Can my idea of God “live long and prosper”?

My post on mystics and atheists got a lot of attention. Dale Tuggy has responded (and the ending of his post inspired the title of this one).

In response to his last question, I like Hans Küng’s way of putting it – that God ought to be thought of as “at least personal” rather than impersonal, but also as “more than personal” since God’s existence transcends the level of reality on which we experience personhood.

In other words, we need to find ways of emphasizing that, when we talk about God, we are talking about a reality greater than we are, and we cannot do so by merely saying either that God is something less than we are (impersonal) or something that we are (personal).

On the question of whether “God did it” should be used as an explanation for anything, it is noteworthy that we have no events within the universe which provide unambiguous evidence of some sort of miraculous divine action. We have stories about seas parting in the past, but we do not have a contemporary case of a sea parting and slaves being freed as a result that we can point to and say, “Here we have something that cannot be explained in terms of the natural world as we understand it.”

This connects with my statement that the live options for theist trajectories seem to lie either in Deism or panentheism. One can say that God set the whole thing in motion, or that God is at work in the entirety in all its natural occurrences. But to say that God once parted seas and flooded worlds and now helps Americans find parking spaces is, in my opinion, a move backwards and not forwards in our theological thinking. Indeed, that there are religious believers who will deal with the problem of evil by saying that God does not intervene to prevent genocides and rapes and starvation on a grand scale in order to allow room for free will, but who will then thank God for intervening to get them a job or help them find a bargain at the mall, is not merely disturbing but truly sickening.

There is a lot of interesting food for thought in Dale’s post and so I hope that there will be some discussion there and also here. Another commenter in the aforementioned post recommended reading about “Ultimism” by J. L. Schellenberg, and so that also seems worth mentioning.

  • Heyzeus14

    There may not be evidence that would convince everyone and self-evidently point to special divine action, but I disagree that there isn’t very strong and suggestive evidence from the present day. Craig Keener’s “Miracles” documents quite a few cases of the kind you seem to want: spectacular healings, raising from the dead and even nature miracles, and all from contemporary witnesses, who in many cases are not uneducated, superstitious people.

    I don’t think that there was a global flood myself, but even supposing there were, what is inconsistent about claiming that God acted differently in the past than in the present? After all, according to the Bible God promises after the flood to never again do something like that, and that while the Earth itself endured the regular cycle of seasons would never cease. In fact, it seems inherent in the very concept of a personal God (or rather, a not-impersonal God:) that His mode of providential interaction with the world would ‘evolve’ in history.

    I also don’t think the options are limited to Deism or panentheism. As I just commented in the Facebook conversation, classical theism has always maintained that God is both creator and sustainer, and that he interacts with the world through his concurrence with secondary causes. And this is not inconsistent with omnipotence, because it would make sense that God would create secondary causes already fully equipped to make happen what God wants to happen, including very spectacular things like parting of seas, etc. and the best way to conceive of omnipotence is diachronically, i.e. nothing will ultimately frustrate God’s purposes.

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/exploringourmatrix/ James F. McGrath

      Well, there is some difficulty in emphasizing God’s unchanging character and at the same time insisting that God did things differently in the past.

      It isn’t clear why believing in miracles ought to involve going over the abundance of dubious claims made by people in order to sift out one or two that might just possibly be legitimate. When I was in a Pentecostal context, I was persuaded that miracles were happening all the time. I view my own experiences in that period very differently now.

      • Heyzeus14

        Where is the difficulty? It is God’s character to always be just, loving, etc. but how exactly that plays out will depend on what is going on in the world at the time, and what stage of God’s providential plan we find ourselves in. God doing things differently does not stem from changing character, but from a changing situation.As for the miraculous claims, you would see from the book that there are not just one or two possibly legitimate cases, but many featuring highly educated, sober witnesses (often multiple ones). But even supposing the ratio of dubious to legitimate claims is high, I would think it highly worthwhile to find them, just like it is worth sifting through many dubious claims of effective medicines to find ones that actually work.

        • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/exploringourmatrix/ James F. McGrath

          I don’t think that claiming that God set his people free from oppression in the past but subjected them to the Holocaust in the less distant past can be explained away in terms of a changing situation. The Book of Job emphasizes the problems that arise when we insist that the world must make sense in terms of our theological axioms. I think it is far better to admit that we do not understand, than to try to show that genocide can be in keeping with God’s love.

    • http://lotharlorraine.wordpress.com/ Lothar Lorraine

      I think this hugely depends on our epistemology.

      I think we have decent and normal evidence for a SMALL number of miracles, UFO encounters and other paranormal stuff, but we don’t have by any means extraordinary evidence.

      Do extraordinary claims demand extraordinary evidence?

      And if so, is the existence of another realm very unlikely to begin with?

      Using a normal standard of evidence (the same used in a court dealing with drug traffic) would lead to the conclusion that in some cases, people have encountered another realm of existence which is populated by strange creatures.

      By if you consider the existence of such a realm extremely unlikely to begin with, you won’t feel convinced by the evidence because it is normal and not extraordinary.

      So epistemology matters a lot while investigating miracle claims. It is not as easy as most believers and Skeptics think…

      Cheers from Europe.

  • Chris Eyre

    I’ll see your references to Q and raise you Douglas Adam’s mice. Which have the interesting feature of being at the same time infinitely greater than us and also substantially less, depending on viewpoint. Not that I don’t appreciate the references to Q, who, as a God-like being, starts looking rather like seriously BCE Biblical concepts of God on occasion.
    I’m entirely with you in dismissing present day miracles; I’ve spent too much time hanging around scientific rationalists in front of whom you could actually part the Red Sea today, and they would still find the rationalistic explanation for it, and that would be how it happened.
    I’m not sure that playing with philosophers is worth the effort unless you’re a philosopher yourself, but Hartshorne seemed to me to do a pretty good number on Omnipotence and Omnipotence in “Omnipotence and other Theological Mistakes” from which I don’t think Plantinga managed a recovery. The only “Omni” I can live with is Omnipresence, which (as a panentheist mystic who tries to be Christian) I can’t avoid.

    There may be some mileage in a variant of the “Ultimism” ideas in viewing God as a limit condition of qualities such as power, knowledge and goodness; there can be no greater in actuality, but one can conceive of greater, just as one can conceive of a speed greater than that of light or a time before the Big Bang.

  • http://lotharlorraine.wordpress.com/ Lothar Lorraine

    But to say that God once parted seas and flooded worlds and now helps
    Americans find parking spaces is, in my opinion, a move backwards and
    not forwards in our theological thinking. Indeed, that there are
    religious believers who will deal with the problem of evil by saying
    that God does not intervene to prevent genocides and rapes and
    starvation on a grand scale in order to allow room for free will, but
    who will then thank God for intervening to get them a job or help them
    find a bargain at the mall, is not merely disturbing but truly
    sickening. ”

    Yeah it is true but gratitude and thanfulness seem to be hard-wired in our brains and psychologists have shown it does us good to be thanful.
    Is it just a trick of evolution to get us to have more offsprings?

    There is probabably nothing wrong to say “Lord, I am happy to have find a parking place” it is just the expression of a legitimate emotion to the Maker of everything.

    But “thank you Lord for this” might be quite selfish if you forget the children starving at the same time.

    • beau_quilter

      It’s trick of evolution that we taste our food, but knowing it doesn’t make the honey less sweet to me.

  • Deist1737

    Thanks for a thought provoking article. As a Deist, I believe all our innate God-given reason and Nature tell us is that The Supreme Intelligence/God exists. That’s it. Beyond that is only speculation. Some Deists believe God may intervene in human affairs and other don’t. And those who do believe in intervention by Providence say, as George Washington did, that “Providence is inscrutable.” We should focus our energies more on working to make the world a better place than on trying to focus on things we’ll probably never be able to figure out. I don’t mean we shouldn’t discuss them, but we shouldn’t make them a priority. Discussing them is interesting and thought provoking while working to improve the world is fulfilling and gives meaningful purpose to our lives.

    Progress! Bob Johnson
    http://www.deism.com


CLOSE | X

HIDE | X