosophical distinction here is the distinction between what we designate (i.e., that to which we refer) and what we signify (i.e., what we mean to say about that to which we refer). For instance, certain medievals believed that Aristotle authored the Liber de Causis. Today, scholars believe it to be a much later work of neo-Platonic metaphysics. Do modern day scholars and the mistaken medievals believe in the same Aristotle? Of course they do. They refer to the same person even if they believe very different things about that person.

Lydia McGrew conflates this distinction when she claims that, because Christians do not believe that God is the author of the Koran, while Muslims do, that therefore Christians and Muslims do not refer to the same God. But this is no more plausible than that those who believe Aristotle authored the Liber de Causis and those who don’t aren’t referring to the same Aristotle. Moreover, McGrew argues that:

“The Muslim, whose religion changes the concept of God in important ways from that of the Judeo-Christian tradition, claims that there is an essential continuity [with the Judeo-Christian concept of God], but the Christian, as long as he remains a Christian and not a Muslim, should reject this.”

No one would dispute the fact that Christians and Muslims do not have the same concept of God. Tertullian and Athanasius did not have the same concept of God either, but that did not mean that they were not referring to the same God. The question is not whether concepts of God differ (they do), but rather whether by those concepts thinkers intend the same (non-conceptual) reality. This is not to deny, of course, that these conceptual distinctions are of the utmost importance, nor is it to say that Christians should be careful to distinguish Christian dogma from that of the Islamic faith.

Peter Leithart advances a similarly mistaken case. He does acknowledge the distinction between what we signify and that of which something is signified. Yet he argues that Islamic and Christian doctrines differ to such a great degree that they could not refer to the same being. He offers this analogy:

“Bob believes in a Thomas Jefferson who was not from Virginia, had no hand in writing the Declaration of Independence, never heard of Monticello, was not the Third President; Fred believes in a Thomas Jefferson who did all those things. As the false believes and misrepresentations pile up, we have to wonder if Bob hasn’t confused Thomas Jefferson with a pretender.”

But this analogy is a bad one, by the lights of classical theism, and for important reasons. We come to know God through his effects, through what he does in the world. But coming to know God differs from the way we learn about persons. In the case of the Liber de Causis, for instance, historians attempt to establish who the author is by proposing a class of possibilities, and then by narrowing that class until—ideally—only one member remains. Historians might start very generally by limiting the class to those kinds of entities that are generally capable of writing philosophy (human beings). (This step is often implicit.) Then, considering the Proclean elements in the work, a historian can narrow the class of possible authors significantly by restricting it to those who lived after Proclus (thus excluding Aristotle). Other evidence may indicate it was written in Arabic. Historians then try to determine from the evidence whether the author is a Christian, Jew, or Muslim. This is just good detective work: establish a list of suspects and winnow it down.

Yet God as conceived by monotheists (which includes, at the very least, Christians, Jews, and Muslims) is not the sort of being who can belong to a class. Being divine is not a matter of having a specific way of being the way humans do; and we do not distinguish monotheists from polytheists by saying that, for the former, there happen to be only one instance of the sort of beings contemplated by the latter. God is not a specific being that stands among other beings. God transcends this sort of being altogether. As Aquinas puts it, God is subsistent being itself and belongs to no genus.

When we reason from effects to their divine cause, then, we could not place God as an individual in a class; and if we intrepid metaphysical detectives do so, whatever entity we find at the end of our investigation will not be God (though it might be a god on the order of Baal).

Because Leithart misses what is distinctive about monotheism, he attempts to equate Islamic worshippers with pagans who worship Baal or Molech. Baal and Molech were deities in the polytheistic sense; that is, powerful beings that were still beings in the world, have a specific way of being, and can belong to a class. But for monotheists, it is not as though there is some type of genus to which YHWH, Allah, Baal, and Molech might belong, only that monotheists believe this set only has one real member (disagreeing about which candidate it is). God simply is pure being, and therefore there cannot (logically or metaphysically) be more than one God. Nor does “one” here mean numerically one, in the sense that there is only one Peter Leithart. God’s “oneness” refers primarily to his metaphysical simplicity (i.e., the fact that no real distinction obtains between God and his attributes, nor is there any composition between act and potency). God is not numerically one, because to be numerically one is to be marked off from other beings by virtue of some finite mode (e.g., being here rather than there). The initial way any monotheist distinguishes God from pretenders to the name is to deny the limited mode of creaturely existence to God—regarding him as the infinite Source of all being.

Leithart concludes with a surprisingly radical claim: “In the New Testament, ‘God’ just means “Father, Son, and Holy Spirit’ or ‘the Father of Jesus who raised Him from the dead.’ Those who disbelieve the gospel are talking about some other being than this.” This directly conflate the distinction between what we say of a reality and that reality of which we speak, a distinction Leithart acknowledges as valid. More striking is that Jesus’ Jewish contemporaries disbelieved the Gospel, weren’t Trinitarians, and didn’t believe that the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob raised Jesus from the dead.

In a subsequent article, Leithart attempts to distinguish Jews from Muslims by citing “countervailing considerations.” But he simply ignores the laws of logic. If those who disbelieve in the Gospel do not believe in the same God as Christians, and non-Messianic Jews do not believe in the Gospel, then it follows ineluctably that non-Messianic Jews do not believe in the same God as Christians do. To avoid this conclusion, Leithart must deny the major premise, which was his whole point. To simply cite “countervailing considerations” amounts to nothing more than an enumeration of the reasons why he should reject the position he was defending in the first place.

This is not to say that there is nothing to be gained from McGrew and Leithart. Both call attention to the importance of attending to God’s revelation in history, and the specificity of God’s speech to mankind. Moreover, both seem quite rightly concerned with a watery ecumenism that would naturally lead many Christians to believe that Christian dogma is not important. McGrew’s particular insistence on the importance of the historical genealogy of doctrine strikes at something that should be central to any comparison of the Muslim and Christian faiths.

But the full truth of the dispute is not merely a technical point in the philosophy of language. Most of the great religious traditions of the world have a remarkable convergence in their belief in a transcendent and absolute Source of the physical world. The fact that they have very different beliefs about this Source, and that these differences are tremendously important does not change the fact that what monotheists disagree about (and worship) is the same God. Knowledge of God, as St. Paul declares, is given through nature, and so naturally manifests even outside the boundaries of the Christian faith. (And, in fact, the position of McGrew and Leithart not only contradicts that of St. Thomas, it entails the rejection of St. Paul.) If Christians are to engage fruitfully with those of the Muslim faith, they should emulate St. Paul and St. Thomas by expounding on beliefs common to monotheism and knowable by reason, while also defending the revelation of God in Christ. Moreover, to non-believers, Christians should be clear that, for all their numerous and critical differences, the monotheism that pervades mankind is deeply united in its conviction that all we have is a gift from the one true God.
 
 
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Thomas M. Cothran

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Thomas M. Cothran is a writer that lives with his wife and son in Lexington, KY. He blogs occasionally at thinkingbetween.blogspot.com.

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  • Needless to say this topic is of little interest to atheists. It seems clear that Islam, Christianity, and Judaism share some common sources, and perhaps ultimately Zoroastrianism.

    They all share a belief is a single "god" and this god-concept of classical theism was very different than the deities that had been traditionally worshiped in the Middle East. As opposed to supernatural individuals, more or less anthropomorphized elements of the human and natural experience, War, Love, the Sun, and so on, this new concept was vacuous, immutable and extremely singular.

    The definition advanced here is "a transcendent, immutable, and metaphysically necessary Source of physical, contingent beings". Perhaps many monotheistic faiths share this idea of god. Clearly, however, not all humans consider this to be the only entity to which the label "god" applies. Clearly, pagans, cargo cults, animists, have a different use for the label. Note what is lacking: goodness, a mind, omnipotence,

    From the atheist and counter-apologetic perspective, theists can use elements they like with respect to "god", we will consider whether there is good reason to believe the entity advanced exists.

    In any event, it is clear that among monotheists who subscribe to this notion of classical theism, or the god of the philosophers, cannot agree on much beyond this vacuous nature of the deity.

    They cannot agree as to whether he is a trinity or not, whether he entered time and was sacrificed, whether his prophet was Mohammed. Whether the New Testament, the Koran are scripture. They each have their own theological arguments.

    Atheists reject the five ways as demonstrating the existence of any such entity, and we reject the arguments establishing the narrower understanding of such deities.

    • Ye Olde Statistician

      You are confusing the label "god" with "God." This is akin to confusing an impala with an Impala.

      • No I am not. There is no "God" just a label.

      • Jim (hillclimber)

        I think Brian's point is, more or less: if we take it as a starting point that a person's "god" is that which he identifies as the proper object of his devotion, then "god" will, for some individuals, resolve to "God" (understood here to refer to a transcendent creator and/or the transcendent fulfillment of all our longing) and will, for other individuals, resolve to some finite thing(s) (e.g. "Knowledge and Learning were her gods", or "Eros was his god"), and will, for yet other individuals, resolve to nothing real at all, remaining as a conceptual placeholder only.

        • Ye Olde Statistician

          Might could be. But if we take as a starting point that a person's "dog" is that which he keeps as his household pet, then "dog" will, for some individuals, resolve to "Canis lupus familiaris" (understood here
          to refer to a particular species of pets) and will, for other individuals, resolve to some other species of pet.

          However, as Abraham Lincoln once said when asked how many legs a dog would have if we called a tail a leg: "Four. Calling a tail a leg doesn't make it one." For some people, "hoover" will resolve to a vacuum cleaner, but this is merely equivocating if the discussion regards a president of the US.

    • neil_pogi

      quote: 'this topic is of little interest to atheists' - but atheists quote heavily from Scriptures those 'evil' events and its source is from God. if atheists deny His existence then why believe the Scriptures? and why not believe the goodness that God brings into this world and the universe? (ex: fine-tuning properties of the universe)

      you should tell your atheist friends that 'we are atheists, and we deny any gods or God's existence, don't quote heavily from the Bible because the Bible is just a 'collections of myth'...... be it evil stories or not

      • Fair point! It may indeed be of great interest to atheists.

        Atheists do not believe in god and do not believe what you call scriptures are in any way "divine".

        Because we do not believe in any gods we cannot believe that any gods bring anything into any world.

        When I quote from the Bible it is not because I am advancing it as true, I am trying to draw out inconsistencies in the belief of theists, which should be evidence to them that there are problems with what they believe.

        E.g. no one can be called "good" if they slaughter thousands of people including children and babies for no good reason.

        The bible says God killed did exactly this "29

        At midnight the LORD struck down all
        the firstborn in Egypt, from the firstborn of Pharaoh, who sat on the
        throne, to the firstborn of the prisoner, who was in the dungeon, and
        the firstborn of all the livestock as well.

        30

        Pharaoh and all his officials and
        all the Egyptians got up during the night, and there was loud wailing in
        Egypt, for there was not a house without someone dead"

        There was no good reason because Pharaoh would have let the people go, but God hardened his heart so that he would not as stated in chapter 11:

        "And the LORD said unto
        Moses, Pharaoh shall not hearken unto you; that my wonders may be
        multiplied in the land of Egypt.
        And Moses and Aaron did all these wonders before Pharaoh: and the LORD hardened
        Pharaoh's heart, so that he would not let the children of Israel go out
        of his land."

        So God committed the worst atrocity ever in Egypt so that God's "wonders may be
        multiplied in the land of Egypt", not to free slaves or anything.

        Now, I am an atheist, I don't believe any of this happened. But as a theist you need to choose, either the Bible is wrong about this, or God is not good.

        • Rob Abney

          Are theists being inconsistent if we accept that God commanded those deaths when we also believe that He, the Author of Life, is ultimately responsible for every death?
          Can't we choose that the Bible is correct and that God is goodness and that he derives good from all actions, even those that we call gratuitous evil?

          • Will

            How can we be certain God didn't command Hitler to kill off Jews? Maybe he kept it a secret?
            Why would God command genocide in the past, and suddenly stop doing it? Seems incredibly inconsistent to me, like something people made up to justify their barbarism. They weren't the only one's to use God's name to justify evil and abuse power, of course. Jihadists think they are following God's command, and Jim Jones (the actual monster, not the Disqus character here) is an example of divine command going horribly wrong. If someone tells me God wants me to commit suicide, much less genocide, I will ask them what they are on, exactly.

          • Ye Olde Statistician

            The Germans were in no danger of being wiped out by the Jews.

          • Will

            Sure, and the Israelites were in no danger of being wiped out by the women, children, and animals of the Amalekites. It was a blood sacrifice, like the sacrificing of the priests in Kings. Besides, it said Samuel said that God said. Why not think Samuel made the whole thing up (assuming there is any history in Samuel, it could have just been a story made up to scare enemies) ;)

            Samuel said to Saul, “The Lord sent me to anoint you king over his people Israel; now therefore listen to the words of the Lord. 2 Thus says the Lord of hosts, ‘I will punish the Amalekites for what they did in opposing the Israelites when they came up out of Egypt. 3 Now go and attack Amalek, and utterly destroy all that they have; do not spare them, but kill both man and woman, child and infant, ox and sheep, camel and donkey.’”

          • Ye Olde Statistician

            Early iron age barbarism was barbaric. Lacking the facilities to enslave let alone imprison the defeated, victors pretty routinely slaughtered them. The children would grow up to avenge their fathers, the livestock would sustain them. Compare this to the sack of Antioch by the muslims under Baybars or to the sack of Constantinople -- which even the Sultan felt constrained to call off early because of its ferocity. Then there was the fire-bombing of Hamburg in WW2, the sack of Magdeburg (albeit against orders) by Tilly's soldiers, and so on throughout history. Men who have been in deadly combat often run wild afterward and if one generation ascribes that to the will of God and another to the necessities of war, there is not much difference.

            Only, once upon a time there was a religion that told us it was wrong and tried to set rules and boundaries that must not be crossed.

          • David Nickol

            . . . and if one generation ascribes that to the will of God and another to the necessities of war, there is not much difference.

            There are many serious problems with what you say, but of paramount importance for this discussion is that the Bible says it was God's will for the Israelites to slaughter men, women, children, and cattle in certain circumstances. If the Bible is only reporting what the Israelites thought was the will of God, but it really wasn't the will of God, then the Bible teaches error.

          • Mike

            "The evil of natural defect, or of punishment, He does will, by willing the good to which such evils are attached. Thus in willing justice He wills punishment; and in willing the preservation of the natural order, He wills some things to be naturally corrupted."

            You probably know this but here a relevant quote from the summa.

          • David Nickol

            You probably know this but here a relevant quote from the summa.

            I fail to see the relevance of this quote. The issue is very simple. God is depicted in the Old Testament as commanding genocide—something we know to be morally wrong. Did God command genocide, thereby commanding people to do evil? Or did God not command genocide, in which case why does a divinely inspired, inerrant text say that he did?

            In some sense, God wills everything. But willing it is not the same as commanding it and punishing people for not obeying those commands.

          • Mike

            ah ok are you saying that God willing punishment via justice is fine but God commanding it is not?

            so there is a crucial difference btw "willing" and "commanding"?

          • Rob Abney

            the Bible teaches error.

            Maybe you mean that the bible can be interpreted erroneously?

          • David Nickol

            Maybe you mean that the bible can be interpreted erroneously?

            No. Read the following carefully:

            If the Bible is reporting as the will of God what the Israelites mistakenly thought was the will of God, but it really wasn't the will of God, then the Bible teaches error.

            I don't see any way around that.

          • Mike

            maybe it was a bit of both.

          • Ye Olde Statistician

            That depends on how literal you are. If you realize that the Old Testament is a history of God's relationship with the Jews, it makes perfect sense.

          • David Nickol

            Okay, here's 1 Samuel 15:1-3:

            1 Samuel said to Saul: “It was I the LORD sent to anoint you king over his people Israel. Now, therefore, listen to the message of the LORD.
            2 Thus says the LORD of hosts: I will punish what Amalek did to the Israelites when he barred their way as they came up from Egypt. 3 Go, now, attack Amalek, and put under the ban everything he has. Do not spare him; kill men and women, children and infants, oxen and sheep, camels and donkeys.”

            It seems to me that taking your position, either the above never happened, or if it did, the words of Samuel to Saul have to be understood as not truly expressing the will of God.

            If the Bible is the inspired word of God and cannot teach error, then how do we account for God speaking here (through a prophet) or elsewhere and saying things we do not believe God would have said?

            It is all very well and good to claim the Bible must be read as one book, and to claim that we know from the New Testament that God would never order genocide, so how do we account for the fact that God does order genocide in the Old Testament to people like Saul, who then commit genocide?

            And, of course, what else in the Bible is to be read as not really happening, or happening but being against the will of God even though it is reported as the will of God?

          • Ye Olde Statistician

            how do we account for the fact that God does order genocide in the Old Testament

            The operational test is to ask how the passage was used by the Jews. Did they use it as license to wipe out any tribe that displeased them, or did they see it as relating only to the situation with the Amelikites? Of all the folk of the ancient near east, the Jews were not the nastiest, and there are some scholars who speculate that Jewish writers were hyping their resume to show that they too were rough and tough so don't mess with us.

            Genocide is a 20th century term and is not easily applied to the early iron age. It is a back-projection of sensibilities nurtured by the Christian age.

          • David Nickol

            The operational test is to ask how the passage was used by the Jews.

            I disagree. The important question to answer is whether God, acting through Samuel, ordered the slaughter of the Amalekite men, women, and children. It is not a matter of how Israelites interpreted this after it was deemed to be scripture. It is a matter of what the authors meant when they wrote it. Once again, remember that scripture is believed by Catholics (and others) to have been written under divine inspiration. Was the Holy Spirit thinking, when he inspired the author, "I know this is misleading, but it will all become clear once the Catholic Church defines the Old and New Testament canon"?

            Genocide is a 20th century term and is not easily applied to the early iron age. It is a back-projection of sensibilities nurtured by the Christian age.

            The Merriam-Webster Unabridged Dictionary (online) gives the following definition for genocide.

            the use of deliberate systematic measures (as killing, bodily or mental injury, unlivable conditions, prevention of births) calculated to bring about the extermination of a racial, political, or cultural group or to destroy the language, religion, or culture of a group

            Genocide, no matter when the term was invented, seems to me to describe quite accurately what was intended for people placed under "the ban." Extermination.

          • Ye Olde Statistician

            scripture is believed by Catholics (and others) to have been written under divine inspiration

            Inspiration. Not word-for-word dictation. That is, it is always true, but need not always be factual.

            I said that modern terms are not easily applied to other milieux, not that the terms had no modern meaning. Chronocentrism is the application of modern beliefs and standards to other times and places.

            In many other circumstances, much might be made of the lack of any evidence outside the Bible for even the existence of Amalekites, let alone their defeat.

            That these things must be understood in some other fashion is very difficult for fundamentalists to swallow. For them, everything in scriptures is to be understood literally.

          • David Nickol

            That these things must be understood in some other fashion is very difficult for fundamentalists to swallow. For them, everything in scriptures is to be understood literally.

            As far as I am aware—and I think I have pretty solid reasons for taking this view—the Catholic Church has no official position on whether God "really" required the Israelites to put any peoples under the ban, or whether Samuel "really," conveying the will of God, told Saul to slaughter the Amalekite men, women, and children. It is not just fundamentalists who insist these things must have happened. There have been good, faithful Catholics who argue that God has the power of life and death over all men, and he had the authority to authorize Israelites to slaughter whole peoples for the good of his chosen people.

            So it seems to me that as things stand in Catholicism, how to deal with the "dark passages" in the Bible is a matter of opinion, not doctrine. Make of this what you will, but I noticed and interesting change in the notes going from the New American Bible to the New American Bible, Revised Edition. The note in the New American Bible to 1 Samuel 15:3 was as follows:

            Under the ban: in such wars of extermination, all things (men, cities, beasts, etc.) were to be blotted out; nothing could be reserved for private use. The interpretation of God's will here attributed to Samuel is in keeping with the abhorrent practices of blood revenge prevalent among pastoral, seminomadic peoples such as the Hebrews had recently been. The slaughter of the innocent has never been in conformity with the will of God. [Italics added]

            However, in the Revised Edition, the note was modified:

            Put under the ban: this terminology mandates that all traces of the Amalekites (people, cities, animals, etc.) be exterminated. No plunder could be seized for personal use. In the light of Dt 20:16–18, this injunction would eliminate any tendency toward syncretism. The focus of this chapter is that Saul fails to execute this order.

            Why was sentence in italics in the first edition removed? Why does the revised edition not say, "The slaughter of the innocent has never been in conformity with the will of God"? It seems to me quite plausible that the revised edition does not want to take a position on whether or not the slaughter of the Amalekites was ordered by God.

          • Mike

            maybe for us the means do not justify the ends or sometimes do whereas for God the means do justify the ends.

            if God is all good not just some good then wouldn't even that horrible episode be for the good ultimately?

          • Mike

            sorry but here's a better quote addressing this issue, i think, it's from the summa again:

            "thus God, by causing in things the good of the order of the universe, consequently and as it were by accident, causes the corruptions of things, according to 1 Samuel 2:6: "The Lord killeth and maketh alive." But when we read that "God hath not made death" (Wisdom 1:13), the sense is that God does not will death for its own sake. Nevertheless the order of justice belongs to the order of the universe; and this requires that penalty should be dealt out to sinners. And so God is the author of the evil which is penalty, but not of the evil which is fault, by reason of what is said above."

            wouldn't that make sense of the passages? or is your concern more with not why God ordered the killing but with why he didn't add in that say all children should be spared, iow the wording the thrust seems too cruel?

          • Rob Abney

            I don't think this is simply a matter of fundamentalism but more a problem of presuppositions. Some people want to read the bible in a way that convinces him that God is just like us only much better, that is how he wants to know about God, unfortunately God always comes up less than perfect and should then be rejected from that viewpoint. Whereas others presuppose God's existence and then read the bible with that foreknowledge. It certainly can lead to very different understandings.

          • Paul Brandon Rimmer

            I don't buy this not judging past actions and beliefs by our standards.

            The fact is, if it actually happened, the Jews were wrong to kill that group of people. Maybe they were the least wrong people alive, but they were still wrong, and killing this group (including the children) is still absolutely bad. It wasn't magically righteous for them and now would be terrible. It was always terrible.

            Now, that doesn't necessarily make the Bible wrong, or God evil. Maybe the Jews misunderstood God's will about this, or just went off and did their own thing, implying God's blessing after the fact. And maybe the Bible retains these problematic passages because, for reasons we are not presently aware, it would be worse to remove them or change them.

            And why should God get the blame if people make up bad things about him? Hardly! He should instead sue for libel!

          • Ye Olde Statistician

            I don't buy this not judging past actions and beliefs by our standards.The fact is, if it actually happened, the Jews were wrong to kill that group of people.

            Were the Allies wrong to kill all those Germans in the cities they bombed?

            It does not contribute to our understanding to make moralistic judgments about the past using the standards of Christian thought. It raises the question of 'who said it was wrong?' It was certainly not the presumption of the people of that milieu. It was certainly not thought wise to show mercy to a people who were sworn to destroy you.

            This account of a battle with the terrorists was not the first encounter. The desert nomads had attacked Israel on several occasions earlier. When Samuel killed the "king" of the Amalekites, he told him, "As your sword has made women childless, so shall your mother be childless among women."

            The Israelites were not alone in this. The nomads are reported as raiding the Philistines and even Egypt. Since later on, when David was fighting in the desert, he fought a battle with the Amalekites after the Amalekites had raided and burned down the city of Ziklag, it is clear that the tribe was not in fact exterminated by Saul, only the war party that he pursued and caught.

            (For a Jewish take, see here:
            http://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/jsource/History/Amalek.html)

            A modern parallel might be found between the Franks and the Saxons in the 8th and 9th century. The Franks would make a peace treaty with the Saxons and as soon as the Frankish back was turned, the Saxons would break it and raid into the Empire. Finally, Charlemagne, the Frankish king and emperor, had enough and slaughtered the Saxon upper classes. The Saxons of course survived the massacre and even so late as WW1, von Hausen's Royal Saxon Army, whose four divisions formed the core of the Imperial Third Army, had a reputation for exceptional brutality.

          • Paul Brandon Rimmer

            If the WW2 bombers found that they had failed God because, in their bombing, they had failed to kill all the children in their target towns, yes, they'd be doing something unquestionably* evil.

            If the WW2 bombers bombed with the intent to kill all the children in their target towns, they'd be doing something unquestionably* evil.

            The bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki was unquestionably* evil.

            *By unquestionably, here I mean two things: (1) I don't consider the acts to be certainly evil, as certainly as 1+1=2, and (2) I'm not interested at all in discussing here whether or why these acts in particular should be considered evil. If someone wants to talk about these two things, there are doubtless lots of other people out there in the internet who will oblige. I am not one of them.

          • Mike

            i assume you think it would destroy the biblical case for God if it turned out he did order the slaughter of even the innocent babies?

          • Paul Brandon Rimmer

            I think if God really did order the slaughter of innocent babies than I have very little interest in getting to know God any better than I do. God would be a moral monster, and I have little interest in being friends or even distant acquaintances with a moral monster, if I can help it.

          • Mike

            ok see and maybe this is un orthodox but i think that if God is the author and lord of life then he and of course only he can take it away from anybody. i quoted the summa in the thread where it seems to me to say according to aquinas that God can do evil as punishment to bring about justice but not evil as in a fault. maybe i am missing something very crucial but it seems to me that for God and only God the means can justify the ends.

            btw: now of course if God ordered the slaughter of just innocent babies then that would make things seem extremely cruel to say the least but not if he ordered the destruction of a psychotic tribe in its entirety - maybe this is just semantics but it seems to me to mark a real difference. unfortunately i suppose i think for example the fire bombing of nazi cities which were full of children and babies who were innocent was just and necessary, given the circumstances.

            anyway in case youre wondering i of course think like any sane person thinks that if God just commanded the slaughter of even 1 child for 'shits and giggles' then of course he would be a monster and not the real deal.

          • Arthur Jeffries

            unfortunately i suppose i think for example the fire bombing of nazi cities which were full of children and babies who were innocent was just and necessary, given the circumstances.

            I don't see anything in church teaching that leads me to believe that mass, indiscriminate slaughter is morally defensible or "just."

          • Mike

            as far as i know the church never condemned the fire bombing of nazi germany nor i think hiroshima specifically. maybe Just was not the right word. actually i thought about adding something like just 'in the long run'. again maybe i am missing something but what applies to God does not necessarily to us. however even for us i think bombing imperial japan was the right thing to do for everyone.

            like i said it seems to me that the means do justify the ends for God.

          • Arthur Jeffries

            It is not necessary for the hierarchy to condemn each individual immoral act. The Church has her doctrines, and paragraph 2314 of the Catechism of the Catholic Church could not be more clear.

          • Mike

            i agree it's not necessary but still it is telling that those 2 specific incidents, probably the most glaring in the history of warefare, were not condemned.

            can i ask you a question? what if God did order the complete slaughter of that tribe of amelkites including their children, do you think that that would somehow invalidate the God of Christianity?

          • Arthur Jeffries

            To my knowledge the hierarchy did not condemn King Leopold either, even as he committed genocide against the Congolese. At least 10 million were killed. See Robert Weisbord's The King, the Cardinal and the Pope: Leopold II's genocide in the Congo and the Vatican in Volume 5, Issue 1 of the Journal of Genocide Research. Nonetheless, Leopold's genocide was opposed to church doctrine, as is indiscriminate killing in war.

            My answer to your question is yes. A God who orders genocide is irreconcilable with the God of Jesus Christ, who is Love.

          • Mike

            ok which must mean as atheists point out that God could not have ordered the amalekite slaughter in which case the bible passage is figurative/was meant to be interpreted another way or that God did order it but it was somehow good.

            it seems to me that God can do things that seem wrong and are wrong but are for the good in the long run from God's perspective. It is said that God flooded the world and that he punished the egyptians for being cruel to his ppl. are these also to be read figuratively? there is almost no way for God to will good without at the same time willing punishment for that which is 'in the way' of the good.

            anyway i appreciate your time in responding.

            is there an 'official catholic' position on whether God can be said to morally do "evil"?

          • Arthur Jeffries

            I don't know if there is a doctrine which directly answers that question, although I wouldn't be surprised if the position of Saint Thomas Aquinas has come to be the Catholic theological consensus.

          • Mike

            how do you interpret this from the summa:

            "And so God is the author of the evil which is penalty"

            http://www.newadvent.org/summa/1049.htm

          • Arthur Jeffries

            In context, Saint Thomas is arguing that while God cannot cause moral evil, He can cause natural evil.

          • Mike

            which means that the amalekite thing didn't happen that way or that it did but what God did was not morally evil?

          • Arthur Jeffries

            If such a thing happened, God did not order it, but personally I don't see why we should assume the historicity of this story in the first place.

          • David Nickol

            In context, Saint Thomas is arguing that while God cannot cause moral evil, He can cause natural evil.

            I would say, consequently, that if it was morally wrong for the Israelites to slaughter the Amalekite men, women, and children, then 1 Samuel 15 teaches error, in that it teaches that God did indeed (through Samuel) command this immoral behavior.

            I would argue that killing an infant, even an infant member of an enemy tribe, is murder, which is intrinsically evil. Even if we acknowledge (as I do) that God himself may decide who lives and dies, I do not believe it makes sense to argue that God may "deputize" a human being to to kill an innocent person on his behalf.

            No matter how wicked the Amalekites may have been, there is no way to argue that a newborn Amalekite baby was not an innocent human being.

            The only resolution, it seems to me, is to argue that it is "fundamentalism" to interpret 1 Samuel 15 to be an accurate account of historical (and supernatural) events. God did not, in reality, order Saul, through the prophet Samuel, to slaughter the Amalekites, even though that is what 1 Samuel 15—written under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit—quite plainly asserts.

          • Mike

            sorry one more thing:

            here is objection one from the same set of questions:

            "Objection 1. It would seem that the supreme good, God, is the cause of evil. For it is said (Isaiah 45:5-7): "I am the Lord, and there is no other God, forming the light, and creating darkness, making peace, and creating evil." And Amos 3:6, "Shall there be evil in a city, which the Lord hath not done?""

            and here is aquinas' reply:

            "Reply to Objection 1. These passages refer to the evil of penalty, and not to the evil of fault."

            which to me seems to be saying that God "hath done" evil but only as penalty not fault.

            as a philosophical matter do you deny that God can 'do' evil for punishment or as a penalty?

          • Arthur Jeffries

            No, but the language is hard here, in that Saint Thomas seems to call the natural, just results of sin "evil."

          • Mike

            i see what you mean. someone pointed out that God wills everything in a sense but for him to command something evil is incompatible with his nature as understood by the church.

            obv by far most of the examples as far as i know of in the bible have God protecting ppl or helping them or whatever, but then again did he flood the egyptians? did he bring the plague on them?

            how do you protect someone by not 'harming' another? we protect ppl by putting other ppl in jail or whatever.

          • Arthur Jeffries

            It is not immoral to harm those who are unjust (within reason) to protect the innocent.

          • Mike

            thanks for the exchange.

          • David Nickol

            If you realize that the Old Testament is a history of God's relationship with the Jews, it makes perfect sense.

            You mean, don't you, that the Old Testament is some kind of figurative, metaphorical, symbolic meditation on God's relationship with the Jews? If it is a history of God's relationship to the Jews, then the story of Samuel, Saul, and the Amalekites would be true. We would conclude from the story that God demands genocide, and those who do not commit genocide when God orders it are punished by God. On the other hand, if it is a figurative, metaphorical meditation of the relationship between God and Israel, we may take the story to teach the "truth" not that God commands genocide, but that we must obey God, resist compromise with evil, and eradicate evil totally when we do battle with it, much as Bishop Barron argues in this video.

          • Ye Olde Statistician

            It is often difficult for fundamentalists to understand these things.

          • David Nickol

            It is often difficult for fundamentalists to understand these things.

            Would you classify someone as a "fundamentalist" who believes Samuel, in his capacity as prophet, correctly told Saul that it was God's wish that the Amalekites be placed under the ban?

            The fault, I think, is not in those who don't accept what you are saying. You frequently resort to accusations of fundamentalism when people don't agree with you. The fault is in your explanations. It takes a lot of twisted reasoning to claim that the Bible is inspired and inerrant, and then to explain that it doesn't really mean what it plainly says.

            God is clearly depicted in the Old Testament as requiring genocide (or whatever else you want to call it), and yet we are told that genocide is wrong, and if we read the Bible as a whole, we can see that God would not advocate or command genocide. Consequently, when the Old Testament clearly depicts God as commanding genocide, although the Old Testament is divinely inspired and inerrant, we must be wrong to read the clear depictions of God commanding genocide as meaning that God commanded genocide. God would never command genocide, so when the Bible says he commanded genocide, it must means something other than what it says.

          • ClayJames

            It takes a lot of twisted reasoning to claim that the Bible is inspired and inerrant, and then to explain that it doesn't really mean what it plainly says.

            Only if you misunderstand what Biblical innerancy is. Biblical inerrancy does not require that every single word attributed to God was actually spoken by God. Biblican inerrancy requires that the Bible is without error or fault in its teaching and as Christians, we believe that the ultimate way to decipher God´s teaching in the Bible is through the life and teaching of Jesus Christ. Looked in this light, there is no problem in holding that ¨it doesn´t really mean what it plainly says¨ since the actual teaching is not always ¨what it plainly says¨.

          • Ye Olde Statistician

            You frequently resort to accusations of fundamentalism when people don't agree with you.

            No. It's only when they insist on a naively prosaic reading of scriptures. Recall that the Christians derived their scriptures from their faith. They did not get their faith from their scriptures. That is: certain books, letters, hymns, etc. were selected for inclusion on the basis that they supported the beliefs they already held.

            It takes a lot of twisted reasoning to claim that the Bible is inspired and inerrant, and then to explain that it doesn't really mean what it plainly says.

            I amend my first statement. The comparison also comes to mind when people repeat statements of fundamentalists almost verbatim.

            God is clearly depicted in the Old Testament as requiring genocide

            Either that or he is clearly depicted as protecting the Israelites from other early iron age savages.

          • ClayJames

            It takes a lot of twisted reasoning to claim that the Bible is inspired and inerrant, and then to explain that it doesn't really mean what it plainly says.

            Another point that flies in the face of this apparent twisted reasoning is that this is not some new modern realization. The idea that there were certain passages that, when read plainly, did not reflect the actual God that many Christians believed in was heavily debated when it came to making those books as part of the Bible.

          • Ye Olde Statistician

            Chapter 12 here: http://www.newadvent.org/fathers/12023.htm
            may be useful.

          • Will

            What on earth is the point of this in Chapter 12

            19. We must, therefore, consider carefully what is suitable to times and places and persons, and not rashly charge men with sins. For it is possible that a wise man may use the daintiest food without any sin of epicurism or gluttony, while a fool will crave for the vilest food with a most disgusting eagerness of appetite. And any sane man would prefer eating fish after the manner of our Lord, to eating lentiles after the manner of Esau, or barley after the manner of oxen. For there are several beasts that feed on commoner kinds of food, but it does not follow that they are more temperate than we are. For in all matters of this kind it is not the nature of the things we use, but our reason for using them, and our manner of seeking them, that make what we do either praiseworthy or blameable.

            Are they really claiming you are insane if you prefer lentils (they spelled it wrong) and barley (vegetarian) to fish? I like and eat them all, they are all quite good for you, but still.
            I consider it to be a moral obligation to take care of my health as well as possible (for my family and myself), but shouldn't science inform us as to what we should be eating? LDS bans on coffee and tea are flat out wrong, for example, though some people can abuse caffeine or have sensitivities. Drinking coffee and tea is good for you, especially the matcha tea I love (not to get on a health tangent but I though what you linked was really weird).

          • Ye Olde Statistician

            Are they really claiming you are insane if you prefer lentils (they spelled it wrong) and barley (vegetarian) to fish?

            No. Read it again. St. Augustine writes that avoiding fish and other fancy or expensive fare and making a show of eating plain and simple fare can be just as gluttonous as attending one of the notorious banquets of the upper classes, because the sin is not in the food. It is in the way the food is used. (Unlike, say, the LDS, muslims, or Jews.) The thing to avoid is pigging out. What you pig out on is secondary. In the same manner, he pointed out that getting naked is not wrong, per se, but getting naked at one of those aforesaid banquets is one thing and getting naked at the baths is another.

            But really, is that all you found in the chapter? Remember the title? Chapter 12.— Rule for Interpreting Those Sayings and Actions Which are Ascribed to God and the Saints, and Which Yet Seem to the Unskillful to Be Wicked.

          • Will

            But really, is that all you found in the chapter? Remember the title? Chapter 12.— Rule for Interpreting Those Sayings and Actions Which are Ascribed to God and the Saints, and Which Yet Seem to the Unskillful to Be Wicked.

            Sure, plenty more unimpressive rationalizations of divine inconsistencies.

            Edit to add: With a bit more reading, it's pretty clear that Augustine was a fundamentalist, at least by the modern usage of the word. I was taught essentially the same rationalizations by the fundamentalists in the Christian schools I went to, thought you might like to know. They also had the same pompous attitude about the obvious superiority of their own culture. I'd agree that some cultures are superior to others (in pragmatic ways at least, but there is flexibility in my book. Heck, I'm fine with multiple wives/husbands if all parties are consenting, but I've always leaned libertarian.

          • Ye Olde Statistician

            Hence, Augustine's cautions against too literal a reading of the scriptures?

            It's amazing how you folks can so badly misconstrue these things. Perhaps if you tried questions first, then answers, you would find it works better than the other way around.

          • Will

            The problem is you misrepresent fundamentalists. They don't take everything literally either, that's how they resolve many "conflicts", just like Augustine. Perhaps you need to ask questions about fundamentalism before you miscontrue their positions so badly. I was raised by fundamentalists, taught fundamentalism, and Augustine sounds just like them ;)

          • Ye Olde Statistician

            Oh, sure, they couldn't help inherit some things from the original Church.

          • George

            what's the point of the story of Abraham trying to sacrifice his son, as was asked of him by Yahweh?

          • Ye Olde Statistician

            Tacitus noted in his charges of bad Jewish behavior that they alone did not kill their children for any reason. The story of Abe and Ike gives a divine mandate for this. All the other Canaanites practiced sacrifice of their children under dire circumstances. The story begins by laying a similar command on Abe. He shows himself willing (though reluctant) much as allied airmen might approach the bombing of Hamburg. He is choosing the greater good, however much it may pain him. But God intervenes at the last moment and says, no, you don't have to do crap like this. Centuries later, the Roman Tacitus still found this eschewal of child sacrifice to be not only remarkable but reprehensible. The Jews were thus able to say both that they loved God above everything else, including their own children, and that God did not want them to sacrifice their own children.

            But fundamentalists cannot get their noses out of a literal reading.

          • Will

            Early iron age barbarism was barbaric. Lacking the facilities to enslave let alone imprison the defeated, victors pretty routinely slaughtered them.

            Sure, but the Babylonians didn't do this to the Jews. The Babylonians treated the Jews much better than the Jews treated others (even if the Babylonians didn't necessarily treat them well). It seems the Babylonians were culturally ahead of the Jews.

            Only, once upon a time there was a religion that told us it was wrong and tried to set rules and boundaries that must not be crossed.

            Sure, two of the first were Buddhism and Jainism,between 400 and 600 years before Jesus was even born. To be fair nonviolence was already in Hindu culture, the concept was called Ahimsa, but Buddhism and Jainism made it a central concept long before western thought started catching up. Apparently God spoke to the far east first, assuming he's involved at all (which I obviously doubt).

          • Mike

            why do you doubt that God spoke to the East? you don't think the buddha had some inspiration perhaps from God?

          • Will

            No, there is good reason to think Buddha didn't believe in God, especially in the form that westerners believe. Buddhism is a nontheistic religion, the wiki article on God in Buddhism goes into some detail.

            Gautama Buddha rejected the existence of a creator deity,[1][2] refused to endorse many views on creation,[3] and stated that questions on the origin of the world are not ultimately useful for ending suffering.[4][5] Buddhism instead emphasizes the system of causal relationships underlying the universe (pratītyasamutpāda or Dependent Origination) which constitute the natural order (dharma) and source of enlightenment. No dependence of phenomena on a supernatural reality is asserted in order to explain the behaviour of matter. According to the doctrine of the Buddha, a human being must study nature (dhamma vicaya) in order to attain prajñā "wisdom" regarding the nature of things (dharma). In Buddhism, the sole aim of spiritual practice is the complete alleviation of dukkha ("suffering") in saṃsāra,[6][7] which is called nirvana.

            I agree completely, God just seems to be a tool to establish authority...that's about it. It's not directly helpful with anything, other than that. Even if a first cause for the universe exists, there is no reason to think it is minded or interested in the affairs of men.

          • Mike

            how would he have known the western concept of God all those years ago? maybe what he labelled "cosmic suffering" or whatever was actually his way of attempting to describe our eternal thirst for justice our sense that things aren't the way they ought to be.

          • Will

            Hindus had a creator deity before called Brahma. Keep in mind that Hinduism is the oldest extant religion, older than fundamentalists think the universe is (7000 years). Sumerians and Egyptians also had creator deity/ies, it was not even close to an original concept for the Jews. The first person I'm aware to propose a first cause was Aristotle, and he lived near the time of Buddha (maybe a little before). There is some evidence of exchange of ideas between India and the ancient Greeks, so it's hard to say where the ideas originated, perhaps in more than one place. In general, most Christians I've met have an erroneous view of ancient history and the history of religion, even God.

          • Ye Olde Statistician

            Babylonians. So you don't take ethnic cleansing seriously? The Trail of Tears, whether to Oklahoma or to Babylon is no walk in the park. Then, too, we must consider Babylon in toto, not only that they destroyed the Jewish city and transported their upper class into exile. Surely, the Babylonians did not treat the Assyrians with much tenderness and the Assyrians were themselves no prize winners in masculine sensitivity. We can look too at the Egyptians, the Syrians, the other Canaanites, et al.

            The way the Indians dealt with violence was by withdrawal from the world, not by engagement with it. They did not lay out rules of war regarding noncombatants and other issues that were intended to be binding on others. (In fact, some Buddhist monasteries had a reputation for warfare.) Those wars in India of which we have knowledge do not bear out. In any case, the Buddha was influential in a different civilization and barely touched any developments in the West.

          • Will

            So you don't take ethnic cleansing seriously? The Trail of Tears, whether to Oklahoma or to Babylon is no walk in the park.

            Umm...Christians are the ones who have a book that claims God advocated the wholesale slaughter of women, children, and animals. Is a trail of tears preferable to genocide? Absolutely! If the Babylonians had done to the Jews what the Jews claim they did to other Canaanites, there would be no Christianity because there would be no Jews. I'm not trying to argue that anyone back then was a Saint, of course, and if didn't take ethnic cleansing seriously, why would I complain about someone claiming God commanded it. Thinking God commanded it once leaves room for thinking he could do so again.

            The way the Indians dealt with violence was by withdrawal from the world, not by engagement with it. They did not lay out rules of war regarding noncombatants and other issues that were intended to be binding on others.

            Yes, western religion (and to a certain extent Hinduism) were primitive forms of government. The Sumerians and Egyptians claimed their authority came from the gods, and so did the prophets of Israel, not to mention the Greeks and Romans...everyone. Buddhism is not a form of government, is goal is only to relieve suffering. There is little place for religion in government now, as we have replaced it with philosophy (of ethics, politics, ect), but there is still a role for religion in the relief of suffering. I think Buddhism better suited for that single role than any other religion because that is it's primary purpose. There is much good and wisdom in Christianity, but at this point it carries a lot of unnecessary historical baggage and philosophical constructs (namely the supernatural realm of demons, angels, and gods). I do agree that Buddhism has historically been weak in the realm of social justice, as enforcing social justice does sometimes require violence (though only as a last resort). This is a general weakness of extremist pacifism. As with Christianity, there have been more than a number of bad Buddhists, like Pol Pot, but they were not following their religion when committing their atrocities. I just bring up Buddhism because it beat Jesus on the time line, but there are many similarities in their message.

          • George

            "Lacking the facilities to enslave let alone imprison the defeated, victors pretty routinely slaughtered them."

            And there's nothing Yahweh could have done about that, because he's not omnipotent, unfortunately.

          • Ye Olde Statistician

            Lots of people today do not believe in free will.

          • George

            And what do you mean by free will?

          • Will

            God doesn't help people...cuz free will. I still don't get it myself.

          • Ye Olde Statistician

            This one is very difficult for the Late Modern, accustomed as he is to government control, central planning, and other such top-down thingies.

          • George

            Your universe is bottom up, after all, isn't it? God doesn't sustain anything.

          • George

            Does god occasionally turn off his personal telescreen to allow his creation some privacy from his gaze?

          • Will

            Oh I get it alright. Stopping a serial killer is interfering with his or her free will. In the Hebrew Bible, God interfered with free will all the time, according to the stories. Every time God helped the Jews by harming some other civilization he was interfering with their free will. Of course, they weren't really people, because they weren't Jews. Using free will to defend this is an intellectual joke worthy of derision.

          • Ye Olde Statistician

            You really seem to have it in for the Jews.

          • Will

            Lol! Ad hominem is all you have I see.

          • Mike

            but God does try to stop the serial killer by speaking to him in his conscience and some times it works. God also has the church which tries to tell ppl to abandon evil etc etc.

            or do you mean God should turn the gun into melted butter just before it fires a bullet?

          • George

            should we stop serial killers and rapists or should we just talk to them calmly while watching them hurt people?

          • Mike

            ask the ACLU.

          • Ye Olde Statistician

            That the will is not determined toward this or that due to the incompleteness of the intellect.

          • George

            what do you mean by incompleteness?

            do you ever ask the question: "Why did they do that?"

            do actions have reasons behind them?

          • Ye Olde Statistician

            The intellect seldom has complete knowledge of a thing. Therefore, knowledge is incomplete. Since you cannot desire what you do not know, this incompleteness means that in many matters, the will is not determined to one thing or another, but may choose among them according as each seems good for attaining an end.

            Where the intellect has complete knowledge -- such as that 2+2=4 in the usual notation -- the will cannot withhold its consent.

          • George

            and why does the will choose something? is the choice made for a reason or for no reason?

          • Mike

            i think it's bc it is ordered to truth, the will is the appetite of the intellect or something like that.

          • Ye Olde Statistician

            The will does not; the whole person does. The will is simply part of the rational powers; viz., the appetite for the products of the intellect. As such, it is analogous to the sensory appetites like hunger or fear.

            Naturally, a free choice is not an unreasonable choice or a random choice or an unmotivated choice. Duh? But the choice is not determinate if you don't have all the facts. That leaves "play" or "wobble" or "degrees of freedom" to select what seems the best means to an end.

            It's also useful to note that not all acts are freely chosen, as Aquinas in fact points out.

            There is a digest version of the whole discussion (Q 79-83) that starts here:
            http://readingthesumma.blogspot.com/2013/09/question-79-intellective-powers.html
            and runs up through here
            http://readingthesumma.blogspot.co.uk/2013/09/question-83-free-choice.html

          • Rob Abney

            Thanks for that link!

          • George

            so what do you think determines the will toward this or that? I don't know if incomplete knowledge is the deciding factor anyway.

          • Ye Olde Statistician

            That was the definition of liberum arbitrium that was used by the people who originated the idea. As usual, the Early Moderns mucked things up and the Late Moderns have created a wacky mess. They are trying to make free will more complicated than it is.

            Try here: http://readingthesumma.blogspot.co.uk/2013/09/question-80-appetitive-powers-in-general.html
            Questions 80 to 83.

          • Will

            Aquinas had absolutely no idea how much knowledge is posssible. Heck, we still have not clue. For all we know, knowledge will continue to diversify into more and more branches (some hacked off as no longer valid, but always more valid branches than those removed) until no one can keep track (which is generally already here, I know I can't keep track).
            I agree, however, that what one knows has a dramatic effect on the decision making process, and people do tend to make unexpected inferences (almost random if randomness actually exists) from what they do know into what they don't. Aquinas was incredibly wise for his time, especially with insight into the human mind.

          • Ye Olde Statistician

            But the complexification of "free will" and the addition of extraneous assumptions (e.g., all acts of a human are free) is not a question of extra knowledge. It's simply changing a definition so that Moderns are simply not talking about the same thing.

            Natural science has made great strides. Aquinas, for example, stated that if any new species do arise, they would do so through the secondary causes that has been imbued into nature. It was only after Mendel that we got insight into how these things happen. But nat.sci. has nothing to say about free will, since nat.sci. deals only with the measurable properties of material bodies, and the will is simply not one of them. And the philosophers that followed actually subtracted from the field of human knowledge.

          • Mike

            did hitler say that God commanded him? was Hitler a church goer? what evidence would there be for that? did hitler perform miracles to bolster his claims?

          • neil_pogi

            and how did Hitler know that the 'voice command' he is hearing is from God? when God commanded the killings of children as narrated in the bible, He explain it very well. read the entire chapter

          • ClayJames

            Right, even if you accept that what is attributed to God in these verses really were commands from God, there is no inconsistency unless you can show that God has no good reason to allow this to happen. In other words, you must show that God brought about gratuitous evil.

            This is impossible to prove for the atheist since to do so you must show that a limited (human) mind can determine the probable intentions of an omniscient mind and this cannot be done without changing the definitions of ¨limited¨, ¨probable¨ and ¨omniscient¨.

          • George

            "there is no inconsistency unless you can show that God has no good reason to allow this to happen"

            you think the game should work that way? why not: explain those actual good reasons to the skeptic?

            my unanswered question still applies: how could a supposedly omnipotent being ever be forced into a situation where they HAVE to kill anyone? or order its creations to kill other creations on its behalf?

          • ClayJames

            you think the game should work that way? why not: explain those actual good reasons to the skeptic?

            Absolutely, that is how the burden of proof works.

            For example, a person can have several reasons to believe that naturalism is true. If I believe that there is a contradiction between naturalism and some other belief, it is up to me to show that the contradiction exists. I can´t say that the contradiction exists unless the naturalist can show me that it doesn´t.

            Similarly, the theist has many reasons to believe that god exists and that he is omniscient, omnibenevolent and omnipotent. If the atheist tries to argue that there is a contradiction between those traits and some other belief, it is up to him to show that the contradiction exists. He can´t say that the contradiction exists unless the theist can show that it doesn´t.

            The theist can give reasons for God allowing suffering, but this is not necessary since the burden of proof is on the atheist. The atheist is left with the impossible task of showing that a limited human mind can determine the probable intentions of an omniscient mind.

          • "Are theists being inconsistent if we accept that God commanded those
            deaths when we also believe that He, the Author of Life, is ultimately
            responsible for every death?"

            No, there is nothing inconsistent with accepting that someone who commands deaths is ultimately responsible for those deaths.

            "Can't we choose that the Bible is correct and that God is goodness and
            that he derives good from all actions, even those that we call
            gratuitous evil?"

            No you cannot choose that the Bible is correct. It either is or it isn't. The can choose to advance a position that it is correct. Whether that position is reasonable is another question.

            I think it is unreasonable to accept that an entity is entirely and perfectly good but repeatedly behaves in the most atrocious and cruel fashion. (Killing almost all humanity in the flood, slaughtering all those Egyptians, repeatedly ordering genocide, specifying to kill the infants, telling Abraham to kill his son, not telling Jephthah the story of Abraham and that human sacrifice is wrong).

            Unless we can think of a reason that could justify these things, I don't think it is reasonable to accept that any such deity is "good".

          • Rob Abney

            My point is that many Catholics believe the bible based on our understanding that God is goodness. That is how we choose that it is correct, but its not a choice like a coin flip but rather an informed choice. You judge God in a univocal matter, and He cannot measure up to your standards so you reject his existence based on that philosophy and then reject the bible also.

          • You can do that if you like, I expect it is what neo nazis do with Mein Kempf. Sure millions were killed, but if you choose the interpretation that it is good, you can interpret all kinds of genocide, torture etc as good. Others miss the point because they don't understand Neitsche, evolution etc. once you understand thehilosophy and history, you will see that this counter intuitive argument that all that war and genocide was worth it. Etc.

            I'm happy to debate the philosophy and the history, but if the other side argues that they are choosing their interpretation, ok.

          • Rob Abney

            We are both choosing an interpretation, I am choosing to view God as being (not as A being) which is convertible with goodness, you are choosing to view God as A being who does evil actions.
            I can understand your disappointment in the being that you describe, but I wonder how you would consider the events of the OT if you considered them from the perspective that I am using.

          • I am making an interpretation of the OT based on its own text and expressing my opinion of the character called Yaweh from that text. I am bringing my own perspective and values to that character.

            You are choosing the character of Yaweh, then interpreting the text accordingly. I think this is unreasonable and unjustified.

            I get why you do it, but I do not think you can justify it.

          • Rob Abney

            Thanks for the ongoing dialogue.
            I first read/learned about God from the bible and other catechetical methods such as hymns and stained glass and the preaching at church, etc. Unfortunately I was never exposed to the reasoning for the proof of God. So I approached it the same way you do now. And the more I learned about the natural world the harder it was to accept the supernatural. I could only accept it as faith. Which works for some people but I could feel my belief being challenged. I didn't like the circular reasoning.
            Then I studied the reasoning and was convinced of the reality. Now when I read the bible I understand it as man progressively understanding God, trying to understand the God of philosophy but not in philosophical terms.
            I know that you've been exposed to the reasoning and are not convinced by it but you should consider reading some of the OT from the viewpoint of God as being and God as reality rather than as God as an invisible man in the sky.

          • When I do that it doesn't make sense. The OT does not present God in that way. It presents him as someone who walks. Who shares an image with humans. Who has emotions, who can een. In the New Testament he is portrayed as an actual and literal human being.

            You can pick any perspective and read any text from it and interpret that way.

            If you were right about the philosophical arguments for god, and you could establish that the Bible was related to it, sure. But absent that I see no reason to do that.

          • Rob Abney

            The OT can only describe God in human/creature terms but that doesn't mean you should limit your thinking to those descriptions because they are inadequate.

            But the New Testament is God in human form. In the OT man is searching to understand God, in the NT God comes to meet man.

            Again, I recommend reading the OT as if you accepted the philosophical proofs then revisit those proofs.

        • Ye Olde Statistician

          Because we do not believe in any gods we cannot believe that any gods bring anything into any world.

          You are thinking of a god posited a priori as a hypothesis for why there are things in the world, rather than as Existence Itself deduced as a necessity for anything particular to exist.

          no one can be called "good" if they slaughter thousands of people including children and babies for no good reason.

          Not even the anti-Hitler coalition when they bombed German cities?

          • George

            if one is omnipotent, could they ever be forced into a situation where they have to kill anybody?

          • George

            you could have turned the discussion onto the part where Brian said "for no good reason", because I'm sure he thinks that destroying a fascist dictatorship was a worthy goal requiring painful compromise on the way. compromise happens because humans are limited beings.

            but why should the Non-Being Ground of All Thingism need to compromise and kill some lives which she infinitely values? In certain contexts, it seems apologists want to characterize the Foundation of All Intelligibility as just doing the best it can using a bad hand of cards.

            does god refuse to teleport hostile humans to distant inhabitable planets as a self-imposed challenge or something? (expected response: "why should god do what you say? why is god obligated to do things your way?" Maybe because with the squabbling children of humanity separated, the creator could reveal itself to the hostile party and rehabilitate them in peace. adding to overall human flourishing. if god doesn't care about human flourishing, than, point taken)

            is our life just a big strategy game to god and god doesn't want to cheat?

            self-imposed challenges are something I can understand if we're talking about an ape-like brain. a bored opportunistic omnivore with technology at its fingertips would simulate a conflict situation to resolve in order to get mental stimulation. but for a "transcendent" timeless, all-knowing non-being with no evolutionary baggage? how does that makes sense?

        • Mike

          are you a pacifist?

        • neil_pogi

          as i've said many times, God is the creator of life, He can stop life at any moment (be it cruel, slowly, painful or not). since life can not be produced by natural means, it only shows that life is a supernatural process, and since it is, then it can be credited that there must be a Creator (not that 'self-replicating molecules atheists are offering for its explanation)

          and how many times the bible explicitly explain that evil was introduced because of man's sins!

        • neil_pogi

          natural disasters like typhoon, earthquake, tsunami, volcanic eruptions, among other things, contribute loss to life. they are called like 'acts of God'. as ive said, evil has become part of nature. those disasters are part of nature in order to control population. in atheism, they have also an agenda to control population thru the use of eugenics. those subjects that seem to be uncontributory to the society (ex: those with mental and physical deformities) are being killed painlessly.

          in the world of animals, we have preys and predators (that only affirmed that the animals are created and designed for specific functions). evil and good must be in harmonize in order to check and balance the nature

    • It's of interest to atheists if they want to actively disbelieve in God, rather than simply not believing in God because they haven't considered the question.

      For instance, most people don't believe that there is a proof for the Goldbach conjecture in the sense that they don't understand and have not considered the question. The atheist who merely answers "no" to the question of "is there some particular entity (or entities) is the greatest (best, most perfect, most moral, or most powerful) of all beings" is in the same position.

      That sort of atheist is only disbelieves in God in the sense that the common person does not believe in the question whether there is a proof for the Goldbach conjecture: by being ignorant of the question, and so unable to deny it.

      • Ignatius Reilly

        It's of interest to atheists if they want to actively disbelieve in God, rather than simply not believing in God because they haven't considered the question.

        What does whether or not Christians and Muslims worship the same God have to do with whether or not atheists have considered the question?

        Actively disbelieving is funny terminology. Do we actively disbelieve in unicorns?

        For instance, most people don't believe that there is a proof for the Goldbach conjecture in the sense that they don't understand and have not considered the question.

        This is a strange analogy. Godlbach's conjecture is unsolved. There is no proof and there is no counterexample. How exactly do you want a random person to consider the question?

        The atheist who merely answers "no" to the question of "is there some particular entity (or entities) is the greatest (best, most perfect, most moral, or most powerful) of all beings" is in the same position.

        Do you have some reason to think atheists haven't considered this? Anyway, this is not very classical theisty of you.

        • "Actively disbelieving is funny terminology. Do we actively disbelieve in unicorns?"

          People who have heard of unicorns do actively disbelieve in them. Those who have never heard or conceived of unicorns don't believe in unicorns, but don't actively disbelieve in them either.

          • Michael Murray

            Wouldn't the phrase "informed disbelief" be better than "active disbelief" ? To me the latter sounds like someone who gets up every day and goes looking for any new information on unicorns. There may be such people but I suspect most of us aren't like that. I've thought the question through, weighed the evidence and came to the decision that currently there is no evidence for the existence of unicorns. Moreover I think if such evidence comes to light I will hear about it through the normal sources of new information I peruse each day so I don't have to go out and actively test my unicorn disbelief each day.

          • Will

            Part of being a good Bayesian reasoner is to never discount any hypothesis a complete 100% in order to allow for new evidence/information to increase it's probability if it happens to be true, maybe that's what Thomas is attempting, but failing to describe? This doesn't mean we should waste time on actively pursuing absurdly improbable hypotheses, like phlogiston or unicorns. Thomas makes little sense, here, in my opinion. How can someone disbelieve in something they've never heard of? They have no belief if they have never considered a topic....typical stuff here, I guess.

      • Doug Shaver

        It's of interest to atheists if they want to actively disbelieve in God, rather than simply not believing in God because they haven't considered the question.

        What I want to believe has nothing to do with what I can believe. I have been considering the question of God's existence for most of my life, and except for a brief time during my youth, I could not regard his existence as more likely than his nonexistence.

    • ClayJames

      Needless to say this topic is of little interest to atheists.

      Not all atheists. The point made in this piece would make the following idea nonsensical:

      “We are all atheists about most of the gods that humanity has ever believed in. Some of us just go one god further.” Richard Dawkins - The God Delusion

  • Will

    Muslims claim to believe in the God of Abraham, originally called El. El, elohim, ellah (allah) all come from the same linguistic root. Perhaps it would be accurate to say that Muslims believe in God the father (El...possibly Yahweh but some argue they were originally distinct deities), but not the rest of the trinity. Muslims sometimes accuse Christians of polytheism due to the trinity, but I don't think that's quite right.

    If we define God as the creator of the universe, then by that definition, all western religions worship the same God. They just disagree on the sources of revelation, and that leads to other disagreements. Some Christians do not accept the trinity, does that mean they don't believe in the same God as other Christians? It seems this turns into an argument over how to split imaginary hairs, but wars have been fought over these imaginary hairs.

    • Ye Olde Statistician

      I'm pretty sure "El" or "Al" simply means "the" in Hebrew/Arabic. I think "Loh/Lah" is the noun. "The Lah" or "the Loh." The traditional use of the plural turns the latter into Elohim, which to Arabic speakers sounds like "The Gods" and gets Jews called polytheists.

      • OverlappingMagisteria

        Hmm that certainly changes my understanding of many of the biblical names. The name Israel means "Struggles with The" , Daniel means "The is my judge" and Jesus is proclaimed Emmanuel: "The is with us!" ;-)

      • Will

        Close I think, but the word for god is more like "ilah". I'll quote wiki for clarity

        Allah (English pronunciation: /ˈælə/, /ˈɑːlə/ or /əlˈlɑː/;[1][2] Arabic: الله‎ Allāh, IPA: [ʔalˤˈlˤɑːh] ( listen)) is the Arabic word for God (al ilāh, literally "the God"), referring to the God in Abrahamic religions.[3][4][5] The word has cognates in other Semitic languages, including Elah in Aramaic, ʾĒl in Canaanite and Elohim in Hebrew.[6][7]

        • Ye Olde Statistician

          Yes, meaning "The God." For a similar example in German, Switzerland is always called "The Swiss."

      • Seth

        I always enjoy your replies (to some extent I've even become your stalker) but here you're wrong. In Hebrew El means god in general and is the proper name for a specific Semitic god. Eloha also means god and shares the root for the Arabic Allah. Elohim has a plural form but in Hebrew such forms can act as either quantifiers or qualifiers, like "l'chayim" means "to life" even though singular "life" is just "chay" the plural form qualifies it as a great life. We know when Elohim means Great God by both context and that the singular verb is chosen.
        The 'ha' sound prefixing a word is the Hebrew definite article (or if it already has an added prefix then just an 'aw' sound between the prefix's consonant and the word). Deuteronomy 4:35 has such a definite article emphasizing He, Ha-Elohim, is THE Great God par excellence.

    • neil_pogi

      so how about deism? how did you know your god?

    • Mike

      Muslims i think it's pretty clear worship the same God as jews and Christians but ppl who deny the trinity ie Christ are obv not christians.

      • Arthur Jeffries

        Those who deny the orthodox doctrine of the Trinity are not orthodox Christians, but they are not non-Christians. Technically they are heretics.

        • Mike

          fair enough. but would you then say that unitarians are christians?

          • Arthur Jeffries

            Some Unitarians are, some aren't. There are Unitarians who identify as atheist or agnostic, and others who are Hindus, Buddhists, etc. Others are Christians.

          • Mike

            you don't mean that a muslim can identify as a christian do you?

          • Jim (hillclimber)

            I think the basic rule should be to respect the way that people self-identify. If a person's usage of a label seems to be in complete discontinuity with standard usage, you can have a nice polite argument about the tradition of interpretation associated with the word, but I don't think there is any point in obsessing about exact lines in the sand. Labels are only "short-hand" that always fall short of adequately characterizing individuals.

            Some (Reza Aslan comes to mind) would say that the baseline threshold of "what makes a Muslim a Muslim" is just centering one's life around submission to the will of God, a principle that should be completely unobjectionable to any Christian. Some do in fact self-identify as both Christian and Muslim, and put forward reasonable arguments for why that self-appellation makes sense, for example: http://www.seattletimes.com/seattle-news/i-am-both-muslim-and-christian/ .

          • Mike

            i agree. in fact i think that to SOME extent we are all theist, atheist, christian, buddhist, pagan etc.

          • Arthur Jeffries

            No, I'm saying that some individual Unitarians and some individual Unitarian congregations are Christian while others are not.

          • Mike

            maybe i just don't know enough about unitarians. how can someone who denies that jc is God claim to be a christian except in the most loose sense of the word, as a cultural label more than a theological position.

          • David Hardy

            maybe i just don't know enough about unitarians. how can someone who
            denies that jc is God claim to be a christian except in the most loose
            sense of the word

            Unitarian can refer to Christians who reject the doctrine of the Trinity. However, "Unitarian" can also designate members of others groups. For example, Unitarian Universalists can sometimes refer to themselves as Unitarians. Unitarian Universalism began as a Christian group that held both the Unitarian view on God and the Universalist view on salvation, but has since grown to include members from many different religious backgrounds. The idea is that the divine or sacred, while conceptualized differently across religions, actually all refer to a common sacred reality (Springing from the Unitarian side of a single divine nature rather than a plurality) and that salvation through connecting to the sacred happens in many different forms, not just Christianity (drawing on the idea of universal salvation, which includes non-Christians). Therefore, someone who refers to him or herself as a "Unitarian" may be indicating anything from a rejection of the doctrine of the Trinity to membership in a religious group that does not even indicate if the person is Christian.

  • Ye Olde Statistician
    • I deliberately avoided reading Feser's piece until I finished this one, since I anticipated we would have similar arguments. Feser's article is good, and he goes into more detail on issues in the philosophy of language than I did.

      There's another companion article to the one you cited here: http://edwardfeser.blogspot.com/2016/01/liberalism-and-islam.html

  • Paul Brandon Rimmer

    This piece is very useful for us agnostics, who want to be clear on which God we are unsure about.

    • Thanks, Paul. Often, the claims of well-meaning believers give agnostics good reason to be skeptical. If the choice is between theistic personalism (e.g., William Lane Craig) and agnosticism, I'd be a skeptic too.

  • Amrita Sharma

    In the present controversy, some Christian thinkers have taken up the
    opposite position, arguing that Muslims do not believe in the “same God”
    as Christians do, because they deny the Christian doctrines of the
    Incarnation and the Trinity.

    http://www.palmreadingastrology.com/palmistry-hand-shapes-for-male/