Friday, April 03, 2009

Reply to Scott on Christianity

Scott: The essence of my comment was as follows. The ability to construct a "logically possible" theology around a belief in the supernatural shouldn't be a sufficient reason to claim "you're stuck" with a specific definition of God's nature. IE. what you already believe. Since the supernatural is defined as that which you consider not nature, it is unclear as to what you would consider evidence that it is not true. Sure, things that we once thought were supernatural, such as opening a woman's womb, can cross over when they become transparent, but given the abundance of phenomenon that are still opaque and God's supposed omni-properties, it seems there could always be something you can point as "supernatural."

Well, we could, for example, find the unresurrected body of Jesus. That would cause massive revisions in my conception of who God is, and leave it up for grabs as to where I would go next.

VR (previously): We could not literally do mathematics, which is the very foundations of the science on which naturalism rests its case. If naturalism is true, then there are no scientists, and there is no scientific method, and we're all epistemically screwed.Naturalism doesn't imply that we cannot think of abstract things. Nor does naturalism claim that abstract things, such as circles and squares, have a causal effect on their own, such as creating universes or designing human beings.

The definition of 'naturalism' isn't necessarily limited to physical things with mass. Quantum teleportation allows the polarity of an photon to be transmitted instantaneously without any known method of transmission. There doesn't appear to be any "matter" involved, yet we can repeat it time and time again in a laboratory. it's science, not the supernatural.

In my detailed development of this line of argument, I maintain that there are four things that have to be left out of the causal order at its most basic level: subjectivity (all facts are objective from the point of view of scientific naturalism), normativity (things aren't the way they are at the level of physics because it's better for them to be that way), intentionality (it can't be part of a physical description of something that it is about something else) and free of purpose. If you are putting any of those things on the ground floor of the universe, you are moving in at least the direction of a mentalistic world-view which is creates a significant break with orthodox naturalism.

VR (previously) But if naturalism is true, then everyone has natural, physical causes for all beliefs, and this got to be ten times more damaging than sociological causes.

Scott: From my perspective, sociological interactions ultimately result in physiological changes that shape our beliefs. There is no dualism here. This seems to indicate a misunderstanding of my position as I think they are part of the same system.

VR: I'm sure that is your position. However, if my beliefs have sociological causes, and physicalism is false, then maybe there can be rational inference and mental causation. Hasker and I have argued at length, though, that even if the weakest form of naturalism is true, supervenient physicalism, there can't be any genuine mental causation.

I'm not saying that all beliefs acquired though social means must be wrong, or that such an acquisition method is "bad". It's one of many natural factors that ultimately results in physiological changes which determine our beliefs. However, social factors, geographical location and chronological presentation appear to be a unusually strong factors in accepting a particular religious belief. In addition, religions also make specific, yet conflicting claims about what is reasonable to expect from God and his nature, based on revelation and religious scriptures.

VR: If Christianity depends on a "word" that has to be spread, then some people are going to get an easier access to the truth than others. The same would be true of religious unbelief. It is, I think, less prevalent in Saudi Arabia than it is in the United States.


VR (previously) If naturalism is true, then there is no real mental causation, just physical causation that mimics mental effects.

Scott: It appears that your position is that beliefs are opaque and somehow except from causation.

VR: Nope. The perception of a logical connection between one proposition and another can cause a conclusion to be drawn. However, we are perceiving a logical connection, something that does not exist in a particular place and time. Therefore this is possible only if the physical (or natural) is not a closed system.


Scott: If I were to make an educated guess, this seems tied to the Biblical idea that we are made in God's image or that we must somehow be able to disengage our beliefs from causal factors since God judges us for them.

VR: If you mean that I think determinism is false, and that libertarian free will is true, then I do accept that, but that is distinct from my argument. And of course some of my fellow Christians are Calvinistic determinists who think that God can be the ultimate cause of our actions and judge them just the same, because we wanted to do them.

Scott: It's likely that our decision to distinguish phenomenon as being "mental" was based on our lack of knowledge about neurobiology, it's complex nature and the intimate relationship with have with our thoughts. As such, it seems it would make more sense to say we did the best with what we had at the time. Today, evidence strongly indicates that our beliefs are a culmination of our experiences, which are stored as electro-chemical patterns in our brain.

VR: No. The problem arises because the definition of the physical makes it impossible to make attribute determinate mental states to any genuinely physical system. You have a bunch of non-mental information at the basic level, you have the ways that non-mental stuff is put together, but however you put it together it will invariable fail to entail a determinate result as to what I believe. The reason it appears to do so is that we surreptitiously attribute properties to brains that are not really characteristics that a truly physical system can possibly have.

VR (previously) I think that Christian theism has some problems in the area of the problem of evil, but these are not worse problems than naturalists have in explaining consciousness, for example.

If we currently can't explain consciousness, then a supernatural being created the universe specifically for human life, who is actually three persons; one of which became a God-Man born of a virgin, who died for our sins, was resurrected three days later and ascended to a non-material realm by traveling through the earth's atmosphere? This simply doesn't follow. Instead, "we don't know all the details right now" seems to be the most reasonable response. Until we can gain a more thorough understanding the enormous amount of observable activity going on in our brains, saying that we cannot account for consciousness is like saying you know an particular event doesn't occur in a three thousand page novel despite only having read one word. Claiming an unobservable "God did it" is an argument from ignorance.

No, there's a fundamental problem of property incompatiblility. There is a conceptual chasm, and you can't cross that chasm by exploring the territory on one side of the chasm. What physical facts entail the truth, which I know, that I am Victor Reppert. That statement is false when you say it, even though there is no physical difference which explains the difference.



Vr: Previously: No other religion has the kind of archaeological support that Christianity does. Have they found that battleground in Palmyra, New York, where the book of Mormon says a huge battle took place? Thought not. Is there a good DNA match between Jews and American Indians? You mean they look more like Orientals? Who witnessed Muhammad reciting and transmitting the Qu'ran?

Scott: Out of all religions, Just because Christianity has the most plausible description of God's nature doesn't mean such a description must be accurate or is plausible when compared to agnosticism. If you say we must use faith to "plug the holes" in God's nature, then why plug them with a God who judges our choices based on incomplete information? Why plug them with a God who eternally exiles us from his presence without a chance to learn from such an exile? Why plug them with a God who found the smell of burnt offerings "pleasing" or demanded the violent death of a himself as a man, before he would forgive us of our own nature, which he himself supposedly created?

VR: These are common, but, so far as I can tell, by no means universal theological positions.

VR: Previously" But maybe some naturalists need to take the Outsider Test and see how things look from the perspective that miracles are possible. I could argue that you have been brainwashed by the scientific establishment to rules these possiblities out. But I won't. The world just makes more sense from the perspective of Christian theism than it does from any other perspective.

Did Hume say that miracles are impossible? No. He said it would be incredibly difficult to tell if one actually occurred. Today, his argument is much stronger due to our current understanding of human behavior and our process of observation. And if miracles are possible, then why have they decreased in number along with eye-witness literacy rate and technological advances in reporting, such as video and still cameras, orbiting satellites and a more detailed understating of biology? I'd think these factors would cause reports to go up exponentially, even if the overall number that actually occurred dropped. And why does God still only appear to perform miracles in what could be mistaken for statistical chance, even when our ability to detect them increases? This doesn't seem to really make sense from any perspective.

Maybe God doesn't want to give us demonstrative knowledge of his existence. God doesn't perform miracles to show off.

Anyway, Scott, thanks for an interesting and challenging post!

15 comments:

Anonymous said...

Not to mention that the very way Hume defined 'miracle' was (in the view of many) careless. Not every act of God has to come in the form of an inexplicable and seemingly magic trick.

Kyle said...

Victor,
Whereas I think you do well to critique Scott's misunderstanding of the AFR and the AFC, I think your arguments against his final two points are not very strong (although I think you were making a joke with the last one about God not wanting to show off).

Scott says, "Out of all religions, Just because Christianity has the most plausible description of God's nature doesn't mean such a description must be accurate or is plausible when compared to agnosticism. If you say we must use faith to "plug the holes" in God's nature, then why plug them with a God who judges our choices based on incomplete information? Why plug them with a God who eternally exiles us from his presence without a chance to learn from such an exile? Why plug them with a God who found the smell of burnt offerings "pleasing" or demanded the violent death of a himself as a man, before he would forgive us of our own nature, which he himself supposedly created?"

His argument is partially rhetorical, but makes a clear point. The God of the philosophers does not bring us automatically to the God found in Jesus Christ. There are theological reasons for this move, but those are best left to those distinguishing the nature of God after coming to believe he exists. I've met plenty who have moved from an atheist to a deist position and just get stuck there...what suggestions would you have at this point?

Your response also comes close to betraying your initial post. In it you were arguing for some pointers toward "mere" Christianity being true when you say that those theological positions aren't universal. Although his first two critiques about hell, evidence for Himself and potentiality of post-death salvation are still debated (even in the most conservative sectors of evangelicalism), there is no doubt that his latter concerns (the God who is pleased by burnt offerings, sacrificed himself on the cross as forgiveness for fallen man), are perfectly in line with "mere" Christianity.

I don't think these critiques can be argued apart from revealed theology, but that opens up an entirely different field of theological study that comments on a blog will never even begin to dip into with any amount of clarity.

In response to Scott's final critique, you respond by saying, "Maybe God doesn't want to give us demonstrative knowledge of his existence."

This may be true, but it definitely would go against "mere" Christianity, which argues that God has been clearly revealed (Romans 1) as a moral lawgiver to which we must all be held accountable.

His arguments against Hume are easily countered by reference to the pages and pages of ink spilled by atheists and theists which have shown this argument to be faulty at various points...but I like where Scott goes next with his question about, "why does God still only appear to perform miracles in what could be mistaken for statistical chance, even when our ability to detect them increases?"

Of course there are plenty of theological presuppositions about God that go into both the question and a response which would need to be discussed, but ultimately it's a very good question. As someone who firmly believes that God desires some amount of "hiddenness" and that hiddenness is a requirement for free will, seeking and pursual of God, etc. (ala Moser's fine work on the subject), I'm not disturbed too much by the question...yet it is still a very good question that deserves a better response than that God doesn't want to show off, haha! Or maybe that is what you meant when you said he may not want to be demonstrably known.

Even this question comes back to how we view God as judge, how he treats those who received less knowledge or revelation, what possibilities there are for post-death salvation, etc. These questions aren't new (anyone read Origen and the Cappadocians on the subject?...good grief). The Christian understanding of the questions can be a barrier to belief for some, and as such needs to be something that we take up more carefully in the future, and something that we spend more time educated the laity concerning.

James Vandenberg said...

"Maybe God doesn't want to give us demonstrative knowledge of his existence."

"For now we see through a glass, darkly..." 1Cor 13:12

"God doesn't perform miracles to show off."

There’s a theological reason that won’t satisfy the unbeliever: Miracles are only necessary to establish the revelation of Christ and His Church at first (i.e., Acts 2), thus announcing to the world that they should reflect on and receive the Gospel. If miracles were always going on, they would be as just another part of the natural world, People would think of them as ordinary and they would make little impression on people.

Interstellar Bill said...

There's a much better explanation for Christianity than NT being true, namely that it's all a hoax. This is detailed in the 2005 book 'Caesar's Messiah' by Joseph Atwill. He shows the close relationship between the Gospels and Josephus' Histories.
After all, it's quite implausible that the highly rebellious first century Jews, fanatically Roman-loathing, would ever write anything complementary about Romans, let alone 'Render unto Casear' or 'Turn the other cheek'. Only Romans would pass this off as coming from a Jew. That's how we ended up with the ROMAN catholic church.
A real Son of God would have been noticed by the entire world at the time, from India to Britain, eliciting millions of pilgrims to visit that world-crossroads, Judea (which was not any sealed-off Shangrila). He certainly would have shown up in Philo's history.

Somehow I don't expect Christians to have an open mind on this one, so ask yourself why there was never any such 1st-century place as Nazareth, or Bethany, or Magdalane. Why is Christ's appearance never mentioned by those eye-witnesses?

As for Luke knowing so much geography, just check the travel schedule attributed to Paul's putative itinerary and you'll see it often shows the speed of a modern cruise ship - another miracle?

Matthew said...

Hi Interstellar Bill,
unfortunately, your "It's all a hoax"-argument is so old, it died of infirmity.

Steven Carr said...

'God doesn't perform miracles to show off.'

Miracles like walking on water, or telling people they can get free money by looking in the mouth of a fish?

Or making a whole town like Arimathea totally disappear from any public record, along with Joseph of Arimathea, Mary Magdalene, Lazarus, Nicodemus, Bartimaeus, Joanna, Salome, Judas, Thomas, Andrew, the other Mary, Simon of Cyrene, his sons to the extent that even Christians of the first century never report them having anything to do with the public church?

That really is showing off!

Rob G said...

"There’s a theological reason that won’t satisfy the unbeliever: Miracles are only necessary to establish the revelation of Christ and His Church at first (i.e., Acts 2), thus announcing to the world that they should reflect on and receive the Gospel."

Right. If memory serves, St. Augustine in the 5th century comments on the relative lack of miracles and healings in his day, and posits this as a possible explanation.

Being an Eastern Orthodox, I do not hold to the view that all miracles have ceased. I do believe, however, that they are much rarer than in the early Church for the reason mentioned above, as well as because of the lack of faith of modern man, occasioned by secularism and man's resultant faith in his own works. See Dale Allison's book 'The Luminous Dusk' for more on this.

"Miracles like walking on water, or telling people they can get free money by looking in the mouth of a fish?"

These miracles were primarily for the faith of the immediate witnesses, not for the masses. As I've argued before (and never got a response to, by the way), the skeptic's demand of a demonstrable, universally attested miracle is an exercise in hubris which God is in no wise obligated to respond to. It is like saying that you'll give Tibetan Buddhism a go, but only if the Dalai Lama comes to your house and explains it personally. Now he could, of course, come to your house and explain it, but why should he, given the nature of your demand?

Likewise, since the Christian God desires a relationship based on faith (i.e., trust), a universally attestable and scientifically demonstrable miracle would eliminate the need for faith; it would, in fact, be coercive. As someone put it once, if the moon rose tonight and on it the words 'Jesus is God' were inscribed, what need would there be for trust anymore? (Of course, there would still be some intractable atheists who'd dismiss even this, undoubtedly blaming it on the Vatican or the Discovery Institute).

Steven Carr said...

ROB G
These miracles were primarily for the faith of the immediate witnesses, not for the masses....



ROB G
Likewise, since the Christian God desires a relationship based on faith (i.e., trust)....

CARR
I see.


SO if some people spend 3 years with Jesus, they get miracles demonstrated to them, because God wants a relationship based on trust.

Hence the alleged miracles for the benefit of people who could see Jesus.

And all the other people have to trust that this happened.

And none of this has anything at all in common with frauds where the cult leader claims he can do amazing things, but refuses to demonstrate his alleged powers to the masses, but assures them that verified miracles have occurred.

Anonymous said...

So by Carr's logic, God has to not only perform clear and obvious miracles, but has to perform them to every person in every age, and likely more than once in those cases. Despite the fact that even early skeptics who accepted Christ's resurrection and miracles insisted they were works of a magician or, quite possibly, demons.

Sorry, Steve. As Victor has said, what went on with the jews and Christ gives great reason and justification to invest faith. If it's not good enough for you because you'd like a personal miracle, that's your call. Though there are more than enough miracles and coincidences of nature and natural science to land you in deism/basic theism to begin with.

normajean said...

I'm under the impression that "physical structure" thinking is quite the miracle.

Steven Carr said...

There is no god to perform these miracles.

Just as there are no Golden Plates to be examined. These Golden Plates of Joseph Smith disappeared, just as surely as Lazarus disappeared....

But I'm sure Mormon commentators scoff at the demands of sceptics to see these Golden Plates, just like Christian commentators scoff at the demands of sceptics to see evidence of miracles.


The miracle stories are frauds and lies as Miracles and the Book of Mormon shows.

And, of course, if Christianity were true, then we would expect demons to be working miracles today in the way that the New Testament claims demons infested the Holy Land.

But no such demonic activity is detected.

And early Christians, such as the writers of 1 Peter, Hebrews, James, Jude, Paul's letters never attributed Jesus miracles to sorcery.

In fact, they never mention them.

Just like no Christian outside the Gospels ever mentions having seen or heard of Arimathea, Joseph of Arimathea, Nicodemus, Bartimaeus, Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Salome, Judas, Thomas, Andrew, Martha, the other Mary etc etc.

Until they appear in the anonymous Gospels and then in works that even Christians claim are fakes....

Anonymous said...

Considering the holocaust, eugenics, abortion, and scores of other contemplated evils, the argument that there aren't 'demons' at work in the world (Demons manifesting primarily as mental foulness in the NT) is a stretch to say the least.

Of course, in an age where science is making rapid advances in allowing soldiers to regrow lost limbs, I also think miracles are in abundance. To say nothing of computer simulations, nuclear weapons, and more. ;)

Walter said...

Anon:
Sorry, Steve. As Victor has said, what went on with the jews and Christ gives great reason and justification to invest faith. If it's not good enough for you because you'd like a personal miracle, that's your call. Though there are more than enough miracles and coincidences of nature and natural science to land you in deism/basic theism to begin with.

Walter:
I do not see that there is enough evidence to justify a belief in biblical miracles. Seems to call for a fideistic leap of faith.

I have my own doubts about metaphysical naturalism, but this only leads to to somewhere between agnosticism and Deism. Nowhere near Trinitarian Christianity.

Anonymous said...

Walter,

My own response, as a cowardly anonymous, is that there is ample reasoning to get someone to deism or a basic theism a priori. And the moment either is attained, the case for the possibility of miracles (or the idea that the deity would have chosen a way to communicate) is increased greatly.

I'm not really laying out a huge case for Christianity here, but I'll at least say this. Getting to said basic deism/theism, or even a good skepticism of naturalism, at the very least imparts a reason to take religion and searching for God seriously.

Interstellar Bill said...

Matthew

Kindly supply me a sample of the long-ago Church-apologists' voluminous documention of the supposed infirmity of the hoax idea. After all, I typed several paragraphs of points that you could try to answer, however decrepit you believe they are.

It's you who have to supply proof of it not being suspicious that a hierarchical Rome-based religion preaching pacificism arose out of super-militant, Roman-hating Israel. After all, cui bono? It sure wasn't the Jews, who still suffer from one of Rome's many inventions, Anti-Semitism. It sure was the Roman Empire, from a religion that so conveniently preached 'Render unto Caesar'.

While you're at it, prove the martyrs' tales aren't hoaxes too.