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New York Times Opinion: A God Problem:

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  • New York Times Opinion: A God Problem:

    My comments on this editorial are below, interspersed with some of the original text. You can find the link here:


    And I'd urge you to read it on your own, since I will snip parts of it. Also, that gives it page views which will hopefully cause the NYT and other papers to include similar philosophical and theological discussions to take place on their websites.

    My comments do not include the entirety of the original text, so I'll use snip to show that I've cut something, usually a paragraph. You can feel free to see whether or not I need to address those points:

    By Peter Atterton
    Mr. Atterton is a professor of philosophy.
    March 25, 2019
    If you look up “God” in a dictionary, the first entry you will find will be something along the lines of “a being believed to be the infinitely perfect, wise and powerful creator and ruler of the universe.”
    I’m going to try not to parse this out line by line, since that is especially wearisome for anyone who would be interested in reading it, but I find it ridiculous that a philosophy professor would find it useful to start his piece by using the oldest essay trope amongst sophomores -- the dictionary definition. SMH.
    Certainly, if applied to non-Western contexts, the definition would be puzzling, but in a Western context this is how philosophers have traditionally understood “God.” In fact, this conception of God is sometimes known as the “God of the Philosophers.”
    To all non-western thinkers? Like Muslims? Or Hindus who believe that all gods are simply parts of the one supreme God, Brahman?
    This is coming across as pretty loose
    As a philosopher myself, I’d like to focus on a specific question: Does the idea of a morally perfect, all-powerful, all-knowing God make sense? Does it hold together when we examine it logically?
    Let’s first consider the attribute of omnipotence.
    You’ve probably heard the paradox of the stone before: Can God create a stone that cannot be lifted? If God can create such a stone, then He is not all powerful, since He Himself cannot lift it. On the other hand, if He cannot create a stone that cannot be lifted, then He is not all powerful, since He cannot create the unliftable stone. Either way, God is not all powerful.
    The way out of this dilemma is usually to argue, as Saint Thomas Aquinas did, that God cannot do self-contradictory things. Thus, God cannot lift what is by definition “unliftable,” just as He cannot “create a square circle” or get divorced (since He is not married). God can only do that which is logically possible.
    What we sometimes call logically-qualified omniscience: God can do anything logically possible.

    Not all philosophers agree with Aquinas. René Descartes, for example, believed that God could do absolutely anything, even the logically impossible, such as draw a round square.
    This is a weird line to me, given its inclusion in this paragraph where we accept, for the sake of argument, logically-qualified omnipotence My quibble here then is that, iirc, Descartes is not so much talking about incoherent omnipotence, but more the idea that God, as author of reality, can bend reality in whatever way he sees fit.
    But even if we accept, for the sake of argument, Aquinas’ explanation, there are other problems to contend with. For example, can God create a world in which evil does not exist? This does appear to be logically possible.
    I suppose this is possible. Such a God could create a world in which evil does not exist.
    Presumably God could have created such a world without contradiction. It evidently would be a world very different from the one we currently inhabit, but a possible world all the same. Indeed, if God is morally perfect, it is difficult to see why he wouldn’t have created such a world. So why didn’t He?
    He’s skipping a few lines that the uninitiated might need here:
    “Without contradiction” meaning that he could do so without creating a paradox--a logically impossible situation.

    The standard defense is that evil is necessary for free will. According to the well-known Christian philosopher Alvin Plantinga, “To create creatures capable of moral good, [God] must create creatures capable of moral evil; and He can’t give these creatures the freedom to perform evil and at the same time prevent them from doing so.” However, this does not explain so-called physical evil (suffering) caused by nonhuman causes (famines, earthquakes, etc.).
    It does explain it, but he’s skipping lines in his rendition of Plantinga, et al. “Natural” evil is the motive cause for moral evil:
    That is:
    Without famine or hunger, gluttony is meaningless as a moral evil.
    Without the pain stimulus, torture is meaningless as a moral evil.
    Without mortality, murder is meaningless as a moral evil.
    All of this is simply to say, it isn’t logically possible to create a universe in which one is a free moral agent and yet cannot choose to do evil. Without one, you must needs have the other.

    What about God’s infinite knowledge — His omniscience? Philosophically, this presents us with no less of a conundrum. Leaving aside the highly implausible idea that God knows all the facts in the universe, no matter how trivial or useless (Saint Jerome thought it was beneath the dignity of God to concern Himself with such base questions as how many fleas are born or die every moment), if God knows all there is to know, then He knows at least as much as we know. But if He knows what we know, then this would appear to detract from His perfection. Why?
    There are some things that we know that, if they were also known to God, would automatically make Him a sinner, which of course is in contradiction with the concept of God. As the late American philosopher Michael Martin has already pointed out, if God knows all that is knowable, then God must know things that we do, like lust and envy. But one cannot know lust and envy unless one has experienced them. But to have had feelings of lust and envy is to have sinned, in which case God cannot be morally perfect.

    The best responses to this section focus on the idea that there is a difference between knowing-in-fact (or knowing-in-theory) and knowing-in-experience. That is, God knows what lust is, but hasn’t experienced it. God knows what envy is, but hasn’t experienced it.
    The difference isn’t merely semantic--while both are “knowing”, this applies the term to two distinct things: facts and experience. They are not the same--much of Eastern philosophy and religion hinges on them being different. For example, in Buddhism, one can understand the means to, wherefores, and benefits of enlightenment, but not be enlightened--because “being enlightened” is fundamentally experiential. To put it another way, there is a difference is knowing that the pot is hot, and experiencing the pain that “hot” entails.
    Therefore, just like omnipotence can be defined as God is able to do anything logically possible, so then can omniscience be defined as God is able to know anything that doesn’t also annul God’s moral perfection; that is, a logically qualified omniscience.
    What about malice? Could God know what malice is like and still retain His divine goodness? The 19-century German pessimist Arthur Schopenhauer was perhaps the first philosopher to draw attention to what he called the “diabolical” in his work “On Human Nature”:
    For man is the only animal which causes pain to others without any further purpose than just to cause it. Other animals never do it except to satisfy their hunger, or in the rage of combat …. No animal ever torments another for the mere purpose of tormenting, but man does it, and it is this that constitutes the diabolical feature in his character which is so much worse than the merely animal.
    I’m not even sure that this is accurate. Perhaps one ought not base serious philosophical inquiry on Nineteenth Century biology?

    It might be argued, of course, that this is precisely what distinguishes humans from God. Human beings are inherently sinful whereas God is morally perfect. But if God knows everything, then God must know at least as much as human beings do. And if human beings know what it is like to want to inflict pain on others for pleasure’s sake, without any other benefit, then so does God. But to say that God knows what it is like to want to inflict pain on others is to say that God is capable of malicious enjoyment.
    However, this cannot be true if it really is the case that God is morally perfect. A morally perfect being would never get enjoyment from causing pain to others. Therefore, God doesn’t know what it is like to be human. In that case He doesn’t know what we know. But if God doesn’t know what we know, God is not all knowing, and the concept of God is contradictory. God cannot be both omniscient and morally perfect. Hence, God could not exist.
    I really think the argument is breaking down here because it isn’t being specific enough with its terminology. I know a lot of skeptics do not think so, but theological vocabulary has precision. “Sinful” is a word with a very specific meaning in this theological context. So is “God.” At the start of the essay, the writer is describing the “God of the Philosophers”, but here is clearly not arguing against such a one, but instead is arguing against the specific Judeo-Christian concept of God. He’s been flipping between the two with no allowance for the difference.
    “God” means something quite precise once you introduce the language of “Sin”, which means something quite different in the technical vocabulary of the New Testament than it does in the technical vocabulary of the Classical Greeks. Aristotle’s “Unmoved Mover” is described without any reference to the moral qualities of such a one; indeed, moral consideration for his lessers are literally of no mind to him. That is a key difference in the constructions of the God of the Philosophers, who is a construct used to tease out logical relationships, and the God the Bible (and, to be fair, other religions that make moral claims).
    I’m not merely being pedantic, though I’m enjoying the opportunity to be so. But, “Sinful” in this context then, doesn’t necessarily describe a pseudo-Platonic metaphysical state, but an inclination toward a certain behavior. The capacity or ability to sin does not mean one is sinful-- it merely reflects possibility.
    Leave aside for the moment, debatable concepts like “original sin.” In the original ancient Jewish theology, to be “sinful” meant that one had sinned and needed to make atonement, not merely having the capacity to sin. To use a Biblical example, Adam and Eve, before the fall, had the capacity to sin but had not sinned. (To be perfectly clear, imo, this carries over into the New Testament -- we are unrighteous, not because of Adam’s sin, but our own. If we face judgement, it is because we ourselves are wicked, not because of some metaphor confused as metaphysical substance--I do not feel the need to defend anything like “original sin” on this.)
    This bears parallels to the prior discussion the possibility of a perfect world: righteousness requires the possibility of wickedness. If a one cannot be wicked, then that one cannot also be righteous.

    (I shall here ignore the argument that God knows what it is like to be human through Christ, because the doctrine of the Incarnation presents us with its own formidable difficulties: Was Christ really and fully human? Did he have sinful desires that he was required to overcome when tempted by the devil? Can God die?)
    It is logical inconsistencies like these that led the 17th-century French theologian Blaise Pascal to reject reason as a basis for faith and return to the Bible and revelation. It is said that when Pascal died his servant found sewn into his jacket the words: “God of Abraham, God of Isaac, God of Jacob — not of the philosophers and scholars.” Evidently, Pascal considered there was more “wisdom” in biblical revelation than in any philosophical demonstration of God’s existence and nature — or plain lack thereof.
    That seems like a lot to conclude from a phrase sewn into a jacket.
    "Down in the lowlands, where the water is deep,
    Hear my cry, hear my shout,
    Save me, save me"

  • #2
    Looking at that, I consider the possibility that "God" is distinguished from "god" - and (yappari)

    According to Oxford Dictionary:

    1(in Christianity and other monotheistic religions) the creator and ruler of the universe and source of all moral authority; the supreme being.

    2(in certain other religions) a superhuman being or spirit worshipped as having power over nature or human fortunes; a deity.
    ‘a moon god’
    ‘the Hindu god Vishnu’

    2.1 An image, animal, or other object worshipped as divine or symbolizing a god.
    ‘wooden gods from the Congo’

    2.2 Used as a conventional personification of fate.
    ‘he dialled the number and, the gods relenting, got through at once’

    3A greatly admired or influential person.
    ‘he has little time for the fashion victims for whom he is a god’

    3.1 A thing accorded the supreme importance appropriate to a god.
    ‘don't make money your god’

    4the gods informal The gallery in a theatre.
    ‘they sat in the gods’
    sigpic1 Cor 15:34 εκνηψατε δικαιως και μη αμαρτανετε αγνωσιαν γαρ θεου τινες εχουσιν προς εντροπην υμιν λεγω


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