Saturday, March 24, 2012

Is there a general conception of God?

Here is some discussion on Debunking Christianity.

I had been in a discussion on a prior thread with Cole, who had argued that in the absence of very strong, overwhelming evidence for God (perhaps, the kind that ought to persuade everyone), one should suspend judgment on the existence of God. I had argued that this is existentially impossible. People have to act as if God exists, or not. So, even in the absence of overwhelming evidence, a judgment call is necessary. This choice is partially a matter of evidence, but also can be, at least partially, determined by pragmatic considerations. Now, at this point I was referring to a general conception of God, not a concept that is tied to any revelation or interpretation of that revelation.

John replied by saying:

Yep, Vic is correct. We have to make a choice. We have to live as if Allah exists,
or as if Allah does not exist. There is no neutral position. I mean, what do you really have to lose if you believe and you are wrong? Well, that might differ from person to person. Here I am not talking about heaven and hell, but about the course of life on earth.

Such a provincial argument not even Vic gets it. ;-)

My reply was that:

I believe that Allah exists. Allah is the Arabic word for God, just as Dios is Spanish for God, and Dieu is French for God, and Gott is German for God. I am a theist, therefore, I believe that Allah exists. No problem.

John then said:

Such a typical disingenuous reply that is Vic, unless you are a Muslim. Are you? Do you believe the Koran? Of course you don't.

I then said

No, Muslims are my fellow theists. You are conflating the question of Allah with the question of how Allah might have revealed himself. In point of fact, the word "Allah" was in place as the word for the high god of Arabia before Muhammad picked it up.

If you accept belief in God, then you have to decide whether some revelation is true, or if there was one. But this is no way detracts from the fact that neutrality on the question of God is de facto impossible. You either act as if God existed, or as if God did not exist. You act as if Christianity is true, or as if it was not.

C. S. Lewis accepted theism first, then he had to decide whether or not there was a revelation.

John then said:

But Vic, you don't believe in Allah because Allah revealed himself in the Koran. He is a different god who did different things, has different characteristics, and denies ever doing some of the things your god claims to have done. You don't even believe in Yahweh, the tribal god of the Old Testament. As far as I can tell only a small number of people have ever believed in the god that you believe in. That you share a belief in a creator god with other theists is acknowledged. But when you claim to believe in their gods and they claim to believe in your god that is not in fact the case, since these gods different, sometimes significantly different.
So to say you believe Allah exists is empty disingenuous rhetoric. What you should say instead is that both you and Muslims all believe in a creator god.

He then posted new thread claiming that I had taken a preposterous position, repeating his usual mantra that defending religious beliefs makes smart people look stupid.

I suppose I was replying to his literal words, rather than to what I might have taken his meaning to be. What he meant was the deity revealed in the Qu'ran when he used the word "Allah." I sometimes drive my family members crazy by responding to their literal words and ignoring the obvious subtext.

 But my prior discussion wasn't about a God of any particular revelation, it was simply the idea of a being that is omnipotent, omniscient and perfectly good. I think there is a general conception of God, and people can subscribe to that notion without adjudicating the question of any particular revelation. C. S. Lewis did this when he became a Theist but not a Christian. John's initial comments are an objection to what I said only if my use of the term "God" made essential reference a Christian conception of God. So, in order to say what he said, he had make an assumption about what I was using the word "God" in a way that referred to a specific revelation. I think there is a general Judeo-Christian conception of God, which is developed in detail in different ways by the Jewish, Christian, and Islamic traditions. The word for this being, in Arabic, is Allah. I think you can use the word "God" without indicating whose revelation one accepts. Is there any reason to think my claim here is false? With this in mind, I can't see that my comments were preposterous.

John had to ignore the context of my comments in order for his original criticism to work.

28 comments:

articulett said...

I think you and your fellow believers shift your definition of god as need be so that you can imagine that you all believe in the same invisible guy. I suspect that in your mind this makes your god belief more rational. Do you think you all believe in the same Satan too?

In any case, your fellow Christians disagree: http://thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/tgc/2012/03/07/the-faqs-do-muslims-and-christians-worship-the-same-god/

As do many Muslims: http://answers.yahoo.com/question/index?qid=20110927145322AABEhXm

It seems that you "believe in the same god" when you are trying to make an argument from popularity-- but you aren't really convincing anyone. http://atheism.about.com/library/FAQs/religion/blrel_theism_onegod.htm

Victor Reppert said...

I'm not trying to make an argument from popularity. I am just saying that there is a general conception of God which can be picked out independently of any particular revelation. In other words, one can ask first whether there is a God, and you can answer that with a "yes" without then committing yourself to any particular revelation. Do you believe that deists exist? If you need to specify the revelation before using the notion of God, then deists could not exist, since they would be unable to use the term "God."

Victor Reppert said...

There is a general conception Satan also.

Papalinton said...

This article should help out in developing a general conception of god.

http://www.philosophersnet.com/games/whatisgod.php

"In an attempt to resolve any disagreement surrounding the meaning of the word "God", TPM has assembled a crack team of "metaphysical engineers" who have devised a new computer-modelling virtual environment in which to test the plausibility of different conceptions of God."

Walter said...

I believe that Allah exists. Allah is the Arabic word for God, just as Dios is Spanish for God, and Dieu is French for God, and Gott is German for God. I am a theist, therefore, I believe that Allah exists. No problem.

Allah is not a Trinity. The Christian God is a Trinity. They are not the same God. The only thing similar here is that both beings are creator deities who sit at the top of the ontological food chain. The Jewish God and Allah have a lot in common, though.

John W. Loftus said...

Vic, we speak English here last time I checked, and the English word for your god is "God" (in capitals) not Allah.

If we were living in an Arabic language speaking culture it would be different, for you would have to use the word "Allah" when talking about your Christian god.

But it would be just as confusing to Arabic speaking people to use the word "Allah" as word for your Christian god.

This is called obfuscation at best. Your best bet, until you can change the English dictionary, is to say you believe in a creator God like Muslims do, and an omnipotent God like they do to.

You're playing the game called "Definitional Apologetics." You're trying to make it appear that more people believe in your God than actually do.

Hint: Muslims do not, most emphatically do not, believe in the same God as you do. In fact, given your particular idiosyncratic theology, very few Christians ever have.

BenYachov said...

>Muslims do not, most emphatically do not, believe in the same God as you do.

Actually Jews, Christians and Muslims historically all have pretty much the same historical natural Theology & on that level do worship the same God.

Pope St Gregory VII said so.

Even in your Atheism John you are trapped in your Fundamentalist Protestant mindset with your post enlightenment Theistic Personalist concept of deity.

That Cole fellow seems no better.

>You're playing the game called "Definitional Apologetics." You're trying to make it appear that more people believe in your God than actually do.

How is it Victor's fault your one size fits all Atheist polemics are often non-starter objections to High Church Christian and other religious traditions that don't fit your Procrustean Bed of anti-Protestant Evangelicalism?

BenYachov said...

>Allah is not a Trinity. The Christian God is a Trinity. They are not the same God. \

Walter we can't know God is a Trinty by either Philosophy or natural reason only by Divine Revelation.

Both are Purely Actual, are Absolutely simple in Substance, Eternal thus in terms of what can be known by natural reason they are clearly the same Classic God.

The purpose of Revelation is to tell us what our human powers cannot.

After you arrive at God via natural Philosophy you need to pursue other means to try to figure out which revelation is authentic.

It's simply a brute historical fact Muslism, Jewish and Christian natural Theologians used each others works.

Walter said...

It's simply a brute historical fact Muslism, Jewish and Christian natural Theologians used each others works

Of course they do, they all belong to the same family of faiths, viz. the Abrahamic family. Still, the triune God of Christian orthodoxy is a separate concept from the Islamic God who vehemently declares the sin of shirk to be an unforgivable crime. These two Gods are revealing very different messages to humanity.

Laura said...

You put in words what I wish I could preface every discussion I have with an atheist when they question why I believe in God. It's frustrating because they don't really want to know or care about your concept of God. What they tend to do is impose the very simplistic concept of a deity as the definition of what you mean by God. But they really don't care about why you believe. It's just a dishonest game after all to bait theists into an argument they and fight to win at all costs.

The position is not very rationale, either.It's as if they failed to develop a deeper, broader, richer idea of who we call "God" in the English-speaking crowd past early childhood. When they outgrew Santa Claus and a fascination for superheroes, what they believed about God didn't fit anymore, either. That is when most chose to live like God doesn't exist rather than grow into a mature, nuanced, albeit incomplete, understanding.
Most seem incapable of differentiating between religion and God. It is so obvious by how he was dumbfounded he was to learn that Allah is the Arabic word for God.
Turns out, it's all about winning an argument, and feeling superior. We can humbly accept that we have limitations as humans. My concept for God is incomplete. That is a good thing for me. I'm eager to learn more. A lively debate gives me more to think about. Sadly it's mainly about winning and humiliating believers for atheists. It's sad that is the closest thing to joy they experience.

BenYachov said...

@Walter
>Of course they do, they all belong to the same family of faiths, viz. the Abrahamic family.

I have been to Coptic and Melikite eastern rite Catholic Churches where I heard God referred to as Allah.

I think you are equivocating between the unreasonable claim "All of these religions are completely the same as one another" which of course is not true vs the claim they worship the same God.

If I was an Englishmen or an Ausse or a Canadian I would be loyal to the Queen. What is the Queen? An very elderly in her middle 80's. But even if I erroneously believed the Queen was an 18 year old Blonde that would not be enough to charge me with treason.

But there is little question the Queen of England, Canada and Australia is not the Queen of Spain. Like Classic Theism is not let us say Pantheism or Theistic Personalism.

Historically Christan, Jews and Muslims believed in one God who is Purely Actual, has the 3 O's, substantively & metaphysically simple & whose existence can be shown via philosophical argument.

This is the God that must be meet & defeated. Arguing the Koran vs the OT vs the NT is pointless. Especially since Atheists have no common ground with any of these religions in these areas.

>Still, the triune God of Christian orthodoxy is a separate concept from the Islamic God who vehemently declares the sin of shirk to be an unforgivable crime. These two Gods are revealing very different messages to humanity.

Of course they are different religions after all but as I think Victor was trying to make clear they are all Theists and I would add historically Classic Theists.

Loftus of course has this whole one size fits all polemic that can't tell Classic Theism from Cosmic Santa & that is just intellectual lazyness on his part even if it turns out he is right & there is no God.

Laura said...

The Muslim Americans, Deists, Jews, Pagans, Scientologists, Mormons, etc., etc. don't flood our judicial system with trivial lawsuits to remove a motto off our money, tear down a cross in cemetery in the middle of the desert, ban a cross-shaped piece of rubble out of museum, sponsor billboards mocking the Nativity during Christmas, or actually INVITE the WBC to attend their rally on Washington (no sane, rational people want them anywhere near their events)?
Who does? hmmm....the group who doesn't believe there is a God. But this "invisible guy" has the awesome power to trigger their sheer outrage. Oh, yeah! Atheists.
Jehovah's Witnesses? Say "Merry Christmas!" They'll smile and say "Have a good day!" They'll stand up respectfully and quietly with their classmates as the Pledge of Allegiance is recited.

BenYachov said...

I would add Laura it's not the Ethical Humanist Society or any sane Atheist group.

It's the bloody Gnus.

unkleE said...

"Yep, Vic is correct. We have to make a choice. We have to live as if Allah exists, or as if Allah does not exist. There is no neutral position."

While I accept your points subsequent to this, Vic, I don't see any problems with this statement.

I do and have made a decision to believe that the Allah of the Koran does not exist as a separate entity from the God of Jesus. Ditto other gods that I know about. And I have both positive and negative reasons for making that choice.

So I still think you are right Vic that we all act as if each God or god exists or not, I just accept that one more of them exists and one less of them doesn't exist than do atheists.

I can't really see what the argument is about.

Ohtobide said...

How about this definition of God:
"a superhuman, supernatural intelligence who deliberately designed and created the universe and everything in it, including us"

This is from an atheist but it seems a reasonable definition. Christians, Moslems, Jews and deists all believe in the god of this definition.

But, Victor, why is it necessary to decide whether this god exists? I have no idea and I call myself an agnostic. I can't think of any way in which my life would change if I decided that this god exists or does not exist. It is not existentially impossible to suspend judgment on the existence of God any more than it is existentially impossible to suspend judgment on string theory.

Heuristics said...

Ohtobide, I would suggest something similar for a definition: "The intentional creator of the universe" - God.

The word God (or the god) is different from the word god in that gods are like superheroes but God is the highest, that which nothing is higher then.

If one reads for example the collected works of Plato this is the way they used the words, the gods were like superman/spiderman but God is that which there is none greater than. Though this is translated to english the original text does differentiate between different uses of the theos word. This in Aristotle then becomes the unmoved mover, that which causes everything else to move but is itself not moved. So we do have a common basis that all theists place in the word God, but as usual there are plenty of people that cannot understand the concept of a sets and subsets and constantly confuse subsets for the core/common set.

BenYachov said...

>This is from an atheist but it seems a reasonable definition. Christians, Moslems, Jews and deists all believe in the god of this definition.

Only uneducated Christians, Muslims and Jews or Deists can believe this.

This deity at best is an Anthropomorphic Theistic Personalist Deity and as a Catholic Christian I can say I am an absolute strong Atheist in regards to it's existence.

Classical Theism isn't hard people.

http://edwardfeser.blogspot.com/2010/09/classical-theism.html

http://edwardfeser.blogspot.com/2010/10/god-man-and-classical-theism.html

All other "gods" need not apply.

BenYachov said...

God is "a superhuman, supernatural intelligence who deliberately designed and created the universe and everything in it, including us"

No He is not. see links in previous post.

Ryan M said...

Can someone tell me if Cole is for or against theism right now?

If he's against theism I won't be surprised.

unkleE said...

"This is from an atheist but it seems a reasonable definition. Christians, Moslems, Jews and deists all believe in the god of this definition.

Only uneducated Christians, Muslims and Jews or Deists can believe this."


Maybe I'm missing something, but I disagree. I am a christian and I can believe that. It is a necessary but insufficient definition of the God I believe in, but it probably describes the lowest common denominator (LCD) of the Gods that many people believe in.

Take a different example. Say we were arguing about whether a good American President has ever existed. We might define what we mean by "good" in the context of the Presidency, and we might all agree on the definition. But then someone may argue that only George W Bush meets those criteria, someone else might argue that only Barack Obama meets those criteria and then we would discover that each person has a bunch of additional criteria to the agreed set. So if we want to define a generic good president, we can agree on a LCD definition, but if we want to really understand what each person thinks we'll need a stronger definition.

Same with God. The given definition is an LCD definition, and as Ohtobide points out, there 's not much to care about there. But if we zero in on what we all care about, we need extra definition such as "The God Jesus taught about".

Both types of definition are valid for different circumstances.

BenYachov said...

unkleE

You are a Theistic Personalist then or share some of their views.

But I am not so there you have it.

Walter said...

God is "a superhuman, supernatural intelligence who deliberately designed and created the universe and everything in it, including us"

Might want to leave the superhuman part off, but the rest seems close enough.

BenYachov said...

But then Walter it leave the definition ambiguous.

Since a TEP & or CT would interpret the definition differently.

Walter said...

But then Walter it leave the definition ambiguous.

"supernatural intelligence who deliberately designed and created the universe and everything in it, including us"

I don't see anything there that a Classical Theist would flat choke on. You do believe that God possesses intelligence far beyond anything we see in nature, do you not? You do believe that God, in some sense, designed the universe, no?

Jason Pratt said...

BenYachov: {{Classical Theism isn't hard people.

http://edwardfeser.blogspot.com/2010/09/classical-theism.html

http://edwardfeser.blogspot.com/2010/10/god-man-and-classical-theism.html}}

Those are fine articles, but actually they demonstrate that classical theism is quite hard to nail. Otherwise, Professor Feser wouldn't have had to discuss in long detail (across two posts, and among hundreds of comments) how to nail it instead of arriving at something other than classical theism.

And frankly, in neither of those two articles does Prof. Feser grapple with the fact that most of the "classical theists" in his list would reject a very significant number of very significant details to orthodox trinitarian theism (while complaining that because the theism is trinitarian it voids divine simplicity). Including details we'll be appreciating again in a few weeks at Easter as we do every year.

More pertinently, despite acknowledging that he doesn't believe in an impersonal God (does he ever acknowledge he believes in a personal God...?), and that if trinitarian theism is true then God is not the Platonic Form of the Good (for reasons he never quite bothers to specify), Prof. F's tactic is to compare an atheistic critique of cruelty or unlovingness to claiming such things about the impersonal Platonic Form of the Good: something that doesn't act in virtue (or in viciousness) or even act at all. Which is the main reason why the Platonic Good cannot be considered virtuous.

If God is good, and if God is what God does, then God does what is good and so does in fact act virtuously. That this is not mere willful whimsy by God can only be true if God is essentially goodness; but apart from the doctrines of trinitarian theism such a goodness vanishes into practical inscrutability alien to the human mind (at best), so might as well not be called "Good" at all.

And Prof. Feser consistently refuses to meet ethical critiques of Christian theism on the grounds of trinitarian Christian theism per se. He doesn't do it in either of those two articles, and last year (around the time of my birthday) he continued not doing it in his dialogue with Stephen Law (in something of a followup to the two articles you linked to.)

I don't think this is unrelated to his insistence that "theistic personalism" must be exclusive to "classic theism".

Whereas the whole point to trinitarian theism (and to the Incarnation of the 2nd Person, in a somewhat different but still related way), compared to any other theism, is that the one single ultimate independently existent and divinely simple ground of all reality is essentially and intrinsically an active coherent personal relationship.

And not in some ultimately impersonal way of the sort that Greco-Roman philosophers were talking about when they wrote and talked of personas and hypostases; nor in some way that is completely inscrutable to human understanding (so that we might as well not call it 'personal' at all); nor in mere modes of God's operation relative to created reality and/or created persons (like Husband, King and Judge).

JRP

District Supt. Harvey Burnett said...

Dr, Reppert,

John conflated this issue and tred to make it seem that you affirmed something that you didn't.

I came here after having posted in the thread at debunking and now I see I was right o point the whole time.

He took a language issue and raised it to ta theological issue and thinks that we don't see it.

What's wrong...book sales slow? Need some attention since WL Craig is giving him none??? Or is it that you've simply exposed hos OTF for the complete waste of time that it is???

I think that may be the case.

Walter said...

http://maverickphilosopher.typepad.com/maverick_philosopher/2011/04/god-and-allah-same-god.html

Bill Vallicella did a post in April of last year on the subject of whether Christians and Muslims believe in the same God. His answer appeared to be "it's complicated." In one sense they do, in another sense they do not.

BenYachov said...

On what can be known about God via reason and philosophy Muslims, Jews and Christians have anywhere from 95% to 99% agreement on the nature of God.

(Some Muslims might be given to Divine Occasionalism).

On what can be known via Divine Revelation they are different since they have different Revelations.

Jason you make some interesting points which I will hopefully address at a later date.