Is Theism a Disgrace?

by Luke Muehlhauser on September 24, 2009 in General Atheism

facepalm

In Why I Argue About Atheism, I wrote that:

…it is a disgrace that we are still arguing about whether or not invisible magical beings control our lives.

In response, Robert Gressis asks:

I’d like to know… why you think it’s a disgrace that there are some people who… argue for the existence of God. Assuming you don’t believe in free will, do you think it’s a disgrace that there are compatibilists? Do you think it’s a disgrace that there are moral realists? That there are metaphysical idealists? Trope theorists? Extreme modal realists? …

… “disgrace” seems like a strong word. It seems akin to the word one would use… to label Holocaust-deniers or perhaps young earth creationists. And yet to me, theism doesn’t seem particularly more or less reasonable than many of the positions I mentioned above; and it would be odd to label each such position above disgraceful.

…if you lump theism in the same camp as Holocaust-denial (and I’m not saying you do), what do you make of people like Saul Kripke, Bas van Fraasen, Dagfinn Follesdal, Kurt Goedel, Alex Pruss, Alvin Plantinga, Mike Almeida, etc.?

After reading this comment, I edited my original post to be less abrasive. But I don’t want to dodge the question. Do I really think theism is a disgrace? If so, why?

First, what is “disgrace”? It means a loss of honor and respect. It means “shame.” So, let me narrow the question:

Is it shameful that intelligent, educated, scientifically literate, 21st century humans still argue that an invisible magical being controls our lives?

Let’s put names on there. Is it shameful that people like Bas van Fraassen, Alexander Pruss, and Alvin Plantinga still argue that an invisible magic being controls our lives?

Now, there are many ways to understand that key word: shameful.

One who wants to answer the question affirmatively might mean that the persistence of theism among intellectuals is disappointing – that humans are capable of moving beyond magical thinking and devoting themselves to real problems instead. But “shameful” is too strong a word for something that is merely disappointing.

If we mean something stronger by “shameful,” perhaps we can name some things that we all agree are shameful, and then ask whether theism is similar to those things in the relevant ways. Robert suggested this approach: Is theism more like Holocaust-denial and Young Earth Creationism, which nearly all intellectuals would agree are intellectually shameful positions, or is it more like act-utilitarianism and tropism, which most intellectuals think are untrue but probably not shameful?

When writing Why I Argue About Atheism, I think I meant some combination of the two. I meant to say that (1) it’s disappointing that we’re still arguing about magical beings when more pressing problems await solutions, and that (2) theism – especially the highly specified brands of theism endorsed by most theistic philosophers – is a position that has more in common with Young Earth Creationism than with tropism.

Now that is a pretty bold claim, one that should be backed up. I will probably spend a good percentage of my lifetime trying to explain why I think this, and backing it up with argument and evidence. I can’t do it in one post, but…

Why theism is a disgrace

  1. The arguments which are most persuasive to believers – those from design and from personal experience – should be abandoned after the merest consideration of their faults (that people of other faiths also have contradictory experiences they believe to be genuine; that our universe, if it implied a designer, would imply a very different designer than the one supposed by nearly all theists; etc.).
  2. Nearly all theistic arguments are arguments to the best explanation, but “God did it” is a terrible explanation for damn near anything.
  3. The double standards necessary to support theistic thinking are numerous and massive.
  4. Theistic defenses against the problem of evil are absurd.
  5. And more. (I suspect The Christian Delusion will be a good summary when it is published.)

And now, the backpedaling…

So there, I said what I really think.

But don’t misunderstand me. Theists aren’t necessarily stupid. Many of the smartest people alive are, no doubt, theists. And of course, a great many atheists are stupid, and are as committed to double standards as theists usually are. Theists often make better, stronger arguments than atheists do. And there are many theistic arguments I don’t know how to specifically rebut, because I can only know so much. There are many theists I deeply respect, and in fact there are many theistic arguments I respect as carefully crafted (but badly failed) attempts to get at the truth.

Also, it should be noted that even though I think theism is a disgrace, I take it very seriously. I try to consider it’s very best arguments as fairly as possible. In fact, I think I do that more than any other atheist blog I know of. Consider my series on the very latest deployment (2009) of Craig’s Kalam argument, for example.

But yeah, I think theism is a disgrace, and the more atheists are willing to say it, the better:

[Adding unnecessary layers of metaphysics to human experience] is constrained by our common sense in every other domain of discourse. I mean, just take, for example, the people who think Elvis is still alive… What’s wrong with this claim? Why is this claim not [corrupting] our academic departments and corporations? I’ll tell you why, and it’s very simple. We have not passed laws against believing Elvis is still alive. [But] whenever someone seriously represents his belief that Elvis is still alive – in a conversation, on a first date, at a lecture, at a job interview – he immediately pays a price. He pays a price in ill-concealed laughter.

That is a good thing. Then he can rattle on about “this is not a scientific claim,” “this is a matter of faith,” [and so on].

- Sam Harris

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{ 21 comments… read them below or add one }

C.D. September 24, 2009 at 12:20 pm

Just curious…could a Theist ever talk you back into Theism? Or are you just completely stuck being an Atheist no matter what?

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Eric September 24, 2009 at 1:33 pm

Hi Luke

You wrote:

“Is it shameful that intelligent, educated, scientifically literate, 21st century humans still argue that an invisible magical being controls our lives?”

I know you were working through the terms disgraceful, shameful, disappointing, and so on in the quote above, but you’ve also raised another interesting issue. What is it about the intelligent, educated twenty-first century person that so distinguishes him from the intelligent, educated (say) eighteenth century person such that theism is a disgrace for the former but not the latter? It seems to me that there are only two possibilities: 1. Our seemingly greater awareness and understanding of religious diversity, and 2. modern science. If I’m right, then here’s my problem: what theistic arguments that have persuaded educated, intelligent people through the years (and I’m referring to the top thinkers in philosophy and science here, not to the educated and intelligent laymen) are negatively affected in any serious way by 1 or 2? I can think of very few, and even those (e.g. the arguments of Paley) were never very influential among the top thinkers of their day. But if 1 and 2 don’t affect the main arguments for theism, and if it is 1 and 2 that primarily distinguish us from them, then why is theism a disgrace today and not then? (I should add that while you don’t explicitly say theistic belief wasn’t a disgrace in the past, your comments do imply it wasn’t.)

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Chuck September 24, 2009 at 3:12 pm

The Wager, surely.

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Gordon September 24, 2009 at 3:36 pm

C.D.: Just curious…could a Theist ever talk you back into Theism?Or are you just completely stuck being an Atheist no matter what?

For myself I think the answer would be that it is incredibly unlikely, but not impossible.

The thing is that this hypothetical theist would need some new argument that I had never heard before. It couldn’t be a threat (like Pascal’s Wager) or a game with words (like the Ontological Argument). Likewise Ray Comfort’s banana will not do the trick.

As an atheist, I have not seen a convincing argument for the exisence of any gods (or spirit or magic) and I have not seen any evidence either. But if those things were to appear somehow then I’d be an idiot and a hypocrite to ignore them.

The thing is, I’m reasonably sure that novel arguments, or old testament style intervensions are not on the cards here. We are stuck living in a world with zero evidence of supernatural forces. And I’m happy to accept that.

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lukeprog September 24, 2009 at 4:02 pm

C.D.: Just curious…could a Theist ever talk you back into Theism? Or are you just completely stuck being an Atheist no matter what?

I was talked out of theism. I could definitely be talked back in. I could be won over for theism the same way I am won over for any other major belief… with good argument and evidence.

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David September 24, 2009 at 7:08 pm

The disgrace lies with those who embrace faith and dogma over reason and truth.

Luke is right. Arguments and evidence are the modes of discourse for today. Fear and intimidation are not.

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anti_supernaturalist September 24, 2009 at 7:18 pm

** how belief in the xian god became “indecent” 100+ yrs ago

The final retreat of “the” God of xians enjoys a false spring with d’Holbach (1723-1789) whose work, known through his well attended salons, attracted Adam Smith, David Hume, and Edward Gibbon from Britain and Diderot, Galiani, Rousseau.

This strong underground current of materialism and rational hedonism found refreshing inflows from emerging sciences, among which we can include economics (Smith), history (Gibbon), population studies (Malthus).

Let’s go back to the time of Paley (1743-1805) and his Natural Theology (1802). What is the status of some areas today well established in science? In general, what one finds is the end of amateurism (1790) and the very beginnings of professionalization (1810)*. Basic findings undermine the special status of xianity as a religion, xian claims to being the foundation of morality, scripture’s false assertions about space, time, physical nature, and human nature.

Vitalism is weakened by showing that electricity can “revive” dead matter — frogs legs or the limbs of freshly hanged criminals. Mary Shelley’s monster in Frankenstein; or, the Modern Prometheus (1818) hates his maker for physical deformity, human rejection, and subsequent moral deformity.

Philology [comparative linguistics]advances with the first translation (1805) of a zoroastrian text, the Avesta — which shows that this religion is the great-granddad of islam, the granddad of xianity, and the father of post-exilic judaism.

Later, texts from the Pali canon of Theravada Buddhism, the Sanskrit of the Vedas, the ancient Sumerian tale of “Noah’s” flood demonstrate that the central religion of the West can be compared without a sense of superiority with other world religions.

The concept of deep time emerges from Lyell’s musings on remains of a Roman port near Naples. The poet Tennyson — based on Lyell’s and Owen’s output — realizes Nature is ‘red in tooth and claw,’ contradicting Paley and God’s goodness, presaging Darwin himself. In Memorium. 1850.

By 1881, Nietzsche can announce publicly for the first time (in Book 3 of die Froeliche Wissenschaft) that “Gott ist tot.” God is dead. (section 108)

Let’s hear Nietzsche’s conclusion as the last philosopher of the first rank looks back upon the history of God:

…I go through the madhouse world of whole millennia whether it be called “Christianity,” “Christian faith,” or “Christian church” — I am careful not to hold mankind responsible for its mental disorders. But my feeling changes, it breaks out, as soon as I enter modern [1888!] times, our times. Our time knows better. What was formerly just sick is today indecent. — It is indecent to be a Christian. And here begins my nausea. (The Antichrist. section 38. trans Walter Kaufmann.)

the anti_supernaturalist

*scientific fields emerging from sound scholarship or empirical research around the core decades 1790-1810

1. inorganic chemistry
Lavoisier (1743-1794) demonstrates conservation of matter in chemical reaction
John Dalton (1766-1844) creates theory capable of measuring relative weights of atoms and molecules in A New System of Chemical Philosophy (1808)

2. electro-chemistry
Volta (1745-1827) first continuous source of DC electricity
Humphry Davy (1778-1829)
Gay-Lussac (1778-1850)

3. electricity and magnetism
Michael Faraday (1791-1867)

4. geology
Charles Lyell (1797-1875) develops concept of “deep time”

5. thermodynamics
Carnot (1796-1832)
Joule (1818-1889)

6. biology
Linneaus (1707-1778)
Charles Darwin (1809-1882) on the origin of species by descent with modification, that is, by “natural” selection.

7. paleontology
Richard Owen (1804-1892) creates the name ‘dinosaur’ for these extinct “thunder lizards” — best comparative anatomist in Britain

8. philology (linguistics)
A. H. Anquetil-Duperron (1731-1805) translates Avesta (Zoroastrian) into French
William Jones (1746-1794) proposes Indo-European language family
H. C. Rawlinson (1810-1895) translates cuneiform Babylonian text
George Smith (1840-1876) discoverer and first translator of the myth of the universal flood which ends the epic of Gilgamesh 2100 BCE.

Sources:

Michel Onfray in Atheist Manifesto (2006) undertakes the task of revivifying the history of thought, including d’Holbach’s, which descends from Democritan and Epicurean materialism and Epicurean and Lurcretian rational hedonism. He is writing a counter-history of philosophy of which three volumes are complete in French (and also translated into Italian).

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Knuje September 25, 2009 at 12:39 am
C.D. September 25, 2009 at 9:29 am

lukeprog: I was talked out of theism. I could definitely be talked back in. I could be won over for theism the same way I am won over for any other major belief… with good argument and evidence.

Good…in that case, I’m looking forward to these letters between you and Vox, and that’s why I wanted to know if it was a possibility b/c otherwise, everyone is just wasting time presenting their already studied “case” for their own beliefs while tuning out the cases presented by the other party. I just had a couple more questions: Do you favor the Deist view over Theism? Or are they all the same in your book? If you’ve already written about this, feel free to point me to the link…I couldn’t find anything

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C.D. September 25, 2009 at 9:42 am

Gordon: For myself I think the answer would be that it is incredibly unlikely, but not impossible.The thing is that this hypothetical theist would need some new argument that I had never heard before. It couldn’t be a threat (like Pascal’s Wager) or a game with words (like the Ontological Argument). Likewise Ray Comfort’s banana will not do the trick.As an atheist, I have not seen a convincing argument for the exisence of any gods (or spirit or magic) and I have not seen any evidence either. But if those things were to appear somehow then I’d be an idiot and a hypocrite to ignore them.The thing is, I’m reasonably sure that novel arguments, or old testament style intervensions are not on the cards here. We are stuck living in a world with zero evidence of supernatural forces. And I’m happy to accept that.

Do you not see any credible evidence for intelligent design?

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lukeprog September 25, 2009 at 1:53 pm

C.D.: Do you favor the Deist view over Theism?

Deism is more plausible than Theism, I think. But since the God of deism never interacts with the universe, I have no idea how we would ever gain reason to believe in his existence if he did exist.

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Dan September 26, 2009 at 3:46 am

Hmmm curiously put your section why theism is a disgrace could be turned around and equally apply to Why atheism is a disgrace.
Personal experience – I don’t know how many atheists I have met who were brought up Christian and then through some liberation experience become atheists is this not an experience? maybe it ‘should be abandoned after the merest consideration of their faults’, other people as you have said have experiences but seemingly only ones that lead to atheism should be considered.
Design arguments well where is the evidence that the universe was not designed? Arguments from design are theories just like naturalistic ones any argument from naturalistic causes can equally be countered by design ones it just depends on which side of the fence you sit. I mean how does anyone know if the universe is designed by God? just because atheists think God would have designed it differently doesn’t mean atheists are right. I mean is either side seriously worthy of discussion should we not wait for the results to come in. Or maybe the naturalistic one is the only one worth considering but then that would be a double standard

God as an explanation – well to believers, God is the only explanation. what is the alternative – the universe has no cause or that there is a perfectly reasonable rational naturalistic explanation just we haven’t come up with it yet? Sounds like Mythical magical thinking to me. The fact is we don’t know lets not close our minds.

Double standards what double standards such as the one when where the universe is deterministic when it suits us but it is also possible to be a freethinker when it suits us as long as we don’t call it free will.

Theistic defences against evil are absurd well I thought atheists do not believe in an objective morality so how does one define evil? I mean the labelling of people who call their children Christian as abuse is this not absurd I mean how do we enforce such a thing that does not end in gulags.

Hmm the Christian delusion don’t tell me another rehash from the attention seeking Jesus project or whatever they call themselves these days. Is it possible that the most influential idea that has ever come into the world was a delusion and there is really nothing to it or is it that the ‘unbiased scientific research’ by a bunch of historians/scientists/theologians is just another Jesus myth? maybe they should give up their mythical and magical thinking. I mean I would not be so arrogant to suggest that ‘The Twilight of Atheism’ by Alistair McGrath just about wraps up atheism for good. That would be a double standard – come on both books are preaching to the converted.

Luke it seems atheists do not apply the same standards to their own rigorous thinking as they do to others they accuse Christians of following their skydaddy but atheists seem to be the moody teenagers of the exact same skydaddy who have rebelled against it and haven’t discovered mature thought yet.
Sorry for the long post

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Dan September 26, 2009 at 4:01 am

@Anti_supernaturalist

Nietzche would know all about the worlds madhouses and humanitys mental illnesses wouldn’t he?
This poor man was consumed by his own ego and has served as a warning to all of those who seek to find truth in pure rationalism. Something Kant warned of.

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lukeprog September 26, 2009 at 6:38 am

Dan,

I don’t know any atheists who cite “personal experience” as a reason for their atheism. An atheists answer for things we have not explained yet is, quite reasonably, “We don’t know yet.” When lightning struck ancient pastures, the atheist said, “Amazing! I wonder what causes that?” and the believer said “By Zeus, it must be MAGIC!”

Since when do atheists not believe in objective morality? Also, for those who don’t, they can still say that if God existed and objective morality existed, the suffering they see could not be the work of an all-good, all-powerful god.

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Robert Gressis September 26, 2009 at 11:11 am

Hi Luke,

First, thanks for taking time out to write a nice response to my questions. There’s a lot in what you wrote, though, so I won’t be able to respond to everything you wrote at a very rapid clip. I want to respond to a fair bit of it, though, so let me start with your use of language.

You ask, “Is it shameful that people like Bas van Fraassen, Alexander Pruss, and Alvin Plantinga still argue that an invisible magic being controls our lives?”

In this post, I want to focus on the phrase “invisible magic being” as synonymous with “God”, as well as on the phrase, “controls our lives”.

1. “Invisible magic being” has a lot of connotations. Because you concatenate “invisible” with “magic being”, you suggest a fantasy world, where “invisibility” is associated with spells and cloaks of invisibility. But atoms, quarks, electrons, molecules, single-celled organisms, and the like are invisible. We can’t see them. In fact, we can’t see quarks or electrons even with the aid of powerful instruments. But the fact that they are invisible is not a strike against them. So the first thing I want to say is that saying “x is invisible” should not make us think of x as nonexistent.

2. Second, what is a “magic being”? The first thing I think of with “magic being” is a being that has been summoned by a conjurer; if you play Dungeons & Dragons or World of Warcraft, then you’d count a water elemental as an instance of what you have in mind. A water elemental is a magic being because it is literally brought into being through magical power, where magical power is the ability of a finite being to bend causal laws through the force of her will alone or supplication of powerful entities.

I don’t think God qualifies as a magical being, nor do I think prayer counts as the use of magic. For one thing, no Christian thinks she can summon God. For another, I don’t think mainstream Christianity portrays prayer along the supplication model, as in, “if you undertake actions A, B, and C then God will make result X will occur.” Many Christians pray in a hopeful spirit rather than a commanding spirit, and many Christians admit that their prayers are often not answered. That said, sacraments look like magic–e.g., if you baptize your baby after performing a certain ritual, then the stain of original sin is wiped from your baby.

3. As for God’s will bending causal laws, this is true (in some sense–I don’t think there are causal laws, and I wouldn’t believe in causal laws even if I were an atheist, but that’s a side issue), but remember that the singularity, on some accounts, brings laws of nature into being. I take it the reason that this doesn’t seem problematic to you is that the singularity doesn’t have a will? When you add a will, though, it becomes ridiculous?

4. I think we should think of some of our descriptions of God as being a model of God, not as literally true of God. For instance, you could describe electrons as invisible billiard bills, and that may be useful for some purposes. But it would be unfair for a disbeliever in electrons (and there are sophisticated philosophers of science who don’t believe in electrons) to mock you by saying you believe in invisible billiard balls.

5. What about “controls our lives”? Well, “controls our lives” brings up the suggestion that God mind-controls us. Granted the normal understanding of “mind-control”, no Christian believes that. Instead what Christians believe is that God is very interested in how we conduct our lives and occasionally intervenes in them. Most Christians, though, think our interactions with God are motivated by free will on our parts. So, I’m not quite sure what you mean by controls our lives without what your saying just being an overstatement.

Anyway, I think there’s a lot for you to disagree with in 2-5, so I look forward to seeing what you have to say.

Rob

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lukeprog September 26, 2009 at 4:28 pm

Robert,

I think “invisible magical being” has the right connotation. The Christian God arose from primitive concepts of spirits and pagan gods, and has more in common with them than with electrons. And however Christians might answer things on a theology quiz, their everyday interaction with “God” is very much of the “imaginary friend” type. (See Barrett & Keil – “Conceptualizing a Nonnatural Entity”.) The same goes for prayer: it clearly developed from pagan rituals that attempted to influence the gods in their favor, and this is still how prayer is practiced by most Christians around the world today.

Regarding the singularity, I have no idea if a singularity existed or if it brought causal “laws” into being. For one thing, I think laws are just descriptions of unbroken regularities, of which there would be none prior to the occurrence of events that could turn out to be regular or irregular.

Re: invisible billiard balls. Scientific realists do not believe that electrons are invisible billiard balls. But over a billion Christians do believe that Jesus is their invisible magical friend, literally.

Re: controlling our lives. I did not have mind-control in mind, though God apparently does that, too (consider the Pharoah). Rather, he controls our lives in a much broader sense. Yes, we have free will, but he does exercise the power to torture us forever if we don’t do or believe X, Y, and Z. Now that’s pretty controlling.

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Robert Gressis September 26, 2009 at 6:34 pm

“The Christian God arose from primitive concepts of spirits and pagan gods, and has more in common with them than with electrons. And however Christians might answer things on a theology quiz, their everyday interaction with “God” is very much of the ‘imaginary friend’ type.”

First, I don’t agree with you about the origin of the Christian God. I think the concept of the Christian God originated from interactions with the Christian God. That said, if I weren’t a theist, I still don’t know that I’d agree with you about how the concept of the Christian God originated. I wouldn’t feel comfortable making that claim unless I knew a lot more anthropology than I do.

Second, keep in mind that we’re asking the question, “Is it a disgrace that people like Al Plantinga, Bas van Fraassen, etc., believe in God?” Are you saying that Plantinga’s relationship with God is best characterized as an interaction with an imaginary friend? My main reason for disagreeing with you about that is that God is not imaginary; the second reason is that imaginary friend has the connotations of childhood. I don’t think there is much that is childish in the way in which many of the most theologically sophisticated or mystically experienced Christians have interacted with God over history.

Third, about everyday Christians; why restrict it to them? What do you think the beliefs of everyday laypeople about science are, even those laypeople who have graduated high school and college? Do you think they’re much more sophisticated than the “invisible billiard ball” type of concept? Obviously, if you include science majors then the answer will be “yes”, at least for the science majors, but I’m not sure that the relationship of religion majors to God is best characterized as that of an invisible friend either.

You write, “Regarding the singularity, I have no idea if a singularity existed or if it brought causal ‘laws’ into being.”

Well, clearly some physicists think this. What do you think of their beliefs?

You continue, “For one thing, I think laws are just descriptions of unbroken regularities, of which there would be none prior to the occurrence of events that could turn out to be regular or irregular.” Well, if you go Humean on causal laws, then you and I see causal laws in very different ways. But then I don’t know that magic should strike you as particularly weird (maybe it doesn’t?); after all, all that would be characteristic of magic is that there is a willing followed by some suitably specified natural event that is the result of the willing, and that we would feel pressure to attribute to the willing.

You also write, “invisible billiard balls. Scientific realists do not believe that electrons are invisible billiard balls. But over a billion Christians do believe that Jesus is their invisible magical friend, literally.”

First, if by “scientific realists” you mean philosophically sophisticated thinkers, then you’re right; but they should not be compared to the billions of Christians in the world, but rather to the philosophically sophisticated Christian thinkers. If by “scientific realists” you mean anyone who believes that the models of science accurately represent reality, then I just disagree with you about the sophistication of the billions of scientific realists the world over.

“Yes, we have free will, but he does exercise the power to torture us forever if we don’t do or believe X, Y, and Z. Now that’s pretty controlling.”

You and I have different conceptions of hell; I don’t think it’s of necessity eternal. Moreover, I don’t think people go there just because of what they believe, if by “belief” you mean a particular set of propositional beliefs. I think they go there willingly, and because of a lack of the right relationship with God. So I don’t see that as controlling. As for hardening Pharoah’s heart, I agree with Eleonore Stump that what God did was make Pharoah act on his deepest desires, which on some compatibilist models of free will amounts to a free action.

Now I must get to work!

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lukeprog September 26, 2009 at 7:53 pm

Well, we can agree to disagree about the origins of the Christian God concept. But I will point you to Dever’s Did God Have a Wife? and Smith’s The Early History of God.

Robert Gressis: Are you saying that Plantinga’s relationship with God is best characterized as an interaction with an imaginary friend?

I haven’t read about the nature of Plantinga’s “personal relationship” with God, if he claims to have one, but given his Holy Spirit epistemology, I would take a guess that yeah, Plantinga’s relationship with God is best characterizes as an interaction with an imaginary friend. Plantinga believes that his imaginary friend reveals himself directly to Plantinga, such that evidence for or against the existence of his imaginary friend is mostly irrelevant. I think that characterizes a child’s relationship with an imaginary friend quite well.

However, Plantinga’s investigation of, say, the problem of evil, is far from childish.

Your point about everyday people thinking of scientific concepts in simplified (and false) terms is a good one. I still can’t help but think of electrons as tiny planets orbiting a central mass of neutrons and protons. And yet when quizzed I will deny that such is the nature of electrons. So I retract that statement, which leaves only my point about the origins of the Christian God concept as legitimization for the connotations of the phrase “magical invisible friend.”

Robert Gressis: You write, “Regarding the singularity, I have no idea if a singularity existed or if it brought causal ‘laws’ into being.”

Well, clearly some physicists think this. What do you think of their beliefs?

As I said, I have no idea. If you ask me what I think of the beliefs of, say, those who think the fall of Rome had mostly financial causes, I will give the same answer.

I intended the second meaning of “scientific realists.” Do you really think the layman realist believes that electrons are invisible billiard balls, or merely that they are LIKE invisible billiard balls?

Re: control. That’s fine. You simply have a different theology than most Christians, or at least most American Christians.

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Robert Gressis September 26, 2009 at 10:23 pm

Hi Luke,

I know I should be grading, but I can’t resist talking to calm, intelligent interlocutors who have such radically different beliefs from me.

I’ll grant that for many God is defensibly characterized as an invisible friend, as God is invisible and a friend to some. And I’ll even grant that for many simple Christians (and theists of all stripes) _perhaps_ their relationship to God as defensibly characterized as one where they have a “magical, invisible friend”. What I mainly object to is all the connotations that “magical invisible friend” calls up. I think you’re choosing that description for rhetorical purposes mainly–you hope that it makes Christians feel silly. I think, though, that if you make clear what “magical invisible friend” means–an being you can’t see, who is your friend, and has the power to transcend everyday causal laws–then it doesn’t sound (to me, anyway) very silly.

But I think “imaginary friend” is inaccurate, even if I thought God were imaginary. I base this on my own relationship to God. To me, God is not a friend–I find God sublime: both terrifying and awe-inspiring. The idea of a being that, through its will alone can bring into being something as magnificant and massive as the universe is quite alienating to me, but the notion that this being underlies everything I see and is manifests itself in all natural causal interactions makes confronting it unavoidable. Finally, the notion that this being, ineffable as it is, manifested itself most palpably in the form of Jesus, and gave commandments that seem beautiful, unachievable, and undeniable makes it more relateable, as well as worthy of worship. So for me, anyway, my relationship to God is much different than a child’s relationship to an imaginary friend, which seems much more like another child, except invisible.

Oh, and re: the educated layman: I think the educated layman thinks of electrons as like billiard balls, but perhaps even as little round particles that are very small, instead of incredibly weird things that manifest the properties of both waves and particles.

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lukeprog September 27, 2009 at 2:31 am

Robert Gressis: I think you’re choosing that description for rhetorical purposes mainly–you hope that it makes Christians feel silly.

You, sir, are correct. I don’t always use such strong terms when criticizing theism, but sometimes I do. My reasons are here.

Your conceptualization of God reminds me of my friend Mark van Steenwyk, who said something in an interview with me about other Christians: “If you were actually just talking to God the other day I would expect you to be trembling a little bit, not just willy-nilly ‘Hey, I just had a conversation with the divine source of all existence…’”

The more I think about it, the more I like your comparison between common “working models” of God and common working models of electrons. The weirdness of both entities almost force us to conceptualize them as very different things than theologians and physicists tell us they are.

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Robert Gressis September 27, 2009 at 9:13 am

I’m glad we’ve reached some common ground so far. I won’t be able to get to the rest of your post for a few days, though. (At least, I _shouldn’t_!)

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