Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Atheists and Their Errors

Our Nameless Friend is back, continuing with his running commentary on my posts about the existence of God. Normally I wouldn't continue to feature such comments within their own post, but his questions (and errors) are so common among the atheistic folk that I thought it would be useful to the readership to see them addressed.

Our friend's first comment:
From the Christian point of view their God is super special the one and only, unique, one of a kind etc 
From an atheist point of view he's one of the crowd. It would seem that in the case of Dawkins you're critiquing an atheist for speaking from an atheists perspective. 
If we're talking about whether or not the Christian God exists, shouldn't Christians be the ones who get to define just who this God is that they believe in? If an atheist says, "I don't believe in your god," and the Christian says, "What god is that?" and the atheist replies, "You know, the old man in the sky that arbitrarily condemns people to eternal punishment and forces his rules on everyone," then the Christian is quite right in responding, "I don't believe in that god, either. So we agree there." It gets us nowhere to set up straw men.

I argue that the Christian (or at the very least Abrahamaic) concept of God is unique because it is, and I've laid out some of the key features of that concept that make it different from other concepts of other "gods"--that God is the ground of all Being, that God has no physical body, that God can create out of nothing, etc., whereas other "gods" can't. You say that atheists don't see any distinguishing features, that God is just "one in a crowd." My point was precisely to say that that was a mistaken position, and I gave reasons why that is the case. I didn't just claim that God was unique; I showed how. You didn't address that. To simply reply with "Well, that's the atheist point of view" is to duck the question.

Our friend then says:
As to God not being a physical being then Exodus 33 would disagree with you there.Firstly at 20 where God tells Moses 20 “you cannot see my face, for no one may see me and live.” and at 23 "Then I will remove my hand and you will see my back; but my face must not be seen.”
So you can see God's back and be ok but if you saw his face you'd die. Sure sounds like a physical presence to me. 
Ezekiel 1 also describes the physical appearance of God.
So it would seem that the god of the Christian bible is physically observable and has been observed.
Our friend argues that because Exodus 33 and Ezekiel 1 give descriptions of manifestations of God, therefore God must be a physical being. Exodus 33 says God has a hand, back, and face; and Ezekiel 1 says God has, not only these features and appendages, but feet as well!

This is a common tactic of the armchair atheist: cherry-pick a passage of the Bible, read it as literalistically as possible, in a way in which no Christian has ever even considered interpreting it, and submit that as a proof-text.

But to say this means that the "god of the Christian Bible is physically observable and has been observed" is to betray a lack of familiarity with the Christian tradition, with the basics of biblical hermeneutics, and even with the content of the rest of the Bible. 1 John 4:12 says that "no one has ever seen God," and Jesus says in the Gospel of John "God is spirit" (John 4:24). Now, the apostle John and Our Blessed Lord, being Jewish men, would have been steeped in the tradition of the Law and the Prophets and would have known these passages forward and backward. So, if someone holding these Old Testament passages to be inspired can still say "No one has seen God," and Jesus himself tells us "God is Spirit" (which I think we can all agree is the opposite of physical matter) then we can be fairly confident that the proper reading of these passages is not a naively literalistic one, but an obviously sensible one: when God appears in these passages, He does not appear as He is in His essential nature, but in a manifestation capable of being apprehended by finite, physical creatures such as ourselves. God is not physical and not observable as He is in His essence, and, pace our atheist friend, the Bible says so.

Our friend takes another stab, bringing up his old pal Mbombo:
So what's that conclusion that you were drawing earlier about Mbombo? Maybe they are both just really good at hiding, that's possible. Wikipedia does tell us that "Once the creation was complete and peaceful, Mbombo delivered it to mankind and retreated into the heavens, " 
So that might be why he hasn't been observed for a long while - just like your god. 
But the more likely explanation is that he doesn't exist - just like your god. 
If God is hiding, He's doing a very poor job of it. He really should stop revealing Himself through His prophets, Scriptures, Son, and Church--they'll blow his cover! This is the old Bertrand Russell line; when asked what he would say to God if he were to die and find out God existed, the atheist Russell responded, "I would say, 'Not enough evidence, God!'" The list of types of evidence admissible in an atheist court of judgment is very short, essentially reduced to forms of empirical observation, not allowing the eyewitness testimony of billions of believers, nor the cogent arguments of philosophy. The atheist presumes that the physically observable is all there is, so that if something can't be observed, it can't exist; where he gets support for this premise, he can't say. But if God is not physical, and you'll only look for Him by physical means, then of course you'll never find him. It would be like saying the color yellow doesn't exist because it can't be felt by touch, or that a landscape view wasn't really there because you couldn't taste it. Though we could look at the whole of physical reality and ask what its cause is, but that is a more philosophical question--an atheist who rejected this line of thinking would, by that same logic, reject the notion of a painter having made the picture because he couldn't see the painter anywhere in it.

As his parting shot, our friend writes:
As a PS in terms of accuracy a better title for this article might have been "Avoiding Anonymous African-themed Asks" 
Your initial gripe with the likes of Thor seemed to be that he wasn't a creator god therefore not comparable with the upper-case God. Thor photogenic as he may be wasn't the "first cause" and thus not comparable with the big G. 
When it was pointed out that there are other gods which are also creator gods - such as Mbombo - the argument now seems to have segued into the physical for (or otherwise of the god) 
I can't wait to see what the next segue will be. 
I will accept his description of my post as a segue, because segue means "uninterrupted transition" and derives from the Latin sequor, sequi meaning "to follow (in order)" (as in "sequence"), and the contents of my post certainly did follow from what was said. So, if my comments followed, or segued, from yours, they could not have avoided them.

I argued that no little-G god could fit the bill of First Cause/ground of all being as God does, and in answer you gave me an example of a little-G god that was not a First Cause/ground of all being as God is. Well done. The point about physicality was directly related: Mbombo and others like him cannot be the ground of the physical universe if they are themselves part of it, if they merely form pre-existing matter rather than causing all matter to be in the first place. God, on the other hand, is not a physical being, and is wholly distinct from His creation, and thus He can be and is the source of its being. My response was not an avoidance, but an illustration.

I hope this has been instructive to the reader, Anonymous included. I invite Anonymous to go online and find the Summa Theologica, Part One, Question Two, Article Three, read St. Thomas Aquinas' Five Proofs for the existence of God, as a starter. I'd be happy to hear your thoughts.

1 comment:

  1. “It gets us nowhere to set up straw men.”

    I’d absolutely agree, and then I’d wonder why you bothered setting em up?

    “If we're talking about whether or not the Christian God exists, shouldn't Christians be the ones who get to define just who this God is that they believe in?”


    If we're talking about alien abduction should only abductees be the ones to define what an alien is? If we were talking about the merits of a cricket team would only the players be able to contribute? Or would the spectator still have a valid point of view?

    And let’s face it as a group are Christians always perfectly consistent with the nature of the God that they believe in? I have some dear friends who worship the Christian God, yet the god they worship would appear in many ways to be the polar opposite of the one of the Westbro Baptists.

    You describe the Christian God as unique – both CS Lewis and Justin Martyr would disagree, those noteworthy Christians saw similarities to the Christian God and the pagan deities.

    As to reading the bible literalistically why not unless you had some kind of agenda that requires you to selectively cognitively interpret the bible? Is this amazing God you speak of just incapable of clearing communicating what he means? Does he really need somebody to tell him where he got it wrong?

    And of course when you read the Mbombo creation myth you took great care not to literalistically interpret the physical description of Mbombo right ? When they describe him as a giant and white in colour it’s not just metaphorically describing his purity and omnipotence or anything like that but it's definitely a purely physical description. Like when the bible describes the physical characteristics of God.

    You take the literal standard in one case while at the same time arguing that it can’t be applied to another.

    Then you seem to have discovered that the bible contradicts itself. Well done, I hope you don't think that you're the first to notice that.

    “The atheist presumes that the physically observable……..”

    Do they, gee that’s news to me. Looks like your objections to straw men are
    decidedly inconsistent. Looks here we have a whole paragraph of them.
    I’m thinking of all the fields of study and endeavour closed to those poor old atheists of yours. Like palaeontology you could never be an atheist and do that right? I mean just because there’s a fossil doesn’t mean that there ever was a dinosaur. And the law, imagine one of your poor old atheists trying to prosecute a case base on circumstantial evidence.

    If you pointed to a painting and told me a painter had done that I’d have no problem. Where I would have a problem is if you told me that a wizard had waved his staff and shouted abracadabra and just “poofed” the painting into existence.

    “Mbombo and others like him cannot be the ground of the physical universe if they are themselves part of it,”

    Would this be another one of those useful figures that are handy to scare away crows? You know what I mean an humanoid figure made out of straw. Where is it written that Mbombo is the part of the physical universe? That seems to be your very handy literal interpretation of a description of him in Wikipedia.

    As to St. Thomas Aquinas' Five Proofs for the existence of God as I understand it essentially we have:

    The Argument of the Unmoved Mover
    The Argument of the First Cause
    The Argument from Contingency
    The Argument from Degree
    The Teleological Argument

    For the sake of brevity I'd summarise that fundamentally you have first cause arguments and argument from design and argument from degree

    Personally I think the arguments from first cause and design have been done to death and aren't overly impressive. The argument from degree is interesting but I don’t see how the conclusion flows from the premise.