David Bentley Hart on God

I’ve finally started reading the book that’s touted as the be-all and end-all of Sophisticated Theology™, The Experience of God: Being, Consciousness, Bliss, by David Bentley Hart, published last year by Yale University Press. As you probably know if you’re a regular, this book has been touted by many religious people as the most definitive argument for God and most compelling refutation of New Atheism. The implication is that if you’re an atheist and haven’t read it, you can’t argue properly against religion—in fact, as Hart maintains, you’re deluding yourself as an atheist.

While the thought of reading yet another theology book makes my gorge rise, I figured I’d better read this one, if for no other reason than to have some minimal street cred in theology. But I am curious to see what arguments Hart adduces for God that differ from those of other theologians. (Hart, born in 1965, is described by Wikipedia as “an Eastern Orthodox theologian, philosopher, and cultural commentator.”)

I’ll be reacting to this book as I read it, so these are merely ober dicta as I go along. I’ll try to sum it up after I’ve finished.

I’m only 35 pages in, but it’s already clear that Hart in fact has little desire to provide evidence for God’s existence. In fact, he thinks that God’s existence is self-evident, and (à la Plantinga) says that our very ability to apprehend truth testifies to God’s existence, for natural selection alone could not have given us such abilities. The fact that we are often deceived by things, and have devised science as a way to prevent such deception, is not considered, nor is the fact that in many cases natural selection would have favored an accurate assessment of our environment.

Hart doesn’t think that one can adduce evidence for God in the way you can adduce evidence for fairies or other paranormal phenomenon, so he doesn’t regard the existence of God as an empirical hypothesis, as many of us do. Rather, evidence for God is basically logical and experiential; and so the New Atheists who equate God with fairies and the like are simply wrong. As Hart says (p. 34):

Evidence for or against the reality of God, if it is there, saturates every moment of the experience of existence, every employment of reason, every act of consciousness, every encounter with the world around us.

It seems that if our experience is saturated with evidence against the reality of god (say, if you’re a pediatric oncologist), that doesn’t count for Hart. I’m curious to see what he will say about the Achilles Heel of theism: the problem of evil, which he promises to address later.

What’s clear, though, is that Hart’s main intentions in the book are to give a characterization of God, and to show that this characterization holds for nearly all major religions and is not limited to Christianity.  Further, he argues, this conception of God is one that is not only held currently by all major religions, but has been held by Christianity throughout its history. According to Hart, literalism, or the interpretation of Biblical events as historical, is a recent phenomenon that accompanied the rise of Fundamentalism about a century ago. (I disagree with him on this, having looked at a fair amount of writings by Church Fathers like Aquinas lately.)

Hart further argues that if you don’t hold his view of God, but remain an atheist, then you’re arguing against strawmen “old-guy-with-beard” conceptions that aren’t the best theology has to offer; and your arguments carry no weight. (More in a minute about whether such definitions are held by “regular” believers).  It’s also clear that Hart despises New Atheists, and dismisses them by name (Dawkins, Stenger, Hitchens, and Grayling, among others) as attacking cartoon definitions of religion.  There is a undertone of arrogance and dismissiveness in his prose (Hart does write well), which is off-putting to someone who has seen value in New Atheism. He also dismisses materialism as an unwarranted assumption of atheists, and will, I think, use the examples of “being, consciousness, and bliss” as immaterial phenomena that cannot be explained or even understood by science, and hence give evidence for God. Or so he hints in the first chapter.

So what is Hart’s take on God? Here’s the definition he synthesizes and sees as part of all major faiths (pp. 30-31):

To speak of “God” properly, then—to use the word in a sense consonant with the teachings of Orthodox Judaism, Christianity, Islam, Sikhism, Hinduism, Baháí, a great deal of antique paganism, and so forth—is to speak of the one infinite source of all that is: eternal, omniscient, omnipotent, uncreated, uncaused, perfectly transcendent of all things and for that very reason absolutely immanent to all things. God so understood is not something poised over against the universe, in addition to it, nor is he the universe itself. He is not a “being,” at least not in the way that a tree, a shoemaker, or a god is a being; he is not one more object in the inventory of things that are, or any sort of discrete object at all. Rather, all things that exist receive their being continuously from him, who is the infinite wellspring of all that is, in whom (to use the language of the Christian scriptures) all things live and move and have their being. In one sense he is “beyond being,” if by “being” one means the totality of discrete, finite things. In another sense he is “being itself,” in that he is the inexhaustible source of all reality, the absolute upon which the contingent is always utterly dependent, the unity and simplicity that underlies and sustains the diversity of finite and composite things. Infinite being, infinite consciousness, infinite bliss, from whom we are, by whom we know and are known, and in whom we find our only true comprehension.

Well, parts of that are opaque to me, particularly the part about God sustaining all things, but so be it. My question is this: even if this is a syncretic conception of God, how did all those religions arrive at this unanimity? What reasons did they use did to arrive at a God who omniscient, omnipotent, and a source of bliss? Hart punts a bit on this (pp. 30-31):

All the great theistic traditions agree that God, understood in this proper sense, is essentially beyond finite comprehension; hence much of the language used of him is negative in form and has been reached only by a logical process of those qualities of fine reality that make it insufficient to account for its own existence. All agree as well, however, that he can genuinely be known: that is, reasoned toward, intimately encountered, directly experienced with a fullness surpassng mere conceptual comprehension.

This baffles me. If God is beyond comprehension, not subject to any kind of empirical investigation, how can he be “known” and “reasoned toward”? Can logic and reason alone, even when combined with revelation, give us a solid view of God? For surely there are many who have revelatory experiences of God that differ from Hart’s view. And if only reason and not verified empirical observation is in play, how do we know that god is omniscient or omnipotent? How do we know, in fact, that he is not a being, since many people experience him that way: as a person to whom one can pray, an entity that is anthropormorphic—a humanlike mind without a body?

Hart’s response is  that we need to rely on the consensus not of “average” believers, but of theologians, who somehow have the wisdom to winnow the true God from the bearded one. But that’s not the case, for many other theologians see God differently from Hart. Here, for example, are Alvin Plantinga and Richard Swinburne, whom I quoted in a recent post about whether God is a bodiless person:

“What he [Daniel Dennett] calls an “anthropomorphic” God, furthermore, is precisely what traditional Christians believe in—a god who is a person, the sort of being who is capable of knowledge, who has aims and ends, and who can and in fact does act on what he knows in such a way as to try to accomplish those aims.” (Plantinga, Where the Conflict Really Lies: Science, Religion, and Naturalism, p. 11)

I take the proposition ‘God exists’ (and the equivalent proposition ‘There is a God’) to be logically equivalent to “there exists necessarily a person without a body (i.e. a spirit) who necessarily is eternal, perfectly free, omnipotent, omniscient, perfectly good, and the creator of all things.’ I use ‘God’ as the name of the person picked out by this description.” (Swinburne, Existence of God p. 7)

“That God is a person, yet one without a body, seems the most elementary claim of theism. It is by being told this or something that entails this (e.g., that God always listens to and sometimes grants us our prayers, he has plans for us, he forgives our sins, but he does not have a body) that young children are introduced to the concept of God.” (Swinburne, The Coherence of Theism, p. 101)

Now Plantinga and Swinburne may also sign on to all the characteristics given above, but they also have add-ons about God’s characteristics (how do they know that from reason and revelation alone?), and about his goodness. The fact is that there is not the consensus God that Hart sees, for even if he’s distilled a nucleus from other religions (some of which seems opaque), those other faiths have further beliefs about God that are incompatible, and probably rejected by Hart. What about Jesus, about the Resurrection, Allah’s dictations to Muhammad, about Xenu, about Moroni and the Golden Plates? Are those add-ons mere myths without historical veracity, and, since they’re arrived at in the same way Hart arrives at his conception of God, why do they conflict? Do we perceive their “truth” the same way we perceive the true nature of God? After all, many people “sense” Jesus the way Hart senses God.

Finally, as pointed out by Isaac Chotiner in The New Republic, these characteristics of God are not those seen by the “average” believer:

I cannot speak for everyone, of course, and the amount of time I have spent with deeply religious people (Hindus, Jews, Buddhists, Christians, and Muslims) is relatively limited. But I have talked somewhat extensively with people in each of these religions and not a single one of them has ever described his or her belief in God in anything like these terms. As Jerry Coyne puts it in response to Linker, “Yes, it turns out that the 99% of believers who see God as an anthropomorphic being are wrong, and only the theologians—that is, some theologians—truly know what God is.”

But to Hart, what the average believer thinks about God is irrelevant. (So much for the New Atheists, whose arguments are largely aimed at those people, and have been, contra Hart’s claim, remarkably effective at dispelling faith.) For Hart sees the relationship between the average believer and the theologian in the same way that he sees the relationship between the average layperson who’s interested in science and the professional scientist. The layperson has an imperfect—and sometimes erroneous—idea of what scientists really say, and likewise the average believer has an imperfect notion of what God really is, for it is the theologians who have to work that out, just as scientists must work out the facts of biology, physics, and so on.

The problem with this argument is that scientists have the tools and the system for sussing out the truths about nature: it’s the toolkit of reason, a background in the field, and the endemic cross-checking of data with other scientists and testing of hypotheses against nature, as well as the readiness to discard those hypotheses that don’t comport with data.

In contrast, theologians have no tools for finding out about the true nature of the divine except some training in philosophy and—sometimes—a decent ability to write. Theologians like Aquinas believed in all sorts of historical phenomena from the Bible, like Paradise and Adam, and they have the same tools as does Hart, who sees Aquinas as one of the greatest of Christian philosophers. Aquinas also believed in angels, and devoted a huge section of the Summa Theologica to figuring out what angels were like, how many there were, what they wanted, and how they moved about. All that is precisely the same brand of nonsense that Hart attributes to the New Atheists. Hart’s claim that Biblical literalism began in the last 120 years with Fundamentalism is not supported by the beliefs of early church fathers. Yes, they sometimes emphasized that Scripture should be read metaphorically as well as literally, but if there was a conflict, people like Aquinas and Augustine always took the literal description as bedrock.

I am writing this just to distill and collect my own thoughts as I read this book. I am clearly not reading it as a religionist, but neither am I automatically rejecting everything that Hart says. Nevertheless, I am reading the book critically, and much of what he maintains is, I think, in conflict with the history of theology. And I say that in full realization that Hart knows a lot more about theology than I do.

In the end, of course, even if atheists finally comprehend the Sophisticated Notion of God adumbrated by Hart, we have to ask ourselves why we should think that this God exists. The Argument from Self Evidence, which resembles that of Plantinga, will not convince many of us, even though Hart maintains that atheism is even more of a delusion than theism.

I am of course interested in getting readers’ takes on Hart’s view of God, especially if they’ve read his book.

398 Comments

  1. ChrisKG
    Posted March 24, 2014 at 8:05 am | Permalink

    It looks like it boils down to another case of moving the goalpost. Not much “new” at all.

    • ToddP
      Posted March 24, 2014 at 7:07 pm | Permalink

      New Atheism:
      1. God is not a person
      2. God is invisible
      3. God is completely undetectable
      4. God is beyond comprehension
      5. There appears to be no God

      Sophisticated Theology:
      1. God is not a person
      2. God is invisible
      3. God is completely undetectable
      4. God is beyond comprehension
      5. Obviously God exists

      • abrotherhoodofman
        Posted March 24, 2014 at 8:39 pm | Permalink

        Nice!

      • Posted March 25, 2014 at 4:47 am | Permalink

        An excellent summation!

      • Posted March 25, 2014 at 8:23 am | Permalink

        Haha, that’s about it. :)

      • Andrew Lucas
        Posted March 26, 2014 at 6:00 pm | Permalink

        Except for 3. Isn’t Hart’s whole thesis that god is real because he/she/it can be “experienced”? Also, some Sophisticated Theologians (e.g. Plantinga) apparently think god is a person and others (e.g. Hart) don’t.

  2. Ben
    Posted March 24, 2014 at 8:10 am | Permalink

    If God is as Hart says—not a “person” but an unknowable source of… reality (?)—why must one worship it? And what of the rules gods have supposedly laid down for human behavior? Why would anyone care about this it’s-just-there God?

    • Sastra
      Posted March 24, 2014 at 9:45 am | Permalink

      Follow Hart’s route and when it gets down to it ‘worshiping God’ turns into a love for Existence — with the stipulation that this idealized existence will indeed be idealized so that only beauty, joy, wisdom, kindness, and everything good lies at its foundation.

      Why worship it? Because you already do.

      That’s not a problem for Hart. The problem is separating this from humanism. He attempts to solve that by shifting the burden of proof and then insisting we know God the same way we experience love and that means we CAN know God when we experience love. Slick trick in a circle.

    • Tulse
      Posted March 24, 2014 at 12:43 pm | Permalink

      All praise to Maxwell’s equations! Give ye thanks to the quantum void!

      • NewEnglandBob
        Posted March 24, 2014 at 12:47 pm | Permalink

        I had a quantum void for breakfast, but it was tasteless.

        • AdamK
          Posted March 24, 2014 at 12:49 pm | Permalink

          Next time, try it with lox.

        • Timothy Hughbanks
          Posted March 25, 2014 at 8:41 am | Permalink

          Watch out, the fluctuations can kill you.

    • Graham Martin-Royle
      Posted March 24, 2014 at 2:02 pm | Permalink

      It’s a bit like being told you have to worship gravity. It makes no sense, it’s just more deepity.

      Jerry, thanks for reading this on our behalf. There’s no way I could wade through tripe like this.

      • Posted March 24, 2014 at 2:59 pm | Permalink

        Pah. I worship levity.

        /@

        • Posted March 24, 2014 at 4:08 pm | Permalink

          Me? Brevity.

          • Diana MacPherson
            Posted March 24, 2014 at 4:23 pm | Permalink

            Ant thinks he’s above us.

            • Posted March 24, 2014 at 4:35 pm | Permalink

              I’ll try not to let that cause me to be short with him.

              • Filippo
                Posted March 29, 2014 at 1:16 pm | Permalink

                Or to be mired in the pis.

                (Sorry, too much nectar of the gods. ;) )

            • Posted March 25, 2014 at 12:29 am | Permalink

              Foolishly.

              /@

  3. JonLynnHarvey
    Posted March 24, 2014 at 8:11 am | Permalink

    I think some early Christians had !*selective*! allegorical interpretation of the Bible. A real Adam and Eve were non-negotiable, but some were willing to view stories like Jonah and the whale as entirely allegorical.

    Augustine in his Confesssions talks about being better able to embrace Christianity by assuming various Old Testament stories were simply symbolic parables, since they could not be taken as literally true. “at the same time he [Ambrose] drew aside the mystic veil and opened to view the spiritual meaning of what seemed to teach perverse doctrine if it were taken according to the letter.” He continues in this vein in his commentaries on Genesis.

    Luther and Calvin quarreled over a metaphorical or literal 6 days of creation, Calvin insisting on a literal interpretation and Luther allowing an entirely symbolic one.

    The problem remains that Christians have no consistent method for deciding what parts of the Bible are literal and what are symbolic. It seems to always be controlled by the preconceptions of the theology.

    • Posted March 24, 2014 at 8:26 am | Permalink

      Yes, I agree, of course, and have expressed this as a pithy quote (someone put it up on WikiQuotes, quick!:

      “Some believers are fundamentalists about nearly everything, but every believer is a fundamentalist about something.”

      • Timothy Hughbanks
        Posted March 24, 2014 at 9:20 am | Permalink

        Perhaps it needs greater symmetry. How about,

        “Some believers are fundamentalists about nearly everything, but nearly every believer is a fundamentalist about something.”

        • Latverian Diplomat
          Posted March 24, 2014 at 9:30 am | Permalink

          In addition to laudable symmetry, I think your version leaves room for the Unitarian Universalists. :-)

        • Posted March 24, 2014 at 9:45 am | Permalink

          That weakens it unnecessarily. Besides, the number you might add with the extra “nearly” are such a negligible fraction that they’re statistical noise.

          b&

          • Timothy Hughbanks
            Posted March 24, 2014 at 11:03 am | Permalink

            I’m OK with dropping both “nearly”s, but I reject your heterodoxy with respect to symmetry. 😃

            • Posted March 24, 2014 at 3:07 pm | Permalink

              But symmetry breaking is the source of conservation laws!

              /@

      • JonLynnHarvey
        Posted March 24, 2014 at 10:59 am | Permalink

        Added to wikiquotes as it was posted on September 3, 2013 (slightly different wording than here).

      • Filippo
        Posted March 29, 2014 at 1:20 pm | Permalink

        An excellent chiasmus.

        Check out Dr. Mardy Grothe for excellent examples of chiasmus.

    • eric
      Posted March 24, 2014 at 9:03 am | Permalink

      I like to use the metaphor of bible-as-detector. Most people focus on the question of whether its an accurate detector, but you can also argue against it because its highly imprecise. If you have 1,000 people use this detector, they will get 1,000 wildly different results. So it doesn’t matter whether there is some average value which is correct, the detector is useless.

      Let’s say I had a bathroom scale to sell you. Let’s say that it’s reasonably accurate – if you take 10,000 readings, the average will give you your weight to the nearest 0.1 kg. But let’s say its also highly imprecise: any given reading will return your weight +/- up to 100 kg. Would you buy it? Would you use it to make you day-to-day weight assessments? No.

      Just as with that scale, even if Hart is right about religions converging on an accurate description of God, the imprecsion of religion and the bible makes it useless as a tool for understanding.

      • Stan Pak
        Posted March 24, 2014 at 10:20 am | Permalink

        Interesting analogy and you certainly have a point here. I met this argument from apparent convergence, which never made sense to me, since all the claims and predictions of religions are just so much way off the mark. The only thing you can average on is just that people get high easily on some crazy stuff and sober reason is not very welcome in that tent.

      • Posted March 24, 2014 at 2:23 pm | Permalink

        Another point to make is that any “convergence” you might observe in religions from around the globe would not be unexpected, even from a purely naturalistic perspective. If humans are not blank slates, but have some shared basic psychology hard-wired into us by evolution, then similarities between religions around the world should be expected.

        “Convergence” is not evidence for god.

  4. abrotherhoodofman
    Posted March 24, 2014 at 8:13 am | Permalink

    “street cred in theology”

    Despite your efforts, Jerry, I’m pretty sure you’ll never be admitted into the Woo Tang Clan.

    • Posted March 24, 2014 at 10:15 am | Permalink

      Comments like these are what upvotes are made for.

  5. Posted March 24, 2014 at 8:15 am | Permalink

    Hmmm…Worpress says I’ve already posted the comment, but it’s not showing up. Will this…?

    b&

    • Posted March 24, 2014 at 8:23 am | Permalink

      …yes, but my more substantive post still isn’t showing up. Ah, well…I’ve got code to sling….

      b&

  6. JBlilie
    Posted March 24, 2014 at 8:18 am | Permalink

    Hart simply need to answer whether he agrees with the Nicene Creed and Apostle’s Creed.

    Mr. Hart: If you read this site: Answer the above question. Do you or do you not agree with the content of those creeds (which all Christians I have ever met recite solemnly and claim to believe in)?

    And, if so, how does the content of those creeds square with your ineffable, unknowable God who is, as you state, not anthropomorphic?

    For references:

    The Nicene Creed

    We believe in one God,
    the Father, the Almighty,
    maker of heaven and earth,
    of all that is, seen and unseen.
    We believe in one Lord, Jesus Christ,
    the only Son of God,
    eternally begotten of the Father,
    God from God, Light from Light,
    true God from true God,
    begotten, not made,
    of one Being with the Father.
    Through him all things were made.
    For us and for our salvation
    he came down from heaven:
    by the power of the Holy Spirit
    he became incarnate from the Virgin Mary,
    and was made man.
    For our sake he was crucified under Pontius Pilate;
    he suffered death and was buried.
    On the third day he rose again
    in accordance with the Scriptures;
    he ascended into heaven
    and is seated at the right hand of the Father.
    He will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead,
    and his kingdom will have no end.

    We believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the giver of life,
    who proceeds from the Father and the Son.
    With the Father and the Son he is worshiped and glorified.
    He has spoken through the Prophets.
    We believe in one holy catholic and apostolic Church.
    We acknowledge one baptism for the forgiveness of sins.
    We look for the resurrection of the dead,
    and the life of the world to come. Amen.

    [International Consultation on English Texts translation as printed in: The Lutheran Book of Worship; The Book of Common Prayer (Episcopal)]

    The Apostle’s Creed

    1. I believe in God the Father, Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth:

    2. And in Jesus Christ, his only begotten Son, our Lord:

    3. Who was conceived by the Holy Ghost, born of the Virgin Mary:

    4. Suffered under Pontius Pilate; was crucified, dead and buried: He descended into hell:

    5. The third day he rose again from the dead:

    6. He ascended into heaven, and sits at the right hand of God the Father Almighty:

    7. From thence he shall come to judge the quick and the dead:

    8. I believe in the Holy Ghost:

    9. I believe in the holy catholic church: the communion of saints:

    10. The forgiveness of sins:

    1l. The resurrection of the body:

    12. And the life everlasting. Amen

    [Typical English translation]

    • Vaal
      Posted March 24, 2014 at 8:33 am | Permalink

      ^^ beat me to it.

      Vaal.

    • Ken Pidcock
      Posted March 24, 2014 at 10:00 am | Permalink

      To be fair to Hart, he does dismiss dogma, somewhat explicitly. He seems to be writing for an audience of fellow contemplatives who share the understanding that all that stuff’s just for the unwashed. It’s me and the Brahmins, man.

      • truthspeaker
        Posted March 24, 2014 at 10:53 am | Permalink

        And yet he belongs to a church that still propagates dogma.

      • JBlilie
        Posted March 24, 2014 at 1:13 pm | Permalink

        And stand behind the bchallenge 100%. He’s telling me that my Christians that I disagree with and their God, that they profess are all strawmen.

        Does he acknowledge that the great majority of Xians actually believe this stuff that contradicts his proposed God?

        • Ken Pidcock
          Posted March 24, 2014 at 3:49 pm | Permalink

          No, just that all of the most brilliant theists have always agreed with him.

    • Posted March 25, 2014 at 4:58 am | Permalink

      That’s my first thought – aren’t all the Christians who in believe in Jesus (100%?) going to be a bit miffed by this redefinition-of-God?
      I kinda get what he’s saying about HIS God – that if ‘he’ exists then he is outside all description and definition – as that’s the only sort of God that could exist really, hence no proof or signs at all but of course that also neatly removes the veracity of all human religions at the same time. He can’t have it both ways.

  7. Ian Belson
    Posted March 24, 2014 at 8:18 am | Permalink

    Obviously God is a quantum wave fluctuation in the Higgs boson field interacting with quantum gravity and Sean Carroll is his high priest. Hallelujah

    • eric
      Posted March 24, 2014 at 9:06 am | Permalink

      Yes but how do you get ‘conscious’ and ‘blissful’ from that?

      I kid, but only partially – that’s a big problem with Hart’s concept, he’s tacked some contingent, human-like properties onto his God that can’t be derived from the ground-of-being starting point.

      • Sastra
        Posted March 24, 2014 at 9:48 am | Permalink

        The strings in String Theory are “love.”

        They have to be, because this is the only satisfying explanation — one which combines cutting-edge science with what we knew in our mother’s arms.

        • Tulse
          Posted March 24, 2014 at 12:45 pm | Permalink

          If it makes me feel better it must be true!

          • Sastra
            Posted March 24, 2014 at 12:52 pm | Permalink

            How far can you string that along…

            • Posted March 24, 2014 at 3:11 pm | Permalink

              Ceiling Cat is true because of ball-of-string theory!

              /@

              • Diana MacPherson
                Posted March 24, 2014 at 3:27 pm | Permalink

                ….which means you can string that along about 10 extra dimensions to make it all work out.

          • Filippo
            Posted March 29, 2014 at 1:24 pm | Permalink

            Also, If someone SAYS it, it must be true.

  8. Posted March 24, 2014 at 8:21 am | Permalink

    “The layperson has an imperfect—and sometimes erroneous—idea of what scientists really say, and so the average believer has an imperfect notion of what God really is, for it is the theologians who have to work that out, just as scientists must work out the facts of biology, physics, and so on.”

    The other problem with this argument is that God supposedly wants his creatures to know him, so why would he make that knowledge so specialized that only a few people can figure it out? In contrast, nature doesn’t give a crap about who understands it–it takes effort and training to develop that toolkit precisely because nature is indifferent to our approaches to it.

    • Posted March 24, 2014 at 12:52 pm | Permalink

      I like this contrast. Theologians, in spite of centuries of effort, can’t agree with each other on basics. Scientists, on the other hand, if they put in enough effort, can understand what other scientists are talking about in well under a life time. To me this indicates one group is studying reality and the other is studying myths. I leave it as an exercise to the reader to figure our which group is is which.

    • Posted March 24, 2014 at 3:28 pm | Permalink

      The other problem with comparing theologians to scientists is that there are more theologies than just Christian (and several contradictory sub-theologies within it), but only one science.

      There is only one science because there is only one universe; this universe appears to have consistent properties that don’t change depending on who’s looking at them.

      This means that anyone looking at the same bit of the universe will see the same thing even though they may have differing explanations for that thing – sorting out the most likely explanation is precisely where science comes into play.

      You can’t really say the same for God, or for theology. God, all-too-often, is whatever the observer wants him to be – or projects onto him. Wrathful avenger? Ground of all being? All-loving hippie? Completely dependent on the observer. And therefore useless.

  9. chband
    Posted March 24, 2014 at 8:22 am | Permalink

    The original Taoism proposed by Lao-Tzu and later developed by Zhuang Zhou (Chuang Tzu/Zhuangzi) has nothing to do with an “eternal, omniscient, omnipotent, uncreated, uncaused, perfectly transcendent of all things”.

    • eric
      Posted March 24, 2014 at 8:32 am | Permalink

      Yes. And (AIUI) Hinduism is not monotheistic. Also, he seems to have completely forgotten about the billion or so Buddhists.

      IOW, his implied claim that religion converges on his concept of God seems to be arrived at through very selective reading. The confirmation bias is strong with this one.

      • Posted March 24, 2014 at 9:03 am | Permalink

        Hart gets around the polytheism charge by saying that even in polytheistic religions, there is still one Uber-God who has the characteristics he describes, while other gods are subsidiary and lack some of them.

        • eric
          Posted March 24, 2014 at 9:15 am | Permalink

          AIUI, Brahma would probably be the closest thing to a single, omni-all creator God in Hinduism. But Brama grew out of Vishnu. So he wasn’t first, and the arrangement between who-caused-what in Hinduism is certainly not the simple-and-unitary “one being does it all” concept Halt claims for his ground-of-being god.

          Hopefully a practicing Hindu can come along and confirm or correct what I’ve written above, but just from my limited understanding, Hart appears to have a lot of confirmation bias when he looks at the characteristics of other religions.

          Also, again: Buddhism. A nontheistic religion (or at least one where theism is optional) with lots of followers. How exactly can a nontheistic religion be said to converge on the same concept of God as Hart has?

          • potaman
            Posted March 24, 2014 at 10:28 am | Permalink

            Cultural Hindu here. This is complex. While Brahma is supposedly creator, he is not creator in the sense of the Abrahamic Deity. And no-one really worships him. In fact, in India, there is only one temple dedicated to the worship of Brahma, because he lied and was cursed to lose his prayer privileges.

            Devotional Hinduism is like the ancient greek or roman religion, with 100s of gods, some of them extremely local, with very specific powers, and a fairly colorful mythology.

            Philosophical hinduism is different and there are all sorts of strains, some of which approach monotheism. However there is nothing similar to the Christian god.

            • potaman
              Posted March 24, 2014 at 10:32 am | Permalink

              Additionally, India has a very strong tradition of atheistic religions. Buddhism and Jainism are largely atheistic. The Karma principle just operates, there is no deity to monitor it. No creator sitting in judgement and definitely no end of days.

            • eric
              Posted March 24, 2014 at 1:38 pm | Permalink

              Thanks for the clarification. So, basically, Hart is not characterizing Hundism correctly when he implies that it converges.

        • Posted March 24, 2014 at 9:44 am | Permalink

          Methinks there just might be a few Sophisticated Hindu Theologians™ who would have a word or several with Hart about that….

          b&

        • Filippo
          Posted March 29, 2014 at 1:40 pm | Permalink

          So, there is not the ONE TRUE GOD, per my fundamentalist Southern Baptist upbringing. (Or so I recollect.) No wonder, “I am a jealous God,” yet we imperfect humans aren’t supposed to be jealous. For if no other gods exist, there is nothing of which to be jealous. (Unless God is jealous merely of the idea that humans – using their God-given cognitive abilities – might conceive the possibility of one or more additional gods.)

  10. Gasper Sciacca
    Posted March 24, 2014 at 8:22 am | Permalink

    Jerry, thank you for wading through this BS. Somebody has to do it.

    • gluonspring
      Posted March 24, 2014 at 9:29 am | Permalink

      Makes me think of that Dirty Jobs show on the Discovery Channel.

      • Filippo
        Posted March 29, 2014 at 2:11 pm | Permalink

        The “Dirty Jobs” guy was on Bill Maher’s show. Said that Caterpillar heavy equipment technician jobs were vacant and begging for young Americans to take them. Starting at $60K. Some experience, $80K. Not a few years, $100 – 120K.

        That’s all well and good. Who is to say who ought to take those jobs? Maher (whether he knew it or not roughly reflecting on the C.P. Snow “Two Cultures” dichotomy), readily admitted that he himself was one of the ones who “draws on the cave walls” (to the tune of several million dollars per year I dare say), but that someone had to go outside the cave and hunt (the Caterpillar techs).

        To the extent that such a duty or obligation exists, an English B.A., Daddy-take-care-of-all-my-Harvard-expenses MBA/JD Romney-type is no less obligated to take such a job as anyone else. If a student told the Dirty Jobs guy that he wanted to be a Romneyesque venture capitalist, Wall Street trader, billionaire hedge fund manager (taxed at INVESTOR 15-17% rate) type, what would Dirty Jobs guy say to convince him otherwise?

        Nevertheless, some reasonable amount of grunt manual labor never hurt abody. Bailing hay, working in a sawmill or feed mill, taking care of the helpless elderly in a nursing home, waiting tables, driving a truck, serving in the military, etc., gives one some work-a-day credibility, vis-à-vis some hubristic, entitled “power suit” who was born with a silver spoon in his mouth.

    • Tod
      Posted March 24, 2014 at 9:54 am | Permalink

      For wading through these books I can’t recommend Steve Shrives on Youtube enough… he’s very logical, pulls apart the bad argument’s and is funny in a slightly grouchy way :)

      • Chris
        Posted March 25, 2014 at 5:02 am | Permalink

        Plus one.

        I enjoy his channel, he’s a very engaging chap but must have a masochistic streak a mile wide to plough through some of the books that he has!

      • Posted March 25, 2014 at 5:15 am | Permalink

        Thanks for the tip Tod – he sounds good from the first video I watched, will check out more.

      • Posted March 25, 2014 at 9:08 am | Permalink

        I think you mean Steve Shives, right?

    • Posted March 24, 2014 at 12:59 pm | Permalink

      Yes Gasper, I wanted to thank Jerry for this undertaking, but you and several others beat me to it. From the parts Jerry quoted, it’s a job dealing with material similar to that in the Augean stables.

      • Posted March 24, 2014 at 3:16 pm | Permalink

        Jerry Coyne: Theological Hercules!

        Because theology is like a hydra, too. You cut off one argument for god, and two more appear to take its place…

        /@

        • Posted March 24, 2014 at 3:23 pm | Permalink

          That would suggest that Jerry’s already slain the lion, which somehow doesn’t quite seem in keeping with Jerry’s character.

          Most of the rest of the Labors involve capturing beasties alive, though, so perhaps we could revise the first one suitably for Jerry’s case….

          b&

        • Diana MacPherson
          Posted March 24, 2014 at 3:29 pm | Permalink

          Can’t wait for the Cretan bull!

          • Mark Joseph
            Posted March 24, 2014 at 6:29 pm | Permalink

            Ken Ham! Oh, wait… that’s “cretin bull”.

        • Posted March 24, 2014 at 4:45 pm | Permalink

          The difference between hydra heads and theologuments, however, is that a hydra’s heads has teeth.

          • Diane G.
            Posted March 24, 2014 at 8:56 pm | Permalink

            Nice!

  11. Diana MacPherson
    Posted March 24, 2014 at 8:26 am | Permalink

    I can’t help but see this as gnosticism and if Hart is arguing that this is what the church always thought I could see that argument but only if he’s referring to gnosticism being overturned with the building of the Church of Rome. Of course gnosticism is contested as well but it is largely seen as a Christian concoction.

    • Latverian Diplomat
      Posted March 24, 2014 at 9:36 am | Permalink

      As I understand it. Gnosticism claims that the material world is a lie and there’s a greater spiritual truth to be learned by rejecting it.

      This seems a bit different. An argument that the material world is shot through with the spiritual reality of God’s existence. It seems more Islamic than Gnostic to me, frankly.

      But I am by no means an expert on these sorts of distinctions.

  12. eveysolara
    Posted March 24, 2014 at 8:31 am | Permalink

    i would definetely recommend that u not automatically believe what he says about a reference. the last time i read a biology book , i looked up a reference and it was the opposite of what the guy said.

    • eveysolara
      Posted March 24, 2014 at 8:31 am | Permalink

      i meant “a theology book”

      • Latverian Diplomat
        Posted March 24, 2014 at 9:37 am | Permalink

        If it was a theology book referencing a biology book, that would definitely demand checking. :-)

      • AdamK
        Posted March 24, 2014 at 1:05 pm | Permalink

        That’s one of the joys of theology: whatever you say can mean the opposite of itself. True Being is Non-being, after all. (And Three is One, Death is Eternal Life, etc. Just remember to capitalize it.)

        • Mark Joseph
          Posted March 24, 2014 at 6:33 pm | Permalink

          WAR IS PEACE
          FREEDOM IS SLAVERY
          IGNORANCE IS STRENGTH

          The first one describes much of christian history (despite George Carlin’s observation that “fighting for peace is like screwing for virginity”).

          The second comes directly from the bible (1 Corinthians 7.22).

          The third is left as an exercise for the reader.

          • alanlarue
            Posted March 25, 2014 at 1:49 pm | Permalink

            Shouldn’t it be “ignorance is knowledge”?

            • Posted March 25, 2014 at 1:53 pm | Permalink

              You clearly haven’t read your Orwell. It’ll depress the shit out of you, but you owe it to yourself to do so, before you read anything else.

              b&

              • alanlarue
                Posted March 25, 2014 at 2:02 pm | Permalink

                Ah! Well, high school was a long, long time ago. Perhaps it’s time to read it again, especially since now I’m not just looking for a grade.

              • Diana MacPherson
                Posted March 25, 2014 at 4:22 pm | Permalink

                I once had a tyrannical boss that liked to bring me to a meeting room regularly to be yelled at in a really abusive way. I used to tell everyone it was room 101. No one got my reference. I’m glad I have you guys here!

              • Posted March 25, 2014 at 5:15 pm | Permalink

                So…if we’re your only hope, does that mean Obi-Wan was a prole?

                b&

              • infiniteimprobabilit
                Posted March 26, 2014 at 2:39 am | Permalink

                If ’1984′ is too depressing, may I recommend Animal Farm. Orwell gives full reign to his talent for irony and a telling phrase.

                ‘All animals are equal…. but some are more equal than others’. Love it!

  13. Jonathan Houser
    Posted March 24, 2014 at 8:34 am | Permalink

    There is a big difference between the relationship between the laypeople of science and the laypeople of religion.

    If somebody has some misconception about thermodynamics, I can sit down with them and show mathematically why they are incorrect. Even if they don’t have a major background in math, with a little bit of time to explain what the math means and how it works, they can be shown what the reality of thermodynamics is. There can be an actual correction to understanding.

    But if god is “experiential” then there exists no means by which to correct a religious layperson, or to even assert that your view of god is correct. I know a lady who insists that she talks to Jesus and God on a daily basis. Actual conversations. If Hart were to tell her “no, you’re experiencing God incorrectly, he’s not anthropomorphic but the ground of all being.” She would neither listen to him, or be convinced by him. In fact she would find him incredibly condescending and rightly so. Who is he to say that his experience of God is correct, and hers naive and simple?

    You can correct a scientific lay persons misconceptions about science, there is no method of correcting a religious person’s “misconceptions” about god. Especially if you assert that god is beyond reason and comprehension, and is experienced rather than deduced.

    • abrotherhoodofman
      Posted March 24, 2014 at 8:55 am | Permalink

      Exactly. One is sorely tempted to dispense with decorum and ask Hart:

      And just how in hell do YOU know all this shit?

      • Mark Joseph
        Posted March 24, 2014 at 6:34 pm | Permalink

        Bravissimo!

    • Sastra
      Posted March 24, 2014 at 9:57 am | Permalink

      Hart would never tell the lady she was experiencing God incorrectly. God no doubt either manifests itself in different ways or is interpreted in different ways. Whatever. Same difference.

      As long as this woman does not commit the cardinal sin she is safe: do not disagree with Hart.

      It’s like alt med practitioners: they hardly ever publicly contradict, argue, or debate each other … even when they can’t both be right. They can maintain the polite fiction that “we all have different truths” as long as the other guy is doing the main thing: attacking mainstream medicine.

      The enemy of True Religion usually isn’t False Religion: it’s atheism. Technically speaking, the false religions are a more immediate threat (they’re more likely to persuade someone who would otherwise believe in the True Religion) … but we’re more of a danger in the long run. We’re more of a danger to the ideas.

      After all, a big complaint against “bad” versions of God is usually that they’ll turn people into atheists. Hart lives on the fiction that this is exactly what happened to us.

      • Kevin Alexander
        Posted March 24, 2014 at 12:22 pm | Permalink

        It’s like alt med practitioners: they hardly ever publicly contradict, argue, or debate each other … even when they can’t both be right.

        But they can! You just need the right sensus despinitatus

    • Daoud
      Posted March 24, 2014 at 11:29 am | Permalink

      “there is no method of correcting a religious person’s “misconceptions” about god.”

      That is completely, factually, incorrect. There are LOTS of methods, swords were common back in the day, fire adds a nice theatrical touch, many, many ways.

  14. Posted March 24, 2014 at 8:38 am | Permalink

    “Rather, all things that exist receive their being continuously from him, who is the infinite wellspring of all that is, in whom (to use the language of the Christian scriptures) all things live and move and have their being.”

    Special thanks for the parasitic nematodes.

  15. Posted March 24, 2014 at 8:41 am | Permalink

    Jerry, keep us informed if any later chapter moves beyond “laypeople have an incomplete understanding that’s only available to special people like MEEEEEEEEEEEEEE.”

    E.g., if he explains omnibenevolence to your pediatric oncologist.

    • Posted March 24, 2014 at 8:54 am | Permalink

      aka “I have the only “real” magic decoder ring”.

      • Daoud
        Posted March 24, 2014 at 11:31 am | Permalink

        “b e s u r e t o d r i n k y o u r o v a l t i n e”…

        fu god, fu…

  16. NewEnglandBob
    Posted March 24, 2014 at 8:41 am | Permalink

    It is no surprise that Hart, like every other ‘sophisticated’ theologian, produces a verbal spew of ambiguous generalities and nonsensical weasel words.

    His words are no different than any new age mystical Eastern woo.

    They feel they don’t have to prove anything as they make stuff up as they go along. Hart falls right in with the other charlatans.

    • darrelle
      Posted March 24, 2014 at 10:06 am | Permalink

      That pretty much sums it up.

      I submit, after much thought and many samplings of Sophisticated Theology™, that the term Sophisticated, as so often used by apologists in reference to their favored anti atheist biblical bloviations, is applicable to the construction of the “verbal spew of ambiguous generalities and nonsensical weasel words,” and not to the concepts those words describe. Those, the concepts, are distinctly simplistic and juvenile.

      The superior attitude conveyed by Hart, and many others, is precisely the same kind of machismo driven display seen from predominantly male egoists from athletes to politicians, and roosters, since the dawn of civilization. Some people are impressed and defer to that kind of attitude. Just makes me think “asshole.”

      • Richard Olson
        Posted March 24, 2014 at 11:58 am | Permalink

        You can save keyboard wear & tear if you shorten asshole to (_*_).

      • Diane G.
        Posted March 24, 2014 at 9:00 pm | Permalink

        You speak for me!

    • Posted March 24, 2014 at 4:51 pm | Permalink

      I have recently chosen to replace “sophisticated” with “sophistry-coated™” when talking about theologians.

  17. eric
    Posted March 24, 2014 at 8:47 am | Permalink

    In another sense he is “being itself,” in that he is the inexhaustible source of all reality, the absolute upon which the contingent is always utterly dependent, the unity and simplicity that underlies and sustains the diversity of finite and composite things. Infinite being, infinite consciousness, infinite bliss

    Okay, I can sorta buy infinite being coming from this line of, uh, reasoning. But ‘consciousness’ and ‘bliss’ seem somewhat arbitrarily tacked on. Why not infinite dreaming instead of consciousness? Infinite pain instead of bliss? I fail to see how being the absolute that lies at the base of contingent properties aligns with some narrow set of pretty contingent properties – that happen to also be things humans generally like.

    Hart sees the relationship between the average believer and the theologian in the same way that he sees the relationship between the average layperson who’s interested in science and the professional scientist

    Yeah but the relationsihip between mistaken spokesperson and theologian/scientist is incredibly different. Scientists publicly dispute and correct mistaken scientific spokespeople, while theologians like Hart seem perfectly content to not contest the Ken Hams of the world. This attitude towards laypeople is not just dismissive of ignorant beliefs, its somewhat callous of ignorant believers. By not disputing theologically with the ‘personal god’ theologians, he is pretty much indicating that he doesn’t care if the public has these wrong beliefs. And given that this is a matter of salvation, tha seems pretty narcissistic. In contrast, I would say that most scientists do, by their public repudiation of incorrect science, show that they care whether laypeople get it right or wrong.

  18. Steve Gerrard
    Posted March 24, 2014 at 8:47 am | Permalink

    “All the great theistic traditions agree that God, understood in this proper sense, is essentially beyond finite comprehension;”

    Many atheists have no problem with claims of a purely deist god, about whom we can never know anything. We might ask what is the point, but we don’t mind if you want to think there is a ground of all being, or some such. Perhaps he is the god of the universe next door. It doesn’t make any difference.

    “All agree as well, however, that he can genuinely be known: that is, reasoned toward, intimately encountered, directly experienced with a fullness surpassng mere conceptual comprehension.”

    This is where Hart will have to show something if he expects to get anywhere with this kind of argument. What exactly can we get by reasoning toward, intimately encountering, and directly experiencing this incomprehensible god? Why does it turn out differently for every religion, and differently for theologists in the same religion? And again, what is the point, if you can’t really end up knowing anything?

    Atheism is not so much about not believing in the existence of god, as it is about not believing there is any knowledge to be had of any god.

    • Sastra
      Posted March 24, 2014 at 9:06 am | Permalink

      I mind the purely deistic god, and I think that if they considered it more carefully most atheists should mind it very much. It’s where the great divide begins on epistemology and belief. It would be like a physicist saying they’re just fine with vitalism — they only mind when people want to use human energy fields to do something. Come on. Don’t make reiki the problem when the battlefield is vitalism.

      As you have figured out, God is only “essentially beyond finite comprehension” if your definition of that type of “comprehension” involves a reasonable understanding such as a physicist or even an electrician might have of electricity. No — make it the kind of comprehension a toddler might have of electricity. No underlying idea of what it is or how it works, but you know very well that it exists and it works … somehow.

      They’re talking out of both sides of their mouth. The image they want is not one of total befuddlement before God, but awe. Not a blind person, but a baby. And then they draw from that powerful reserve.

      • Posted March 24, 2014 at 12:45 pm | Permalink

        The deistic god pressupposes there’s an origin of the universe, which is also scientifically dubious. Either (a) the universe is eternal (which the proper sense of universe almost certainly is), so there’s no place for such a god – in such a cosmology, deism is *false*, so is scientifically wrong, or (b) we are talking about our hubble volume, in which why call it god? Hubble volumes might be routinely created by graduate students/teenagers/toddlers/vast and powerful civilizations/something totally incomprehensible to us in other hubble volumes. Even if they are rare, what’s supernaturalistic about the process?

        • Sastra
          Posted March 24, 2014 at 1:26 pm | Permalink

          Nothing is supernatural about the process, which serves to highlight the fact that neither theist or deists are interested in the question “How did the universe begin?” They are interested in “the universe began after Mind(God) was there.” If the universe is eternal, then “Mind(God) has always co-existed with the universe.” It doesn’t really matter. The origin issue is a smokescreen.

          Process theology holds that

          1.) God co-evolves with the universe.
          2.) Atheists are wrong.

  19. Posted March 24, 2014 at 8:51 am | Permalink

    “Infinite being, infinite consciousness, infinite bliss, from whom we are, by whom we know and are known, and in whom we find our only true comprehension.”

    wow, nice bit of circular reasoning. We can only know the truth if we believe that this is the truth.

    It’s always good to know that Sophisticated Theologians ™ have to redefine their god into something so vague no one can figure out what it is they are talking about. It’s the classic baffle with bullshit maneuver, and of course, nothing new at all from theists.

    • Gordon
      Posted March 24, 2014 at 1:21 pm | Permalink

      I wonder if STs have one of those programs that generate garbage papers

      • Posted March 24, 2014 at 4:55 pm | Permalink

        Yes. PhD programs in Theology, Masters degrees in Divinity…

    • Posted March 24, 2014 at 4:57 pm | Permalink

      And with that bit of circulation, Hart’s jumped into the same boat as pre-suppositionalists like Sye-10 Applecart. I’d think even Hart would repudiate that particular embarrassment to the faith.

  20. Taz
    Posted March 24, 2014 at 8:53 am | Permalink

    It sounds like Hart is closing in on the ultimate axiom of theology:

    “God is that against whose existence no argument can be made.”

    Despite his attempt to make god completely ineffable, he did slip up a bit: “Rather, all things that exist receive their being continuously from him. . .”

    Really? What’s the mechanism?

    • Posted March 24, 2014 at 9:02 am | Permalink

      And to piggy back off of that, how does he know that “all things that exist receive their being continuously from him”? Does he have evidence of this? Were experiments performed? Do we have good logical reasoning to suppose this is the case? Of course not.

      It just baffles me. That statement is an empirical claim about everything in the universe. It’s about as grand a claim as you can make. And Hart makes it without providing an iota of evidence to substantiate it. It’s embarrassing, if you ask me.

      • eric
        Posted March 24, 2014 at 9:21 am | Permalink

        Does he have evidence of this? Were experiments performed? Do we have good logical reasoning to suppose this is the case? Of course not.

        IMO there’s an element of backwards-subtraction in these sophisticated theology arguments. One considers all the possible conceptions of God(s). The one subtracts out the notions of God that have been disproven or would be unpopular with most theists. Sophisticated God is what’s left over.

    • gluonspring
      Posted March 24, 2014 at 9:38 am | Permalink

      Him? Doesn’t Hart mean IT?

      They simply can’t keep up this ineffable BS for very long because it’s not what they really believe to begin with.

      • Posted March 24, 2014 at 3:29 pm | Permalink

        But if god is not a “being” can God be an “it”? Hart should talk about “🌀”.

        /@

        • Posted March 24, 2014 at 3:30 pm | Permalink

          *Big “G” both times.

        • Posted March 24, 2014 at 3:40 pm | Permalink

          Isn’t Hart already talking about circling the drain, even if he doesn’t actually realize it?

          b&

    • Greg Esres
      Posted March 24, 2014 at 9:45 am | Permalink

      ““Rather, all things that exist receive their being continuously from him. . .””

      Yeah, a friend the other day was making this argument, saying that God held the atoms together; a little later, he asserted that God wasn’t inside of non-believers.

      I asked the obvious question: “Then what holds the atoms of non-believers together?” He then refused to discuss the matter any further.

      • gluonspring
        Posted March 24, 2014 at 12:34 pm | Permalink

        Satan. Satan holds the atoms of non-believers together.

        • NewEnglandBob
          Posted March 24, 2014 at 12:38 pm | Permalink

          ummm….not gluons????

          • Posted March 24, 2014 at 1:31 pm | Permalink

            Satan works through gluons, didnchano?

            b&

            • Posted March 24, 2014 at 4:58 pm | Permalink

              I thought atheist atoms were held together by dem-ons.

              • Posted March 24, 2014 at 5:03 pm | Permalink

                …which would mean that Christian atoms are held together by more-ons. I think you may be onto something!

                b&

              • Posted March 24, 2014 at 6:48 pm | Permalink

                ROTFL

                *did I type that right?

        • Diana MacPherson
          Posted March 24, 2014 at 1:13 pm | Permalink

          I was going to go with “love”. Love will keep us together. Just like the Captain and Tennille told us in the 70s.

          • Posted March 24, 2014 at 3:31 pm | Permalink

            Whatever.

            /@

            • Diana MacPherson
              Posted March 24, 2014 at 3:33 pm | Permalink

              I managed to keep the ear worm out until you posted that. We used to exercise to that song in class for whatever reason, when I was 7.

              • infiniteimprobabilit
                Posted March 24, 2014 at 11:44 pm | Permalink

                That isn’t the one about muskrats, is it?

                (I have no idea what a muskrat is but I assume it’s some form of skanky vermin…)

                OK, to get back on topic: God is a giant muskrat. Makes no sense whatever which is precisely as much as Hart does…

              • Diana MacPherson
                Posted March 25, 2014 at 5:22 am | Permalink

                It was Captain and Tennille – Love Will Keep Us Together

              • Posted March 25, 2014 at 6:51 am | Permalink

                Here is what a muskrat Ondatra zibethicus, a North American rodent, looks like:
                A muskrat

              • Diana MacPherson
                Posted March 25, 2014 at 9:03 am | Permalink

                Yes very cute too! They are smaller than beavers and have a straight tail.

              • Posted March 25, 2014 at 7:01 am | Permalink

                For reasons opaque to me, the link to the image of a muskrat didn’t work. Sorry. So here, in plan text is a page where you can find out more about the little beasts:

                http://www.nhptv.org/natureworks/muskrat.htm

              • infiniteimprobabilit
                Posted March 25, 2014 at 11:46 pm | Permalink

                The link worked for me. And it looks kinda cute, I withdraw ‘skanky vermin’ and apologise to muskrats.

                The song I was thinking of was of course ‘muskrat love’, the lyrics of which are probably a far greater affront to muskratdom than my snarky comment. ;)

    • Posted March 24, 2014 at 12:47 pm | Permalink

      And it is *wrong* according to our best science – we have known for a long time about conservation laws. They were even guessed at roughly 2500 years ago, by the atomists.

    • Mark Joseph
      Posted March 24, 2014 at 6:39 pm | Permalink

      “Rather, all things that exist receive their being continuously from him. . .”

      Really? What’s the mechanism?

      Didn’t Robin Ince answer that for us? “Magic man done it!”

  21. Kevin
    Posted March 24, 2014 at 8:53 am | Permalink

    Hart: All aspects of God are fully negotiable so long as we can not comprehend or test them.

    Hart, you leave me with no more wisdom than when I woke this morning. I’ve got work to do and a life to live…

  22. Sastra
    Posted March 24, 2014 at 8:53 am | Permalink

    In the end, of course, even if atheists finally comprehend the Sophisticated Notion of God adumbrated by Hart, we have to ask ourselves why we should think that this God exists. The Argument from Self Evidence, which resembles that of Plantinga, will not convince many of us, even though Hart maintains that atheism is even more of a delusion than theism.

    Here’s my personal take on Hart’s view of God: it’s almost exactly what I used to believe in. He nails it.

    Raised freeethinker, I never belonged to a church or a religion. I was “spiritual.” And if someone had shown that long ‘definition’ passage to me when I was about 20 years old I’m pretty sure I would have LOVED it. I would have copied it out and written it down somewhere (no cut’n’paste from computers back then) and if anyone had asked me what I believed to be the simple, basic, fundamental truth of all versions of God, this is what I would have produced and expected the audience to be enchanted.

    And yes, it’s crap. But it’s not obvious crap if you’re a “seeker” and if you’re trying to reject all the doctrine and dogma and just look at where your spiritual intuitions guide you. There is no good reason to think this god exists, but there are a host of good-enough reasons if you’re in a receptive frame of mind.

    That receptive frame of mind is inconsistent with a scientific one. Since God is an explanation that makes God a hypothesis … unless.

    Unless you lower the criteria by re-classifying “God” as subjective rather than objective. Make it so both recognizing and understanding God is just like recognizing and understanding 1.) your own mind and 2.) values and virtues. Why? Because God is special. Special pleading coupled with category error as a huge first step — and then the rest of it all follows. You evaluate the existence of God the way you’d evaluate the existence of good. It all blurs and confuses on the surface and this feels like a deep connection. You can sneer and wonder at those who don’t ‘get’ this.

    I agree with Hart in that I think there IS a core, simple set of beliefs and intuitions regarding “God” and that it’s not just ultimately necessary but wise to attack this core version of supernaturalism if you’re going to reject God for alternate explanations. So my suggestion to Jerry is to try to avoid the temptation to rebut Hart by making the core (or even the bulk) of your argument “but that’s not what most people believe.” In a sense it IS what most people believe because the tendency to blur the inner world of emotion and experience with the outer world of object and event (the subjective and objective) is the very ground of supernaturalism.

    A supernatural reality is one where the mental proceeds or grounds the non-mental. This is what Hart is doing. It’s “metaphysical.” But — because of what we have learned about the mind (how it evolved, how it works) it is not above scientific attack. I know Hart’s God doesn’t stand up to rational analysis because it’s where I started and therefore where I always start.

    • Kevin
      Posted March 24, 2014 at 10:13 am | Permalink

      Agreed. At age 16 – 22, this might have been really golden stuff to pour my brain into for hours on end.

      It is not just metaphysical, what Hart is doing. He is playing games that children’s pliable minds are likely to achieve and he reaches results out of ignorance, rather than reason and observation.

    • Diana MacPherson
      Posted March 24, 2014 at 12:14 pm | Permalink

      I think you’ve hit on something I’ve experienced when trying to convince a certain group of people using logic. I’ve come across people who remain unswayed in the face of empirical data – and not at all about god but about mundane things: why would should do x instead of y at a company based on a data sample which is huge and the results which are statistically relevant and the solution which we root caused. I think I’m coming in with great evidence and I get shot down or would sometimes (thankfully, not often).

    • DiscoveredJoys
      Posted March 24, 2014 at 3:01 pm | Permalink

      One of Hart’s earlier books is titled ‘The Beauty of the Infinite: The Aesthetics of Christian Truth’. This, and a Kindle ‘look inside’ of the current book, suggest to me that Hart is self-medicating on aesthetics.

      You can’t reach people on a ‘high’ until they come down.

    • Posted March 24, 2014 at 9:25 pm | Permalink

      Agree.

      Dismissing STs because their lucubrations (to use a favorite of Jerry’s) don’t resemble the beliefs of the masses misses most of the point.

      If you aim for fundamental fallacies like wishful thinking, agency detection, and faith, you’ll be able to fit all theists in your crosshairs.

      Any differences you can point to turn out to be pretty superficial.

  23. Vaal
    Posted March 24, 2014 at 8:56 am | Permalink

    Jerry, I’ll be interested to see if Hart ever addresses any of the specific doctrines or claims of the Bible, or of his own Eastern Orthodox church (e.g. Nicene Creed, Jesus’ Resurrection…) or whether he stays with the “try to nail my jello to the wall” claims about God.

    Of course, anyone can find “consensus” among disparate views if allowed to conveniently denude away all the differences as Hart is doing.

    John thinks James Cameron is the best movie director ever and Susan thinks he is the worst. But these two views only seem in conflict. For we can point out they both are referring to “a human being who is capable of directing movies.” Viola, the views are not in conflict.

    Was Abraham Lincoln a human being who helped free slaves and died April 1865 via assassination? As many may believe.

    Or, as I claim, was he actually a type of vampire from another dimension who was tricking humanity – his ultimate goal was to cart off black people to another world to suck their blood, though he was ultimately thwarted by another good supernatural being who assassinated him?

    Well, let’s not exaggerate these differences shall we? My claim is not in any *serious* conflict with the other claim about Lincoln. There is a fundamental commonality: We agree he held the office of President Of The United states between March 1861 and April 1865.

    See, let’s not exaggerate the differences when it’s the commonalities that matter, ok?
    To fixate on the differences would just be a sign of naivete, missing the Big Picture.

    Vaal

    • Sastra
      Posted March 24, 2014 at 10:09 am | Permalink

      I had a friend who claimed she belonged to “all” the religions. She was a Christian, she was a Muslim, she was a Buddhist, she was a Hindu, she was a pagan, etc. etc. The contradictions were apparently insignificant details. She embraced them all.

      I asked her why she didn’t then say she belonged to all the political parties. She was a Republican, she was a Democrat, she was a Communist, she was a Nazi, she was a monarchist, she was an anarchist, and so forth. If you leave out the picky details, isn’t it all the same?

      This confused her. I don’t think she answered. Maybe she thought I was doing the same thing she was: making a show of advocating universal harmony. The rest of it is just window-dressing and a pose.

      • Diana MacPherson
        Posted March 24, 2014 at 12:45 pm | Permalink

        That is so Life of Pi. When I encounter these people, I do what my grandfather used to do to people he thought made no sense (which was usually just other old men at the grocery store), give a dismissive wave of the hand and a utter a dismissive sound then walk away.

      • Kevin
        Posted March 24, 2014 at 1:55 pm | Permalink

        I see bumper stickers “Coexist”. I can hardly imagine the depths of interpretation these must require in order to explain their meaning.

        • Sastra
          Posted March 24, 2014 at 1:59 pm | Permalink

          I think the “Coexist” bumper stickers only mean that religions shouldn’t fight with each other or argue over which one is true.

          I agree. They shouldn’t argue over which one is true because they should figure out that none of them are.

          I have a t-shirt that looks like the symbol-ridden Co-exist t-shirt… except it says No-exist.

  24. Posted March 24, 2014 at 8:57 am | Permalink

    Why attack religion? It seems that development of religious sects is an evolutionary mechanism to increase survival/fitness in the population. Why do most civilizations develop religious organizations? The power of forming packs or herds increases survival and reproduction. Beyond obtaining food and shelter what could be more galvanizing than the emotion that religion evokes. Religion therefore falls under societal coping mechanisms to ensure reproduction/survival. If you strip religion down to its base, it serves this purpose. All the debate on the existence of god is just recruiting individuals into these groups.

    • Posted March 24, 2014 at 8:59 am | Permalink

      We don’t need religion, as shown by the largely secular societies of Europe. Given its inimical effets, and its bad incursions into morality (e.g. Catholicism), it’s generally a bad thing to have around, and that’s why many of us go after it.

      You’re just making up one of many reasons why religion might exist, and there are others that have nothing to do with survival or fitness.

      • Posted March 24, 2014 at 9:14 am | Permalink

        We don’t need religion but we do need to form groups that will ensure survival. Groupings will form based upon religious or secular means regardless. Basic tenets of religion are political in nature. Is it possible to exist without “religious” organizations?

        • eric
          Posted March 24, 2014 at 9:28 am | Permalink

          I’d argue that modern western Europe is a good example of a society without religion. Its there, but has nowhere near the prevalence it has elsewhere. So while maybe we can’t empirically answer the question of whether a society with 0 theistic members is possible, we can certainly empirically point out that humans can get along quite well with far less religion than they have in the US.

          Secondly, saying religious organizations are good for us is not an argument for the existence of God. That’s like saying Tony the Tiger must exist because Corn Flakes are healthy.

          • Posted March 24, 2014 at 10:16 am | Permalink

            What do you mean “humans can get along without religion”. The act of getting along in society is the basis of religion. Where religion fails is it’s use as a tool to promote a non-religious agenda. Will a purely secular society be free of this? What have we learned from societies such as the former USSR and China, have human rights flourished in such societies?
            Don’t get me wrong, I’m not promoting a theocratic state or arguing for the existence of god.

            • NewEnglandBob
              Posted March 24, 2014 at 10:30 am | Permalink

              “The act of getting along in society is the basis of religion”

              Not true. The act of controlling society is the basis of religion. Power over others.

              • Posted March 24, 2014 at 10:32 am | Permalink

                Exactly. Why else would the Vatican be continuing to run its private child prostitution service for its elites?

                b&

              • Daoud
                Posted March 24, 2014 at 11:36 am | Permalink

                Certainly a (mis)use of religion, but it can’t have been the *original* cause or use for religion. It’s only because religion is so powerful and influential on the human psyche that it could then be used as a controlling agent. e.g. Religion had to mean something very very important to people long before it could be then be used as “you must do X because religion says so”.

              • Posted March 24, 2014 at 11:51 am | Permalink

                You see that mountain over there throwing fire into the sky? You know why it’s doing that? It’s because the mountain god is angry. And he’s angry at you! So you damned well better do what I, the official spokesman of the fire god, tells you to do or else he’ll get even angrier at you.

                That’s all that religion ever has been, from the most ancient through the most modern of days. There is some powerful force; I know what that powerful force wants; therefore you should do what I tell you to do because I speak with the authority of this power.

                Naturally, that’s where the question of faith comes into play. No, you don’t need to waste your time taking this car to your own mechanic; she’s a real cherry. You don’t think I’d lie to you, do you? Have a little faith!

                Even when people sincerely believe what they spout, whether because they’ve been fooled by others or they’ve fooled themselves, it still always plays itself out like this; sincerity is irrelevant.

                Cheers,

                b&

            • eric
              Posted March 24, 2014 at 1:43 pm | Permalink

              “What do you mean “humans can get along without religion”. The act of getting along in society is the basis of religion.”

              Logically, your point makes no sense. A is the basis of B does NOT deductively conclude that B is necessary for A, or anything else.

              You seem to be arguing that religion has some socio-biological basis, ergo we should keep it. But pretty much everything in human society has some socio-biological basis. That means nothing on its own.

        • Sastra
          Posted March 24, 2014 at 10:29 am | Permalink

          In other words, if you redefine “religion” to mean “congenial groups” then we need religion.

          And if I redefine “sense” to mean “grammatically and semantically coherent” then your argument makes sense.

          • Posted March 24, 2014 at 10:30 am | Permalink

            Just be careful at the zebra crossings….

            b&

    • Sastra
      Posted March 24, 2014 at 9:14 am | Permalink

      You’re making a Naturalistic Fallacy and applying it to evolution: that whatever evolve would have survival value and is therefore good. But that doesn’t work for many reasons.

      For one thing, many things which evolved in the human species may well have aided in survival (or not) but we don’t necessarily consider them useful or even good. Tribalism, war, violence, racism, sexism, revenge, and so forth.

      But more important I think is the basic objection regarding using a description of development of biological species as a moral prescription for societies.

      Everything valuable in religion stands whether God exists or not and — more important — whether people believe in God or not. Truth matters and it’s naive to think that it doesn’t matter to religious people. The Little People Argument is both naive and insulting.

      • Posted March 24, 2014 at 9:40 am | Permalink

        No one would argue for the horrendous cost of war but does the eradication of of populations promoting ideals/actions deleterious to long term survival of the species seem bad? If a population exhibited a mutation that would lead to a reduction in fitness wouldn’t it be selected against? But we don’t do this, we do not “weed out” the unfit as a society. Sometimes society goes against natural law. Everything in religion is not about the existence of god but rather how individuals should interact to ensure survival. Unfortunately, religion rarely accomplishes this do to humanity.

        • Sastra
          Posted March 24, 2014 at 10:24 am | Permalink

          You’re using evolution as a moral theory again and talking about going with or against “natural law” — which is the Naturalistic Fallacy. Natural laws are descriptions of regularities in nature, not prescriptions or proscriptions. An example of someone trying to go against “natural law” would be someone stepping off a cliff and expecting to hang in mid-air like Roadrunner in the cartoons. Nature doesn’t “punish” them. It’s amoral cause-and-effect.

          Survival is not always the only ethical goal, the one which cancels out everything else. It’s not yours, is it?

          • Posted March 24, 2014 at 11:26 am | Permalink

            Survival in nature does not imply ethics or morality. Evolution is purely passing along more favorable genes. I think we would agree that “good” is a adjective which is under personal interpretation. Evolutionary “good” is increasing fitness in a population as a whole. Is morality strictly a human trait that has no benefit in the dynamic of a group? Evolution is not moral theory but does moral theory benefit population natural selection/fitness?

            • Posted March 24, 2014 at 11:30 am | Permalink

              You’ve missed the point.

              Moral societies and moral individuals within societies are more successful, which is why they thrive over longer terms.

              And, yes — as with everything else in biology, this is a matter of statistics and it takes time. The good news is that, now that we’re aware of these things, we don’t have to wait hundreds of thousands of years for a new innate moral sense that, say, same-sex-marriage should be legal; rather, we can use reason to speed up the process.

              Cheers,

              b&

            • Diana MacPherson
              Posted March 24, 2014 at 12:30 pm | Permalink

              I think your premise is wrong at the core. It seems you feel we need religion to get along together as successful human beings. Empirically this is false (Europe for example) but let’s look at this scientifically. We have mirror neurons (healthy non psychopaths anyway) and it’s those mirror neurons that many scientists have proven play a part in empathy – firing off in the same way as the person we watch as if we are having the same experience as the other person. So, that sets us up pretty well for not doing bad things. You see this in our behaviour – think of how many times in a day you had the opportunity to do something bad and get away with it. Dan Ariely makes this point when posits just this when he says we are much more moral than economic theory predicts in his book the Honest Truth about Dishonesty:

              Perhaps a colleague left her purse on her desk while she was away for a long meeting. Maybe a stranger in a coffee shop asked you to watch her laptop while she went to the restroom. Maybe a grocery clerk missed an item in your cart or you passed an unlocked bicycle on an empty street. In any of those situations, the SMORC thing to do would be to take the money, laptop, or bike or not mention the missed item. Yet we pass up the vast majority of these opportunities every day without thinking that we should take them.

              Or, consider the research in game theory and the Prisoner’s Dilemma where Matt Ridley describes a bunch of games that played each other in his book, The Origins of Virtue: Human Instincts and the Evolution of Cooperation. Ridley says:

              Pavlov is nice, like Tit-for-tat, in that it establishes cooperation, reciprocating in that it tends to repay its partners in kind, and forgiving like Generous, in that it punishes mistakes but then returns to cooperating. Yet it has a vindictive streak that enables it to exploit naive cooperators like “Always cooperate”. If it comes up against a sucker, it keeps on defecting. Thus it creates a cooperative world, but does not allow that world to decay into a too-trusting Utopia where free-riders can flourish.

              So, in other words, we are evolutionarily set up to live without religion. It is notable also that the only people that seem to require moral authority that religion brings are sociopaths. I recently read a book called: Confessions of a Sociopath: A Life Spent Hiding in Plain Sight written by a Sociopath under a pseudonym. She is a Mormon and she says that the Mormon Church provides her boundaries for her behaviour.

            • Sastra
              Posted March 24, 2014 at 12:39 pm | Permalink

              Evolution is not moral theory but does moral theory benefit population natural selection/fitness?

              I don’t know: is that a scientific question, or an ethical one? Depending on what you mean by “natural selection/fitness” it may not matter. Our goals don’t necessarily overlap with genetic ‘goals’ — though they can.

              If we knew that the human species would survive for a million years longer under brutal totalitarian regimes — as opposed to our striving to form societies which were peaceful, fair, and respectful of human rights — is that the “right” choice? Would the ends justify the means?

              Sometimes the means are the ends. If religion isn’t true but is “useful,” would you yourself sacrifice honesty for convenience? Or do we only urge this for other people?

    • Kevin
      Posted March 24, 2014 at 10:18 am | Permalink

      Religion has never served any purpose in my life and nor does it in the lives of my children. They are less than 10 years old and can easily tell you that such debates are very useful for convincing people that religion has failed.

    • Posted March 24, 2014 at 9:39 pm | Permalink

      We also have a certain amount of xenophobia hard-wired into us, for much the same reason.

      So why should we work to eradicate racism?

  25. Jesper Both Pedersen
    Posted March 24, 2014 at 9:00 am | Permalink

    To speak of “God” properly, then—to use the word in a sense consonant with the teachings of Orthodox Judaism, Christianity, Islam, Sikhism, Hinduism, Baháí, a great deal of antique paganism, and so forth—is to speak of the one infinite source of all that is: eternal, omniscient, omnipotent, uncreated, uncaused, perfectly transcendent of all things and for that very reason absolutely immanent to all things.God so understood is not something poised over against the universe, in addition to it, nor is he the universe itself. He is not a “being,” at least not in the way that a tree, a shoemaker, or a god is a being; he is not one more object in the inventory of things that are, or any sort of discrete object at all.

    In addition to trying to put god into a pre-Big Bang bunker, there’s a simple logical fundamental contradiction going on here.

    If god is eternal then he cannot cease to exist. If he cannot cease to exist, he is not omnipotent. If he is not omnipotent, he cannot be omniscient.

    God as an infallible, invisible 2014 ground of being thing isn’t any more well-reasoned or logical than the ‘ol bearded man in the sky.

    And why the hell does he keep referring to it as a him if not he himself has a tendency to view it as such?

    • Posted March 24, 2014 at 9:03 am | Permalink

      If god is eternal then he cannot cease to exist. If he cannot cease to exist, he is not omnipotent. If he is not omnipotent, he cannot be omniscient.

      “Potence” always applies to the things that can logically be done. Hart’s God exists as a logical necessity, and so saying that God not being able to cause Himself to not exist would mean that He isn’t omnipotent simply doesn’t work. And also one need not be omnipotent in order to be omniscient; one merely must be capable of knowing all that can be known, even if one is lacking in other areas.

      • Jesper Both Pedersen
        Posted March 24, 2014 at 10:22 am | Permalink

        Omnipotence ( from wiki ): Omnipotence (from Latin: Omni Potens: “all power”) is unlimited power.

        How is god not being able to self-determinate compatible with unlimited power?

        And also one need not be omnipotent in order to be omniscient;

        Well, yes you do. If you know and can predict all that have been, is, and will ever be yet is not omnipotent, then you cannot be the foundation of all that is.

        If you’re not the founder of all there is and you don’t have omnipotence, then how can you be omniscient about things to come?

        • Posted March 24, 2014 at 10:36 am | Permalink

          For omnipotence, exactly as I said above: potence or power does not apply to things that can’t logically be done, and it is logically impossible for the foundation of all existence to stop existing. Not a limit on omnipotence at all.

          For omniscience, again it is just as I said above: you know everything that can be known (logically) and if the future can be known then you know it. It DOESN’T mean that you can do everything. Taking your own example, if the only thing that the omniscient being couldn’t do was make itself not exist, that would mean it wasn’t omnipotent (assuming that, in that case, it was logically psosible for it to not exist) but wouldn’t impact its omniscience at all.

          • Jesper Both Pedersen
            Posted March 24, 2014 at 1:21 pm | Permalink

            The thing is, verbosestoic, if this god is uncreated then it did not create itself and therefore isn’t master of its own existence= No omnipotence.

            To boot it is eternal and thus it is logically incapable of self-destruction.

            • Posted March 25, 2014 at 10:53 am | Permalink

              Why do you think that that not being “master of its own existence” means that it can’t be omnipotent? I think you need to sub in what that would entail to see if it’s something that we can say that there is a power that can be had there, remembering that omnipotence has never required the ability to do the logically impossible.

              • Posted March 25, 2014 at 1:26 pm | Permalink

                remembering that omnipotence has never required the ability to do the logically impossible

                Omnipotence has always necessarily entailed the ability to do the impossible; else, what is it for?

                Jesus didn’t turn water into wine because it was possible; he did so because it was impossible. That’s the whole point of miracles.

                And that’s also why miracles and miracle-working (of which omnipotence is the ultimate example) have always been and can only ever be fictional plot devices. If somebody ever actually did turn water into wine (without the benefit of a season of grape growing followed by juicing and fermentation, of course), then we’d know that it’s not impossible but merely impressive; it would cease to be miraculous, except in the same prosaic sense as we use for a particularly well-executed sports play or the like.

                By insisting that omnipotence is limited to that which is possible, you either castrate it shamelessly such that the omnipotent are no more nor less powerful than any others, or you childishly insist that everything actually is possible if you only believe it hard enough.

                Cheers,

                b&

              • Posted March 25, 2014 at 1:43 pm | Permalink

                Ah! Someone else channelling Stephen Fry!

                /@

              • Posted March 25, 2014 at 2:00 pm | Permalink

                That certainly was a great line of his.

                While I’m thinking about it: Epicurus applies here, too, and not just with evil.

                If an entity has the power to effect a desired change, it does so. Theists, especially Christians, express great confidence in many of the desires of their gods; yet, those desires have not been realized. Either the gods don’t actually want what they are claimed to want or they lack the power to bring about what they desire — or, much more rationally, they are simply imaginary.

                No matter how you slice it, the current state of affairs is overwhelming empirical evidence against the divine nature (and / or existence) of all claimed gods.

                This, again, is hardly surprising, since the only real purpose of the gods is to provide a source of unquestionable authority for the priests. “The gods told me that they want you to give me ten — no, fifteen! — fifteen percent of all your net — better make that gross — fifteen percent of your gross income. And you wouldn’t want the gods to get angry with you, would you? Remember when that volcano blew up? So pay up, now!”

                Cheers,

                b&

              • Jesper Both Pedersen
                Posted March 25, 2014 at 1:35 pm | Permalink

                Why do you think that that not being “master of its own existence” means that it can’t be omnipotent?

                Because that’s what it means. Omnipotence doesn’t mean “unlimited power except a few things”. It means unlimited power.

                It’s the same with the Christian god’s supposed infallibility; One mistake is all it takes for him to lose that label and the bible is riddled with false claims about nature.

                I think you need to sub in what that would entail to see if it’s something that we can say that there is a power that can be had there, remembering that omnipotence has never required the ability to do the logically impossible.

                I honestly don’t get your point here.

              • Posted March 26, 2014 at 10:13 am | Permalink

                Jesper,

                Because that’s what it means. Omnipotence doesn’t mean “unlimited power except a few things”. It means unlimited power.

                But what does that mean? There are multiple things to consider here:

                1) When certain theists use the term “omnipotence”, what do they mean by “unlimited power”? Hart is pretty clear what he means by that, and it wouldn’t have to include the logically impossibly, and most other concepts go down from there in terms of raw power.

                2) You can’t just select a concept of omnipotence that makes the concept itself incoherent. First, because that’s not how to prove anything and second, because your opponents might simply drop the term but keep their original concept that doesn’t require the contradiction and you haven’t really gotten anywhere.

                Additionally, atheists REALLY don’t want “omnipotence” to include logical impossibility, since it would make God immune to logical disproof, since that requires you to give a logical contradiction (even with empirical arguments) and if it’s only LOGICALLY impossible for that to be the case and God can do things that are logically impossible, then God can do it regardless. So you could indeed have an all-good God that does evil acts because, hey, that’s only logically impossible.

                You can use that as evidence that the concept is incoherent … but then you have to deal with 1 and 2 above. Better for everyone involved if we limit omnis to that which it is logically possible to do/know/whatevah.

                As for the last point, the key is that instead of saying “Master of its own existence” and trying to use that to claim that if it can’t do that it isn’t omnipotent, you have to ask what it would MEAN if it was. Given that it would have to have the ability to cause the thing that must always exist to not exist, and that’s a logical impossibility, that’s not the same thing as saying, say, that YOU are the master of your own existence.

                And most theists are quite comfortable with limiting God to doing only the things that are not logically impossible. We don’t see any need for God to have to be able to create square circles, and one who couldn’t would be quite God enough for us.

              • Posted March 26, 2014 at 12:44 pm | Permalink

                I think theists would admit (or refuse to deny) that their deity has the power to cure pediatric leukemia. Even prevent it. Not that big a stretch beyond human power, if you ask me.

              • Posted March 26, 2014 at 12:52 pm | Permalink

                You can’t just select a concept of omnipotence that makes the concept itself incoherent.

                We’re not the ones who’ve done the selecting. Theists have. It’s their problem the concept is incoherent, not ours; their problem they’re too cognitively dissonated to be able to acknowledge the fact that they’re believing absurdities, not ours.

                And most theists are quite comfortable with limiting God to doing only the things that are not logically impossible.

                It’s logically possible for this eponymously confusingly god named, “God,” to pick up the phone and call 9-1-1 the next time he sees a priest raping a child, right?

                What kind of a sick fuck would watch a priest rape a child and not even bother to call 9-1-1?

                And if it’s not logically (or physically or theologically or philosophically or faeryologistically or whatever) possible for God to call 9-1-1, what the fuckity fuck fuck is the point of pretending he’s somehow “all-powerful”? Or if he doesn’t know that that’s what his official agents are doing in his name, what sort of profoundly stupid ignorance is this that we’ve labeled as “all-knowing”?

                Once again: start with absurdities or contradictions and anything you like can be consequently concluded. The omni-properties are exactly the type of absurd contradictions that are best suited to demonstrating that fact.

                Cheers,

                b&

              • Jesper Both Pedersen
                Posted March 26, 2014 at 1:05 pm | Permalink

                @verbosestoic

                1) When certain theists use the term “omnipotence”, what do they mean by “unlimited power”? Hart is pretty clear what he means by that, and it wouldn’t have to include the logically impossibly, and most other concepts go down from there in terms of raw power.

                In other words, Hart’s god isn’t really omnipotent insofar that it is constrained by what is logically possible to humans.

                I wonder why?

                2) You can’t just select a concept of omnipotence that makes the concept itself incoherent. First, because that’s not how to prove anything and second, because your opponents might simply drop the term but keep their original concept that doesn’t require the contradiction and you haven’t really gotten anywhere.

                I didn’t. Hart did that himself when he described his god as, among other things, uncreated and eternal.

                It’s logic 101 that if god did not create itself then it isn’t the creator of all things, and if it is eternal then it cannot self-destruct.

                But hey, if omnipotent only requires you to be able to do whatever is logically possible then we’re all potential omnipotensers.

                If only I had the cash…

              • Posted March 26, 2014 at 10:18 am | Permalink

                Ben,

                Omnipotence has always necessarily entailed the ability to do the impossible; else, what is it for?

                Jesus didn’t turn water into wine because it was possible; he did so because it was impossible. That’s the whole point of miracles.

                Miracles have always been treated as supernatural events, meaning events that contradict the laws of nature. But the laws of nature are physical laws, and so we are indeed talking about physical, not logical, impossibility here. As such, it is equally miraculous to do something that the laws of nature say you can’t do as it is to do something that can be done naturally in a “non-natural” way. So, in that sense, moving a chair can be a miracle, as long as it isn’t done naturally.

                Turning water into wine isn’t a conceptual/logical impossibility, as you yourself note. Doing it there, at that time, in that way is a physical impossibility. That’s what makes it a miracle. Having that be water and wine at the same time would be a logical impossibility, but that’s not a miracle that we expect or demand God to provide.

              • Posted March 26, 2014 at 11:54 am | Permalink

                You’re still working with a prescientific worldview.

                Let’s simplify it. You’re in a Soyuz module in a typical low Earth orbit. You see that big, beautiful Moon off in the distance, and you’d really like to go visit it, maybe stand in Neil’s footprints.

                The capsule, of course, doesn’t have anywhere near enough Δv to get you there. So is it physics or logic that prevents you from making the trip?

                When you understand why that question is incoherent, you’ll understand why similar questions are equally incoherent.

                “Impossibility” just simply doesn’t come in a rainbow of flavors; it’s purely binary, as pure as any binary ever gets.

                Cheers,

                b&

          • Posted March 24, 2014 at 1:44 pm | Permalink

            The problem is that you’ve created a false dichotomy between logical possibilities and physical possibilities. That works great in philosophy, but not in reality.

            In reality, it’s physically impossible to take pencil and paper on your flat desktop and draw a representation of a triangle with two right angles. You might argue that it’s a logical impossibility, so Jesus can still claim omnipotence despite being unable to do so…but that also means that I can claim omnipotence despite being unable to do so, either. And the fact that Jesus can do the trick by wrapping the paper around the globe is also irrelevant, as I can do the trick that way, too.

            Maybe Jesus can run a one-minute mile…but it’s a mathematical impossibility for me to do so, as I lack the energy reserves and musculature and the like; that’s just not possible with the geometry of my body in the actual multidimensional universe. And so it goes for any other physical task; therefore, I’m equally omnipotent as Jesus or anybody else.

            Worse, there’re all sorts of things that I can do that Jesus can’t. For example, a simple single line of iambic pentameter that’s my own: “All but God can prove this sentence true.” If you’re familiar with the popular proofs of Gödel’s Incompleteness Theorem, you’ll recognize that as a variation on that same theme and every bit as valid.

            And, since we’re discussing omnipotence, no entity, no matter how allegedly powerful or intelligent, can, even in principle, entirely eliminate the possibility that it’s deluded, such as perhaps merely being a subroutine in some vastly more powerful computer. And if even Jesus can’t rule out the possibility that he’s but a figment of Alice’s Red King’s Dream, of what sense does it make to claim that he knows everything and can do anything?

            Cheers,

            b&

            • Posted March 24, 2014 at 3:50 pm | Permalink

              “and your wise men don’t know how it feels
              to be thick as a brick.”

              /@

              • Posted March 24, 2014 at 3:58 pm | Permalink

                Woah…I never put that one together before. An heavy metal flautist with a lyric demonstrating the absurdity of omniscience…now there’s a bit of brain asplosion….

                b&

              • Posted March 25, 2014 at 12:27 am | Permalink

                Tull is more prog than metal.

                /@

              • Posted March 25, 2014 at 8:19 am | Permalink

                Well, Ian plays a modern metal flute…and there’s likely at least some gold in it…and gold is heavy….

                b&

              • Posted March 25, 2014 at 10:57 am | Permalink

                /@

              • Posted March 25, 2014 at 11:27 am | Permalink

                Woah — thanks! I did not know about that.

                Col. Dr. Coleman is clearly a competent amateur musician and could likely hold her own in any community orchestra or band — most impressive for somebody with her career…but that was also a pretty good demonstration of what separates amateurs from the greats. Not a fair comparison to make, but it was right there. Ian’s phrasing has always been some of the most passionate and expressive of all the musicians of the past century; Cady’s technique was flawless, but she was mostly just reciting the lines and following the stage directions.

                What would be fun would be to have her take lessons from Ian for a few months, and observe the difference I’m sure that would make….

                b&

              • Chris
                Posted March 25, 2014 at 6:25 am | Permalink

                Tull are Prog Rock (of the original 60s/70s variety), most definitely not heavy metal*. The audiences may overlap slightly though!

                * They might both sing about dragons, but Jethro Tull don’t do it angrily.

              • Diane G.
                Posted March 25, 2014 at 3:24 pm | Permalink

                Ben, are you referring to the time when Tull was nominated for a heavy metal grammy, other artists groused about miscategorization, and Tull replied with

                http://s285.photobucket.com/user/tjtull/media/ad89.jpg.html ?

              • Posted March 25, 2014 at 4:08 pm | Permalink

                I wasn’t even aware of that, but I’m fully prepared to shamelessly take credit for the reference anyway!

                b&

            • Posted March 24, 2014 at 10:10 pm | Permalink

              “false dichotomy between logically possible and physically possible”

              Bingo.

            • Posted March 25, 2014 at 11:10 am | Permalink

              The problem is that you’ve created a false dichotomy between logical possibilities and physical possibilities. That works great in philosophy, but not in reality.

              I haven’t created a dichotomy at all (as that would imply that those are the only two choices, and I never said that). All I’m saying is that the omnis do not require the ability to do the logically impossible. If you want to argue that they also don’t require the ability to do the physically impossible, you can go right ahead, but otherwise I don’t see what you’re driving at with this statement.

              In reality, it’s physically impossible to take pencil and paper on your flat desktop and draw a representation of a triangle with two right angles. You might argue that it’s a logical impossibility, so Jesus can still claim omnipotence despite being unable to do so…but that also means that I can claim omnipotence despite being unable to do so, either. And the fact that Jesus can do the trick by wrapping the paper around the globe is also irrelevant, as I can do the trick that way, too.

              Sure, that you can’t do something logically impossible and can do things that are logically and physically possible doesn’t in any way count against a claim that you would be omnipotent. Unfortunately, you’re left needing an argument of some kind to demonstrate that you might be omnipotent. Whatever else you may say about Hart and classical theists, they do indeed argue for those properties and don’t merely assert it (more details are on my own blog so as not to clutter it up here).

              Maybe Jesus can run a one-minute mile…but it’s a mathematical impossibility for me to do so, as I lack the energy reserves and musculature and the like; that’s just not possible with the geometry of my body in the actual multidimensional universe. And so it goes for any other physical task; therefore, I’m equally omnipotent as Jesus or anybody else.

              In order to establish that, you’d have to argue that omnipotence does not, in fact, require the ability to do things that are physically impossible, meaning in particular the ability to do things that you in your current state can’t do. If you can only not run that because your current state won’t allow it, then in theory you are even capable of it since you can change that state. If it’s just an accident of how the laws of this physical world interact with your state, then you can’t change that, but God might be able to (ie by changing or suspending the laws or changing its state in ways to make it immune to the laws). If no human can possibly do that and remain human, THEN it becomes a logical impossibility to be human and run a one-minute mile, which is something that God, then, couldn’t do. He could probably not be human at that point, though …

              At any rate, that’s the issue. While you can claim that in a certain state you can’t do that, potence itself allows for changing states, and so onmipotence would allow that as well, and so physical impossibility is not a barrier to it. But there is no state change you can possibly make to, say, make a circle that is also square, or make something that must exist and grounds existence itself stop existing. Thus, not a problem at all.

              Worse, there’re all sorts of things that I can do that Jesus can’t. For example, a simple single line of iambic pentameter that’s my own: “All but God can prove this sentence true.” If you’re familiar with the popular proofs of Gödel’s Incompleteness Theorem, you’ll recognize that as a variation on that same theme and every bit as valid.

              The statement would have to be true, though, which would mean that you’d have to be able to prove it true in a way that God couldn’t prove it true. Even given Incompleteness Theorem, that doesn’t seem likely, and I’d say even ESPECIALLY given that because my vague recollections are that there are some statements that cannot be proven true, but that in no way means that you could prove it true and God couldn’t. In fact, if God really is omnipotent then the statement is obviously false and cannot be true, and if God isn’t omnipotent then you don’t need to make the claim at all.

              And, since we’re discussing omnipotence, no entity, no matter how allegedly powerful or intelligent, can, even in principle, entirely eliminate the possibility that it’s deluded, such as perhaps merely being a subroutine in some vastly more powerful computer. And if even Jesus can’t rule out the possibility that he’s but a figment of Alice’s Red King’s Dream, of what sense does it make to claim that he knows everything and can do anything?

              This doesn’t seem to be the case. We only can’t rule out the possibility of the Matrix because we don’t have a direct access to reality. Anything that did would not have that problem. Additionally, knowledge does not require certainty, and so positing a vague possibility doesn’t refute a knowledge claim at all, or in fact notions of proof. Again, as above, you don’t take what omniscience/omnipotence would MEAN seriously enough when you make these claims, and so make challenges that omimpotence/omniscience would be able to handle if they existend. The only way to move from there is to deny that omniscience/omnipotence exist at all … but classical theists and Hart, I believe, have that covered by arguing for, essentially, as much knowledge/power as it is possible to have (infinite) which we can either call omnipotence/omniscience or, well, not, but it doesn’t impact their arguments either way.

              • Posted March 25, 2014 at 12:35 pm | Permalink

                If you can only not run that because your current state wont allow it, then in theory you are even capable of it since you can change that state.

                That type of reasoning only works in a pre-Einstein physical model that we now know to be overly simplistic and naïve. In the real world, all I need do is specify some particular point in spacetime, and your argument is no different from suggesting I pick up the piece of paper off the table and wrap it around the globe in order to draw my multiply-right triangle.

                …which is, again, a perfect example of the failure of the attempt to differentiate between “physical” and “logical” impossibilities. If the word, “impossible,” is to have any coherent meaning at all, there can be no meaningful distinction between different types of impossibilities. “Do, or do no; there is no, ‘try.’”

                This doesnt seem to be the case. We only cant rule out the possibility of the Matrix because we dont have a direct access to reality. Anything that did would not have that problem.

                …and an entity is supposed to know that it actually does have direct access to reality…how, exactly? What’s the empirical means to reliably determine that one’s perceptions are true?

                One day, Satan goes to Jesus to tell him that he’s seen the light and he’s no longer evil, so can he please be let out of Hell to do good in the world? Jesus, being all-compassionate, is willing to consider the possibility, but he also knows that Satan is the Great Deceiver and so he’s got to be sure the conversion is legitimate. Jesus then whips out his magic omnipotence ring and creates a perfect simulation of reality, except that Satan is in Jesus’s position. As far as Satan is concerned, he (Satan) is the all-powerful all-knowing Creator of Life, the Universe, and Everything — even though it’s just an illusion that Jesus created for the purpose of this test.

                Now we come to a problem. Satan clearly can’t become aware of the true nature of reality or else the test will be invalidated; he’ll know he’s being watched and so he’ll be on his super-best behavior. But Satan also has to think that he really is the n’est plus ultra or else the test is of something other than real responsibility. So, when Satan perceives reality with his all-knowing eyes, either Jesus gave Satan true all-knowingness and he sees through the deception, or else Jesus didn’t give Satan true all-knowingness and it’s just one giant exercise in masturbatory futility.

                And thus we discover the same thing that Alan Turing did with respect to the Halting Problem: there simply isn’t any method to determine the true nature of reality, just as there isn’t any method to determine if any given Turing Machine will ever halt.

                Which, in turn, means that even Jesus himself doesn’t have any means of knowing that he himself is really perceiving the true nature of reality; after all, it could well be that Jesus is really Satan’s bitch, and Jesus is the one trapped in a virtual reality left to falsely think he’s omnipotent.

                Of course, you can special plead yourself out of this all you want, but only if you’re interested in fooling yourself.

                Additionally, knowledge does not require certainty

                If Jesus knows stuff but he’s not certain of that knowledge, then it hardly makes sense to claim that he actually knows everything. Knowledge without justifiable certainty (at the very least in the form of reasonably narrow error bars) is utterly useless.

                Again, as above, you dont take what omniscience/omnipotence would MEAN seriously enough when you make these claims, and so make challenges that omimpotence/omniscience would be able to handle if they existend.

                I take claims of omni-properties exactly as seriously as I do claims of the existence of the largest prime number or of a god who can turn water into wine. It’s not my fault that they’re laughably incoherent and infantile, and I am under absolutely no obligation whatsoever to respect them just because many people are seriously deluded into believing them.

                Cheers,

                b&

          • Posted March 24, 2014 at 10:09 pm | Permalink

            Your conception of omni-fill-in-the-blank takes all the omni out of it.

      • potaman
        Posted March 24, 2014 at 12:20 pm | Permalink

        That is a nice way of getting around Anselm.

      • Tulse
        Posted March 24, 2014 at 12:53 pm | Permalink

        God exists as a logical necessity, and so saying that God not being able to cause Himself to not exist would mean that He isn’t omnipotent simply doesn’t work.

        So I can kill myself but the Christian god can’t?

        Must be a puny god then…

    • Sastra
      Posted March 24, 2014 at 9:22 am | Permalink

      Yeah, that’s such a weird habit of theirs. If you are going to blow out an artery insisting that God is not in any way anthropomorphic!!! and atheists aren’t getting this obvious fact!!! then why the hell do you keep referring to it as “Him?” You’d think it would be a minimum first step.

      After all, Hart’s God was what I once believed and you will note that unless I am specifically dealing with a specific God character with a gender I ALWAYS refer to it as “it.” It’s automatic. In fact, it would feel damn creepy and bizarre not to. I don’t get why Hart doesn’t feel the cognitive dissonance … till I realize that oh, he only produces this God when he’s not being an Eastern Orthodox. At least the Transcendentalists stay more consistent.

      Which is scary, when you consider how inconsistent even that is.

      • Posted March 24, 2014 at 9:51 am | Permalink

        If you are going to blow out an artery insisting that God is not in any way anthropomorphic!!! and atheists arent getting this obvious fact!!! then why the hell do you keep referring to it as Him?

        Oh, that one’s easy. The sophisticated theological god isn’t anthropomorphic because that would be crass, but it is personal — first through its essential characteristic of omnibenevolence…and then, of course, because He embodied Himself in the Capital-P-Person of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, the Only Begotten Son Whom The Father Sacrificed for us because He loves us even more…and what was that bit about anthropomorphism, again…?

        I swear, these jokers can’t even pretend to think themselves out of a wet paper bag, even if they were to enlist the aid of a kitten! Now that takes some truly dissonant cognizances.

        b&

  26. Posted March 24, 2014 at 9:12 am | Permalink

    I’ve tried to explain this in more detail on my own blog, but I think the key here is to take what Hart says here really literally and as something that’s really important: for Hart, it seems to me, the key error is thinking that God is a being like us, only better. The conceptions of God that we’ve had have, in fact, generally not been of a being that is just like us only better. God has always been transcendent of us in interesting ways, different from us in kind, and indeed as a Ground of All Being (I remember a few prayers that make that explicit). Is that sort of God incompatible with a personal God? Not really; just because God is not just us only better doesn’t mean that God and us don’t have things in common. We can learn things about God by analogy to us, I think, but we must be careful not to mistake the analogy for the reality and try to know God that way. Hart claims that the NA arguments as well as arguments like the Ontological Argument do exactly that, and treat God like a being only better instead of as a Ground of All Being, and that, to him, is the problem.

    At least, that’s my take on what he’s after here. You can’t see how that works out until you see the whole system/argument worked out, and Hart isn’t particularly good at working the whole system/argument out. I don’t think I’m convinced, at the end of the day (and I’m some kind of theist, and so should be) but there is indeed something to it, in my opinion.

    • NewEnglandBob
      Posted March 24, 2014 at 10:06 am | Permalink

      And Hart knows all this how? By what mechanism? Does this ground of beans talk to him personally?

    • ritebrother
      Posted March 24, 2014 at 11:42 am | Permalink

      And why does Hart keep referring to God as “he”? Wouldn’t he use “it” if he really believed this conception of God? I think Hart lets his mask slip a little in doing this.

      • ritebrother
        Posted March 24, 2014 at 11:43 am | Permalink

        Oops-I see Scote at #37 beat me to it.

  27. Posted March 24, 2014 at 9:17 am | Permalink

    These people always use subtly manipulative wording. A couple of examples jumped out:

    To speak of “God” properly, then—to use the word in a sense consonant with the teachings of Orthodox Judaism, Christianity, Islam, Sikhism, Hinduism, Baháí…

    He uses the word “teachings” rather than “beliefs” (or as I would have it, “made-up beliefs”). Calling it a “teaching” makes it sound more truthful, but they’re still just teaching made-up stuff that is largely untrue.

    And then there’s this:

    All the great theistic traditions agree that God, understood in this proper sense….

    I see this one a lot. He uses the word “understood” when he really means “that we choose to believe without evidence.” “Understood” implies that it is true – you may or may not understand it, but if you don’t then it’s your problem for not understanding something that is true.

    He’s relying on subtly different meanings of words to make his made-up waffle sound more convincing.

    • Posted March 24, 2014 at 10:15 pm | Permalink

      Your point about the use of “understood” is a pet peeve of mine.

      • Chris
        Posted March 25, 2014 at 6:28 am | Permalink

        Yes, understood, but by whom exactly?

        • Posted March 25, 2014 at 7:18 am | Permalink

          And why? Why should we understand phenomenon X the way someone says we should? Scientists would show you real, objective evidence. Theologians have only the assertion.

  28. Justin
    Posted March 24, 2014 at 9:18 am | Permalink

    Is it just me or did anyone else get a new-agey vibe from the excerpt where Hart defines god? He might as well have been talking about the Force.

  29. Richard Olson
    Posted March 24, 2014 at 9:20 am | Permalink

    I hear Hart describing a “big tent” pantheism, with entrance flaps open to just about every religious apprehension (sans scriptural literalists of same) that exists. Epistomology cannot buy a ticket into this tent.

    The tent is held up by impossibly deeply anchored poles, poles that are presupposition all the way down.

    The crew of this circus are skilled and swift goalpost relocaters and constructors of serpentine tracks that always return to the tent. Drawing upon the infinite quantum god force of the universe, these crews defy reality by their very existence, and operate nonstop. They’re sorta supernatural that way.

    • Chris
      Posted March 25, 2014 at 6:29 am | Permalink

      If you have goalposts the entire width of the pitch you never need to move them, do you? ;-)

      • Richard Olson
        Posted March 25, 2014 at 8:22 am | Permalink

        Excellent point. No manpower required for relocation, then, and fairly minimal staff required for post painting and other routine maintenance. Frees up otherwise excess labor left over after original construction. This explains all the crew leaning on their shovels and shooting the shit at circular reasoning track construction sites while only one or two others work.

  30. misskittex
    Posted March 24, 2014 at 9:27 am | Permalink

    All great religions believe in the one god? In their day were the gods of the ancients not considered great? Today, they are labeled as myths by theologians. I suspect in time, probably a reasonably short time, today’s religions will be dismissed as myth. Though I personally would think that those who need a god figure, need that to hide from thinking and taking full responsibility for their lives. There is nothing so patronizing as “it all happens for a reason”, but it gives comfort that a big daddy will fix the problems. This thinking allows people to stay in child like mind set, and for some that is desirable.

    • darrelle
      Posted March 24, 2014 at 10:33 am | Permalink

      Indeed. If we take Sophisticated Christian Theologists™ at their word it seems they should readily agree that Christianity has already devolved into myth.

  31. JBlilie
    Posted March 24, 2014 at 9:30 am | Permalink

    I have to quote Thomas Paine here (only slightly OT):

    paraphrasing Hume, Paine writes

    “Is it more probable that nature should alter her course or that a man should tell a lie [or falsehood]. We have never seen, in our time, nature to go out of her course. But we have good reason to beleive that millions of lies have been told in the same time. It is therefore at least millions to one that the reporter of a miracle tells a lie.”

  32. Sastra
    Posted March 24, 2014 at 9:35 am | Permalink

    All agree as well, however, that he can genuinely be known: that is, reasoned toward, intimately encountered, directly experienced with a fullness surpassng mere conceptual comprehension.

    How is this not empiricism? This is treating God the way you’d treat your own mind or consciousness.

    Consider: how do you know you are conscious? How do you know that you’re self-aware? How do you genuinely know your own mental sense-of-self?

    Answer: you can reason towards it (“I think, therefore I am”); it is intimately encountered; and it is directly experienced with a fullness surpassing mere conceptual comprehension. You know you through the inherent nature of what it is to experience yourself — and the impossibility of denying it without self-contradiction.

    Now equate the ghost in the machine with a Ghost in the Universe and use the same method.

    BINGO!

    B(eing)IN(side)G(oes)O(ut)

    No wonder atheism is become so wildly irrational. It’s like we’re denying our own consciousness. It’s like we’re saying we don’t exist.

    But “God” isn’t supposed to be a metaphor for the human mind. Nor is it just another word for “my conscious existence.” Or “things I like.” Or “what inspires me.” Or anything internal.

    Go after it step by step. We’re playing Battleship.

  33. NewEnglandBob
    Posted March 24, 2014 at 9:35 am | Permalink

    Let’s start a new company called Ground of Beans. We can patent the product and trademark the name and then sue all the sophisticated theologists for infringement.

  34. Latverian Diplomat
    Posted March 24, 2014 at 9:43 am | Permalink

    The problem with viewing erudite theologians as the special visionaries who can see the common threads in allthe world’s religions is that for most of the history of monotheism, the theologians were the ones deciding which heretics were the next to be burnt.

  35. Vinovian
    Posted March 24, 2014 at 9:58 am | Permalink

    If “He is not a “being,” at least not in the way that a tree, a shoemaker, or a god is a being; he is not one more object in the inventory of things that are, or any sort of discrete object at all.”

    then how come “Then God said, “Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness;”

    • Sastra
      Posted March 24, 2014 at 10:15 am | Permalink

      God is the Universal Mind which created matter and energy which wasn’t in the same image … and then made the ‘minds from nowhere which exist nowhere and aren’t made out of anything’ and stuck them in bodies.

      The “morphic” part of “anthropomorphic” can refer to the mental part (‘body’) of human beings. Apparently, since God isn’t an old man in the sky with a beard.

      • Vinovian
        Posted March 24, 2014 at 11:27 am | Permalink

        The words “image” and “likeness” have always meant physical image and physical likeness until the invention of computers. To claim that our “minds” have the image and likeness of the mind of god placed in a human body is surely claiming too much. If we are the image and likeness of god then he is something win the image of a man (with or without a beard) somewhere in the universe.

        • Sastra
          Posted March 24, 2014 at 12:49 pm | Permalink

          I disagree. I think that a tendency to sense or believe that reality can be divided into two types of “things” — mental/energy things and physical/energy things — has persisted throughout human societies. “Image” and “likeness” can refer to physical OR mental tendencies.

          This isn’t new. Consider the ancient belief in “spirit.” Sometimes spirits or souls are supposed to have a finer, lighter sort of body … and sometimes they deliberately have none at all. God has traditionally been considered a “Spirit” being and the hierarchy of mind/spirit/soul is fluid. The terms are often interchangeable.

  36. Kirth Gersen
    Posted March 24, 2014 at 10:02 am | Permalink

    From what you’ve quoted, this isn’t Sphisticated New Theology(TM) at all. Rather, it seems to be almost the exact same “argument” that informs the opening chapters of Ethan Allen’s Pamphlet “Reason: The Only Oracle of Man,” in which Allen painstakingly argues about why God exists only to go on and argue for the need to dismantle organized religion (which he sees as an inevitable consequence of his arguments for God’s existence!). Given that Allen’s pamphlet originally printed in 1784, there’s no way to call his arguments “new.”

    • Kirth Gersen
      Posted March 24, 2014 at 10:04 am | Permalink

      Argh, types. Add “,” and “was” as needed.

  37. Tim
    Posted March 24, 2014 at 10:07 am | Permalink

    It’s all goalpost moving. In the end they arrive at a definition of God that is pointless to worship or even to try and “know.”

    Then they go back to their daily lives of pretending to know more about this unknowable thing than most of us know about ourselves. Deluded is still the beast term to describe theists.

  38. Scote
    Posted March 24, 2014 at 10:08 am | Permalink

    Hart does seem to believe God is a person, and a male person at that, in spite of his claims to the contrary. It is an oxymoron for Hart to claim:

    ” He is not a “being,”

    If god is not a being then there is no justification for Hart to repeatedly refer to God as “he.” A god who isn’t a person would be an “it”.

  39. Ken Pidcock
    Posted March 24, 2014 at 10:15 am | Permalink

    Want to know what happens after the first chapter? Hart starts with the premise that everybody must propose an account of non-contingent reality and a solution to the hard problem of consciousness. He then proceeds to make the case that naturalists have not successfully accomplished this, that his answer – God – is the only one on the table, and that, therefore, everybody should accept it as true. Those who don’t are obstinate morons.

    You can understand how Damon Linker was just blown away.

    • darrelle
      Posted March 24, 2014 at 10:59 am | Permalink

      A truly awesome display of intellect.

      I am duly humbled. I’ll take my ball and go home now.

      What actually is remarkable is how much this resembles the argumentation tactics used by the typical 4 to 6 year old child who is just not ready to concede that what they want, or wanted to happen is not actually what will, or has happened. Making stuff up and pretending not only that it is true, but also pretending that it is such a good fabrication that other people won’t automatically say to themselves “poor kid is so upset he’s making stuff up now.”

    • Posted March 24, 2014 at 1:28 pm | Permalink

      I don’t suppose that he is aware (!) that positing ontologically different categories *doesn’t solve the problem*.

  40. Brad
    Posted March 24, 2014 at 10:24 am | Permalink

    Have not read Hart but his God take feels Eastern. Sophisticated theology is in the process of de-emphasizing faith/belief and exploring being/consciousness. There’s certainly more wiggle room for their arguments there. For Hart, God seems to be the ineffable and thus non-ceptual background mystery of things, that quintessentially nebulous stuff that reality binds itself to. Reality’s landing strip you could say. This nebulous stuff seems to be more or less identical in character to being and consciousness to Hart. For Hart, I would assume, God is not The Big Bang or The Big Banger. God is The Big Banging and precisely the opposite of what minds have to say or extract from this event. Also seems to be some Process Theology going on there w. Hart — the idea that God is evolving and so minds must also change and adopt more spiritually mature views of God.

  41. Yiam Cross
    Posted March 24, 2014 at 10:26 am | Permalink

    I thought I’d refrain from comment until I’d given this book a fair chance. I’m not willing to spend money which could line the pockets of a charlatan and I’d be reluctant to borrow it from our library, even if they did have a copy, because I worry that I’d be tempted to burn the thing sooner rather than later. I downloaded the sample from Amazon to my Kindle and I was right to worry about what harm I’d do to a copy if I had access to one.

    The author lost all credibility in the very first paragraph, Part One, God, Gods and the World. I expect he would have lost it sooner if I’d bothered to plough through the lengthy introduction.

    Speculating on how a man asleep and dreaming might perceive the world without any supporting evidence tells me all I need to know about the foundation on which his arguments are built on. To be specific, there is none at all and so they must fall.

    I did try to get past this but I realised this book could have nothing useful to say to me when Chapter One launches with the accusation that, as an atheist, I lack the imaginative resource to understand something very obvious. Comforted as I was to learn that it’s not my fault I find I also lack the conceptual grammar and probably the education and cultural formation to recognize meaning in whatever it is he’s about to demonstrate is not simply random disorder.

    I think the quick & easy way to sum it up is to say that if you have any reason at all to believe you’re not completely gullible then this book is not for you.

    I’m not sure whether I should offer up kudos to JAC for getting 35 pages into it or worry that he’s wasting valuable time on something which has demonstrated beyond all doubt that it doesn’t warrant burning another irreplaceable second on. Beyond, perhaps, adding a few shovelfuls to the mountain of evidence for why these people deserve to be mocked and abused almost as much as the people who swallow their nonsense.

    • Posted March 24, 2014 at 5:50 pm | Permalink

      Well, I’ve learned something useful. I hadn’t noticed before that you could download samples from the Kindle Store.

      /@

  42. Posted March 24, 2014 at 10:37 am | Permalink

    I’m trudging through the book right now and am very unimpressed. The only real argument I’ve encountered that would require an answer is the argument from first causes, which is not new and has been addressed before. I’m a little surprised that anyone would claim that this book is the one atheists must deal with, considering that Hart himself says early on that he won’t be saying anything new but rather is synthesizing theist arguments.

    Other than that, this is what I find:

    1. A large part of the book is criticism of New Atheism and materialism and the limits of science. God is then offered as the answer to these issues.

    2. He merely describes God, but offers no reasons to think that his description is correct. He also says that classical theism never really took the Bible literally and that this is a new phenomenon, but he seems to conflate to different things here: classical theism as practiced by philosophers/theologians (Aquinas, etc.) and theism as practiced by layman believers today. This is not an even comparison. He needs to address whether layman believers at the time of Aquinas (et al) also believed in this sophisticated notion of God, or whether they believed (like theists today) that God was a “person” as described in the Bible.

    3. Later on he tries to apply irreducible complexity to consciousness, which more or less shows the God-of-the-gaps nature of many of his claims.

    4. He makes a very subtle but I believe disingenuous move by constantly referring to God as “he” throughout the book. His description of God is so abstract and foreign to most believers that it can only be accurate to refer to his God as an “it” (if even that), but he uses “he” in order to create some common ground with layman theists who happen to be reading the book. In other words, he offers a sophisticated interpretation of God, but at the same time tries to incorporate his readers’ beliefs about God (the anthropomorphism which he decries) into his own description without actually having to do the work of saying it. There is no reason for him to use the word “he” (and in fact, good reason NOT to according to his own definition of God), but in doing so he attempts to create a connection with his definition of God and the more common definition that many of his readers have.

    • Ken Pidcock
      Posted March 24, 2014 at 11:16 am | Permalink

      (4) I noticed the same thing, and found it odd. He insists that his God is not – I repeat not – a personality, then he gives it a personal pronoun.

      • Posted March 24, 2014 at 11:21 am | Permalink

        Yes, it’s as if he wants to trick his readers into thinking “Hey, this God that Hart is describing really IS my God!”

    • DiscoveredJoys
      Posted March 24, 2014 at 3:28 pm | Permalink

      If you took Hart’s description of god on board then there is no separation between god and the universe, so god ought to be referred to as ‘Us’ or ‘Everything’ or ‘The Ongoing’.

      But this cuts right across almost all religions which separate ‘Him’ from ‘us’, so Hart is trying to eat his cake and have it too.

  43. Posted March 24, 2014 at 10:48 am | Permalink

    If God is beyond comprehension and reason, then no one should attempt to write a book about him. Hart needs to move on to something more useful, like gardening.

  44. Vaal
    Posted March 24, 2014 at 10:50 am | Permalink

    On an atheistic or naturalistic view, nature is not only vastly complex, but just as crucially, nature is non-sentient, mute.
    The only way we can gain knowledge of nature is through our OWN capabilities, limited as we are in powers and perspective. It’s no wonder then knowledge has been so hard to gain, with lots of mistakes and confusion along the way. There is “no one there” behind it all who can explain things to us, to answer our questions. And it’s no wonder that we place our greatest confidence in people who are working in the most reliable
    system of knowledge gathering we have: science.

    In contrast, for theists like Hart, nature isn’t mute and we would not be in a situation where only our capabilities were relevant to understanding nature.

    Instead, there is an All Powerful, All Knowing Person behind reality. Those properties logically entail such a being could easily let all people know his existence, unequivocally, his nature, his will, etc. (If he couldn’t do these things, he is not All Powerful and All Knowing)

    But, this All Powerful, All Knowing being has not done this. He has left us in a state of confusion – which looks exactly like the one in which there is no such Being to assist our endeavors. And instead of God Himself giving us knowledge of his nature and existence, we are supposed to sift through that astounding amount of opinions about God and the supernatural, and in the end we are required to turn to people like (conveniently) David Bentley Hart, through whose arguments we can know God’s existence, his nature, etc.

    God could tell us these things. But no.
    We get David Bentley Hart as his mouthpiece.

    This seems just a tad…suspicious.

    And more than a bit creepy given religions track record of certain humans saying “YOU don’t know God, let need to listen to what I have to tell you about God!”
    That’s always gone well, hasn’t it?

    Vaal

    • Jesper Both Pedersen
      Posted March 24, 2014 at 11:06 am | Permalink

      +1

    • Posted March 24, 2014 at 6:35 pm | Permalink

      Indeed. Why does this ground-up being need the likes of David Bentley Hart to do his boxing for him?

  45. Posted March 24, 2014 at 11:16 am | Permalink

    “God so understood is not something poised over against the universe, in addition to it, nor is he the universe itself. He is not a “being,” at least not in the way that a tree, a shoemaker, or a god is a being; he is not one more object in the inventory of things that are, or any sort of discrete object at all.”

    Why is he a “he” then?

  46. KP
    Posted March 24, 2014 at 11:28 am | Permalink

    Going to have to get caught up to be able to weigh in. WEIT book club, haha. I read the introduction the other night. Don’t know if I’ll manage. You have a lot more patience for Sophisticated Theology^TM than I do. Once the language starts getting like the “beyond being” quote you included, I start to tune out and my mind wanders off to something like, “what should I have for dinner tonight? Hmm. Maybe pasta? Oh, but I’m out of sauce…..”

    John Haught’s “God After Darwin” has been on my nightstand collecting dust since about September 2012 because I got 50-60 pages in and couldn’t take any more.

    • Posted March 24, 2014 at 11:36 am | Permalink

      No sauce? Don’t let that stop you? Toss the pasta with some butter until the butter is melted, shave some Reggiano on top. Pasta al burro — one of the simplest and tastiest ways to serve pasta.

      b&

      • JBlilie
        Posted March 24, 2014 at 1:18 pm | Permalink

        Oh yeah, very yummy!

      • JBlilie
        Posted March 24, 2014 at 1:18 pm | Permalink

        Touch his noodly appendage! Ramen.

      • Chris
        Posted March 25, 2014 at 6:41 am | Permalink

        Olive oil, parsley and smoked paprika is my preferred method under these circumstances! Not very traditional but rather nice.

        • Posted March 25, 2014 at 8:27 am | Permalink

          Sounds good!

          b&

        • JBlilie
          Posted March 25, 2014 at 11:26 am | Permalink

          Don’t forget the garlic …

      • KP
        Posted March 25, 2014 at 8:07 am | Permalink

        HAHAHA! Perfect!! This little side-thread represents exactly how my mind meanders when I read Sophisticated Theology.

        • Kevin Alexander
          Posted March 25, 2014 at 8:53 am | Permalink

          When did this thread turn into Sophisticated Noodology?
          AKA Advanced Semolinetics.

  47. Shea B
    Posted March 24, 2014 at 11:32 am | Permalink

    Hart’s book focuses on the general FEELING of “spirituality” or “transcendence.” As suggested in posts #22 and #26 above, this general feeling of transcendence is something that appeals to theists and to those “seekers” who aren’t associated with one faith or another. But it can also appeal to the skeptic/atheist if the terms are clarified and just slightly (think of Dawkins’ frequent emphasis on the “appetite for wonder” or his opening chapter on Einstein in THE GOD DELUSION).

    For me, the big problem with Hart lies in the desire to call this thing “God.” He is clearly inching towards his own specific belief system (Christianity). At best, Hart’s view of god could lead one to a generalized pantheism focused on a god that exists-in-and-underlies-everything, but this would not be a god you could pray to or expect sacred instructions from or hope to interact with directly. How do you get from there to Christianity or any other specific faith? If all theists truly believed in nothing more than this pantheistic “ground-of-all-being” god, then we would not have such fierce debate over god, science, and public policy. Belief in the pantheistic god (or a Deist variant) would have essentially zero bearing on one’s cultural practices or political views or daily life. The main problems that many of us have with theism center on theist claims about how god directly intervenes in the physical universe or how we should (or MUST) live our lives. If someone wants to believe in such a non-intervening (but omnipresent) god, have at it.

    I, for one, will be very interested to read Sam Harris’ upcoming book WAKING UP: A GUIDE TO SPIRITUALITY WITHOUT RELIGION, precisely because it promises to hit upon the importance of the felling of “spirituality” without the unnecessary trappings of theism. That should be a nice blow against those (like Hart) who would claim that ANY sense of wonder or enthusiasm or ecstasy is automatically a win for theism. And that’s basically what Hart’s “being,” “consciousness,” “bliss” triumvirate amounts to–if you in any way enjoy the experience of human existence, then you ALREADY believe in god, even if you didn’t know it.

    More generally, I think that Hart’s approach ignores the point that belief in this vague “spiritual grounding” god helps us not one whit when it comes to learning more about the universe and how it actually works. Sean Carroll has nailed this point in his recent debate with William Lane Craig and in his great essay “Does the Universe Need God?”s. Essentially, physicists keep searching for natural laws, and they keep getting closer and closer to deep, fundamental laws. One can say that god is the “the grounding for these laws,” but so what? Why not simply say that the universe (the totality of all that is) provides the grounding for these laws?

  48. Posted March 24, 2014 at 11:40 am | Permalink

    Plantinga’s argument against naturalism might be plausible *if* we didn’t need to communicate in order to carry out tasks. Who knows what a frog is thinking when it extends it’s tongue to snaffle a fly? But imagine a situation where Jill breaks her leg and must direct Jack to a water hole, otherwise they will both die of thirst. In that kind of situation it just isn’t going to work if her brain imagines that North is South. In order for people to communicate they must share a common understanding of the environment.

    In order to make his argument Plantinga has to split “beliefs” from the mental representation of actions (hence actions) that an agent has to carry out in order to actually accomplish some task, such as going to fetch the water, or the frog catching the fly. But the problem is that the actions required to carry out a task are often very complex. In the frog fly example, for instance, the frog has to have a mental black box for the Newtonian calculations that are necessary to catch the fly. So any representation of the set of neuronal firings necessary to carry out the action of catching flies would have to be complex and *parameterised*.

    Now, in the water hole example, it’s important to appreciate that if Jack and Jill are both *just* under the impression that North means South and South means North, then all they’ve done is to invent a new language. So this kind of shared misconception does not help Plantinga at all, unless he wants to claim that French people, for instance, are of necessity irrational. What he would need to say is that they have a deeper level of disconnection between beliefs and actions.

    So, in Plantinga’s view when Jill tells Jack where the water is and gives the incorrect instruction go North (since the water is actually south) there is (according to Plantinga) no connection in her mind between the instruction “go north” and the parameterised actions she would have actually performed to reach the water. So when Jack gets the message go north, he couldn’t possibly connect that up with anything in his own mind, since the instruction go North doesn’t contain the parameters for the actions he has to perform.

    So what Plantinga has done by trying to separate beliefs from actions is to remove the whole basis of communication, which is that we use a shorthand such as “go north” and the respondent then has to work out how to implement that instruction in terms of actions in their own way. In the Jack and Jill example, Jill would have had to communicate the whole representation of her actions to Jack, because the instruction “Go North” would have been meaningless to both of them.

    Similarly in computer programming, if I tell one program to perform the calculation Multiply(x, y) it could use a completely different method to a second program, but the high level instruction and the answer returned by both programs would be the same (bar precision and bugs).

    • darrelle
      Posted March 24, 2014 at 12:50 pm | Permalink

      When you break this down like you have this type of argument is merely yet another god-of-the-gaps type argument. Along with, “if reality doesn’t accommodate god, then reality is of no importance.”

      It would be very interesting to see Plantinga, or anyone else for that matter, live for a week or two behaving as if they truly believed this line of reasoning and its implications.

    • Sastra
      Posted March 24, 2014 at 1:50 pm | Permalink

      Plantinga doesn’t just break beliefs off from their physical substrates, he actually makes them perverse. Or, at least, he claims that given both naturalism and evolution it is just as likely that beliefs will be perverse as consistent (I want a beer, I go to the fridge to get a beer, but I believe the whole time I hate beer and never drink it.) It’s like inventing philosophical zombies which are also severely psychotic.

      He slyly assumes dualism and then confuses a belief which is false in the usual way for a belief which is false in a way we have no experience of whatsoever. Why? Because we can imagine it. And then we can imagine it into evolution.

      • Vaal
        Posted March 24, 2014 at 2:53 pm | Permalink

        Exactly. Plantinga’s “defeater” for naturalism/evolution conjunction depends on his actually producing a plausible defeater.

        Plantinga has to overcome both the prima facie plausibility of the usefulness of generally accurate belief formation and the more complex evolutionary accounting for them. Prima facie, it seems obvious that true or accurate beliefs – understanding how the world actually works allowing us to predict the results of various courses of actions – would be more likely to aid survival than false ones. Beings that are like this, and their survival potential, make sense even before we would discuss evolution.

        Then there is the added plausibility of the evolutionary account, where we are the result of an extremely long process, of “getting it right” one step at a time. (E.g. only taking our visual system as an example, of simplistic precursor light cells successfully detecting light and darkness, on up to each iteration of eyes/brain getting an ever more complex but accurate-enough-to-survive view of the world.
        It’s how we would detect, for instance, the commonality in the color of a type of fruit that told us “this is fresh” or “this is food.” The neurological system would be built upon over time on just these results of “getting it right” about the world, and to the degree a neural system starts producing simple “beliefs” that affect behavior, that system too will be selected for producing beliefs most likely to track what is really happening. The beliefs that “get it right” about the environment.

        A crucial point is that the naturalist/evolutionary account doesn’t posit “beliefs” as the objects of natural selection, but the mechanism, the cognitive faculties that produce the beliefs. There is no evolutionary mechanism for beliefs (in most forms) to be passed along via reproduction (as opposed to habits or inclinations, which could be). It’s not like a brain is produced stuffed full of stereotyped beliefs about the world. If that were the case, we could not respond to any novel situations. A *cognitive system,* however, that can accurately track what is happening and produce accurate beliefs in response is the type of system one would expect would survive – enabling flexible responses to novel situations. EXACTLY the type of ability we humans seem to have.

        What does Plantinga propose as an alternative “defeater” to this? He seizes on the idea that evolution only cares about selecting for behaviors, not beliefs. So as long as you can have beliefs that produce adaptive behaviors, it doesn’t matter if the beliefs are true. He gives examples like his famous Paul And The Tiger, where Paul has beliefs that are completely untrue about tigers, but which JUST HAPPEN to produce the hide-saving behavior of running away from the tigers.

        But when you ask Plantinga “Really Alvin? HOW WOULD THAT WORK?” He has no remotely plausible answer. His version of this evolutionary alternative posits beliefs as being apparently produced in way way that is utterly random with respect to survival of the individual. It is then just pure luck that any belief ends up saving the individual. Given there is no apparent connection in Plantinga’s creatures between their beliefs and reality except for pure luck, this would be catastrophically maladaptive for any novel situation. No reason to expect survival-enhancing beliefs at all. Plantinga doesn’t even bother giving an account of how such a cognitive system would work, let alone one that is actually consonant with evolution theory!
        How would beliefs, even lucky ones, be preserved and transmitted through populations? No genetic theory is forthcoming from Plantinga. Naturalist theories have successful beliefs being transmitted via culture and communication over time through populations. This makes sense in the context of a cognitive system
        that can accurately track external experience, so when someone says “watch out for tigers they will eat you” we are accurately hearing and understanding those words. How would such cultural, interpersonal transmission of information even WORK in Plantinga’s model? If our cognitive system took in the world and produce beliefs with random truth content, then the reality of someone saying “watch out for tigers” may as well produce the concept “the stone in front of me is twinkling bright” or whatever. There is simply no reason to expect the survival of Plantinga-creatures given how evolution works. Nor would it explain the features we actually seem to have.

        Plantinga actually produces no such defeater for either the prima facie expectation that humans with more true beliefs would be more likely to survive than humans with false beliefs, nor does he produce anything like a model that would be necessary to undercut the reasonableness of the naturalistic, evolutionary account for the general reliability of our cognitive faculties to produce accurate beliefs. (Not to mention, naturalistic evolution accounts for a lot of the reasons we get things wrong as much as we get things right…something his Sensus Divinitatis makes no sense of either).

        Vaal

      • Posted March 24, 2014 at 3:04 pm | Permalink

        He does have a point that if there was no survival advantage in connecting a true belief about an action to a particular action, then natural selection could not select for that connection. If you were the only person in the world, then it wouldn’t matter to your survival what your beliefs about your actions were as long, as long as you carried out an appropriate action, in the circumstances you happened to be in. In fact you wouldn’t actually need beliefs at all, you could just be one of the zombies you mention. The only reason we need to have beliefs that correspond to the real world is because we need a mental model of the real world that is shared with other people. That makes it very much easier to communicate productively – it’s a lot simpler to give some one directions if they have an accurate map… Or at least this is my contention in the above post :).

        I find the ironic thing about Plantinga’s argument (which Jerry touches on) is that people do, obviously, believe very odd things, such as religions, when their survival doesn’t directly depend on it, which is exactly what one might expect from evolution. And science, of course, is all about empirical evidence and that is where our mental maps need to be accurate in order that we can share experiences that enhance our ability to survive.

        • Posted March 24, 2014 at 3:08 pm | Permalink

          Other people are just one part of the environment. If you believe that the fire loves you or that you can walk across the gorge by stepping off the cliff, the disconnect between those beliefs and reality is going to be just a wee bit problematic regardless of whether or not you feel the urge to share those beliefs with anybody else.

          b&

          • Posted March 24, 2014 at 3:57 pm | Permalink

            Plantinga’s point is that it wouldn’t matter if your belief is that the fire loves you as long as you associate that belief with the action of running away from the fire and so he says there is no necessity for evolution to forge correct links between beliefs and actions. It’s sort of an odd argument, but it does have it’s points:

            you can take the POV that this is probably bullshit (which is fine since it is) or you can play the game and come up with an example of where it’s demonstrably important for beliefs to be correctly connected with actions, which is what I did here. This is one of those arguments that has some interest in why it is wrong, particularly since both Plantinga & Hart are making it.

            • Posted March 24, 2014 at 4:02 pm | Permalink

              If your beliefs are entirely disconnected from your actions, then, sure; your beliefs are irrelevant.

              But if you base your actions at least in part on your beliefs (and how could you do otherwise?), the more concordant your beliefs are with reality the better the odds of your actions achieving the intended results.

              b&

              • Posted March 24, 2014 at 4:25 pm | Permalink

                Well… What Plantinga is trying to establish is that natural selection has no way of preferring the correct connection of a belief to an action over an incorrect one, since all that really matters is that you run away from the fire and what does it matter to evolution what you believe about why you are doing it. Then he concludes that since evolution couldn’t have done that, the best hypothesis is that goddidit (predictable isn’t it?).

                I think we have already covered some good reasons as to why Plantinga’s argument is wrong in the previous posts…

              • Posted March 24, 2014 at 4:45 pm | Permalink

                Questions about anthropomorphic personality traits of combustion might not be especially appropriate.

                Take my other example, that you can walk across the gorge simply by stepping off the edge of the one cliff and directly onto the opposite one, as if with thousand league boots. I do believe natural selection would select against such an incorrect belief, and do so with remarkable efficiency.

                b&

              • Posted March 24, 2014 at 5:24 pm | Permalink

                Well again he’d say you can believe what you like, but as long as that belief isn’t connected to the action of trying to jump off the cliff, then it doesn’t matter. Religious people believe that they are going to heaven, where they will experience extreme bliss, but their actions don’t often reflect those beliefs and so they haven’t been culled by natural selection.

              • Posted March 24, 2014 at 5:35 pm | Permalink

                Stark black-and-white cases are great for didactic examples, but Evolution is a long-running numbers game. Given enough time, assuming a genetic pathway theoretically exists, Evolution will eventually favor it if it’s beneficial for the environment. And we humans can guide at least some aspects of our own natures and evolution in a more intelligent manner.

                In the case of religion, belief in Heaven decreases the incentive to effectively address social injustice. Why bother, if you’ll get your just rewards in Heaven simply for believing that Jesus loves you? Societies in which such sentiments prevail will take longer to achieve social justice, and will therefore prosper less. It’s not as dramatic as jumping off a cliff because you think you can fly, but it’s the exact same process at work.

                Cheers,

                b&

            • Vaal
              Posted March 24, 2014 at 4:30 pm | Permalink

              Given evolution, a belief that is false but leads to adaptive behavior is logically possible.

              Yes, it’s an interesting point to some degree and Plantinga wasn’t the first to make it.

              However, Plantinga can’t spin that curiosity out in any systematic form, governing or covering all human behavior, to make it remotely *plausible* as a defeater for naturalism.

              Vaal

  49. Posted March 24, 2014 at 11:47 am | Permalink

    “to use the word in a sense consonant with the teachings of Orthodox Judaism, Christianity, Islam, Sikhism, Hinduism, Baháí, a great deal of antique paganism, and so forth … God … is not a “being.”

    Horse. Shit.

    The idea that “God is not a being” is utterly incompatible with every pastor, every Sunday School teacher, every camp leader, every missionary, every hymn, every revivalist, every theologian, every sermon, and every believer I met/heard/read in 28 goddam years a Christian. Dude is either lying or abysmally ignorant of Christianity as actually practiced.

    • Vaal
      Posted March 24, 2014 at 11:50 am | Permalink

      But don’t you see? Christians agree on the version of God Hart outlines.

      If you ignore all the Christians who don’t agree.

      Enlightening, isn’t it?

      Vaal

      • Posted March 24, 2014 at 12:09 pm | Permalink

        The Amorphous Blobists like Hart like to believe they represent the majority of believers

    • H.H.
      Posted March 24, 2014 at 1:59 pm | Permalink

      He acts like he’s schooling the unsophisticated New Atheists, when in fact all he’s doing is throwing 99.9% of unsophisticated theists under the bus.

      Oh, and by the way, the New Atheists have already addressed his kind of god, too, so I don’t think he accomplished as much as he thinks.

  50. Nilou Ataie
    Posted March 24, 2014 at 11:47 am | Permalink

    Thank you for daring to swim in the infested, turbid waters of Slopfisted Theology to report through the fetid murk of bad thinking. I opened this book in the bookstore the other day and lasted one minute before I dropped it and ran screaming. THEN, I watched an episode of housewives to cleanse.

  51. ladyatheist
    Posted March 24, 2014 at 11:54 am | Permalink

    Your next read perhaps?

    Christ the Eternal Tao

    • Ken Pidcock
      Posted March 24, 2014 at 12:39 pm | Permalink

      Does it insult Chinese philosophy to suggest that this probably includes anything attributed to Jesus that is incomprehensible?

    • Posted March 24, 2014 at 1:31 pm | Permalink

      Actually, I once thought (now I’m not sure) that one can translate “dao” from *later* (post-Buddhist-influence) Daoism as “logos”, but not John’s gospel-logos, but sort of Heraclitus’ notion.

  52. Posted March 24, 2014 at 12:18 pm | Permalink

    “[Hart] doesn’t regard the existence of God as an empirical hypothesis, as many of us do. Rather, evidence for God is basically logical and experiential”

    This is actually a convenient false dichotomy which is consistently posited to keep the god hypothesis safe. In reality, there is a necessary joining bridge between logic and science. And if logic applies to god then so does that bridge.

  53. Aldo Matteucci
    Posted March 24, 2014 at 12:19 pm | Permalink

    While this story is apocriphal, it neatly sums up the discussion between science and theology:

    “Laplace went in state to Napoleon to present a copy of his work, and the following account of the interview is well authenticated, and so characteristic of all the parties concerned that I quote it in full. Someone had told Napoleon that the book contained no mention of the name of God; Napoleon, who was fond of putting embarrassing questions, received it with the remark, ‘M. Laplace, they tell me you have written this large book on the system of the universe, and have never even mentioned its Creator.’ Laplace, who, though the most supple of politicians, was as stiff as a martyr on every point of his philosophy, drew himself up and answered bluntly, Je n’avais pas besoin de cette hypothèse-là. (“I had no need of that hypothesis.”)

    Creationists, God believers and people of this ilk still have to prove the USEFULNESS of their assertions. Where in our daily working and shaping does the God hypothesis make a difference? Does it lift weights? Does it feed people?

    So, the whole argumentation back and forth is pointless. Until they make the point of usefulness. Which they’ll never do.

    • Ken Pidcock
      Posted March 24, 2014 at 12:51 pm | Permalink

      Hart and his droogs would no doubt make much of the claim that their worldview promotes a shared vision of humanity. How that comports with the behavior of actual contemplatives across the traditions may be a good question.

  54. Richard Thomas
    Posted March 24, 2014 at 12:47 pm | Permalink

    A clear case of the hamburger god — the ground up being. The theological grinder has made a mess. The bits won’t cohere. Hart tries to make a patty but fails.

    • Diane G.
      Posted March 24, 2014 at 9:33 pm | Permalink

      He does do a pretty sloppy joe, er, job of it.

  55. Tulse
    Posted March 24, 2014 at 1:10 pm | Permalink

    our very ability to apprehend truth testifies to God’s existence, for natural selection alone could not have given us such abilities

    This argument bugs the hell out of me, because it is based on question-begging. How do we have the ability to comprehend the “truth”? Because of god! But how do we know that we actually do comprehend the “truth”? The whole argument presupposes the very existence of the thing being justified. Either we already know that we perceive “truth”, in which case we don’t need a god to let us do so, or we can’t know that we perceive “truth”, in which case there being a god doesn’t help. The problem is essentially the Euthyphro Dilemma for truth.

    Put another way, if we couldn’t perceive the “truth”, how would the world look different to us? If it did look different than this world, it means we could perceive the truth without a god. If it wouldn’t look any different, then how does having a god help?

    • Sastra
      Posted March 24, 2014 at 1:55 pm | Permalink

      It’s not just question-begging. It’s equivocation, too.

      Human beings don’t have the ability to apprehend Truth without error, ambiguity, interpretation, or perspective. We often get things wrong — as would be expected on evolution. We apprehend truth. Not Truth.

      But the sensus divinitis — a magical ability to JUST KNOW that God exists in the same direct, obvious, undeniable way you can sense your own self — that requires God. This is Truth.

  56. Vaal
    Posted March 24, 2014 at 1:21 pm | Permalink

    I’ve just begun wading through the book.
    Thus far it is exactly what it smelled like from afar. Nothing in it’s opening chapters suggests anything different is coming than most of us have encountered plenty of times before.

    And it’s sure loaded with a lot of butt-hurt over the the popularity of New Atheism.

    Vaal

  57. Observer
    Posted March 24, 2014 at 1:22 pm | Permalink

    God cannot simultaneously possess the charateristics he is supposed to have. Immanence and transcendence are incompatible. Neither can he have such attributes as omniscience, omnipotence and will, yet not be concieved of as a mind or in some sense a person. These are characteristics of a being, albeit an imaginary one, not a “ground of being.”

    The God he imagines is illogical and absurd. It’s only strength is that it has, at any given moment, whatever attributes it needs in order to not be the God the atheists are arguing against. No matter, the moment the atheists change their attack, his God will change its attributes. In that sense, his god is all-powerful, though no less ridiculous.

  58. JimV
    Posted March 24, 2014 at 1:48 pm | Permalink

    For me the game begins and ends here:

    “All the great theistic traditions agree that God, understood in this proper sense, is essentially beyond finite comprehension.”

    Well, if the essence of “God” is to be beyond comprehension doesn’t it follow that it can’t be the explanation for anything? But the whole point of inventing the God hypothesis was to explain things that couldn’t otherwise be explained. It seemed to work for a while as long as Gods were simple, anthropomorphic beings who got mad and caused famines because people forgot to sacrifice to them, but now it seems theology has come full circle. As it was in the beginning, is now, and shall always be: the concept of “God” explains nothing, and is just a sophisticated way of saying, “I don’t know”.

  59. Jonathan Dore
    Posted March 24, 2014 at 2:10 pm | Permalink

    I once had the task of editing an encyclopedia of Greek culture and thought, and I don’t think I’ve ever come across a group of people who take themselves quite so seriously, or who are so pompously disdainful of the “shallowness” of western thought (which to them encompasses not only Protestantism but the whole edifice of science and the Enlightenment) as Orthodox churchmen and theologians. They make Catholics look like amateurs.

  60. Dermot C
    Posted March 24, 2014 at 2:11 pm | Permalink

    Literalism did indeed, as Hart says, accompany the rise of Fundamentalism in the nineteenth century. It’s more accurate to talk of inerrancy before you get onto the idea of literalism, for the latter cannot be a theologically tenable position unless one assumes the inerrancy of the Bible. But literalism is not a new phenomenon.

    All the writers of the NT really did assume that Jesus really did die on the cross: the early Church Fathers thought passim that he was born of Mary: Daniel really did call God the ‘Ancient of Days’: Jesus is alleged to have called God ‘Abba’, Father – sounds like an old guy with a beard: the Deuteronomic historian really did base his skewed history of Israel and Judah on the chronicles of the Jewish kings: Maccabees 1-2 really did tell the story of the Jewish revolt against the Seleucids: Justin Martyr really did believe that Jesus appeared in the Old Testament: even the Marcionites probably believed that the resurrection happened.

    These are not straw-men: but if they are, Hart would have to give reasons why they are now all wrong. He could base his argument, not on the idea of the inerrancy and literalism of the Bible, but on the idea of sacred writings having been ‘inspired’ (in the Christian tradition, usually by the Holy Spirit): à la 2 Timothy 3:14-17, in which Paul talks of all scripture being (ahem) literally ‘breathed out’ by God. That’s quite an authority if you want to demolish it theologically. Fortunately, for liberal Christians, it’s a forgery. Which, of course, raises even more problems…

    Slaínte.

  61. Sastra
    Posted March 24, 2014 at 2:13 pm | Permalink

    A logically necessary noncontingent Ground of Being would not need a theologian to make an argument. It wouldn’t even need an argument. It would be clear and obvious.

    Existence exists. Reality is real. Being is.

    In other words, it would be a tautology involving the experience of experience. You can’t unpack God from a tautology about “Be-ing.”

    The big problem with Hart following along this “sophisticated” path is that it won’t make God more sophisticated in the right way (i.e. becoming more and more like secular humanism plus a symbol.) Instead, it starts to entail that atheism (and thus secular humanism) are perverse. Insane. Willfully obtuse, so that denying that God exists is like someone denying that anything exists, or that they exist. Reason makes atheism not just mistaken, but grossly mistaken. Unthinkable.

    It’s morally pernicious to do that. Hart may be livid with anger over gnu atheism, but we have far more reason to be livid with anger over Hart.

  62. Posted March 24, 2014 at 2:28 pm | Permalink

    The first thing that occurs to me after reading the quoted definition of god is that it does not make any sense to talk of this ground of being as “he”. The word does not apply – one could just as well talk of gravity as “she” – so why is it there? I assume it is there to allow the sneaky conflation of the apologist ground of all being with the bearded man in the sky that the majority of the believers actually wants to believe in. And so much for that.

    My question is this: even if this is a syncretic conception of God, how did all those religions arrive at this unanimity?

    To the degree that some of them did, it was probably because sophisticated believers in Islam, Christianity and Hinduism were at some point equally embarrassed to admit belief in something that is obviously false but also equally unwilling to concede atheism…

  63. strongforce
    Posted March 24, 2014 at 2:31 pm | Permalink

    Theological dust-up between theologians Hart and Webb.

    Interesting read.

    http://www.patheos.com/blogs/samrocha/2013/12/guest-post-how-david-bentley-hart-censored-my-review-of-his-new-book-at-first-things/

    • Posted March 24, 2014 at 4:42 pm | Permalink

      Ye gods is that weird. Equal parts beautiful and depressing.

      Reading the last few paragraphs makes me want to shake these people and say, WHY do you believe that nonsense? Where does that come from? And how can you guys possibly arrogate to assess a “theory of matter” based on its “compatibility with the intellectual tradition of Christianity”? What makes you think that the latter is relevant for, well, anything whatsoever? Are you still mentally in the middle ages or what?

      I guess I am just not used to reading theology.

      • Chris
        Posted March 25, 2014 at 7:19 am | Permalink

        I made the mistake of reading the comments, Webb’s original review and *it’s* commence.

        Weird sums it up. As does nonsensical. And also entertainingly bitchy. Those folks seem very thin-skinned.

        Bonus points given for Hart’s brother (another theologian by the look of it) turning up in both threads to defend him.

        • Chris
          Posted March 25, 2014 at 7:19 am | Permalink

          For commence read comments. Autocorrect failure.

  64. ToddP
    Posted March 24, 2014 at 2:35 pm | Permalink

    So…summing up Hart’s premise:

    Inventory of things that are:
    1. the universe
    2. a tree
    3. a shoemaker

    Inventory of things that aren’t:
    1. God

    Alrighty then. Let’s get a beer.

    • Posted March 24, 2014 at 11:49 pm | Permalink

      As long as beer belongs in the first list!

      /@

    • Chris
      Posted March 25, 2014 at 6:55 am | Permalink

      Taking that logic to it’s conclusion:

      Inventory of things that are:
      Everything

      Inventory of things that aren’t:
      God

      Yeah. Beer needed, I think, as he’s obviously arguing for something that isn’t.

  65. Wowbagger
    Posted March 24, 2014 at 2:39 pm | Permalink

    Hart’s response is that we need to rely on the consensus not of “average” believers, but of theologians, who somehow have the wisdom to winnow the true God from the bearded one.

    Funny, they’re quite happy to use ‘average’ believers when they trot out a thinly-veiled argumentum ad populum. When ‘sophisticated’ theologians like Hart start going to churches on a Sunday morning and calling out ‘average’ Christians for believing in the wrong concept of God I might starting taking this argument seriously.

  66. David A. Eberth
    Posted March 24, 2014 at 3:38 pm | Permalink

    Hart’s rejection of a more simplistic anthropomorphic god is confusing in light of his continued use of male pronouns (he, his, etc) in reference to it: “…he is “beyond being,” if by “being” one means the totality of discrete, finite things. In another sense he is “being itself,” in that he is the inexhaustible source of all reality…”

    This use sends the message that Hart really wants to have it both ways–personal anthropomorphic god as well as the “beyond being” something else. Where material evidence is lacking, semantics, clear definitions and word choice really do become critical. In this case, use of “he” in reference to Hart’s god seems terribly counter-productive to me.

  67. Ken Pidcock
    Posted March 24, 2014 at 3:55 pm | Permalink

    Someone more clever than I needs to write a book entitled The Experience of 42.

  68. kelskye
    Posted March 24, 2014 at 4:08 pm | Permalink

    When it comes to what Hart appears to be saying there, then semantic rather than universal atheism is warranted. Coming up with a way to make statements of God non-empirical just means such a conception is beyond our ability to make meaningful statements about. I’ll happily concede I can’t prove such a conception of God is wrong – just that it is meaningless.

    Also it’s confusing as to why this is a problem for atheism – atheism is warranted if one has no good reason to believe in God.God beyond any ability to make meaningful observations about by definition validates the atheistic position. As Flew argued, what is the difference between an unfalsifiable conception of God and no God at all?

    • kelskye
      Posted March 24, 2014 at 4:14 pm | Permalink

      I would hope, too, that if it’s meaningless to refer to God in a personal way as if God is a thing, then it follows that nearly all theistic utterances are either false or tautological. Miracle claims become meaningless, Inverness of design absurd, claims of divine experience pointless. Is that *really* the God of theism throughout the ages? That people claiming to hear God’s Word, that miracles happen, that God’s hand can be detected in the order of things – none of that is theism?

      • Posted March 24, 2014 at 11:54 pm | Permalink

        Glasgow of design makes far more sense…

        /@

        • kelskye
          Posted March 25, 2014 at 12:35 am | Permalink

          That’s what I get for trusting my phone’s autocorrect feature.

          *Inferences

  69. Cliff Melick
    Posted March 24, 2014 at 4:34 pm | Permalink

    I should like to ask Mr. Hart why, if god is not a proper name, does he continually capitalize the word.

  70. abrotherhoodofman
    Posted March 24, 2014 at 6:12 pm | Permalink

    We can learn things about God by analogy to us, I think, but we must be careful not to mistake the analogy for the reality and try to know God that way.”

    This is a good, well-constructed sentence.

    Completely vacuous, but well-constructed.

    • kelskye
      Posted March 24, 2014 at 6:54 pm | Permalink

      It also invites the problem of the irreducible analogy. When we say one thing is analogous to another, we are inviting a comparison between two literals. If we use analogical language with God, then we have to understand how the analogy works if the desire is to have the analogy illuminate. But we don’t know God’s nature, and we cannot measure God’s nature, so there’s nothing to say why a particular analogy works.

      In other words, if God is beyond human comprehension, then analogies won’t help. The appeal to analogy is little more than a way to mask over the impossibility of actually saying something meaningful about God. A way for theists to decry the literalism of their critics while using language that only makes sense on a literal account.

  71. drew
    Posted March 24, 2014 at 6:51 pm | Permalink

    Evidence for or against the reality of God, if it is there, saturates every moment of the experience of existence, every employment of reason, every act of consciousness, every encounter with the world around us.

    This is starting to sound to me like presuppositionalist apologetics.

    To speak of “God” properly, then—to use the word in a sense consonant with the teachings of Orthodox Judaism, Christianity, Islam, Sikhism, Hinduism, Baháí, a great deal of antique paganism, and so forth—is to speak of the one infinite source of all that is: eternal, omniscient, omnipotent, uncreated, uncaused, perfectly transcendent of all things and for that very reason absolutely immanent to all things. God so understood is not something poised over against the universe, in addition to it, nor is he the universe itself. He is not a “being,” at least not in the way that a tree, a shoemaker, or a god is a being; he is not one more object in the inventory of things that are, or any sort of discrete object at all. Rather, all things that exist receive their being continuously from him, who is the infinite wellspring of all that is, in whom (to use the language of the Christian scriptures) all things live and move and have their being. In one sense he is “beyond being,” if by “being” one means the totality of discrete, finite things. In another sense he is “being itself,” in that he is the inexhaustible source of all reality, the absolute upon which the contingent is always utterly dependent, the unity and simplicity that underlies and sustains the diversity of finite and composite things.

    Arti manthano!

    God is a Brane from M theory.

    Infinite being, infinite consciousness, infinite bliss, from whom we are, by whom we know and are known, and in whom we find our only true comprehension.

    Again, sounds like presuppositionalist apologetics.

    • Posted March 24, 2014 at 11:57 pm | Permalink

      Well, if God is a brane, clearly that’s where consciousness comes from…

      /@

    • Posted March 25, 2014 at 9:36 am | Permalink

      Ontological presuppositionalism, rather than the “how do you know?” epistemological kind, I suppose.

  72. Posted March 24, 2014 at 7:03 pm | Permalink

    My take:

    - I rather suspect that Dawkins and the rest aren’t quite as ignorant as Hart suggests of the Eastern Philosophy 101 version of God he portrays in his book. As he claims, it’s a version that’s common to the mystics of Christianity, Islam, and many other religious traditions. However, the New Atheists have quite reasonably chosen to focus their attention on the God that most people actually believe in rather than the one favored by Hart and the rest of the metaphysicians.

    - We can assume that, as Hart claims, all the great religious traditions are in broad agreement about the “philosophical” God that he describes at length in his book. What about the “dogmatic” God that is distinguished in the different religions and sects by how many wills He has, how many natures He has, what His “substance” is, whether or not he is “begotten,” whether he comes in one person or three, etc. These distinctions are very real, important, and can’t just be dismissed with a wave of the hand to achieve “clarity.”

    -For example, most Christians believe in the Trinity, and virtually all of them believe that the term “begotten” is associated with God in one way or another. Moslems beg to differ. Muhammad said quite plainly that, not only is this Christian version of God wrong, but those who believe in the Trinity, or that Christ was “begotten” as one of God’s persons, will burn in hell forever. “Forever,” of course, is a very long time, compared to which the supposed 13 plus billion year age of the universe is but the blink of an eye. Muhammad was also quite explicit about what burning in hell means. One’s physical body will be immersed in fire, and a new skin will immediately replace each old one as it is consumed by the flames. One might say that if, as Hart insists, there really is a God, he might be a great deal less “bored” by the distinction between the Trinitarian and Unitarian versions of God after he dies than he is now. He might end up in a rather more tropical climate than he expected.

    In a word, Hart’s God is a castrated version of the God that most people actually believe in. Whack the mole and move on.

  73. Shwell Thanksh
    Posted March 24, 2014 at 7:05 pm | Permalink

    “…to use the word ["God"] in a sense consonant with the teachings of … a great deal of antique paganism … is to speak of the one infinite source of all that is…”

    Whut?

    I don’t think that word, paganism, means what he thinks it does. Even decorated with the qualifier “antique” and snuck in there with a bunch of more recent medieval religions. Unless he’s been reading some influential antique pagan theologians they never taught me about when I was in school.

  74. ShadiZ1
    Posted March 24, 2014 at 7:15 pm | Permalink

    I haven’t read the book, but from your and other people’s commentaries on it, it seems to me that Hart is just rephrasing some of Immanuel Kant’s views on God and elaborating on them to fit with traditional theistic beliefs. If you read Kant’s philosophical works on God and religion, you’ll notice considerable parallelisms (in language and in substance) between his discussion of God and that of Hart.

    These are a few excerpts from The Cambridge Companion to Kant (under the section Rational theology, moral faith, and religion, written by Allen Wood):

    “On the basis of Kant’s argument, the idea of God is the ground of the concepts of all other things. In his 1763 essay The Only Possible Basis of Proof for a Demonstration of God’s Existence, Kant used these considerations to argue that God is also ‘the ground of all possibility’ and consequently a necessarily existent being. Although by 1781 he no longer endorses this proof of God’s existence, it continues to influence his thinking about rational theology. In the Critique of Pure Reason he denies that his 1763 proof justifies a ‘dogmatic conclusion’ that God exists, but he continues to hold that the existence of God as ‘the substream of all possibility’ is a ‘subjectively necessary hypothesis’ for our reason.

    “Kant’s conception of God belongs squarely in the scholastic-rationalist tradition. God is the supremely perfect being, extra-mundane, immutable, timelessly eternal. He is also living, knowing, and willing: omniscient, omnipotent, supremely holy, just, and beneficent. Kant draws a distinction between God’s ‘ontological’ predicates, which can be derived from the pure categories, and his ‘cosmological’ or ‘anthropological’ predicates, based on empirical features of the world (especially features of ourselves). Kant defines ‘deism’ as the view that admits only an ‘ontotheology’ or ‘transcendental theology’. For a deist, God is a ‘blindly working eternal nature as the root of all things’ (a single supremely perfect necessarily existent supramundane substance, immutable, impassible, all-sufficient, omnipresent, timelessly eternal) but not a living, knowing, or willing being. A ‘theist’ is someone who has also a ‘natural theology,’ regarding God as a rational and moral being on the basis of predicates drawn from finite things (especially from our own mental life).”

    Later Wood continues by saying:

    “Kant’s discussion of the traditional theistic proofs is based on the view that God is an ens logice originarium, whose necessary existence is naturally thought to follow from its status as the root of all possibility. Kant considers proofs for God’s existence only as proofs for the existence of a supremely perfect being or ens realissimum, and he thinks that a truly adequate proof of the existence of such a being would have to be a priori.”

    And again, later on in the section:

    “Kant maintains that we can be rationally justified in holding a proposition not only by theoretical (‘objective’) evidence, but also by practical (‘subjective’) considerations. He tries to present such considerations in the so-called moral argument for belief in God. [...] Kant thinks that it is plain to us that the possibility of the second component of the highest good [SZ1: which is the idea that happiness should be proportional to virtue] depends on the existence of a Providence, which does know each one’s desert and ultimately apportions happiness in accordance with it. In other words, the possibility of the second component depends on the existence of an omniscient, omnipotent, just, and benevolent being. Hence the pursuit of the highest good rationally justifies belief in a God.”

    • Richard Olson
      Posted March 24, 2014 at 8:18 pm | Permalink

      “Kant’s discussion of the traditional theistic proofs is based on the view that God is an ens logice originarium, whose necessary existence is naturally thought to follow from its status as the root of all possibility. Kant considers proofs for God’s existence only as proofs for the existence of a supremely perfect being or ens realissimum, and he thinks that a truly adequate proof of the existence of such a being would have to be a priori.”

      Kant demonstrates he was no slouch when it comes to ontological presuppositional bullshit word fucking salad. Even a master is limited by the materials available, of course, and skilled use of words by one of the best still can’t stick paper to a nonexistent wall.

    • Posted March 24, 2014 at 8:26 pm | Permalink

      I notice that some commentators including A C Grayling think that Kant was probably an atheist: http://rationalist.org.uk/996/reasonable-bounds.

      • Posted March 25, 2014 at 9:41 am | Permalink

        He was certainly skeptical of the local religion: the story was that at the time, his university mandated senior professors literally lead the students to chapel on Sunday. He would do so – and then not go in. More than that I don’t know – being sort of an anti-Kantian. :)

  75. Shwell Thanksh
    Posted March 24, 2014 at 7:24 pm | Permalink

    I can’t resist noting that a key idea I recall of Aquinas was that faith is always about belief in a proposition, never about trust in a personal savior.

    Either Hart disagrees with St. Aquinas, or his explanation of what faith in “God” *really* means couldn’t be more different from the beliefs of the Christians I regularly encounter.

  76. Golkarian
    Posted March 24, 2014 at 7:27 pm | Permalink

    Romans 1:20 is why claiming that atheists just need to read the next apologetics book contradicts the Bible, I think this should be brought up along with Coyne’s idea of giving theists a bunch of atheist books they need to wade through.

    • Posted March 25, 2014 at 12:05 am | Permalink

      To save others time:

      20 For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse.

      /@

  77. Kevin Alexander
    Posted March 25, 2014 at 12:19 am | Permalink

    If Hart is claiming that god is beyond comprehension and reason and his book has exactly those qualities isn’t he claiming to be god?

  78. kelskye
    Posted March 25, 2014 at 12:46 am | Permalink

    I’ve been thinking about this all day. The power of the kalaam cosmological argument, for example, comes from the apparent personhood of God. That persons are the kinds of things that can act of their own volition, thus a person stops the infinite regress in a way that ordinary physical things could not. Likewise, arguments to design rely on the analogy between the artefacts persons make and the design in nature. Thus if we are to use the analogy with any force, then the designers must resemble our person. The weaker the resemblance, the weaker the argument. So a God that is only analogously a person means a far weaker inference. Same goes for any reference to revealed theism. How does God communicate with people? How does God perform miracles? We can make sense of these as personal actions, but what would it mean to say they are analogously personal?

    Given these are three of the standard arguments for the existence of God, and have been part of the case for God both in philosophy and in theology for millennia, it seems somewhat disingenuous of Hart to suggest that such a literal personal description is a recent invention. It’s even more disingenuous to go after atheists for not signing on either. Just what does any of it mean if God is not a person?

    • Sastra
      Posted March 25, 2014 at 10:12 am | Permalink

      Theists usually get around this conundrum by insisting that something can be like a person in some ways, but not really a person. This is a wonderful strategy because you can pick up and drop off almost any attribute you want at any time.

      If you terminate an infinite regress of physical causation with an appeal to an irreducible, timeless, and eternal intentional agency, then complaints regarding the unlikelihood of the existence of an unevolved, timeless, disembodied eternal Person can be met with indignant claims that you implied nothing of the sort. God isn’t like us, it’s not a person. It’s the ground of all Being AND an intentional agency … which makes the comparison to personal beings totally inadequate.

      We sometimes have to think of God as a person, but that’s only a metaphorical crutch. But note how everything involving agency, intentions, desires, values, and virtues applies only to a person or when you have a person.

      In science, the first trick is not to fool yourself. In religion, that’s the bag you put all the other tricks in.

      • kelskye
        Posted March 25, 2014 at 1:29 pm | Permalink

        To say “it’s like a person” however, would be to weaken the explanatory power of the argument. It would be completely conceding the design argument, for example.

        • Sastra
          Posted March 25, 2014 at 1:44 pm | Permalink

          Not necessarily. Look at WLCraig on how God might create:

          And in human productions, many people think that things like Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony or Tolstoy’s novel Anna Karenina exist and they are not identical to particular marks on paper or particular published books. These exist as sort of abstract entities. A physical copy of Anna Karenina or a score from Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony is just an instance of that. It is not the thing itself. Now, where did these come from? Well, most people would say they were created by Tolstoy and Beethoven – they created these things. So some people would say these would be examples of things that exist that have been created out of nothing. That example is, I think, especially provocative because in this case you have the creation of something by sheer thought, by a mind. And God is a mind, so maybe as an infinite mind God has somehow thought the universe into being. Maybe by thought he produces and creates a physical universe just as we by thought can create a symphony or a novel.

          Would Hart agree with Craig? My guess is only if you stipulated that God is not a Being, but Being itself … while simultaneously making it a personal being for the purposes of understanding it on our terms. A contradiction, but once you’ve decided comprehensibility is not one of God’s virtues then all bets are off.

          • kelskye
            Posted March 25, 2014 at 1:57 pm | Permalink

            But then Craig runs into that same problem of mind being a characteristic of being a person. Just what way does God’s mind create? Beethoven and Tolstoy presumably had brains where those ideas originated.

        • Fr Aidan Kimel
          Posted March 25, 2014 at 1:56 pm | Permalink

          I’m happy to do without the Kalaam cosmological argument and strong versions of the design argument. And you won’t, btw, find them in Hart’s book.

          When I was an atheist 35 years ago, I eventually found one particular philosophical argument persuasive–Richard Taylor’s argument that the reliability of sensory perception demonstrates that human beings have been created. I have no idea whether the argument is sound or not. What I can say is that my belief in God does not rest on it today–and hasn’t done so for decades.

          As far as other arguments for the existence of God, I suppose they may have their apologetic and evangelical purposes; but I suspect far too much energy is invested in them. I do not reject them out of hand, but I do not ground my faith upon them. As Hart attempts to show in his book, belief in a transcendent God is not based on “arguments” but on a fundamental apprehension of reality that one might call metaphysical or even mystical.

          To everyone in this thread: read the book before you begin criticizing it. Hart is a thoughtful and substantive theologian (not an apologist!). He is not trying to prove the existence of God. He is elaborating on an understanding of deity that he believes is shared not only by the three major monotheistic faiths but also by some of the Eastern religions. Personally, I wish he had confined himself to the God of Christianity, Judaism, and Islam; but it was his choice to gather in understandings of deity outside the monotheistic Three. In any case, I recognize the God of the Christian Church in his presentation.

          • Posted March 25, 2014 at 2:43 pm | Permalink

            “Richard Taylor’s argument that the reliability of sensory perception demonstrates that human beings have been created. I have no idea whether the argument is sound or not.”

            Well, it’s clearly not. The reliability of sensory perception (to the degree that it is reliable — invisible gorillas and all that), is easily seen as a product of evolution: If it weren’t reliable (with enough false positives to be sure of avoid predators without being so bad that we expended too much energy running aware from the wind rustling the undergrowth) our ancestors wouldn’t have survived to reproduce.

            “In any case, I recognise the God of the Christian Church in his presentation.”

            Well, how nice for you. It’s nothing like the Christian God I was brought up to believe in. At least one of us has the wrong conception … 

            /@

          • kelskye
            Posted March 25, 2014 at 3:47 pm | Permalink

            The point wasn’t that they form part of Hart’s defence (or that the argument was any good), but that these kinds of arguments have formed a part of natural theology for a long time, so it’s disingenuous to pretend it’s a modern phenomenon.

            “As far as other arguments for the existence of God, I suppose they may have their apologetic and evangelical purposes; but I suspect far too much energy is invested in them.”
            My point was not about what you believe – or what Hart believes – about God. Rather it was about how the personal deity has been part of theological and philosophical discussion for thousands of years and not a modern phenomenon. Whether Hart has come up with an intellectually defensible God, I cannot say, nor can I say whether it’s compatible with the various theisms. My comments above were that the classical arguments for God which the atheists can and do take to task are part of a vast intellectual tradition in theism.

            There is a difference between arguing for a particular conception of theism, and arguing that there’s only one conception of theism and that is Hart’s. Hart can debate what God is with other theologians instead of pretending that atheists are wrong for not going after his conception of God. That’s what I find disingenuous.

          • Posted March 25, 2014 at 4:04 pm | Permalink

            He is not trying to prove the existence of God. He is elaborating on an understanding of deity that he believes is shared not only by the three major monotheistic faiths but also by some of the Eastern religions.

            …thereby demonstrating the profound dishonesty of all apologetics. And, yes, even sophisticated theology is apologetics.

            See, if all y’all were honest about this, you’d cut to the chase and just tell us what it is that convinced you of the reality of your positions. Instead, you won’t go anywhere near that and spend all your time trying to give us supportive arguments that you yourself don’t believe but that you think might convince us.

            The only reasonable conclusion is that none of you actually really believe, yourselves, and you’re just afraid to admit that fact, even to yourselves.

            If you actually did believe, then you’d be plenty confident in your reasons for belief that you wouldn’t at all be ashamed to use them to convince others. I believe, for example, that if I drop something it’ll fall at about ten meters per second per second until it hits something or air resistance becomes significant. And — and this is the important part — I believe that because I’ve dropped things with a stopwatch at hand and measured all that, and I’d be thrilled to help you set up a similar experiment that you can text and confirm this fact for yourself.

            What have you got for your gods that’s even vaguely as convincing as dropping an apple?

            Nothing, right?

            Well, why’re you fooling yourself that you can fool anybody else?

            Cheers,

            b&

          • kelskye
            Posted March 25, 2014 at 4:07 pm | Permalink

            “human beings have been created.”
            Now, given what I said earlier, how does one gel this notion of creation without projecting our conception of personal agency onto God (which, apparently, is the wrong way of looking at it)? This is the kind of thing I object to. I can understand a notion of a person creating things. I can understand a person designing things. What I can’t understand is how God can be those things if God is not a literal person.

            That’s the issue I was trying to highlight – the idea that God can be a creator except unlike any creator we know, or God can be a designer except unlike any designer we know, I have to wonder just what on earth they are talking about. I honestly don’t know, and I would wager they don’t know either.

            • Posted March 25, 2014 at 4:14 pm | Permalink

              There’s also the question of the mechanism of the implementation. Any proposal would require either the entity in question to be an alien traveling by spaceship or a gross violation of the best-evidenced and most-well-supported science in the history of humanity. Might as well have the Sun standing still in the sky for a couple days during the act of creation and be done with it.

              Sure, you could suggest these sorts of things with a straight face. But that still wouldn’t stop people from laughing at you for being a superstitious, primitive, uneducated idiot.

              Cheers,

              b&

          • Diana MacPherson
            Posted March 25, 2014 at 4:32 pm | Permalink

            What makes you believe in God? You say that reliability of sensory perception doesn’t, which is good because as Ant explains that isn’t a sound reason….so care to explain what you do base your faith on?

  79. Torbjörn Larsson, OM
    Posted March 25, 2014 at 5:16 am | Permalink

    So Hart is equal parts no evidence, deepities and glossolalia (“by whom we know and are known”). And this differ from other theologians how!?

    The question facing Hart is where is the testable evidence that the existence of his magical agency differs from all other known existences, where ‘logical and experiential’ doesn’t suffice? In fact, where ‘logical and experiential’ is the road to delusion?

    Hart doesn’t provide the necessary evidence, and so he has nothing.

    Ironically, if Self Evidence suffice to understand the basis of the world, it would lead us straightly to the other conclusion, that there is no magic agency. It would follow from avoiding overdetermination (“Occam’s razor”).

    Specific nit: Nothing in science is assumed (re “materialism”).

    To sum up Hart’s problem with truth and reality in 2 simple steps:

    1. “The first principle is that you must not fool yourself–and you are the easiest person to fool. So you have to be very careful about that.” ["Cargo Cult Science", Feynman]

    2. “The God Delusion”. [Dawkins]

    And so ends the ultimate effort (we are promised) of a long line of incestuous Sophisticated Theology™.

    Not with a big bang, but with a whimper.

  80. Torbjörn Larsson, OM
    Posted March 25, 2014 at 5:17 am | Permalink

    Nevertheless, I am reading the book critically, and much of what he maintains is, I think, in conflict with the history of theology. And I say that in full realization that Hart knows a lot more about theology than I do.

    That is symptomatic of a genre where the actors have to lean over backwards, and finally insert their heads in their ass, in order to avoid seeing the facts on the table. Mistakes will be made, assertions will be lies.

  81. Scott_In_OH
    Posted March 25, 2014 at 6:07 am | Permalink

    Hart sounds to me like he’s following Aquinas, although if he follows him closely he’ll end up rejecting all gods but the Christian one. On my understanding, Aquinas argues

    1. God exists, because if He didn’t, all causal chains would include infinite regress, which is impossible.

    2. God is different from everything else we see, because if He weren’t, then something would have to have caused him, which is impossible because of #1.

    3. God is the source of all that is good–because all the good things in this world couldn’t come from nothing–but not of anything that is bad, since bad is properly understood as the absence of something good.

    At least that’s what I understand so far. Like Jerry, I’ve been reading up on Aquinas recently. He builds and extraordinary edifice on a handful of assumptions that turn out to be much more problematic than he understood.

    • Posted March 25, 2014 at 9:43 am | Permalink

      He’s a very good thinker, at least in terms of deduction and interrelating things. It is just a damn shame to read all of that brilliant mind’s wasted time on such unfortunate premisses …

  82. Posted March 25, 2014 at 9:07 am | Permalink

    “For Hart sees the relationship between the average believer and the theologian in the same way that he sees the relationship between the average layperson who’s interested in science and the professional scientist.”

    If that is his analogy, then it is extremely weak. What distinguishes professional scientists from lay people are 1) rigorous training in the “scientific method”, or the tools used to find out what is really true about the natural world, and 2) deep exposure to the fruits of that method.

    Someone like me has a very general understanding of the claims of General Relativity, including the claims that it has been very successful in making predictions. A real physicist could not only go into much greater detail about what GR is, she or he should be able to devise ways to test it, or at the very least understand the tests that have been devised.

    How is the same kind of thing happening with the lay religious person and the professional theologian? Hart throws out emperical testing and developing predictive models as a tool, so what does he have over the regular Joe sitting in church on a Sunday? Superior notions of what it is to experience God??? What arrogance!

    I would love to see a debate b/t someone like Hart and someone like William Lane Craig, who absolutely believes in God as a person who has visibly interacted with our world. I would also love to see Craig’s reaction when Hart tries to explain that Christianity and Islam are not that different.

  83. Fr Aidan Kimel
    Posted March 25, 2014 at 10:08 am | Permalink

    If one’s knowledge of classical theism (and I’m really thinking of Christianity, since that is what I know best) is restricted to philosophers like Swinburne and Plantinga, then one will inevitably end up with a skewed view of the Christian doctrine of God. Neither of them are representative of the classical tradition, though both are sharp as tacks and very interesting. Both are representatives of what has been called “theistic personalism” (a fairly recent approach in philosophical theology), as opposed to classical theism, as found in the Church Fathers and the medieval theologians.

    This is one reason why *The Experience of God* by David Hart is so important. Hart is thoroughly grounded in the classical Christian tradition, which is profoundly apophatic. He sees the anthropomorphic dangers in the theistic personalism approach. This doesn’t mean that Hart believes in an impersonal God (quite the contrary), but it does mean that he does not understand God as an inflated human person.

    • Posted March 25, 2014 at 10:31 am | Permalink

      Sorry, but I don’t accept that the classical Christian tradition is profoundly apophatic. If people like Aquinas and Augustine didn’t think they could say anything about god except for what he was not, then they sure violated that repeatedly!

      • Fr Aidan Kimel
        Posted March 25, 2014 at 11:27 am | Permalink

        Dr Coyne, the fact that both Aquinas and Augustine wrote a great deal on theological matters in no ways undermines their apophaticism. At the very beginning of his Summa Theologica, Aquinas makes clear that we cannot know what God is and thus can only say what he is not. It is this apophatic tradition that you and your fellow atheists need to come to understand if you want to talk intelligibly about the Christian God.

        Of course, all Christian theologians believe that the unknowable God has made revealed himself in various ways–hence all the positive things that Christian theologians are willing to attribute of God–but even this divine self-revelation does not undo the profound and incomprehensible mystery of the God who is beyond being.

        • Posted March 25, 2014 at 1:21 pm | Permalink

          Of course, all Christian theologians believe that the unknowable God has made revealed himself in various ways

          So, it’s impossible to know anything about your gods, yet the theologians should be trusted in their claims of knowledge about those same gods?

          Sorry, but that sort of nonsense wouldn’t even get a passing grade in an introductory science class, let alone make it out of peer review of a respectable journal.

          Honestly, the big surprise is that those who spew such idiocy expect people to not laugh hysterically at them. It’s almost as surprising as the fact that there’re so many people who do fall for the scam and tithe heartily to win the favors of the men behind the curtain whom we should pay no attention to.

          Cheers,

          b&

          • Fr Aidan Kimel
            Posted March 25, 2014 at 1:31 pm | Permalink

            Ben, in this thread the only question I’m willing to discuss is the question of the nature of God as understood by the major theistic traditions (specifically, the Christian Church). I’m not trying to persuade you or anyone that this God exists. My only hope is that you and your fellow atheists will come to understand that God is not a god but the transcendent Creator of the universe. Isn’t it important to understand your opponent’s views rather than attacking positions he does not hold?

            Feel free to come over to my blog and discuss the matter further.

            • Posted March 25, 2014 at 3:13 pm | Permalink

              Honestly, that’s like insisting that you’ll only discuss the sex lives of married bachelors and you’re not at all interested in convincing people that married bachelorhood is a real phenomenon in the first place.

              And we understand full well the theistic mindset; many of us were theists, many even in the clergy. You might not have seen the surveys, but the fact is that atheists tend to be much more knowledgeable and aware of religious beliefs and doctrines than non-believers.

              The long and short of it is that what you’re promoting is classic doublethink dressed up in newspeak, with a good helping of duckspeak to help the flavor, all served with an heaping portion of cognitive dissonance.

              But you’re not interested in the reality of it, because that would mean that not only could you no longer look at yourself in the mirror after praising the Naked Emperor’s clothes but you also can’t bear the thought of admitting that, not only is the Emperor rather ugly, he’s also imaginary. Isn’t it so much easier to simply wax poetic about the crease in his cravat instead?

              Cheers,

              b&

            • Dermot C
              Posted March 25, 2014 at 5:16 pm | Permalink

              @Fr Aidan Kimel

              the nature of God as understood by the major theistic traditions…

              and

              God is not a god but the transcendent Creator of the universe.

              …within a few lines of each other. The problem with the two concepts is the huge distance between the two. To take the first quotation, you can easily reduce the three monotheisms to footnotes to the Deuteronomic historian(s). God (who incidentally did emerge not as GOD but as a god at the foot of the optician’s reading test) declared his covenant with the people of Israel and Judah, a tweak from the surrounding religions in which the gods had a relationship with the leaders of a people. The 3 monotheisms merely differ in with whom God has the covenant.

              This God works in the world or at least he did until 2 weekends ago when those scientists at the South Pole had the temerity to allege that he could only have existed in the time before the trillionth of a trillionth of a trillionth of a second before Inflation, 14.7 billion years ago.

              This God, as you know in the monotheistic tradition is a protean God: we know that YHWH responded justly to an error as pointed out by Abimelech in Genesis: of his wrath towards faithless Israel in 1 Kings 14:7-16 (that Deuteronomist again): that the Tetragrammaton prefers murder to mercy in demanding that Benhadad be put to the sword: that Saul lost the kingdom of Israel for failing to kill Agag, king of the Amalekites. This is a capricious God.

              We also know his changing appearance: that Abraham met him in human form at Mamre: that he was a warrior passim in the Deuteronomist account: that Moses met him as a sapphire stone: that he was a burning bush (even though St. Justin Martyr thinks that was Jesus): that he was some sort of Gorgon in Exodus 33:23 in which you are only allowed to look on God’s arse (a joke coined in the Rabbinic Judaism tradition, for which you have to give them a bit of credit): that Daniel thought of him as an old guy with a beard – the Ancient of Days: that the Synoptics allege that Jesus thought roughly the same thing – ‘Abba’, Father.

              It’s almost as if we can make up any nature or appearance we want of God: and we do. And the less powerful God is, as we move slowly from theocracy to democracy, the more benign and ineffable God becomes: the characteristics we ascribe to God move from Anglo-Saxon roots to Latinate etymology. But the euphemistic feel of the language of the transcendence is no more convincing of God’s presence in that tiny amount of time before Inflation than the brutal but highly influential and xenophobic historian who is your religion’s real genesis (and who quite probably was not a monotheist).

              I can disclose that God is so wrathful at the BICEP scientists’ presumption that all previous religions are off: last Friday he revealed himself, and his covenant is now only with me. I know his nature and appearance and will demonstrate it in whatever form I choose: it will be internally consistent, but unfortunately I predict disagreements.

              Slaínte.

          • Diana MacPherson
            Posted March 25, 2014 at 3:34 pm | Permalink

            That would not get a passing grade in any class except a theology class. History classes wouldn’t buy it either.

        • Vaal
          Posted March 25, 2014 at 2:23 pm | Permalink

          Sorry, but that is, like the Trinity, is just incoherent. Appealing to it’s “tradition,” whether true of tradition or not, doesn’t alter this problem.

          Theology often comes off as the exercise of stringing together words that the believer wants attached to his God – loving, personal, immaterial, transcendent of time and space, beyond personal or human ken, yet
          about which platitudes can be spoken, etc –
          and voila…God has these properties! Whether they all make sense together or not.

          Have any trouble making all those attributes makes sense together? Well you just aren’t open to embracing “mystery” or acknowledging our limited ken in face of the God.

          It can’t be that the religious person is being incoherent. No, that is too prosaic
          a conclusion.

          Vaal

          • Fr Aidan Kimel
            Posted March 25, 2014 at 2:35 pm | Permalink

            Vaal, I’m not interested in persuading you that the Christian God is “coherent,” according to your criteria. That’s just pure silliness, and I will not play that game.

            I’m happy to discuss these matters in a serious, non-combative way; but I suspect that can’t happen here. Come on over to my blog and we’ll continue the conversation.

            • Posted March 25, 2014 at 2:48 pm | Permalink

              Is that an admission that the Christian God is incoherent? :-D

              /@

            • Posted March 25, 2014 at 3:49 pm | Permalink

              Vaal, Im not interested in persuading you that the Christian God is coherent, according to your criteria. Thats just pure silliness, and I will not play that game.

              Is it really that much to ask, that one provide a coherent definition of the central figure of a discussion?

              Any competent scientist can (and will be delighted to) start off with a perfectly coherent definition of the basic principles of the subject. Jerry, for example, will tell you about how Evolution is both the fact that populations change over time and the explanatory theory that holds that beneficial changes are statistically more likely to survive to later generations than other changes. Sean Carroll wants everybody to know that physics, at its heart, is all about various fields and forces, and that what we perceive as “particles” are really harmonic fluctuations in those fields.

              But you want to discuss Christian beliefs about gods without even being able to pretend that the very notion of gods are coherent in the first place?

              And you’re expecting us to take you seriously…why, exactly?

              b&

            • Vaal
              Posted March 25, 2014 at 7:08 pm | Permalink

              Fr Aidan Kimel,

              I’ve taken you up on your offer:

              https://afkimel.wordpress.com/2014/03/25/the-why-of-god/#comment-7886

              Cheers,

              Vaal

              • Diane G.
                Posted March 25, 2014 at 7:41 pm | Permalink

                Looks like you must be in moderation over there–no comment that I can see.

              • Posted March 25, 2014 at 8:04 pm | Permalink

                I just posted a comment there, as well. It says it’s awaiting moderation.

                Be curious to see if it ever sees the light of day. If it’s not there by the time I think about it tomorrow morning, I’ll post it here….

                Cheers,

                b&

              • Posted March 26, 2014 at 12:47 am | Permalink

                Both appeared. Good comments. Vaal wrote a near-definitive essay. Ben: I loved this: ** this ground of being took human form a couple millennia ago in a backwater of the Roman empire, acted exactly like a garden-variety Pagan demigod to get everybodys attention (which nobody at the time actually noticed) **

                /@

                /@

              • Posted March 26, 2014 at 7:05 am | Permalink

                Thanks. I don’t remember who, but at least somebody here has recently been making the point that the ground round of beast god may not be anthropomorphic but Jesus sure as shit is, and I thought that was a good one to make in this context.

                b&

              • Posted March 26, 2014 at 7:12 am | Permalink

                Nicely phrased, though. You condensed several different arguments that have been widely aired in the past.

                /@

              • Posted March 26, 2014 at 7:36 am | Permalink

                Thanks!

                b&

              • Diane G.
                Posted March 26, 2014 at 1:01 am | Permalink

                Eager to see if Kimel responds to either Vaal & Ben!

        • Sastra
          Posted March 25, 2014 at 2:34 pm | Permalink

          Aquinas makes clear that we cannot know what God is and thus can only say what he is not… all Christian theologians believe that the unknowable God has made revealed himself in various ways–hence all the positive things that Christian theologians are willing to attribute of God

          So we can only say what God is not but we can also attribute positive traits to God. This is a contradiction: to reconcile it doesn’t require depth and profundity, but that one floats across the surface.

    • Posted March 25, 2014 at 11:12 am | Permalink

      This doesnt mean that Hart believes in an impersonal God (quite the contrary), but it does mean that he does not understand God as an inflated human person.

      In other words, Hart is most skilled at the fine art of doublethink.

      (Not so) good for him; but why should anybody else pay him any mind?

      b&

      • kelskye
        Posted March 25, 2014 at 1:59 pm | Permalink

        It does sound very much like someone is trying to have their cake as well as eat it. Why would personal language work if God is a completely one-of-a-kind thing that doesn’t have any of the characteristics that go into personhood? To say “God’s like a person” only begs the question of what ways the comparison holds. Otherwise appealing to analogy is going to fail. We can understand that a gene isn’t literally selfish, for example, but we understand the analogy because we have a literal description of how genes work and know where selfish is useful for understanding and where it is not. How does it apply to God? So it’s made even worse if God is beyond our comprehension – we have no means of grounding the analogy.

    • Sastra
      Posted March 25, 2014 at 2:43 pm | Permalink

      He sees the anthropomorphic dangers in the theistic personalism approach. This doesn’t mean that Hart believes in an impersonal God (quite the contrary), but it does mean that he does not understand God as an inflated human person.

      From what I can tell then Hart (and by implication “classic theism”) sees God as a combination of what we mean by Existence coupled with mental attributes such as intention, love, cognition, consciousness, creativity, etc. The basic nature of reality itself is mind-like.

      Is this more or less what we’ve got when all the self-gratifying handwaving and moaning about Mystery is removed?

  84. Kevin
    Posted March 25, 2014 at 10:26 am | Permalink

    I completely “get” Hart’s god.

    I don’t believe in that one, either.

    Completely uncompelling argument.

  85. Wylann
    Posted March 25, 2014 at 10:47 am | Permalink

    I’m going to assume that xians aren’t allowed to argue for religion unless they’ve also read this book and can express the ideas in their own words. No?

    Screw it. Thanks for taking (another) one for the team.

  86. Posted March 25, 2014 at 10:50 am | Permalink

    I think he is a Thomist at heart when he states God is beyond finite comprehension. Aquinas also proposed that the “created” mind could never comprehend the divine nature of God. To say that there is an empirical measure of God would be divine itself and therefore impossible. Even though “scientists have the tools and the system for sussing out the truths about nature” is futile in this argument. I think your question is important: “why we should think that this god exists” in the context of evolutionary theory. Is this concept, regardless of truth, a detriment or benefit? If detrimental, can we assume the opposite secular view will be of greater utility? Believers will argue that the concept of God is a caring and just but humanity is its own downfall.

    • Jesper Both Pedersen
      Posted March 25, 2014 at 11:03 am | Permalink

      I think he is a Thomist at heart when he states God is beyond finite comprehension. Aquinas also proposed that the “created” mind could never comprehend the divine nature of God. To say that there is an empirical measure of God would be divine itself and therefore impossible. Even though “scientists have the tools and the system for sussing out the truths about nature” is futile in this argument.

      What tool or method do you use in determining what is futile and what is not in this debate?

      I think your question is important: “why we should think that this god exists” in the context of evolutionary theory. Is this concept, regardless of truth, a detriment or benefit? If detrimental, can we assume the opposite secular view will be of greater utility? Believers will argue that the concept of God is a caring and just but humanity is its own downfall.

      If the truth is irrelevant in regards to how we perceive the world and live our lives, how would you then determine whether the two are on collision course. In other words, what justification do you have that allows you to ignore the truth and endorse a lie?

      • Posted March 25, 2014 at 12:12 pm | Permalink

        Thomists say the existence of god is beyond the comprehension of humanity. But the philosophical tenets of religion are within the bounds of human reason. By implementing these concepts of moral good can it have beneficial effects? If the some say that practice of religious principles are exclusionary and detrimental obviously they would side with secularists. Morality will still exist regardless of the existence of god? yes/no? I would say yes, that is a truth.

        • Jesper Both Pedersen
          Posted March 25, 2014 at 12:27 pm | Permalink

          Thomists say the existence of god is beyond the comprehension of humanity. But the philosophical tenets of religion are within the bounds of human reason.

          The philosophical tenets of religion are ultimately founded on the belief that there is a god.

          Claiming that we can never know whether it exists or not while at the same time asserting that it does in fact exist and that we can know about it’s nature is dishonest and an oxymoronic deepity, imo.

          They claim to think one thing, but act as if it isn’t true. Theology’s biggest problem isn’t the rise of atheism, it’s religion.

          • Posted March 25, 2014 at 1:29 pm | Permalink

            It is quite the paradox and maybe it was Aquinas saying to the faithful don’t worry about understanding how God exists but realize that he does exist and that is the basis of faith. I feel that morality exists outside the context of a god but if people choose to believe in the context of a God that is their right. Theology’s biggest problem isn’t religion it’s political manipulation of religion.

            • Chris
              Posted March 26, 2014 at 6:14 am | Permalink

              Really?

              I’d have assumed that theology’s main problem is that it’s basic premise is either impossible to demonstrate or incomprehensible, depending on how it’s worded….

    • Fr Aidan Kimel
      Posted March 25, 2014 at 12:56 pm | Permalink

      From the classical theistic view, evolutionary theory or the Big Bang or whatever is irrelevant to the question of whether there is a divine Creator or not. God (classically understood) is not an empirical hypothesis, nor does divine agency conflict in any way with creaturely agency. It’s apples and oranges.

      • Posted March 25, 2014 at 1:42 pm | Permalink

        So, if you God is not an empirical hypothesis, what does He do? What is He for?

        /@

      • Sastra
        Posted March 25, 2014 at 2:48 pm | Permalink

        If God is not an empirical hypothesis then that means that God doesn’t explain anything. But you believe that God is the explanation for everything. That doesn’t somehow remove God from the realm of evidence and reason. That would only happen if God was so basic and obvious that it’s not a controversial idea.

        But God IS a controversial idea. You can’t dismiss atheism as a form of perversity. Naturalism is an alternative hypothesis… a very strong, robust, well-evidenced one.

      • Posted March 25, 2014 at 5:34 pm | Permalink

        Creator (n) “A person or thing that creates”.

        Any claim of the form X created Y is a scientific hypothesis, assuming that Y is or has been a part of reality. i.e. it is an a posteriori claim that a particular event actually occurred and we can be confident in it’s veracity only to the extent that we have empirical evidence that favours that hypothesis over other ones.

      • Chris
        Posted March 26, 2014 at 7:01 am | Permalink

        “From the classical theistic view, evolutionary theory or the Big Bang or whatever is irrelevant to the question of whether there is a divine Creator or not.”

        Evolutionary theory does not hold that there is any supernatural interference (application of souls, whatever) in humans. Ditto with cosmology.

        The problem here is that seeing how the cosmos appears to work, the divine creator is irrelevant whether it exists* or not.

        “God (classically understood) is not an empirical hypothesis, nor does divine agency conflict in any way with creaturely agency.”

        Empirical means measurable. If you cannot measure it you cannot demonstrate that it exists. This absolutely conflicts with any claim that the deity intervenes in physical reality as per your holy book, assuming that you are a Christian.

        What you claim here is that this god is either equivalent to the cosmos, or non-existent.

        “It’s apples and oranges.”

        Only because you are claiming that some apples are oranges, and that they don’t exist anywhere that we can actually see/taste/experience them.

        * Exists is a loaded word in theology, I have noticed. You seem to be arguing, at the bare minimum, for an entity to exist in a way that redefines the word “exist” in all other usage that we have for it. This wouldn’t be a problem equivocation didn’t happen.

        • Chris
          Posted March 26, 2014 at 7:06 am | Permalink

          Sigh: This wouldn’t be a problem *if* equivocation didn’t happen.

          • Posted March 26, 2014 at 7:50 am | Permalink

            Exists is a loaded word in theology. Yes, do ideas and thoughts exist are they measurable? Do they drive individuals to actions?

            • Michael Fugate
              Posted March 26, 2014 at 11:21 am | Permalink

              So god is just an idea – a thought created by a material brain?

              • Posted March 26, 2014 at 11:51 am | Permalink

                Do they need empiric evidence to exist? Or is the fact they are created in the mind enough to say they exist. Clearly, they can have powerful effects. I’m sure philosophers can provide an answer.

              • Michael Fugate
                Posted March 26, 2014 at 12:42 pm | Permalink

                i just listened to the conversation between Hart and Norman in the link below. Nothing Hart says provides a solid reason to believe God is anything other than a creation of the human brain. Of course ideas, can have powerful effects – still this doesn’t say anything about the existence of transcendent beings outside the human brain.

            • Chris
              Posted March 26, 2014 at 3:33 pm | Permalink

              This wasn’t what I was getting at. Apologies, maybe I should have been clearer.

              “Exists is a loaded word in theology. Yes, do ideas and thoughts exist are they measurable? Do they drive individuals to actions?”

              I am not questioning whether ideas – either as brain states or as concepts that may be communicated or acted upon – exist at some level. We could argue about nominalism or substance dualism, but the idea of an “idea” can be defined either way.

              My problem with “exist”, per theology, is that when it’s applied to a deity, the spirit, etc, it conflicts with every other use of the word “exist” in other ways. If something is atemporal, aphysical, etc, it’s actually non-existent by any other definition.

              My problem with equivocation is that the theist tends to switch between the theological and everyday definitions without necessarily specifying that they are doing so. In fact, I would contend that the theological definition of “exist” is actually completely incoherent!

              • Chris
                Posted March 26, 2014 at 3:41 pm | Permalink

                And, to make it more… annoying when dealing with Sophisticated Theologians, is that the everyday believer absolutely claims that “god” “exists” is a temporal/physical fashion.

                Plank in your eye, and all that!

                It’s hilarious that the STs are perfectly willing too have people believe in completely the wrong thing (by their writing), while bitching at us for pointing this out to them. Did I say hilarious? Maybe I meant hypocritical.

  87. strongforce
    Posted March 25, 2014 at 11:32 am | Permalink

    An interesting discussion between Hart and Norman.

  88. Friendlypig
    Posted March 26, 2014 at 7:56 am | Permalink

    Sorry Professor, I haven’t read the entire post but to quote Peter Boghassian: if you make truth claims for things that you couldn’t possibly know, you are merely pretending.

    What would William of Occam have said?

    Is God real?

    Does god exist in the natural world like you and I.

    Yes? Then god is bound by the laws of physics, therefore not a God.

    No? Then God does not exist.

    Seemples.


2 Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. […] “New Atheist” and author of the popular book Why Evolution is True, is seriously immersing himself in theology by studying Hart’s The Experience of God: Being, Consciousness, Bliss. Coyne is in the […]

  2. […] initial response (now he has started […]

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