Tag Archives: Blaise Pascal

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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I Don’t Believe in God Either

Peter Kreeft has a wonderful anecdote about his religious philosophy class.  He asks all the people who do not believe in God to put up their hand and asks them to sit on one side of the room.  On the other side of the class, then, is the theists or deists.  Then he asks the theists to argue against the existence of God and the atheists to argue for the existence of God.  Without fail, Kreeft says, the theists offer the best arguments one can come up with against the existence of God.  Also without fail is the atheists who tend to offer the weakest possible arguments for the existence of God.  In short, Kreeft says, the theist has thought out his position, while the atheist has tended to not really give it the thought it deserves.

I bring this up because I have discovered that this tends to hold true in much of my discourse with atheists.  Reading Karl Rahner for one of my courses – as painful as it was – reinforced in me an idea that has been germinating in my mind for quite some time.  I have come to realize that the god of the atheist is a god I don’t believe in either.  I too want to do everything I can to destroy the idol of that god in the world.  However, unfortunately, the atheist tends to equate that god with the God of the theist or the Christian, and it is in no way the same as the Christian God.

For Christians, God is completely Other.  He is completely transcendent to all creation.  We cannot grasp Him, we cannot put Him into a box, we cannot define Him completely.  For everything we do say positively about Him, we must hold that these words are insignificant in comparison to the reality that is God.  If God is love, He is ever more than our understanding of love, for example.  Yet when you talk to an atheist, they look at ‘god’ as some figure who can be examined, dissected, and parsed.  In short, their ‘god’ is one who is completely comprehensible to the human mind.  And they impose this idol as the god of all theists.  But this is not our God.  God is completely other.

Where is the proof of this?  The most common version is their equation of the Christian God with Thor, Zeus, the Flying Spaghetti Monster, etc.  In short: the gods or God: they are all part of our order of things.  They do not see God as completely other.  If God is not completely other, then I don’t believe in Him either.  A great proof of this is found in Dawkins’ book “The God Delusion”.  He says “the problem about a designer is this: who designed the designer”.  What we see in this is a subtle problem: Dawkins is equating the Christian God as simply the first thing in reality.  The whole of the cosmos and God are in the same reality: God is just the greatest thing of our reality.  But that is not the Christian claim.  Dawkins (and most atheists) set up a straw man.  They rightly destroy that idol.  But they have not ridden us of the Christian God because they have never taken Him seriously.

Yet when we look at Scripture, we see a very different understanding of God.  When Moses encounters God in the burning bush he asks Him a name and God refuses to give Moses a name; He simply says “I AM WHO AM”.  God refuses to give a name because to give a name means you can be manipulated.  Job’s search for meaning in his suffering is also a demonstration of God’s complete Otherness: “My ways are not your ways”.  God is infinitely more than anything in the created realm.  God transcends all that is: He is completely, totally, and irrevocably OTHER.  Thus, when people like Dawkins make the claim “who designed the designer”, it is a demonstration that they are unable to grasp the totality of the mystery, transcendence, and otherness of God.

This brings me to a second point on the topic.  We live in a culture which states that you have to try everything in order to make an informed choice.  My first reaction to this is simply “well, do I have to try murder to see if it’s wrong?”.  It is a rather extreme statement to make, but it is hyperbolic in order to demonstrate the absurdity of what Blondel calls “dilenttantism”: the need to try everything because that is what life is all about.  I bring this up because it leads me to the important of Blaise Pascal’s arguments for the existence of God.  Though I don’t have the space to go into detail about what he says, I simply want to emphasize his idea that it is the most reasonable thing to believe in God because it is the statistically best idea to embrace in virtue of his four possibilities.  What we tend to do is think that belief is purely in the mind.  It is an assent, and that is it.  But Pascal means something by belief.  He means that we ought to live as if God exists.

What does this mean?  It means that our life is formed by God: action is what is primary.  If we live as if God exists, then our minds will be formed to embrace the total Otherness of the reality of God.  What does this mean?  It means that it tends to be the case that those who are atheists have never actually given theism a shot because they have never lived according to what that entails.  Some may have been raised in religious households, but I have found that what they have been raised in tends towards superstition.  Some legitimately reject God as He is.  But my question to atheists is “Have you actually lived as if God exists?”  If not, then their statements are futile and what they say is not based on reality as such.  I would be much more willing to listen to an atheist who actually takes reality seriously.  Unfortunately, I have yet to meet one.

in Christ

-Harrison

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