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Weak Analogies Don’t Prove God

don't use weak analogies for Jesus beliefI’d like to suggest an analogy that Christians would do well to avoid.

Here’s one instance of it.

A man found the girl of his dreams. She was intelligent, beautiful, and she loved him. He was convinced that she was the perfect mate. He wanted to marry her. But he never asked her. So, they were never married. Wanting to be married doesn’t make it so. You have to decide and then act.

Our situation with God is something like that. We feel the God-shaped vacuum. We desire relationship with him. We hear that Christ’s sacrifice makes that relationship possible by paying the price for our wrongdoing.

But the relationship will never happen unless we decide and then act.

As Beyoncé observed, “If you like it, then you shoulda put a ring on it.” Take the plunge. Make a leap of faith and commit to Christianity.

I don’t find the story compelling, but that’s not my point. My point is that I don’t find the story logical. What’s the girlfriend doing in the story? How is that relationship relevant? Jesus is like the perfect girlfriend … that you just never get around to committing to? And if you’re shy or noncommittal, couldn’t your girlfriend (or Jesus) suggest getting married?

No, this story is not at all what the Christian claim is like. Here’s a better parallel:

A man wanted to settle down with someone special, and his friend Paul told him about a girl he knew, Diana. Paul described her as intelligent, beautiful, caring, and the perfect mate. The guy was eager to meet her and asked Paul to arrange it, but Paul kept giving excuses—she was busy, she had to reschedule, she was out of town, and so on. But Paul said that she was also eager to meet.

As our hero continued to ask about the mysterious Diana over subsequent days, Paul responded with more excuses and gave her increasingly New Age-y attributes: Diana had lived past lives, she could sense the future, she could move things with her mind. And then ever-more fanciful skills: she could materialize objects, she could heal in seconds after an injury like Wolverine, she could fly like Superman.

Our hero has now lost interest. This tale sounds like an invention, even like fiction. He doesn’t imagine that Paul would deliberately lie to him, but Paul’s story has few characteristics of an authentic biography.

Why should he imagine that Diana exists, especially when she looks invented and his pleas for evidence turn up nothing? Wonder Woman doesn’t exist; the Wicked Witch of the West doesn’t exist; why imagine that Diana does? Yes, the man really wants a great woman in his life, and yes, this one sounds pretty amazing. But why imagine that she even exists?

And that’s the problem with these “Jesus is like” or “God is like” analogies. The least interesting feature of the Christian girl-of-his-dreams story is that the girl actually existed. Well, duh—it’s hardly a remarkable claim.

And yet existence is the central feature of the claim about Jesus or God. Somewhere very early in that story must be some variant of, “Okay, I know this sounds pretty fanciful. I know God sounds just like all those other gods that we both agree don’t exist. But this one’s different! Let me tell you why.”

Don’t pretend that one’s relationship with a person is like that with God. Christians should avoid this analogy.

I choose not to draw vast conclusions
from half-vast data.
— Dr. Jerry Ehman

Photo credit: Wikipedia

About Bob Seidensticker
  • http://theophor.us Ignatius Theophorus

    If it were 100% correct, then it would not be an analogy. It would actually *be* that thing.

    While I agree that there are certain problems with the “it isn’t a religion, it’s a relationship” crowd (not the least of which is that these people often do not profess a correct understanding of the words “religion” and “relationship”), there are many, many different analogies for the relationship between God and Man: children/parent, masters/servants, husband/wife (and we are the *women* in that one), lawgiver/law receiver, creator/created. All of these have their problems and if you take any of them to the extreme you find something which is far from Christianity.

    Taking metaphor and metaphorical talk as exclusive truth is straw man at its most obvious.

    • http://theophor.us Ignatius Theophorus

      I think it also might be a good idea to point out that most of the time the purpose of such an analogy is description not advocation.There is a little more of an apologetic bent to the instance you cited, but that is far from the norm. Its argument is part of an overall “God fills an emotional need” statement, it does not stand on its own.

      “God to man is like man to potential spouse” reminds me of the analogy made famous by St. Patrick. “God is like the clover, three leaves in one plant” is not so much a “You should believe in Christianity because I have a neat little way of illustrating the Trinity” as it is a, “this is one particular aspect of Christianity which I feel can be better explained by simile.”

      • Bob Jase

        I’ve found my share of four leaf clovers – do I get an extra god?

        • http://theophor.us Ignatius Theophorus

          1. Patrick used a shamrock, not a clover.
          2. Not relevant.
          3. Not really funny.

        • Alan

          It’s kind of funny – I mean once your silly enough to postulate three, why not give some lucky folks a fourth (ha, get it, ‘lucky’ like a four leaf clover…)

      • Bob Seidensticker

        That’s an interesting parallel–the analogies to explain the Trinity also fall completely flat for me.

        I think Christians would be better served by saying that the God/Man relationship is very different from a person/person relationship, and the Trinity is inherently contradictory (to our human minds) and not analogous to any situation that we know of.

        (Though I wonder if quantum physics would be helpful to the apologist: quantum physics tells us stuff that is completely nuts, but true, and Christianity makes the same claims.)

        • http://yashwata.info Roy Sablosky

          Quantum mechanics is internally consistent, unlike any religious claim.

        • Bob Seidensticker

          Yup. Consistent and firmly based on evidence.

          Aside from that, it’s just like religion!

        • http://theophor.us Ignatius Theophorus

          I think Christians would be better served by saying that the God/Man relationship is very different from a person/person relationship, and the Trinity is inherently contradictory (to our human minds) and not analogous to any situation that we know of.

          Any student of theology worth his weight would gladly accept both of those as “true enough”. They’re paradoxes and much has been written to actively prevent people from resolving them.

          As far as I am concerned, “I completely understand the Trinity” is the same as the statement, “I am a pompous [idiot].”

        • Bob Seidensticker

          IT:

          They’re paradoxes

          Maybe they’re not paradoxes, but nonsense. At some point, shouldn’t your brain call a time out to make sure that this whole story actually makes sense? Suppose Christianity was nonsense. What would be the clues that would tell you? It might be something like this 3-but-not-1 and 1-but-not-3 Trinity.

          Or would you simply refuse to entertain the idea that Christianity could be wrong?

        • http://theophor.us Ignatius Theophorus

          Maybe they’re not paradoxes, but nonsense.

          Paradoxes are a part of the universe and should not really put us off.

          At some point, shouldn’t your brain call a time out to make sure that this whole story actually makes sense?

          Simply because I do not understand something that does not mean the thing is non-sensical. There is a logic to it even if you don’t know it. (I actually remember once hearing a very compelling, logical argument for a Trinitarian God-head. Pity I don’t remember it).

          Suppose Christianity was nonsense. What would be the clues that would tell you? It might be something like this 3-but-not-1 and 1-but-not-3 Trinity.

          I would expect that there would be obvious and inherent self-contradiction. I actually do see that in Protestantism. I would even say that I see a bit of that in Orthodoxy. I do not see it under the See of Peter.

          Or would you simply refuse to entertain the idea that Christianity could be wrong?

          I’ve entertained the idea in the past, I might entertain it again. One reason I became Catholic, though, was that the Catholic Church holds the paradoxes to be true in their purest philosophical form. If it could be shown that the Church violated the paradox then I would likely have difficulty continuing to follow her.

        • Bob Seidensticker

          IT:

          Simply because I do not understand something that does not mean the thing is non-sensical.

          Granted. I’m simply saying that you either have concluded that you’ll accept Christianity, without critique, or you give yourself license to say, at some point in your study, “Wait a minute–this looks pretty much like all the other religions. I just can’t believe anymore.”

          There is a logic to it even if you don’t know it.

          So then the Trinity is not a paradox? It’s just a difficult-to-understand truth?

          I would expect that there would be obvious and inherent self-contradiction.

          And you don’t see that in the concept of the Trinity?!?!

          [barfing icon goes here]

          Your common sense is your friend. It’s on your side, trying to help you avoid nutty beliefs (and I’m sure we agree that they’re out there aplenty). When your common sense comes up with a divide-by-zero error when wrestling with the concept of the Trinity, you don’t dismiss that. You don’t just figure that this tradition is right and you’re wrong (how could a human tradition ever be wrong??).

          No, you stop and analyze to see if you’re really being sold a bill of goods.

          the Catholic Church holds the paradoxes to be true in their purest philosophical form.

          And that helps? How?

        • http://theophor.us Ignatius Theophorus

          So then the Trinity is not a paradox? It’s just a difficult-to-understand truth?

          It is a difficult-to-understand-why-it-is-a-paradox. But, as a paradox it is not something we can easily resolve.

          And you don’t see that in the concept of the Trinity?!?!

          Not at all. I see it as a paradox. If something were to step in to resolve the paradox that would be the contradiction. If something were to step in and negate the paradox, that would be a contradiction. Saying that “it cannot exist because it is paradoxical” however, strikes me as, well, unfounded.

          When your common sense comes up with a divide-by-zero error when wrestling with the concept of the Trinity, you don’t dismiss that.

          Common sense doesn’t really hold up to other paradoxes either. My understanding is that most people’ initial reaction to Russell’s Paradox was more like, “No, there has to be a way…” than, “Yep. Can’t be done.”

          And that helps? How?

          If you cannot claim philosophical self-consistency, then what use is your philosophy?

        • Bob Seidensticker

          IT:

          Not at all. I see it as a paradox.

          A paradox is an apparent contradiction. It teases our common sense when it shows us two things that we think are true but that (when we put them together) can’t both be true. With study, we can make sense of the paradox. Paradoxes are what Sherlock Holmes resolves.

          Something that can’t be one because it’s three, but also can’t be three because it’s one, isn’t a paradox. It’s something that the Mad Hatter would say. It’s gibberish.

          Yes, it could be that God understands it but we humans simply can’t. But why go there without a preconception that the Christian view was correct?

          If you cannot claim philosophical self-consistency, then what use is your philosophy?

          Uh, OK. I’m still trying to figure out why “the Catholic Church holds the paradoxes to be true in their purest philosophical form” is somehow laudable.

    • Bob Seidensticker

      IT:

      If it were 100% correct, then it would not be an analogy. It would actually *be* that thing.

      Agreed–they’re imperfect.

      The shoe’s been on the other foot when I see atheist scholars point out the parallels between the Jesus resurrection and the dying-and-rising stories that would’ve been common in the ANE (Dionysus, for example). Apologists like to play the game, “Oh–that’s not at all like the Jesus story” to skirt the problems.

      All of these have their problems and if you take any of them to the extreme you find something which is far from Christianity.

      Agreed, but my point is that these problems are so dramatic that the analogy is completely useless.

      • http://theophor.us Ignatius Theophorus

        Agreed, but my point is that these problems are so dramatic that the analogy is completely useless.

        The point of most of these analogies is the similarities, not the differences. Similarly, “My love is like a red, red rose that’s newly sprung in June” is not talking about the thorns, about the leaves, the stem, or the average temperature of June. Nor is the phrase, “my life is like a melodie that’s sweetly played in tune” speaking of the tuning process, the practice sessions, or the habits of the conductor. It is demonstrating an aspect of something intangible and inapproachable with something that is approachable and commonly known.

        The shoe’s been on the other foot when I see atheist scholars point out the parallels between the Jesus resurrection and the dying-and-rising stories that would’ve been common in the ANE (Dionysus, for example). Apologists like to play the game, “Oh–that’s not at all like the Jesus story” to skirt the problems.

        I don’t think the argument is “that’s not at all like Jesus” as much as it is, “that analogy is not sufficiently like Jesus to have much utility.” The relational analogies will inevitably fall, but they do offer at least a little utility along the way.

        • Bob Seidensticker

          IT:

          I don’t think the argument is “that’s not at all like Jesus” as much as it is, “that analogy is not sufficiently like Jesus to have much utility.”

          And where are you on the dying-and-rising precedents to Jesus? Do you dismiss them as being too dissimilar to have had any chance of affecting the gospel story, or do you think that a culture saturated with a number of dying-and-rising precedents in cultures all around the Ancient Near East casts doubt on Jesus’s resurrection?

        • http://theophor.us Ignatius Theophorus

          And where are you on the dying-and-rising precedents to Jesus?

          At a minimum they are of a different stock. If the Gospels are a copy of the myths, then it is a copy made of entirely different stock from the stories of Dionysus etc. Somehow you have a crucifixion narrative which is superimposed on a book of sayings, which in turn is superimposed on the resurrection story. Hot Ice and wondrous strange snow when compared to the writings of Osiris which have more in common with the Epic of Gilgamesh. I’d actually say that the hagiographical writings from the first five centuries are closer to ANE resurrection accounts in literary style and content than the Gospels are.

          Do you dismiss them as being too dissimilar to have had any chance of affecting the gospel story

          Affect? Perhaps. It is not unheard of for certain non-Hebrew cultural references to have made it into Judeo/Christian literature. Would I be put off if I were to find allusions? Not at all.

          I would find it odd to find a similar account of a crucifixion elsewhere. That would be strange and interesting, if only because the “death scene” is, by my understanding, normally glossed over.

          or do you think that a culture saturated with a number of dying-and-rising precedents in cultures all around the Ancient Near East casts doubt on Jesus’s resurrection?

          But dying-and-rising is hardly the point. Lazarus died and rose, so did the little girl, and the centurion’s servant. The point is death-and-resurrection without outside intervention. That is a good deal more rare (do you have a list of these? (Seriously, not trying to make a point here, but most of the dying-and-rising I can find are of the “person dies and then someone else comes along and brings him back/helps him come back” variety) I assume one must exist somewhere but I can’t find it).

        • Bob Seidensticker

          IT:

          If the Gospels are a copy of the myths, then it is a copy made of entirely different stock from the stories of Dionysus etc.

          Let’s put ourselves into Greece in the 40s and 50s when Paul was busy. Say that you were a Dionysus worshipper who has now become a Christian. Dionysus was killed by Titans as a child, and Zeus preserved his heart, then Zeus brought him back to life through the mortal woman Semele. Suppose the original Jesus story that you heard didn’t include a resurrection–Jesus just died a martyr. Is it possible that in the retelling among you and your Dionysian community that the resurrection would get added in? Heck, if Dionysus could be reborn, why not Jesus?

          If by “different stock,” you’re saying that Christianity came from Jewish precedents rather than Greek, I agree of course. But isn’t the Jesus resurrection story the very thing you’d imagine if you have a Jewish messiah story filtered through a Greek worldview?

          The point is death-and-resurrection without outside intervention.

          Does this describe the Jesus resurrection? I think God intervened in that one.

  • http://yashwata.info Roy Sablosky

    As in previous comments, I agree with you, and I would go farther. Christians should avoid this analogy because by definition, the Father-Creator of the Universe is not a person. I love the sun; I love the ocean; I love trees. But I can’t have a personal relationship with any of those things, simply because they are not persons. Even if God is real and Jesus is God, “a personal relationship with Jesus” makes no more sense than “a personal relationship with the Pacific Ocean.”

    • http://theophor.us Ignatius Theophorus

      by definition, the Father-Creator of the Universe is not a person.

      If we are going by Christian theology, however, by definition God is three persons. I think what you really meant was that God is not a human person, a very different statement.

      • http://yashwata.info Roy Sablosky

        Not a human person? What other kind is there? And don’t say “the god-like kind,” because that is a topic that, by definition, you know nothing about.

        • Alan

          In certain legal contexts corporations are persons, there are those who suggest higher order animals such as Apes and Dolphins are persons (or should be considered as such), ET was a person.

        • http://theophor.us Ignatius Theophorus

          Not a human person? What other kind is there? And don’t say “the god-like kind,” because that is a topic that, by definition, you know nothing about.

          Are you arguing within Christian theology or apart from it? If you are within Christian theology, then “person” more equates to the words “will”, “consciousness”, and “intent” than it maps to “human.” As such, there are divine persons, supernatural-non-human persons, and human persons.

          In your context, however, the word “personal” loses meaning and, as such, it makes the idea of a “personal relationship” intrinsically nonsensical. If “person == human” by definition then it is impossible for there to exist a personal relationship with anything non-human by definition. You’ve defined yourself into a box. If it helps any, you are the only one to have these problems.

          Oh, and all of that besides, it is still possible to have “person” refer to more than just human beings without needing theology. John Locke does it well, “[a person] I think, is a thinking intelligent being, that has reason and reflection, and can consider itself as itself, the same thinking thing, in different times and places”.

        • http://yashwata.info Roy Sablosky

          Am I arguing within Christian theology? Um, no.

          It’s so simple, Mr. T. Just consider about the words, “to have a personal relationship with”. There are no gods (and even if there were, they would be gods, not persons), so you can’t have a relationship with them (to say nothing of a personal relationship).

          Cowalker’s story, with its carefully-placed scare-quotes, is perfect:

          I had a “relationship” with Jesus when I was eight. I talked to Him in silent prayer about my fears and He listened in a reassuring way. I gradually realized that I was playing both parts in this “relationship.” Apparently some people never realize this.

        • http://theophor.us Ignatius Theophorus

          Am I arguing within Christian theology? Um, no.

          You will find that it is difficult to refute a system unless you are willing to at least explore the language used to define that system. Christianity has a vocabulary, one rich in the history of philosophy, that does not match the one you yourself have professed. As such, your condemnatory statements are but straw men.

          There are no gods

          Who are you trying to convince? Certainly not me. Are you trying to make yourself feel clever? Pat yourself on the back for your whit? Obviously if something does not exist it is not possible to have a relationship with it. The problem is that you are speaking to people who believe your statement to be fundamentally false.

          (and even if there were, they would be gods, not persons)

          You have a very limited definition of “person”. Please see Locke quote above for an alternate. Locke would argue that God, even if he is not involved in the affairs of men, is a person nevertheless.

          You can argue that God is not a person because He does not exist. In doing so you are saying that existence is part of the definition of “person”. Many would agree with you on that point. But if you wish to argue that a God that exists cannot be a person because He is a God then you demonstrate that you have little interest in philosophy or philosophical discussion.

        • http://yashwata.info Roy Sablosky

          Christianity has a vocabulary, one rich in the history of philosophy

          Yes, the vocabulary of theology infiltrated philosophy, to philosophy’s incalculable detriment. But theology is not philosophy. It’s not a system, as you claim. It’s an ad hoc agglomeration of pseudo-propositions. You don’t have to be an expert to see that. You just have to understand the English language.

        • Alan

          “Christianity has a vocabulary, one rich in the history of philosophy, ”

          Christianity has a vocabulary rich in highfalutin sophistry designed to wow the intellectually weak, lazy and superstitious.

        • http://theophor.us Ignatius Theophorus

          Christianity has a vocabulary rich in highfalutin sophistry designed to wow the intellectually weak, lazy and superstitious.

          You cannot have an effective dialogue with people if you are not willing to at least speak to them of their beliefs without resolving to polemic.

          As to intellectually weak and lazy what are your standards? Benedict XVI knows 9 languages fluently. How many do you know? John Paul II was an incredibly prolific writer, knew 7 languages fluently, and forever changed the world by helping to bring about the fall of the Communist bloc. Neither of these are intellectually inferior men. The words, “big bang” were coined by a Jesuit. Are you more intellectually active, are you stronger than these? I highly doubt it. But, if you are, surely you must have written a few papers published in major journals that we could look up?

        • Alan

          I know 3, but that really isn’t the point. They may have been very intelligent men, it is unfortuante then that they let superstition drive their inquiry of the world.

          Oh, and the term ‘big bang’ is an awful description of the science and a good example of poor vocabulary.

          As for what have mine has been published, I prefer to comment anonymously so I won’t be sharing that with you, but even if I did it should not impact your opinion of me or my arguments in the least – that would just be the logical fallacy of arguing from authority…

  • Bob Jase

    “A man found the girl of his dreams. She was intelligent, beautiful, and she loved him. ”

    Apparently not enough to propose to him. Maybe she was satisfied living with him without any supernatural ritual.

    • Bob Seidensticker

      And if the two of them had a satisfying relationship, who are we interlopers to complain?

  • Alan

    I thought the analogy was more like a whore and a john – when you (the john) need some quick grace from God (the whore) just toss a few bucks to his pimp (the clergy) and he will hook you up

    • http://yashwata.info Roy Sablosky

      Logically speaking, you could have a personal relationship with a whore, because she is a person. Jesus is more like a RealDoll.

      • Alan

        “Don’t they know they’re making love to one already dead!”
        Fantine – Les Miserables

    • http://theophor.us Ignatius Theophorus

      If I were to call someone you loved a whore, would you be insulted?

      • Slow Learner

        Not if they sold sexual favours for money.

      • Alan

        Depends on the context I would imagine. But of course no analogy is perfect – if it were it would be that thing. I’m not saying your projection of’ God is a whore, just that it is like a whore.

  • jose

    Imaginary friend was a little weird, but God as your imaginary girlfriend is just funny.

    • Alan

      I swear she lives in Canada

    • Bob Seidensticker

      :)

      What if God was as hot as Beyonce?

  • smrnda

    None of the analogies make any sense to me, worst the ones that try to pitch the whole ‘personal relationship’ with god deal. I mean, I have personal relationships. The ‘personal relationships’ that certain believers have sure don’t fit the bill with any personal relationship I’ve ever seen; at least rituals create the idea that gods could be say, honored or worshiped or implored, but they don’t create this illusion that you can get a relationship with some god like the one I have with people I know.

    The other problem is relationships that I have been in have been defined by this thing called ‘equality’ – in fact, equal relationships have always been preferable to me than unequal ones; I was really unable to get along with my parents until I was an independent adult since at that point in time, they quit trying to tell me what to do. All analogies of what the relationship with god can be like are relationships I’d like to stay out of.

    I’ve never understood the ‘god shaped hole’ argument. I mean, I’ve always had people in my life who made me feel loved and accepted, and from what I see, god’s a poor substitute for a supportive social circle. The other thing is that god, if god was a person, would probably be kind of boring. I mean, god doesn’t grow, change, overcome obstacles, anything that makes a person interesting.

    I could possibly see some merit to a vision of god that is distant from us, or a god that is so different that a relationship is impossible.

    • http://theophor.us Ignatius Theophorus

      None of the analogies make any sense to me, worst the ones that try to pitch the whole ‘personal relationship’ with god deal

      I’m inclined to say that one of the major reasons that particular analogy fails is because it is yet another one of those johnny-come-lately pop theologies. It is based off of something quite ancient, but it is like traditional British cuisine: they took something good and boiled the heck out of it until it was wholly without flavor or much nutritional value.

      I could possibly see some merit to a vision of god that is distant from us, or a god that is so different that a relationship is impossible.

      My bet is that most of the Eastern Church (and many Catholics, but more theologians than lay people) would say your view of God is closer to the truth than the “personal relationship” crowd. One of the Orthodox/Oriental Church’s (perhaps the RCC too, but I have not read/heard anyone put so bluntly) criticisms of Protestantism, and Evangelicalism specifically, is that the primary relationship with God is a religious relationship, not a personal one. We relate to God corporately more than we relate to him individually. We relate to God as a community and not as individual believers. We are a Church with many members, not many members with a church. Indeed, one of the major points the Eastern Fathers have tried to make is that the only way we can approach relating to God is through actions which are utterly foreign to personal relationships.

      I do realize that I say this at the same time that I say that the analogies are at least partially appropriate. And I still think they are, after a fashion. I think the difference is that when I speak of the “Divine Spouse” I am speaking of something more etherial, something infinitely more mystical, than they are when they speak of “God is my girl/boyfriend”. It is my experience that these people, if they stop at that shallow analogy, will only have a very shallow concept, and an even more shallow relationship, with God.

      • Bob Seidensticker

        IT:

        yet another one of those johnny-come-lately pop theologies

        What does age say about truth? Maybe Christians have had it all wrong, and this pop theology finally put the pieces in the right order. After all, Christianity was originally just another form of Judaism, and Jews of the time could rightly mock it by imagining a God who only now got his act together and sent the right messenger.

        • http://theophor.us Ignatius Theophorus

          What does age say about truth?

          In philosophy age often brings merit. That is less true in science.

          But even if that were not the case, and even if the theology were not pop, and even if it were true, the theology is johnny-come-lately.

          Maybe Christians have had it all wrong, and this pop theology finally put the pieces in the right order.

          Possible, but doubtful. I could expound on the theological implications of tradition-informed-theology if you like, but that really is a separate conversation.

        • Bob Seidensticker

          IT:

          the theology is johnny-come-lately.

          This doesn’t resolve my question. So it’s new–so what? Why use “it’s new!” as an insult? We’re looking for the truth, right?

        • Alan

          “In philosophy age often brings merit.”

          No it most certainly doesn’t. Arguing from age is as much a logical fallacy as arguing from authority. To suggest otherwise shows you don’t really understand philosophy.

        • http://theophor.us Ignatius Theophorus

          Arguing from age is as much a logical fallacy as arguing from authority. To suggest otherwise shows you don’t really understand philosophy.

          Whether we are likely to agree with the principle, a philosopher, provided that he has not been supplanted, will receive a higher standing than their younger counterparts. Modern philosophers, after all, will still consult Plato and Aristotle before consulting Satre. Similarly, philosophy texts are, as a rule, oriented with the more ancient opinions first and the later opinions towards the end. And I would also hazard to guess that if a philosopher were to try to argue in favor of some opinion refuted by Hume or Descartes, that philosopher would be readily mocked far more than if it were something disproven more recently. Is this not favoritism?

        • Alan

          As I said, you clearly don’t understand philosophy or how modern philosophy is done if you think “Modern philosophers, after all, will still consult Plato and Aristotle before consulting Satre.”

          The only reason older philosophers would come first in a text book is because it is structured around the history of philosophy in that topic – not because that is the best way to actually do philosophy. If someone where trying to argue any opinion that has been conclusively shown to be in error, whether by Hume or a PhD student they would be equally mocked (of course there is plenty of gray area where ideas ‘refuted’ by Hume and Descartes may or may not be believed to have been adequately refuted but that’s neither here nor there).

        • http://theophor.us Ignatius Theophorus

          This doesn’t resolve my question. So it’s new–so what? Why use “it’s new!” as an insult? We’re looking for the truth, right?

          In some senses, it doesn’t really matter. If an idea is correct, it is correct. I criticize it for novelty, however, because it has a pedigree which is divorced from the great theologians, not solely because it is chronologically later. Also, “johnny-come-lately” is a very easy way to express the level of defectiveness.

        • Kodie

          Theology is world-building fiction. It may even have internal consistency, but Christianity does not. It’s like (analogically) watching a movie and in order to enjoy the movie, you have to understand that the characters actually can run from the explosion close behind them and not be hospitalized with burns all over their body, even though in reality, that would never happen. It’s called “suspension of disbelief”. So in order to believe your religion is true, it’s not philosophical because it’s old, it’s just had time to over-analyze why you should ignore the parts that bother you because they don’t make logical, realistic sense.

          The way it’s different is that it claims to be true and culturally distinguishes itself from fiction, so even though parts of it can still bother you, unlike an action movie, you don’t walk away after two hours and go back to your real life where physics applies. Well, actually, most Christians (and other theists) hover between; they use reality when it suits them and excuse themselves from following the bible when it’s convenient, and then hassle everyone else to follow the bible when they think their imaginary friend will hold them hostage to the behaviors of the masses unless they evangelize the crap out of us and prevent laws that make more sense than the trinity and have no effect on their beliefs or personal adherence to those beliefs whatsoever.

          I think most of all, since this is a Christian majority country (U.S.), people don’t seem to notice the similarities between fiction and their beliefs, take it for granted because they have company, but you don’t take other religions to be as earnestly believed by people who believe them – you outright ridicule or fear them for what reason that you can’t recognize in yourself? It’s one of the most ignorant aspects of Christianity to behold themselves as singularly true among all religions, and singularly true compared to obvious fiction we could name… I think we like Harry Potter lately for an example of world-building magical internally consistent never-happening in reality?

          This trying to be “like a philosophy” is another weak excuse. Theology has won its way into academia by tradition and not yet worn out its welcome. Science would have thrown you out of college a long time ago, but culturally, theology still seems important enough to retain, if only for the amount of people who believe it. But it’s a major in the catalog of Lady Gaga, and you laugh when universities introduce such unimportant trifles!

      • smrnda

        I had to laugh at your take on British cuisine – if I find myself in the UK, my first question is “where is the nearest Pakistani, Indian or Middle Eastern restaurant?”

        I’m actually not a believer though was raised in a very nominally Jewish family, and I’m aware that the ‘personal relationship’ (to me) is basically bad pop-theology, and a desperate attempt to make religion seem ‘with it’ and relevant. All said, at best, if there was a god, a person could approach through some sort of ritual or else could be kind of a deist, but that’s the best I can get. I think the whole ‘god problem’ is just impossible to gain sure knowledge on, and I’m incapable of ‘faith’ since I find that I can’t choose to believe anything without evidence, and I cannot construct a test for gods.

        On religion in general, I’m a very concrete oriented person and I am or was a logician and mathematician (well, was, I quit my position to do commercial software) so I’m very insistent on clear, precise definitions and I find too much religious terminology to be too vague to have any meaning. If I ask ‘what does this mean?’ I get more verbose jargon; ask again, I get more. Mysticism, to me, just seems to be the art of using large words to say pretty much nothing in particular so that they can be taken to mean anything.

        Also, there are paradoxes in mathematics, but that’s why I’m a mathematical formalist.

        • http://theophor.us Ignatius Theophorus

          I had to laugh at your take on British cuisine

          I speak of the culinary status of New England (where most of my ancestry is from) in just as high regard. After all, we proudly inherited that tradition.

          I think the whole ‘god problem’ is just impossible to gain sure knowledge on

          I agree. Completely.

          I’m incapable of ‘faith’ since I find that I can’t choose to believe anything without evidence, and I cannot construct a test for gods.

          I will admit: empiricism and deductive thought can only get you so far on some of these questions. I do wonder about “can’t choose to believe without evidence” though.

          I am or was a logician and mathematician (well, was, I quit my position to do commercial software)

          There seem to be a lot of us programmers on these boards. I studied music theory in college and now I build websites.

          so I’m very insistent on clear, precise definitions and I find too much religious terminology to be too vague to have any meaning.

          Many religions are guilty as charged on this issue. I would say that Catholicism is a good deal less so, but “Trinity” is a difficult concept.

          Mysticism, to me, just seems to be the art of using large words to say pretty much nothing in particular so that they can be taken to mean anything.

          I’ve studied the mystics quite a bit and I would say that they are far closer to saying, “everything you know is wrong” than they are to saying “nothing”.

        • smrnda

          If that’s what mystics are saying, then I now feel totally comfortable dismissing them completely since everything that I ‘know’ is built on empirical evidence and that many of the things that I know (or that I count as ‘things known by people’) aren’t just backed up by empirical evidence, but for many things the evidence gets more conclusive as we go along, and in many areas, by applying the knowledge we’ve gained, whether it’s using materials science to build a better bridge, using artificial intelligence to build a better robot or using sociology and economics to build a better government, the knowledge gets results.

          So perhaps the mystics are telling people like me that we only *think* we know how things work and that there’s this other level that I’m ignoring. If a mystic tells me what I know is wrong, I’m going to ask for evidence which can be empirically tested or falsified. If something cannot be tested in those ways, I dismiss it in favor of things that can be. Scientists, engineers, psychologists, doctors, etc. – these people deliver tangible results, and so far, mystics don’t seem to deliver to me. There’s also a difference between a ‘difficult concept’ and an incoherent one, though this isn’t always obvious, but past a certain level of difficulty I tend to just feel it’s a waste, unless the concept addresses something that I know to be real (I would put something like Quantum Mechanics there. Difficult, but I don’t doubt that the stuff it’s about is real.)

          On the choice to believe, I only believe in things that I see evidence for. No choice in that matter; if the evidence is there, I end up believing without any act of will on my part, or even if the fact is surprising or unprecedented. (I was in graduate school for psychology for a while and now and then an experimental result would be surprising; you run tests till you realize it’s not a fluke and you get people to dissect your methodology, and then, voila, a fact I don’t dispute.) I cannot choose to ‘believe’ that god exists any more than I can suddenly start believing that if the government stopped financing education or infrastructure that private entitles would step up and provide them on the same level. Belief is a reaction, not a choice, at least as far as I can tell.

  • Reginald Selkirk

    We feel the God-shaped vacuum.

    He lost me right from the start, but that sounds like another topic.

  • cowalker

    I had a “relationship” with Jesus when I was eight. I talked to Him in silent prayer about my fears and He listened in a reassuring way. I gradually realized that I was playing both parts in this “relationship.” Apparently some people never realize this.

  • Reginald Selkirk

    The church is “the bride of Christ,” so this notion that God is like the girlfriend is gender-confused. You are the girlfriend.

  • http://theophor.us Ignatius Theophorus

    Arguing from age is as much a logical fallacy as arguing from authority.

    I think this also deserves a response on “arguing from authority is a logical fallacy.” It is only a fallacy if the authority is less competent in the matter than the person addressed. If I were to consult Alton Brown about theoretical physics and cite his opinions on the matter, that would be a fallacy. It would also be a fallacy if I cited Stephen Hawking on his opinions of how to make a good soufflé. On the other hand, if I reversed the two there would be no fallacy.

    • Alan

      No, it is always a fallacy to argue from authority. The argument must stand on its own regardless of who said it.

      I’ll repeat again, you clearly do not understand what the enterprise of philosophy actually is though you seem well suited to follow an ‘old’, dogmatically centralized theology.

      • http://theophor.us Ignatius Theophorus

        No, it is always a fallacy to argue from authority. The argument must stand on its own regardless of who said it.

        I’d cite my sources here, but I don’t think you would believe me. But, here are a list of people who disagree with you:
        http://www.nizkor.org/features/fallacies/appeal-to-authority.html
        http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Argument_from_authority
        http://www.fallacyfiles.org/authorit.html
        http://www.logicallyfallacious.com/index.php/logical-fallacies/21-appeal-to-authority
        http://grammar.about.com/od/ab/g/appealauthterm.htm (this one cites W.L. Reese, Dictionary of Philosophy and Religion)
        http://skepdic.com/authorty.html

        You have some hope with this source, which differentiates between deductive and inductive reasoning, but this has largely been a discussion of inductive thought (and, to be frank, we are now wildly off of the original topic: whether it is appropriate to say a Christian is in a personal relationship with God):
        http://www.logicalfallacies.info/relevance/appeals/appeal-to-authority/

        Either way, however, the defined fallacy is only a fallacy when the authority is not competent. Now, you might wish to argue that “appeal to authority” is a non-argument, or that it is a weak argument, or that it really is simply one person building his case on another’s arguments (which are, we presume, sound), but it is not intrinsically fallacious.

        • Bob Seidensticker

          Here’s my take on the argument from authority.

          The problem comes with an argument of the form “Dr. Jones says X, so therefore X is the case.” If Dr. Jones is an authority in the relevant field, his input is relevant, but that doesn’t carry the day.

        • http://theophor.us Ignatius Theophorus

          The problem comes with an argument of the form “Dr. Jones says X, so therefore X is the case.” If Dr. Jones is an authority in the relevant field, his input is relevant, but that doesn’t carry the day.

          I agree (I’ll readily say that I will gladly cite Richard Dawkins as an expert on evolutionary biology, but less so on matters theological), but this Alan character apparently thinks we are both wrong and not competent to argue otherwise.

        • Alan

          To be fair you are right, I was a little loose in my first sentence there and that made my second sentence a non-sequitur. It would have been better for me to have said it is always a weak argument that does not overcome an argument from evidence and tends to be used as a fallacious means of cutting off debate. The key point is still the second sentence – the argument must stand on its own regardless of who said it. And it does not suffice as you said for the authority to be more ‘competent in the matter than the person addressed.’ An argument is not won by weighing the credentials of each sides arguers against one another.

        • Bob Jase

          Arguing from more than one authority is still arguing from authority.

          Please name one theologian who produced tangible evidence that absolutely proved his/her god exists and is the only correct one. Because as far as I know theologians disagree about the nature of their various gods without showing real world evidence making all their positions equally moot.

        • http://theophor.us Ignatius Theophorus

          Arguing from more than one authority is still arguing from authority.

          And we have established, despite Alan’s initial objection, that arguing from authority is a valid approach in certain circumstances. Huzzah!

          Please name one theologian who produced tangible evidence that absolutely proved his/her god exists and is the only correct one. Because as far as I know theologians disagree about the nature of their various gods without showing real world evidence making all their positions equally moot.

          OK. This is wildly off topic. I mean, seriously.

        • Bob Seidensticker

          IT:

          As a fallacy, the argument from authority is often misused. I often see a reference to the scientific consensus as an appeal to authority fallacy (it’s not).

          Citing the conclusions of competent people brings helpful information to the table as long as we don’t delude ourselves into thinking that they are the last word on the subject. This is evidence, not proof.

  • http://theophor.us Ignatius Theophorus

    Oh, and the term ‘big bang’ is an awful description of the science and a good example of poor vocabulary.

    It turns out I was quite incorrect. The term, “Big Bang” was something coined by a British astronomer some years later. The model of the expanding universe, and its origin were, however, first proposed by a Jesuit. The Jesuit got it write, the astronomer is the one who messed up. :-)

    They may have been very intelligent men, it is unfortuante then that they let superstition drive their inquiry of the world.

    So, your real argument is that we are superstitious. Intellectual weakness and laziness are then polemic? But if your arguments are so compelling, then why do you need to be dismissive, bordering on insulting?

    • Alan

      My real argument is that some of you are intellectually weak and/or lazy, some of you need the superstition and all of you use highfalutin vocabulary to make the theology sounds more like philosophy than it actually is.

      As for why be dismissive, because it is more amusing to me – I don’t expect to compel the intellectually weak, lazy and superstitious people in an internet comment box to change their minds but I can at least amuse myself.

      • http://theophor.us Ignatius Theophorus

        all of you use highfalutin vocabulary to make the theology sounds more like philosophy than it actually is.

        Ok. First, the intellectually lazy simply do not use highfalutin vocabulary. They use easy terms because saying anything meaningful takes work. The intellectually weak generally don’t engage in these discussions because they haven’t the strength.

        I do wonder, do you have an example of superstition trying to sound philosophical?

        • http://yashwata.info Roy Sablosky

          do you have an example of superstition trying to sound philosophical?

          This is the very definition of theology, Ignatius. The definition of theology.

        • http://theophor.us Ignatius Theophorus

          This is the very definition of theology, Ignatius. The definition of theology.

          Your addition to the conversation as profound as ever.

        • http://yashwata.info Roy Sablosky

          Argument from sarcasm is even less valid than argument from how old an idea is.

        • http://theophor.us Ignatius Theophorus

          Argument from sarcasm is even less valid than argument from how old an idea is.

          Sarcasm is a means of expressing an opinion. The opinion I was trying to express was that your statement about the definition of theology was defective. I was not advancing an argument beyond that. You understood the opinion sufficiently to know that I disagreed with you, so I would say that I was effective in my attempt.

        • http://yashwata.info Roy Sablosky

          Anselm called theology fides quaerens intellectum or “faith seeking understanding.” But if faith is the basis, understanding is impossible.

          Aquinas said, “Just as the musician accepts on authority the principles taught him by the mathematician, so sacred science is established on principles revealed by God.” But if revelation is the basis, understanding is impossible.

          Theology is rubbish by definition.

        • Alan

          Sure they do. Sounding smart is both easier (for the weak) and simpler (for the lazy) than being smart. People use vocabulary all the time to try and cover up their lack of depth.

          “I do wonder, do you have an example of superstition trying to sound philosophical?”
          Most of Catholic use of ‘natural law’ would seem the most pertinent to us here.

        • http://theophor.us Ignatius Theophorus

          Most of Catholic use of ‘natural law’ would seem the most pertinent to us here.

          I always took that as theology which is paired with philosophy. Since it is a broad topic, perhaps we could be more specific. How is Aquinas’s views on Natural Law fundamentally defective? If his is not then can we be sure that this is not a debate about whether theologians are good philosophers instead of a debate over whether religion and philosophy are contradictory?

        • http://theophor.us Ignatius Theophorus

          Sure they do. Sounding smart is both easier (for the weak) and simpler (for the lazy) than being smart. People use vocabulary all the time to try and cover up their lack of depth.

          And if you actually read the lazy/weak people’s writings, their defects appear pretty quickly. They fail the intellectual equivalent of the Turing test.

        • Alan

          “I always took that as theology which is paired with philosophy. ”

          Of course you do, that’s the point. What it really is revealed theology with a thin veneer to make it seem like philosophy. One obvious example is the Catholic assertion that the telos of sex is procreation in order to justify its take on sexual ethics with a thin veneer of philosophy.

          “And if you actually read the lazy/weak people’s writings, their defects appear pretty quickly. ”

          That they are.

        • http://theophor.us Ignatius Theophorus

          What it really is revealed theology with a thin veneer to make it seem like philosophy.

          Most of those who have written about natural law are as beholden to Aristotle (and possibly Cicero) as they are to revelation.

          the telos of sex is procreation

          That idea has been out of fashion for at least 50 years and it was outright attacked by John Paul II and Benedict XVI. That is a part of sex but the “telos” is “mutual gift of self [in entirety]“.

          in order to justify its take on sexual ethics with a thin veneer of philosophy.

          You can find the same opinions in non-religious philosophy. Cicero comes to mind. Just sayin’.

        • Alan

          “Most of those who have written about natural law are as beholden to Aristotle (and possibly Cicero) as they are to revelation.”

          Uh, yeah Aristotle provided them the vocabulary so they could pretend they were doing philosophy and revelation provided the conclusions they needed to reach.

        • http://theophor.us Ignatius Theophorus

          Uh, yeah Aristotle provided them the vocabulary so they could pretend they were doing philosophy and revelation provided the conclusions they needed to reach.

          And Cicero did nothing to influence things, I’m sure.

        • Alan

          Yeah, I see you miss the point. Bastardizing philosophy and using it as a blanket for your theology isn’t philosophy – regardles of if you are claiming to be bastardizing Aristotle, Cicero, Plato or Averroes

  • http://theophor.us Ignatius Theophorus

    The Jesuit got it write, the astronomer is the one who messed up.

    Wow… Homonym abuse. Sorry.

  • smrnda

    I thought I would weigh in on Aquinas, Aristotle and Natural Law. First, as far as I can tell Natural Law theology looks to Aristotle’s ideas about things having some kind of ‘essence.’ I don’t think Aristotle’s views on physical sciences really hold any weight these days, and from what I recall Aquinas based his ideas on this notion of some kind of ‘essence’ and that an object is good or moral or proper or whatever other positive adjective to the extent that it realizes its essence. (I do recall the word ‘telos’ being used but I prefer to avoid any jargon since I’d rather rephrase things using the simplest terms possible.) The most frequent applications of Natural Law theology I’ve encountered is to argue that homosexual sex is bad because a particular function of sex (reproduction) cannot be achieved through these means.

    All this seems to hinge on some notion of ‘essence’ which I guess I am not persuade is a real thing, or that it matters. I guess I don’t regard the universe as having any sort of design, so I don’t look at things as having ‘proper’ or ‘improper’ uses – I mean, sex can be for reproduction, it can be for fun, it can be for entertainment or profit. I can’t regard any use as superior to any other because it’s really all based on the goals and objectives of who is having the sex; perhaps an analogy is that a flower might be welcome in a garden, but in a field of wheat is a weed.

    So if I understand it correctly, Natural Law theology is based on the idea that since there’s a creator, then the purpose the creator intended for these things is the right one, and regardless of the utility of an action to any humans, other uses of a thing are wrong. It seems like there’s a hint of ‘what is good is found in nature’ to it.

    I do agree that from my reading of it, “Natural Law Philosophy” is somewhat internally consistent, but I think the idea that it’s supposed to be saying “hey, we don’t need the Bible to see what’s right, just look at nature” – a sort of ‘see, it doesn’t require a specific revelation from god that these things are bad.’ I think the problem there is that it’s still assuming that things have ‘essence’ or that there’s some way in which an object is simply an expression of an ideal. I guess since I’m a materialist that’s why I don’t follow.

  • http://theophor.us Ignatius Theophorus

    A paradox is an apparent contradiction

    A paradox a statement or proposition that seems self-contradictory or absurd but in reality expresses a possible truth.

    With study, we can make sense of the paradox.

    Sometimes. But sometimes we can’t quite make it work. The two-envelope problem, for example, presents a difficulty which we have never completely solved.

    Paradoxes are what Sherlock Holmes resolves.

    I’ve been listening to quite a few Holmes stories recently (from Librivox) and I would not say that is his primary activity.

    OK. I’m still trying to figure out why “the Catholic Church holds the paradoxes to be true in their purest philosophical form” is somehow laudable.

    Because their belief does not deviate from their axioms. That is often not the case with other forms of Christianity/other religions.

  • http://theophor.us Ignatius Theophorus

    Anselm called theology fides quaerens intellectum or “faith seeking understanding.” But if faith is the basis, understanding is impossible.

    Aquinas said, “Just as the musician accepts on authority the principles taught him by the mathematician, so sacred science is established on principles revealed by God.” But if revelation is the basis, understanding is impossible.

    Theology is rubbish by definition.

    I think it far more correct to say that they believe that theology is reasoning from a set of axioms which include the Divine. From that perspective there is quite a bit which is understandable and there is quite a bit to say. It seems, however, that you believe that it is impossible to reason from an axiom.

    • http://yashwata.info Roy Sablosky

      It seems, however, that you believe that it is impossible to reason from an axiom.

      You are funny. No, the principle of logic I have in mind is: It is impossible to deduce truths from false premisses.

    • Bob Seidensticker

      IT:

      I think it far more correct to say that they believe that theology is reasoning from a set of axioms which include the Divine.

      Suppose the atheists are right and believers in the supernatural are wrong. How would you know? Believers would be saying the kinds of things that you do–that theology is a noble discipline, that religion is more open-minded because it includes the possibility of supernatural beings, and so on. The world we see is just what a supernatural-less world would look like.

      Your thoughts?

  • SparklingMoon

    We hear that Christ’s sacrifice makes that relationship possible by paying the price for our wrongdoing.
    ———————————————————————-
    It is said that Jesus took upon himself the sins of the whole world and consented to death upon the cross so that through his death mankind might be delivered. God put His innocent son to death to save sinners. We fail to understand, however, that the hearts of people can be purified from the foulness of sin through such a wrongful death and how, by the slaughter of an innocent one, the past sins of others can be forgiven. This is opposed both to justice and to mercy, inasmuch as it is contrary to justice to seize an innocent one in place of a sinner and it is contrary to mercy to kill one’s son in this hardhearted manner. Besides, all this has achieved nothing.

    It is the eternal natural law of God that He forgives sin through repentance and accepts the prayers of the virtuous by way of intercession. But we have never observed that X should strike his head with a stone and this should cure the headache of Y. Then we do not know by what law the suicide of Jesus can remove the inner disease of others. Nor are we aware of any philosophy on the basis of which the blood of Jesus can wash out the inner impurity of anyone else.

    It should be borne in mind that where human nature possesses many excellent qualities, it is also subject to the defect that on account of its weakness it is prone to commit sins and defaults. The Almighty Who has made human nature has not invested it with the inclination to commit sins so that He might condemn man to torment, but so that His attribute of forgiveness might be manifested. Sin is doubtless a poison, but the fire of repentance converts it into an antidote. Thus after repentance and remorse, sin becomes the means of progress and roots out from inside a person the feeling that he amounts to something and stamps out arrogance and pride and self-exhibition.
    { Ruhani Khazain vol. 20, pp. 17}.

    • Bob Seidensticker

      Moon:

      The theology isn’t helping. No one is buying it. How about instead providing evidence that your religion is correct?

  • ildi

    The Almighty Who has made human nature has not invested it with the inclination to commit sins so that He might condemn man to torment, but so that His attribute of forgiveness might be manifested.

    What a sad, sad, insecure deity! Reminds me of “Q” in Star Trek.

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