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

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  1. Plotinus

    Plotinus Philosopher Administrator

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    I'm not sure precisely when and how this idea arose, but I suppose it must have had something to do with the practice of praying for the dead. If the dead need our prayers then they can't all be happily arrived in heaven. The passage from the Bible normally cited in support of this practice is II Maccabees 12:39-45. It's worth pointing out that this is, as far as I know, the only doctrinal matter that is affected by whether you accept the Apocrypha as canonical or not, since II Maccabees is deuterocanonical, and there is no passage in any of the universally accepted books that supports this.

    You keep saying "practical", but religion isn't just about practicality! It's also about mystical devotion to God. Now from the Orthodox point of view, the Father is worshipped as the ultimate source of divinity, the wellspring of the other two Persons. The doctrine of the double procession of the Holy Spirit undermines that view because it makes the Son the partial souce of the Spirit too. And it is symptomatic of the post-Augustinian approach to the Trinity, which denies that the Father is identical with the divine nature, and instead conceives of a divine nature distinct from any of the three Persons. For many Orthodox theologians, to divorce the divine nature from the Father is to turn it into a meaningless abstraction, and effectively to de-divinise the Father. Now that may have no "practical" consequences, but that's not the point - it has important spiritual consequences, at least in the eyes of those Orthodox who reason along these lines.

    I didn't say they were right to deny that "moral choice" is essential to moral responsibility - I said they were right to deny that contra-causal free will is essential to moral responsibility. In fact I don't think that contra-causal free will is really a coherent doctrine at all, let alone either a plausible one or a true one. Even if in fact it is both coherent and true, I don't think that it needed to have been true in order for there to be moral responsibility.

    According to those who believe in contra-causal free will, a free act is one that is not (fully) determined by preceding events and states. Which effectively means that you could re-run the universe (as it were) up to the point at which that free act was performed, and it might not be performed. The reason I think this view is incoherent is that that is the normal definition of a random event, but proponents of contra-causal free will also insist that a free act is not a random one. And I don't really see how that is possible. But whether it's possible or not, I don't see what relevance it has to moral responsibility. I think that you're responsible for your actions if you did them (as opposed to being forced to by someone else) and you know what you're doing. You don't have to accept any bizarre metaphysical views about the nature of causation to think that.


    I haven't. What's it about?

    That is a very common view. I think it's probably the mainstream one. However, it's completely unbiblical; there's no suggestion anywhere in the Bible that there are different "parts" to the Old Testament Law, let alone that one can distinguish neatly between "civil", "ritual", and "moral" sections. Indeed, Paul's letter to the Galatians is concerned, in large part, to argue that you can't pick and choose with regard to the Law; Paul insists that if the Galatians think they ought to be circumcised then in order to be consistent they should be keeping the whole of the Law.

    That is exactly the sort of reason why Locke-style latitudinarianism was only a passing historical phenomenon. By which I mean...

    Locke's paraphrases of Biblical books are very good. He wasn't really an original theologian, but he is interesting from a theological point of view because of the way he represents the latitudinarianism of his time. Latitudinarianism was a sort of halfway-house to deism. Latitudinarians believed that religion should be reasonable and rational; they believed that reason supported most of the traditional Christian doctrines, but they seem to have been happy to be less certain about those doctrines that they thought weren't so supported by reason. So Locke, for example, insists in his Essay that God's existence can be demonstrated more certainly than anything else (and gives a pretty feeble argument for it), but that's pretty much it. In The reasonableness of Christianity he spends much time arguing that Jesus was the Messiah, and seems to think that this is the main doctrine in Christianity, but he has very little to say about the atonement or the Trinity. The implication is that these doctrines are less easily supported by reason.

    What happened next (and indeed was already happening as Locke was writing) was that some people accepted the basic principle that all religious doctrines should be supportable by reason, and concluded that there's no need for revelation at all. Locke had believed that reason and revelation support each other; revelation tells us what's true, but reason tells us that we are dealing with revelation in the first place. The deists simply dropped revelation altogether and sought to construct a wholly rational religion that wouldn't appeal to revelation or to faith at all. And that involved dropping even more traditional Christian doctrines, to the extent that the French deists typically regarded themselves as anti-Christian philosophers (the English and American deists, by contrast, usually regarded themselves as reforming Christians).

    Even deism didn't last all that long, because the intellectuals eventually concluded that none of the arguments in favour of religious doctrines really worked. Since they were committed to believing only what was rational, they rejected religion altogether. And that was largely the state of theology by the end of the eighteenth century, but fortunately Schleiermacher and Kierkegaard came along, together with the whole Romantic movement, to suggest that maybe this whole "reason" thing was misguided anyway!

    No, because that passage (like most of John) doesn't use the title "son of God", but simply "the Son", which is different. Certainly John doesn't use the title "Son" in anything like the way in which the title "son of God" would normally be used at that time. I suspect that the title was based upon the title "son of God", but John is using it in his own way.

    I'm not sure what you mean by "impossible". Do you mean - has anyone tried to show that the supposed proofs of God's existence do not work? Of course! In fact most of the arguments against them were produced by other theists (for example, Aquinas argued against Anselm's ontological proof). And of course I think that most philosophers today would regard the traditional proofs for God's existence as fundamentally flawed (obviously, since most philosophers aren't theists). And quite right too, in my opinion.
     
  2. Atticus

    Atticus Chieftain Retired Moderator

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    No, I meant: has anybody tried to show it impossible to give any proof of the existence of god. It is intuitively true, most people don't seem to be very interested in proofs for god, since they expect not much from them. Perhaps that intuition could be put in to words and it would prove existence proofs impossible? (Note that it's different thing from proving nonexistence of god).
     
  3. Plotinus

    Plotinus Philosopher Administrator

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    Ah, I see. I suppose the two main arguments against the possibility of proving God come from Kant and Wittgenstein. In Kant's case, it rests upon the claim that reason is reliable only within the realm of experience, which means that we can't prove (or disprove) anything metaphysical. In Wittgenstein's case, it rests upon the claim that we can't speak meaningfully about what lies outside experience (a claim that was developed and used more forcefully by the logical positivists). In both cases, the attack on the possibility of theistic arguments is simply part of a more wide-ranging attack on the possibility of metaphysics at all. For example, in Language, truth, and logic, A.J. Ayer claimed that pretty much all the traditional problems of philosophy had been shown to be non-problems, because the discussions about them failed the test of the verification principle. Arguments about God - either for or against - were just part of that.

    Logical positivism fell by the wayside a long time ago, as people realised that the verification principle upon which it rested was not only implausible but self-refuting (Perfection tried to insist that it was true earlier on this very thread, but he's fighting a lonely battle on that one). So I don't think many philosophers today would accept the Wittgensteinian attack on arguments for God. Kant's an odd case in that he sought to show that arguments for or against God aren't possible, and then went on and produced one of his own, the "moral argument", which I think is also generally considered to be very weak (at least his version of it is).

    Today, it is certainly a commonplace among both religious and non-religious people that you just cannot argue for God's existence, and that it must be taken solely "on faith", but if you ask people why they think that, they don't generally have any good reason for it - it's just a widely held assumption. The Catholic Church, for one, rejects it - indeed, since the first Vatican council, it has been (and still is) an article of faith that the existence of God can be proven. Most Catholics don't seem to know that, though.

    Personally I don't see any reason, in principle, why God's existence shouldn't be proveable or disproveable to the same extent as any other substantial claim about the world. I think that, as a matter of fact, none of the supposed proofs of God's existence work, but that's a different matter. Of course I don't believe in God, so I'm bound to think that no supposed proof of his existence will work, but that's simply because I think it's trying to prove something that's false, not because I think that theism has some special status that puts it beyond the bounds of proof either way. If there were a God, I don't see why he would necessarily be unproveable. And of course I don't think there's any knock-down proof that there isn't a God either. I think the arguments against theism are pretty good, but hardly completely watertight. But I don't think that means that God's non-existence has some special, unproveable status; on the contrary, most negatives are notoriously hard to prove.
     
  4. warpus

    warpus In pork I trust

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    That doesn't really make sense; God has allegedly proved his existence to thousands of people in the past.
     
  5. Eran of Arcadia

    Eran of Arcadia Stormin' Mormon Retired Moderator

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    Yes, but He(/She/It/They) are usually said to have done so in a way that doesn't mean much for other people. I could prove my existence to you by finding out where you live and showing up at your door; that wouldn't prove my existence to anyone else.
     
  6. Plotinus

    Plotinus Philosopher Administrator

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    Even if that's true, the "proof" was simply a matter of God showing himself to those people. And that's not a rational proof, it's simply an exhibition (as it were). Even if you believe that some people have had direct experience of God, it would still be an open question whether God's existence is theoretically demonstrable by reason alone.

    [EDIT] Cross-posted with Eran, who made the same point much more elegantly.
     
  7. warpus

    warpus In pork I trust

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    You could accomplish that by showing up to everyone's door.

    That'd be an easy feat, if you were God.
     
  8. Eran of Arcadia

    Eran of Arcadia Stormin' Mormon Retired Moderator

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    God could show Him/Her/It/Their self to everyone; that is not the same thing though. The fact that a being capable of revealing itself to everyone hasn't done so, doesn't mean it hasn't revealed itself to anyone.
     
  9. Plotinus

    Plotinus Philosopher Administrator

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    If you're thinking along those lines then you're just asking what God could do, which is really a question about divine omnipotence. The question is about what we can do, which is a question about the scope of human reason. The question is: could we prove God's existence? Answering that God can prove his own existence doesn't address it.
     
  10. warpus

    warpus In pork I trust

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    I suppose that makes sense. The issue is that a sufficiently advanced intelligence could easily "prove" to be God, to anyone... so you could get proof of the existence of a highly advanced intelligence, but you'd never know whether it was God or not.
     
  11. Plotinus

    Plotinus Philosopher Administrator

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    Well if someone (however superhuman) who isn't divine offers a proof that they are divine, that must necessarily be a flawed proof, since it "proves" a falsehood. But the question is whether, in principle, there could be a good proof for God's existence. Clearly there's no question whether there could be bad proofs, since there are plenty of those in existence already.

    Besides, I don't really see how an advanced but non-divine intelligence could "prove" itself to be God, except perhaps by manifesting in front of some hick and saying "Ta da, I'm God." But that wouldn't be a proof, it would just be an assertion. Indeed, even if God did that, it would still be only an assertion, although a true one.
     
  12. Eran of Arcadia

    Eran of Arcadia Stormin' Mormon Retired Moderator

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    Well, what is the dividing line between a highly advanced intelligence and a god anyways? Is it more than arbitrary?
     
  13. Plotinus

    Plotinus Philosopher Administrator

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    We've already been over that! But substitute whatever definition you like for the word "God" (assuming that it's some kind of descriptor as opposed to a proper noun) and the point would still hold, I think.
     
  14. warpus

    warpus In pork I trust

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    It would be impressive enough to convince most people. After all, it is claimed that that's what prompted the writing of the Bible in the first place. Some guy showed up and claimed to be God.

    Who would believe that a description of such an event refers to God (having never witnessed it), while at the same time not believing that it is God, having witnessed it firsthand ?
     
  15. Plotinus

    Plotinus Philosopher Administrator

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    Claimed by whom, exactly? Of course there are descriptions of theophanies in the Bible, such as the appearance of God to Moses in the burning bush, but I'm not sure that these are supposed to prompt the writing of anything.

    I don't know - it seems to me to be perfectly possible not to witness such an event at first hand yet still believe that it's of God (since many people do believe precisely that), and similarly, I don't see why it wouldn't be possible to witness such an event and yet not believe it to be really God. I'm sure that if a voice were to boom out of the clouds to Richard Dawkins he'd be more ready to believe he were having a hallucination than to believe he were hearing the voice of God.

    The problem really is that it's perfectly possible to doubt the veracity of pretty much any experience you have - at least, from a rational point of view. Thus a sceptic may doubt whether his sensations of what seem to be external objects represent those objects accurately, or even whether such objects exist at all. Of course, it's one thing to doubt like that rationally; it's quite another to do so psychologically - hence the contemporary attacks on Descartes for suggesting such doubts in his First Meditation: his critics argued that while the sceptical arguments he uses there may have force, it's ridiculous to claim that he really doubts whether an external world exists.

    In epistemology there is a question whether you can have an experience whose veracity is somehow guaranteed in the nature of the experience. That is, if there is any experience which appears to be of X that is such that it must actually be of X (without needing some independent verification). Of course in Descartes' case he thought he had found such an experience, namely the experience of believing in your own existence - if you think you exist then you do. So in the current case, the question is whether there could, in principle, be an experience apparently of God which is such that, having it, there can be no doubt that it really is of God. By "no doubt" I mean no rational doubt rather than no psychological doubt. I'm not sure there could be. Of course, God could choose to appear to somebody and, at the same time, make that person believe that it was really God they were seeing - but that would be through the exercise of his power in affecting the person's beliefs directly, not through any intrinsic quality of the manifestation itself.
     
  16. Elrohir

    Elrohir RELATIONAL VALORIZATION

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    Very interesting. I thought there was a passage in the canon New Testament which supported this, and some people cite 2 Timothy 1:16-18 for this, but it's only in a sort of offhand way.

    By practical, I meant as relating to everyday life - whether you baptize by immersion or sprinkling is a practical concern. (Although I think it's kind of a trivial question) The nature of the Trinity isn't trivial, I suppose, but it isn't particularly practical since there isn't any true application to it that I can see, besides how you think of the dynamics of the Godhead. If you acknowledge that all Three Persons in the Godhead are divine and eternal, why does it matter if if the "nature" of divinity is something proceeding from the Father, or eternally shared?

    But if you deny that things could have happened a different way with the past staying the same, then you're effectively arguing that everything that has happened and will happen was inevitable and predestined if you trace everything back far enough. Maybe I'm misreading your position, and if so I apologize, but why do you think you can be held morally accountable for your actions if you didn't have a choice in them? If our lives are nothing more than balls rattling around on a pool table, all traceable back to an initial action, then how can we be held responsible? (And why should we consider ourselves in any way different or more valuable from other forms of life, or non-living matter for that matter, since we're all similarly without any choice?)

    I mean the whole arguing about whether we have free will is, in a way, kind of pointless I guess - if we don't have free will, then I was destined to not believe the truth and I won't be convinced of it anyway. ;) I find it an interesting subject, though.
     
  17. Plotinus

    Plotinus Philosopher Administrator

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    Well, for the reason I gave - a spiritual reason rather than a practical one. The Orthodox would have it that it makes all the difference between worshipping a God who is necessarily and intrinsically divine, and worshipping one whose divinity is somehow extraneous and accidental. It may make no practical difference, but who ever said that that is the only important kind?

    You're right that if determinism is true then everything that happens does so inevitably (given whatever the initial state of affairs was). I'm not saying that determinism is true, since I have no idea whether it's true or not, and I'm not sure that there would be any way to tell anyway. What I'm saying is that it makes no difference whether determinism is true or not, as far as free will goes. So yes, I'd say that even if everything is inevitable and predestined, that doesn't stop us being free.

    But your argument relies upon equating "everything is inevitable" with "we have no choice". That's exactly what I would dispute (together with Calvin and co). You can still have a choice even if that choice is wholly determined. And I would say that whether that choice is free or not has got nothing to do with whether it's determined or not. I'd say it's got everything to do with whether it's self-determined or not. Thus, my action is free if it is (largely) determined by factors within myself. On this view, freedom comes in degrees. It's easy to imagine an action which is determined partly by factors within myself and partly by factors outside myself. For example, I am currently free to leave the room if I want to, but my choice is limited to leaving in only two directions, since this room has only two doors. Suppose I now get up and walk out of the left-hand door; my choice to do so was free to the extent that the impulse to do that came from myself, but unfree to the extent that my choice of doors to leave by was constrained by whoever built this room. But now suppose that I leave the room only because I am ordered to do so by some maniac pointing a gun to my head; that action is considerably less free, because the impulse to leave comes from outside myself. And suppose now that I leave the room only because I have been tied up and I am dragged out. That is as unfree as you can get.

    On this view, there's no such thing as a 100% perfectly free act. If we define a free act as one that is determined by the agent, or by factors within the agent, then (if we accept determinism) ultimately all acts will be determined by factors outside the agent. For example, I choose to leave the room because of the desires I currently have; those desires were caused by various things, some inside me and some outside me; and so on all the way back to before my birth. But we can still meaningfully distinguish between actions which have immediate causes within ourselves and those that do not. And really there's no problem with saying that no act is 100% free; surely this is just common sense!

    It seems to me, in fact, that a compatibilist view of free will such as this makes much more sense than a contra-causal one, according to which an action is free only to the extent that it is undetermined - even assuming that that is coherent at all. We would naturally say that a prisoner lacks freedom because he can't do what he wants, while a millionaire has greater freedom than most of us because he can do more of what he wants than the rest of us. So we normally think of freedom as involving the ability to do what you want. But that's exactly the view I just outlined: an act is free to the extent that it comes from us and is not imposed upon us from outside. It doesn't seem to me to make much sense to say that our actions are free to the extent that they're not determined at all. By that definition, someone suffering an epileptic fit, thrashing about randomly, is the most free person; while someone who acts rationally and is in full control of themselves is the least free person.

    Ah, don't confuse fatalism with determinism! Even if all of this is determined, it could still be that my arguments determine you to change your mind. Which is why there's no way to tell whether determinism is true. How could you test it? A determinist believes that if X is going to happen, it will happen because the events that lead up to it cause it. A fatalist believes that if X is going to happen, it will happen despite the events that lead up to it.
     
  18. Head Serf

    Head Serf Chieftain

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    Plotinus, sorry, I didn't read the rest of the thread, but I was wondering. What religion do you follow/are a member of/what do you believe to be true?
     
  19. warpus

    warpus In pork I trust

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    Well, how do you suppose the Bible got started in the first place, then?

    Stories of human interaction with God were passed down via oral tradition until these could be written down, no?
     
  20. Plotinus

    Plotinus Philosopher Administrator

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    None.

    Even that is what happened, it doesn't follow that that's what is claimed to have happened. Besides, a lot of the Bible isn't about theophanies - probably most of it, in fact. There are some books of the Bible where God isn't even mentioned.
     
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