Friday, February 04, 2011

God should have made it obvious, so why didn't He?

That seems to be the theme of Loftus' discussion here. It seems to require a very different world from the world we live in, a world in which religious ambiguity is eliminated.

Such a world, in my view, would eliminate the possibility of real choice, because it would be perfectly obvious, not only that there is a God, but it would also be perfectly obvious what we ought to do. Further, we could know that in doing what we ought to do, we would be rewarded, while if we do what we ought not to do, we would be punished. Who but a complete fool would do what is right?

42 comments:

Ian said...

In that case, what would happen to those that did not WANT to do what they ought to do?? They would know clearly, but could not want it! They would be torn apart!

Anonymous said...

Yes, more like "I know that I'm son of my father and that my father really exists" and that it is difficult to fall out of his love and stop being his child. Easier that way. Agree with Lofthus on that.

Thomas said...

Has aynone read C.Stephen Evans´s new book Natural Signs and the Knowledge of God? I found his concept (borrowed from Thomas Reid) of 'theistic natural sign' and 'The Easy Resistibility Principle' extremely helpulf at this context.

Anonymous said...

To my mind, Blaise Pascal has provided the definitive answer:

If God had wished to overcome the obstinacy of the most hardened he could have done so by revealing himself to them so plainly that they could not doubt the truth of his essence, as he will appear on the last day with such thunder and lightening and such convulsions of nature that the dead will rise up and the blindest will see him. This is not the way he wished to appear when he came in mildness, because so many men had shown themselves unworthy of his clemency, that he wished to deprive them of the good they did not desire. It was therefore not right that he should appear in a manner manifestly divine and absolutely capable of convincing all men, but neither was it right that his coming should be so hidden that he could not be recognized by those who sincerely sought him. He wished to make himself perfectly recognizable to them. Thus wishing to appear openly to those who seek him with all their heart and hidden from those who shun him with all their heart he has qualified our knowledge of him by giving signs which can be seen by those who seek him and not by those who do not. ‘There is enough light for those who desire only to see and enough darkness for those of a contrary disposition.'”
Pensées 149


Peter Kreeft comments on this passage:

"If he gave more light, the righteous would not learn humility, for they would know too much. If he gave less light, the wicked would not be responsible for their wickedness, for they would know too little. There are three answers to why God is not more obvious:

1. He wants to give us time to repent. Scripture says this in [Genesis 15:16]; Isaiah 48:9]; Luke 13:7-9]; [Romans 2:4]
2. He wants to effect a true relationship with us, not one merely of intellectual belief but of personal faith, hope, love and trust. The propositions of lovers are different from the propositions of syllogisms.
3. God is both love and justice; if he manifests himself truly it cannot be without love or without justice. His love led Him to save all who will have Him, and his justice led him to punish those who will not have him. Thus he respects our free choice. He deprives the damned only of the good they do not desire."

Anonymous said...

It seems to me that John has raised an important point, as the problem is internal to orthodox Christianity. For a theme of Scripture is that the existence and nature of God are obvious. Add the fact that they aren't, apply Modus Tollens, and you get a decent argument against orthodox Christianity.

Anonymous said...

Would John Loftus believe in God and behave according to God's law even if he did make it absolutely clear?

Probably not; he didn't even do that when he did believe in God.

unkleE said...

I think the picture is bigger than God allowing us free choice. If God made us and made himself obvious, we would be his puppets. But the way the world is, we are made by him only indirectly (via evolution and human genetics), we are dignified as truly autonomous beings whose choices are not forced, and we literally make ourselves - we don't control our start, but we control who we become to a reasonable degree.

To a loving = self-giving God, that is a truly great result - the creation of "little gods", made in his image in our freedom to choose, our rationality, our ability to discern right and wrong and our creativity, but nevertheless beings whose character and destiny is very much in our hands.

Pert said...

I hope Loftus comes here and leaves some comments. That guy cracks me up.

Jason Pratt said...

Maybe I'm just not especially optimistic about my own behaviors--since if it means anything coherent to say that I sin, then I must be acting against what even I myself believe to be true. (A point I recall Lewis being quite stringent about himself. {wry g} Not counting Saint Paul in his epistle to the Romans and elsewhere; or any similar places in the Judeo-Christian scriptures...)

But I don't personally have any trouble believing that people who really actually know the truth might decide to act otherwise than if the truth is true.

Put another way: I only have to examine how I treat my own beliefs, to have no problem believing in the fall even of Satan. "Obviousity" doesn't in itself save us; and wouldn't and doesn't (and won't) automatically inoculate us either.

(Certainly there are some Christian universalists, and non-universalists for that matter, who believe otherwise. But I wasn't that kind of Christian non-universalist, and I'm not that kind of Christian universalist either. My experience and my beliefs on this wouldn't be substantially different regardless of whether I believed Christianity to be true or not, come to think of it.)

The complaint about a lack of obviousity (whether from J'oftus or from anyone else) is, I believe, ethically naive. But it's also aimed (probably without realizing it) against what amounts to the heresy of gnosticism (salvation by knowledge)--so I can appreciate it for that at least. Especially as a hyper-doctrinaire. (Insert irony as applicable. {g})

JRP

woodchuck64 said...


Such a world, in my view, would eliminate the possibility of real choice


How do you respond to Galen Strawson's argument against real choice and responsibility, summarized by Wikipedia:
1. We do what we do, in a given situation, because we are what we are.
2. In order to be ultimately responsible for what we do, we have to be ultimately responsible for what we are — at least in certain crucial mental respects.
3. But we cannot, as the first point avers, be ultimately responsible for what we are, because, simply, we are what we are; we cannot be causa sui.
4. Therefore, we cannot be ultimately responsible for what we do

steve said...

Except that Loftus also assures us at every possible opportunity that the God of the Bible is thoroughly hateful and evil and wholly unworthy of our worship. So in that case, his real problem isn't evidential. For even if the God of the Bible revealed himself unmistakably to Loftus (assuming, arguendo, that God is presently inevident), according to whatever sign(s) that Loftus demanded, he would still be a functional atheist. So his argument is just a hoax.

Bob Prokop said...

So much for Loftus' OTF! In the seventh paragraph of his piece, he states: "I am predisposed to reject the Christian faith and the resurrection of Jesus".

Well. Such a statement absolutely screams for John to now take an "Outsider Test for Atheism".

After such an admission, no one can any longer take anything John has to say at all seriously. He has confessed to prejudging the issue. The (bogus) outcome is predetermined.

Thrasymachus said...

This sort of 'qualified hiddenness' response is used elsewhere (most notably by Murray), but I just don't see the legs in it. Deliberately restricting information purely so those with lesser epistemic virtue 'slip up' and make the wrong call isn't on the repertoire of moral perfection.

Anonymous said...

Come on, guys, would you really say that it is better with a biological living father somewhere you don't know than living next door, because if living next door you could always doubt his love and existence anyway, it's therefore better he lives on another planet sending you some hints now and then. Is this what you really think? Of course, Loftus has a point with a God not so obvious.

Anonymous said...

re Galen Strawson. Isn't this the old problem--Calvin : God chooses for us versus Wesley's :God's Preventing Grace by which He, through the Spirit, enables man to make a free choice despite his frailties. This approach is more theological than philosophical I suppose.

Bilbo said...

I think Jason Pratt is on the right track.

Let's assume that the story of the fall of Lucifer and his angelic followers is true. And let's assume that angels have as close to perfect knowledge of God's existence as is possible. In that case, obvious knowledge of God's existence did not guarantee that the angels would obey Him.

Let's assume that the angels who have fallen cannot be saved. Why would this be? Because, having been given full knowledge of God and choosing against Him, there is no further knowledge that God can give them that would lead to their repentance.

How then could God overcome the problem of saving fallen creatures? It would seem that He would need to create beings who do not have full knowledge of His existence, so that if they fall, there is the hope that further knowledge would lead to their repentance.

Bilbo said...

But I agree with Jason that the problem isn't a lack of knowledge. It's a lack of desire. Tom Hanks' character in the movie "Castaway," knew that his chances of surviving on the island were better than his chances of surviving at sea. But he chose the sea in the hopes of being rescued before he died. Why? Was he being irrational?

John W. Loftus said...

Why do I bother?

Anonymous said...

Because you're trying to pay the bills, and you think your choices are either "become a low-rent Hitchens" or "see if Denny's is hiring". This stopped being about religion a long time ago for you.

Anonymous said...

And why do you wear that frightfully silly hat?

Bob Prokop said...

Hey, Anonymous,
Don't knock the hat! I wish I had one just like it.

Jake Elwood XVI said...

I am almost with Bob on the hat thing.

I wear a wide brimmed brown fedora. I know with a name like mine, I should be a wearing a short brimmed black fedora.

I don't wear mine while teaching, or indoors
that would seem a little weird to me.

Bob you don't have to wish. Go out and buy one. We need more hat wearers.

Bob Prokop said...

Jake,
I actually do have several hats already - including two very fine ones made of Cotswold wool that I picked up in the UK. But I must admit (guilty of the sin of sloth, I guess) that I normally go out in my Orioles baseball cap!

Anonymous said...

Thomas, I agree on Evan's new book. It deserves a wide reading due to the different angle it comes from and the light it throws onto various issues around the existence of God and epistemology. The price is prohibitive for many but I'd highly recommend it.

woodchuck64 said...

Hi Bilbo,

But I agree with Jason that the problem isn't a lack of knowledge. It's a lack of desire.


Even under naturalistic assumptions, the ability to process knowledge is a recent evolutionarily development (neocortex) and brains still devote way too much volume and processing power (for so-called "rational" beings) to evolutionarily primitive drives and reactive emotions. To guarantee perfect obedience, God would not only have to give us perfect knowledge but he would have to redesign our brains to value knowledge and only knowledge.

Bilbo said...

Woodchuck: "To guarantee perfect obedience, God would not only have to give us perfect knowledge but he would have to redesign our brains to value knowledge and only knowledge."

But knowledge (or valuing knowledge) wasn't the issue for the Tom Hanks' character. He knew he had a much better chance of surviving on the island than in the sea. Was he being irrational in choosing the sea?

Boz said...

In a world where the accuracy of religious truth-claims is unambiguous, (say, zoroaastrianism is clearly true), the choice of which action to take is easy, but it is still real. it is still possible to choose an incorrect action.

Or perhaps, victor, you are claiming that an easy choice is not a real choice? If i choose to put on sunscreen to avoid sunburn, is that not a 'real choice' ?

What definition are you using for "real choice"?

Boz said...

Steve, christianity and atheism are not the only two possible options. It is possible that they are both false!

Jason Pratt said...

Woodchuck: {{To guarantee perfect obedience, God would not only have to give us perfect knowledge but he would have to redesign our brains to value knowledge and only knowledge.}}

More precisely, God would have to rewire our brains so that we automatically reacted to stimulus in such ways that counted as obedience. In which case we would be puppets, not real children--we wouldn't even "value knowledge" as persons, because we wouldn't exist as persons.

It's the search for an automatic guarantee of good behavior by derivative creatures which leads to a lot of theological problems, in my experience. Even God's goodness isn't "guaranteed" in that locked fashion. The guarantee is a function of God's ontological existence as a self-begetting and self-begotten interpersonal entity--if orthodox trinitarian theism is true. If mere monotheism is true instead, there are major and insurmountable problems with ethical grounding anyway. I happen to be covering that topic Wednesday as part of my SttH series, coincidentally. Or providentially. {g} (The lead-in post, which I put up this morning before lunch, can be found here at the Cadre Journal.)

JRP

Jason Pratt said...

Bilbo: {{But I agree with Jason that the problem isn't a lack of knowledge. It's a lack of desire.}}

That can be a real problem, too. But I wouldn't explain my own sins as such as being due to a lack of desire. (Although, I could be sinning by not choosing to inculcate proper desires.)

My sins, as long as we're talking about my ethical liability, are not something I can excuse; and a lack of desire could be a legitimate excuse (so far as it goes).

JRP

Rob R said...

I disagree that eliminating religious ambiguity would eliminate choice. It would drastically alter the nature of our choices, but there is still plenty of opportunity for libertarian freedom. Our struggle after all is not just a matter of getting the right understanding. Just because someone is an orthodox Christian doesn't mean that he will no longer be tempted to the point of a libertarian choice and even sin.

I would suggest two alternative responses.

First, even though making libertarian choice here isn't clearly the reason for religious ambiguity, we could say that there is some other value in the struggle. The journey itself of developing our understanding of God has value.

And secondly, as I pointed out to John Loftus (not in the discussion linked above), some of that ignorance (not all religious ambiguity is good in the positive sense described above) that God supposedly refuses to clear up isn't all innocent ignorance but is indeed related to our rebellion.

Rob R said...

2nd post,

Let me suggest that with my post above that I'm not so much disagreeing with Proffesor Reppert as I am suggesting that his answer is too general, that it's not enough to say that it's about the value of choice itself, but it's about the value of a specific kind of choice.

woodchuck64 said...

Bilbo,

But knowledge (or valuing knowledge) wasn't the issue for the Tom Hanks' character. He knew he had a much better chance of surviving on the island than in the sea. Was he being irrational in choosing the sea?


I would consider indefinite solitary confinement possibly worse than death, so in that regard I would not call it an irrational decision. Maybe I'm not getting your point.

Jason Pratt,

[To guarantee perfect obedience]
More precisely, God would have to rewire our brains so that we automatically reacted to stimulus in such ways that counted as obedience. In which case we would be puppets, not real children--we wouldn't even "value knowledge" as persons, because we wouldn't exist as persons.


When you remove sin, pride, disobedience, the fallen nature, as is expected to happen in heaven, do you become more of a puppet or less? If less, than this is the state that God could create. It's not automatic stimulus/response, but rather simply valuing God's knowledge more than anything else, all the time.

Jason Pratt said...

Woodchuck: {{When you remove sin, pride, disobedience, the fallen nature, as is expected to happen in heaven, do you become more of a puppet or less?}}

Removing the fallen nature, I would say makes a person less of a puppet, because regardless of how our fallen nature gets there we currently have an automatic pressure in that direction which at best we have to fight against merely reacting to. Removing that nature and supplying a better one could be construed as fixing the wiring so as to provide better input to choose from, and so that the wiring won't hamper the freedom of choice.

Unless the fallen nature is the only cause, though, for the (rather overlapping!) categories of "sin, pride and disobedience", then "removing" those involves an action other than what amounts to rewiring. It involves the much more difficult restoration of interpersonal fair-togetherness between persons. And so long as one of those persons refuses to do that, then "sin, pride and disobedience" still continues in that person. Which I would expect also to involve a continual upkeep of the fallen nature as a result. If a person insists on continuing to rewire themselves poorly, being poorly rewired, and suffering from being poorly rewired, will be at least one result of that!

(The relevant question here on soteriology is whether God continues to act toward leading the sinner out of sin; including whether this involves some continual fixing of at least some of the insistent rewiring perhaps while leaving other results as an object lesson to encourage repentance, and/or whether this perhaps involves God refusing to empower the person to poorly rewire themselves again to at least some extent.)

If the "removal" of "sin, pride and disobedience" is supposed to involve a rewiring that makes it functionally impossible for the person to ever sin again, then yes I would say that this makes the person less (or no more) of a person and more of a puppet than in the person's fallen condition!--where we were expected to have some personal responsibility in our behavior.

And that sort of thing was what I was talking about before. A guarantee that forces us to behave one way and not another, is a depersonalizing operation. It also makes zero sense of our present situation, since God could have created us so that we were always forced to behave one way instead of another without even the ability to fail in choosing to fail! Nor would there be any point in our present circumstances serving as an object lesson in our future condition, since that would be entirely useless to entities who are forced to behave one way instead of another anyway! The same goes for supposedly giving us more reason to satisfy God's ego (I mean praising the tyrant for wiring us to praise him instead of otherwise); puppets who have been forced to behave only one way instead of another don't need reasons to do anything, and could have been far more easily wired to feel an equivalent feeling of gratitude (if it happened that such a God cared for such a flavor to his ego stroking) without having to go through the mess of life as we find it. Including, not incidentally, the mess of the cross.

(But such a God would have never bothered with the cross anyway. Except maybe to send someone other than Himself, or rather himself, for the sake of expressing to himself how great he is somehow by doing so.)

The true love of creatures as real sons and daughters, though, isn't safely or easily made. It can't be directly made at all, only provided for and encouraged. Which is another way of saying there's a real distinction between created persons, and the Self-begotten unity of Persons as foundational reality itself. Or again, that there is a real difference in action between the self-sacrifice of the Son in the unity of the Godhead, and the self-sacrifice of the Son for the sake of creating something (especially persons) not God.

JRP

cl said...

@ Bob Proskop:

Such a statement absolutely screams for John to now take an "Outsider Test for Atheism".

I agree. I've told John this same exact thing, several times. His reactions vary from odd bafflement to denigration. Besides, you can read in WIBA that John did not reject Christianity as a result of anything even remotely classifiable as an Outsider's Test. Rather, he rejected Christianity for primarily emotional and irrational reasons. He did not undertake the same analysis he claims believers ought to take. His whole plea is just special pleading.

Billy Bumpkin said...

I think God made it pretty obvious. Hi, I'm Billy Bumpkin. I come from the universe.

Rob R said...

I agree. I've told John this same exact thing, several times. His reactions vary from odd bafflement to denigration.

Yea, he seems to say, "well I already did, I was an insider." He never seems to comprehend that he is still an insider even if it now an insider to a different set of beliefs.

Rather, he rejected Christianity for primarily emotional and irrational reasons.

I disagree. John Loftus is upfront about his psychological precursors, but he still cites intellectual reasons that were a part of his motive to leave Christianity.

Al Moritz said...

Yea, he seems to say, "well I already did, I was an insider." He never seems to comprehend that he is still an insider even if it now an insider to a different set of beliefs.

But then his bogus argument is: atheism is not a belief, but "lack of belief". Well, obviously he is a naturalist, and naturalism is a positive belief.

Victor Reppert said...

Yes, what is problematic in the OTF isn't the legitimacy of "outside" perspectives (surely, anyone who wants to defend anything has to do so for the benefit of outsiders), but rather the exceptionalism with respect to the atheistic or skeptical position. I've never seen how you can go beyond "try to be objective" to some kind of defense of rejecting religion without some sort of anti-religious special pleading.

Rob R said...

but rather the exceptionalism with respect to the atheistic or skeptical position.

Long before reading Loftus, I had it impressed upon me the importance and sometimes superior nature of the inside perspective as a matter of fact.

A professor once told me that if you can't repeat a persons beliefs back at them so they can say "yes, that's what I believe," then you don't really know it and your criticisms from an outsiders perspective are of more dubious value. I don't know how often this is a problem with John, but he's doing no favors to his laymen advocates to emphasize the outside perspective as the best one to criticize a view.

AmandaO said...

I actually think this is more an issue of complexity than necessarily something moral. There is not much correspondence between something infinite and something finite. We literally can't measure the distance between the two because that's what infinite means. It's like the difference between 0 and 1. There's as much difference between that as 0 and 1000. (The difference between something and nothing.) We are, as derivative beings, effectively nothing. We will invariably be confounded by an infinitely complex world since our means are finite.

God "couldn't" make it obvious because we are too small, the world too complex. I think we could easily argue that it actually is obvious (meaning all the logic is there) but that we can't find it - we are the problem in other words. And God, the infinite one, is the solution.

cl said...

@ Rob R:

Yea, he seems to say, "well I already did, I was an insider." He never seems to comprehend that he is still an insider even if it now an insider to a different set of beliefs.

Yes, that's exactly the claim I've heard, and, you're right.

...he still cites intellectual reasons that were a part of his motive to leave Christianity.

Of course he does. That doesn't mean his deconversion wasn't predominantly motivated by emotional reasons. My point is that it went emotion then critical thinking, and not the other way around. I think the potential for confirmation bias is much more insidious given that order, as opposed to it's converse--if that makes any sense.