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[RD] Ask a Theologian V

Discussion in 'Off-Topic' started by Plotinus, Nov 17, 2013.

  1. AdamCrock

    AdamCrock Master of Darkness

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    1) Why there is no mention of dinosaurs in the bible ? (None can give me a straight answear that I am satisfied with)
    2) How come Adam lived 100+ years and we are not able to do that ? Conspiration theory ?
    3) Why does the Bible speaks to us in anegdotes instead of simple language that everybody can understand ? (Is it excluisive or what ?)
     
  2. Kyriakos

    Kyriakos Alien spiral maker

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    This is not stated in the story, though :)

    The story only mentions as a purpose that the tower of Babel would allow the people to "make a name for ourselves before we are dispersed". This does not at all sound like it could be used to go anywhere, cause they already expected to be soon divided.

    If anything it does seem to be more like a towering building they could either see from all places, or recall as a myth, and in both cases suffice to keep a memory of old unity.
     
  3. Arakhor

    Arakhor Dremora Courtier Moderator

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    Dragons, man!

    Catastrophic genetic drift apparently). At some unspecified point, our DNA deteriorated so badly that our lifespans plummeted and we could no longer marry our relatives without inbreeding.

    OR you could go with myth, legend, allegory, parable and religious narrative as the answer to all the above.
     
  4. Cheezy the Wiz

    Cheezy the Wiz Socialist In A Hurry

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    You know this thread is Ask a Theologian, not Ask a Christian?
     
  5. Adjuvant

    Adjuvant Chieftain

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    It's so trendy to slam christianity nowadays, though. How could an average pseudo-intellectual be expected to know the difference?
     
  6. Plotinus

    Plotinus Philosopher Administrator

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    I've been trying to make sense of this in my mind since you made this post. I'm having a very hard time of it. Here is the problem.

    You're suggesting, if I understand you right, that necessary truths and moral truths (and you seem willing to countenance at least that moral truths form a subset of necessary truths) gain their necessary truth from God, but not from his will - rather, from his nature. My problem is that I just can't visualise what this means. Take the necessary truth that 2+2=4, or the necessary truth that for any proposition P, it is not the case that P and not-P. The truth of neither of these requires an explanation. To understand them is to see that they must be true. What does it mean to say that they derive their truth from anything, let alone from God? What does God add to the equation? What explanatory value do you get from saying that their truth comes from God?

    I'm also puzzled by the suggestion that their truth comes not simply from God but from God's nature. I can understand the claim that some truths derive from some things' natures. E.g. the truth that there's a lot of pointless war in the world derives, ultimately, from human nature. And I can see that some truths might derive from the divine nature. E.g. the truth that we should all worship God might be argued to derive straightforwardly from God's nature as uniquely holy. You could argue that we have an obligation to worship what is holy, and God alone is holy, therefore we should worship God. But how can you derive mathematical or logical truths from God's nature in this way? I can't even envisage what form the derivation would be.

    You say that square circles are impossible "because they are anathema to the very nature of God himself as a contradiction of terms". But what makes them anathema to God's nature? The fact that they're a contradiction in terms? Then it's the fact that they're a contradiction in terms that makes them impossible, isn't it? You don't need to bring God's nature into it to see that. If there were no God, they'd still be a contradiction in terms and therefore impossible. You may say that if there were no God, contradictions in terms would be possible. But this is just begging the question, and it seems straightforwardly implausible.

    It seems to me that once one starts thinking of God like this, you've come very close to making "God" such a general explanation for everything that the word loses most of its meaning. If an atheist says "Logical truths just are true, there's no explanation needed for this" and a theist says "Logical truths derive their truth from God's nature", is the theist actually saying anything that the atheist isn't? Aren't they basically saying the same thing? Hasn't "God's nature" become just a circumlocution for "the way things just are"?

    In the line you quote from Thomas Aquinas, he says that God includes all being, and this means that his understanding contains all possibilities. They exist there as the divine ideas, which are really just the divine nature as it relates to things. However, Aquinas would not say that God determines what those possibilities are, either by his will or by his nature. At least, I don't think that's what he would say; perhaps I'm wrong. At any rate, it seems to me that the idea of God you've put forward is more like the Leibnizian one of God as (effectively) logical space.

    On moral truths, I would ask this: do you think that an atheist can believe in necessary truths at all? Or is theism the only possible explanation for the fact that it's a necessary truth that 2+2=4 or that a proposition and its negation can't both be true? If you think that atheists can (legitimately) believe in necessary truths, then I don't see why you shouldn't accept that they can believe in moral truths as well (since you're suggesting that moral truths are necessary truths, or at any rate that they all derive their truth from God in the same way). If you think that atheists can't legitimately believe in necessary truths then that seems to me a very implausible claim.

    I'm puzzled by this dual conception of morality. You seem to have returned to a divine command theory. You're saying that there are moral truths independent of God's will (but dependent on his nature), but these are distinct from moral obligations, which are dependent on his will. Is that right? It seems a rather complex theory. I don't understand how there can be such a distinction between moral truths and moral obligations. If the moral truths aren't obligations (or aren't truths about obligations), then what are they? I take it that if there are any moral truths, "Murder is wrong" is one of them, but if this doesn't mean "You have a moral obligation not to murder" then what does it mean? To put the question another way, if you think that moral truths derive from God's nature, then what is added by the notion that God then commands us to act in accordance with them?


    The so-called "Irenaean theodicy" has become more popular in the past few decades, I think in large part due to the efforts of John Hick. Also, I think that philosophers in general have come to accept that there can be no deductive disproof of God from the existence of evil, rather that it can only be inductive. That is, the existence of evil doesn't prove that God doesn't exist, but it gives us a very good reason to think that he doesn't.

    I can't really say, but I don't think Muslims have any objection to Muhammad's name being included in lists; it's pictorial representation that they don't like.

    That depends on what you mean, since "holiday" means different things in different countries. (In the US it seems to mean "festival", whereas elsewhere it means time off work.) It became a festival somewhere in the course of the fourth century and a minor day off work in the Middle Ages, I think. The modern celebration of Christmas really comes from the nineteenth century, perhaps above all from the 1840s, which is when the first Christmas card was invented and Dickens wrote A Christmas Carol. You'll remember that in that story, Scrooge is annoyed when his employees ask for a day off work because it's Christmas, and I think that reflects how things were at that time - you'd probably get a day off work, but that's about it. Dickens' Christmas stories had a huge influence on the later development of the festival.

    Also, of course, Christmas is celebrated very differently in different countries today, and has different significance in different countries. This even applies to the US and Britain - I think that Christmas is rather less significant in the US than in Britain, because the US has Thanksgiving. For us, by contrast, Christmas is like the American Christmas and Thanksgiving combined. Everything shuts down for a week.

    I don't really understand what you're referring to here. What kind of anthropomorphising are you talking about?

    I don't know a great deal about him and I haven't read that book. His main contribution to philosophy is in philosophy of mind, which isn't my field.

    The ones that are most similar to each other. This is an unvarying rule in religion as in politics: people reserve the greatest hatred for groups that, to an outsider, seem exactly like them.

    Yes, probably the best example would be Philo of Alexandria, who devoted his life's work to trying to show that the principles of Platonic philosophy can all be found (in allegorical form) in the Jewish scriptures. Platonism at that time was a form of monotheism and Philo believed that it had taken its best ideas from Judaism. Christian theologians such as Justin Martyr, Clement of Alexandria, and Origen would later all argue for much the same thing, the idea again being that pagan monotheism was derived from Christian (or Jewish) monotheism. Even some pagans thought this, notably Numenius. Others, such as Celsus, rubbished the idea and insisted that the Jews and Christians had got their ideas from Plato, degrading them along the way.

    I'm not sure what God would or wouldn't do, but I agree that one might expect God to give people good reason to think that he exists. Of course, most religious people seem to think that he has done so, and they struggle with the idea that non-religious people disagree about this.

    Everyone's overly influenced by tradition. But while it's true that analytic philosophers tend to be atheists, I don't think they become philosophers and then become atheists simply because there's a tradition of atheism in philosophy. Rather, I would have thought that the kind of people who are good at analytic philosophy are the kind of people who would tend to be atheists anyway, i.e. people who question accepted beliefs and prefer to believe only what the evidence supports. The same thing applies to scientists.

    No, I'm not, but the AMA seems pretty interesting.

    I'm afraid you'd have to ask an Old Testament scholar that. My understanding of the story is that God is punishing the people for their arrogance in thinking that they can get to heaven through their own efforts. But I agree that in Genesis, at least, God doesn't really come across as a very positive character most of the time.

    I haven't heard such an interpretation before; the church fathers thought that Genesis contained many allegorical or typological figures of future events (e.g. Noah's ark represents the cross of Christ, because it's made of wood and saves people), but they still thought these were historical events.

    For the same reason that there's no mention of dinosaurs in Herodotus or Aristotle: dinosaurs had not been discovered when those texts were written.

    The idea of people in the distant past having impossibly long lifespans is quite common in ancient Middle Eastern myths. You find the same thing in Sumerian myths such as Gilgamesh, and the Sumerian King List, which states that past kings ruled for thousands of years. The Old Testament is almost restrained by comparison.

    I'm not sure what you mean by this. The different books of the Bible are written in different genres, including poetry and novels and personal correspondence. Most of it's pretty simply written, I think. This is especially true of the New Testament, which was written (not always very well) in the form of Greek that most people spoke at the time. Some parts are rather tortuous, such as parts of Paul's letters, but this is because he was writing out some pretty tortuous lines of thought that evidently weren't always very clear in his mind when he started.

    Of course, some translations of the Bible aren't so easy to understand, but that's the fault of the translators rather than of the original authors.
     
  7. Mouthwash

    Mouthwash Escaped Lunatic

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    Thanks.

    The mind projection fallacy. Basically, the brain's tendency to see intelligence and motive in natural phenomena. Aristotle's belief that things fell towards the Earth because they "wanted" to would be a good example of this.

    That's certainly true to an extent, but analytic philosophy- according to what I've read- started out devoid of serious debate over the existence of God and has only recently started to become more friendly to it.
     
  8. Kyriakos

    Kyriakos Alien spiral maker

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    You should provide a citation :yup:

    I heavily doubt Aristotle would claim things "wanted" to fall towards the earth, it is just not his style at all. It is fairly possible that he claimed things are "attracted" to the earth, cause this term is still used here in Physics, as in "a force which attracts", such as in the theory of gravity. Attract (έλκω) in Greek can also mean some quite impersonal connection, for example that between a magnet and small pieces of metal.
     
  9. Agent327

    Agent327 Observer

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    That would be a good example of a metaphor then. (See also Kyriakos' note below.)

    You might also think of such expressions as "head of state". In essence it is a way to explain things as comprehensible as possible.

    Anthropomorphism, on the other hand, would be a picture of a cat (or dog) "smiling": cats do not smile (and a dog baring its teeth has a quite different meaning).
     
  10. Berzerker

    Berzerker Warlord

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    Gen 11.4

    let us make a city and a tower, the top whereof may reach to heaven
     
  11. MagisterCultuum

    MagisterCultuum Great Sage

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    Young's Literal Translation says " And they say, `Give help, let us build for ourselves a city and tower, and its head in the heavens, and make for ourselves a name, lest we be scattered over the face of all the earth.'"

    Neither the Greek nor the Hebrew seem to contain any verb corresponding to "reach." That seems to have been introduced in the Vulgate, where "culmen pertingat ad caelum" should probably be interpreted as "the summit may stretch/extend towards the sky" rather than implying that the tower actually provides any way for humans to reach the divine abode. I don't think it means anything more that that the tower would be very very tall.
     
  12. Berzerker

    Berzerker Warlord

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    gotta be a reason god was mad enough to scatter them
     
  13. timtofly

    timtofly One Day

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    If the head is in the heavens, who needs a verb that says the top is reaching? That would give the tower the ability to do something on it's own. It seems clear that humans had figured out how to build a tower that reached very high. It would seem very human to view the tower as the means to get God's attention. It would also seem very human that humans thought that building such a tower would prevent them from being scattered over the earth.

    The problem being that it did get God's attention, God did come down, and after that humans spoke different languages. Because they spoke different languages would not necessarily spread them apart either. There was more than just a linguistic barrier, it was more than likely the start of racial and social tensions as well. Yes, I realize this makes God sound barbaric.

    Some people do theorize that if humans could come together and do things of one mind, they could figure out God in totality. Which is ironic, because since then religions which assume to bring men to God, have done the opposite. And despite such set backs, humans are once again coming together and becoming of one mind and thought. To add to that Babel was the seat of the first "world" leader, and later became known as Babylon which was allegedly the seat of the second "world" leader. The word has been used in prophecy as being the seat of the final "world" leader.

    The word can mean confusion, mix, mingle, and even anoint as in mixing with oil for sacrifice. However the people named the city and place where the tower was so the word became a proper noun. According to the prophecies in Daniel, the time of the captivity of the Hebrews was the start of the current round of world leaders, that would end in a ten party coalition represented by toes at the end of two feet. The end of two opposing ideologies perhaps even played out by the actual schism of the early church. Perhaps the east can meet west and come to some agreement in the end?

    @ Berzerker

    In this instance it never says that God was angry. He was not even angry at the time of the Flood, but in this instance it seems he was only postponing the inevitable. It was not because they tried to "reach" God. It was not even that they were afraid to be scattered over the earth. IMO, they had already covered the earth even before the Flood, and perhaps they thought that if they scattered again, they would still bring down the wrath of God. This time around they attempted to go upward. At that level of knowledge building a tower would not get them far. They needed to spread out and perhaps at a later date come together again as one. Yet even an early Christian seemed to predict that such coming together would not bode well with the human race. I am curious though if they had gotten high enough to see the curvature of the earth? In the confusion and hostility of the moment they forgot that and felt confined to a flat plane of existence.
     
  14. Kyriakos

    Kyriakos Alien spiral maker

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    Not sure what term is used in the original of the old testament, but in the hellenistic Greek the same part of Babel is:


    δεῦτε οἰκοδομήσωμεν ἑαυτοῖς πόλιν καὶ πύργον, οὗ ἔσται ἡ κεφαλὴ ἕως τοῦ οὐρανοῦ


    Which uses the term "sky" (ouranos) and not anything related to a heaven. Besides, Greeks of the hellenistic times did not see the sky as something from which one would enter the realm of a god :)
     
  15. Plotinus

    Plotinus Philosopher Administrator

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    That's not really a criticism of religion. It's an explanation for it. You can't criticise someone's belief in God solely on the grounds that it's projecting human qualities onto the natural world, because that's begging the question, i.e. assuming that the belief is false. You'd need some other reason for thinking that the belief is false to criticise it. Then the mind projection thing is a naturalistic explanation for why the theist has this belief.

    That may be so, but of course, absence of serious debate about God's existence isn't the same thing as atheism; the discipline of geography also lacks serious debate about God's existence, but this is because it's not about that topic. The same thing was true of early analytic philosophy. Also, there was a strong trend in analytic philosophy in the middle of the twentieth century to suppose that all metaphysical questions, including the existence of God, are literally meaningless, which rules out atheism just as much as theism. So it's not that the question of God's existence was assumed to be answered in the negative, it's more that the question was simply ruled inadmissible in the first place. I think that the trend in recent decades (in some quarters) to take God more seriously is just part of a more general (and significant trend) to take metaphysics more seriously again.

    I think this is correct. Aristotle obviously didn't literally mean that stones want to fall to the ground or that a bird's wing wants to fly. But he used teleological terms to express typical tendencies and natural ends of this kind.

    Οὐρανός in classical Greek means both sky and heaven, much like the French word "ciel". Zeus lives in Οὐρανός in Iliad 15.192 and it is identified with Olympus in Iliad 1.497, 8.394. In the Septuagint, God lives there according to Psalm 2:4, 11:4, 123:1; 1 Kings 8:30, 22:19; 2 Chronicles 6:21, 18:18. The Septuagint authors use the word to translate the Hebrew Shamayim, which means much the same thing.
     
  16. Kyriakos

    Kyriakos Alien spiral maker

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    ***I was not aware of the use of Ouranos as a place of Zeus, in the Iliad (and Ouranos was one of the titans, at least in the later Theogonia by Hesiod) :)

    As for the use of Ouranos as a residence of the god of the old testament, this is also good info :)

    It still does not readily follow that the people in the story of Babel wanted to reach god, since they were already thinking they would be dispersed (by god). So reaching him would likely lead to them being dispersed even sooner (unless, you know, they could then kill the god ;) ).

    More importantly: it does not explain the rather creepy words of god in that story, that man can now do or create anything he imagines, which the god wants to cancel or postpone indefinitely, by the dispersal:

    ***Should be noted, though, that this is a bit from the Iliad, and the translation of the old testament to Greek happened in the Hellenistic era, which might be even 800 years later. And in that era it is rather very unlikely that many people in the Hellenic world saw Ouranos (or the Sky) as a place where gods reside. This can be gathered by the astronomy of the period, which at any rate presents planets and the sun as a star and a fiery core, so they would not tend to think the sky is some dome onto which (or above which) a god is found :)
    By constrast, it seems that in the Theogonia (many aeons before the Hellenistic age) the Ouranos was seen as some sort of border to anything beyond, or even an end to the Sky-Earth world.
     
  17. Mouthwash

    Mouthwash Escaped Lunatic

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    What about the argument from beauty? It's fairly obvious that arguing that the "beauty" of the world provides evidence for God's existence is nonsensical, because beauty is created inside our heads and not an aspect of the outside world. We adapted to enjoy music or experience taste. I'm asking if there is anything in religious doctrine which similarly relies on anthropomorphizing. If you believed in a thunder god who made thunderstorms happen when he got angry, that's typical anthropomorphism. If you also knew about evolutionary psychology, you could create a strong argument against your own religious belief even if you knew nothing about meteorology, because the simplest explanation is never going to be one in which the natural 'agents' you observe are intelligent and purposeful.
     
  18. Plotinus

    Plotinus Philosopher Administrator

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    Sure, one can't transpose archaic-era beliefs onto the hellenistic era. But it's not really relevant, given that we're talking about a Hebrew text. The Septuagint translators evidently did a good job here expressing the Hebrew, but still, analysis of the Greek word is not going to tell you what the Hebrew means; at best it will tell you what the translator thought it meant. Note also that some of the books in the Septuagint (although not Genesis) are not simply translations but quite free re-workings of the original.

    (Interesting historical point: Origen learned Hebrew specifically to understand not the Hebrew original but the Septuagint translation, because like all early Christians he believed it was the Greek translation, not the Hebrew original, that was inspired - but he thought that understanding the original would shed light on what the translators intended. So he was working in the opposite direction, as it were.)
     
  19. Kyriakos

    Kyriakos Alien spiral maker

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    Excellent bit of added info :D

    It reminded me of:

    :)
     
  20. Plotinus

    Plotinus Philosopher Administrator

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    That's assuming a naturalistic explanation for aesthetics, though. You're right that one can't use beauty as an argument for God's existence, but you're wrong about the reason. The reason isn't that beauty is just in our heads; it's that beauty could be just in our heads. The fact that we think things are beautiful is equally well explicable whether or not God exists. But you can't assume that the naturalistic explanation is true if you're considering the question whether God exists or not, because again you're begging the question - you're assuming an answer.

    That would assume that that is why you believe in the thunder god, though. People often assume that religion developed as a sort of primitive attempt at science - an attempt to explain natural phenomena - but I don't know of any good evidence for this. It's surely just as plausible to suppose that people believed in gods anyway and only subsequently attributed natural phenomena to them, rather than that they believed in gods primarily as explanations for natural phenomena. Now you might say that belief in gods at all is anthropomorphising, no matter what the motive for the belief. That might be right. But I'm not sure that it undercuts the belief

    Why not? Richard Swinburne thinks that personal explanations are intrinsically simple, so the explanation "God did it" is simpler and therefore explanatorily more useful than an alternative naturalistic explanation (other things being equal). Your imaginary thunder-god theist knows of only one explanation for the thunder; the mere fact that he's aware of the human tendency to anthropomorphise natural phenomena might make him question the rationality or accuracy of this belief, but if it's the only explanation he's got for thunder, I'm not sure why he would abandon it. Just because we have a tendency to anthropomorphise doesn't mean we're always wrong to do so. After all, I'm assuming that the posts I see appearing in this thread are made by intelligent agents (well, most of them, more or less) not unlike myself. I know that human beings have a tendency to ascribe intelligence and agency to processes where there is none. Does it follow that I have good reason to doubt that the posts on this thread are made by intelligent agents? No, of course not. The presence of intelligent agents remains the best explanation for the existence of these posts. The thunder-god theist might reason similarly.
     

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