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Ask a Theologian II

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

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  1. Perfection

    Perfection The Great Head.

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    Were there ever any high-profile sexy female theologians?
     
  2. Plotinus

    Plotinus Philosopher Administrator

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    There have never been any sexy theologians of any gender, with the possible exception of Peter Abelard.
     
  3. Perfection

    Perfection The Great Head.

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    I can think of one more exception. ;)
     
  4. frog3

    frog3 Chieftain

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    Why did God make this thing?

     
  5. Bill3000

    Bill3000 OOOH NOOOOOOO! Supporter

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    Because God is a fan of Earthbound.
     
  6. Agent327

    Agent327 Observer

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    Why do you assume God made it?

    @Plotinus: You give a very lengthy response, which seems either intent on not wanting to understand my point (which I'll ignore) or trying to prove my point is absurd (which you fail to do). I'll elaborate.

    The fact that numerous attempts at God-proof have been made does not prove that these are not by definition absurd. If there actually had been a valid God-proof, wouldn't the assembled churches have published it a long time ago? I assert (again) that no such proof exists, nor can it exist.

    The comparison between God and, let's say, dark matter is by definition flawd, because there is a widely accepted definition, i.e. there may be different hypotheses about dark matter, but they start out from one premise. Regarding God-proofs, this is not the case. As you point out, every God-prover just selects his own definition, then proves it to be right. Does this prove that God exists? It most certainly does not. This aside, anyone can give a God-proof. Here's one:

    I have experienced God. Ergo, God exists.

    Now, I'm sure you'll be able to tell me why this is not a valid God-proof. (Philosophically, logically or otherwise.)

    But in the end, it's simply beyond me why anyone should want to prove that God exists. (To me it seems just as absurd as trying to prove God does not exist. Both of these seem to me to be but mental exercises - and nothing more than that.)

    A final comparison then. It's generally assumed God is benevolent. (I have no idea why, because if God exists, we have no idea about his attributes other than from speculation.) However, the assertion that God is evil is actually equally valid. (A matter of interpretation, so to speak.)
     
  7. Plotinus

    Plotinus Philosopher Administrator

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    I didn't say that there existed valid proofs or disproofs of God's existence. Even if no valid proof exists, that does not, in itself, prove that no such proof can exist. You seem to be claiming not simply that there exists no such proof but that such proofs are impossible. But I don't see any reason to suppose that. You haven't given one; all you've done is insist that God has some kind of feature that makes it impossible to prove or disprove him, but you haven't specified what that feature is other than claim that God is the object of faith, not science, whereas other things are the object of science, not faith. But that is not an explanation, it's just a restatement of the original claim.

    The "proof" of God that you give may be valid or invalid. (It can certainly be made valid by adding the premise "Whatever I experience, exists.") But I don't see why this derives from the fact that it's about God. For example, "I have experienced dark matter. Ergo, dark matter exists" would be just as valid or invalid. In fact, "I have experienced X. Ergo, X exists" would be equally valid or invalid for any X. Whether X stands for God or not seems to me to be neither here nor there.

    I still don't see what the "definition" point really shows. I think you're making too much of the variant understandings of God that there are or that there have been. After all, I think most theists agree that God is the greatest entity that could possibly exist. So that seems to me to be perfectly analogous to your point that everyone agrees on some basic definition of "dark matter". And "classical" theists agree that God is an omnipotent, omniscient, and morally perfect being who created the universe. When arguing about whether God exists or not it is usual to accept that this is what "God" refers to. I really don't see what's problematic about that. Perhaps there is no God answering to that description; perhaps, furthermore, there is some God-like entity that really exists but which does not quite fit that description (say, he is omnipotent and omniscient, but not morally perfect). Well, what does that have to do with anything? We can still argue about whether any being that matches the description of classical theism exists or not. And if someone wants to argue about whether a being who is omnipotent and omniscient but not morally perfect exists, we can do that too.

    As for benevolence, I'm not sure why you're so critical of "speculation". There are, for example, arguments which aim to show that if God exists then he must be morally perfect. For example, if by "God" we mean an omniscient entity, then any such entity must have perfect understanding of what is good. On a Platonic understanding of ethical motivation, anyone who understands perfectly what is good will do what is good, because no-one genuinely wants what is bad. Those who do bad things do not really understand that they are bad. But an omniscient being could never be misled in such a way; therefore, an omniscient being must be perfectly good.

    Of course an argument like that depends on many premises which are open to contention. It assumes an internalist understanding of ethical motivation which is controversial. But it's not merely idle speculation.

    Finally, I'm not sure what you mean when you say that the assertion that God is benevolent and the assertion that he is evil are "equally valid". Validity is not a property of assertions - it is a property of arguments. If you mean that they are equally reasonable, then obviously that will depend upon what one's reason for attributing any properties to God at all will be. I take it you that you think that no-one can have any such reason, at least not a rationally defensible one.
     
  8. Atticus

    Atticus Chieftain Retired Moderator

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    JEELEN, similar kind of things were discussed in the first thread also, look through the index on the first page of this thread. (this, this and this came up with quick glance).

    I think the hidden logic behind most of God-proofs could be summarized:
    1. There is a property which applies at most to one entity
    2. There must be thing with this property (this part is the actual visible proof)
    3. The thing with that property deserves to be called God because of that property.

    Of course it would be optimal to lay out the definition of God before any proofs, but the problem is that concept of God isn't formed that way historically or in individual thought (I think). For someone God is the one who gave his only son, for another it is an omipotent being and for another the supreme being. Some people on the other hand don't believe that he gave his only son, and some deny his omnipotence. Mostly people seem to just think that god is god.

    But if you on the other hand have invented lets say the ontological proof, you feel no need to convince others of your definition of God, because if they already believe in god, how they wouldn't believe it is the most perfect being.

    In summary: while people have no clear necessary condition for being a god, they do have sufficient conditions for that.

    Also I don't think that proofs of god's nonexistence are that hopeless, since it is lot easier to show than nonexistence. But then necessary conditions are required in order to make them contradict.


    Disclaimer: I am no authority on the issue, just ended up qriting what I thought about it while my original intention was just to post the links.
     
  9. Agent327

    Agent327 Observer

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    I believe I already mentioned we have no knowledge about any properties pertaining to God. It seems to me that, given this, all that remains is speculation. (Actually, what this means is that we do not have any knowledge of God period.)

    I'll refine my "God-proof" as follows:

    x number of people have experienced God. Ergo, God exists.

    Actually, I'd like to leave out the ergo for a moment. Turning to "x number of people have experienced God", I'd say that's beyond doubt - except for one caveat: people who do not believe in God. Now, the point is, any God-proof will always about belief, rather than knowledge - although people tend to confuse the two, there is a difference, obviously. So why is any God-proof absurd? Because God is in the area called "belief", and proof is in the area called "knowledge". (And I must admit I'm inclined to add and ne'er the twain shall meet...)

    Now, the dark matter comparison is flawd for this reason: the statement "I have experienced dark matter" is absurd, whereas "I have experienced God" is not. ("I have experienced dark matter" is a sentence, but only in the grammatical sense; it does not relate to reality, it has no meaning. "I have experienced God" is also grammatically correct, but can actually relate to reality.

    I appreciate your contribution (including the links), but this sentence I can make heads nor tails of.
     
  10. Plotinus

    Plotinus Philosopher Administrator

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    I wonder, then, what you take the word "God" to mean. If by "God" you mean "the ultimate source of being in the universe" or something like that, then perhaps it is true that we don't know what properties it has. If by "God" one means "a being which is omnipotent, omniscient, and perfectly good" then it's clear that we do know precisely what properties it has. One can define anything one likes, with whatever properties one likes. The only question then is whether anything answering to that description exists.

    Normally, when people argue about the existence of God, they begin with such a definition and then consider whether it exists or not. It seems to me that you're going the other way, assuming that there is some existing thing which you call "God", and then wondering what it's like. Which is all very well, except that (1) it's not clear if the word "God", on such a procedure, has any meaningful content - if not then you're not saying anything at all when you use the word; and (2) if it does have content, how do you know that it exists in the first place?

    Surely it's perfectly in doubt whether anyone has experienced God. What's not in doubt is that many people have had experiences which they have interpreted as being of God. The question, of course, is whether those experiences (or some of them) really were of God, or at least, whether it would be rational to think that they were.

    But surely, although knowledge and belief are different, the difference is that knowledge is a kind of belief. If I know that the sky is blue, I must believe that the sky is blue; it does not make sense to suppose that I can know something without believing it. So if knowledge is simply a sub-category of belief, the two can certainly meet. I suppose you would say to that that God can be the object only of the kind of belief that isn't knowledge. I don't really see why. To return to the notion of religious experience, I'd say that if God were to choose to reveal himself to me in such a way that it would be impossible to doubt that the object of this theophany really was God, then I would as a result know that God exists - just as I can know that the sky is blue by looking at it. Whether God ever actually does this or not is not really to the point - the point is that, if he exists, he could do this if he so chose (being omnipotent), which means that conditions could exist under which we could know that God exists.

    You will say that we don't know that God is omnipotent so we don't know if he could do that at all. But I say that if we define "God" to include the property of omnipotence, as most theists do, that means we know perfectly well that if God exists then he is omnipotent - because anything that isn't omnipotent isn't God, by definition, even if it exists. Moreover, even if you don't accept that, then if you still insist that we can't know what properties God has, you must agree that you don't know that he can't cause a person to have an undoubtedly veridical experience of him. In which case you must admit that it could be the case that conditions exist under which someone could know that God exists.
     
  11. Agent327

    Agent327 Observer

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    I couldn't agree more.

    That seems repetitive with the previous paragraph. Let's assume (based on the fact that God creates such profound belief and antagonistic arguments) that he exists. I would say (based on the same as in the previous sentence) that the actual properties of God are still unknown. (I also base this on the fact the every God-proof starts from its own premises, but that's basically the same thing.)

    Again, no argument here.

    Now you're losing me... Let's, for clarity's sake, use the words science and religion. Then it could be agreed that both science and religion are forms of knowledge. (I don't think knowledge is a kind of belief, rather the other way around. If I know the sky is blue, I don't have to believe it anymore. But this goes to in howfar one can believe the senses, something which Descartes doubted; although to me it seems one can trust the senses, but what matters is the interpretation.)

    I am inclined not to discuss any properties of God, on the grounds that they'll remain speculative. (For instance, we have no way of knowing if God actually is omnipotent. I already mentioned, although it might have been on another thread, that good and evil seem highly unlikely properties to apply to God, since as far as we know they only exist as human concepts. I would also question any particular relation between God and a single tiny planet in all of the known universe. But I respect other people's God view, hence my unwillingness to discuss; I don't see how that can lead to a consensus on the actual properties of God. The current established religions which accept monotheism in theory already can't agree on such issues. It might have something to do with the limitations of the human mind.)

    But, seeing as this seems already to have been discussed earlier, perhaps it's time for another subject.
     
  12. philippe

    philippe FYI, I chase trains.

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  13. Plotinus

    Plotinus Philosopher Administrator

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    [JEELEN] I don't think we're going to agree, for the reasons I gave before. But I will say that it seems very odd to me to define either science or religion as forms of knowledge. Surely they are both activities. Perhaps they are activities that can produce knowledge - at least science is - but I can't attach any meaning to the claim that they are knowledge.

    [philippe] As far as I know there is no evidence at all for Jesus' views on slavery either way. The passage about the centurion is obviously irrelevant, since in it, Jesus offers no opinion on slavery; besides which, one cannot simply assume that the passage describes what actually happened. The argument that Jesus didn't condemn slavery, so therefore he must have supported it, is also very shaky since we have Jesus' words at third-hand at best, and what we have is fragmentary and has been redacted by the authors of the Gospels. For all we know, Jesus was constantly denouncing slavery, but the later Christians were more reactionary and didn't preserve that material. So any argument from silence is not going to get very far when you're talking about that material. But I don't want to get involved in a thread where people say things as stupid as the claim that socialism makes private property illegal...
     
  14. Agent327

    Agent327 Observer

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    Science and religion are activities? They're not even verbs. (No, seriously, if you just allow one meaning to a word, then a discussion or argument will indeed not end up in agreement. I hope you agree at least they are phenomena...)

    And as concerns slavery: I don't think it was an issue, seeing as it was more of a fact of life until the 19th century AD.
     
  15. Plotinus

    Plotinus Philosopher Administrator

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    I'll agree that science and religion are both phenomena, but still, I can't see any meaningful way in which either of them can be called knowledge.

    Slavery was certainly an issue well before the nineteenth century - Christians developed the idea that it was wrong in the early Middle Ages, which is why it had virtually disappeared from Europe by around 1000 CE. Of course it made a comeback later on, but that's another matter.
     
  16. Agent327

    Agent327 Observer

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    I'm sorry, but then you'll have to look farther. (And I said forms of knowledge; there's a defining difference there. In ancient times religion was the only form of knowledge. But if you want it that way, I'd say science has a better reason to claim the title of knowledge than religion. I was merely being polite about it. Facing historical facts, science just has a better reputation concerning truth than religion - any religion. without going into details, I'm thinking here of the maxim: power corrupts...)

    Christian ideas about slavery had little impact on the development of legal status of peasants in Europe. I'd say it was more a matter of economic and civic development (which would explain the ongoing serfdom in most of Eastern Europe well into the 19th century). Ideas usually follow reality, not the other way around. And I don't think it made a comeback, it just never went away - until the present day. (While theoretically slavery may be abolished, in practice it is not.) With the fall of the Western Roman Empire, a very large economic system simple vanished; that must have had a serious impact, regardless of any subsequent "Christian" ideas. (Christian ideas have a remarkable tendency of closely following reality; one need only to think of the revolutionary change from tolerated religion to state religion following Constantine "the Great".)

    EDIT: I'm sorry if I appear a bit grumpy today, but I woke up with a headache...
     
  17. Fifty

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

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    JEELEN, I think I might know the source of your confusion with Plotinus' point:

    First, its completely crazy to say that beliefs are a form of knowledge. Knowledge is, among other things, a factive mental state. Beliefs are not factive mental states (if they were this would imply all manner of contradictions). So knowledge is not a form of belief.

    Second, even if beliefs were a form of knowledge, science and religion are not beliefs, they are practices or phenomena, the practicers of which often have certain beliefs.
     
  18. Agent327

    Agent327 Observer

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    Actually, beliefs are a form of knowledge; there even was a time when religion was virtually the only form of knowledge available to man - apart from instinct, which isn't specifically human. (Remnants of this can be found in holy scriptures, which to certain believers are even a form of absolute truth, i.e. absolute knowledge. Again I'd have to say humans have no way of determining absolute knowledge; most knowledge is relative - either to a fact or a situation, both of which are subject to possible change. Apart from that it's very hard even to imagine an absolute truth - it kind of goes beyond human abilities. For example, imagining or visualizing infinity is beyond most - whereas it is quite possible to hold and contemplate the idea itself.)

    Sounds about right. (Although it is quite arguable that both are beliefs, it would be more accurate - or practical - to speak of certain premises which hold true for both.)
    Coming back on an earlier comment, I'd agree that both religion and science can be activities, for the practitioners of these; it's just that that isn't the only possible definition of both.)

    Anyway, there's a lot more that might be said about all of this, but actually I'm inclined to give it a rest for now.;)
     
  19. Perfection

    Perfection The Great Head.

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    Ridiculous! Tim believes the Moon is made of green cheese. Does Tim have knowledge that the moon is made of green cheese? No, because the Moon is not made of green cheese. We do not say, "Tim knows the moon is made of green cheese"; we say, "Tim thinks the moon is made of green cheese." Knowledge might require belief, but beliefs themselves are not knowledge.

    That's not correct, all cultures have oral systems of passing around and debating knowledge. These systems while they may have spiritual/supernatural/religious components can not be adequately be described as a religion alone.

    I'd describe science and religion as human institutions, organized systems of belief and practices.
     
  20. Agent327

    Agent327 Observer

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    Actually, oral traditions are religious through and through: myths usually start out as just stories, but over time it becomes very hard to tell fact from fiction (to use these terms). Myths even survive in the modern world as what we call superstition.

    Your "Tim believes the moon is made of green cheese" is actually a very good example. Over time there might evolve different versions, like "Jim believes the moon is made of blue cheese". If Tim and Jim are visionaries, this might evolve into two different religious (or philosophical) schools (or sects), where each following considers its version to be the real truth - making this a good example of how religious (or philosophical) knowledge comes about.

    And once again: there's a discerning difference between knowledge and truth - relative or absolute; knowledge may be true for one period of time, yet become obsolete or evolve into another form of knowledge. For example, philosophy evolved from religious thought* - and it took a long time for them to grow apart completely. Both schools of thought - to call them that - hold truths for their followers and both form a kind of knowledge. One can call either of these truths (or forms of knowledge) "crazy" or "ridiculous"; however, this has no bearing on the fact that to many people such forms of knowledge (whether scientific or religious) hold truths they value above all else.

    *Buddhism is a good example of the reverse: a philosophy evolving into a religion. (Confucianism might also be mentioned, and perhaps taoism as well.)
     
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