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.

Monday, March 9, 2015

Answering Anonymous African-themed Asks

Since this blog receives so few comments, those who do comment have the great fortune of having their comment responded to in a post unto itself, their witticisms and polemics placed in the cold spotlight, their words dead in my sights and receiving my full attention. You lucky so-and-sos.

Recently I was honored to receive not one but two comments from the world's most prolific commenter by far: the legendary Anonymous. This mysterious entity, seemingly possessing both omnipresence by commenting on every forum out there and omniscience by always being right, is clearly the most superior being out there. If only he'd run for office, the world would surely be a better place. I can only hope there are no imposters out there abusing his august name. 

Or maybe it's from that hacker group Anonymous. If my blog is shut down minutes after posting this, we'll have our answer.

In a post about a year ago, I wrote about how pagan "gods" are fundamentally and categorically different from the Christian concept of God--super powered beings vs. the ground of Being itself--so that the scientifically-based criticisms of those like Richard Dawkins would be quite cutting toward the pagan deities but wouldn't be able to touch God with a ten-meter cattle prod.

Our friend Anonymous commented on this with the following:
"In the mainstream orthodox Christian tradition, when we speak of 'God'..."
Isn't at all where Richard Dawkins is coming from. 
On the other hand the great god Bumba (try Google) seems to be an immortal creator god. But I'll bet you don't believe in him. 
Atheists just go one god better. 
Dawkins is not "coming from" the Christian tradition in his argument, but he is "moving toward" it, as a knight approaches his adversary on the lists. The trouble is, instead of facing his opponent and approaching him head-on, he's at a 45-degree angle, and is liable to crash into the grandstands and make a bleedin' fool of himself. That was my point, which Anonymous seemed to miss: the concept of "God" that Dawkins attacks is not the concept held by Christians.

As to his invitation to a Google search: Wikipedia tells us: "Mbombo, also called Bumba, is the creator god in the religion and mythology of the Kuba of Central Africa. In the Mbombo creation myth, Mbombo was a giant in form and white in color." Right away, Anonymous once again shows that he has missed a key point. If Bumba is giant in form and white in color (and if he vomits out all of creation, as the myth goes on to say), then Bumba has physical attributes, and has a relation to the rest of existence of the Biggest Thing Among All the Things. He has size and color, and apparently an irritable stomach. If this is the case, then he is physically observable. Yet he has not been observed. Thus, we are quite within our rights not to assent to the proposition that he exists.

God, on the other hand, does not have size or color, or any discernible stomach; He has no physical traits, because he is not a physical, material being, and thus is not observable. Now, if God is not observable, and someone states that we can't observe God, this is not an argument against His existence, any more than saying that you doubt the existence of third basemen because you have never seen one on the football field. (It's not an exact analogy, but you get the point.)

Well, that's probably enough for now. We'll save the other comment for another day.