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Wednesday, June 30, 2010


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I'm going to risk a comment. Two or three latin phrases come to mind:

Veritas est una et error multiplex

causa essendi (necessarily) predicates causa cognoscendi - the cause of being predicates the cause of knowing.

I.e. - if truth is one and God is truth (and truth is susceptible to at least being approached by the human mind), how could the God of the philosophers be different from the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob?

This assumes probity on the part of the philosophers in question, along with a willingness to concede the subject (God) cannot be exhausted or definitive prescribed, but beyond such responsible caveats that reduction seems reasonable.

You have established that Aquinas, et al intended their proofs to refer to the God described in the Bible. But you haven't demonstrated that od-P and God-R have the same reference, even if Aquinas and company claim they do.

The point being contested by Spencer is precisely the one you are taking as a given, namely "that real Ground and this personal Being are the same." You have demonstrated that your assumption is different from Spencer's assumption, but haven't given a convincing account as to why your assumption is any more valid than his. At best I would say you have perhaps shown that it is possible that God-R and God-P have the same reference, but haven't given us any compelling reasons as to why this is the case.

Speaking for myself, I don't think it is at all obvious that the the transcendent unmoved mover of Aristotle and the self-described "Jealous God" of the Old Testament have anything in common. Thus while I do not take any position on this question, I am for the time being more inclined toward Spencer's assumption than I am toward yours, Dr. V.


Fair enough, although if you read both of my posts you will see that I am not simply begging the question against Spencer.

The concept of God we are operating with is a concept of a unique being that does various jobs. Here are three: he is the ultimate explanans of the existence of contingent beings; he is the ultimate source of attributes we find in ourselves such as consciousness and free will and is therefore himself conscious and free, hence a person; he is our ultimate and highest good and thus the ultimate telos of human striving. Now the first of these jobs may seem to have little religious significance, but the other two do. The point is that from the very concept of God (whether instantiated or not) one can derive these different roles. Someone who thinks that there are two gods, God-P and God-R, does not understand the concept of God that is the one at issue here, namely the concept of God in Judeo-Christian monotheism. If Spencer is operating with some other concept of God, then his remarks are simply irrelevant to what I have been saying over these last two posts.


Thank you for your response. I think Pyrrhonian above states my point perhaps more succinctly than I was able to. Obviously you, as a believer, believe God-R and God-P refer to the same object. But you're arguing with an atheist. I can see that God-P may exist, but it gives me not the slightest inclination to believe in God-R.

Think of it this way: I can see the morning star but not the evening star. Of course if there was an evening star it might be the same thing as the morning star. I am aware that the same object can have two modes of presentation. My point is in order to pursuade me away from atheism, you have to get me to see the evening star. So far you haven't done that. Probably there simply is no way to do that through argument.

Interesting. I have something about this here http://ocham.blogspot.com/2010/06/god-and-allah.html

Debate about the identity of the gods of different faiths usually involve description theories of the term ‘God’. Your point seems to be different. I am not sure I follow your distinction between sense, reference and referent. Is a reference a purported referent? I.e. we can say that names A and B have the same purported referent, even if they do not refer. On ‘sense’, I have argued before that Frege’s conception of ‘sense’ seems to be confused. Sometimes he seems to mean that a sense is the description corresponding to a proper name (thus assuming a descriptive theory of proper names). Other times, that a sense is simply the referent of the proper name when it occurs in a ‘that’ clause. I’m not sure it helps to introduce this terminology.

There is definitely an interesting counter-perspective here. When I read Richard Dawkins’ ‘God Delusion’ I found myself following the discussion and the arguments but I was wholly emotionally unengaged. The presentation that Dawkins put forward was unlikely to convince any committed theist to abandon their beliefs. Kant famously put a limit on reason to make room for faith. Assent to a religious perspective can not be a wholly reasoned decision. I am sympathetic to Kierkegaard's leap of faith in this context.

I can accept that God-P and God-R have the same reference, the referent is a matter of faith, but I can also see how it might not feel that way to a believer. Neither the cosmological nor the ontological arguments are likely to inspire a Kierkegaardian leap of faith.

My key point here is that we also need to consider how we give or withhold our assent to the proposition of God-P or God-R. One is through reason, and the other is not.

Peter and Paul spread the good news across the Mediterranean basin because they had an inspired message of love, hope and life. It is a very different message to Aristotle’s and Anselm’s. The sense is SO different, and the nature of the assent that we give or withhold is SO different, that it is no wonder that the reference feels like it is different.

I suspect that God-P might have some limited success in moving an atheist to agnosticism (indeed even the pre-Darwin Hume may have been influenced this way by the argument from design), but to join a particular religion you really need to connect with God-R.

I don't understand something. Even if God-P is not the same as God-R, unless you have some kind of response to the arguments, shouldn't you believe in God-P nonetheless? What does it matter which God the believers believe in?


When people ask you whether you or I or anyone believe(s) in God we're taking this to be an important question, fundamental to your worldview. I think it's hard to explain the importance of the question if we're only talking about God-P whereas most believers are talking about God-R. Being Catholic or Mormon is an essential part of who you are; believing in an unmoved mover does not. (Unless you can make an identification between unmoved mover and God of Catholicism. I await this kind of an argument.)

Bill says that within the context of the Christian religion you can make an identification between God-P and God-R and I agree. But my original point--that the God-P arguments mean very little to the atheist--has not been answered in this post or the previous one or the successive one.

What exactly are the differences that make them different? I'm having a hard time understanding your point.

The God of the philosophers holds things in being, unifies their ontological constituents, etc. God upholds the universe by the word of his power in Christianity (Heb 1) and in him we live and move and have our being (Acts 17).

The God of the philosophers created everything beside himself, but so did the God of the Christian religion (Isaiah 44, Col 1, Heb 3).

What are the relevant differences that suggest the being proven at the end of a theistic proof is different from the being called 'God' in the Christian religion?

"But my original point--that the God-P arguments mean very little to the atheist--has not been answered in this post or the previous one or the successive one."

They should. Every proof for God-P is a proof for God-R too.


Thanks for the response. Let me see if I can pursuade on "Every proof for God-P is a proof for God-R too."

Well, if you already believe that God-R exists then yes. But I don't. Someone may be able to convince me that an unmoved mover exists and it would be perfectly consistent for me to affirm the existence of an unmoved mover and deny the God of the Christian religion, for instance.

You may consistently affirm their identity but you would need a further argument to convince me.

As for the distinction between the two: it's hard for me to draw a hard-and-fast-line here, but seems to me that there is far more of a gap between believing in God-P and believing in God-R than there is between believing in God-P and believing in no God at all. Consider this. Suppose Sam Harris becomes convinced that there is an unmoved mover. Does his overall world view change all that much? Maybe he's a little more humble. But it's not the cataclysmic change in worldview that a newfound belief in God-R would be. That, to me, captures the essence of the difference.

That's my take, anyhow.

Why speculate on Sam Harris, whenever Antony Flew seems an actual specimen for your argument. Despite Varghese and overly defensive internet infidels trying to shape his "conversion" around intelligent design, it seems more that in reality he became convinced of Aristotelean proofs and convinced by some of Brian Davies' work...but that didn't lead him to Christian theism.

Everyone else,
It seems perspectival. If the view is from an atheist converting to God-P, then I guess at the point of excepting an unmoved mover, one moves into worldview critique. Obviously atheism can't be true, nor Hinduism, Buddhism, etc. Deism, ala the watchmaker who finishes the work and goes away, couldn't be true, because an unmoved mover sustains the world and all action here and now. If you continue reading Aquinas past the Five Ways, you get into the nature of this unmoved mover and hundreds of pages later you see that this unmoved mover gets you to a God similar to the God of Christianity or Islam.

But this doesn't prove that God-P parted the Red Sea or became incarnate in the human Jesus of Nazareth to this new believer in God-P's perspective (nor would historical Christian theology which demands that God changes the heart and renews the mind allow pure reason to bring the sinner completely to saving faith).

But if the perspective is from a Christian who already has theological/historical/philosophical or whatever other reasons to believe in the resurrection, but wants a firmer philosophical base for believing in God, then arguments for God-P, justify his worldview do they not?


If all you are saying is that an argument for an unmoved mover, e.g., even if sound, cannot be taken to establish the existence of a being having such additional religiously-relevant attributes as omnibenevolence, concern for the salvation of humans, etc. then I agree with you. All an argument for an unmoved mover or a first cause establishes, if it establishes anything, is that there is an unmoved mover or a first cause which, as far as any such argument goes, might be indifferent to human well-being or lack other religiously-relevant properties. Historical example: Aristitle's noesis noeseos. But this is nothing new.

If that's your point, it is consistent with what I am maintaining, namely, that God as approached from the side of philosophy in Judeo-Chritian monotheism is not a different entity from God as approached from the side of religion.

And my point holds whether one is a theist or an atheist. For my point depends soley on unpacking the CONCEPT of God within the JC tradition.


In that case, I agree with you.


Son of a gun! It looks like we have achieved that rare result, a philosophical discussion that terminates in agreement!

Thanks for the discussion, and all the best.

>> a philosophical discussion that terminates in agreement!

No true philosophical discussion terminates in agreement.

One of your famnous jokes, no doubt. I just learned today of the philosophy closure at Middlesex. Too bad, except that the howling of Chomsky, Badiou, Zizek and other lefties leaves me of two minds.

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