Friday, March 18, 2016

A Reply To Steven Jake On The Last Superstition - Part 3: The Existence of God

Steven Jake over on the Christian Agnostic blog wrote a review of my review of Feser's book The Last Superstition. So let me now review his review of my review. This is part 3 on existence of god.

The existence of God

The analogy of being and conceptions of God

SJ starts out saying:

Thomists claim that because God must be metaphysically simple—that is, he is not composed of parts either physically or metaphysically—then the characteristics that we attribute to Him must, in God, be identical.

Then how the hell can Jesus be god, along with the rest of the trinity? That was one of the central criticisms I launched against the Thomistic notion of god and SJ doesn't even mention it once. Furthermore, saying god is identical to the characteristics that we attribute to him means that if we attribute jealousy, anger, malevolence, and things like homophobia to him, then god must be identical to those things. There are several things to address here. First, it would mean god is almost anything we say he is, and there is no way to objectively determine what attributes god has and doesn't have. This is likely because god is just an idea in our minds. Second, there is a presumption of Thomism here in the idea that attributes can have ontological status of their own. As someone who rejects Thomism, I see no reason to think attributes are anything more than the mere descriptions we give to physical things or ideas.

This is an extremely confused statement by The Thinker. First of all, the doctrine of analogy is precisely predicated on the fact that we don’t know “how [G]od really is.”

No it isn't confused at all. It's right on the money in fact. Theists don't know how god really is because it's a made up concept that's kept so vague and mysterious that this shields them from any prying criticism or analysis. It's similar to how some Buddhists conceive of Zen. If god were a vague, made up concept, we wouldn't expect to be able to pin god down in detail. So Thomists like SJ need to keep that in mind when arguing the veracity of their deity: if it were false, we'd expect the same problems that we have. And claiming I made a categorical mistake doesn't get you out of this. The Thomistic god is laced with vagueness. That seems to be part of its essence. And this is a god who supposedly wants us to "know" him and created the whole universe for this very purpose. Totally absurd.

Second, an analogous attribution itself necessitates a vague (though not necessarily so mysterious) application—again, that’s what an analogy is. But this should not at all present any problem for the conception of God, unless one simply states that analogies are invalid forms of attribution, which would be an extreme and, I maintain, an indefensible position to espouse. So The Thinker simply doesn’t have a leg to stand on here. His objection is only efficacious if we assume that predicating something by analogy is wrong-headed, and he has demonstrated that this is the case.

No, analogous attributions do not require vagueness. Some analogies are right on the money for describing how another thing is. So this is just false. And this definitely is a problem for the Thomistic conception of god—which is indeed incoherent. If the analogies must always fail to describe how god really is when there is a problem with the very conception of god, then there is no reason to accept the conception of god as coherent and the existence of god as plausible. The coherency of god is literally resting on a faith based position, since it cannot, perhaps even in principle, be demonstrated, if SJ is right. I'm not against analogies—we use them everyday. I'm against incoherent concepts like the Thomistic god being believed as true and organizing one's life around. So SJ's criticism has no leg to stand on here.

The Thinker subsequently attempts to demonstrate the incoherency of the concept of God by bringing up attributes like timelessness, personality, reason, will and obligation, and wonders how these concepts can be predicated of God in a consistent and coherent fashion. But again, the problem, with the supposed lack of coherency of the amalgamation of these concepts, only arises if we try to predicate these concepts literally or univocally to God. But since this is not what the Thomist does, then The Thinker’s objections hold no weight. That is, his objections are predicated on a position that Feser does not hold to, and thus The Thinker is once again caricaturing Feser’s position.

There is no supposed lack of coherency, there is a lack of coherency—in the Thomistic conception of god. And here once again SJ proves my point. SJ's trying to claim that the incoherency of god is only apparent because god's characteristics are analogous, and since analogies are necessarily vague, SJ can sweep this entire problem under the rug using the vagueness of god's analogous attributes! See what that does? The vagueness provides a one size fits all excuse to any problem with god's coherency, thus rendering god unfalsifiable. If not, I'd love to hear how SJ thinks his idea of god is falsifiable. On top of this it makes no sense to claim, for example, that timelessness is not a literal attribute. God is either literally in time or not. That's it. There are no other options. And we can see conceptual problems for each of these possibilities. So I'm not buying this one size fits all excuse SJ is promoting. It's total nonsense. This is basically, "God's ways are higher than ours." What the Thomist is faced with here is the problem of trying to tell skeptics that descriptions of god will always make god appear incoherent, but that's just because they're analogous, and we should just rest assured that god really isn't incoherent even though there's no way to demonstrate that, maybe even in principle. Does SJ really expect me to swallow that?

I understand why Feser’s position might “sound” like occasionalism to The Thinker, but it’s not. By claiming that the universe is at every moment sustained by God only means that God is the ultimate cause, not that God is the immediate cause of everything that exists. This doesn’t mean that when one billiard ball seemingly knocks into another billiard ball that God moved the first and, instead of the first subsequently moving the second, God moved the second. Rather, it means that any causal series will ultimately terminate in God as the first cause.

Which is again why it must be the case the libertarian free will is incompatible with A-T metaphysics. Given the view that god must sustain the universe in existence, then in order to sustain a universe at every moment god would have to be supporting every atom in existence at every moment and that must require a force of some kind, otherwise it's inexplicable why the atom even exists or continues to exist. That means god would have to be the cause of the atom's existence. And since all things that we do and that happen in the universe are atoms interacting according to the Standard Model, it means god must be the proximate cause of everything and not just the ultimate cause. It does indeed mean that god caused one billiard ball to move and caused the next one to move—according to a fixed pattern of regularity. To deny this would seem to force one to view the universe in the Cartesian way—that of a machine that god winds up and that runs on its own without god's interaction with it. But this is a minor point for me and one not not essential to my argument.

Feser does not adhere to this position. He regards substances in the universe as genuine causes who derive their own causal power from the first cause, namely, God. So, The Thinker is simply mistaken here in his attempt to attribute occasionalism to Feser.

I know Feser denies occasionalism and has done so on his blog, but what matters is what his metaphysics logically entails, not necessarily what he espouses. I could espouse materialism and libertarian free will (as some materialists do) but that wouldn't mean that my espoused support for libertarian free will wasn't falsified due to being incompatible with my materialism.

The problem here is that The Thinker has not actually demonstrated any incoherency in the conception of God in the first place—since his attempted objections ignored the doctrine of analogy. And unless, and until, he does so his objections in this vain will continue to be vacuous and question-begging.

Well SJ, you're basically trying to make your god unfalsifiable by using the vagueness intrinsic (according to you) to the doctrine of analogy to absolve you of any incoherency problems. If SJ thinks I'm going to take him serious on this he's out of his mind. This is exactly why people like me think god is an incoherent and therefore a necessarily false concept. And it is perfectly respectable for someone to suspend belief in god, or the possibility of god, until and unless someone can describe how god actually is in a logically coherent manner. And one last question, how is it coherent to say that god is identical to his attributes, but analogously? So god is identical to X, but not? 

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