William M. Briggs

Statistician to the Stars!

Which God Are You Rejecting? David Bentley Hart’s The Experience of God, Part I

Another good Hart

The Experience of God: Being, Consciousness, Bliss by David Bentley Hart.

A good joke

A joke which many atheists think clever goes like this: (speaking to a theist) “You reject Zeus, Aphrodite, Ra, and many others gods; we just reject one god more.”

Ain’t that rattling? The “one more” being by implication is the Christian God. I mean capital-B Being. As in the ground of all existence, the necessary Being, He who which if He didn’t exist, nothing would exist, He who which if He didn’t exist, nothing would happen.

Say what? Never mind, for now. Let that stew in the recesses while we tackle another interpretation of the joke, which in a sense does not go far enough. Because it turns out that the god modern-day atheists have in mind, what Hart calls the Demiurge, is a god Christians also reject. The Demiurge is a kind of “superior being”, a being like any other only more so, and it is this small-g god that the man-in-the-street atheist, and certainly those well known celebrity authors, find implausible or ridiculous. And so does the theologian.

Of the God, the necessary Being, the new atheist knows little to nothing. Well, maybe the Christian-, Muslim-, or Hindu-in-the-street knows little of Him either, in the sense of being unable to write down a philosophically consistent definition of just who and what God is. The theologian, however, can, and this is Hart’s task. To definite, delimit, demarcate just what it is the great religious traditions say about God. Hart’s isn’t a work of apologetics nor a list of proofs of God’s existence. It is an in-depth examination that spells out precisely who God is. Something very necessary for those who say they don’t believe in God: just what is it you don’t believe?

Let’s get one popular fallacy out of the way. This is the most-people-believe-what’s-false-therefore-it’s-false fallacy, or the Coyne fallacy, named after its most frequent user, Jerry Coyne. This fallacy is used to reject a proposition because most people misunderstand or hold false beliefs about that proposition. So that if the average church or temple goer has a definition of God that suffers certain inconsistencies, therefore God doesn’t exist. If you accept that then you’d have to believe that since the average citizen has mistaken ideas about evolution (holding to Intelligent Design, say), therefore evolution is false. Truth is not a vote.

What’s what

Hart thinks atheistic philosophy is “a fundamentally irrational view of reality, which can be sustained only by a tragic absence of curiosity or a fervently resolute will to believe the absurd…that true philosophical atheism must be regarded as a superstition, often nurtured by an infantile wish to live in a world proportionate to one’s own hopes or conceptional limitations.”

These philosophies always boil down to some kind of materialism or “naturalism”, “the doctrine that there is nothing apart from the physical order”, which Hart says (and proves) is “ultimately indistinguishable from pure magical thinking.” Why?

The very notion of nature as a closed system entirely sufficient to itself is plainly one that cannot be verified, deductively or empirically, from within the system of nature.

Evolution is no savior of naturalism, which “is necessarily false as a philosophical precept; for no one’s belief in the truth of naturalism could correspond to reality except through a shocking coincidence (or, better, a miracle).” And anyway, naturalism does not explain existence.

For existence is more definitely not a natural phenomenon; it is logically prior to any physical cause whatsoever; and anyone who imagines that it is susceptible of a natural explanation simply has no grasp of what the question of existence really is. In fact, it is impossible to say how, in the terms naturalism allows, nature could exist at all.

Evolutionary urges

Atheists aren’t the only folks who bought into fallacy that answers to all philosophical questions must be scientific answers. A good many religious have, too. And from this scientism was born the wearying and highly distracting creationist-Intelligent-design wars.

Idealistic atheists (with the fervor of young Lenins) insist everybody swear that evolution is true because science says so. But this scientific fact, like any scientific fact, is of no interest by itself. After all, you don’t see atheists screeching that everybody should swear that the Higgs boson has mass, another consequential scientific fact. Trouble arises because the atheist goes farther and fallaciously argues that if evolution is true that therefore God cannot exist. And even this wouldn’t be more than a minor curiosity except that a whole set of (mainly Western protesting) Christians bought the second argument. Boy, howdy, did they. And since they did, to “save” God they bend all their energies toward proving evolution faulty, but as everybody knows this war has been one long retreat.

The defensive actions of the religious have provoked their enemies’ bloodlust, and up “has sprung a whole generation of confident, even strident atheist proselytizers who appear to know almost nothing about the religious beliefs they abominate, apart from a few vague and gauzily impressionistic daubs or aquarelle washes, and who seem to have no real sense of what the experience of faith is like or of what its rationales might be.” And so to those beliefs and experiences.

Demi-urges

We must be careful of the “absolute differentiation between the one transcendent Godhead from whom all being flows and the various ‘divine’ beings who indwell and govern the heavens and the earth.” All major theistic traditions speak of a transcendent God.

To speak of “God” properly, then—to use the word in a sense consonant with the teachings of orthodox Judaism, Christianity, Islam, Sikhism, Hinduism, Bahá’í, a great deal of antique paganism, and so forth—is to speak of the one infinite source of all that is: eternal, omniscient, omnipotent, omnipresent, uncreated, uncaused, perfectly transcendent of all things and or that very reason absolutely immanent to all things.

The transcendent God can be “‘investigated’ only, on the one hand, by acts of logical deduction and induction and conjecture or, on the other, by contemplative or sacramental or spiritual experiences.” The demiurge, the god of the atheists, who can be known scientifically, the “technician or artisan” “immensely wise and powerful” deity who may have himself evolved and who tinkers with physics, sets things in motion, and then retires to well deserved anonymity, making the occasional positively last appearance like an opera singer, is not transcendent.

The transcendental God can wield the “ontological cause”, which is the power to make, “to create from nothing.” “Nothing” does not mean, incidentally, a quantum field, nor any other vanishingly small something. Nothing means nothing. This is why it makes no sense to ask what or who caused the transcendental God. He is a necessary being.

We tend to presume that if one can discover the temporally prior physical causes of some object—the world, an organism, a behavior, a religion, a mental event, an experience, or anything else—one has thereby eliminated all other possible causal explanations of that object. But this is a principle that is true only in materialism [naturalism] is true, and materialism is true only if this principle is true, and logical circles should not set rules for our thinking.

Asking whether nature has a purpose or meaning is not one that can be answered empirically. And there is plenty we can’t know empirically. Like the principle “that everything can be known empirically”, which is self-refuting and therefore false based on logic, and matters of logic are not empirical. We can also know that “a transcendental certainty of the impossibility of transcendental truth [which] requires an act of pure credence logically immune to any verification (after all, if there is a God he can presumably reveal himself to seeking minds, but if there is not then there be no ‘natural’ confirmation of the fact).”

Next time: we start the definition with being itself, the first of the three “attributes” of God.

91 Comments

  1. Let that stew in the recesses

    I find the atheist joke a lot more humorous than this passive aggressive act you are trying to pull here.

    For existence is more definitely not a natural phenomenon; it is logically prior to any physical cause whatsoever; and anyone who imagines that it is susceptible of a natural explanation simply has no grasp of what the question of existence really is.

    I’d rather have my Lovecraftian horror stories than reading this buffoon masquerading as someone smart and sophisticated. Just the idea that real people (always living in their ivory towers) really think they can proclaim what exists “prior” to any “physical cause” whatsoever is hubris elevated to such a degree that makes my stomach perform real badly.

    And so, this is also another God that I easily deny for it presumes too much knowledge I can’t for anyone’s sake consider remotely possible for anyone to know.

    is to speak of the one infinite source of all that is: eternal, omniscient, omnipotent, omnipresent, uncreated, uncaused, perfectly transcendent of all things and or that very reason absolutely immanent to all things.

    … and that at the same time really hates gays, has a taste for the sexual positions that we should observe, etc.,etc. And this is the “new God” that ahteists “never heard of”? Really? I’ve heard this meaningless shenanigan all too often.

  2. Briggs

    February 26, 2014 at 10:09 am

    Pretty good, Luis. You got it right back to the subject of men who want to have sex with men in the end.

    Of course, we haven’t go to the definition of what you’re rejecting yet. My bet is you’re unaware of some of Hart’s arguments. Stick around.

  3. Wow, Luis. Hostile today, aren’t you?

    Actually, arguing about the cause of the cause of the cause, as you descend into an enternal Eshcer drawing, can be fun. In the end, we can never answer any of this scientifically and we fight over it religiously. We humans are so cute.

    (As for your last comment, I suggest we rephrase the opening argument–which I can’t tell from your response if you objected to–“You believers in the rightness of homosexuality often reject pedophile, bestiality and necrophilia as wrong or not natural. We who reject homosexuality just reject one more sexual behaviour.”)

  4. Yes – I enjoy discussing this sort of thing also.

    I accept the possibility of a god because we have no explanation for what created our universe.

    I can accept natural process creating suns, galaxies, our world and even life – with evolution bringing us up to date. But only after the universe is created – which we don’t know the origin for.

    However, I cannot wrap my head around a universe just popping into existence like a virtual particle (another theory which has no experimental evidence yet – but is a cool theory). So lets postulate a god.

    Even the multi-verse just pushes back the question – what created the multi-verse? Lets postulate a god for that creation also.

    But then my question is – what created God?

    Saying God always existed is not satisfying to my intellect.

    And yet here we are – so I just don’t know how to answer the question of where the universe came from our what created god (or even if there is a god).

    Still fun to discuss.

  5. What is the probability that “s/he” (e.g. Briggs or whoever with whatever deeply held belief) will accept ANY logical argument that would challenge his particular belief?

    Precisely zero.

    What is the probability that such a “believer” will formulate a logical thought argument (or even “proof”) that leads to a conclusion contrary to their beliefs?

    Precisely zero.

    Q.E.D.*

  6. Okay, Ken, hit us with an argument and let’s see if it’s persuasive or not. My guess is you will simply say I/whomever will never believe it anyway so you won’t bother. Am I right?

  7. When presented with an argument which uses the inmost, unobservable motivations of others as a premise and find myself not in the possession of said motivations, I consider that the arguer is likely projecting his own motivations onto others. If the argument is that people will only believe what they have already chosen to believe, I regard the arguer’s beliefs as arbitrary (especially his belief that others’ beliefs are arbitrary). The argument that all argument is fruitless is the self-referentially preposterous work of self-insulating wannabe nihilists. True nihilists would not engage in argumentation at all, remaining consistent to the belief in the universal absence of purpose.

  8. Willis Eschenbach

    February 26, 2014 at 12:39 pm

    Well, let’s see. This being a statistical blog, did David Hart offer any statistically based evidence either for or against the existence of God?

    Well, no.

    And this being a scientific blog, did David Hart offer any observation evidence either for or against the existence of God?

    Well … no again.

    He did distinguish his own personal God from say Zeus, Ra, and the rest. You see, his God is

    … the ground of all existence, the necessary Being, He who which if He didn’t exist, nothing would exist, He who which if He didn’t exist, nothing would happen.

    And we all know that those cheap, imitation Gods like Ra and Baal and those poseurs, we know they’re just flim-flam artists, Wizard of Oz type Gods, compared to the One and Only, Never To Be Duplicated, DAVID’S GOD.

    Sadly, David offers no evidence that either a) any of his statements about his God are true, or b) that the believers in Zeus or Ra wouldn’t say exactly the same thing about their God.

    I mean c’mon, Matt, think about it. Surely, the believers in Ra think that Ra is the ground of all existence, the fount of all created things, the force underlying all. Surely, they’d say exactly the same thing about Ra that David says about his God, that he existed before time, permeates the entire universe, the source of all creation, blah, blah, blah … David’s merely the latest in the endless line of folks saying “But my God is different! Mine is the original one and only God!”.

    I find this hilarious. In an attempt to defuse the some piece of Atheist humor, David’s counter-claim is “but my God is the real, authentic, no-BS God, not some cheap imitation God like Ra” …

    That’s it, Matt? That’s the sum of your guest poster’s argument? Dude, that is freakin’ pathetic. There’s plenty of valid arguments pro and con about God, but David’s counter-claim that “my God is the real deal, the bringer-into-existence of everything, and Ra isn’t, so the joke’s wrong”?

    That’s not an argument, that’s a sign of intellectual deficiency. Jokes are never wrong, not the ones that survive. The reason the joke has survived is because it is funny. And it is funny because it contains elements of truth.

    An honest assessment of those elements, and what they mean, might be interesting.

    But this farrago ? Really?

    w.

    PS—A note for your guest author. When I get to something like:

    These [atheistic] philosophies always boil down to …

    I stop reading right there.

    First, the word “always” is a sign of intellectual dishonesty. We all know that there are exceptions, often many exceptions, to any description of reality. As a result, anyone claiming “always” in human affairs is an advocate rather than a reporter.

    Next, I never believe what someone tells me my own “philosophy” might “boil down to”. Even I’m not sure what my philosophy might “boil down to”, so how on earth would your guest author know what my (or any other) philosophy might boil down to?

    Next, he has not identified even a single one of the “philosophies” he is referring to. We have no idea of the subject he’s declaiming against.

    Next, we haven’t seen him boil even one of the philosophies down. So we have no idea of whatever his boiling process might entail.

    Which means that he’s just waving his hands and declaring that he’s right … not what I call an effective tactic.

    More to the point, it’s a tactic that sheds intelligent readers. I have no interest in his claims about what some unspecified boiling “always” does to some unspecified philosophies. That’s just New Age philosophical psychobabble in my books.

    Edited

  9. Ye Olde Statisician

    February 26, 2014 at 1:07 pm

    Hart is an Eastern Orthodox theologian, and hence more prone to the direct experience. T. Aquinas, in the Western tradition, started with empirical experience and reasoned from there back to the existence of a primary motivator, a primary cause, a necessary being, and so on. Then from this deduction, he further deduced various attributes that now have some correspondents’ knickers in a knot. Hart, I suspect, is starting from this end-point and is setting out to describe Being, not to demonstrate it.

    Just the idea that real people (always living in their ivory towers) really think they can proclaim what exists “prior” to any “physical cause” whatsoever is hubris elevated to such a degree that makes my stomach perform real badly.

    It’s not that elevated. Existence Itself is logically prior to anything physical, since it must exist before it can cause anything. (This is not, btw, temporally prior.) It is hard to see how anything would exist if Existence did not exist. That’s pretty elementary logic.

    But then my question is – what created God? Saying God always existed is not satisfying to my intellect.

    That is the drawback of starting at the back end. In the Thomist tradition, one starts by demonstrating the necessary existence of a purely actual being. One may then deduce certain properties of this “Being of Pure Act” by elementary logic and the nature of potency and act. One such property is that the BPE is necessarily eternal. Once you have racked up a suite of such properties, you realize that you have been describing God. That is, we don’t start with “God, who has the following properties, and so physical causes exist.” Rather, “Physical causes exist, and this leads to certain conclusions which add up to God.” One may as well ask “What light does the sun reflect?”

  10. Briggs

    February 26, 2014 at 1:09 pm

    YOS,

    About your first comment: Exactly so. This is a book of definitions, not proofs. Though along the way certain proofs emerge, often in unexpected areas.

  11. By count, Willis read approximately one-half the post, having stopped at “boils down to” and then wrote a long, angry comment. Wonder what he would have to say if I read half of one of his posts elsewhere and wrote a scathing comment on the article?

  12. Nullius in Verba

    February 26, 2014 at 4:03 pm

    “Because it turns out that the god modern-day atheists have in mind, what Hart calls the Demiurge, is a god Christians also reject.”

    Good. Glad that’s all sorted out. No need to argue any further, eh?

    Because given that this is the sort of god modern atheists have in mind, and are arguing doesn’t exist, you’re effectively saying that Christians agree this claim of theirs is correct. That’s going to make atheists very happy.

    “Well, maybe the Christian-, Muslim-, or Hindu-in-the-street knows little of Him either, in the sense of being unable to write down a philosophically consistent definition of just who and what God is.”

    Oh dear, you mean the average Christian/Muslim/Hindu in the street *does* believe in demiurges of just the sort that the atheists are complaining about people believing in?

    This is one of the central difficulties with the ‘theological’ defense of religion. The belief that atheists are primarily attacking is the “pillar of fire / long white beard” sort of God, because it’s the one most believers believe in. They point out how ridiculous it is. The theologians respond by taking that god away, putting it behind a curtain, and substituting this different “ipsum esse subsistans” sort of god. Well, atheists don’t agree with *that* either, but it’s a more difficult and far more complicated argument.

    (As Locke put it: “employing the ingenious and idle in intricate disputes about unintelligible terms, and holding them perpetually entangled in that endless labyrinth. Besides, there is no such way to gain admittance, or give defence to strange and absurd doctrines, as to guard them round about with legions of obscure, doubtful, and undefined words. Which yet make these retreats more like the dens of robbers, or holes of foxes, than the fortresses of fair warriors: which, if it be hard to get them out of, it is not for the strength that is in them, but the briars and thorns, and the obscurity of the thickets they are beset with. For untruth being unacceptable to the mind of man, there is no other defence left for absurdity but obscurity.” Poetic.)

    But OK, as a philosophical exercise, it can be quite entertaining, although it is difficult to come to any conclusion and the more typical atheist eventually gets bored of going round in circles and gives up.

    But having seen the interloper off, the theologians then proceed to get the ‘guy with the white beard’ *back out* of the cupboard, dust him off, and carry on from where they were before they were so rudely interrupted. They don’t expend any great efforts educating their *own* flock about the incorrectness of such beliefs, only the atheists. The errors of ordinary believers are tolerated – the idea seems to be that it doesn’t matter if one believes wrongly so long as one *believes*.

    Now when I was a child, they taught us numerous religious stories that are all that a lot of adults around here know about Christian beliefs – even regular attenders at church. And a lot of those stories tell of a god who takes an active part in history: smiting the wicked, raising the dead, giving orders, building nations, getting angry, who is said to have a body, and limits. The stories involve pillars of fire and global floods with boats full of animals and demons and whales eating people and talking donkeys and loaves and fishes and food falling out of the sky. I’ve mentioned the theologians’ version to a few, and they just look blank – they have no idea what I’m talking about. They think of themselves as Christians, but apparently have no idea what “Christians believe”. They seem to think all that stuff in the Bible is what Christians believe.

    I don’t argue with them about it unless they seem to want me to. (Like, when they try to convert me, or tell me atheists are wrong.) I don’t believe in it myself, but I don’t mind people who do, so long as they’re not making life unpleasant for unbelievers. But I do at least expect that if you genuinely *believe* something, that people should be honest about it. The ‘Demiurge’ stuff is what the argument is really about. If we can all agree it’s wrong, and get rid of it, then maybe we can move on to discussing this more sophisticated version. But we never do actually get rid of it. We just set it aside temporarily while we’re arguing, and then bring it back.

  13. Ye Olde Statisician

    February 26, 2014 at 4:10 pm

    Surely, the believers in Ra think that Ra is the ground of all existence…

    Actually, no. I’m not even sure the concept would have made sense in Egyptian thought.

    Besides, Dr. Briggs quoted Hart as writing:
    To speak of “God” properly, then—to use the word in a sense consonant with the teachings of orthodox Judaism, Christianity, Islam, Sikhism, Hinduism, Bahá’í, a great deal of antique paganism, and so forth—is to speak of the one infinite source of all that is…
    so it is not clear that Hart envisions God in as exclusionary a sense as Mr. Eschenbach.

    the word “always” is a sign of intellectual dishonesty

    “The interior angles of a plane Euclidean triangle always add up to 180 degrees.”

    Mr. Eschenbach would have been better served by simply providing a counter-example of an atheist philosophy that does not boil down to “some kind of materialism or ‘naturalism’, ‘the doctrine that there is nothing apart from the physical order’.”

  14. Ye Olde Statisician:

    “What light does the sun reflect?”

    Well – I can push this back to about 300,000 years after the big bang, when the universe cooled down for all radiation to form. The cosmologists say that is the “and then there was light” moment.

    Of course, light has been created after that moment – for example when an electron drops a level, light is emitted.

    So one can attempt an answer to your question – for surely the sun does reflect light (not just emit it). If nothing else, the gravity of the sun bends light.

    But working backwards still runs into questions about what existed before radiation existed – or the big bang – or the universe – or God . . .

    I guess no one knows and maybe we will never know.

    But that is no reason not to think about it and work on the problem.

  15. If you don’t need a cause for God, then you won’t need a cause for the universe. (Occam’s razor)

  16. Has anyone else noticed that philosophers invariably philosophize on topics for which they have deep-seated beliefs, values & interests?

    One doesn’t find them philosophizing about matters for which they have no interest, or vested interest in a particular outcome–topics that, regardless of the outcome, they truly couldn’t care less of the answer.
    We expect our judges & umpires & referees & etc. to be impartial…but think nothing of mindlessly accepting a philosopher’s conclusions on topics for which they wholeheartedly biased & partial.

    In fact, those inclined to tap a philosopher for a determination invariably cherry-pick from the realm of philosophers those that hold the same values & viewpoints they do…then…presume the rationale applied and conclusions reached, which invariably align with their preconceptions & personal values, are “unbiased” and “objective.”

    It’s a self-inflicted kangaroo court, sort of…

  17. Ye Olde Statisician

    February 26, 2014 at 6:07 pm

    @RickA
    I think I was unclear. When folks ask what caused the Uncaused Cause or what moved the Unmoved Mover or what gave existence to Existence Itself, they don’t seem to grasp the self-contradictory nature of their question. It is like looking at the reflection of moonlight in a pond, deeming the moonlight to be itself a reflection of the light of the sun, and then asking what light the sun is reflecting. But the sun shines by its own light. That is, neither the pond nor the moon has the power to create the reflection absent the concurrent action of the sun. (Allowing for a finite light speed.)

    This has nothing to do with any “let there be light” “moment” nor with any “working backwards” except in logical sequence.
    + + +

    @Hans
    If you don’t need a cause for God, then you won’t need a cause for the universe. (Occam’s razor)

    That does not follow logically, nor is it an expression of the Principle of Parsimony. Brother William only said that you should not have so many terms in your model that you won’t understand your own model. His razor was epistemological, not ontological.

    There is a sense in which you may not require a cause for the universe: and that is that the universe is not a thing and only things require causes. Consider the JupiHans, which is the mereological sum of the planet Jupiter and Hans Erren. Does anyone consider there to be a sense in which the JupiHans requires a cause? Or do we rather ask the cause of Jupiter and the cause of Hans as two separate questions? In the same manner, the universe does not exist save as the mereological sum of all physical existants. {The universe} “exists” only insofar as any member of {the universe} exists. (As Einstein showed, space and time are consequences of physical existence, not an empty stage that somehow exists independently of matter.)

    The other reason why God does not need a cause and the universe does is that the universe is in continual change and thus cannot be the Unchanging Changer of Aristotle. OTOH, Aquinas did not merely posit that God needed no cause. He determined that there must be an Uncaused Cause and deduced the properties of such a being, and these properties summed up to the traditional notion of God. That is, there must be something uncaused at the root of things (otherwise there would not be things). It would be more pertinent to say the Uncaused Cause is God, than that God is the Uncaused Cause.

    But let us wait and see what else Hart has to say.

  18. “It’s a self-inflicted kangaroo court, sort of…”

    to the extent that you are incapable of thinking for yourself, yes

  19. Nullius in Verba

    February 26, 2014 at 6:31 pm

    “When folks ask what caused the Uncaused Cause or what moved the Unmoved Mover or what gave existence to Existence Itself, they don’t seem to grasp the self-contradictory nature of their question.”

    They’re generally only trying to point out the contradiction in the argument. It’s first claimed that “nothing arises from nothing” to claim that all existent things must have causes, and hence are dependent on something external else for their existence, and then because this leads to an infinite regress, to assert that there must be a prime mover, an uncaused cause.

    But if the prime mover is allowed to exist without a cause, why not anything else? And if other things can exist without causes, what need for a prime mover to move them all?

  20. Ken: No! I can BS with philosophers on topics that I could care less about. 🙂

    It’s part of what makes one a philosopher–the honing of one’s skills. I agree that many philosophers write on what is important to them, but not going into areas outside that which you are passionate about does not tend to hone one’s skills. I notice a number of people reading and commenting on this blog. Should I believe all of them are passionate or some just like asking questions and trying to understand things. (At times it may look like a kangaroo court, but even kangaroo courts serve a purpose.)

  21. Ye Olde Statisician

    February 26, 2014 at 7:18 pm

    It’s first claimed that “nothing arises from nothing”

    Oh, dear. This is not the first claim.

    …to claim that all existent things must have causes…

    The principle ex nihilo nihil fit is not the basis for this claim.

    …and hence are dependent on something external else for their existence…

    This is not a “hence,” but a principle.

    …and then because this leads to an infinite regress, to assert that there must be a prime mover, an uncaused cause.

    This is only true for series ordered per se, not for those ordered per accidens. The regress is not necessarily a time series, but a causal one.

    But if the prime mover is allowed to exist without a cause, why not anything else?

    Because logically there can be only one prime mover. Motion is any kinesis from potency to actuality, not simply motion on location. An apple ripening from green to red is in motion, for example; so is an acorn unfolding into an oak. Since A cannot actualize B unless it is itself actual — that which only exists potentially can’t do squat — a first mover must be purely actual and possesses no potency. If it possessed potency, it could be moved to actualize it and hence would not be the prime mover. There cannot be two beings A and B of pure act, since to be two they must be distinguished in some manner: one possesses some power or attribute which the other lacks. For example, A is here and B is there. But then A would be potentially “there”, and would not be a being of pure actuality. Modus tollens.

  22. @Nullius in Verba:

    “But if the prime mover is allowed to exist without a cause, why not anything else?”

    TOF explained; apparently you missed it. What the argument purports to prove is that from the fact that change exists a Prime Mover must exist so that change exists, and the Prime Mover is the sort of being that does not have a cause and could not even have one, not even in principle — that is the *point* of the argument, to show that such a being must exist if change is to exist (in the case of the First Way; other cosmological arguments have different starting points). It would be a rebuttal if, say, the premise “Everything that exists has a cause” was used in the course of the argument. But since such premise is used in no cosmological argument I know, by no competent philosopher I know (except perhaps the ones conjured by the feverish imagination of certain atheists, which while not exactly competent, are certainly more competent than their conjurors), it is just silly. To say that “the prime mover is allowed to exist”, as if some special pleading in favor of the Prime Mover is going on, is simply to not understand the argument.

  23. Ye Olde Statisician:

    Sure – I can see the self-contradictory nature of my questions.

    But how else to ask what came before the big bang or whether a God pre-existed the universe – or where did God come from?

    Is there a proper way to ask these questions?

    Now I admit to never having taken any philosophy – so go easy on me.

  24. There is no evidence that God exists.

  25. There is no scientific evidence God exists.

  26. Ye Olde Statisician

    February 27, 2014 at 1:21 am

    But how else to ask what came before the big bang or whether a God pre-existed the universe – or where did God come from?

    Is there a proper way to ask these questions?

    No. There is no “before” the Big Bang. In the current model, time (like space) came into existence at the bang; so there cannot be a “before.” Or as Augustine of Hippo presciently put it:
    With the motion of creatures, time began to run its course. It is idle to look for time before creation, as if time can be found before time.
    De genesi ad litteram,
    Book V, Ch. 5:12
    +++

    There is no scientific evidence God exists.

    It depends on what one means by “evidence.” There is, for example, no empirical evidence that an objective universe exists. Nor is there physical evidence that the ratio of the circumference to the diameter of a circle is irrational.

  27. What sort of god indeed.

    Most religions will happily teach a Philosophy/Dogma which defines “God” for the followers of the religion. Taoism, on the other hand, starts by teaching a central truth; “The Tao” is indefinable. Then we all discover the Tao in our own terms. This bothers a lot of folks who want a very concrete definition of “God”; especially in their own life.

    To me, the Tao just is. It has always been. It will always be.

    I can’t believe someone showed up to post a nasty-gram after admitting to only reading half the post. I have always thought that real atheists would never engage others very much on the subject of god just as they don’t care much about what people say about unicorns or bigfoot. I figure that they get all exercised because they are conflicted about the question. They should study Taoism. 🙂

    Note: the early Christian Gnostics would certainly agree about the difference between the Demiurge and the Transcendent God.

    Yet another note: Hey, will the statistician to the stars tell us the probability of god based on objective Bayesian statistics in the next post please? 🙂

  28. Fletcher Christian

    February 27, 2014 at 6:15 am

    Sheri – Also according to some people; this transcendent being also cares deeply about whether, before engaging in activity potentially leading to reproduction (which is an obvious necessity for the survival of the species as a whole if nothing else), the two people involved in it have brought in a third person to invoke some magical spells to make the union legitimate. Said person to either be a celibate (supposedly in some cases!) cross-dresser, or someone in a bad suit wearing a funny collar, or in some other variants to be not only a cross-dresser but one wearing a truly spectacular soup-catcher beard.

    Said person is also required to invoke some more spells a year or two later, on behalf of the product of this congress, these spells to include the splashing of water on the offspring. (Or full immersion in water, in some traditions.)

    “When the first knave met the first fool, then was born the first priest”.

  29. Briggs

    February 27, 2014 at 9:01 am

    Jim S,

    Your glib comment the most interesting, because the most common and embedding the very fallacy noted by Hart. To see it, expend—tell us completely—what you mean by “There is no evidence that God exists.”

  30. Mark: Unless there are two individuals with the half-reading atheist’s name who write with that tone, this would be the same individual who savaged me for saying his fiction about “mommy and daddy dolphins” was a travesty on a science blog. One supposes the rules do not apply to him.

    Fletcher: I fail to see how the ritual you describe is much different than the $100,000 rituals
    planned for months, immortalized in photos and film and made “holy” by the state are much different. The state bestows its blessing, tax credits rules for dissolution of the union bestows a tax credit on the little third person (no water involved but the IRS might be willing to do so for a fee). Much discourse has occurred now because the state fails to “bless” certain couples and that is deemed archaic and cruel by some. Yet they demand the “blessing” of the state. Is the state a magical being?

  31. Correction: The atheist half-reader was not writing fiction (except the mommy and daddy dolphin designation) but rather a report on his travels, which somehow were appropriate on a science blog rather than a travel site. I don’t want to report inaccurately.

  32. Ye Olde Statisician

    February 27, 2014 at 11:25 am

    this transcendent being also cares deeply about whether, before engaging in activity potentially leading to reproduction (which is an obvious necessity for the survival of the species as a whole if nothing else), the two people involved in it have brought in a third person to invoke some magical spells to make the union legitimate.

    In both Orthodox and Catholic sacramental theology — and this accounts for about two-thirds of all Christians — the ministers of the sacrament of matrimony are the couple. There was no requirement that a priest witness the exchange of vows until the High Middle Ages. At that time there was a scandal of what were called “woods marriages,” in which the guy promised the gal no-fooling that he would stand by her and provide for her if she would put out for him, but did so in private, often in the marriage bed itself. With no witnesses, not even his beer-buddies, in the morning he would say, “What promise?” and walk on by.

    So the Church insisted that the vows be made in public and witnessed by the Church — congregation and pastor. (The well-to-do never had this problem, since they never let their girls out of sight until they’d been matched up with a convenient family alliance, the so-called Muntehe.)

    Even so, the marriage is still valid if the vows are freely made and without reservation, whether a priest witnesses or not. It is the Secular State, beginning in the mid-19th century that started making a state license a mandatory prerequisite for marriage; and little by little has been de-legitimizing common-law marriage.

    Hope this helps.

  33. After quickly perusing the comments, I suggest that the atheist respondents have not yet grasped Hart’s key point–namely, “God,” as understood by the monotheistic traditions, is NOT a god, not a being, not a person, etc., etc. God is the transcendent source and creator of all created being, which means that his existence (if he in fact exists) is beyond all empirical and scientific investigation. That he is beyond such investigation and confirmation may seem unfair, but it’s just the nature of things. If you find yourself asking, “Who or what created God?” then you have not yet understood what theists (and here I am thinking specifically of the classical Christian tradition) mean by the word “God.”

    For those who have not read Hart’s book, I refer you to his article “God, Gods, and Fairies” (http://goo.gl/wZnbJ).

    May I also commend three articles I recently wrote on precisely this topic on my blog: http://goo.gl/Z2EUlY, http://goo.gl/m6SOee, http://goo.gl/L723sJ.

    Part of the problem here is that Christian theologians (particularly Protestants and those in the analytic philosophical tradition) have themselves begun to think of God, which makes it more difficult for them to respond adequately to atheistic criticisms. This is why Hart’s book is so timely, because Hart invites us back into the classical understanding of the Deity.

  34. “Surely, the believers in Ra think that Ra is the ground of all existence…”

    Ye Olde Statisician on 26 February 2014 at 4:10 pm said:
    “Actually, no. I’m not even sure the concept would have made sense in Egyptian thought.”

    Wow YOS, way way wrong. As usual.

  35. Ye Olde Statisician

    February 27, 2014 at 5:25 pm

    Ra is the sun, which is not transcendent, but immanent. He travels the sky in the Boat of a Million Years and the Boat of Night, and is thus an existent in the world. He merges with other gods to become Amon-Ra or Ra-Horus. He sheds real tears and blood, from which various things in the world are fashioned. In some of the Egyptian religions, Ra is created by Ptah and so is himself a creature. (There is no consistency. Unlike the Greeks, the Egyptians made no real effort to rationalize the totems of the various nomes into a single “pantheon.”)

    In any case, Ra does not seem to be the sort of thing that Hart is talking about. At best, it may be a dim foreshadowing.

  36. Just realized that I did not complete the first sentence of my last paragraph. It should read: “Part of the problem here is that Christian theologians (particularly Protestants and those in the analytic philosophical tradition) have themselves begun to think of God simply as a supernatural person (or even three persons), which makes it more difficult for them to respond adequately to atheistic criticisms.”

  37. And now the proof that this God must be orthodox Roman Catholic and not Protestant, Jewish or Muslim?

  38. Fletcher Christian

    February 27, 2014 at 6:55 pm

    Hans – Or Hindu (Brahma, IIRC, has many of the same attributes of godhead as does the Abrahamic one) or (not quite as sure about this) Zorastrian (Ahuramazda) or even one of the explicitly fictional ones such as Yog-Sothoth or Azathoth?

    Note that there is precisely as much evidence for the existence of any of these as there is for the Abrahamic God.

  39. Briggs

    February 27, 2014 at 7:54 pm

    All,

    Pope Francis offers apropos quote: “If you find yourself in front of—imagine!—in front of an atheist,” the Pope continued, “and he tells you he doesn’t believe in God, you can read him a whole library, where it says that God exists and even proving that God exists, and he will not have faith.” But, he says, “if in the presence of this atheist you bear consistent witness of Christian life, something will begin to work in his heart.”

    Well, not always. It was arguments like these (in more depth, of course) through many books that brought me being an atheist to believer. So with that in mind, let’s continue!

  40. Ye Olde Statisician

    February 27, 2014 at 8:11 pm

    And now the proof that this God must be orthodox Roman Catholic and not Protestant, Jewish or Muslim?

    What part of:
    To speak of “God” properly, then—to use the word in a sense consonant with the teachings of orthodox Judaism, Christianity, Islam, Sikhism, Hinduism, Bahá’í, a great deal of antique paganism, and so forth—is to speak of the one infinite source of all that is
    was difficult to understand?

  41. Fletcher Christian

    February 28, 2014 at 12:24 am

    Heck, modern science is moving towards a concept of an infinite Source. A great deal more abstract and nebulous than any of the religious concepts, of course. I’m not sure of the precise wording that has been used, but the entire structure of symmetry and equations that constitute the background to natural law would seem (on the admittedly limited evidence) to have an inbuilt impetus towards realisation.

    Or to put it another way, everything is mathematics. Or to put it yet another way, Spinoza’s God who “reveals Himself in the harmony of all that exists.”

    Briggs – I’m arguing against myself perhaps – but this is a little piece of mine entitled “Lord of the Dance” (apologies to the hymn) which was written to a 75-word constraint:

    Dance was her life. Legend she was, saintly she was; bringing joy to orphans, hope to the bereaved, the Word to the world – all through dance. The time came for a new venue, her last.

    “I’ll lead you all in the Dance, said he.” Taking tempo from the music of the spheres, clothes fluttering in the solar wind, feet kicking up clouds of comet snow, hair frosted with starlight, they dance.

  42. Religion evolved, ethics evolved, life evolved, continents evolved, stars evolved, galaxies evolved, the universe evolved.

    The god concept evolved, physics doesn’t need a prime mover anymore, neither does, geology, biology, or ethics,

    In an evolving universe the is no room for a god, which is the result of a bronze age geocentric cosmology. In 3000 years the earth has degraded to a tiny planet orbiting an an average star on the edge of an average galaxy, and man has become just another social living animal.

    We wouldn’t have ethics if we were living solitary like polar bears.

  43. Hans: The lack of need is not proof that something does not exist. We don’t need Obama, but he certainly exists. We don’t need Steven Hawking, but he exists. We don’t need butterflies, but they exist. We don’t even need science–we lived for centuries without that.

    Your comment on ethics is true, but irrelevant. We don’t live like polar bears. We need ethics–the only question is who’s ethics do we use?

  44. Sheri, it’s not a matter of need,
    Causality does not exist at the quantum level. The big bang was not caused, it happened.

  45. When theists speak of God bringing the world into existence, they are not necessarily talking about the Big Bang. That is to confuse cosmology and ontology: http://goo.gl/KeE7Zw.

  46. Briggs

    February 28, 2014 at 11:24 am

    Hans,

    “The big bang was not caused, it happened.” What a strange faith!

  47. Hans: You wrote “physics doesn’t Need a prime mover anymore”. That does not mean that one does not exist. I’m not sure I understand how the big bang is known to have “happened”. Very unclear on that one. Also unclear on the evidence that there was nothing before the big bang.

  48. Briggs that’s not faith, that’s physics.

  49. Briggs

    February 28, 2014 at 2:46 pm

    Hans,

    No, sir. Faith. For your statement had no evidence except belief. It is solely a matter of belief that causality somehow came into being ab initio. Once you understand that, you’re eyes will pop. So be sitting down when you contemplate!

  50. No sir, physics. There exists no causality at the quantum level.

  51. Hans: that appears to be the belief of some physics, but I don’t see where it is the majority view.

  52. Briggs

    February 28, 2014 at 5:28 pm

    Hans,

    Faith it is. For how do you know that except by pure belief? (As I always say, don’t confused ontology with epistemology.)

  53. Ye Olde Statisician

    February 28, 2014 at 6:02 pm

    Often when people say there is no causality, they mean they find the effects unpredictable.

  54. @Hans Errer:

    “No sir, physics. There exists no causality at the quantum level.”

    This is simply false.

    But let us assume it as true for the sake of argument. Since QM is a universal theory (no, there is no such thing as a “quantum level” beyond which QM magically turns on): you are a quantum system embedded in a larger quantum system, the universe. So if there is no causality, you are neither the cause of your posts because there are no such thing as causes. And if you are not the cause of your posts, everyone here is excused of answering your sillyness — which is not “yours” anyway, because you are not the cause of anything, much less your sillyness.

  55. Nullius in Verba

    February 28, 2014 at 7:06 pm

    YOS,

    “Oh, dear. This is not the first claim.”

    It was in the argument I was thinking of!

    (Well, OK, the first claim was that ‘things change’, but I think that’s non-controversial enough for me to regard this as the first non-trivial claim of the argument.)

    “The principle ex nihilo nihil fit is not the basis for this claim.”

    The basis of the claim is: “But nothing can be reduced from potentiality to actuality, except by something in a state of actuality,” which is clearly based on ex nihilo. That’s close enough for me.

    “This is not a “hence,” but a principle.”

    There’s a “Therefore” on the front of “Therefore, whatever is in motion must be put in motion by another,” which I take to be equivalent to “hence”.

    “The regress is not necessarily a time series, but a causal one.”

    I didn’t say otherwise. Although I’d be interested to know what sort of efficient causation (per the 2nd way) would *not* be a time series.

    “Since A cannot actualize B unless it is itself actual […] a first mover must be purely actual and possesses no potency.”

    That doesn’t follow. All it shows is that a prime mover must be actual, not that it’s purely actual. (Whatever that means.)

    G. Rodrigues,

    “What the argument purports to prove is that from the fact that change exists a Prime Mover must exist so that change exists, and the Prime Mover is the sort of being that does not have a cause and could not even have one, not even in principle”

    Sure. That’s what I said.

    A prime mover, by definition, has no cause. But that implies that causeless things are allowed. If one is allowed, why not many?

    All that is required by this argument is that the thing happens not to change prior to being the cause of something else. It’s not required that it be impossible to change, or that it doesn’t change subsequently.

    For a trivial example, consider conservation laws. We have conservation of energy, momentum along any axis, angular momentum about any axis, charge, and a variety of other more obscure quantum quantities. The assertion is that the totals for these quantities do not change. Thus, nothing can cause them or set them in motion, because there is no change to be caused. And indeed the conservation laws themselves have (so far as we know) always applied, so again they don’t change and are not caused by anything.

    It’s probably true that in Aquinas’s day people called this sort of thing the work of God, but today we call these the laws of physics. Are they the same thing?

    Physics doesn’t have any problem with first causes. It has a problem with the claim that the material world requires a cause external to it.

  56. Nullius in Verba

    February 28, 2014 at 7:10 pm

    Mark Stoval,

    “I have always thought that real atheists would never engage others very much on the subject of god just as they don’t care much about what people say about unicorns or bigfoot. I figure that they get all exercised because they are conflicted about the question. They should study Taoism.”

    Some atheists do and some don’t, just as some religious people and some don’t. I don’t think “conflicted” is the right word, so much as “annoyed”. And I have studied Taoism – a lot of people consider it to be a mystical variety of atheism.

    Fr. Aidan Kimel,

    “After quickly perusing the comments, I suggest that the atheist respondents have not yet grasped Hart’s key point–namely, “God,” as understood by the monotheistic traditions, is NOT a god, not a being, not a person, etc., etc.”

    We grasp it but we don’t agree with it.

    The vast majority of monotheistic believers, scriptures, and the cultural background of religious stories clearly depict a personal God. The only time most of us ever see this “ipsum esse subsistens” version of God is when theologians bring it out to try to defend religion against atheism.

    The ‘God’ that so many of the atheists find so annoying and want to get rid of is the personal one: the one who promises 40 virgins to the martyrs, who smites the wicked with supernatural plagues and defends his chosen people with miracles, and so on.

    “God is the transcendent source and creator of all created being, which means that his existence (if he in fact exists) is beyond all empirical and scientific investigation.”

    Quite so. It is impossible to prove or disprove the existence of a God who has no observable consequences. You can believe or disbelieve as you choose. But that’s not the sort of God that most religious believers believe in. And Gods that interfere in history and perform miracles on request are most definitely subject to empirical scientific investigation. The difficulty is that most such investigations come up empty.

  57. Nullius in Verba

    February 28, 2014 at 7:22 pm

    YOS,

    “Unlike the Greeks, the Egyptians made no real effort to rationalize the totems of the various nomes into a single “pantheon.””

    Those mergers you mentioned were such attempts, although ancient Egypt was not a monolithic culture and the various rival groups chose different ways to do it. According to the tradition of Atun-Ra, Ra willed himself into existence, and then created all other things by speaking their secret names.

    Briggs,

    “But, he says, “if in the presence of this atheist you bear consistent witness of Christian life, something will begin to work in his heart.””

    That’s a much better idea. I try to do the equivalent, myself.

    Sheri,

    ” I’m not sure I understand how the big bang is known to have “happened”. Very unclear on that one. Also unclear on the evidence that there was nothing before the big bang.”

    The particular laws of physics that lead to this conclusion are time-symmetric, so you can reason backwards in time as easily as you can forwards.

    The best analogy I know of is that you can think of the universe as like the surface of the Earth, the latitude of a point acts like the ‘time’, and the longitude acts like its ‘position’ in space. We see as we go backwards in ‘time’ (move northwards in latitude) that the universe gets smaller (the circles of longitude shrink). The rate at which it does so follows the equation for a sphere, which we deduce from looking at the bit near where we live, and which predicts a finite latitude at which the circle of longitude shrinks to zero (the north pole). Then the question of ‘what happened before the big bang?’ is logically equivalent to asking ‘what is to the north of the north pole?’

    The answer is ‘nothing’ because there’s nowhere for it to be.
    Nor does there need to be. There’s no ‘edge’ there requiring support.

    (Now it might be that very, very close to the north pole, we could find that the equations don’t work the way they do at our more familiar latitudes, and there is a ‘bridge’ at the north pole leading somewhere else (think of someone erecting a very tall thin pole at the north pole up into outer space, that you could walk up). But at the moment there is no evidence for it – only speculation.)

  58. Ye Olde Statisician

    February 28, 2014 at 8:57 pm

    It’s first claimed that “nothing arises from nothing” to claim that all existent things must have causes…

    “Oh, dear. This is not the first claim.”

    It was in the argument I was thinking of!

    (Well, OK, the first claim was that ‘things change’, but I think that’s non-controversial enough for me to regard this as the first non-trivial claim of the argument.)

    The first claim is “It is certain, and evident to our senses, that in the world some things are in motion” (where ‘motion’ is understood in the Greek sense as the actualization of a potential).

    Notice that the claim is only that some things are changing.

    In the second argument, the first claim is “In the world of sense we find there is an order of efficient causes.”

    Notice that the claim is that there is an order to efficient causes, not that “everything has a cause.”

    + + +
    The basis of the claim is: “But nothing can be reduced from potentiality to actuality, except by something in a state of actuality,” which is clearly based on ex nihilo. That’s close enough for me.

    No, it’s not the same thing at all. That something is actualized by something already actual means precisely that it does not come from nothing. You cannot impart something you do not actually have. Red does not come from not-red. Parmenides used this argument to claime that all motion and change was an illusion of the senses; but Plato and Aristotle rebutted this, though in two different ways. Parmenides principle is a consequence of the plain truth that something which does not actually exist cannot do diddly squat. It is not the basis for it.

    + + +
    Although I’d be interested to know what sort of efficient causation (per the 2nd way) would *not* be a time series.

    An example of a per accidens series is that of forwarding email: A forward to B who forwards to C. If A goes out of existence after the act of forwarding, B still has itself the power to forward. Thus, there is no reason in principle why this cannot continue indefinitely.

    In a per se series, B’s ability to produce the effect depends on A continuing to effect B. The intermediate B (which may be a whole series of causes) is called an instrumental cause, since it does not have the causal power itself but must be used by A. An example is Sharon Kam playing Mozart’s Clarinet Concerto in A. The clarinet is itself only an instrumental cause. If Ms Kam stops playing, the clarinet stops playing, and the music ceases. All of the intermediate, instrumental causes between Ms Kam’s intention to play the concerto and the music itself — the embouchure, the vibrating reed, the vibrating air column — are happening at the same time. If any of the links in such a series were removed, the music would cease. Another example: when a book is placed on a table, the book presses against the table and the table presses against the book at the same time. If the table were removed, the book would not remain at its position.

  59. Reading a few of these comments had convinced me of the “necessity” of actually reading Harts book before criticising it. Otherwise, the comments are merely contingent” upon something other than what e”xists” on the pages of the book.

  60. In response to Brigg’s response to my “there is no evidence that God exits”.

    Briggs, I wasn’t being glib. If a Christian says to me “Jim, I have no evidence that God exists, but I have faith that he does (i.e. faith is belief in the absence of evidence) then I’m fine with that, and we can sit down over coffee and have an intelligent, stimulating philosophical discussion.

    What I have little time for is those who claim that evidence exists, or that there is evidence but it’s not “scientific” evidence or believe that a God can be deduced and/or is logically necessary and so on and so on.

    It’s really not that complicated. There is evidence that the car that I drove to work this morning exists. There is evidence that the computer and keyboard I’m typing on exists. There is evidence that my shoes exist, etc.

    Does this mean I know “how” how the universe began? Or that the hypothesis of evolution or the big bang prove that God does not exits? No.

    If you reply to this, fine. But I’m truly not interested in a game of definitions of evidence. When I say “there is no evidence that God exists”, you know exactly what I mean. And I imagine that many theologians would agree with me.

  61. Nullius in Verba

    March 1, 2014 at 5:02 am

    “No, it’s not the same thing at all.”

    Then I don’t follow the distinction you’re making. “That something is actualized by something already actual means precisely that it does not come from nothing” appears to be another rewording of ex nihilo.

    “You cannot impart something you do not actually have. Red does not come from not-red.”

    That doesn’t seem like a very good example. Red *does* come from not-red. Redness is not a conserved quantity.

    “Parmenides principle is a consequence of the plain truth that something which does not actually exist cannot do diddly squat. It is not the basis for it.”

    The chain of logic seems to be:
    1. The non-existent cannot do anything
    implies
    2. Nothing can arise from nothing
    implies
    3. The causes of all things that exist must themselves exist a priori

    I was saying that 2 is the basis of 3. That 1 is the basis of 2 doesn’t seem to affect that.

    (Although I perhaps should say ‘is claimed to imply’. The water leaks out of the jar because of the gaping hole in the bottom. The car stopped because it ran out of gas. Is the absence of gas able to be a cause? This does not seem to me to be as obvious as you imply.)

    ” If Ms Kam stops playing, the clarinet stops playing, and the music ceases.”

    Mmm. Is that the distinction? I press ‘play’ on the cd player, and Ms Kam plays the clarinet. If I then go away, the concerto continues. But the cd player is still an instrumental cause, unless I’m misunderstanding the term?

    And anyway, I thought the ‘per se’ and ‘per accidens’ thing was about something else. A cause is ‘per se’ if the result arises from the nature of its identity, and ‘per accidens’ if the properties of the cause identified are incidental. ‘The red-haired boy kicked the ball’ is per accidens, ‘the footballer kicked the ball’ is per se. The point being that there is no necessity for the footballer to be a red-haired boy prior to kicking the ball, so to explain why the ball got kicked you don’t have to trace back all the reasons why the boy had red hair. It’s not part of the causal chain. Whereas him being a footballer prior to kicking the ball is.

    ” If the table were removed, the book would not remain at its position.”

    So the non-existence of the table is the cause of the book falling?

  62. @Nullius in Verba:

    “A prime mover, by definition, has no cause.”

    Wrong.

    “But that implies that causeless things are allowed. If one is allowed, why not many?”

    Have you paid attention to what I wrote? Because I do not understand what is unclear in it.

    “All that is required by this argument is that the thing happens not to change prior to being the cause of something else. It’s not required that it be impossible to change, or that it doesn’t change subsequently.”

    ?? I have absolutely no idea what argument you are referring to here, because “All that is required by this argument is that the thing happens not to change prior to being the cause of something else” is flatly false of all the cosmological arguments I know.

  63. Nullius in Verba

    March 1, 2014 at 9:40 am

    G. Rodrigues,

    “Wrong.”

    A ‘mover’ is a cause of change, and movers can be linked in a causal chain. A prime mover, or first cause, is the start of a causal chain, and so has no causal predecessor. If it had a predecessor, it wouldn’t be the first in the chain. Having no causal predecessor is part of its definition.

    If you think this is wrong, can you give an example of a prime mover that has a cause, to illustrate what you’re talking about?

    “Have you paid attention to what I wrote? Because I do not understand what is unclear in it.”

    It seemed clear enough to me, too.

    “?? I have absolutely no idea what argument you are referring to here, because “All that is required by this argument is that the thing happens not to change prior to being the cause of something else” is flatly false of all the cosmological arguments I know.”

    I disagree. The problem is that all cosmological arguments I know take numerous fallacious steps, and come to conclusions that don’t follow from their premises. All arguments about them therefore tend to go round and round in circles, “perpetually entangled in that endless labyrinth”.

    Some things change. Some of them are changed by other things. These causal relations can be linked together in chains. Some such chains might have a starting point – a ‘prime mover’ or ‘first cause’ with no causal predecessor. But none of that requires that first causes are unchangeable, or even unchanging, so long as any such changes occur after the chain has been started. Nor is there any valid logical reason why there need be only one prime mover, or indeed that (in an eternal universe) there need be any at all.

    I find the labyrinth an entertaining diversion, and don’t mind the briars and thorns, but it doesn’t get us anywhere in our search for evidence of the actual Gods discussed in the various scriptures, and in which millions believe.

  64. @Nullius in Verba:

    “The problem is that all cosmological arguments I know take numerous fallacious steps, and come to conclusions that don’t follow from their premises.”

    No that is not the problem. The problem is that you do not understand the arguments and thus, your objections are worthless.

    Two examples from your latest post:

    “A prime mover, or first cause, is the start of a causal chain, and so has no causal predecessor.”

    Wrong.

    “Some things change. Some of them are changed by other things. These causal relations can be linked together in chains. Some such chains might have a starting point – a ‘prime mover’ or ‘first cause’ with no causal predecessor.”

    So what you are say is that we start with a causal chain like

    … -> C_1 -> C_0

    And then the argument proceeds by proving that the chain must have the form

    G -> … -> C_1 -> C_0

    Now there are arguments that do proceed in this broad fashion (e.g.Kalam), but *NOT* the argument from change, which is what you are targeting. And even in the case of the Kalam, the *argument* purports to prove that it *MUST* be so. It follows then, by subsequent analysis of what the argument has proved, that for example, G has certain properties — e.g. timeless, which in the current context can stand in for un-changeable.

    So here is my suggestion: just go read a decent book instead of flailing against your misunderstandings.

  65. Nobody can object against the concept of a deistic or pantheistic “god” that defines (“creates”) the laws of physics and mathematics that have eternal truth, but does not interfere. That god is not dangerous.

    Atheists object against all the local invented theistic demiurgs who claim that they themselves are the creators of the universe.

    For an eternal wise god Brahman comes close, Jahweh doesn’t at all (read the Bible).

  66. Nullius in Verba

    March 1, 2014 at 11:26 am

    “No that is not the problem. The problem is that you do not understand the arguments and thus, your objections are worthless.”

    🙂

    It is conventional in debate – and you can call me old-fashioned in this regard – when saying that an argument is incorrect to say why or in what way!

    But I do understand. In this case it’s clearly an impossible case to explain, so I can appreciate why you wouldn’t want to. And to be honest, I’ve explored this thicket often enough that I don’t mind foregoing the opportunity to scramble through it again. As you choose.

    “So what you are say is that we start with a causal chain like
    … -> C_1 -> C_0
    And then the argument proceeds by proving that the chain must have the form
    G -> … -> C_1 -> C_0”

    Yup.

    “If that by which it is put in motion be itself put in motion, then this also must needs be put in motion by another, and that by another again.”

    i.e. … -> C_1 -> C_0

    “But this cannot go on to infinity, because then there would be no first mover, and, consequently, no other mover; seeing that subsequent movers move only inasmuch as they are put in motion by the first mover; as the staff moves only because it is put in motion by the hand. Therefore it is necessary to arrive at a first mover, put in motion by no other; and this everyone understands to be God.”

    i.e. G -> … -> C_1 -> C_0

    A very neat summary!

  67. @Nullius in Verba:

    “A very neat summary!”

    Of your ignorance.

  68. Ye Olde Statisician

    March 1, 2014 at 4:52 pm

    There is evidence that the car that I drove to work this morning exists.

    Consult Descartes and Kant for the contrary argument. You have knowledge only of your own thoughts, not of any alleged exterior world. (What evidence do you have that the evidence exists?) Now, an Aristotelian has no problem with this, but a modern does, and should he buy into the Old Stagerite, a host other problems arise to irritate him.

    For that matter, have little time for is those who claim that something is logically necessary, what evidence do you have that π is irrational, when the claim seems to be a logical contradiction?

  69. Nullius in Verba

    March 1, 2014 at 5:33 pm

    “You have knowledge only of your own thoughts, not of any alleged exterior world.”

    Solipsism?! How have the mighty fallen!

    You have evidence of a sensed world separate from your own thoughts, since it is capable of surprising you.

    “For that matter, have little time for is those who claim that something is logically necessary, what evidence do you have that Ï€ is irrational, when the claim seems to be a logical contradiction?”

    Most numbers are irrational. The odds are in favour…

  70. Ye Olde Statisician

    March 1, 2014 at 5:46 pm

    I don’t follow the distinction you’re making.

    It takes some study.

    “You cannot impart something you do not actually have. Red does not come from not-red.”

    That doesn’t seem like a very good example. Red *does* come from not-red. Redness is not a conserved quantity.

    “Not conserved”? What has that to do with anything?

    Aristotle proposed a third mode of existence. In addition to IS NOT and IS there is POTENCY. Consider an unripe apple. It is actually green, but it is potentially red. Something does not come from nothing; it comes from its potential. This potential is something Real in the object.

    The skin of the apple contains a chemical called anthocyanin. When moved by light in the 3,600 to 4,500 Ã… range it absorbs the near-ultraviolet, violet, blue and green regions of the spectrum, thus reflecting red. The anthocyanin and the sunlight contain redness in the eminent sense (rather than the formal sense).

    The chain of logic seems to be:
    1. The non-existent cannot do anything implies
    2. Nothing can arise from nothing implies
    3. The causes of all things that exist must themselves exist a priori

    No. The chain of reasoning proceeds:
    1. Some things in the world are in motion.
    2. Whatever is moving is being moved by another; to wit:
    2.1 nothing can be in motion except it is in potentiality to that towards which it is in motion; whereas a thing moves inasmuch as it is in act. For motion is nothing else than the reduction of something from potentiality to actuality.
    2.2 Nothing can be reduced from potentiality to actuality, except by something in a state of actuality.
    2.3 It is not possible that the same thing should be at once in actuality and potentiality in the same respect (What is actually hot cannot simultaneously be potentially.
    2.4 It is therefore impossible that in the same respect and in the same way a thing should be both mover and moved, i.e. that it should move itself.
    2.5 Therefore, whatever is in motion must be put in motion by another.
    3. If that by which it is put in motion be itself put in motion, then this also must needs be put in motion by another, and that by another again.
    4. This cannot go on to infinity
    4.1 If so, there would be no first mover,
    4.2 And since subsequent movers move only inasmuch as they are being moved by the first mover
    4.3 There would be no other motion, a contradiction to empirical experience
    5. Therefore it is necessary to arrive at a first mover, put in motion by no other

    There is no appeal to Parmenides.

    ” If Ms Kam stops playing, the clarinet stops playing, and the music ceases.”

    Mmm. Is that the distinction? I press ‘play’ on the cd player, and Ms Kam plays the clarinet. If I then go away, the concerto continues. But the cd player is still an instrumental cause, unless I’m misunderstanding the term?

    But Ms Kam is not playing the clarinet in that case. A clever mechanism is playing a cd which contains a recording. You are not playing the cd, except in an eminent sense. (You are quite able to turn the player off.) What moves the cd is the device, what moves the device is electricity, what moves the electricity is a generator, what moves the generator is burning coal (or something, you get the picture).

    Please do not confuse an illustrative example with a General Theory of All Music, or even of Mozart’s Clarinet Concerto in A. Obviously, if Ms Kam were gathered up in the Rapture or something, the concerto could also be played by Martin Fröst or Julian Bliss, or for that matter in their day Benny Goodman or Mr. Acker Bilk. But this is not a scientific theory.

    Which for your enjoyment, played as intended on a basset clarinet:
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=u3EWzyFWyBM

    ” If the table were removed, the book would not remain at its position.”

    So the non-existence of the table is the cause of the book falling?

    No. The table is one reason for the book occupying a certain place — and an example of causes not aligned in a time sequence. The action and reaction are not only contemporaneous but even simultaneous. Like the swinging of a golf club: the golfer’s intention to swing, his neural messages, muscle action,grip on club, and so on are all happening at the same time. Should his intention falter, the club itself has no power to hit the ball.

  71. Ye Olde Statisician

    March 1, 2014 at 5:51 pm

    For an eternal wise god Brahman comes close, Jahweh doesn’t at all (read the Bible).

    Scratch an atheist and you will generally find a Bible-thumping literalist.

  72. Ye Olde Statisician

    March 1, 2014 at 6:22 pm

    “You have knowledge only of your own thoughts, not of any alleged exterior world.”

    Solipsism?! How have the mighty fallen!

    Actually, Kant was not a solipsist, but an idealist. Having rejected theism, he is largely responsible for the mess of modern philosophy and was once described as “worse that Hume and Descartes rolled together.” But you are the one who demands something called “evidence” while dismissing logical reasoning. Kant just goes one better.

    You have evidence of a sensed world separate from your own thoughts, since it is capable of surprising you.

    How is that evidence? Can you show me your surprise? Can you sense my surprise? Remember, you rejected logical reasoning as evidence. And you will note that it is your own thoughts that are surprised, not something in the external world.
    For details on Kant, see: http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/kant/

    [If you] have little time for those who claim that something is logically necessary, what evidence do you have that Ï€ is irrational…?”

    Most numbers are irrational. The odds are in favour…

    There are no “odds” absent an a priori model. But if you reject “logical necessity,” what evidence do you have that any number is irrational? In particular, Ï€ is the ratio of the circumference to the diameter of a circle, so it is in concept rational? How can a ratio be irrational? Can you find any empirical circle for which this number cannot be expressed as a ratio of two finite numbers?

    Remember, you have disdained arguments from “logical necessity.”

  73. Hans,

    You might like listening to Feynman talking about “why” questions

    http://lesswrong.com/lw/99c/transcript_richard_feynman_on_why_questions/

  74. Scratch an atheist and you will generally find a Bible-thumping literalist.
    Literal bible reading is not an accusation that you can throw upon a former liberal catholic.

    The deistic god described in the blogpost is not the biblical god, that one is theistic. It doesn’t prove god, au contraire, it falsifies all theistic religions. You can’t have it both ways: a deistic god does not interfere.

  75. Ye Olde Statisician

    March 1, 2014 at 7:53 pm

    The deistic god described in the blogpost is not the biblical god, that one is theistic. It doesn’t prove god, au contraire, it falsifies all theistic religions. You can’t have it both ways: a deistic god does not interfere.

    Oddly enough, St. Thomas and the Catholic Church disagree with you on that score. So does the Orthodox Church, though for different reasons. Of course, you have to read past the first couple questions in the Summa.

  76. Nullius in Verba

    March 1, 2014 at 7:57 pm

    “The skin of the apple contains a chemical called anthocyanin.”

    Red apple or green apple?

    “No. The chain of reasoning proceeds:”

    We were discussing 2.2. “But nothing can be reduced from potentiality to actuality, except by something in a state of actuality.”

    “You are not playing the cd, except in an eminent sense.”

    I would say that I *am* playing the cd – it’s a valid expression in the everyday use of language. To do so, I simply turn it on. Although the actions required of me to do so do not extend throughout the entire performance, I am still the causal origin of the playing throughout. The player is a tool I use to play the music – which it has no power to play without my having done so.

    “The action and reaction are not only contemporaneous but even simultaneous.”

    At a sufficiently microscopic level, they’re not. Interactions are limited by the speed of light. And although it does not take long for light to pass from one atom to its neighbour, it cannot be simultaneous – for good philosophical reasons.

    “How is that evidence? Can you show me your surprise? Can you sense my surprise?”

    It’s evidence to me. I can experience my own surprise. While it’s not possible for me to prove absolutely to myself that you have experiences and feelings of your own, it’s quite clear that you are a consequence of something separate and distinct from my own thoughts. Hence there is a world external to ‘me’.

    Whether it actually is as it appears to be is of course another question. Modern physics indicates that to a great extent, it isn’t. Humans are fallible and limited.

    “How can a ratio be irrational?”

    Because in this context “rational” means a ratio of integers.

    “Remember, you have disdained arguments from “logical necessity.””

    No. Jim S (for it was he) disdained arguments for God from ‘logical necessity’, because all such arguments are flawed and there is no evidence for it. Someone knowing this can nevertheless choose to have faith in it, or accept it as a working assumption, and so long as their beliefs are not actually disprovable it is a perfectly respectable position. Some mathematicians accept the Axiom of Choice and others reject it, and since it’s an axiom both positions are equally consistent and respectable. What’s not respectable is claiming to have a proof of it when you know you haven’t. (Not that I am suggesting you do – I think you genuinely believe your proof works – but I suspect there are those who must be aware of the issues.)

    I don’t even mind people believing in things they know to be probably false, if they know that’s what they’re doing and can take the consequences. It’s part of the way the mind works – we suspend disbelief and work in paradigms and contexts that we know to be false all the time. Forces acting instantaneously at a distance (book and table) are one such example. Physicists commonly work in the Newtonian mechanics paradigm quite comfortably, which we know is incorrect. As George Box said, all models are wrong, but some are useful.

    Now maybe ‘God’ is a useful model to some people. Unlike some atheists, I don’t mind religion per se, and I do strongly believe in freedom of belief. And I don’t think any of us have room to throw stones at anyone else – I know far too much about how the human mind works, and far too much science, not to know that everyone has beliefs that are laughably incorrect.

    But I don’t think it’s a wise move to invite a debate by telling them that you’re right and they’re wrong if you’re going to get upset that they argue back. As Briggs quoted Pope Francis, technical arguments don’t work for something like this. Just live the life, keep your opinions to yourself unless asked, but at the same time be open and honest about them, and let the light of your life shine through. Just be a good person yourself, concentrate on polishing your own soul, and grant others the autonomy and responsibility to set their own path. Goodness rubs off on other people, anyway, while confrontation breeds conflict.

    But it’s up to you. I enjoy arguing, in a friendly way, so I don’t mind.

  77. Ye Olde Statisician:
    Please enligthen me, how can the theistic god of the bible be good when innocents are sacificed by god?

  78. “Consult Descartes and Kant for the contrary argument”

    Yes, Ye Old, I know Kant and Descartes. And your response is exactly the type of tired, spineless response that a typical Christian apologists gives when asked about “evidence”.

    sigh…. and here I was hoping for a novel and intelligent response….

  79. And one further observation Ye Olde….

    I find it amusing that you offer up Kant as an epistemological guide – being that he is about 2 degrees of separation to Marx. Which demonstrates nicely the link between Marxism (materialism) and religion… opposite sides of the same fraudulent coin.

  80. It is important to distinguish the two different God concepts that are implicitly present in this blogpost. The deistic god is the god that exists without time concept, he was always and always will be. This god is the creator of mathematical truths but funny enough these truths are also timeless. This god is in sharp contrast with the theistic gods, the classic tribal gods of the romans, greeks Egyptians jews and indians, to name a few. You may notice the the jewish god is just another one in this pantheon. Historically the germanic greek and roman gods were the subject of syncretism fusion: common gods were acknowledged between greek roman and germans, but named differently. Amazingly the jewish god escaped this fusion, mainly because of the constant suppression of the jews by all neighboring superpowers: mesopotamia, egypt, persia, alexander and rome. Religion was the jewish national binding factor. But in essence jewish mythology has no higher truth in it than greek or Egyptian mythology. Christian adopted the jewish god and threw out the roman, although many roman gods survive in catholic saint worshipping, which the protestants recognised, so they refered back to jewish monotheism.

    So does the roman catholic god exist? Yes the deistic one exists by definition. The theistic one, however, is wishful thinking, and rapidly shrinking in the west.

  81. I’ve been away for a couple of days and see that there are a zillion comments that I have missed. Two in particular jump out at me.

    Nullias in verba writes: “The vast majority of monotheistic believers, scriptures, and the cultural background of religious stories clearly depict a personal God. The only time most of us ever see this “ipsum esse subsistens” version of God is when theologians bring it out to try to defend religion against atheism.”

    Christians do not pit “ipsum esse subsistens” against the personal God of the Bible: they mutually interpret each other. And it is false to suggest that Christian theologians developed the notion of “God is Being” or “God is the transcendent Act of Being” or “God is beyond Being” in response to atheism. Christian theologians developed these ways of understanding Deity long, long before the rise of Enlightenment atheism. If the Christians with whom you converse are unfamiliar with these ways of speaking, that’s probably because they are unacquainted with the classical Christian tradition as embodied in both Eastern Orthodoxy and Roman Catholicism. Most Protestants today, for example, are probably best classified as theistic personalists, which is a modern development. And this is why David Hart’s *The Experience of God* really is a must read for both Christians and non-Christians. What Hart writes is not “new” to me, but it may be new to those Christians who have a simplistic notion of the “God of the Bible.”

    Hans Erren writes: “It is important to distinguish the two different God concepts that are implicitly present in this blogpost. The deistic god is the god that exists without time concept, he was always and always will be. This god is the creator of mathematical truths but funny enough these truths are also timeless. This god is in sharp contrast with the theistic gods, the classic tribal gods of the romans, greeks Egyptians jews and indians, to name a few.”

    Erren gets the terminology wrong. As commonly used, “Deism” refers to a specific theological understanding of the Deity and its relationship to the world that emerged during the scientific revolution in the 17th and 18th centuries. It is unhelpful and confusing to use the word to designate the classical Christian understanding of Deity.

    It is also unhelpful and confusing to collapse transcendent monotheism (represented in classical Christian, Jewish, and Islamic tradition) into the ancient polytheistic religions. It doesn’t take a great deal of reflection to recognize the radical difference between the One Creator who has freely created the world from out of nothing and the deities of ancient Greek, Roman, Cannaanite, or whatever polytheistic religion. If atheists refuse to acknowledge this difference, there can hardly be a conversation at all.

    Again I refer people to the Hart article to which I linked. Why not engage Hart directly rather than simply rehashing old polemical arguments?

  82. Ye Olde Statisician

    March 2, 2014 at 4:32 pm

    Please enligthen me, how can the theistic god of the bible be good when innocents are sacificed by god?

    There is no “theistic god of the bible.” Hart’s whole point was the inability of some people to distinguish between God and a god. You don’t have to demonstrate his point for him.

  83. Ye Olde Statisician

    March 2, 2014 at 4:45 pm

    I find it amusing that you offer up Kant as an epistemological guide – being that he is about 2 degrees of separation to Marx.

    It’s even more amusing that you don’t recognize satire when you read it. Kant’s secular philosophy is a stumbling block for some of the arguments here that are pining for “evidence.” People like his conclusion that the natural world belongs to science, but do not like how he got there.

  84. Nullius in Verba

    March 2, 2014 at 5:41 pm

    “And it is false to suggest that Christian theologians developed the notion of “God is Being” or “God is the transcendent Act of Being” or “God is beyond Being” in response to atheism.”

    I agree, and I hope I didn’t suggest otherwise. The concepts were clearly developed by theologians trying to better understand God. Further, I would think it’s studied today for the same reason.

    My point was that although this learned conversation is no doubt going on in private, the only time we seem to get to hear about it in public *today* is during arguments with atheists. I’ve lived in a nominally Christian country all my life, and while I have seen and heard the Biblical stories of a personal deity many times, they being deeply embedded in our culture, I cannot recall *any* popular references to this ‘Pure Actuality’ concept. There are many jokes, even, told about the difficulty of understanding the nature of the trinity (3 = 1), or transubstantiation, or the efficacy of prayer in sporting events, but nothing on this. The only reason I know about it at all is from watching arguments with atheists.

    It seems to be a well-kept secret. And you might win a lot of the more radical atheists over if you was to make it more generally known. There are plenty whose primary disagreement with religion is with the stories of a personal and supernaturally interfering God.

    ” It doesn’t take a great deal of reflection to recognize the radical difference between the One Creator who has freely created the world from out of nothing and the deities of ancient Greek, Roman, Cannaanite, or whatever polytheistic religion.”

    So what *is* the difference? By ‘One Creator’ do you mean this ‘ipsum esse subsistens’ sort of God, or the one who managed to get to the fourth day before remembering to create the sun? The Greeks and Romans did at least realise you needed to have a sun before you would *get* days and nights. (Not that you really do get a succession of days and nights on a spinning spherical planet – day and night being places rather than times. It’s appropriate language for describing local events, but not for creating the universe.)

    You see, there are a lot more people who know the ‘Let there be light’ story than know about the concept of a prime mover, and the Genesis story is *very much* in the tradition of the polytheist cosmogonies. If you’re saying you *agree* with the atheists about the literal Genesis, then sure. We can recognise a difference in sophistication between one conception of deity and the other. But if you’re going to try to say that despite God being this ‘first cause’ sort of concept, that Genesis is nevertheless also true, then no, we don’t see the distinction. Or at least I don’t, anyway.

    But again, I should emphasise that I personally don’t at all mind people believing that the sun really was created on the fourth day. People should be allowed to believe what they want. And we all live in glass houses with regard to many other beliefs. But the middle-eastern monotheistic religions appear to me to fit the same pattern with the Roman, Greek, Norse, Aztec, Mesopotamian, Eastern, Egyptian, Celtic, Baltic, Slavic, native North American, and Australian Gods. Humans like to tell stories. I don’t mind people believing in those, either.

  85. I apologize Ye Ol… I didn’t see this before I replied:

    “Actually, Kant was not a solipsist, but an idealist. Having rejected theism, he is largely responsible for the mess of modern philosophy and was once described as “worse that Hume and Descartes rolled together.”

    That pretty much would sum up my evaluation of Kant.

  86. Nullius, you keep returning to a _literalistic_ interpretation of Genesis 1, when I have never appealed to such an interpretation. The demythologization of the Genesis creation narrative began with the Church Fathers (see, e.g., St Augustine). Please do not mistake me for some kind of evangelical fundamentalist. I do not turn to the Bible to learn science. Despite the recent Nye/Ham debate, most Christians are not interested in replaying the Scopes monkey trial. This is particularly the case for Orthodox and Catholics, who have a long hermeneutical tradition of the symbolic interpretation of the Bible. Think, for example, of Origen.

  87. I might also add that the demythologization of ancient cosmogony myths begins with Genesis 1 itself. All one needs to do is to compare the Genesis narrative with other ancient creation stories. No great cosmic battle–just YHWH effortlessly speaking the world into existence.

  88. Nullius in Verba

    March 3, 2014 at 3:18 pm

    “Nullius, you keep returning to a _literalistic_ interpretation of Genesis 1, when I have never appealed to such an interpretation.”

    I agree, you haven’t. And I’m not saying you have. What I’m doing is to contrast the way that you (along with other theologians) present this philosophical interpretation in these sorts of discussions, versus the more literalist version, the one that is the only version the broader general public are aware of, that is presented in popular culture.

    The first time I heard the Genesis story was in school, and it was presented as truth, without any discussion of what parts were allegory or metaphor, or even that any of it was. They didn’t make a big deal about it: nobody was saying you’ve got to believe. And to be honest, I think there was a widespread unspoken understanding that our teachers didn’t entirely believe it themselves, and they didn’t necessarily expect us to believe it, but it was made clear that the polite convention was to act as if we did, and we were expected to play along.

    Everybody knows the story, and everybody I know knows that that’s what Christians are supposed to believe. I think they also know that a lot of them don’t, and that the church has various complicated positions to try to reconcile the Bible with modern knowledge, but I reckon that relatively few know in detail what those positions are (even churchgoers), and I think a lot of people regard it as wriggling.

    You’re supposed to engage a willing suspension of disbelief. You’re not supposed to believe it because that’s what really happened; you’re supposed to believe it because it’s *traditional*. Expressing belief is part of the ritual. The beliefs are just part of what being a Christian *is*; a mark of membership. And once you start down the road of changing traditions to fit with modern thinking, tying yourself in intellectual knots to justify it, there will be nothing solid and secure about it left. You can always find some reason to include or exclude anything, so the religion is no longer defined by scripture, but by the latest fashion.

    That’s been my experience, anyway.

    The question at the top of the post is “Which God are you rejecting?” The God the atheists are rejecting is the Biblical God who interferes in history, the personal God, the Demiurge. They’re rejecting that one rather than your more philosophical alternative because that’s the one everyone sees when they look at and hear about Christianity.

    We reject the other one, too, but few atheists care so much about that one, because relatively few believers seem to believe in it, and they’re not usually the ones telling other people how to live their lives because of what they think God said.

    I’m really not trying to have a go at you, and I’m only continuing the discussion to try to help you understand. I’m trying to explain *why* atheists keep on about the literalist version despite your insistence that the churches all hold to the philosophical one. I think it helps to find answers if you better understand the questions.

    “All one needs to do is to compare the Genesis narrative with other ancient creation stories. No great cosmic battle–just YHWH effortlessly speaking the world into existence.”

    “Against the throne and monarchy of God,
    Raised impious war in Heaven and battle proud
    With vain attempt. Him the Almighty Power
    Hurled headlong flaming from the ethereal sky
    With hideous ruin and combustion down
    To bottomless perdition, there to dwell
    In adamantine chains and penal fire,
    Who durst defy the Omnipotent to arms.”

    Paradise Lost.

    Not Genesis, of course, but still a part of the Christian trope.

    There are a wide variety of creation myths, and in not all of them is there a cosmic battle. (I think I already mentioned Atun-Ra, who willed himself into existence and then created all other things by speaking their secret names.) Many are quite peaceful, if a little surreal. But it’s not really the cosmic battles as such that atheists find so difficult to believe.

  89. “I agree, you haven’t. And I’m not saying you have. What I’m doing is to contrast the way that you (along with other theologians) present this philosophical interpretation in these sorts of discussions, versus the more literalist version, the one that is the only version the broader general public are aware of, that is presented in popular culture.”

    Nullius, first I want to thank you for your civility. It’s a pleasure to converse with you. As far as popular culture, why assume that the loudest group is representative? In fact, the only group during the past half century that has been arguing for a literalistic interpretation of Genesis 1 are evangelical fundamentalists, and they do not speak for Orthodoxy, Catholicism, or mainline Protestantism–in other words, they do not speak for the vast majority of Christians. We ignore the fundamentalists. We certainly don’t debate them.

  90. Nullius in Verba

    March 3, 2014 at 5:10 pm

    It’s a pleasure debating with you, too! And I’m pleased that you think so. I do have to remember to be careful – I sometimes forget that what is just an interesting debate to me can be a very touchy and emotional subject for some other people.

    ” In fact, the only group during the past half century that has been arguing for a literalistic interpretation of Genesis 1 are evangelical fundamentalists, and they do not speak for Orthodoxy, Catholicism, or mainline Protestantism–in other words, they do not speak for the vast majority of Christians.”

    I wasn’t thinking of them. There aren’t many of those where I live.

    (And the loudest atheists are not necessarily the most representative, either.)

  91. “The “one more” being by implication is the Christian God. I mean capital-B Being. As in the ground of all existence, the necessary Being, He who which if He didn’t exist, nothing would exist, He who which if He didn’t exist, nothing would happen.”

    This equation of the Christian ‘god’ with a necessary ground of being is pure assertion on your part, and I see no reason whatsoever to accept it, and yes, I have seen the arguments that have been put forth by various theologians to support this specific claim. I, however, remain unconvinced, because (among other reasons) even if we were to accept the premise that in order for material reality to even exist in the first place there must be some other reality above and beyond it to ‘sustain it in existence’, it still would not be sufficient in and of itself for the apologists of Christianity like David B. Hart to say, “You see, the Bible really is true”.

    If – and it really is quite a big ‘if’ – some kind of mysterious ground of being really is more than just imaginary, one can bet one’s life on the fact that it will have nothing to do whatsoever with religious dogma of any kind, and will be so far above our puny abilities to comprehend the magnitude of that to say anything at all about it with any conviction whatsoever would be a pointless waste of time.

    Christianity, just like every other religion, is false. Get used to that fact.

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