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Thursday, September 24, 2020

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Hi Bill,
I have been pondering this post for days now, so I decided to write.
We have agreed in the past that our ignorance of many metaphysical realities is an evil that marks our entire fleshly transit, whatever its cause. So, while I am convinced by your argument, I, and I assume you, do not take any solace in the remedy that you propose to our cognitive inability to know whether God does or does not exist. In saying this, I do not pretend to have another antidote to our predicament, since I do not. Your prescription that we chose cannot be evaded, once one has given up the illusion that logical proofs or demonstrations can be marshaled with regard to the question of God’s existence and nature or to that of other obscurities. Hence, I chose to believe that He exists and seek to act in ways that reflect that belief, but I am not entirely happy in doing so. A residual resentment underlies my choice, for some part of me contends that is only right that we know more. I am grateful for your prescription, for it has allowed me over the last several years to move out of the intellectual box in which I found myself confined for a very long time, hoping to know what I could only believe; however, it comes with a cost, in that the revelatory truths on which Christian faith depends now must stand on far more precarious grounds than those on which our ancestors, or most of them at least, based their faith. For instance, to anchor our faith commitments on what is essentially a rational existential choice, rather than a claim to knowledge, markedly alters our confidence in both the veracity or plausibility of the testimony-- individual and collective, first and second hand-- at the core of Christian revelation. If one followed the Catholic way in the past, to take just one tradition, in affirming that God’s existence could be known and His nature at least negatively delineated through rigorous argument, the background knowledge for revelation was taken as firmly established and not in dispute. Thus, the testimony of scripture rested on what was taken as the firm truths of natural religion. Now, instead, we are rationally choosing to believe in God and rationally choosing among arguments that define his nature, and then we go on and add additional beliefs, those of testimony, to make faith more specific. For those who have not been graced with deep religious experiences, the holding onto faith is all the harder. I believe that this is why so many continue to insist on the lucidity of this or that proof or demonstration, for the alternative is simply too stark and dry for many people.

Thanks for the detailed and thoughtful comments, Vito.

>> . . . however, it comes with a cost, in that the revelatory truths on which Christian faith depends now must stand on far more precarious grounds than those on which our ancestors, or most of them at least, based their faith. For instance, to anchor our faith commitments on what is essentially a rational existential choice, rather than a claim to knowledge, markedly alters our confidence in both the veracity or plausibility of the testimony-- individual and collective, first and second hand-- at the core of Christian revelation. If one followed the Catholic way in the past, to take just one tradition, in affirming that God’s existence could be known and His nature at least negatively delineated through rigorous argument, the background knowledge for revelation was taken as firmly established and not in dispute.<<

True, it WAS TAKEN as firmly established and not in dispute. Our ancestors, many of them, were subjectively certain. But I am questioning whether they were objectively certain.


>> Thus, the testimony of scripture rested on what was taken as the firm truths of natural religion. Now, instead, we are rationally choosing to believe in God and rationally choosing among arguments that define his nature, and then we go on and add additional beliefs, those of testimony, to make faith more specific. For those who have not been graced with deep religious experiences, the holding onto faith is all the harder. I believe that this is why so many continue to insist on the lucidity of this or that proof or demonstration, for the alternative is simply too stark and dry for many people.<<

That is correct as a psychological explanation of why many insist that some of the God proofs are probative. They cannot tolerate doxastic insecurity. And so the religious person with a skeptical bent, a person like myself, will tend to see them as involved in more or less 'metaphysical bluster': they claim to know what in fact they don't know, but merely believe, even when their belief is reasoned.

I have a question, Bill, the answer to which may seem obvious to you, but it truly troubles me. Do not feel obligated to answer it if you lack the interest or time.
If I rationally belief something the truth or falsity of which cannot be logically demonstrated or proven, such as the existence of God, and then add to that belief a subset of beliefs that are dependent on it and more specific in content, and whose veracity or even coherence is beyond the reach of reasoned argumentation, as in the dogmas of orthodox Christianity (Trinity, Incarnation, etc.), am I as or less justified in holding the latter than the former? If less justified, then should one not stop with the former, given the obscurity of these matters, that is, with generic theism of one sort or another, or perhaps adhere to something like the view of John Hick in affirming an transcendent reality that lies beyond human cognition but that is imperfectly grasped to one degree or another by the various religious traditions of the world?
Vito

Good question, Vito.

I think the answer to your first question has to be, "less justified." The belief that God (as standardly defined) exists, and the belief that a certain person was fully human and fully divine are very different. With respect to the second, but not the first, the question of its logical coherence is a major issue.

Now suppose that a person believes that God exists, and lives this belief: he prays, he meditates, he examines his conscience, he strives to improve himself morally, he reflects on the transient goods of this world and appreciates the folly of pursuing them as if they are ultimately real. But this person has serious doubts about the coherence (and consequently the truth) of Trinity, Incarnation, Virgin Birth.

You ask whether he should "stop with the former." Well, I don't think that he has an moral or epistemic duty to do that. He might continue to think about them and pray for enlightenment. Maybe God did become man in Jesus of Nazareth. Maybe there is a way to make sense of this. Perhaps light in a suprarational form will dawn later. This is one way to proceed.

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