I Don’t Believe in God Either – Part II

Well, I must admit: I am a little overwhelmed by the sudden overflow of traffic to my post “I Don’t Believe in God Either“.  It brought a lot of comments, as I expected, because a 1000 word post is insufficient to deal with such a large topic with all the necessary nuances needed.  I would like to engage with some of the comments on the blog and on Facebook so as to further engage and continue the conversation.

The first is the misrepresentation of my appeal to Pascal.  I appealed to him as a sort of “rebuff” to dilettantism: the idea that “you have to try everything once.”  First, I don’t agree with dilettantism: it has all sorts of internal inconsistencies both logically and ethically.  All I was doing in appealing to Pascal was his idea of “living as if God existed” as important for the dilettante to take seriously if they are going to live by such a standard.  I agree with one friend – to an extent – that Pascal ought not to be used apologetically for the existence of God. I would put forth, however, that Pascal has been grossly misrepresented in his wager as being an argument purely for the assent of the mind.  If one wants a strong critique of that interpretation, read Blondel’s “L’Action”.

In reference to Tom’s comment, I would put forth that really this is a misunderstanding of what I was putting forth.  He is treating the transcendental as part of this world alone still.  I am arguing differently: man’s experience of the transcendent is one aspect, but my argument is that God is not only experienced as transcendent, but that He is, by nature, transcendent to ALL nature.  This is not the nature of the Norse gods or the Flying Spaghetti Monster: their natures are by definition non-transcendent to the natural realm.  By definition the Norse gods etc do not fulfill the demands of the experience of transcendence.  Here is a diagram to emphasize my point:

Tom’s version of reality could be described as this:

________________________

Transcendental Being(s)  \
|                                          \ -> The one reality
\/                                       /
The universe                        /

 

OR another way:

God->Universe->Human Beings

My claim:

God (Total Transcendence)

_____________________________  > Infinite gulf between God and created realm

{The created realm (including angels, demons, etc. according to a Catholic cosmology).}

 

In short, for Thor to be Thor, he cannot be equated to the God of Christianity.  By definition the transcendence is of an infinite stature.  It is also, by virtue of the utter transcendence that God can be entirely present to the world He created: because He is completely Other and completely Greater.  He cannot do this if He is equated to the gods of Norse Mythology.  We are talking about two different orders.  The categories used by the former diagram are the god that I don’t believe in either.  But the issue of my article – and this is where I find that it was either ignored or that I, at least, didn’t make myself sufficiently clear – is that the Norse gods cannot be equated to the transcendent mystery of Christian theism.  If an atheist is attempting to debunk the very mystery of the Christian God, they need to start speaking the theistic terms that we are speaking, but they are consistently being ignored.  This is why the discussion is always at a stop: we are speaking of two entirely different realities.  Until the atheist is willing to speak of the realm of completely other, there is no discussion happening.  In short: what I wrote was not a polemic against atheists, but an invitation to dialogue about the reality as it is believed by Christians and other theists.  People like Dawkins, Hitchens, Harris, etc. are attacking a straw man: the god that they define is not the God of Christianity (or Israel: Islam, it is a little different).  Until they are willing to accept the Christian claim as it stands for the Christian, then no conversation will actually happen.  I cannot remember where I read it, but I recall Hitchens once saying that the problem of transcendence is the greatest issue for the atheist to reconcile with his position.

This brings me to another comment on the blog found here.  I would first like to say that to an extent, every debate will have an “us vs. them” mentality.  I have one position, another side has another position.  By the fact of the nature of dialogue and debate, polemics are a necessary element.  It is not necessarily to be taken as an all out war, but we must acknowledge that for debate/dialogue to occur, we must necessarily have differing positions.  And again, I do not find the claim that an atheist ought to take a life of theism seriously to be  unrealistic if they are of the opinion that “you need to try something before you decide for or against it.”  If they don’t hold that position about life, then yes, we ought to be going another direction.  It is simply a statement, as I said above, that there is an inconsistency that I find disconcerting.  If you expect something of others, you ought to live it yourself.

This brings me to my final point with regards to this.  I did not write the article as an apologetic against the atheist, nor did I write it as an argument for theism.  I wrote it simply as an appeal to dialogue: an appeal to the clarification of terms which I find so very lacking in the discussion/debate of God’s existence.  I actually do not think that logical argumentation is the absolute way to go for a variety of reasons.  Ultimately, for the Christian, joy and holiness are the ultimate apologetic for the existence of God and the saving power of His Son, Jesus Christ. It is there that Christians should be beginning.  The initial post was simply to be a reflection on what I found lacking in the discussion about God between theists and atheists.  However, I must admit, it has spurred me on to want to write more articles about it as a series.  That way I can have the nuances I need.  I especially desire to speak about this in regards to Pascal’s Wager.  Though it ought not to be, per se, used as an apologetic, I think it is far too often misunderstood in the contemporary discussions.  I think Pascal is offering something far more challenging than what is presented in most intro to Philosophy classes, or most people’s interpretations of it.  So keep your eyes open.

in Christ

-Harrison

 

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6 Comments

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6 responses to “I Don’t Believe in God Either – Part II

  1. Tom

    If God is completely and utterly transcendent, so that as you describe it there is an “infinite gulf” between Him and the created world… then how can you prove that it’s God there, and not some other infinite being? This is the argument I’m making (admittedly a bit poorly worded); that a being that is completely “other” to one’s reality cannot be positively identified. You’ve written previously that “We cannot grasp Him, we cannot put Him into a box, we cannot define Him completely.” The way I see it, there is no way you can define Him at all.

    And furthermore, I went and took a look at as much Blondel as I could find on the internet, and from what I’ve seen he doesn’t make any compelling arguments for God being the only possibility in his hypothesis, he just assumes it.

  2. Thanks for the comments Tom and your engagement in this discussion.

    I realized, reading your post, that I hadn’t done a good job at listening, so accept my apologies. I still stand by what I have said, but realized that I haven’t clarified my terms sufficiently. I think – and please clarify if I am wrong – that by the word “grasping” you equate “certain knowledge”. I see a table, I “grasp” the existence of the table, its properties, etc.

    If this is so, then I need to clarify. When I say we can’t grasp God, I use grasp in the sense of the table. However, ‘grasping’ and ‘knowledge’ are two different things. We cannot grasp God, but it doesn’t mean we can’t know Him. When I speak of that transcendent experience of God, I say we can’t grasp Him, that we can’t fit Him into our knowledge. God, by nature, is beyond our comprehension. But knowledge is much more nuanced than simply stating properties by observability. Paul Riceour, a 19th (I think) century philosopher talks about man’s two ways of speaking. For example, we can dissect the body, look at its make up, etc. Then there is the idea of my “body pining for my spouse”. The body in the latter sense has a reality to it, a knowledge, and a truth, but one that can’t be dissected scientifically. In short: there are a variety of depths to the realm of knowledge. Some of it is scientific, but science is not the be all end all of knowledge.

    I am realizing that beer may be a better place to discuss all this than blog posts :).

  3. What you are saying here is similar to the arguments laid out by Karen Armstrong in History of God. Basically, “the gods” in the mythological sense represent elements of experienced reality, whereas “God” as the one true God represents a transcendent reality. And basically human civilization shifted from the former conception to the latter in the period she labels the “Axial Age”. That’s not to deny the intricacies of each faith, but rather to point to foundational truths.

    I still have to ask, though: Christ, real, tangible, living son of God? Because his presence seems to trip up your “infinite divide” ideas.

  4. Tom

    Ohhh… I have been a bit overly focused on scientific knowledge, and didn’t really notice, my apologies for that. I would definitely be interested in discussion over beer, just have to find a) the time, and b) the beer!

  5. Pingback: I Don’t Believe in God Either – Part II | Catholic Canada

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