Saturday, September 17, 2011

‘Critical’ Xns not any more rational than fundys?

Or at the least, they can be just as determined in their habits and depth of motivated reasoning, perhaps.
In one particular case, I know that’s true.

In an extended debate on Google Plus with a new Harvard Divinity School student, I wound up learning a number of things along that line.

I started the thread with this post:
If God wants us to be unselfish and think of others first, then why does he want us to think above him above everyone else?
I explained that this was influenced by an actual religion column by a conservative, mainline Protestant (Lutheran) but nonfundamentalist minister.

Eventually, Mr. Harvard Div responded:
When you base your joke on an if that presumes the Christian God, you leave the question of whether God exists behind. You enter a world that assumes such a God exists.
So, thing No. 1 I learned?

This person thinks a rhetorical device use of “if” thinks that I’m actually committed to the propositional statement that follows the “if.” Either he’s clueless about use of rhetoric, or he’s willing to distort my rhetorical stance that much that he’s willing to engage in intellectual dishonesty. Or a bit of both.

Anyway, he then goes on to make a claim I expected more from a conservative, non-critical-scholarship Christian.
So you seriously think that, granting a creator of everything, literally an author of everything, that one could effectively do good without loving the author?-- and further you believe that so strongly that you think it's not even a passably good argument?
I responded in two ways, saying, basically, I and many other secularists feel that way, and we have nearly 2,500 years of philosophical history behind us.
Plato raised this issue 2500 years ago in the Euthyphro are things good because god(s) say(s) so, or is/are god(s) good because they follow an order of goodness outside it/them? Plato saw way back then that one cannot logically anchor morality on the existence of adivinity. I know many Christian apologists claim he presents a false dilemma, but their counterarguments are weak. … The answer to your question, not just from me, but from many secularists of all sorts of nametags ... is YES. Yes, I believe one can do good without loving a creator, and that logically, claiming a creator is necessary is horribly illogical.
By this point, I wasn’t expecting him to accept Plato’s argument. And he didn’t, with this response:
Plato's gods in the Euthyphro are not all that similar to the Christian God which you were here critiquing, and Christian thinkers have described their God largely in terms that avoid the Euthyphro dilemma.
To which, and other things, I said, basically, “that’s your perception.” It wasn’t the first time in the thread where he made a statement of his opinion, IMO, assuming it was right. 

Beyond that, the Wiki article on the Euthyphro dilemma, linked above, directly addresses his absurd claim that Plato’s thought can’t apply to the Christian god.
The dilemma can be modified to apply to philosophical theism, where it is still the object of theological and philosophical discussion, largely within the Christian, Jewish, and Islamic traditions. As Leibniz presents this version of the dilemma: "It is generally agreed that whatever God wills is good and just. But there remains the question whether it is good and just because God wills it or whether God wills it because it is good and just; in other words, whether justice and goodness are arbitrary or whether they belong to the necessary and eternal truths about the nature of things."
The fact that hordes of Christian, Jewish and Islamic philosophers worried about it shows they damn well knew just how much it applies.

And, the disingenuousness of their response shows that, too. Still from the Wiki article:
Anselm scholar Katherin A. Rogers observes, many contemporary philosophers of religion suppose that there are true propositions which exist as platonic abstracta independently of God. Among these are propositions constituting a moral order, to which God must conform in order to be good. Classical Judaeo-Christian theism, however, rejects such a view as inconsistent with God's omnipotence, which requires that all that there is is God and what he has made. "The classical tradition," Rogers notes, "also steers clear of the other horn of the Euthyphro dilemma, divine command theory." From a classical theistic perspective, therefore, the Euthyphro dilemma is false. As Rogers puts it, "Anselm, like Augustine before him and Aquinas later, rejects both horns of the Euthyphro dilemma. God neither conforms to nor invents the moral order. Rather His very nature is the standard for value.”
The last two sentences, per the analytic philosophy that said Harvard Div student showed elsewhere he (for good reasons, I guess, from his point of view) doesn’t like, are basically meaningless. The last sentence, if anything, accepts the first “horn” of the dilemma, that things are good only because (a) god says they are. 

The second-last sentence, combined with it, if it came out of Paul Tillich’s mouth, would be calling God the “ground of moral being.” But, wordplay can’t escape logic.

He follows with this:
Now, you may find such a God logically impossible, but it is still a mis-representation to say that if this logically impossible God exists, then he couldn't do X because it is logically impossible (ha ha, let's all have a laugh because of how these people didn't think of this). They did think of this. Their answer is fully consistent with the nature of God that they point out; if God's nature is the embodiment of moral value, as in Christian thought, then it follows that to love him is to love what is good.
I realize how wedded he is to Tillich-type thought with that statement. In fact, in an earlier thread, on Facebook, he more directly referenced Tillich, in the same comment as saying how he rejected analytic philosophy.

Yep, and we know why.

Well, sir, Paul Tillich is as dead as god, and so is Tillich’s theology. Really, if that’s the best a supposedly broad-minded student can bring to Harvard (it’s his first semester, so, I won’t blame it ON Harvard yet). In fact, I’m surprised the Wiki article on the Euthyphro dilemma didn’t bring Tillich into the discussion. After all, his theology is largely based on ontology, and, as I’ve blogged before about Anselm’s ontological argument for the existence of god, it fails because …

Here’s that damned analytic philosophy again …

Because it commits a category mistake. “Existence” is NOT an attribute.

And, that said, I know where Mr. Harvard Div’s claim that Platonic gods are not like the Xn god comes from. They’re not “the ground of being.” And, that’s why people like this don’t like analytic theology – because it cuts through the attempted word play to get at actual meaning and content.

Anyway, lesson learned. Any time I should again get in a discussion of morals, ethics or related issues, let alone the “problem of evil,” with a “critical scholar” Christian, I’ll ask questions first. Starting with what they think about Tillich in particular and modern “ontological theology” in general.

That said, and again, it’s meant to be snarky … what if a Hindu claimed Krishna was the “ground of being”? I suspect that at least some “enlightened, tolerant” critical-thinking Christian scholars would first laugh, then go on the critical-philosophical attack.

UPDATE: Speaking of, a Western academic Buddhist, on a FB thread, says "Karma and reincarnation aren't falsifiable claims." So, this isn't even a liberal-vs-conservative Christianity deal, with them being the two sides of the same coin, it's really a religion vs. naturalism claim.

I of course responded that David Hume first pointed out, even if not using Carl Sagan's words, that "extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence." I also, riffing on Ben Johnson's comment about patriotism, politely said the claim "metaphysical stance X isn't falsifiable" was the last refuge of the religious, without adding the word "scoundrel."

For both conservative and liberal Christians, not only is Yahweh jealous – so are his followers. That's the second lesson learned.

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