Website post reprinted in The New Republic

Because someone requested it, I guess I’ll let people know when a post from this site is purchased by and reprinted in The New Republic. My recent post on David Bentley Hart and Oliver Burkeman’s Best Evidence for God has been reprinted at the TNR as “‘The ‘best arguments for God’s existence’ are actually terrible.” As always, I rewrote the website post for the magazine, but not extensively. But I do like the new final sentence of the TNR version.

Meanwhile, Damon Linker, who also praised Hart’s “God-as-ground-of-being” book in a piece in The Week magazine, happens to be a contributing editor at The New Republic, and he’s peeved that two people (Isaac Chotiner and I) went after him in that very magazine. So Linker’s come back with yet another defense of Ground-of-Beingism in The Week,The atheist’s version of God is a straw man.” Hart is one of those nonbelievers who spends all of his time reproving atheists for not going after the most arcane theological arguments. I truly don’t get it. Our job is surely more than mental fencing with academic theologians; it’s also to help rid the world of the bad effects of religion, and those effects are effected by “regular” believers who wouldn’t know a Ground of Being if it bit them in the tuchus.

Nevertheless, I have plenty of ammunition against the charge that most theologians and believers have historically seen God as a G.O.B. rather than as an anthropomorphic disembodied mind in the sky—and one with moral codes for us. My data include statements by famous theologians, some quite Sophisticated, and polls showing that believers overwhelmingly accept a personal God with all the trimmings. But I’m saving that data for my book.

69 Comments

  1. gbjames
    Posted January 17, 2014 at 10:35 am | Permalink

    sub

    • Diana MacPherson
      Posted January 17, 2014 at 11:44 am | Permalink

      2

  2. ROO BOOKAROO
    Posted January 17, 2014 at 10:50 am | Permalink

    Finally, a good belly laugh:
    ““regular” believers who wouldn’t know a Ground of Being if it bit them in the tuchus.”

    This one has got to go into the book, more important than any tedious statement by a “Sophisticated Theologian”, to bring comic relief.

    “Ground of being” is already in fact a very entertaining concept, even if nobody’s sure of what it is (or means), perhaps for that very reason. It opens the door to a lot of images and a lot of jokes.
    I can’t help smiling whenever I encounter it, as it evokes things like “ground beef”, or even a cute baby porcupine, which is an expert on “ground of being” par excellence.

    • ManOutOfTime
      Posted January 17, 2014 at 1:09 pm | Permalink

      Can the Ground of Being create a tuchus so large that even She cannot bite it … ?

    • JonLynnHarvey
      Posted January 17, 2014 at 1:39 pm | Permalink

      The coffee at the Paul Tillich Society’s meetings in naturally made of Ground of Bean.

  3. docbill1351
    Posted January 17, 2014 at 10:59 am | Permalink

    I read “G.O.B.” as Good Ole Boy.

    Guess I need another cup of Starbucks “ground of beans.”

  4. eric
    Posted January 17, 2014 at 11:04 am | Permalink

    I have plenty of ammunition against the charge that most theologians and believers have historically seen God as a G.O.B. rather than as an anthropomorphic disembodied mind in the sky—and one with moral codes for us. My data include statements by famous theologians, some quite Sophisticated, and polls showing that believers overwhelmingly accept a personal God with all the trimmings. But I’m saving that data for my book.

    For most Christians (sophisticated or not), determining this is as simple as two yes/no questions:

    1. Do you say (any one of) the Nicene Creed, Apostles creed, or Lord’s prayer as a regular part of your faith?
    2. When you do, are you sincere about it?

    Most of these theologians that Hart implies he represents go to church. They profess one or more highly theistic – not deistic – statements of faith on a regular basis. Either they are lying on Sundays when they do it, or they are lying on Mondays when they claim a more deistic belief, or they simultaneously believe two logically inconsistent pictures of God.

    • eric
      Posted January 17, 2014 at 11:09 am | Permalink

      I should probably say most Christians in the U.S. I’m aware that church-going is not at prevalent elsewhere. But the bottom line is, if folks like Plantinga, John Haught, Ken Miller go to church and speak the speak, then they’re either theists or liars. Frankly, pointing out that they are theists is defending their reputation.

  5. Posted January 17, 2014 at 11:05 am | Permalink

    If the GOB isn’t considered some kind of mind, then what is it?

    • gbjames
      Posted January 17, 2014 at 11:13 am | Permalink

      Word salad?

      • Posted January 17, 2014 at 11:42 am | Permalink

        Exactly!

        But seriously though, when a Sophisticated Theologian tries to contrast their conception of God with the “strawman” version, is there much of difference if both versions conceive of minds as a property of their God?

        If the ST is saying that, no, the GOB need not have a mind, then WTF is it and why should we be concerned with it? A mindless immaterial entity, essence, metaphor, or whatever that somehow “necessarily” grounds everything would actually seem to be in the remit of physics, and if it isn’t then how do these theologians have knowledge of such a thing?

        What are the sweating theologians trying to say?

        • gbjames
          Posted January 17, 2014 at 11:44 am | Permalink

          Nobody knows!

          • Diane G.
            Posted January 17, 2014 at 9:02 pm | Permalink

            Least of all, they!

      • papalinton
        Posted January 17, 2014 at 7:35 pm | Permalink

        Alphabet Soup?

  6. Greg Esres
    Posted January 17, 2014 at 11:12 am | Permalink

    “Let a theologian, for once, answer the best arguments of atheists: those that involve the question, “How do you know that?””

    That is a good ending, and in line with Peter Boghossian’s new book as the best way to create atheists.

    • Posted January 17, 2014 at 12:20 pm | Permalink

      It’s a very good point indeed. Our best argument doesn’t need to be dressed up and masked by obscurantism. It’s a simple, straight-forward question accessible to everyone: Where’s your evidence?

  7. AlanF
    Posted January 17, 2014 at 11:14 am | Permalink

    The “ground of being” concept is not part of the beliefs of any practicing Christians I know, whether moderate or fundamentalist. Indeed, any of Jehovah’s Witnesses (which I escaped decades ago) would immediately display the standard deer-in-the-headlights look if told that that was really the fundamental concept of God.

    For evangelicals, God/Jesus/Trinity is their very closest buddy, with whom they have a daily relationship via prayer. This Jesus is a real person for them. Jesus actually talks back to many of them, they imagine.

    In my experience, academic theologians are generally held in derision by the average fundamentalist Christian because they’re so far removed from what these people actually believe and practice.

  8. Posted January 17, 2014 at 11:21 am | Permalink

    My all time favorite put-down of the lack of “sophisticated theology” in the atheist argument against god comes from P Z Myers analogy to arguing against the fact that “the King Has No Clothes….

    “Dawkins arrogantly ignores all these deep philosophical ponderings to crudely accuse the Emperor of nudity….Until Dawkins has trained in the shops of Paris and Milan, until he has learned to tell the difference between a ruffled flounce and a puffy pantaloon, we should all pretend he has not spoken out against the Emperor’s taste.”

    • eric
      Posted January 17, 2014 at 11:47 am | Permalink

      Yep. Claiming that the [X] argument is the best argument for God and that atheists can’t claim to addressed God’s existence until they address [X] is a fallacy very similar to the courtier’s reply. Because you know once you address [X], that theist or another will come along claiming [Y] is really the best argument and atheists can’t say they’ve addressed God’s existence until they answer [Y].

      Like the courtier’s reply, the goal here is not to settle the point of discussion, but to prevent it from being settled. To create an infinite series of requirements that the atheist has to meet before the theist will admit they’ve been refuted.

      Having said all that, asking for a theist’s best argument for God is at least a reasonable way to try and move a conversation away from a gish gallup.

      • John Taylor
        Posted January 17, 2014 at 3:35 pm | Permalink

        It’s strawmen all the way down.

        • HaggisForBrains
          Posted January 18, 2014 at 3:46 am | Permalink

          +1

    • Posted January 17, 2014 at 11:51 am | Permalink

      The ‘Courtier’s Reply’ is indeed a classic in the ongoing culture war.

      • Posted January 17, 2014 at 1:24 pm | Permalink

        Yes, and the closely related “Toothfairy science” (props to Harriet Hall) applies here as well.

  9. Alex Shuffell
    Posted January 17, 2014 at 11:28 am | Permalink

    To answer Linker’s question question “Why do atheists prefer their theism stupid?” Going after the popular (“stupid”) religious beliefs is the biggest point of our outspoken atheism. We are outspoken because of all the damage that the popular beliefs cause. Being an anti-theologian is not a job, it is usually secondary to an actual job as a scientist, philosopher or a journalist.
    There is little point in debating theologians when you compare it to debating the anti-science politicians and multimillionaire mega-church leaders who are trying to drive us back into a Medieval theocracy.
    I don’t think we have dismissed Hart’s version of God as “meaningless mumbo jumbo.” It has been described as such but not dismissed. We want to know more, and how they know that and why it matters. So far I don’t see how it could be anything other than word games with no real meaning. I hope Hart does a better job of describing and defining his god in his book then he has through Linker and Burkeman.

    • eric
      Posted January 17, 2014 at 11:51 am | Permalink

      Shorter version: because most of us are pragmatists.

      Its not the religious beliefs which hide in your brain and do nothing that we focus on, its the religious beliefs that do actions in the world.

    • Posted January 17, 2014 at 11:57 am | Permalink

      “So far I don’t see how it could be anything other than word games with no real meaning.”

      To be honest, I have been reading some of these so-called explanations of the sophisticated version of God, and still don’t have the slightest idea of what they are talking about. And when people much smarter than me have done the same thing with the best of intentions, and still come up empty, then there is every reason to believe that the SP’s are full of it.

      I’m also not convinced that these theologians are all that intelligent. Truly bright people would become very bored with playing circular word games all day long. During Jerry’s debate with John Haught, for example, I was struck by 1) how feeble Haught’s arguments for the existence of God were 2) how he genuinely seemed to have not been challenged before on the obvious shortcomings of his position. It was like watching a martial artist who had never trained very hard coming against a battle-tested opponent, and getting worked over. I seriously doubt that he, and many other theologians, have the horsepower to make a living in any academic area other than the sheltered world of theology.

      • Chris
        Posted January 17, 2014 at 2:12 pm | Permalink

        I was always under the impression that being smart allowed you to explain complex concepts in a clear fashion, not vice versa.

      • Diane G.
        Posted January 17, 2014 at 9:05 pm | Permalink

        “Truly bright people would become very bored with playing circular word games all day long.”

        Wouldn’tya think?

  10. Charles Minus
    Posted January 17, 2014 at 11:33 am | Permalink

    Regarding your excellent last sentence in the NR article, I think you left out the two words that I tend to use: “How the f*** do you know that?”

  11. eric
    Posted January 17, 2014 at 12:05 pm | Permalink

    From Linker’s response:

    The core of my response is simply to say that the classical theism that Hart elaborates in his book and that I cursorily laid out in my review is far more widely held than Chotiner and Coyne appear to believe. It is found, in varying forms, in the work of Christian (Augustine, Gregory of Nyssa, Thomas Aquinas), Jewish (Maimonides), and Muslim (Avicenna) theologians, as well as numerous Hindu and Sikh sages. All of these sundry thinkers, and many others, describe a God who is (in Hart’s words) “the infinite fullness of being, omnipotent, omnipresent, and omniscient, from whom all things come and upon whom all things depend for every moment of their existence, without whom nothing at all would exist.”

    IMO this is very selective reading. Cheeky cherry picking at best, intentional deception at worst.

    Without going to the original literature, I’m willing to bet that all of these theologians describe God as being the ‘the infinite fullness of being’ AND they also describe God as having theistic traits (such as intervening in the world). Augustine, Gregory, and Aquinas believed in Jesus’ divinity. Avicenna believed Gabriel delivered information to Mohammed.

    Linker is trying to sell people half the story as if its the whole thing. Yes, many of these theologians probably used expansive language to describe their conception of God. But they weren’t deists, and Linker is trying to imply that they were.

    • Barney
      Posted January 17, 2014 at 12:47 pm | Permalink

      Precisely – and the same goes for Hart too, who is an Eastern Orthodox believer (I think “Hart is one of those nonbelievers” is a typo in Jerry’s OP – it should be “Linker is …”). The Orthodox Wiki lists him as a convert, too – it’s not as if he’s staying in a deeply theistic tradition just through inertia or out of friendship with someone. He has chosen the Eastern Orthodox church as the best representation of his understanding of God.

      Claiming God is the ‘ground of being’ doesn’t explain away also claiming God is an entity that intervenes in human affairs by incarnating as Jesus, and that has a moral code for humanity to follow.

  12. Reginald Selkirk
    Posted January 17, 2014 at 12:05 pm | Permalink

    Damon Linker’s latest says: “Chotiner and Coyne are free, of course, to follow A.J. Ayer and other strict logical positivists in saying that such language is meaningless mumbo jumbo. But they should understand that in taking that tack they are going easy on themselves in the way that people always do when they dismiss their opponents rather than engage with them.

    What is there to engage with? This puts me in mind of a quote from L. Sprague de Camp, which I think would go great in your book:

    Arguing with them is rather like wrestling with the giant jellyfish Cyanea: the substance is too soft and slippery to grasp, and there is not even a brain to stun.

    – in Lost Continents: The Atlantis Theme (first publication 1954; from the 1975
    Ballantine edition)

    • Posted January 17, 2014 at 12:17 pm | Permalink

      “Arguing with them is rather like wrestling with the giant jellyfish Cyanea: the substance is too soft and slippery to grasp, and there is not even a brain to stun”

      Ouch.

    • Posted January 17, 2014 at 1:28 pm | Permalink

      Indeed, do you have a page number for that and a full quotation and who “them” is that de Camp refers to? If you have this stuff, by all means send it to me by email. It is a great quote.

      • Reginald Selkirk
        Posted January 17, 2014 at 1:34 pm | Permalink

        My copy is in a different location, I’ll send it to you within a few days.

      • Reginald Selkirk
        Posted January 17, 2014 at 2:05 pm | Permalink

        I struck gold – it’s on Google books
        p. 76
        “Them” = occultists.

    • Posted January 17, 2014 at 3:09 pm | Permalink

      That’s improved my opinion of de Camp several fold.

      /@

  13. Bob J.
    Posted January 17, 2014 at 12:06 pm | Permalink

    “Purchased by …” – Hope you enjoy a great meal with your renumeration.

  14. Posted January 17, 2014 at 12:08 pm | Permalink

    Why should we have to read chapter and verse of the Dungeons & Dragons manuals to finally have the right to claim that dragons do not exist?

    Good theologians throughout history wrote books that may be intellectually admirable, but *still* talk about something for which there is no actual evidence.

    • Mark Joseph
      Posted January 18, 2014 at 12:48 pm | Permalink

      “Aillas replied that while King Audry cited several points of technical interest, and used the resources of abstract logic in an adroit manner, he had actually made no connection with reality.” (Jack Vance, The Green Pearl, chapter 16, section 2)

  15. Posted January 17, 2014 at 12:11 pm | Permalink

    I would ask Linker/Hart exactly how we’re supposed to engage honestly with this conception of a deity? It is utterly unfalsifiable, it’s existence is merely asserted in its definition (as the necessary ground of all being).

    The entire concept then is reduced to something you either accept as some kind of axiom, or you reject. If it were that simple, then it could simply be dismissed as easily as the idea that we’re all the dream of some giant cosmic butterfly.

    But theists, especially Christians, assert that we can experience this being in some special way that reveals the truth of its existence – and that’s just false as many of us atheists can attest to. The retort here is that it is that anyone who claims to want to experience god just didn’t try hard enough, or weren’t really open to experiencing god – yet another unfalsifiable claim that accuses us of lying.

    So I ask Linker/Hart, how exactly are we atheists supposed to “engage” with this material?

    • eric
      Posted January 17, 2014 at 12:36 pm | Permalink

      In my mind, you have just engaged it. You’ve asked questions about it and assesed what the possible answers likely mean. Is it testable? If yes, Linker needs to test it and get back to us with the results. If no, why should we care about it, given that untestable in principle == deism?

      That’s engagement. It might not be the engagement Linker wants – which seems to be more like “test my concept of God for internal consistency, don’t ask whether we have any good reason for believing in its premises” – but it’s engagement.

    • Posted January 17, 2014 at 3:13 pm | Permalink

      How do we know that being needs a ground?

      /@

      • Mark Joseph
        Posted January 18, 2014 at 12:50 pm | Permalink

        Good point; also, what is the “Ground of Being’s” ground of being?

        • Barney
          Posted January 18, 2014 at 1:38 pm | Permalink

          It’s gob all the way down. Euurghhh ….

  16. Sastra
    Posted January 17, 2014 at 12:23 pm | Permalink

    Why do skeptics prefer their theism stupid?

    Well no, there’s really no choice to be made in this matter. Set your mind at ease — most of us have always included YOUR version of God in the “theism” category, too. It’s familiar to us. Nothing is being unexpectedly sprung.

    The charges against me (and Hart, whose book neither Chotiner nor Coyne has read) boil down to two: Practically no one holds the view of God that I sketched in my review, and even if they did, that view is nonsensical.

    As one of Dr. Coyne’s most obsequious acolytes, I am surprised that my own objections have been overlooked.

    1.) The abstruse, transcendent infinite sustaining Ground of Being God is similar to the views held by the unsophisticated, in that all versions of God eventually involve Mental aspects treated as irreducible essences behind the physical world: Reality is Mind-like.

    2.) This view is not only nonsensical: sometimes it is also wrong.

    It depends on how long the theologians wax eloquent. Sooner or later the talk of “pure actuality” or “the potential of anything at all” is connected to some mental product like consciousness, agency, values, emotions, goals and the like. And evidence is brought forth: mystical experiences, intuitions of divinity, human love and compassion, the emotions when regarding a sunset or the fact that there ARE emotions when regarding a sunset. Sooner or later even the apophatics will express worship and refer to Existence as a “who.” Content — gotcha.

    My objection then isn’t that “practically no one holds Hart’s view of God.” It’s that his view of God isn’t anything special. A matter of degree, not of kind.

    Even the fundamentalists who use their “untutored intuitions” and think of Jesus as their personal savior and God as a Parent doling out rewards and punishment will regularly fall into theological-speak, babbling about unknowability and transcendence and incomprehensible nature of sustaining all things. The fact that both they and the Sophisticated Theologians all talk out of both sides of their mouth has not gone unobserved.

    Don’t worry.

  17. DiscoveredJoys
    Posted January 17, 2014 at 12:24 pm | Permalink

    Most of my relatives didn’t really think much about God. My late father did however pray wholeheartedly when he wanted something (to be spared illness, for family to be spared illness, money to pay the bills etc.) I think that is the sort of god that ordinary people envisage. A sort of celestial soup kitchen.

    My father was mostly disappointed.

  18. Dermot C
    Posted January 17, 2014 at 12:29 pm | Permalink

    Re: God’s protean appearance in the Judaistic tradition.

    Abraham met God in human form at Mamre; two other men accompanied him. Justin Martyr (ca 160 CE) states that the other two were The Word (i.e. Jesus) and the Spirit.

    In what is probably the Deuteronomic tradition (that God intervenes in history) Moses, Aaron, 2 companions and 70 elders met God as a sapphire stone. He was also a burning bush (according to Justin, that was Jesus) and Exodus 33:23 has Moses only fit to look upon God’s arse (the text says ‘back’, but bum is cheekier and funnier).

    The ‘Ancient of Days’ is in Daniel (finished probably in 164 CE) and the first passage in the OT to view God as old and white-haired.

    The OT, passim, has the idea that you would die if you ever saw the face of God. God as Gorgon.

    On God’s nature:

    Genesis has Abimelech complaining before God responds justly to an error. 1 Kings 14: 7-16 is one of many examples of God’s wrath on faithless Israel. A prophet of YHWH told Ahab that he would pay with his life for not obeying YHWH’s demand that Benhadad be put to the sword: God prefers murder to mercy. Saul was deprived of his kingdom in Israel for failing to kill Agag, king of the Amalekites.

    Similar examples abound of course. That’s ancient belief covered.

    You can make a good argument that the Deuteronomic historian(s) are amongst the most influential writers in history. He or they wrote seven books from Joshua to the end of Kings in the mid-6th century BCE in exile Iraq: he held fast to book of the Law found in the Temple in 622/1 BCE. For the author(s) Israelite misfortune was the result of their disobedience of God’s Law. It took about 2,000 years for that idea to unravel.

    Slaínte.

    • Richard Olson
      Posted January 17, 2014 at 2:30 pm | Permalink

      ‘The ‘Ancient of Days’ is in Daniel (finished probably in 164 CE) and the first passage in the OT to view God as old and white-haired.’

      A quick query of Wiki didn’t answer the questions that came to my mind when I read this, so if I may bother you:

      Is 164 CE supposed to be BCE? Either appears well after the rest of the Deuteronomical texts, yes? If CE, is it implied that perhaps Justin Martyr appended this senior visage to long-existent completed text to enhance a significant distinction between the Trinity figures of God and Jesus, perhaps to provide impetus to the nascent Christianity movement?

      • Dermot C
        Posted January 17, 2014 at 3:20 pm | Permalink

        My typo, sorry. It was 164 BCE, well before Justin. The final bits were added in response to the crisis with the mad Seleucid Antiochus IV – hence the general agreement on the accuracy of the dating.

        I can’t remember off the top my head how Justin characterized God’s appearance, if he did at all. He was a big Jesus man.

        Slaínte.

        • Richard Olson
          Posted January 17, 2014 at 4:01 pm | Permalink

          Oh, great. I don’t get stuff done already, and now I want to take some time to read up on the Antiochus crisis I never heard of ’till just now. I’m minimally familiar with the Seleucids at best.

          • Dermot C
            Posted January 17, 2014 at 4:46 pm | Permalink

            Richard,

            Sources:

            ‘Rome and Jerusalem’ by Goodman touches on it. 1 Maccabees – religiose political history of Judaea from 175 to 134 BCE. Josephus – Antiquities of the Jews. The Essenes in the Dead Sea Scrolls are widely thought to refer in their mystical and allegorical way to the Maccabean revolt during which Daniel was finished: but you won’t get much in the way of the facts of history from them.

            ‘Between Alexandria and Antioch’ by Leonard J. Greenspoon on the Ptolemaic and Seleucid period, in ‘The Oxford History of the Biblical World’ edited by Michael D. Coogan.

            Slaínte.

  19. eric
    Posted January 17, 2014 at 12:29 pm | Permalink

    One last Linker cite and response:

    Again, atheists are perfectly free to mock such claims [that God is spirit] and wave them away with a bit of snide laughter and a condescending roll of the eyes. (Come to think of it, that’s been the approach taken by partisans of the Enlightenment for the better part of three centuries now.)

    When there is laughter and condescending rolls of the eyes (not all of us do that), it comes after you fail to show evidence for your claims.

    Its ironic that Linker mentions the Enlightenment in that sentence, because that should have given him a clue as to why the rejections happened. Science and academia became more evidence-, observation-, and mechanism focused. Claims about God failed to live up to the new Enlightenment standards of what a good justification for belief was. It’s kind of like saying “atheists don’t explain what’s wrong with the four humours theory of medicine. Ever since the germ theory came along, they’ve just laughed at it without saying why.” Dude, the why is right there in your own sentence.

    But they should be honest about the fact that in doing so they are failing to contend with what, in both historical and philosophical terms, theism really is.

    We have and do contend with what theism is, all the time. We ask if there is evidence for this god. You say ‘no.’ We then group it with all the other unevidenced hypotheses until such time as you come up with some new evidence for it. That IS contending with it. But it is not our job to come up with evidence for/against your hypothesis, it’s yours. Cold fusion defenders are on the hook to make it work, we are not on the hook to show it doesn’t. ESP-promoters are on the hook to show it works, we are not on the hook to show it doesn’t. And entity-believers – be it Bigfood, Greys, or God – are on the hook to show those entities exist. We are not on the hook to show they don’t.

    • Barney
      Posted January 17, 2014 at 12:56 pm | Permalink

      Given Jerry’s occasional culinary posts, could we describe him as a believer in Bigfood? :)

      • Chris
        Posted January 17, 2014 at 2:17 pm | Permalink

        If you’ve ever been out to Central or Eastern Europe you’ll know that this is definitely the case! Whenever I’ve visited friends out there I’ve always returned several sizes larger.

      • Larry Gay
        Posted January 17, 2014 at 2:25 pm | Permalink

        Jerry wouldn’t know Bigfood if it bit him in the tuchus.

    • Sastra
      Posted January 17, 2014 at 1:53 pm | Permalink

      Again, atheists are perfectly free to mock such claims [that God is spirit] and wave them away with a bit of snide laughter and a condescending roll of the eyes. (Come to think of it, that’s been the approach taken by partisans of the Enlightenment for the better part of three centuries now.)

      And people who believe in God have always felt perfectly free to mock atheism and wave atheists away with a bit of snide laughter and a condescending roll of the eyes. (Come to think of it, that’s been the approach taken against gnu atheists for the better part of 15 years now — “Oh, God is the Necessary Precondition for the Existence of Anything At All, you silly axiom-haters! Sheesh!” (eye roll))

      • Achrachno
        Posted January 17, 2014 at 9:59 pm | Permalink

        But at least they don’t burn us at the stake so much any more.

    • Posted January 17, 2014 at 3:26 pm | Permalink

      Re humours v. germs.

      Brilliant!

      /@

  20. Posted January 17, 2014 at 1:07 pm | Permalink

    And I suppose if you are connected to the ground of being it’s a bad idea to touch the high voltage side!

  21. JonLynnHarvey
    Posted January 17, 2014 at 1:48 pm | Permalink

    The catch here is that theologians like Augustine believe in a kind of “Ground of Being-PLUS” which is outside space and matter as we know it, but also in some sense interacts with the world. How is something outside the system of causality but also interacting with it? Process theologians like Alfred Whitehead have an answer, but no reason is given as to why it is true.

    Theologians have talked about main causes (God) and secondary causes (what scientists find), but the more we find out about the network of natural causes, the less reason we have to believe there is any supernatural causation at all.

    These folks generally claim that mystics and their ineffable experiences is a real experience of Divinity, while popular religion is second-hand, but if so one needs to explain why so many of these second-hand understandings of God result in destructive behavior.

  22. Richard Olson
    Posted January 17, 2014 at 2:34 pm | Permalink

    I forgot to click the f^c_i%@ thing.

  23. Michael Fugate
    Posted January 17, 2014 at 3:39 pm | Permalink

    One can read big chunks of Hart’s book on Amazon. It really is an attack on atheists as ignorant fools lacking the sense god with a capital G gave them. But when you read it all, god reduced down to just a sometimes intense feeling, either directed outward or inward, often labeled “transcendent” and nothing more.

  24. Posted January 17, 2014 at 8:42 pm | Permalink

    As far as I can tell, “God is the ground of being” is just question-begging: it assumes that God is needed for other things to exist. It’s just a slightly more sophisticated argument than “We need God because without God logic wouldn’t exist: therefore, God!”

  25. Notagod
    Posted January 17, 2014 at 9:02 pm | Permalink

    G.O.B should work out nicely! Without form or function but, some believe to be there none the less.

    It could even work as a question for the polls. “If you are christian, do you believe in the theologists G.O.B. god or in the gods as depicted in the christian hand book?”

    That will give the theologists some ammunition when 80% of christians say they have faith in GOB and in the son of GOB.

  26. Diane G.
    Posted January 17, 2014 at 9:13 pm | Permalink

    A brief look at the most recent comments reveals some pretty intelligent ones (for the most part)–all in all a satisfying discussion. So nice to widen the Coyne-inspired conversations…

  27. Bruce Gorton
    Posted January 18, 2014 at 12:26 am | Permalink

    The ground of being argument isn’t the strongest case for religion, it is actually the absolute worst.

    It essentially tries to redefine God as being the universe. This doesn’t work because the best evidence we have available to us indicates that the universe isn’t sentient, which is the number one trait any god has to have in order to be a god.


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