Confusion or order?

“The universe is either a confusion, an intermingling of atoms, and a scattering; or it is unity and order and providence. If it is the former, why do I wish to tarry amid such a haphazard confusion and disorder? Why do I care about anything but how I may at last become earth? And why do I trouble myself, for my elements will be scattered, whatever I do. But if the other supposition is true, I revere, I stand firm, and I trust in him who governs.”

Marcus Aurelius, Meditations, Ch. VI, para. 10, trans. by George Long.

What’s interesting to me is how this illustrates the fact that faith is a choice, an act of will. We don’t know with scientific certainty which of the two options is the true one, therefore we’re free to choose to believe that the universe is aimless, or that it’s ordered. If it’s the former, then why care what happens? In fact, why not leave this life as soon as possible? The fact that we don’t, perhaps betrays us.

Secularists are Christians but don’t know it

For Nietzsche, when modern intellectuals “believe that they know ‘intuitively’ what is good and evil, when they therefore suppose that they no longer require Christianity as the guarantee of morality,” this is a delusion, and in fact reflects nothing more than the historical “effects of the dominion of the Christian value judgment and… the strength and depth of this dominion” even if “the origin of [the] morality has been forgotten”’ (Twilight of the Idols, p. 516).

Think of the contemporary secular academic moral philosopher who appeals to our “intuitions,” the Rawlsian method of bringing moral theory and our “considered convictions” into “reflective equilibrium,” the liberal activist who glibly appeals to the U.N.’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights as if it were something other than a set of sheer assertions floating in midair, and so forth. All of this, for Nietzsche, would merely confirm his judgment that secular egalitarianism is nothing more than a bundle of sentiments inherited from Christianity and incapable of being given a new rational foundation.

Edward Feser, “Adventures in the Old Atheism, Part I: Nietzsche“, Edward Feser blog, June 13, 2016.

Facts About Religion: Why are there no more miracles?

The blog Facts About Religion asks, Why are there no more miracles? FAR asserts that “[m]ost Christians say that the reason God performed such evident miracles in the past … was to prove to everyone that his messengers were speaking the truth, and that his message (the Bible) was a supernaturally inspired book.” I’m responding here since my comments on that blog are usually deleted.

I question whether “most Christians” would say that God performed miracles to prove that the Bible was inspired. I for one have never said that, nor heard any other Christian say it. I am also not aware of the Bible recounting a miracle that was performed to affirm the veracity of a written text.

To say that God performed miracles for one purpose is to overgeneralize. God had various reasons for performing miracles, at various times and places. For example the Ten Plagues of Egypt were miraculous, yet they had nothing to do with proving the inspiration of the scriptures. They were performed to prove to Pharoah that Moses had come from God, and to enforce God’s demand that the Hebrew slaves be set free. The deaths of Ananias and Sapphira were also miraculous (Acts 5:5), but they occurred as a punishment for sin, and not to prove anything to anyone. Jesus is often said to have performed a miracle out of simple compassion (Mk. 8:2; Mt. 14:14; Mt. 20:34, etc.).

FAR asks further, “[W]hy would God stop performing miracles today, in a time when billions don’t believe his message, specifically because they have never seen a miracle to authenticate it? ”

FAR’s question assumes that miracles are part-and-parcel of the Gospel, and that no one can be expected to believe in God or in Jesus without having seen a miracle or two. But faith, by definition, comes not by the flesh but by the spirit. To put it another way, faith comes by grace, not by science; “science”, in the sense in which I am using it, meaning “sure and evident knowledge obtained from demonstrations”. According to St. Thomas Aquinas, science and faith are equally certain, the difference being that science is certain about things that it sees, whereas faith is certain about what is unseen (cf. Heb. 11:1): “Now those things are said to be seen which, of themselves, move the intellect or the senses to knowledge of them. Wherefore it is evident that neither faith nor opinion can be of things seen either by the senses or by the intellect.” (See “St. Thomas Aquinas on faith and doubt“.)

To say that, if the Christian Gospel is true, then God must necessarily prove it by performing modern miracles, assumes that faith is obtained through sight. But in that case, faith would no longer be “the conviction of things not seen” (Heb. 11:1). In other words, faith would be science and no longer faith.

All of this is aside from the fact that faith is more than mere belief in God’s existence and in his power. Faith is also trust in God, the conviction that he is good, that he loves us, and that he is so trustworthy that we may lay down our lives in reliance upon his promises. Some people saw Jesus’ miracles and yet still were not moved to faith. They saw some kind of power but still did not believe it was in their best interests to follow him — either that, or they were not willing to repent of their sins. Miracles don’t automatically change hearts, minds and wills.

Silly capitalization games

What is the point of an atheist spelling “God” in lowercase? To show that he doesn’t believe in him? But in common punctuational parlance, spelling something in lowercase doesn’t mean that you don’t believe in it. It just means that it’s a common noun rather than a proper noun. So “god”, in accord with punctuational convention, means you’re referring to any one of a number of gods rather than any particular one; whereas “God” signifies reference to the Judeo-Christian God in particular.

I don’t refuse to capitalize things I don’t believe in or like. I capitalize “Narnia” though I know it’s fictional. Likewise “Harry Potter”. I don’t refuse to capitalize “Adolph Hitler”, though I despise his memory. Nor do I spell “Allah” in lowercase, nor “Muhammad”, nor “Martin Luther” for that matter. Heck, I even capitalize “Satan”.  : )

Facts About Religion: Where did God come from?

The blog Facts About Religion (FAR) asks, “Where did God come from? Why does he exist? How can it be that something as incredibly sophisticated as an intelligent mind ‘just exists’ without a creator, a cause, or an origin story?”

The question “Where did God come from?” is really asking “What caused God?” But from the Christian perspective, this gets the question backwards. God is the answer to the question of what caused everything else. If God has a cause then we would assume that whatever caused God also caused everything else, which would make that thing God. So you see that God is that beyond which you can’t get any further in looking for causes. Something must have caused everything else, or everything else would have no cause and therefore would not exist.

We don’t say that God “just exists”, we say (as FAR notes further on) that he must exist, since anything exists. This may be hard to understand, but what’s easier to understand is that something must exist necessarily, or nothing would exist now.

FAR asks, “If its possible that a non-physical intelligent mind can ‘just exist’ as a brute fact, is it possible that the non-physical laws of physics ‘just exist’ without a creator? Why should a non-physical person be more likely than a non-physical law?”

We should note that the laws of physics are not laws in the sense of human laws, which are indeed non-physical directives imposed on human beings.

The laws of physics, on the other hand, are not non-physical directives which command physical objects to act one way or another. Rather, a law of physics is simply an observation of what physical things do. When you drop a ball, it falls to the ground. We call this the Law of Gravity, but really all it means is that physical objects are attracted to each other. As Wikipedia puts it, “Physical laws are typically conclusions based on repeated scientific experiments ….”; “Some ‘scientific laws’ appear to be mathematical definitions ….”. Thus, physical laws are not causes of physical occurrences, but are merely descriptions, arrived at by the physical sciences, of how things are:  “The production of a summary description of our environment in the form of such laws is a fundamental aim of science.”

If by a “law of physics” you mean something that is a direct cause of physical phenomena, then you’re not talking about a law of physics but rather a force, such as “Frictional Force, Tension Force, Normal Force, Air Resistance Force, Applied Force, Spring Force, Gravitational Force, Electrical Force, Magnetic Force.” But these obviously are physical forces, not non-physical laws.

FAR asks, “For the philosophically erudite, since God is defined as a metaphysically necessary thing, is it possible that the laws of physics are a necessary thing? Why should a non-physical person be more likely than a non-physical law?”

“Necessary” doesn’t mean “likely”, it means “impossible not to be”. Something must exist necessarily in order for other things to exist at all, and whatever that thing is, we call God. He is called necessary because he is existence itself, and therefore cannot not-exist. Physical forces do not fall into this category, nor the entire universe for that matter: They are not “existence itself”, and you can’t say of them that it is impossible for them not to exist. Some scientific theories, indeed, posit the previous nonexistence of our universe, as well as its future nonexistence. Whereas God is defined as “necessary existence”, the universe can’t exist necessarily even in principle.

What determines God’s nature?

The blog Facts About Religion asks, “[W]hy is Gods nature like A, and not like B? What determines Gods nature? (And if the pat answer is ‘well God determined his own nature to be Nature-A, not like Nature-B’ why did he determine Nature-A instead of Nature-B?'”

Undoubtedly there are better answers, but here is mine:

God must be as he is because if he were to change in any way, he would no longer be perfect, and therefore no longer God.

Suppose you had drawn a perfect circle and someone asked, “Why does the perfect circle have to be perfectly round? If it’s because that’s its nature, then why is it the nature of a perfect circle to be perfectly round instead of imperfectly round? or perfectly triangular?” Quite simply that’s just what a perfect circle is:  It’s the nature of a perfect circle to be perfectly round instead of imperfectly round, because if it were imperfectly round, or if it were triangular, it would not be a perfect circle.

Similarly, if God were not e.g. perfectly powerful (not limited by anything outside himself) or perfectly actual (not dependent on anything outside himself), he wouldn’t be God.

In what way could you change God such that he would still be perfect? This is like asking, in what way could you change a perfect circle such that it would still be a perfect circle? You can’t. Any change in the circle (that is, the circle in its essence as a circle, disregarding what color ink it’s drawn in, or how large it is, etc., which are accidental, not essential properties of a circle) could only detract from its perfection and therefore make it no longer a perfect circle but an imperfect one.

By the same token, any change in God could only detract from his perfection and would therefore make him no longer God.

An argument for God’s existence

I guess this is basically the argument from efficient causes, but rephrased in a way that occurred to me in the context of a discussion. Feel free to offer corrections:

If everything is caused, then there is nothing left to be the cause. But if there were no cause, then there would be no effects and therefore nothing would exist. Therefore, there must be two classes of things: On the one hand, that which is caused, and on the other, that which is uncaused. But everything in the universe is caused and therefore goes in the first category. What’s left goes in the second. What exactly is in the second category? Whatever it is, it’s not anything physical or it would be part of the universe. So we’re left with an immaterial, uncaused being who caused the existence of everything in the universe.

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Facts About Religion: If purpose comes from above, where does God get his purpose from?

The blog Facts About Religion asks, if we’re dependent on God for our purpose, then who gives God purpose?

But the contention of Christians and other theists is not that “no one can invent his own purpose” or that “every being must receive his purpose from a being above him”. The contention is that God, being the origin of all that exists, is the only one that can give meaning and purpose to our life.

The basis for this contention is that we are contingent beings. This means that we can either exist or not exist, and that we are dependent for our existence on things outside ourselves. Not even an atheist can deny this.

Since we don’t even receive our existence from ourselves, it stands to reason that we can’t get the reason for our existence from ourselves.

God’s case is entirely different from our own. Since he is the origin of all things, he must exist, and does not depend for his existence on anything outside himself. It stands to reason therefore that he is not dependent for the reason for his existence on anything outside himself.

Facts About Religion: Does God Have Free Will?

The blog Facts About Religion asks “If God Cannot Act Contrary to His Nature Can He Have Free Will?” The blog author writes, “Most people define ‘free will’ as having a genuine choice between multiple options. For example, in a given situation it would be possible for a truly free being to have a genuine choice between (a) telling a lie or (b) telling the truth.” In short, he argues that since God can’t lie he lacks free will.

Here is my comment in response, which I am posting here since, as noted previously, my comments tend to be deleted on that blog:

The answer to the question whether God has free will, depends on how you define “free will”. You are defining it as the ability to do evil, specifically to lie. But “freedom” generally is defined as “the power or right to act, speak, or think as one wants without hindrance or restraint”.

The only way God’s inability to lie would imply lack of freedom on his part, is if lying were something that he wanted to do, but that something or someone were hindering or restraining him from doing so. But on the contrary, God has no desire to lie, and there’s no good reason to think that he could possibly ever want to lie.

“William Lane Craig offers an insightful thought experiment to demonstrate that one need not be able to choose B in order to make their choice of A free and meaningful:

“‘Imagine a man with electrodes secretly implanted in his brain who is presented with a choice of doing either A or B [for our purposes, we’ll let A stand for good and B stand for evil]. The electrodes are inactive so long as the man chooses A; but if he were going to choose B, then the electrodes would switch on and force him to choose A. If the electrodes fire, causing him to choose A, his choice of A is clearly not a free choice. But supposed [sic] that the man really wants to do A and chooses it of his own volition. In that case his choosing A is entirely free, even though the man is literally unable to choose B, since the electrodes do not function at all and have no effect on his choice of A.'”

Quote from question submitted by “Jason”, Q&A with William Lane Craig, Freedom and the Ability to Choose Evil, http://www.reasonablefaith.org, May 12, 2008.

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