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Ask a Theologian II

Discussion in 'Off-Topic' started by Plotinus, May 9, 2008.

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  1. warpus

    warpus In pork I trust

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    Plotinus, I just re-read my post from the 17th and I'd like to apologize for the tone I used and thank you for your answer.
     
  2. Plotinus

    Plotinus Philosopher Administrator

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    Don't worry about it. The similarities between theology and fanboi "canon" offer a whole career's worth of research to somebody. Not me though, I hope.
     
  3. Agent327

    Agent327 Observer

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    I think you can do better than that.
     
  4. Agent327

    Agent327 Observer

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    1. Substance exists and cannot be dependent on anything else for its existence.
    2. No two substances can share the same nature or attribute.

    Proof: Two distinct substances can be differentiated either by some difference in their natures or by some difference in one of their alterable states of being. If they have different natures, then the original proposition is granted and the proof is complete. If, however, they are distinguished only by their states of being, then, considering the substances in themselves, there is no difference between the substances and they are identical. "That is, there cannot be several such substances but only one."[7]

    3. A substance can only be caused by something similar to itself (something that shares its attribute).
    4. Substance cannot be caused.

    Proof: Something can only be caused by something which is similar to itself, in other words something that shares its attribute. But according to premise 2, no two substances can share an attribute. Therefore substance cannot be caused.

    5. Substance is infinite.

    Proof: If substance were not infinite, it would be finite and limited by something. But to be limited by something is to be dependent on it. However, substance cannot be dependent on anything else (premise 1), therefore substance is infinite.

    Conclusion: There can only be one substance.

    Proof: If there were two infinite substances, they would limit each other. But this would act as a restraint, and they would be dependent on each other. But they cannot be dependent on each other (premise 1), therefore there cannot be two substances.


    (Spinoza's argument for the single substance)

    Spinoza contends that "Deus sive Natura" ("God or Nature") is a being of infinitely many attributes, of which thought and extension are two.

    Spinoza viewed God and Nature as two names for the same reality, namely the single substance (meaning "that which stands beneath" rather than "matter") that is the basis of the universe and of which all lesser "entities" are actually modes or modifications, that all things are determined by Nature to exist and cause effects, and that the complex chain of cause and effect is only understood in part. That humans presume themselves to have free will, he argues, is a result of their awareness of appetites while being unable to understand the reasons why they want and act as they do.


    (Quoted from Wikipedia entry Spinoza. I've rearranged the text excerpts, so that Spinoza's own text precedes the explanation, i.e. interpretation.)

    I think Spinoza gives a marvellous definition of what God constitutes of, something which traditional theology, be it Jewish or Christian, simply has omitted to do, taking it as self-evident or, perhaps, taboo. From a logical viewpoint his argument is sheer beauty, while perfectly conforming itself to the established or traditional form of presenting an argument.

    And isn't it more natural seeing God in every being, like a humming bird or a stone, than perceiving Him as a bearded man residing in the clouds? The latter more resembles a child's tale, like Santaclaus or Father Christmas, before the coming of age. (And I realize I am already departing from Spinoza's idea - which I would suggest started off as merely a notion-, but use it as an illustration of its implications. And ofcourse the history of philosphy categorizes it as pan[en]theism, reducing the idea to a doctrine - I'm sure Spinoza would not approve...)

    Also, you've turned it around: not everything subsists in Him, but He subsists in everything. (Again, sheer beauty, that thought!)

    I'll elaborate some more later perhaps, because there are ofcourse severe consequences of such a viewpoint, which might - besides the obvious taboo - help explain the ban imposed by Jewish religious authority in Amsterdam at the time and which never has been revoked since.
     
  5. Plotinus

    Plotinus Philosopher Administrator

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    I'm not sure where Wikipedia got these quotes, because they are not found in Spinoza's Ethics. I think it's supposed to be a summary of the argument rather than a series of quotes. You can find a more reliable outline of the argument at the Stanford Encyclopedia.

    The argument may be beautiful, but it is full of holes, which is one reason why you won't find many Spinozists. Not many people have been convinced by it. For example, consider the first part of the argument you cite above. Spinoza's actual words are these:

    Now this may look impressive but it clearly turns upon a massive ambiguity upon "distinguished". The first proposition proves that two substances must be "distinguished" from each other - that is, be qualitatively different - on the basis of their attributes or modifications. This seems reasonable, given the axioms and definitions (which I haven't quoted). The second proposition then says that if two substances have the same attributes and modifications, they cannot be distinguished. This does follow, if by being "distinguished" you mean that they are qualitatively different. But it does not follow, if by being "distinguished" you mean being quantatively different. But Spinoza moves from the one meaning to the other, and concludes that you can't have two substances that are numerically different but exactly similar to each other. He's not entitled to conclude that. And in fact the thesis of the Identity of Indiscernibles (which is what this is) continues to be controversial today, with (I think) most philosophers rejecting it. Leibniz had a better argument for it, but even that hasn't convinced many people.

    Spinoza's proof that one substance can't cause another is also suspect, I think, although for different reasons. It depends upon his Axiom IV, which states that "The knowledge of an effect depends on the knowledge of the cause, and involves it." On the basis of this axiom, Spinoza proves Prop. III, "Of two things having nothing in common between them, one cannot be the cause of the other." Combine that with his argument that no two substances have anything in common, and you end up with Prop. VI, "One substance cannot be produced by another." Now the argument seems valid. But it depends upon dubious premises. One of them is the Prop. V which, as I argued above, itself depends upon a fatal ambiguity. Another is this Axiom IV. Spinoza doesn't present any argument for it (it is an axiom, after all), but it seems completely false. I can know an effect without knowing its cause. I can hear thunder, for example, without knowing what causes thunder; indeed, I can hear it without even knowing that it has a cause. I can know a person without knowing their parents. So this argument, too, seems very dubious.

    This shows one of the weaknesses of Spinoza's method: his argument is cumulative, with each proposition building upon the previous ones. But this means that if you think that one of his arguments is weak, the whole thing falls apart, because that undermines the later ones. Thus, the propositions I've already looked at form the basis for the subsequent arguments that there is only one substance, that it necessarily exists, and that it is infinite. But because the earlier arguments seem at best contentious, the later claims remain unproven. This is one reason why so few philosophers have presented their ideas in the way that Spinoza did.

    You surely know perfectly well that these are hardly the only two options, and that the caricature of classical theism that you present is not what classical theists believe. I don't see why either of these views should be considered "natural" at all. On the contrary, it seems to me to be quite perverse to think that mindless rocks and things are divine in any meaningful sense of the word. But I try not to believe things simply because it seems natural to believe them.

    I think Spinoza was a great philosopher and there is much of value in the Ethics. But I don't think that his arguments work. It may, perhaps, be true that there is a divine substance in which the perceptible world inheres, just as the colour of a rock inheres in the rock, but if it is, then in my opinion Spinoza didn't give us any good reason to suppose it to be the case.
     
  6. Maimonides

    Maimonides Chieftain

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    It's been years since I studied Spinoza & I don't remember noticing this then, but reading your posts, it occurs to me that Spinoza's ideas concerning the nature of G-d seem to be entirely lifted from the Zohar & Kabbalah. It simply looks like Spinoza is trying to prove the assertions of the Zohar.

    According to the Zohar, the "light of G-d" resides in everything & ,though not all Jews ascribe to Kabbalah, this is the Jewish view rather than "perceiving Him as a bearded man residing in the clouds." Spinoza certainly would have been familiar with the Zohar.

    I never made the connection before, but it seems obvious now.

    For those not in the know, the Zohar is a compilation of Jewish writings that was 1st published in 13th century Spain. The traditional view is that it originated in Aramaic at Safed in Palestine in the 2nd century, but that is uncertain. The Zohar gave rise to Kabbalah which is a form of Jewish mysticism. It's very complicated, but, essentially, the idea is that the "light of G-d" resides in everything & Kabbalists seek ways to draw out this "light" to better understand G-d's nature, to become closer to G-d & to help the world be a better place. In today's age of reason & science, Kabbalah is often thought of as on the same level as alchemy & sorcery, but it was a big deal in centuries past.

    (It has almost nothing to do with the Kabbalah congregation in Los Angeles made famous by celebrities like Madonna.)

    There's really no need to revoke his banishment fron the Dutch Jewish community. He's been dead a loooong time.:)

    We really don't know exactly why he was banished, but it's most likely because of his view that G-d has no personality & is pretty much just another name for the universe. That's as close to atheism as one could get at the time without being burned at the stake. Changing his name from Baruch to Benedict doesn't win him many Jewish fans, either...

    He certainly wasn't banned because he saw G-d residing in everything. That's a basic Jewish tenet.

    Technical philosophical arguments aside, I've always thought that he was basically too Jewish for Christianity & too atheist for Judaism.

    It comes down to a matter of belief. One has to believe in the existence of G-d before one can consider where He resides. I don't think it's possible to prove G-d's existence as many people like St. Augustine & Decartes tried to do & I couldn't & wouldn't try to do it myself.

    I agree with JEELEN in that I like the notion of G-d residing in every speck of matter, but I didn't get it from Spinoza. I got it from the Zohar, where Spinoza must have gotten it from.

    (P.S. Check out your Africa scenario thread. There's a bug that needs fixin'. :))
     
  7. UNpatriot

    UNpatriot Chieftain

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    This is not exactly material of this thread but I don't know where it should go:

    Warning! Spoiler contains material which, although intended purely neutral speculation, may be considered offensive by some people. Read it at your own risk. Also, others than the theologian(s), please don't begin any kind of discussion on "LOL FOOL", if you don't have an answer where the Christian God would send that person. No, that person is not real. He/she is just an imaginary image of my mind. No, I didn't say that. I didn't mean that. I didn't want to start that. Take that stuff elsewhere...
    Spoiler :
    What about a "Jesus Antichrist" character? I thought about a dilemma of divine proportions:

    A person works all his/her life to help other people.
    He/she works with any religion when they help people, and against them when they don't.
    When there are two equal choices, he/she chooses the one which opposes religion more.
    He/she believes in God as strongly as any "true believer", but considers that God is not good nor truly caring about people, but just God's own games.

    That person is ready, and not only ready, but willing to go to hell, as a protest to show that one who does everything to help others can still be considered complete scum. It would prove that God doesn't care about undeniable statistically positive effect in the world. If that person goes to heaven, it'd prove that faith is not at all needed for salvation.


    Where will God send that person? To hell, proving his/her bitterness true and justified? To heaven, showing that a dystheistic misotheist can get salvation?
     
  8. Plotinus

    Plotinus Philosopher Administrator

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    Ah well, Spinoza certainly thought that God's existence could be proven. In fact he used a version of Descartes' ontological proof to do it, which was probably a bad move because I think fewer people have been persuaded by that proof than by any other purported proof for God's existence.

    Spinoza got into a lot of trouble not only for his views on God but also for his views on the Bible. He effectively anticipated humanist biblical scholarship by a couple of centuries, arguing that the biblical texts should be read in just the same way as any other ancient texts. That wasn't a very popular idea among either Jews or Christians at the time, either. However, the main reason why Spinoza was very unpopular (to put it lightly!) was his views of God: partly the claim that God is not distinct from the universe (ie, atheism, as far as most other people concerned), and partly the claim that everything that happens, including the actions of God, happen by brute necessity. Spinoza thought that he could still defend the notion of free will even within that rigidly determinist system, but he didn't convince many people of that either. So "Spinozism" became a scary word for the next century, much like "Socinianism", and for much the same reasons.

    Your comments about the Kabbalah are very interesting. You are right that there is much linking Spinoza to the Kabbalah. Leibniz, too, was a kabbalist (in fact he got the notion of "monads" from the Kabbalah). It would be interesting to investigate that further - I don't know if anyone has already done so - they probably have!
     
  9. Plotinus

    Plotinus Philosopher Administrator

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    As usual, different Christians will tell you different things. Some would say that a person who dedicates their life to doing good is following God, whether they acknowledge it or not, and such a person would be saved. In fact some would say that faith in God simply is exactly the same thing as doing what is right and has nothing to do with intellectual assent to the proposition "God exists" at all. Other Christians would say that such a person has consciously rejected God, and therefore will not be saved, because salvation has got nothing to do with whether you do "good" or not. You might as well expect God to save people on the basis of their hair colour. Some Christians would go so far as to say that any action done in such a spirit would be a bad action, even though it might have good consequences, and that the hypothetical moral theist therefore is not a good person as long as his moral actions are not inspired by the love of God. And still other Christians would say that everyone is saved irrespective of their faith or actions, so this person will be saved, but not because of his actions. And there are, of course, some Christians who don't believe in "salvation" at all and who will say that not only is the question meaningless but that the hypothetical moral God-hating theist is deluded if he thinks he will prove anything to anyone, because once he's dead, that's it. I don't think there are many of them though.

    Remember, too, that in orthodox Christianity "heaven" and "hell" are temporary stopping points on the way to one's eternal destiny anyway, so asking which one God will "send" someone to is a bit of a red herring.
     
  10. Eran of Arcadia

    Eran of Arcadia Stormin' Mormon Retired Moderator

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    @UNPatriot: God will not send the person anywhere at all; if he is insistent on going to Hell, he will be allowed to do exactly that. But it will be his choice.
     
  11. UNpatriot

    UNpatriot Chieftain

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    What would you guess the most typical answer would be?
     
  12. Elrohir

    Elrohir RELATIONAL VALORIZATION

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    For it to be Ppantheism, you have to believe that God is all that exists, or the universe/nature is God, right? And Panentheism is the belief that the universe exists as part of God, but God is greater than the physical universe, correct?

    What if you believe that the universe was created inside God in some fashion, but, not being of the substance of God. Would that be Pantheistic or Panentheistic? (Whether it remains so is a separate question. For now, at least, I'm talking about the creation) Maybe that question doesn't make much sense, or has already been rejected, I dunno - it's just something that I started thinking about, when I started thinking about causality.
     
  13. Plotinus

    Plotinus Philosopher Administrator

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    That would depend on when and where you are and who you're talking to, but I should think that something like Eran's answer would be more common than the others. Whether it would be more common than the others put together, I don't know.

    Something like that, but these terms are used in very varied ways. I've seen "pantheism" defined in a way that sounds just like panentheism.

    I'm not sure that that even makes sense, at least if you think of God as incorporeal. It sounds like you're imagining a sort of doughnut-shaped God, creating the universe in the hole in his centre. Which doesn't sound enormously plausible, at least to me!
     
  14. Elrohir

    Elrohir RELATIONAL VALORIZATION

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    Maybe it'll make more sense if I explain what I was thinking about when I started on this line of thought. (Or maybe it won't - I don't claim to have thought this through completely ;) )

    I was thinking about the creation of the universe: how can it be that there once was just God, and then there was God as well as the universe? That's a sequence of events, a change - which implies time of some sort. There was God, then there was the beginning of the universe. It seems to me, then, that there has to be temporality of some sort, outside of what exists in our own universe. A sort of universal-universal time, if you will, that contained both God and the universe which He created. But that seems kind of nonsensical - God is infinite, right? What is there that could contain him?

    The only thing I could think of would be Himself. The only way that God could exist wholly inside of something, is if that something is Himself, because only the infinite can contain the infinite. If God exists inside of time, then, it is time of His own nature, not of an outside force or universe.

    Am I making any sense at all? ;) I always seem to have more trouble communicating new ideas than finding them, and I'm perfectly willing to grant that the above may be utter nonsense. If you think so, and you see why, could you explain why you think so? Or if it's too strange for you to even really discuss, just say so. ;)
     
  15. Agent327

    Agent327 Observer

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    I don't know if I agree with your claim that Spinoza "certainly thought that God's existence could be proven". The fact that he used a Cartesian method to produce a God-proof merely exhibits his ability to use such a method in an argumentation. In fact all that he did, as I stated, is give a description of God following from certain premises.

    I also doubt the number of "holes" in Spinoza's argumentation; if you want to shoot holes in that, you should take into account the definitions that precede his argumentation. Returning to the previous paragraph: if you don't agree with Spinoza's definitions, there's basically no God-proof at all.

    What Spinoza did do was to show it isn't difficult to elaborate a God-proof, but - and here's the crux - I don't think that's the essence of what he was trying to do, merely a scholastic byproduct. The essence being the notion that God subsists in everything. Now Spinoza concludes that (following his own premises) God equals nature. I do not agree with that, because I'm not interested in his premises, nor most of his argumentation (as far as it's supposed to be a God-proof, which I consider to be a typical medieval idea, which basically misses the whole point of faith - even apart from the fact that a God-proof is an absurdity almost by definition).

    Nor do I think the question of freedom of the will (of God or man) a very relevant one. (In Spinoza's theory this becomes a problem because of his equalization of God and nature, "Deus sive Natura".) I really don't know why it is so important if God or man has a free will or not, but following Spinoza's example this does present a theoretically interesting problem: God's omnipotence vs the free will - which basically revolves around the question of God's goodness. But even here there are already two premises:
    1) God is good
    2) God is almighty
    both of which are ofcourse human-induced assumptions without any substance in reality - except what people (like to) believe.

    In fact, I think theorizing about faith or arguing for or against the existence of God is in essence futile. Everyone is free to believe what he or she wants and no theorizing or doctrine of any kind can alter this basic fact.

    BTW, I 'll check those Spinoza quotes (shouldn't be too hard, as I have the original and a German and Dutch translation) and if necessary correct them in the Wiki article.

    Ending on a personal note: is there any philosopher that actually moved you?
     
  16. Fifty

    Fifty !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

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    Its a shame I can't find the paper and notes I wrote last year for Spinoza's ethics in which we thoroughly dismantled his argument for the existence of God, paying special focus on (iirc) Proposition 14. :( I would have reposted some of the stuff here for you to consider, JEELEN.

    It turned out that Spinoza's original proof was beyond all hope. We made a reconstructed proof that was Spinozistic in spirit, but even that failed.
     
  17. Agent327

    Agent327 Observer

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    Yes, well, as I said, I don't hold Spinoza's 'attempt at God-proof' to be an essential part of his thoughts. (To me it seems more like a scholastic residue; it's hardly an original idea.) Despite all of this, spinozism isn't dead either (unless as a school of philosophy, which I doubt would interest him): in the Netherlands there is an active Spinoza society, dedicated to him and his works (and ofcourse a Spinoza House). Apart from that, to me personally it was a pleasure just to read Spinoza.

    What struck me in Spinoza is the idea of God subsisting in everything. What interests me in Spinoza then, basically, is his attempt at establishing a true monotheism, monotheism to my mind originating with Akhenaten's assertion as (being) the sole true god in all of Egypt, an idea therafter taken up by Mozaic Judaism (I don't consider the fact that, at Jesus' time, there were different strands of Judaist religious beliefs as contradictory with the use of the term Judaism; this would be equal to stating that today there is no Christianity, merely because there is no unified Christian doctrine, but merely Catholic, Orthodox, protestant etc. churches), Christianity (a distinct feature of Christianity being the active preaching and conversion amongst gentiles, as instigated by Saul/Paul), Islam (with its taboo on depicting living creatures) and, in the same vein, iconoclastic movements in early Christianity, finally culminating in the Reformation. To me the common denominator in these in detail quite different religious approaches is the belief in a sole divine being, with the rejection of paganistic residues like idol worship (or a Holy Trinity). The basic problem with all these attempts at establishing a true monotheism is the profound human desire (or mental need) for images in the first place, explaining such, in essence, depictions as God residing somewhere in the clouds (most prominently visible in Michelangelo's creation of Adam - another mythical image - in the Sistine Chapel's dome).

    To me personally the use of the image of Jesus on the cross is profoundly barbaric - in all of the meanings of the word. (Similarly I found The Passion of the Christ both extremely realistic and vulgar in the extreme - and the endorsement of this picture by the Catholic church as propaganda of the faith an abomination.)

    Anyway, next time I intend to discuss another philosopher - unless Plotinus has an interesting answer to the question I asked on conclusion of my previous post.
     
  18. Fifty

    Fifty !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

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    Did any major theologians write about phronesis in the context of Christianity? Or even outside the context of Christianity? If so, which ones and where?

    Thanks!
     
  19. Smellincoffee

    Smellincoffee Trekkie At Large

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    Hi, Plotinus:

    Have you ever written about Stoicism's influence on Christianity?
     
  20. Agent327

    Agent327 Observer

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    Which philosopher wrote:

    Human conceptions are childrens' toys.
     
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