Monday, October 01, 2012

Would a Limited God be Worthy of Worship?

An interesting question, posed in Kraemer's essay entitled Darwin's Doubts and the Problem of Animal Pain.

Although I am not a limited God defender, I would be inclined to say "Why not?"

49 comments:

ozero91 said...

Would the God of open theism be considered limited? I'm not an open theist, but I'd still say that this being is "Godly" enough to "worship."

The problem of animal pain is interesting though. Also, Alex Pruss, on his blog, attempts to use this as an argument against naturalism. Check out his post:

"An argument from evil against naturalism"

Cole said...

I don't see some people in A.A./N.A. worshipping their limited God. Rather they just walk in love with it. Anyway, I no longer follow a limited God. I found a solution to my problem that I was having. I don't have a problem with God creating the universe. All I really need to know in dealing with the problem of evil and suffering is that God had morally justifiable reasons for creating a world that now contains evil and suffering even if I don't know what those reasons are. I'm not all-knowing or infinite in wisdom and I can not see all of reality like He does. To say that God could have done it otherwise assumes that the physical laws are not based on any kind of mathematical necessity. But that's hardly the case since the physical laws are based on basic symmetries. Since the laws are based on mathematical necessity then God can't make basic symmetries to be false. For He is a God of truth as well. He cannot lie or go contrary to His own nature. It seems that God would have set up these physical laws for a universe to naturally emerge. His spiritual laws would likewise be in place for a spiritual universe to emerge as an extension of this process. As I said above, God can't make a lie a truth, so metaphysical necessity (e.g., truths of symmetry) don't do away with God's ability to make responsible choices either. He simply cannot go contrary to His own nature. As long as God can choose to meet His divine objectives within whatever constraints he must work within, then His will is not frozen. He is also omnipotent if we look at omnipotence in a narrow sense in that there is no external agency that can prevent him from achieving his goals. Omnipotence doesn't have to mean that God can do the logically impossible, broadly logically impossible, or go contrary to His own nature.

Cole said...

To read about these laws and symmetry go here:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Symmetry_%28physics%29#Conservation_laws_and_symmetry

Syllabus said...

"Would the God of open theism be considered limited? I'm not an open theist, but I'd still say that this being is "Godly" enough to "worship.""

I think the main misunderstanding with regards to the open view is that most of its critics think that the proponents think that God doesn't know everything, and specifically the future. In point of fact, they do think that God knows everything, they just think that there is less of "everything" for God to know than do classical theists. They're still wrong, I think, but at least one should not work with caricatures of their position.

BeingItself said...

Why would any god be worthy of worship?

unkleE said...

"Why would any god be worthy of worship?"

What do you mean by "worship" when you ask this question? An easy answer would be to say whatever Vic means, but that could make your question nonsensical. So I am interested to know before I try to give an answer. Thanks.

JB Chappell said...

Yes, I think the related question is more interesting (maybe more important): what makes any Being worthy of "worship"?

Syllabus said...

"Yes, I think the related question is more interesting (maybe more important): what makes any Being worthy of "worship"?"

I think a preliminary question to that one is something like, "What makes your father worthy of your respect?"

Walter said...

I've never been married but there once was this girl that I worshiped.

*It didn't work out for some reason. She couldn't understand why I was sacrificing animals to her. :)

Syllabus said...

"*It didn't work out for some reason. She couldn't understand why I was sacrificing animals to her. :)"

Well, it could have been worse. Imagine if she had been affiliated with PETA.

Walter said...

Imagine if she had been affiliated with PETA

You mean People who Eat Tasty Animals?

Syllabus said...

"You mean People who Eat Tasty Animals?"

Is that like the American Communist Lawyers Union? :D

B. Prokop said...

As to "worthy of praise", I was once a CCD (that's Catholic for "Sunday School") instructor, and when one student expressed some unease over all the praising in The Bible, I said that I'd get to the answer to that later. As the class continued, I slipped in a reference to an extremely popular pop group of the time (I believe it was N Sync), and before you know it half the class was falling over the other half in their desire to praise the group. I let it go on for a few minutes, and then held up my hand. "You see", I said, "Praise is the natural reaction to encountering good. Now if a rock band deserves the praise you just gave, how much more would an infinitely good God call for such."

Syllabus said...

I object to that on the principle that there is no rational way to affirm that N'Sync deserve anything approaching praise.

But I agree with the principle.

B. Prokop said...

It might have been Backstreet Boys. I can't really remember after all these years.

Doesn't really matter - there hasn't been any objectively good music since 1974... (Excuse me while I smack some whippersnapper with my cane.)

Mike Darus said...

Question: As I read Kraemer's essay, I suddenly became aware of his effortless transition from the problem of "pain" to the problem of "evil." Doesn't that slight of hand (pen?; type?) diminish his logic flow?

Syllabus said...

"there hasn't been any objectively good music since 1974"

Hey! Physical Graffiti came out in 1975.

B. Prokop said...

"There hasn't been any objectively good music since 1974."

See, now I know how to start a real fight on this website. Forget all that irrelevant stuff that nobody actually cares about like philosophy, blah, blah, blah... When you dis somebody's music, yer hittin' too close to home!

But actually, although there have of course been many isolated good songs and groups since '74, popular music as a whole has basically sucked after that date.

im-skeptical said...

I noted that Kraemer didn't discuss the view of Craig and others that animals don't really suffer. How common is that view?

Crude said...

I noted that Kraemer didn't discuss the view of Craig and others that animals don't really suffer. How common is that view?

Among scientists, you mean? I recall Dan Dennett doesn't think animals are even conscious.

Syllabus said...

"But actually, although there have of course been many isolated good songs and groups since '74, popular music as a whole has basically sucked after that date."

Ehhhhh... you may have a point.

Syllabus said...

"I noted that Kraemer didn't discuss the view of Craig and others that animals don't really suffer. How common is that view?"

I'm not sure that they can be said to "not suffer", but it's certainly a different and - arguably - less intense sort of suffering than that of humans. After all, much of our suffering involves being sentient.

JB Chappell said...

Syllabus, you had an interesting follow-up question to my own:

"What makes your father worthy of your respect?"

A fair and relevant question. Obviously, respect is something that we consider as earned. So, fathers are not always worthy of respect (despite the fact they may teach their kids otherwise). As for what can earns "respect", well, this changes from person to person - does it not? People do not all respect the same things.

So, in that sense, a limited God could easily be considered "worthy of worship" by at least some. But this is not how most understand the phrase now, which is that “worship” is something that is due only to God. Worship the wrong Deity, and you’ve made a serious blunder. This isn’t necessarily the case with praise/respect. Someone may respect Lebron James more so than Kobe Bryant, but we wouldn’t necessarily consider this an egregious error (OK, well , no doubt SOME would… but I hope my point is clear). So, there is something different about “worship” that belongs *only* to God. I confess that I’m not entirely clear as to what the difference is. Nevertheless, a “limited Being” can still be “God”, provided one’s definition don’t exclude it, so my answer to the OP would still be “why not?”

And, of course, history confirms the fact that people have worshipped limited beings (even if mythical) rather consistently. The reasons for this are varied, of course. Fear was a big one. Satiating deities was a big reason for "worship". But I would think that most would affirm that just because a being more powerful than myself demands respect/worship, does not mean that he/she/it is "worthy" of it. Hence my original question.

JB Chappell said...

B. Prokop attempts an answer at rooting it in God’s “goodness”. It seems to this suffers from a couple of problems. First, if we praise/worship God based on what we *perceive* as His merits, how then are we to handle what we may perceive as the opposite? No one would think ill of me if I criticized N’Sync or Backstreet Boys, despite the fact that I am no singer/performer myself. I simply despise their music. But many would think ill of me if I thought less of God for hating hunger, famine, and disease. In fact, I would be told I am obligated to worship Him anyway.

This leads to the 2nd problem, which is that I think this kind of example confuses “praise” with “worship”. I have always been told that praise is for what God does; worship is for what God is. Never found that entirely helpful, but there it is. In any case, this explains why – despite whatever “badness” seems to be going on – we are told to still worship God. Because, after all, who/what God *IS* has not changed.

The final problem is one that I have elaborated on previously, which is that if you want to say God is “Good” or “worthy of worship” based on some classical theistic concept of God, then one has to acknowledge that God’s “goodness” is not really analogous to how we understand it. It makes no sense to say that a Being is “worthy of worship” based on some concept that we do not understand, and which largely relies on arbitrary definitions in the first place.

Cole said...

JB,

From the simple fact that God is Holy He deserves our worship. I take holy not only to mean morally pure but set apart in all His attributes. So, while God is love it's a holy love. I wrote this awhile back maybe it will help. Maybe not:

Trusting God

No matter what I'm going through I can always rely on God's love. God brings beauty out of ashes. My faith is in Him even though I may not understand what He is doing at the time. God isn't displeased with me just because suffering falls on me. Rather, He is tenderly present in it carrying me through it. By opening myself up to God's love and compassion I can gain a deeper experience of His love in my life. By letting His love flow from me to others I double my joy in Him. It is this joy that carries me through the hard times. I don't believe that God directly causes the suffering in the world. He permits it (for morally justifiable reasons) even if I don't know what those reasons are. He sees all of reality (I do not) and He knows what is best in each circumstance even if I'm in the dark because of my finite and limited understanding of reality and His ways. God's sovereign will is His business alone. My job is to carry His mercy to the hurting. As I am motivated by God's love to trust in Him and love Him above all else, I will clean house and help others. God is not merely "good" in the sense of what we think of as good. No, He is Holy, Holy, Holy. He is seperate and distinct in all His attributes. He is morally pure. There are ways we are to be like God and ways we are not to be like God. To try and be like God in every way leads to pride and arrogance. He alone is God. There is no other. We can not be like God in every way.

JB Chappell said...

Cole, you wrote:

From the simple fact that God is Holy He deserves our worship. I take holy not only to mean morally pure but set apart in all His attributes.

“Set apart” how? To me, “set apart” doesn’t quite capture meaning of “holy”. Lepers were “set apart” from the population, but they weren’t “holy”. “Set apart” basically means “different”. That God is different than us does not seem to warrant “worship”. No, it seems to me that worship somehow implies “better”-ness, if that makes sense.

But even that is problematic. I acknowledge Lebron James superior athletic ability, and I am in awe over it at times. But I do not worship him. I acknowledge that N’Sync singers have more musical talent than I do, and yet I do not appreciate this fact. So, “better”-ness does not imply worship either.

Now, using B. Prokop’s example, we could resort to God’s perfect-ness. Does this warrant “worship”? No, because God did not ATTAIN this attribute. He could not have been otherwise. Lebron James did not attain a height of 6’9”; he really had no say in the matter. So it hardly seems like he deserves any kind of special treatment for it.

B. Prokop’s example actually highlights what people (nowadays) *really* seem to mean when they “worship” – which is that they LIKE the object of their worship… or perhaps “adore” would be a better word for it. But of course this is very subjective, and - again – underscores the problem with (most) theists understanding of worship: that it is for God only, regardless of whether you like Him or not.

Cole, you’ve clearly constructed a God which you really like. As such, you feel that God is now worthy of your “worship”. So I wonder if the necessary attribute for you to worship a deity is not that they be “set apart”, but that you like them.

Cole said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Cole said...

JB,

Here's a few ways we are not like God:


God is all-knowing - we are not

God is infinite in wisdom - we are not

God is all-powerful - we are not

God is sovereign over the universe - we are not

God is self-sufficient - we are not

God is necessary being - we are not


I am humbled in knowing there is a God and I'm not like Him in every way.


Worship to me means to love more than anything.

Syllabus said...

"Worship to me means to love more than anything."

That is actually an excellent answer. Kudos, Cole.

B. Prokop said...

... and praise is nothing more than giving expression to that love.

Syllabus said...

As to the actual question of what makes God worthy of worship, my short answer would be "the Cross".

JB Chappell said...

Cole,

I'd agree that we are different than God in those ways. I notice, however, that in most of them, we are simply "not as much" as God. We don't have as much power, knowledge, etc. God seems to be wholly different in His aseity (we are not in any way self-sufficient or necessary beings). So, would it be fair to say that Holiness implies different ("set apart") AND better?

JB Chappell said...

As for worship essentially being "love"...

I have no problem saying that love is a form of worship. However, there seems to be a pretty clear precedent set to worship God out of fear as well.

JB Chappell said...

Syllabus, I assume "the Cross" is sufficient, but not necessary, for the worthiness of worship. Otherwise, you are claiming God was not worthy to be worshipped until the Cross. So, what would be the necessary requirements (and could a limited Being fulfill them)?

Cole said...

JB,

There are many different forms and kinds of fear. Fear for those who worship God isn't an unhealthy type of fear. For all its usual destructiveness, I have found that fear can be the starting point for better things. Fear can be a stepping stone to prudence and to a decent respect for others. It can point to the path to justice. And the more I have of respect and justice, the more I will begin to find the love which can suffer much, and yet be freely given. So fear need not always be destructive, because the lessons of its consequences can lead me to positive values. Perfect love does cast out fear. But I think this is referring to an unhealthy type of fear.

Syllabus said...

"Syllabus, I assume "the Cross" is sufficient, but not necessary, for the worthiness of worship."

I think that's a bit of an overstatement. Though the Cross - and the Incarnation as a whole - is indeed the main reason why I worship the God that I do, it's only an expression of the unchanging nature of God. Speaking from within the Christian narrative, God has always been and always will be Love itself. In the Cross, however, the culmination of God's plan of redemption that was begun through Israel is seen in its purest form. Through Israel, God was bringing the world into renewed covenant with Him. Such a God I could worship, but the Cross expresses this desire in a much clearer form.

"Otherwise, you are claiming God was not worthy to be worshipped until the Cross."

"So, what would be the necessary requirements (and could a limited Being fulfill them)?"

Of worship as I worship the Holy Trinity? No, but perhaps worship of a different kind.

See, here's the thing: we owe, in a sense, every being a certain type of interaction by virtue of what they are and by virtue of what we are; I owe an animal a certain level or respect that involves not being cruel to them, I owe a child a certain level of respect because they are co-image bearers, I owe an adult a certain level of respect because they are my peers, I owe and angel a certain level of respect because they are the messengers of God, and so on. Now, in a certain sense this respect can be reneged - for instance, if my father abandoned my family when I was young, I would not owe him the same level of respect that I own my mother, but I would still owe him a level of respect fit for a peer - but I hold that, all other things being equal, certain beings require a certain interactual quality by virtue of what they are and what I am.

Now, could I worship, in the same sense that I worship the Christian God, a limited being - an archangel, say? No, certainly not. Could I revere this archangel, by virtue of what it is and what I am? Certainly. But worship - that is, giving the due recognition to the embodiment of Love - is not the due response. At least, not in the universe in which I hold that we inhabit. If there were no God in the sense that I mean - the embodiment of Love, etc. - then I don't know. Now, if there were an embodiment of Love that did not possess other quality - omnipotence, for instance - then I might be able to worship it. It would all depend upon what that limited being were like. Otherwise, I don't have enough date to go on.

Syllabus said...

"I have no problem saying that love is a form of worship. However, there seems to be a pretty clear precedent set to worship God out of fear as well."

There's fear and there's fear. For instance, there's the fear of intimidation, which is the kind of fear that, say, a dictator might command. There's also - I would argue - another type of fear which is more like what we might call awe - that is, appropriate response to something that is rooted more in the nature of the thing being feared rather than its actions. For instance, I might "fear" a pretty girl not because she's trying to intimidate me but because a part of her nature - her beauty - is something that awes me, in a sense

So while I think that "fear" of God in the sense of intimidation by God is an unhealthy reason to worship, I think that "fear" of God in the sense of awe of God can be a legitimate, but not ultimate, reason to worship.

BenYachov said...

Worship means to give honor due to excellence.

We would justly honor Stephen Hawking for his accomplishments in the area of Theoretical Physics.

Why would we not honor God for cause all of our reality to simply be vs not be?

It's that simple.

Then there are the FOUR CAUSES.

If God is the Final Cause of all things. The goal then why would we not honor that & strive to obtain it via our natural power & supernatural graces?

If it is in our nature to do this & we rebel against our nature why should we not justly suffer the consequences of going against nature?

What is the sense in a starving siting in front of a banquet refusing to eat & at the same time being angry at the food for failing to nourish him unless he condescends to actually eat it?

A limited "god" would be worthy of worship but unfortunately it would only be the unequivocal honor we might give to a Hawkings only more uber since creating a Universe is a bigger accomplishment.

But you couldn't give a limited "god" supreme honor or Latria since it wouldn't really be supreme.

Open Theistic "gods" along with their Theistic Personalist cousins are so tedious. Which is why I am a strong Atheist toward both.

Classic Theism rules! Why waste time on idols?

JB Chappell said...

Cole & Syllabus remarked on the fear element by drawing on the distinctions between different kinds of “fear”. That is fine; all I was pointing out is that worship is not just about love. Syllabus also mentioned awe, which is also distinct from love. But while we now may have hashed various motivations for worship, I fear that we still haven’t really worked out what worship is, or what makes a Being worthy of it.


Ben offers a fairly straightforward definition: “to give honor due to excellence”. This is close to how I understand worship. But it falls short. This was underscored by his question (paraphrased): if we would honor Hawking due to his accomplishments, why would we not do the same for God? Surely, we would not say that we *worship* Hawking (some may, granted)…? So, it would seem that bestowing honor isn’t necessarily the same thing as worship. He then makes the distinction between “supreme honor” and other levels of honor, but it would seem that even “supreme honor” can’t be equated with worship, because he says that a limited being would, in fact, be worthy of worship – just not of the “supreme” variety.


What is it about “worship”, or “giving honor”, that only God is worthy of it?


Back to why we might honor Hawking as opposed to God. Well, there are a number of reasons. First, Ben makes the point that creating a universe is a “bigger accomplishment” (presumably, when compared against Hawking’s accomplishments). Let me play Devil’s Advocate here for a moment. True, there can hardly be anything “larger” than creating the universe. But, now consider the handicap. What’s more impressive: Hawking accomplishing what he has done, considering his frailty, or God – being omnipotent & omniscient – creating the universe. Why would we congratulate God on something that we would assume should be effortless? Especially when (however mistaken we might be), it seems like he could have done it “better”?


Consider also the difference in nature. Assuming determinism is NOT true, Hawking could have ended up being a shell of himself, given up, and withered away. Instead he persevered. God’s nature is what it is, because He could not have been otherwise. Why is God deserving of honor for attributes He had no control over?

JB Chappell said...

Syllabus, your comment here intrigues me:
See, here's the thing: we owe, in a sense, every being a certain type of interaction by virtue of what they are and by virtue of what we are…
What creates this obligation? This has been something I’ve thought about a lot lately, and I admit that my thinking isn’t entirely clear on the matter. It seems to me that obligations do not exist in any metaphysical sense. It’s a psychological thing – so, for instance, flies do not have any obligations. So, it is best understood as a kind of duty to be fulfilled. And duties are assigned.
Ostensibly, God assigns these duties. So, the question is: what makes these assignments morally binding? I mean, just because God is more powerful than us would not seem to make His edicts morally binding. It might make us fear Him enough to do what He says, but that is a different motivation to obey.
Based on the nature of your response, I’d say that you’d ground this obligation in God being the embodiment of Love, or God’s omni-benevolence. But herein lies the quandary: the Cross does not prove that God is omni-benevolent, it proves that God is capable of Love. It seems too far a stretch to say that because someone committed the ultimate act of Love (“greater love hath no man…”), that they are ONLY capable of Love. Furthermore, as I pointed out earlier, what this basically means is that we would expect people before the Cross to worship God in a “lesser” way than what we do now. I’m not sure if this should be considered an indictment against us or the portrayal of the OT God, that we would have worshipped God “less” back then than what we do know. Perhaps that’s not the best way to phrase it, but I think you see what I mean.

JB Chappell said...

Ben Yachov, you wrote:

Then there are the FOUR CAUSES. If God is the Final Cause of all things. The goal then why would we not honor that & strive to obtain it via our natural power & supernatural graces?

I’m not sure what you mean here, perhaps you could elaborate?

But you couldn't give a limited "god" supreme honor or Latria since it wouldn't really be supreme.

Supreme compared to what? “Supreme” is a relative term. If there were no other beings as powerful as this “limited Being”, then it would still be “supreme”, no? Or is it only the Greatest Conceivable Being (GCB) that gets to have this honor? Anyway, it seems to me that the GCB has limitations once we apply logic (unless you follow Descartes here). So, really, any being is a limited Being, and we are talking degrees of limitation.

Open Theistic "gods" along with their Theistic Personalist cousins are so tedious. Which is why I am a strong Atheist toward both. Classic Theism rules! Why waste time on idols?

Because classical theism seems (!) incoherent. “Tedious” does not = false. Classical theists would at once tell us that God is the GCB, yet then remind us that He is not a Being – but “Being itself”. But in that case, we’ve just defined God out of existence. Which would seem to be fair play, since classical theists seem to have no problem defining God into existence. Classical theists also tell us that God has no parts, but then insist He has a will. They would insist that He is “good”, but not necessarily because He conforms to any notion that we have of that word. Is it so hard to understand why “reducing” God to an abstract, incomprehensible property is not preferable to many? It would seem that the GCB (or Being that has every perfection) is, in fact, quite the subjective notion.

Cole said...

JB,

Worship is what we value the most. It's done out of love with a healthy respect. We worship God because of His glory. The glory of God in this aspect is the revealed infinite worth and beauty of God's holiness.

JB Chappell said...

Cole, you defined (somewhat) "worship" as:

...what we value the most. It's done out of love with a healthy respect.

That's a good definition, I think. Nevertheless, there isn't anything in that description that would make me think that ONLY God could be a recipient of such a thing. Perhaps I'm making too much of this, but it just seems to me that "worship" is supposed to be something that is only offered to God.

We worship God because of His glory. The glory of God in this aspect is the revealed infinite worth and beauty of God's holiness.

Feel free to not answer this if it is too personal, Cole... but if worship is what you hold most dear - then how is that you worship? I assume you're not offering your firstborn...

Syllabus said...

"It seems to me that obligations do not exist in any metaphysical sense.

I think that would entirely depend upon one's conception of anthropology.

"It’s a psychological thing – so, for instance, flies do not have any obligations. So, it is best understood as a kind of duty to be fulfilled. And duties are assigned."

OK, I'll concede that, at least on the surface, that's a coherent view of a certain aspect of human obligations/duties/whatever. My follow-up question would be to ask what the reasons are that compel you to think a purely psychological account of interactional duties and/or obligations better than one which is more metaphysically oriented and grounded.

"Ostensibly, God assigns these duties."

To a point, I would agree with you. I think that human beings also assign something analogous to "duties", like the rules of polite interaction, for instance.

However, I think that there seems to be an assumption under-girding your train of thought: that if God assigns moral duties, that they are arbitrarily assigned, and thus not absolutely binding. While even then I might not agree, I would challenge that premise. I don't think God arbitrarily assigns duties to people for no reason whatsoever. If God commands x, and we have good reason to believe that a). God's nature is in some way unchangeable (which I think we have good reasons to believe) and that b) this nature is at the very least extremely good and loving and at most Goodness and Love itself (as I've indicated previously, I incline more towards the latter view), then we have good reasons to believe that if God were to assign interactional duties to us, they would be for our benefit.

"So, the question is: what makes these assignments morally binding?"

What precisely do you mean by binding? Compulsory? Unchanging?

"I mean, just because God is more
powerful than us would not seem to make His edicts morally binding."

I'm not entirely convinced this true. If God creates a certain type of universe, with certain sets of laws - logical and spiritual, so to speak - and these laws are in some way and in the original intent grounded in His/Her/Its (for the sake of argument, let's just assume a general theistic God) nature, then asking why certain moral or interactional duties are binding would be about equivalent to asking why the weak nuclear force is binding. Now, it's a poor analogy in some respects, since we as humans are in some way moral agents and sub-atomic particles are not, so far as we know. But I think that it illustrates the point I'm trying to make nicely.

"It might make us fear Him enough to do what He says, but that is a different motivation to obey."

Agreed, but I already said that fear of retribution is not what God is after, since it's inherently just self-love.

"Based on the nature of your response, I’d say that you’d ground this obligation in God being the embodiment of Love, or God’s omni-benevolence."

They aren't necessarily equivalent, and I dislike Omni-language. But more or less, yeah.

Syllabus said...

"But herein lies the quandary: the Cross does not prove that God is omni-benevolent, it proves that God is capable of Love."

Doesn't it? I wonder. Let's do a thought experiment. Suppose you're God (I know, but hold with me). You create a world in which humans have moral agency, which necessitates that they have the option for immorality (let's leave aside the whole compatibilism/libertarianism debate for a moment, since I assume you're making an internal criticism of my view). These humans, in some way, rebel against you, choosing to set themselves in opposition to you. Consequently, they make a hash of things, complete with rape, murder, war, cruelty, injustice, poverty and all the rest - all those things that are most repellent to your very nature (which I don't assume is Good t this point, as that would be begging the question; all I assume is that there are certain things that are fundamentally contrary to your nature, not that because of that they are intrinsically immoral). Consequently, you cannot have the relationship that you want to have with them. However, you don't abandon them to their fate, but embark upon a project through which they can be reconciled to you, in spite of their unmerited rebellion. After a long process, you prepare them to such a point where you can come down from heaven and interact directly with them, knowing full well that they will spurn, reject and ultimately torture you to death. You take on the thousand natural shocks that flesh heir to. You, the Creator, become the creature, in order to make the creature more like the creator. And, at the end, during that tortuous death, you take upon yourself all the suffering, all the sin, all the depravity of the human race. You experience every iota of it, and because it is absolutely opposed to your nature, you suffer in a mode that is infinitely worse than any pain suffered by the people who performed or suffered these deeds. You do all this, and as you die you forgive the people who are nailing you to the execution stake you die upon. And ALL of this is done for the purpose of relating to rebellious humanity as deeply and intimately as possible, because that is the purpose for which they were created.

Now, if that narrative is true - and as a Christian, I think that it is - am I justified in saying that God is good? That is, am I justified in thinking that whatever else is true about God, He does desire what He truly thinks is good for me?

Syllabus said...

"It seems too far a stretch to say that because someone committed the ultimate act of Love (“greater love hath no man…”), that they are ONLY capable of Love."

Your quotation of 1 John notwithstanding, I think that what the Cross and Incarnation prove is that God is trustworthy and worthy of our love. My reasons for thinking that God's essential nature is both loving and good depend upon both special and general revelation, in that order.

"Furthermore, as I pointed out earlier, what this basically means is that we would expect people before the Cross to worship God in a “lesser” way than what we do now."

I'm not sure that follows. It only follows that God's nature was not exhaustively disclosed, not that it was not accurately disclosed. For instance, if I refer to the set of all positive numbers between 1 and 100, I have accurately disclosed the contents of that set. However, unless I actually enumerate all the numbers in that set, I have not exhaustively described it. I think that the life of Christ is the exhaustive, final and clearest revelation of God's nature, but not that it revealed things that were to that point unknown. There's also a distinction to be made between different kinds of knowing. One can "know" the answer to the riddle, and one can "know" one's spouse. God's revelation before Christ was more similar to the former, and the life and death of Christ was more like the latter. So I think that it's an ambiguous term.

"I’m not sure if this should be considered an indictment against us or the portrayal of the OT God, that we would have worshipped God “less” back then than what we do know."

I think that if you frame it subjectively rather than objectively, like you did, you might be more accurate. Besides, even saying what I have said before, I do believe in progressive revelation. You have to start somewhere, so to speak.

"Perhaps that’s not the best way to phrase it, but I think you see what I mean."

More or less.

Syllabus said...

"What creates this obligation? This has been something I’ve thought about a lot lately, and I admit that my thinking isn’t entirely clear on the matter. It seems to me that obligations do not exist in any metaphysical sense. It’s a psychological thing – so, for instance, flies do not have any obligations. So, it is best understood as a kind of duty to be fulfilled. And duties are assigned."

Here's a bit more on this: do you think that there is a certain way that you should treat your peers simply by default, divorced from any wrong or right-doing? Why or why not? I can answer the same question in detail, if you like.

JB Chappell said...

Syllabus, thanks for the sustained engagement on this. You wrote:

My follow-up question would be to ask what the reasons are that compel you to think a purely psychological account of interactional duties and/or obligations better than one which is more metaphysically oriented and grounded.

I simply don't know of any coherent way to view obligations as existing as some sort of metaphysically-independent entities. Obligations, as I understand them, seem to imply an understanding. We do not treat those who are ignorant (either because of some defect of their own or circumstance) as obligated to act in the same way as others. Furthermore, there is an element of consent. I am not obligated to do what others tell me, unless in some way I have consented to their authority. And even then, there are situations where this consent can be revoked - such as when an authority figure tries to compel someone to do something morally repugnant.

...do you think that there is a certain way that you should treat your peers simply by default, divorced from any wrong or right-doing? Why or why not? I can answer the same question in detail, if you like.

I guess I'm not entirely clear on what you mean by "default" here. I would generally say that there are no default "should"s, these rely entirely on conditions. Most people accept that morality os conditional, even if it is objective.

However, I think that there seems to be an assumption under-girding your train of thought: that if God assigns moral duties, that they are arbitrarily assigned, and thus not absolutely binding.

No, I do not think God is arbitrary. I would expect that if there are duties He assigns, then there are reasons for them. However, most Christians seem to think that because God is Goodness/Love itself, that therefore we are *obligated* to follow these duties. I am offering a few objections to this line of thinking. First, I would object that we even know what these duties are. But that is a discussion for a different day. Next, I am saying that EVEN IF God is "good", if this "goodness" is in the classical theist sense, then there is no way for us to understand this goodness, or compare it to how we understand the term. So God is not "good" in any comprehensible way - so why call Him "good" at all? This is important if we're to rely on God's goodness as a means of justifying following His commands, even if they seem repugnant (like slaughtering the Canaanites, offering your firstborn, etc.).

I don't think God arbitrarily assigns duties to people for no reason whatsoever .... we have good reasons to believe that if God were to assign interactional duties to us, they would be for our benefit.

This would lead to another objection of mine. Even if we eschew (for the moment) this philosophical sense of "good" and rely more on observation/induction ("I believe God is good, based on good things that He's done"), this - to me - is not sufficient justification for relying on God as an faultless moral lawgiver. After all, if we're to be objective, observation has to be able to work both ways. We can certainly observe ways in which God seems "good" - even awesomely "good", no question. Yet, there are deeply unsettling things that God seems to allow - or even cause - that seem to serve no good purpose. Now, of course, there can always be reasons for these things. But, there's no reason to think that there's ALWAYS morally acceptable reasons for these unless we're assuming God is perfectly good, and that brings us back to the objection against the classical theists' conception of God's "goodness".

JB Chappell said...

What precisely do you mean by binding?

Compulsory: establishing an obligation.

If God creates a certain type of universe, with certain sets of laws - logical and spiritual, so to speak - and these laws are in some way and in the original intent grounded in His/Her/Its nature, then asking why certain moral or interactional duties are binding would be about equivalent to asking why the weak nuclear force is binding.

First, that's a big "if". How could we ever know such a thing?

Furthermore, if God's nature is (as the classical theist would have it) of the same essence and unchanging, then there would seem to be only one possible universe to create. That doesn't seem right, although I admit I can't necessarily prove it wrong (yet). It does eliminate the "best possible world" type of theodicy. You are correct, however, in that if God creates a universe based "on his nature", there's no use questioning why the law of gravity is "binding" any more than why the Golden Rule is "binding". But here I think it is clear that it's a different sense of "binding" than how I had intended.

The law of gravity is "binding" in the sense that it is inviolable. And although it's effect are always there, I can still subvert it with the proper propulsion - and it might even be "good" to do so. Not so with the Golden Rule. I can violate it, but I'm not supposed to. It's a "rule" in a totally different sense. And, as you pointed out, atoms & molecules aren't moral agents (as far as we know), but we are. These are important differences. These differences are why, although asking why the scientific and moral laws are binding might lead us to the same conclusion: because God made them that way (according to His nature), it does not illuminate why we would be *obligated* to abide by God's moral rules.

Now, if [the salvific] narrative is true - and as a Christian, I think that it is - am I justified in saying that God is good? That is, am I justified in thinking that whatever else is true about God, He does desire what He truly thinks is good for me?

Any Christian is justified in thinking this, if we are allowing the host of other assumptions built into the Gospel. Unfortunately, one of those assumptions is that God is, well, "Good". Once one drops that assumption, however, one can easily be justified in thinking only that God is willing to make a sacrifice to get what He wants. That isn't necessarily "Good". And that's ignoring all the holes in the plot, of which there are many.

My reasons for thinking that God's essential nature is both loving and good depend upon both special and general revelation, in that order.

No offense, but I doubt that there is anything in general revelation that could lead anyone to the conclusion that God is loving and good, at least not in any sense that we understand those terms. But I would be interested to hear how you've worked that out.

I think that the life of Christ is the exhaustive, final and clearest revelation of God's nature, but not that it revealed things that were to that point unknown.

You seem to be conceding that the understanding of God was different in OT times. That undermines your point that unknown things were not revealed later on.

Like it or not, this differential undermines the idea that God desires a specific kind of relationship with us - at least in this life. Now, again, one can say that a "good" God has His reasons for unfolding history the way He does, but that is working the goodness of God back into the assumptions. It's not a conclusion of the story if you have to work it in as an assumption.

Keep in mind, I'm not saying that there isn't coherent way to believe that God is "good" and allow things to happen the way they do. I'm saying that it's difficult - if not impossible - to demonstrate God's perfect Goodness.