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Ask a Theologian

Discussion in 'Off-Topic' started by Plotinus, Feb 13, 2007.

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  1. Eran of Arcadia

    Eran of Arcadia Stormin' Mormon Retired Moderator

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    Well, then, how is this as a question:

    What attributes does a being need to possess for the majority of theologians and religious thinkers accept him/her/it/them as a god? I know that we can use language however we want, but at the same time there needs to be some agreement. And most religions and mythologies have a range of beings. So when does a Hero become a god, or an angel, or what have you? Of course it will never be clear-cut, but I am curious as to what others think, either theologians or those of us on CFC.
     
  2. frob2900

    frob2900 Chieftain

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    Hmm. In what context are you using 'God'? Would you say most contemporary theologians/religious thinkers accept Zeus as a God (of the ancient Greeks).

    If so then the answer may simply be: persistence. Hang around long enough in some mythology and keep being referred to as a God and people will generally end up considering you one (as long as the mythology you hung around in was documented).
     
  3. Atticus

    Atticus Chieftain Retired Moderator

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    Frob, you're talking about it in cultural sense, what kind of things are said to be gods. Me (and maybe Eran too) are seeking for an "analytical" description.

    To illustrate little bit, let's think about ontological proof: "There is an idea of perfect being, and a being that does not exist is less perfect than the one that does, therefore this being exists (and it is god)". So this argument means that perfectness is enough to make something god. The cosmological argument on the other hand says that it's enough to be the creator of universe. Note that these do not prove the existence of any known god (with your definition), if we don't think being named Zeus and copulating with everything moving for example as being perfectness.

    Now these proofs give a hint of the sufficient conditions, but I'd like to know the necessary conditions too. (And even they aren't probably explicitly stated anywhere, they show themselves implicitly in what is required for theistic proof to be valid).
     
  4. frob2900

    frob2900 Chieftain

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    Yeah. Ok.

    'Creator of the universe' => God
    'Perfect being' => God

    God => ??

    Whatever suits your fancy.

    What kind of definition are you looking for? By talking about necessary and sufficient conditions you are placing the concept in a logical system. What are the axioms, the obvious assumptions we can make about divinity? Well I submit that these lie in the realm of faith and so a cultural/subjective perspective is the only honest one.

    [EDIT] I had the last logical implication in the wrong direction earlier. Sorry about that. Early morning competence :blush:
     
  5. Eran of Arcadia

    Eran of Arcadia Stormin' Mormon Retired Moderator

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    @frob: I don't think it is persistence. The angels of Hebrew mythology (and at least to me, "myth" need not mean "false") have been around for a while, but are not considered gods. Whereas, if I started a religion tomorrow, I could still call the center of it a god. (I exclude entities like the FSm not because it is recent, nor, certainly, because it does not exist, but because as far as I know it has no sincere worshippers.)
     
  6. frob2900

    frob2900 Chieftain

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    Ah, but they are not considered gods in the mythology.

    I originally said: "Hang around long enough in some mythology and keep being referred to as a God"

    Both parts are necessary.
     
  7. Eran of Arcadia

    Eran of Arcadia Stormin' Mormon Retired Moderator

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    Well, at this point we end up saying, "an entity is a god if people think it is a god". (I still don't think there is a required amount of time before it can be such.) Which means that we basically have no definition of what a god is.
     
  8. frob2900

    frob2900 Chieftain

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    An entity is a god if a lot of people think its a god for a long time and write down their opinions for posterity.

    It's kind of like the definition of "famous" or "heroic".

    What makes someone a "legendary hero"?
     
  9. Eran of Arcadia

    Eran of Arcadia Stormin' Mormon Retired Moderator

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    Well, I don't think "god" need be the same thing as "legendary hero" - the word "legend" may refer to what a lot of people think of you, but I really don't see why a god needs a certain level of acceptance as such. If one guy somewhere worships some being he once heard of, I think said being could still be called a god.
     
  10. Plotinus

    Plotinus Philosopher Administrator

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    This is an interesting and complicated question. Personally I'd say that a "god" is anything that people worship or consider worthy of worship. So I'd define it in relational terms. Of course that raises the question: what does "worship" mean? And perhaps that can be answered anthropologically rather than theologically.

    To be honest, though, I'm not sure that any particular quality can be identified. I don't really see what's wrong with saying that a "god" is whatever people want to call a god. It's simply a matter of convenience. As in Wittgenstein's example of "games": there is no one quality which all games have and which nothing else has; we simply use the word in a way which is useful to us and which varies according to situation. I'd say the same is true of "god". It's certainly true of "religion".

    However, we do need to distinguish between "gods" as a species, as it were, and "God" as the name of a character, as it were. That is, "God" is a name which picks out a certain entity (existent or non-existent as the case may be). And we can sensibly ask questions of that entity, including whether it has whatever quality we think is essential to divinity. Thus, if we accept that divinity is connected to being worthy of worship, one can sensibly ask if "God" is worthy of worship; I suppose that if you accept my definition then what you're asking there is if the character called God is a god.

    You don't need any axioms or indeed propositions at all if you're only seeking to define something. If I lay down the necessary and sufficient conditions for something's being a triangle, I merely offer a definition; I don't lay down any other axioms or derive any propositions from them. Similarly, I can (if I want) define "god" as "that than which no greater can be conceived", or whatever, and I'm not making any claim at all, except to say that when I talk about a "god" I mean something which falls under that description.

    Oh yes, I'll get to the other questions as soon as I can...
     
  11. frob2900

    frob2900 Chieftain

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    Well, in the standard logic sense: If A is necessary for P, and B is sufficient for P, then
    P=>A
    B=>P
    but for us to be able to talk about the truth of A or B we need axioms! (or at least some obviously true statements we can agree on). So imho bringing the concepts "necessary" and "sufficient" into play (as the poster I was responding to did) goes a step or two beyond pure definitions. We need something to work with if we are to deduce the truthfullness of logical statements about godhood. But maybe I misunderstand you? (Sorry, I'm rather sleepy, so I may have missed your point)

    That's what I said earlier with "Man makes God", but you didn't agree!

    I'm trying to humor us here with more indepth discussion, so why nerf it? :confused:
     
  12. Eran of Arcadia

    Eran of Arcadia Stormin' Mormon Retired Moderator

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    Because that answer didn't really cover it. Sure, man may be the one to decide who is a god, but on what grounds? In general, what criteria are common among beings called gods? I wasn't looking for a final authoratative answer, just the opinion of CFC - and like I said, in many threads I have seen the claim that omnipotence is a necessary condition, a claim with which I strenuously disagree.
     
  13. frob2900

    frob2900 Chieftain

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    That answer was identical to your statement above.

    Whatever he feels like. But often power, omnipotence etc. since that is generally what people respect (i.e. worship)

    Right, well I agree with you on that one! Omnipotence is certainly not necessary.
     
  14. holy king

    holy king Chieftain

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    do you really think there is any other way to describe that topic than a historical/cultural/sociological one?
    and yes, i question theology itself here, isnt it just a "science" in itself, following its own rules and laws, without any connection to a describlable outside world?

    thats right most polytheistic gods are far from being omnipotent, i guess frobs answer of "persistence" comes nearer to the truth than anything. if you want to take gods before and outside of abrahamite theology into account, it may come down to this.
     
  15. El_Machinae

    El_Machinae Colour vision since 2018 Retired Moderator

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    Are there any easily-accepted (societally-defined) 'gods' that don't control your fate in the afterlife?

    It seems to be a common thread, no?
     
  16. Eran of Arcadia

    Eran of Arcadia Stormin' Mormon Retired Moderator

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    Most of the Greek gods didn't get involved that much in the afterlife, only a few had anything to do with humans other than to torture/have sex with them.
     
  17. Plotinus

    Plotinus Philosopher Administrator

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    The necessity and sufficiency are only operating at the definitional level, though. If I say "If x is a triangle then x has three sides" then I'm saying that having three sides is necessary for being a triangle (and being a triangle is sufficient for having three sides), but it's only a conditional proposition. I don't need to believe either "x is a triangle" or "x has three sides" to believe "If x is a triangle then x has three sides". That is, the proposition (P->Q) is compatible with not-P and not-Q. So I can construct a conditional proposition like this, and we could even agree on it, without having to agree on the truth of anything else.

    Similarly, if I say that omnipotence is necessary for divinity, then I'm only really making a conditional claim, namely "If x is divine then x is omnipotent." That doesn't commit me to either "x is divine" or "x is omnipotent". Personally I don't believe there is anything which is either divine or omnipotent, but I'm quite happy to entertain the conditional proposition, which may indeed be true for all I know. So I don't really see why making use of necessity or sufficiency compels you to go beyond definitions.

    The God of the Deists didn't do that. Neither did Yahweh, at least in the earlier stages of Judaism; the Hebrews only developed the notion of an afterlife at all fairly slowly. After all, there's no obvious contradiction in believing in God or some kind of god whilst not believing in any kind of afterlife. As is well known, in Jesus' day the Sadducees didn't believe in any kind of life after death.
     
  18. El_Machinae

    El_Machinae Colour vision since 2018 Retired Moderator

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    Fair enough!

    Is it common to assume that gods can read men's minds (or hearts, as it were)?
     
  19. frob2900

    frob2900 Chieftain

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    If our 'necessary' or 'sufficient' statements directly involve axioms, so that
    God=>A, B=>God, where A and B are axioms, then the quality of our definition of God will probably suffer, since I find it hard to believe that we can directly agree on axioms that are good enough to directly give us a satisfactory description. But, of course, this is skirting the issue slightly, and you are of course right that it's still perfectly valid logic.

    (I just happen to believe that many people will invoke logic, since it's a rather good tool, but fail to see that their logical calculations are all dragged down by a poor/ambiguous choice of initial 'axioms'. Of course, what I am proposing might be a ridiculously tall order that quickly diverges from theology into discussions on semantics and language)
     
  20. Plotinus

    Plotinus Philosopher Administrator

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    No, in your example, A and B are not axioms - they are merely propositions. An axiom is a proposition that you assume to be true. But if A or B form part of a conditional proposition, you are not assuming them to be true. For example:

    (1) If x is a triangle, x has three sides.

    This is a proposition in the form (P->Q), that is, "if P then Q". Now (P->Q) can be true even when both P and Q are false. In fact, (P->Q) is false only if P is true and Q is false; otherwise it is true. This means that I can assert (1) above, and even believe it to be true, without believing that either "x is a triangle" or "x has three sides" is true.

    In other words, the only "axiom" you are laying down when you make such a definition is the definition itself. Thus, if I say:

    (2) If x is God, x is omnipotent.

    I am not committed to the view that x is God or that x is omnipotent. I might not believe that anything actually is God or that anything actually is omnipotent. So "x is God" and "x is omnipotent" are not axioms, they are simply propositions which are combined to create a definition. You can call that definition an "axiom" if you like, but of course it is a conditional: you're not making any existential assertion.
     
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