Spencer Case, 'on the ground' in Afghanistan, e-mails:
Your recent post discussing the God of the philosophers and the God of Abraham and Isaac caught my interest. Having grown up in a religious home, I have always been of the opinion that arguments for theism argue for something different than what believers take themselves to believe in. After all, how many religious people take themselves to be praying to an unmoved mover or a-being-greater-than-which-cannot-be-conceived? For this reason, I have not felt that my atheism could be threatened by any of the arguments for theism, even if they turn out to be successful because they argue not for God but for God*.
No doubt it could be true that you could make an identification between the God of the philosophers and the God of the believers if you have established the existence of both. My point is none of the arguments for the existence of God even try to argue for the God of the believers.
I look forward to hearing your thoughts.
Well, Spencer, it looks as if my earlier post, despite its pellucidity and penetration, made no impression on you.
Let's use 'God-P' to mean 'God of the philosophers' and 'God-R' to mean 'God of the religionists.' Now my claim is that the two phrases, though the differ in sense, have the same referent, if they have a referent. Thus I do not assume that they in fact have a common referent; my claim is that, if they have a referent, then they have a common referent. You are undoubtedly familiar with Frege's distinction between Sinn and Bedeutung. To use his old example, 'morning star' and 'evening star' have the same referent despite their difference in sense and in mode of presentation (Darstellungsweise). One and the same celestial body -- the planet Venus -- is presented in two different ways. Now in this case we know that the terms 'morning star' and 'evening star' have a common referent whereas in the God case we do not know this. So my claim is merely that 'God-P' and 'God-R' refer to one and the same entity if they refer to anything.
It may help to distinguish between REFERENCE and REFERENT. 'Meinong's favorite impossible object' and 'the round square' both lack a referent; but they have the same REFERENCE despite their manifest difference in sense.
Therefore, I reject your assertion that one needs to establish the existence of a common referent of 'God-P' and 'God-R' as a condition of establishing that they refer to the same thing if they refer at all.
Your main argument seems to be as follows:
1. The philosophical arguments for God are arguments for the existence of God-P, not of God-R.
2. Religious people qua religious people do not believe in or affirm the existence of God-P, but of God-R. (E.g. religious people who think about God or address God in prayer are not relating to an unmoved mover.)
3. Atheism is the denial of the existence of God-R. Therefore:
4. The philosophical God arguments, even if sound, have no tendency to show that atheism is false.
A very interesting argument! I reject the argument by rejecting the assumption on which it is based, namely, that God-P is not identical to God-R. To the contrary, I claim that they are the same God, albeit approached in different ways. The philosopher qua philosopher approaches God via discursive reason unassisted by scriptural or other revelation, whereas the religionist approaches God via faith and revelation. Now it may be (it is epistemically possible that) there is no God; but that does not alter the fact that the REFERENCE of the God-talk of philosophers and that of religionists is the same.
Think about it: when Aquinas was working out his Five Ways, was he trying to establish the existence of a mere concept or abstract idea? How could a mere concept create heaven and earth? Was he trying to prove the existence of something numerically different from the God of the Bible? Of course not. Aquinas was a philosopher, a religionist, and a mystic. It was the same God he was aiming at (and from his point of view, contacting) in his philosophical reasoning, his prayerful devotions, and his mystical experiences.
People get confused by the phrases 'God of the philosophers' and 'God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.' They think that because the phrases are different, and their senses also, that the phrases cannot have the same reference. But the reference is the same even if there in is no God. For the concept of God we are operating with is the concept of a being that satisfies both narrowly philosophical and narrowly religious exigencies. And this is so whether or not the concept is instantiated. The philosopher qua philosopher wants an explanation of the existence and intelligibility of contingent beings and finds his explanation in God, who is the real-ground of existence and intelligibility. The religionist qua religionist has a soteriological interest: he seeks a solution to our awful predicament in this life, and finds his solution is a relationship with a personal Being. Now what needs to be understood is that that real-ground and this personal Being are the same.
Or do you think that God can't walk down the street and chew gum at the same time?