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Saturday, October 15, 2016

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>>My point was not that God cannot have feet, but that God cannot be a physical being. The creator of the physical universe cannot be a proper part thereof. <<

Where did I claim that God had to be a physical being? I can point to the picture above and say ‘that is God’. The picture is a physical thing (it is a light-emitting image on a physical screen). But when I utter the demonstrative ‘that’, it is not the picture I am referring to. And nothing rules out that I am referring to a non-physical being.

>>it is preposterous to suppose that the creator of the the physical universe, "the heavens and the earth," is a proper part of the physical universe
My thesis nowhere implies that God is a proper part of the physical universe, although it does require that God causes things to happen in the physical universe.

>> Now suppose God himself is a pure spirit who has the power to manifest himself at will in and through various physical avatars. This is an interesting and quote different notion, but apparently not the one that Sommer is floating. <<
Again, you seem to misunderstand the point. I point to a car loaded with parking tickets, saying ‘that man will have to pay a lot of money’. Is the car a physical part of the man I am referring to?


On literal interpretation, the argument should be:

If a book contains a wide variety of texts written by different authors in different genres, where it is nowhere hinted that the language is to be taken figuratively, then it should be taken literally.


The Hebrew Bible contains a wide variety of texts written by different authors in different genres, where it is nowhere hinted that the language is to be taken figuratively.


Therefore the Hebrew Bible should be taken literally.


This is not a non sequitur.


>> if one takes the Bible to be divine revelation, then it is natural to assume that God is using the authors to get his message across.

I asked before about the exact mode of causation here, but you didn’t answer. That’s important. How exactly is God ‘using’ the authors? Is it a physical mechanism? In that case God needs a voice, or some means of vibrating the air. Is it telepathy? By what mechanism does the telepathy work? Or did God design the whole thing at the very moment of creation, knowing that many years later one of his avatars would appear to Abraham near the great trees of Mamre while he was sitting at the entrance to his tent in the heat of the day. Or is it that God implanted certain divine ideas in the DNA of humans, and that Abraham simply saw a traveller, not an angel or avatar?

In the latter case you seem to be suggesting that the Bible is an invention of man, and so God is not really 'using' the authors. Doesn't Spinoza claim something like that?

I think Astute brings up a good point in his second post. For the biblical authors, how did they come to know God was revealing himself to them and through what means? For us, how do we come to believe in revelation? Aquinas would say it's by God moving one inwardly to faith. But how does one know that God has moved one to faith? The answer can't simply be the fact of one's faith, since that doesn't prove God did it. A criterion is still missing. BV has spoken in recent posts about feeling a presence of love when meditating, which might suggest something similar to the Christian notion of God. Nevertheless, it need not refer to that God. I don't see how these questions can be answered. Kant, I think, has some good points related to this topic that BV quoted in an older blog entry that bear repeating (http://maverickphilosopher.typepad.com/maverick_philosopher/2009/08/kant-on-abraham-and-isaac.html):

"If God should really speak to man, man could still never know that it was God speaking. It is quite impossible for man to apprehend the infinite by his senses, distinguish it from sensible beings, and recognize it as such. But in some cases man can be sure that the voice he hears is not God's; for if the voice commands him to do something contrary to the moral law, then no matter how majestic the apparition may be, and no matter how it may seem to surpass the whole of nature, he must consider it an illusion."

So Kant here seems to be advocating a kind of apophaticism. To me, a thorough going apophaticism taken to its logical conclusion results not in Christian theism but in Buddhism, wherein nothing is said of the unconditioned, nirvana, that goes beyond what can be said of it. The idea of revelation in Christianity just produces a total mess. So I look forward to the post on the negative way.

On the crude vs refined anthropomorphism: is this something we find in Maimonides, or any other philosopher? I think there is something like it in Hume.

Meanwhile, I found this by Giles Fraser, which captures the nominalist unease with the God of the philosophers.

The basic point is that western philosophy generally and Christianity in particular has founded its thought upon the idea that change is a bad thing and thus that for human life to be valuable it must be rooted in something fixed and unchanging and eternal – ie God. But what Nietzsche points out is that anything that is not able to change is, by definition, dead. And thus that the Christian/Platonic worldview is essentially a celebration of death dressed up to look like the opposite.

[...]

Yet putting Christian theology back on track, without the Plato, seems to many an almost impossible exercise given the extent to which these two have grown together over hundreds of years. But how difficult can it really be? Christianity was originally a Jewish peasant religion, with no understanding of, or vague interest in, the metaphysical categories we happily read back into the Biblical stories. Jesus had never heard of Plato. And the God of the philosophers is nothing like the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. Which may be why the best place to begin the reconstruction of a post-Platonic Christian theology is with the Reformation cry of "back to the Bible".

I only recently found out that Maimonides and the Islamic medieval philosophers were influenced by a book called The Theology of Aristotle, attributed to Aristotle but in fact an edited summary of parts of books 4-6 of Plotinus’ Enneads. There seems to be a strong logical and historical connection between Platonism, divine simplicity and negative theology. Would you agree?

Aha. Saadia, cited by Wolfson (The Philosophy of the Kalam, Harry Austryn Wolfson, Harvard University Press, 1976, p.98)

Now, the passage in question [by Saadia] begins with a twofold division of those who believe in the corporeality of God: (1) "those who believe that they can picture God in their imagination as a body" and (2) "those who, without expressly attributing to Him corporeality, yet they arrogate for God quantity or quality or place or time or other such categories; however, when they make these arrogations, they really insist upon His being corporeal, for such characteristics appertain only to body."
Is that close to your distinction between crude and refined, or something else?

>>The basic point is that western philosophy generally and Christianity in particular has founded its thought upon the idea that change is a bad thing.<<

This just isn't true. Christian theologians work very hard to distinguish finite being from evil (e.g. Augustine, Civitas Dei IX and X; Aquinas, De potentia 3.16 [see esp. ad 3]). Change is a sign of finitude, not evil. It was obviously very important for Christians to polemicize against various Neoplatonic lines of thought (which would understand finitude as evil) given the doctrine of the incarnation, among other things.

>>Christianity was originally a Jewish peasant religion, with no understanding of, or vague interest in, the metaphysical categories we happily read back into the Biblical stories.<<

I don't think we should take this "pure Hebraicism" thesis seriously anymore. The mark of the educated classes is all over the NT (e.g. John 1; Acts 17), albeit in subtly transformed ways. There are key terms Jesus uses that would have been instantly recognizable to any educated person in that area of the world at that time (e.g. μετάνοια). Surely philosophical polemics is not a primary theme in the NT, but we miss some important subtleties of the text if we just write these things off as accidents.

Josh,

I basically agree with you. To rewrite Fraser's sentence so that it comes out true:

The basic point is Western philosophy generally and Christianity in particular (Platonism for the people, as Nietzsche calls it) has founded its thought upon the idea that change argues the relative unreality of the sensible world.

In other words, the absolutely real, the fully real, the truly real is beyond change, whether existential change or alterational change. But this is not to say that the mutable world is evil or utterly nonexistent. It is real all right, but it does not enjoy plenary reality.

As Josh suggests, what is the Incarnation if not a 'valorization' of the material world? God sends his only begotten Son into the material matrix to redeem and save it. Why, if it is worthless?

That being said, there is a tension in Christianity between the Hebraic and Greek elements, and it is not clear how they can be comfortably reconciled.

Christianity without Platonism is of no value. I could pull a number of quotations from Ratzinger, the last real pope before the 'dope pope' Bergoglio to back up my bald assertion. See R's Intro to Xianity, an excellent book.

Astute says

>>Where did I claim that God had to be a physical being?<<

I take it you are advocating Sommer's position, and you quote him:

‘Until Saadiah [the 10th century father of Jewish philosophy], all Jewish thinkers, biblical and post-biblical, agreed that God, like anything real in the universe, has a body’.

If so, then God and his avatars have to be physical.

I said: >> if one takes the Bible to be divine revelation, then it is natural to assume that God is using the authors to get his message across. <<

My point was that we don't need to worry whether the authors intended their writing to be literal or figurative. They might have thought that it is literally true that the entire spatiotemporal system came into existence over a six day period -- which, as Augustine understood, is nonsense. The authors might have been incapable of abstract thought. Perhapsd God was using them to convey a message that sharper heads would discern.

Astute wants to know the mechanism of divine revelation. Interesting question, but not one I need to answer.

Once you grasp that it is senseless to suppose that time itself came into existence over a six day period, or over any temporal period, you will get my point: not everything in the Bible can be taken literally.

>>I take it you are advocating Sommer's position, and you quote him:

I was merely quoting him until the 'Do hard-assed logicians...' part of my post, where I give my take. The question turns on the meaning of 'has a body'. If I point to the picture of Hillary and say 'this is Hillary', then I am not saying that Hillary is a picture. But she must stand in some relation to the picture.

>>Astute wants to know the mechanism of divine revelation. Interesting question, but not one I need to answer.

Well I think you do. You make the claim that God is 'using' the authors, and you say 'we don't need to worry whether the authors intended their writing to be literal or figurative'. But if God is using the authors, why does he allow them to express themselves in a way that is naturally interpreted as literal?

>>Perhapsd God was using them to convey a message that sharper heads would discern.
Why on earth would God do this?

JS,

You ask an important question. I would put it like this: how can one authenticate a putative revelation so as to establish that it is a genuine revelation?

I explore the problem here: http://maverickphilosopher.typepad.com/maverick_philosopher/2014/10/josiah-royce-and-the-paradox-of-revelation.html


My answer is that one cannot prove that a putative revelation is genuine. In the end you must decide what to believe and how to live. Faith is a venture and you might be wrong. This is compatible with what Kant says. A supposedly divine command to murder one's innocent son cannot come from God violating as it does a clear moral deliverance.

Certain 'revelations' can be ruled out by reason and moral sense, but none can be ruled in.

Of course I agree with what you say about Hillary.

>>But if God is using the authors, why does he allow them to express themselves in a way that is naturally interpreted as literal?<<

Because the message has to go out to other shepherds and farmers and rusticos who are not philosophers.

>>Why on earth would God do this?<<

Because the authors would not have understood the literal truth.

What about Giles's quotes from Nietzsche? Aren't you a Nietzsche guy also? The idea that Platonism = death is interesting (assuming Fraser has understood him aright).

BV,

That's an honest admission. I suppose the next question is whether to embark on the venture of faith at all and whether an institutional religion is necessary to do so. Personally, I remain unconvinced, though your blog has certainly helped to thaw much of my skepticism. Thanks for the link.

Richard R. Hopkins argues (How Greek Philosophy Corrupted the Christian Concept of God, p.254) that we would expect God to be honest in his dealings with humans.

If He appeared to Men in human form, but was not Himself human, one would expect that, at some point, He would reveal that fact. Yet there is no indication in scripture that God is something other than what He has appeared to be during His many visits to Men.
We can imagine at least 3 scenarios:

(1) God (speaking to prophets) ‘Guys, these rusticos and peasants simply aren’t going to understand all this esoteric stuff I have explained to you over some time. Frankly, I’m not sure even you lot really get it. So just make some stuff up, OK? I have some ideas about pillar of cloud, me ‘descending’ onto the mountain top, blinding light coming out of my head. Just lay it on with a trowel, and it will work fine. Honestly, I despair of you people.’

(2) God plants all the stuff about pillars of cloud, blinding light and so on in the heads of the prophets while they are sleeping. When they wake up, they have a compelling belief that it all really happened.

(3) God creates a marionette or robot with a brilliant light on its head, descending from space in a pillar of cloud, etc.

Scenario (1) has both God and the prophets consciously deceiving the people. Scenarios (2) and (3) have him deceiving both the prophets and the people, but the causal mechanisms are different. In (2) it is all done through dreams. In (3), there is a reality of sorts, which is not all that different from the ‘avatar’ idea. All three require supernatural intervention. All three require God being dishonest in some respect. Of course, we don’t have to accept Hopkins’ assumption that God would be honest in his dealings with humans. As you say, the rusticos would not understand the truth, so perhaps the ends justify the means.

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