philonew

…Just Another Question to the Faithful

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Recently, I submitted a question to (in)famous apologist William Lane Craig: https://philonew.wordpress.com/2013/01/14/apologist-william-lane-craig-answers-my-question/ His response was interesting because it shows an interesting/dangerous aspect of religious people’s reasoning. They seem incapable of accepting that (1) there are people who cannot bring themselves to believe in a god, much less in the Christian god. And (2) they are so confident about their faith that they forget that many people are just appalled by the idea of worshiping.

A few days ago, once again, I asked another question. The question generated an e-mail exchange with one of Craig’s associates, a certain Tom. The question is simply this: If there is a god, it seems to me more reasonable to believe in the Plotinian sort of god (see my previous article, https://philonew.wordpress.com/2013/01/02/no-one-is-one-like-the-one/)

In any event, what follows is my exchange with Tom:

My question to Reasonable Faith:

Dear William, I am quite certain that you are familiar with Plotinus. It would be very complicated to explain his doctrine here in such a limited space. Perhaps you may wish to do so in your response.

My question is this: If there is a god, why can’t it be the god of Plotinus, the One? Why does it have to be the personal being of Christianity?

Thanks
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Dear Carl,

Thank you for your question. Due to the high volume of questions Dr. Craig receives, he cannot answer every one personally. I am one of a team of volunteers that helps respond to Dr. Craig’s questions in a timely manner.

Have a look at these two articles by Dr. Craig:  http://www.reasonablefaith.org/pantheists-in-spite-of-themselves and http://www.reasonablefaith.org/introduction-the-resurrection-of-theism. They may not fully answer your question, but perhaps you’ll find them helpful.

Blessings,
Tom
Reasonable Faith

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Dear Tom, it is very gracious of you to respond to my inquiry. I am a college professor of philosophy and have many students emailing me all sorts of questions. I am sure that the number of emails I receive is but a small fraction of the number of emails Bill receives.

In any event, although I am not an important philosopher, like Bill, I am familiar with the pertinent literature. My point is that those articles you suggest do not answer my question at all.

Thanks again

Sincerely

Carl

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Carl, I’m sorry those articles didn’t answer your questions. I am not very familiar with the views of Plotinus, but here are some reasons to think the First Cause must be a personal agent capable of deciding to cause the universe: 1) The Cause cannot be mechanistic and 2) It must have a mind. The Cause cannot be some kind of mechanistic machine that necessarily causes effects because the Cause would never exist without the effect (the universe). Dr. Craig provides an example:

The cause of water’s freezing is the temperature’s being below 0˚ Centigrade. If the temperature were below 0˚ from eternity past, then any water that was around would be frozen from eternity. It would be impossible for the water to begin to freeze just a finite time ago. So if the cause is permanently present, then the effect should be permanently present as well. The only way for the cause to be timeless and the effect to begin to exist a finite time ago is for the cause to be a personal agent who freely chooses to create an effect in time without any prior determining conditions.

The only kind of immaterial thing that has causal powers is a mind. A mind is capable of thought, decision, and the will to action. The Cause had to have the power to decide and initiate a change, and this can only be done by an agent who has the power of free choice. The Cause had the complete freedom to create the universe or not create it. We can therefore say that the universe is the product of an unembodied mind. When we recognize that volition is part of the explanation of the universe, then we begin to think of the Cause in terms of being a personal Creator.

We can get to the personal God of Christianity through other arguments such as the resurrection of Jesus and biblical trustworthiness (historical reliability and marks of divine origin such as miracles, fulfilled prophecies, etc).

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Tom, thanks again for your response. What you, or Bill, say is all well and good. But the problem is that “…some kind of mechanistic machine that necessarily causes effects” misinterprets Plotinus. Of course, I realize you do not wish to misinterpret Plotinus. You said you are not familiar with his views. At any rate, the One is not a mechanistic machine. Plotinus addresses precisely that issue, freedom of the will. He explains that the One is in fact free.

Now, I am not necessarily endorsing a Plotinian view of the world, nor do I believe in any gods. But it seems to me that if one wants to insists that there is a god, it seems to me that Plotinus’s One is the perfect candidate because it is a perfect unity, timeless, space-less, immaterial, totally free, and its emanation create the world ex nihilo.

But in the end, for all we know, even if the One, as you assume, is a mechanistic entity, it does not follow that the One cannot be the creator. You mention the example of water. What’s the problem? If you want to assume that there is an immensely powerful entity, the One, well, the universe might well be the result of ontological necessity and water and other constants in the universe are the way they are because of the result of the One’s emanation, which orders the universe as such. Then of course, from our point of view, as temporal, finite beings, we conjure up water freezing temperature and all sorts of examples.

With regard to the resurrection in connection with other arguments, it is difficult to digest that they might provide a cumulative case. And the reason is that there is no reason to believe that there is a correlation or a relation between, say, resurrection and this idea of a personal being that decides the freezing temperature of water.

At this point, I want to suggest that you read Plotinus. Perhaps it won’t change your mind on Christianity. I am sure if you arrived at the conclusion that Christianity is true through reflection and careful examination of arguments. I am not trying to change your mind, either. But, once again, Plotinus’ One seems to me the type of entity capable of creating the universe without demanding that its creation obeys and worships it (or him, or her).

Thanks again

Sincerely

Carl

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Carl, I cannot be misinterpreting Plotinus because I have made no attempt whatsoever to interpret him. Perhaps Plotinus’ God is the “perfect candidate” as you say, but so also is the biblical God, who has the same characteristics you ascribe to the Plotinian god. However, we have the much greater benefit of divine revelation with the God of the Bible. Why should we side with a man who merely imagines what God may be like when we have convincing evidence of God revealing himself to man?

There is plenty of reason to correlate the resurrection of Christ with the biblical God. These events did not occur in a vacuum. They occurred in a theistic context where Jesus himself claimed to be this biblical God, predicted his own resurrection from the dead, and then it happened, not to mention fulfilling countless prophecies from the Old Testament. Add to this his sinless life, amazing teaching, and numerous miracles and we have a compelling account of God himself stepping into humanity. We should therefore pay close attention to what Jesus taught.

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Tom, I see that this is now taking many directions. Also, to address your response we would have to take up an endless conversation, which I am sure, you do not wish to take.

I started by pointing out that if there is a god, it need not be the Christian one. After all, Plotinus’ One is, at least it seems to me, the more plausible one. If that is the case, Christians would not have to twist themselves trying to concoct some justification for an alleged personal god that in his immense power and goodness allows so much suffering.

Now, it is not a matter of accepting. And it is not a matter of siding with a man who imagines what god is like. Plotinus does not imagine god but rather offers sound arguments to show that the One exists. You say “we have convincing evidence” but the evidence is convincing depending on which book you read. The Bible is certainly not the only one book. But the important point here is that you seem to be moving the target here. It seems that you are now abandoning other arguments and suggesting that the writing in the Bible override all arguments.

If it is merely because “we”, as you say, have convincing evidence, well, “they”, I say, have different convincing evidence. By your own rationale, why should “they” side with the Bible and not other texts? After all, in reputable universities, in their history departments, the Bible is not, and cannot, be accepted as a reliable historical document.

With regard to these “teachings” you ascribe to Jesus, I am not sure if that helps your position. What teachings? Jesus, as far as I understand, wrote nothing. And if you say to me that his teachings are/were written down by the various authors of what would later be compiled into a single text, the Bible, then I must point out that those teachings sanction slavery, genocide, killing people for the practice of homosexuality, as well as stoning people for various reasons. And with regard to the “good” teachings, those seem to predate Jesus’ (Golden Rule, for e.g.).

When my children, or my students, ask me why I do not believe in the God of Christianity, I ask them to think how they would “prove” that Christianity is true to beings from another galaxy. They would probably, as you point out, pull out the Bible. But then think about their reaction. Just as you said to me, they would say “why believe in that particular book?” And to merely say that the events described in the Bible did not occur in a vacuum, won’t cut it!

I hope I did not come off as rude or disrespectful or arrogant because that was not my intention. Actually, I appreciate your taking the trouble to answer me, and enjoyed immensely this e-conversation.

Sincerely

Carl

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Carl,

 

Yes, we have wandered into some very broad and deep areas of discussion. It’s hard to do any of them justice in this abbreviated format. Rest assured that you have not offended me in any way. I have conversations like these with many people all the time.

 

I’m not sure why you think I’ve abandoned all arguments in favor of the Bible. In fact, what I did was merely point to the Kalam argument to get to theism and then the Bible to get to Christian theism in particular. I didn’t even mention other arguments for God’s existence such as design and morality, but certainly a cumulative case for Christianity can be made from all of these and other arguments as well.

 

I think you have been misinformed on the historical reliability of the Bible. In fact, it has been repeatedly vindicated by archaeological discoveries precisely at many points where the skeptics had previously doubted it. I’d be happy to recommend some books on the subject if you are interested.

 

I’m sure you know that a teacher does not have to personally leave behind writings to be remembered centuries or millennia later for what he said. In that, Jesus and Socrates have something in common. In both cases, we trust what their students said about them. Your implication is that we can’t trust what Jesus’ disciples said about him, but again, the evidence is quite extensive to the contrary. I would also challenge you to point out specifically where Jesus endorsed slavery, genocide, or anything else you listed.

 

I think you have seriously underappreciated the significance of a bodily resurrection from the grave! If someone came to you saying he was from Heaven, lived a sinless life as far as you could tell, performed amazing miracles, taught you remarkably profound things about God and life, predicted his own resurrection from the dead (!) and then appeared again alive to you three days following his death, would that not cause you to stand up and take notice? Wouldn’t you at least consider what he said? Before you dispute the facts about the resurrection, are you aware that virtually all New Testament scholars who research this area, including skeptics and critics, accept as historical facts that Jesus died by crucifixion, he was buried most likely in a private tomb, his disciples were initially despondent over these events, his tomb was discovered empty soon after his burial, his disciples believed they saw him physically alive following his death, the church was built on this belief in his resurrection, the skeptics Saul and James came to believe in the resurrection, and Jesus’ disciples eventually went to their deaths proclaiming this message. Scholar Gary Habermas arrived at this conclusion after conducting a bibliographical survey of over 2,200 publications on the resurrection of Jesus in English, French, and German since 1975. The empty tomb is not as widely accepted as the other facts, but is still accepted by a majority of contemporary scholars. Gary R. Habermas, The Risen Jesus & Future Hope (Lanham, MD, Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, 2003), p9.

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Now we seem to be going back to the cosmological argument. And that was my original point: Plotinus’ One takes care of contingency! And with regard to the Bible to get to Christian theism, once again, that’s arbitrary. There are many books, and no particular reason to side with the Bible.

With regard to the question of whether “I have been misinformed on the historical reliability of the Bible,” you may say that the Bible is historically reliable until the proverbial cow comes home, but that won’t make it historically reliable (not the cow!)—unless you are committed to Christian theology in the first place.

About teachers passing down their teachings, Socrates never wrote down one sentence. Right. But his teachings do not require wafers, incense, prayers, etc. If one day we learn that Socrates never existed or those teachings were in fact entirely Plato’s, the life of people will not change. These alleged teachings of Jesus were written down many years after his death. And I am surprised you would challenge that the Bible sanctions tremendously cruel actions, such as slavery, stoning, etc. I must be reading a different Bible!

Now, have I “seriously underappreciated the significance of a bodily resurrection from the grave”? “If someone came to me saying he was from Heaven,”, Tom, I would walk away from him. In fact, here in NYC, I run into people like that every day! Whether or not he performed amazing miracles, that depends upon whether I could prove he did. Whether he taught me remarkably profound things about God and life, well, Thales, Pythagoras, Socrates, Plato, Aristotle, and others predate Jesus and taught profound things about life. And whether he predicted his own resurrection from the dead, once again, all historians I know tell me that there is no evidence of the same. And though I am not a historian, as a philosopher, I would not believe that a man did or said whatever just because it is written in a book. Take science, for example.  If you found something like atomic theory, or other ideas consistent with modern science, you would have a point. But that’s not the case. Again, you believe the Bible is true, but other texts are regarded as true by other civilizations.

My understanding is that all historians accept that Jesus was crucified. But unfortunately, Christians try to stretch a bit what historians say. The fact that Jesus was crucified does not mean that Jesus was the son of God. Also, it does not mean/prove that Jesus was resurrected by God. You say “most likely” Jesus was buried in a private tomb. But why? If that was a Roman execution, it seems to me that most likely the Romans would feed his cadaver to the wolves or throw it into a hole along with other corpses.

What puzzles me when I talk to Christians is the fact that you are willing to accept that thousands of years ago, when people were ill educated, and prior to modern science, some individuals reported seeing an empty tomb and then Jesus walking around, performing miracles, etc. You have to admit that Jesus would have convinced way more people had he decided to come back from the dead in the era of Youtube and cell-phones.

Ultimately, my problem is not whether or not to believe. I don’t  think there is any evidence that Christian theism is true. My problem is this: if I saw God, or Jesus, today, and he convinced me of his existence, still that would not mean I should worship him. After all, you cannot force one to be your friend if he does not want to be your friend. To use Bakunin’s words, “If God really existed, it would be necessary to abolish him.’

C

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Carl,

The end of your email deeply saddened me. I understand it based on where you’re coming from, but is saddens me nonetheless. I say this because I have discovered deep value, meaning, purpose, joy, and hope in knowing God through Christ and I want as many people as possible to discover that too, including you. Maybe this surprises you since I don’t really know you, but this is the kind of love that God gives us for other people when we come to know him.

 

Knowing God is the profound purpose of human living. God has not left us to grope in the darkness. We do not invent value, meaning, purpose, joy, and hope—rather we discover them because they are part of the very fabric of the universe, being rooted in the ultimate reality of God himself. Moreover, to our delight, we find them to be much deeper, richer, and more rewarding than we could ever imagine…forever. God promises us eternal life. This refers not merely to endless existence, but also to a quality of life that enjoys an abundant and fulfilling relationship with God.

 

I encourage you to seek God, Carl. Blaise Pascal makes a helpful observation: “Wishing to appear openly to those who seek him with all their heart and hidden from those who shun him with all their heart, [God] has qualified our knowledge of him by giving signs which can be seen by those who seek him and not by those who do not. There is enough light for those who desire only to see and enough darkness for those of a contrary disposition.” God’s claim is that you will find him when you seek him with all your mind and heart. This claim is neither disproven nor even fairly tested if you do not fulfill your part of the experiment, which is to seek. Therefore, someone who is indifferent, no matter how sincere or intelligent he is, is in danger of forfeiting eternal life for not seriously considering and trusting Christ. God is there to be found and wants to be found, but he will not force himself on anyone.

 

Please do not view this merely as an intellectual inquiry about God, though. Although, despite your current feelings, you would ultimately find that Christianity is intellectually sensible and satisfying, this should be a genuine search of your soul—a spiritual quest done in humility and with a contrite heart. After an honest search, you will find Jesus Christ completely captivating—not only as a man, but more importantly, as divine Lord and Savior. Peter Kreeft summarizes this thought by saying, “Christianity is not a hypothesis, it is a proposal of marriage.” This is the depth of intimacy Christ desires to have with you. I hope and pray that you will one day discover the glorious God of the Bible, Carl, who is the epitome of truth, beauty, and goodness. I know you don’t believe the Bible to be God’s Word to us, but please allow me to leave you with three insights to consider from its pages:

“God, who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness,’ made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of God’s glory displayed in the face of Christ” (2 Corinthians 4:6).

“God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8).

Jesus said, “Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with that person, and they with me” (Revelation 3:20).

Jesus stands at the door and knocks. Will you answer? I am praying for you Carl.

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Tom, while the end of my email saddened you, your last email gave me joy. It is a beautiful email that shows your love for your faith and for humanity. Also it gives me joy because I am discussing this issue with an intellectual. Unfortunately, this does not change my mind. And I am not surprised because you are being consistent with Christianity. Namely, you give your love and trust to a stranger, and that is very admirable and beautiful. It is comforting that kind people like you still exist on this crazy planet.

You say that knowing God is the profound purpose of human living. I think that knowing oneself is actually the profoundest purpose of life. Humans can never know God. And this creates a silence, or a gap, between humans and the alleged divine. That silence must be filled, and many choose faith.

About Pascal’s Pensées I just find it cowardly. In fact, I am convinced that God, if he existed, would find it cowardly.

If the God you describe is so superb, He should not be so petty as to force people into friendship with Him. I believe my mother had a great attitude toward religion. She always said to me that if you (I) are honest, you possess a good heart, you try to help others, you love others, you trust others, and try to live your life intellectually rather than materialistically, if God exists, in the end, he will be pleased with you regardless of whether or not you have worshipped him during your life. Yes, that’s a serious Pensées–mamma’s Pensées!

When I first came to the US from Italy, Tom, I had nothing–NOTHING! I put myself in school while working 3 jobs. Then I got married and went to grad school. In graduate school I found myself as the father of 3 children. I had to support them. And considering our challenging economy and other difficulties, sometimes I found myself lost. But I had to go on. I knew then, as I know now, that there is no god who helps me or supports me. I had to find the power, the purpose, and the will to go on from within myself. Would it help me if I added God in my life? I don’t think it would. Being religious, I feel, has a nihilistic aspect to it. That is, if I have to put my total trust into the hands of God and have faith in his providence, why should I care about life on earth. After all, the purpose of life, according to Christianity is not happiness on earth, but rather coming to know God.

And I am glad you quoted Peter Kreeft! He’s quite right, and the quote illustrates my point at the end of my previous email: Christianity is not a hypothesis, it is a proposal of marriage, he says–and I say NO! I do not want to marry you. Imagine how awful it would be if you had to marry a person you do not love and cannot love. How can you tell that person “guess what, you must say YES, or else you’ll be punished for ever.” And the other goes “But I do not love her!” and you “Oh, you say that now, but if you concentrate enough you’ll come to appreciate the other person and your marriage will be successful. In the end, you might even love the other person!”  But what if I do not want God’s friendship? And you might respond, “that’s crazy! How can you not want God? Everyone must want it.” But if I must, then it means I am predestined to love God. And if I am predestined to love him, well, there is nothing I can do about it. On the other hand, if I am free to choose, I choose to be free and worship no god or man. That’s the central problem of religion: not whether or not God exists, but rather why we must accept God or worship him if we do not desires to do so. And if I see through philosophical reflection that worshiping is intellectually pernicious, I do not see what could change my mind with respect to a compulsory relationship with God. I submit, there is a way I could  change my mind on this issue–brainwashing.

It is for these reasons that I remain a non-believer. And it is for these reasons I believe my profoundest purpose is to try as hard as I can to be good to myself and to others; to love others and to have “faith” in myself and my intellect; to educate my children and my students that the intellectual life is to be preferred over the materialistic life.

Believe me, Tom, if there is a god, when I die, he will be pleased with me, as he will be with you. And we will meet in heaven and have the time to have long philosophical conversations (and finally, perhaps, meet the great Socrates and David Hume).

 

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Author: Carlo Alvaro

philosopher

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