Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Defining God into existence

One extremely aggravating assertion leveled against theists is that they beg the question by defining God into existence, sort of like Anselm attempted to do. It usually starts off like this. The atheist concedes for argument’s sake that God could have created the universe, but then turns around and asks what, then, created God. The theist then becomes frustrated, because God, by definition, is the first cause which just is uncaused, uncreated, and necessary. Here, then, is where the theist is accused of begging the question and defining God into existence. The atheist claims that of course if one arbitrarily defines God as that which is uncaused and uncreated, then the problem is solved. But, this is the very thing up for dispute, is it not?

So, the atheist continues, if one can simply attach the concepts of uncaused and necessary to the concept of God, then why can’t we similarly do this with any other concept? Herein lies the genesis of such absurdities as the flying spaghetti monster, and invisible pink unicorns etc. Why, the atheist wonders, can’t we say that a necessary uncaused fairy is what lies behind the existential curtain, instead of God? Isn’t labeling God as necessary and uncaused just as arbitrary as taking the concept of a fairy and predicating the very same things of it?

My answer: No, no, one-thousand times no. First, and most importantly, the theist does not arbitrarily predicate concepts like necessary of God. Rather, they accept these, and take them for granted, as though they had been proved deductively. That is to say, the theist accepts these predicates after God’s existence has already been arrived at logically. Now here the atheist will cry that they don’t accept the arguments and proofs for God’s existence—obviously, since they’re atheists—and that the theist is only assuming one more thing that needs to be proven. And here the atheist is precisely right. The theist does assume that the proofs (at least some) for God’s existence achieve their objective—obviously, since they’re theists.

However, notice that the actual proofs for God’s existence are not what’s being discussed here presently—unless one is promulgating the Ontological argument. That is to say, the atheist, when asking questions like the ones above, is attacking the concept of God and not the proofs that lead up to said concept.  So the point is that the theists are not arbitrarily predicating concepts of God in an ad hoc fashion to avoid questions of prior causality and contingency. Rather, they’re assuming that these concepts have already been proved by deduction and therefore already inherently contain concepts like necessity.

Another major problem is with atheists drawing an analogy between God and existential absurdities (e.g. the flying spaghetti monster). Nobody believes that the flying spaghetti monster or the tooth fairy have been proved deductively. Thus, when the atheist attempts to attach predicates like necessity to them to prove a point they are in fact doing so arbitrarily and question-beggingly, and therefore their point is not received.  

Now, in case I still haven’t convinced you of my point, let me attempt to give an analogy to demonstrate where the atheist’s problem lies. In mathematics a famous proof is that of proving that the square root of two is an irrational number. Now imagine that a “skeptic” came along, conceded the validity of the proof for argument’s sake, and asked why the square root of two does not satisfy the definition of an integer. The mathematician then remarks that the set of integers is subsumed under the set of rational numbers, and since the square root of two is not rational then it cannot possibly be an integer either. The skeptic then claims that the mathematician is begging the question by arbitrarily defining the square root of two as irrational. Subsequently the skeptic then wonders why he cannot, like the mathematician, simply arbitrarily define any random number as irrational to prove it’s not an integer.

The problem here should be obvious. The mathematician is not arbitrarily defining anything. His assertion that the square root of two is irrational was a conclusion arrived at by use of his deductive proof. Now whether this proof is valid and sound can be assessed on its own grounds, but it should be clear that if the skeptic wants to challenge the notion regarding the square root of two as an irrational number, he needs to tackle the proof itself. Charging the mathematician with defining the number into a number group is simply confused. Moreover, claiming that, like the mathematician, the skeptic can take any number he wants and define it into a specific number set likewise confused, since the mathematician did no such a thing.

Hopefully the point has been made. When the atheist charges the theist with defining God into existence, they are gravely mistaken. The theist is not being arbitrary with the concept and attributes of God. The concept and attributes are based on so-called deductive proofs which attempt to end at and conclude with God. These proofs can be challenged of course, but when one asks questions related purely to the concept of God—e.g. what created God?—then all the ontological baggage that accompanies that concept needs to be taken account of as well.

Friday, May 8, 2015

Dale Allison on the Bible

"The inexplicable divine mystery still speaks through the old pages and through my hermeneutical confusion; and in the end I must pursue the book because it has always pursued me. It has made me feel like a worm and no man, and it has made me sing the song of Simeon. It has made known my transgressions so that they are ever before me, and it has freed me from my past so that I am free indeed. It has so shaped my intellect that, even when I do not end with it, I always begin with it. And what little good deed doing I have done has come from memory of the Good Samaritan and of the Son of Man's words to the sheep and the goats.

I have come to live and move and have my being in the Bible [...] and in the Christian traditions it has brought forth. I want this book read to me on my deathbed. Despite my modernity and my cynical nature, despite my dissection of it and my quarrels with it, the Bible remains profitable for teaching, for correction, and for training in righteousness. It comforts. It inspires. It commands. When I push its pages apart, I lay my finger on God's heart. I hate to see people not reading it."

Taken from The Luminous Dusk .