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Monday, October 10, 2016


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"If the difference between creatures and God is only a matter of degree, then God would not be worthy of worship."

Wait. What's your df of worship? Does the df make your claim obvious?

An entirely fair question, Vlastimil.

I could give a definition that would make the claim obvious, but then you could question the definition, and do so reasonably. If I said that only an ontologically simple being is worthy of worship, you could ask why simplicity is required for worship-worthiness.

You could say what I expect Plantinga would say: X is worship-worthy iff X is a maximally great necessary being.

So I suppose it comes down to an intuition that you do not share.

1. To say that certain terms are univocally predicated of both God and man doesn't obviously imply that there are dissimilarities that suffice to render God transcendent and sufficiently ineffable to be worship-worthy. Perhaps our great-making properties are possessed by God to the highest degree and in the greatest breadth, but these properties do not exhaust the divine nature. To say that both God and man know that 2 + 2 = 4, in a univocal sense of "know", doesn't obviously turn the biblical God into Zeus. And human beings are created in the Imago Dei, so that at least (defeasibly) suggests some genuine commonality between God and man.

2.One could reasonably block the inference from "that than which none greater can be conceived" to "the greatest conceivable being". (Or the equivalence of the two descriptions.) The first one rules out inferior candidates for godhood (in particular, one that only exists in the imagination without also existing in reality), while the second offers a positive characterization or at least a recipe that allows us to create such a characterization. Alternatively, we could grant that God is the greatest conceivable being without allowing that we are up to the task of filling out that conception.

3. In defense of the historical Anselm, though not necessarily of contemporary perfect being theology, he goes on to conclude in chapte XV of the Proslogion that God isn't just that than which none greater can be conceived - or maybe isn't that, period. Rather, he says this:

"He is greater than can be conceived.

"THEREFORE, O Lord, you are not only that than which a greater cannot be conceived, but you are a being greater than can be conceived. For, since it can be conceived that there is such a being, if you are not this very being, a greater than you can be conceived. But this is impossible."

Pluperfect Being Theology!

"God in not just another thing that exists and possesses properties in the way creatures possess properties."

I may borrow this formulation for the book. There is the anthropomorphic and personal conception of God that we find in the Hebrew Bible (and in a different way in the New Testament). This is also an individual conception, namely as a thing which has attributes, but which may not have possessed those attributes in the past, will go on to possess new attributes in the future etc.

Then there is the idea that God is not an individual in this sense, or at least not an individual possessing properties in the way that creatures possess properties.

Have I got that right?


I think we should make a distinction between a crude and a refined anthropomorphism. (This distinction itself may need to be refined.)

Crude: God is a man with feet who walks around the garden leaving footprints. . . God is a physical being with certain very unusual powers such as the power to make the first man out of dirt and spit, and then make the first woman out of a rib of the first man. As opposed to being a pure spirit. (IMHO, this is a hopeless reading of Genesis.)

Refined (and this is what I meant in my post): God is a pure spirit, but is conceived as having many of the same (nonphysical) attributes as a man, but having them to the maximal degree. Thus I am wise to a limited degree whereas God is wise 'to the max.' And just as I am an individual among individuals, God is an individual among individuals. And he exists in the same sense of 'exists' as I do. And he has properties in the same way I do. And he is a necessary being in the same way the number 7 is a necessary being.

Non-refined-anthropomorphic conception: Maimonides for example. Will quote him later.

To further clarify, by 'anthropomorphic' in this post I do not mean *having the form of a human animal.* That is what I called the crude sense above, and it is the usual sense. I am using it in the way Barry Miller uses it in the book referenced.

So is this clear, Astute?


I find your first sentence incomprehensible. But it makes sense if "obviously imply" is replaced by 'rule out.'

>> Perhaps our great-making properties are possessed by God to the highest degree and in the greatest breadth, but these properties do not exhaust the divine nature.<<

Perhaps, but this wouldn't blunt the charge of anthropomorphism in the refined sense clarified in my response to Astute. For there would still only be a difference in degree between Socrates and God with respect to such key attributes as knowledge, power, moral goodness, love, mercy, etc. Besides, what could the other attributes be?


The two phrases strike me as logically equivalent.

>>(IMHO, this is a hopeless reading of Genesis.

Jerome (Epist. vi, Ad Pammachium) called it a ‘rustic’ view, and ‘a most foolish heresy’. OTOH there is the question of what the author of Genesis (who was Moses) actually meant by it, or what he intended his readers to understand by it.

Remember there is more than just what is in Genesis, namely in the whole Hebrew Bible. If the authors of the Hebrew Bible had intended their anthropomorphic language to be understood figuratively, why did they not say so?

I have more or less a whole chapter on this in the book.

Seriously, now, you can't possibly believe that God has feet. Or are you an atheist out to interpret Genesis so that it comes out false?

Philosophy has to constrain Biblical interpretation.

A literal interpretation makes it out to be garbage.

You didn't tell me whether you accept my distinction betgween crude and refined anthropomorphism.

Also, if the Bible is divine revelation why should it matter what the authors intended? God was using them to get a message across.

>>The two phrases strike me as logically equivalent.<<

Are you talking about these two phrases?

(1) "that than which none greater can be conceived";
(2) "the greatest conceivable being"

If so, then there seems to be a difference regarding whether or not the being in question is conceivable at all. Whereas (2) clearly implies that the being in question is conceivable, (1) is silent on the matter.

In other words, it could be the case that the being in question is both "that than which none greater can be conceived" and inconceivable. In fact I would suggest that this is the authentic Anselmian position. To beat a dead horse, there is simply no premodern precursor to theistic personalism.

"Philosophical, i.e., allegorical, exegesis was considered a danger to religion, since the whole biblical, halakhic, and aggadic tradition might easily evaporate into allegorical ideas."

Says who? And what means 'aggadic'?

Besides, that is a slippery slope argument, and we know they are all invalid.

Well, it's no dead horse, since riders are among us.

I think you are right wrt the historical Anselm. But his views are not the topic. The topic is Plantinga-type approaches in theology.

I have been following the fine work of Benjamin Sommer, whom I was quoting in saying ‘If the authors of the Hebrew Bible had intended their anthropomorphic language to be understood figuratively, why did they not say so?’

This is not about intention, but rather about meaning. They didn’t say their language was to be understood figuratively, therefore it should not be understood figuratively. I don’t agree ‘A literal interpretation makes it out to be garbage.’ Why should the idea that God has feet be absurd? Why is it any less absurd that God was ‘using’ the prophets to get a message across, if you are committed to naturalistic explanations of the events narrated in the scriptures? What exactly would be the causal mechanism, if not a supernatural one? If you deny the supernatural, both are equally ridiculous, therefore you cannot deny the supernatural.

Of course, God himself may not have feet, even if his manifestations or avatars do.

Here is an explanation of Sommer’s idea. As I understand it, an avatar is a body which is identical with God, even though God may be simultaneously in another place. Compare pointing to an image on your TV, saying ‘that is Hillary’. Now the image is a light emitting surface of the screen itself, physically in your living room. And it is that you are pointing to. Yet you say that is Hillary. In a similar way you could point to the avatar and say that is God, and speak truly, even though another avatar is in a different location. This is no different from my seeing an image of Hillary on my TV, and making the demonstrative utterance.

Note the avatar is not an angel (‘messenger’) or a vision or an image. The avatar is physical and real, just like the light-emitting surface of the TV screen.

So in summary I don’t accept your crude-subtle anthropomorphism distinction. This is just something invented by philosophers and has no hermeneutic basis.

This interview with Sommer is clearer.

The מלאך in this sense is not sent by God but actually is God, just not all of God; this מלאך is a smaller, more approachable, more user-friendly aspect of the cosmic deity who is Hashem. That idea is very similar to what the term avatara conveys in Sanskrit. So in this respect, we can see a significant overlap between Hindu theology and one biblical theology.


until Saadiah, all Jewish thinkers, biblical and post-biblical, agreed that God, like anything real in the universe, has a body.

My emphasis.

Or as Richard Cartwright notes, we can say ‘that is Descartes’ (pointing to a picture), ‘that is the Sonesta Hotel’ (pointing to a reflection in the water), or ‘that is the Fuller Brush man’ (pointing to a foot in the doorway). Moore gives the example ‘that island is uninhabited’, while pointing to a beach, or stretch of coastline.

You are off-topic, but this is interesting.

If the idea is that God has a body in the sense of an avatar that is partially identical to God but not wholly identical to him, then this worth thinking about.

But a hard-assed logician such as yourself may be expected to balk at *partial identity.*

The Fuller Brush Man! I remember this door-to-door salesman from the 1950s in So California. Did you have these guys in England?

I don’t think it’s off-topic. The exam question is what is wrong with anthropomorphism, and whether it fails to do justice to God's absolute transcendence and ineffability.

On Sommer’s conception, it would not. The avatar is not sent by God but actually is God. But it is not all of God, who is absolutely transcendent and ineffable.

>>But a hard-assed logician such as yourself may be expected to balk at *partial identity.*

Sommer is not a logician, and the way he presents it is problematic. I point to a shadow at the bottom of the door, saying ‘that is the Fuller Brush man’. Now I am pointing to the shadow, am I saying that the Fuller Brush man is a shadow? Certainly not! Nor, when I point to a beach on the island, saying ‘that island is uninhabited’, am I implying that the whole island is a beach.

By the same token, when I point to the avatar, and truly say ‘that is God’, am I implying that God is identical with the avatar? Not at all. Nor am I saying that God has feet, even though the avatar has feet. The point is that the reference of ‘that’ is not the physical manifestation before me, but God himself. Scholastic objections that we cannot think of God as ‘this essence’ (ut haec essentia) notwithstanding.

>> I remember this door-to-door salesman from the 1950s in So California. Did you have these guys in England?
Nope, I was quoting Cartwright (‘On the Logical Problems of the Trinity’), who is American. Note that while Cartwright’s suggestion addresses the problem of the Trinity, it equally applies to Sommer’s thesis. Note this

Sommer insists that core Christian assertions—the trinity and incarnation—are not theologically impermissible within the world of Judaism, but rather are faithful to the fluidity model of divinity found in ancient Israel. For modern Jews, Sommer demonstrates how biblical notions of fluidity and antifluidity pose challenges for both liberal and conservative Jews, though not in the same way. He concludes by insisting that, contrary to customary positions, it is the fluidity model that offers the strongest statement of monotheism consistent with the personhood of God.

The ‘fluidity’ model is that the divine self is fluid, both through the fragmentation of divine beings (e.g., Ishtar) and through the overlap of divine beings (e.g., Asshur).


Sorry to take so long to reply. Yes, you are correct about the first sentence. I had edited that monstrosity - probably in an attempt to make it less clear - and meant to say that there "aren't dissimilarities...", not that there are.

On the second point - which has two points - to say that the difference between God's knowledge and our knowledge is just one of degree seems to undersell the difference even if one holds to univocal predication. God knows everything (that's the "difference in degree" part), and without the need for sense perception or inference. That doesn't seem anthropomorphic at all, and seems like something far more impressive than a difference in degree. But does that require analogical predication? Possibly, but not obviously.

The second point of your second point asked what properties of God I might have in mind. My reply is an appeal to the philosopher Donald Rumsfeld, who spoke of unknown unknowns. That seems to be part of Anselm's story in chapter XV of the Proslogion.

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