If God Can Do Anything

Ricky Carvel recently posted on the implication of saying that one believes in a God who can do anything. Such a God can make a universe that offers no evidence of a divine creator. A God who can do anything can make a universe that was planned to be exactly as ours is, and bring it about entirely through natural processes. In other words, if God can do anything, then no evidence whatsoever is incompatible with the belief that God created.

That renders belief in God as Creator unfalsifiable, does it not? It also undermines any attempt to discuss evidence that supposedly points to God, since if that evidence turns out not to point to God, that still doesn't disprove the existence of a God who can do anything.

Nothing that I have said above means that there isn't a God who can do anything. But it certainly would seem that it makes no sense to discuss whether the universe provides evidence of a God who can do anything. Because if any evidence whatsoever is compatible with such a belief, then how can any evidence actually demonstrate it?

This isn't, however, necessarily bad news, except for promoters of views like that of the modern Intelligent Design movement, whose Creator can only work in very specific ways that are constrained by what it is possible for human designers to accomplish. But it is good news as pertains the acceptance of science by people who believe in such a God. John Pieret, in a recent post, notes that there have been many great scientists like Newton who were people of faith, and who advanced our understanding of the universe as a place where processes work without having to posit divine interventions. They have felt free to explore, study, and describe the universe as it is, because their faith in a God who could do anything could not be threatened by whatever they happened to uncover.

If you are a religious believer, and someone talks to you about Intelligent Design, you should give them a sad glance and say, as lovingly and kindly as possible, “Oh ye of little faith.”

 

  • TomS

    I am reminded of Spinoza’s remarks “On Miracles”, Theological-Political Treatise Part 2, chapter VI.

  • beau_quilter

    “A God who can do anything can make a universe that was planned to be exactly as ours is, and bring it about entirely through natural processes … that renders belief in God as Creator unfalsifiable, does it not?”

    As long as the version of “God” one espouses is a God who works “entirely through natural processes”. If, on the other hand, one’s version of God interacts with the universe “supernaturally”, there should be evidence. Unless that particular version of God is hiding his tampering on purpose.

    • histrogeek

      Ultimately it gets into one of the those irritating, turtles-all-the-way-down paradoxes. Which sort of points to the idiocy of trying to figure out the motives and methods of an infinite, eternal being, and why I despise apologetics as the biggest waste of time.

      If you don’t believe in an infinite, eternal being it all sounds, not unreasonably, like a cop out. If you do, it’s just frustrating because it sounds like a cop out and you just can convincingly prove anything.

  • stuart32

    One thing that we should expect is consistency. It would be strange if God chose to use natural processes to create the solar system but then abandoned this method and created life by divine fiat. This would suggest that God started out with one plan, discovered half way through that it wouldn’t do the whole job, and then had to change course.

    • Jason Wills

      That’s totally absurd. God is eternally perfect by definition; He doesn’t make mistakes or change His mind or His plans.

      • stuart32

        That’s why I reject creationism. I assume that you do as well.

        • Jason Wills

          Not sure what you mean.

          • stuart32

            I mean that a God who creates a universe but then has to intervene to create life because natural processes can’t achieve this would be a less than perfect God. You would expect God to create us through evolution.

            • Jason Wills

              Perhaps. But the buck would have to stop somewhere. There simply is no naturalistic explanation for the absolute origin of complex life — and Darwinian mechanisms of evolution cannot account for it.

              • stuart32

                Do you realise how problematic that statement is in this context? God has used natural processe to create galaxies and stars and planets, and then to create most of life, but there is just one thing that can’t be achieved through natural processes: the creation of the first cell. For this God had to step in and perform a miracle. This is a bizarre view of God’s work.

                Of course, your statement is wrong anyway. The explanation is currently unknown, but there is no reason to suppose that we won’t discover the explanation at some stage.

                • Jason Wills

                  Natural processes don’t create a whole universe out of absolutely nothing, let alone complex multicellular organisms. Why are natural processes even processes at all if there is no supernatural agency and intelligence behind them?

                  • stuart32

                    I agree that natural processes can’t explain the origin of a universe out of nothing. In your previous comment you gave the impression that you accepted a natural explanation for the evolution of life in general but not for the origin of the first cell. It now appears that you reject evolution altogether. This is unfortunate. If God created all life forms individually why do you think He did so in such a way as to suggest that life was really the result of evolution?

                    • Jason Wills

                      I don’t know where you get this “if God created all life forms individually” from, since I never said that.

                      What I did indicate is that evolution alone cannot explain the absolute origin of complex multicellular organisms. It may explain something about how such species of organisms develop over long periods of time once they already have come into existence, but not their absolute origin from non-living matter.

                    • stuart32

                      So you would accept that your great, great …. grandfather was a fish, for example?

                    • Jason Wills

                      Not likely.

                    • stuart32

                      Would you say that this fellow, a tetrapod called Acanthostega, evolved from a fish?

                  • arcseconds

                    I’m not sure what you’re claiming here. Every process must have an intelligence behind it? This sounds like some kind of animism to me.

                    • Jason Wills

                      What does animism have to do with it? Perhaps all it means is the every orderly process in nature reflects the mind of a single supernatural creative agency.

              • David Keneally

                You’ve just hit upon the most exhilarating and motivating aspect of the sciences: the things for which we don’t yet have an explanation! This is where the most exciting modern scientific research lives and breathes – figuring out the things we don’t know!

              • felixcox

                “There simply is no naturalistic explanation for the absolute origin of complex life ”
                False. You are just unread in biology. That’s okay, it’s a common problem.

                • Jason Wills

                  Biology affords no credible naturalistic explanation for the absolute origin of complex life. Abiogenesis won’t even get you so much as a protein molecule in a billion years.

                  Alas, you suffer from sophomoric ignorance and overweening arrogance — a common problem among internet trolls these days.

                  • felixcox

                    “you suffer from sophomoric ignorance and overweening arrogance — a common problem among internet trolls these days.”
                    Where does Christ command you to be so rude to people who disagee with you? Because you are being rude. Are you a biologist? I’m not. Maybe you know more than me, maybe you don’t. I do know that biology does not purport to know exactly how life began (where as the weak-minded will seize on this as a weakness, I see it as a good sign of epistemological modesty- something completely absent from those who pretend god is both unchanging and yet assert the truth of the NT). I do know that there various theories which provide possible explanations. I do know that there is absolutely no theory that supports the notion that ‘god’ created life.

                    • Jason Wills

                      Of course you are not a biologist. You don’t possess knowledge or expertise in any field. You are merely a troll.

                      There is absolutely nothing in biology which can explain the absolute origin of complex life. You wanted to sneer at me for stating a plain and undeniable fact, and I set you straight on the matter.

                      As for being rude, you sure can dish it out but you just can’t take it, can you, Mr. Crybaby Troll?

                    • felixcox

                      I’m simply engaging you and asking you to engage me in good faith. So far you have offered NOTHING but snark. Who is the troll?

                      I will try, once again, to talk to you in good faith.

                      You claim “there is absolutely nothing in biology which can explain the absolute origin of complex life.” Natural selection is the origin of complex life, and that’s well understood. I think what you meant to say is that biology cannot explain the origin of the first organic molecules. And I agree that today it cannot do so with absolute certainty. But until you show us that you are qualified to dismiss the various theories which show how life MIGHT have arisen, your dismissal of an entire branch of science smacks of ignorance [ignorance is not an insult. we are all ignorant about things, so no offense intended.]

                    • Jason Wills

                      When did I ever dismiss all of biology? You are a such a blatant liar who will stoop to anything. You clearly know nothing of science or anything else. Being called “ignorant” by you is like being called ugly by a toad.

                    • felixcox

                      “When did I ever dismiss all of biology?”

                      You did it when you said this: “There is absolutely nothing in biology which can explain the absolute origin of complex life.”

                      Biology actually has the answer to the complexity (I’m assuming you mean variety, but maybe you don’t)- natural selection. If you are talking about life’s origins (as opposed to the complexity of later systems such as an eye), then biology offers many theories. If you think they are false, you may present your case.
                      Try to post just once without insults, please. No need to get so riled up!

                    • Jason Wills

                      My statement was true and it hardly constitutes a wholesale dismissal of the science of biology. I merely cited the unavoidable fact that biology has no credible explanation for the absolute origin of complex life.

                      Are you really this stupid? You truly are a lost cause when it comes to reading comprehension.

                      Natural selection doesn’t explain anything with regard to the absolute origin of complex life; it only explains a process of how complex life develops once complex life already exists.

                      Alas, your comments contain nothing but lies, distortions, ignorant statements, and juvenile insults, so I am not going to waste any more time on them.

                    • felixcox

                      Right, here you are displaying more of your ignorance of biology. You see, biology does not assert your jumbled notion of “the absolute origin of complex life.” Rather, biology shows that the earliest forms of life were the most simple- NOT complex.

                      I’ve quoted you extensively to refute your arguments. Quote me on when I’ve insulted you (ignorance is not an insult- it’s a fact of human existence). You can’t because I have not.

                    • Jason Wills

                      I’m only talking about complex life, moron. You haven’t refuted anything. You haven’t even addressed my point. You just make up irrelevant crap and congratulate yourself for no reason. You are just wasting my time.

                    • felixcox

                      you said :Natural selection doesn’t explain anything with regard to the absolute origin of complex life.”

                      I responded with “biology does not assert your jumbled notion of “the absolute origin of complex life.” Rather, biology shows that the earliest forms of life were the most simple- NOT complex.”
                      That is called a refutation. I’m sorry debating is so difficult for you. I challenge you to respond JUST ONCE without being insulting. You haven’t so far, but this would be a nicer thread if you did.

                    • Jason Wills

                      I’m only talking about complex multicellular life. What is its absolute origin? Biology can offer nothing in the way of an explanation.

                      Your so-called “refutation” is irrelevant and doesn’t even begin to address my point. Tossing out red herrings won’t win you any debates and neither will behaving like a whiny ignorant conceited moron.

                    • felixcox

                      ” Tossing out red herrings won’t win you any debates and neither will behaving like a whiny ignorant conceited moron.”
                      Then you concede you lost the debate! Finally…

                    • Jason Wills

                      I concede nothing but the undeniable fact of your abject stupidity and impertinence. You don’t even know how to debate a topic.

                    • felixcox

                      The little man still can’t defend himself without insults! LOL!

      • TheSquirrel

        “He doesn’t make mistakes or change His mind or His plans.” Except in the bible.
        Also, you still can’t define something into existence, so you still need to show god exists before you can have a meaningful conversation about his alleged qualities.

        • Jason Wills

          Only if you have a poor understanding of the Bible.

          The existence of God is not what is at issue in this discussion.

          • TheSquirrel

            Oh here we go.
            It’s mr. out of context guy.

            • Jason Wills

              I guess that makes you Mr. Irrelevant and Doesn’t-Know-Anything-About-the-Bible Guy?

          • felixcox

            Yes, if you assert such concrete attributes to this god on a forum in which people see no reason to believe such a god exists, then yes, you need to show god exists. Unless you are not interested in a good-faith debate. Judging by your insulting reply to me earlier, I’m afraid this is the case.

            • Jason Wills

              We’re not disputing the existence of God or His attributes here. It has nothing to do with the topic of the article. This is not an “Atheist Trolls Need to Be Educated About God” forum.

      • felixcox

        “God is eternally perfect by definition; He doesn’t make mistakes or change His mind or His plans.”

        Let’s see your citations to back up this little claim.

        Oh, and clearly you are unfamiliar with the bible. See Genesis- god changes his mind quite a bit, and screws up creation so bad he has to destroy it (Noah and the flood).

        • Jason Wills

          Citations? You have got to be kidding me. Read any work of Christian theology from the last 1500 years. Are you really this ignorant of basic theology?

          I know far more about the Bible than you ever will, sonny. God is eternal and omniscient and has no need to “change his mind” about anything. It only appears that way to mankind in his fallen state: “Now we see through a glass darkly,” as St. Paul wrote.

          • felixcox

            “I know far more about the Bible than you ever will, sonny.”
            Good golly, how arrogant you are! I simply asked for citations and you get quite nasty. A sadly representative example of a believer.

            I cite the bible which unambiguously states that god was upset at his own creation, and also shows him changing his mind. I’m quite aware of the centuries of apologetics that seek to square the circle and claims the text doesn’t mean what it actually says. Similarly, I am familiar with the classical tradition which asserts, as you do, that god is eternal and perfect. I’m simply saying those arguments are flawed- they rest on flawed premises and arrive at faulty conclusions. But I know that’s all you got- so, like so many apologists when challenged on their beliefs, you cite Aquinas or others, as if that settles everything. It doesn’t.

            • Jason Wills

              You only came on this comments board to act like an arrogant jerk and whine and sneer and flaunt your ignorance. You are a typical atheist troll.

              There is nothing “unambiguous” about the Book of Genesis, as any biblical scholar can tell you. Idiots like you only think that there is because you have such a pitifully shallow and superficial comprehension of the text and the interpretive tradition surrounding it. You merely “read” the Bible as if it were a comic book.

              You can sneer at the classical tradition all you want and make arrogant pretensions to knowledge that you clearly don’t possess in the slightest.

              Indeed, you don’t know anything at all about Christian theology, the Bible, or anything else; you merely repeat asinine New Atheist garbage that you learned from reading hacks and professional ignoramuses like Chris Hitchens and Dicky Dawkins.

              • felixcox

                I am a former believer. I am very familiar with the bible and with classical theology. If you have an argument to make other than “you are dumb and I am smart,” I am willing to listen to it and engage it. I hope you can try to do the same. I will forgive you and give you the benefit of the doubt that you have more to you than this rudeness.
                My thoughts are my own- they are not mere repetitions of atheists- no more than yours are mere repetitions of theologians.

                • Jason Wills

                  Actually, you were the one who started up with the “you are dumb and I am smart” line, and I dealt it right back to you in spades, boy.

                  I didn’t ask you to make ignorant and insulting troll comments here. You started out by being rude, you delight in being rude. To complain about getting back what you dish out is just the sort of whiny crybaby hypocrisy I have come to expect from your ilk.

                  By the way, there is nothing the least bit original or interesting about your thoughts, so don’t flatter yourself.

                  • felixcox

                    I am simply asking you to defend your positions. You have not done so. Please do so.

                    • Jason Wills

                      All of my positions on the Bible, classical Christian theology, and on the lack of any credible naturalistic explanations for the absolute origin of complex life are well-established facts. It is not my responsibility to help remedy your complacent ignorance on these matters.

                      You are obviously just here to troll and make an ass of yourself, and I am not going to take the bait and entertain your petulance and foolishness. I have to work tomorrow — and unlike you, I have got better things to do with my leisure time.

                    • felixcox

                      Felix Cox: “I am simply asking you to defend your positions. You have not done so. Please do so.”

                      Jason Wills: you suffer from sophomoric ignorance and overweening arrogance

                      Jason: I know far more about the Bible than you ever will, sonny.

                      Jason: You only came on this comments board to act like an arrogant jerk and whine and sneer and flaunt your ignorance.

                      Jason: Idiots like you only think that there is because you have such a pitifully shallow and superficial comprehension of the text and the interpretive tradition surrounding it

                      Jason: You can sneer at the classical tradition all you want and make arrogant pretensions to knowledge that you clearly don’t possess in the slightest.

                      Jason: you don’t know anything at all about Christian
                      theology, the Bible, or anything else

                      Jason: there is nothing the least bit original or interesting about your thoughts

                      Jason: It is not my responsibility to help remedy your complacent ignorance on these matters.

                      Jason: I am not going to take the bait and entertain your petulance and foolishness.

                      Felix Cox: I am simply asking you to defend your positions. You have not done so. Please do so.

                      Matthew 7:16: you will know them by their fruits….

                      Who is the troll here?

                    • Jason Wills

                      You are, troll! It’s not polite to stalk and harass someone after he has already told you he is not interested.

                    • felixcox

                      If you weren’t interested, you wouldn’t respond. After the all of insults you dealt out (I simply said you were ignorant, which, being a human being, you are :) ), it’s beyond chutzpah to speak of politeness…

                      I will once again repeat: I am simply asking you to defend your positions. You have not done so. Please do so.

                      It’s a free country. You can run away yelling insults, or you can finally start a real debate. I’m for real. I am deeply interested in christianity, especially its origins. I go to these boards hoping to find someone who has thick enough skin to be able to have their positions challenged without turning into a troll. So far, you have made your choice clear- you prefer insults to rebuttal. Should you change your mind, I’ll be watching…

                    • Jason Wills

                      You have absolutely nothing to argue; you are just here to troll. Indubitable axiomatic truths require no defense against ignorant morons with nothing to say.

                      Everything I said about you is true and you keep proving my point for me over and over again. Now I shall leave you to wallow in your smug ignorance.

                    • felixcox

                      I am continuously struck by the extent that some christians drop any pretext of civility, dispense with logic, and embrace rudeness and incivility (non-christians do it too- it’s just funnier with christians because their god orders them to turn the other cheek! I love the irony of chrisitians being total assholes trying to defend jesus! it makes atheists’ job much much easier). Even after being called out on it; even after having dozens of gratuitous insults quoted for anyone to see; even after having several calm invitations back to civil debate- nope, more insults and condescension.
                      I’ll remind you, Jason, you sad, little, angry man (yes, that’s my first insult to you, in case you are capable of counting (that’s the second)), that I first responded to you by asking you to back up your assertions. You did not- you instead lashed out in anger with insults and rudeness. I tried again. More than three times did I invite you to back up your assertion. Your response? More insults and running away from your defense. Trolling. That’s the definition of trolling. I ask for evidence- you get mad and start insulting and NOT GIVING EVIDENCE. Troll. Troll. Troll. by your fruits you are known .

                    • Jason Wills

                      Thanks for your revealing your true character, troll. You didn’t fool me for a second. You just whine like a little bitch because I called you out for what you really are.

                    • felixcox

                      The little angry man still hasn’t defended any of his positions! Insults are not arguments…

                  • felixcox

                    Still not defending your positions LOL :) you’ll say anything to avoid defending yourself!
                    Oh, and you can quite lying now- if I started insulting you, you could prove it by quoting me (as I quoted just about ten of yours). You can’t because I restrained myself from telling you what I think about you. That’s because unlike trolls like you, I cherish an exchange of ideas. You don’t know what it’s like, so you just insult and run away (only to come back in NOT to defend yourself, but to call more names). pretty amusing though, since you worship a deity who you are disobeying each time you are insulting (which is every single time you’ve responded)!

                    • Jason Wills

                      I rest my case. Anyone who claims to “cherish an exchange of ideas” and types “LOL :)”, while stalking me from one forum to the next after they have been told to get lost, is not to be taken seriously. It is not possible for me to insult you; I can only issue statements of fact.

    • arcseconds

      This is just the sort of thing I had in mind.

      • stuart32

        But at least we’re here to put things right :-)

    • felixcox

      “This would suggest that God started out with one plan, discovered half way through that it wouldn’t do the whole job, and then had to change course.”
      This is a verrrry old idea- see Genesis and the story of Noah and the flood. God is very upset that his creation isn’t what he wants it to be- so he destroys nearly all life and starts again….

  • David Williams

    What I used to have the most trouble with was the idea that the God who could do anything would do…this. I mean, seriously. How ’bout just a smidge less evil and horror? But now that Creation is more and more seemingly like a vast and impossibly complete multiverse, that seems like less of a concern.

  • David_Evans

    A human author can, if he wishes, write a book which looks like a random sequence of letters. All the same, when we open a book and find that it contains meaningful sentences we do regard that as evidence for the existence of an author.

  • arcseconds

    Well, so long as we feel we have no insights whatsoever into God’s character, motivation, objectives, design principles etc. it’s unfalsifiable, yes.

    The notion that there’s some alien intelligence out there who might have designed everything for inscrutable purposes (maybe the Universe is an amusement, or a tax dodge, or a mating ritual, or some kind of absurdist dada art) doesn’t seem to engage with reality (what we experience) in any way whatsoever.

    But actually, as you point out, and as the two Davids suggest, we normally do believe we have insights into what kind of character etc. God has. A worked-up notion of what sort of designer God is could make predictions that could be falsified, not because of any limitations of God’s power, but because of what we’d expect of God’s personality.

    Falsifiability isn’t all it’s made out to be anyway. Newton’s system isn’t falsifiable, and no-one thinks that is a bad theory.

    • David Keneally

      Actually, Newton’s theory of gravity is falsifiable. It’s predictions fail at relativistic scales, as observational experimentation of eclipses, pulsars and other phenomenon have demonstrated.

      Newton’s theory of gravity still works well-enough at nonrelativistic scales, and so is still used as an easy “short-hand” for gravitational effects – even in working out the trajectory of a spaceship.

      • arcseconds

        Ah, but I didn’t say ‘Newton’s theory of gravity’, did I? I said his ‘system’, which includes the laws of motion, and, for celestial mechanics, just one force, gravity.

        Without the laws of motion, knowing that there’s an inverse square force between massive objects doesn’t give you any predictions. If you think inertia is circular, not rectilinear, your model will end up looking quite different.

        And the laws of motion can’t really be falsified, as essentially by definition any deviation from what you expect the motion to be is telling you about a force that you haven’t accounted for.

        Of course, it kind of depends on what you mean by ‘falsified’, and what exactly you think is being falsified. If it’s a particular model that is falsified, then the model in Principia was published with an already falsified model, as Newton obviously didn’t include every single gravitational interaction in the initial model. Instead the model was refined over centuries, with the residue of the last model informing the next model.

        In this case, ‘falsification’ is actually a good thing, but it seems a strange name for a process of model refinement.

        The question is at what stage do you say the theory doesn’t work. There were always anomalies with every Newtonian model, but for most of the history of the theory these were regarded as problems to be solved within the theory, not as problems that showed the theory to be flawed. And of course, some of those anomalies resulted in the discovery of new planets. So taking this attitude seems entirely appropriate.

        The relatavistic phenomena that you refer to could in princple be worked out in Newtonian terms by adding additional forces. And such theories have been produced.

        What we really decided with Newton’s theory is not that we had incontrovertible evidence that it just was false, but that it was getting too awkward and we liked another theory better.

        • arcseconds

          Oh, of course, no-one ever thought that gravitation was necessarily the only force affecting celestial bodies. The last problem to be solved (that I’m aware of) in Newtonian celestial mechanics was actually quite recent: why do asteroids either spin very fast or very slowly, with nothing in between? Turns out it’s a result of light pressure.

  • kso721

    Inserting wishful thinking to assert what the character of god is like writing one thesis on how violent and competitive mankind and hominids have been over natural history, and how docile the another percentage has been over natural history. I don’t honestly believe that humanity through any one snapshot of time is an indicator of the attitudes of hypothetically singularly existing ever-present conscious supernatural being responsible for the creation of the cosmos.

  • GubbaBumpkin

    Which lead directly to “Hiddenness of God” arguments. A God Who would create the universe with no evidence for his existence is not likely to be a God Who cares about humans and wants them to believe in Him so that they might receive salvation. I.e. if such a God exists, He is not the Christian God.

  • http://wonderwheels.blogspot.com/ Gregory Wonderwheel

    This universe is inconceivable because all our conceptions are just conceptions and are nothing but conceptions of this universe, not the whole universe on its own.

  • http://joannevalentinesimson.wordpress.com/ ValPas

    I don’t see any definitions of God, either in the article or in the commentary. It seems to me that the only definition of God that is compatible with what we understand of the Universe would be that God IS the Universe and everything in it. Such a god would be able to do anything the Universe can do. A god outside the Universe would not be able to do anything, because it would not exist. So it seems that pantheism is probably the only rational religious view. All the other religious positions would simply be local and parochial views of a larger Ultimate Reality.

  • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

    Yes, Newton was a Christian, but that was the only game in town. His position at Cambridge had a faith requirement. Given the small fraction of Christians within the scientific field now, I doubt Isaac would feel so constrained if he were alive today.

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

      You must not know much about Newton, and his unorthodox views.

      It really only makes atheists look foolish to make these sorts of implausible claims, “Everyone intelligent throughout history would have been an atheist if they had lived in our time.” Do you really believe that? Do you really believe that there are no intelligent Christians, no foolish atheists, and no range of other views in our time?

      • GubbaBumpkin

        Do you imagine that if Newton lived in our time, he would also still be pursuing alchemy?

      • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

        Looking at the statistics of Christian belief vs. scientific achievement, it’s not much of a stretch to say that Newton would likely not be a Christian today. Said another way, he was a Christian simply because there was no other plausible option available to him.

        No, I didn’t say, nor do I believe, that every intelligent person from history would be an atheist today.

        • David Hillman

          If Newton were alive today he would be very old! Newton was a driven soul and if a person like Newton were alive today there is no knowing what intellectual quests his restless mind would lead him to. His religious beliefs were not on the face of it from a need to conform – he was after all a heretic who had to keep his real beliefs secret. He was not a mechanistic philosopher, though he learnt much from such thinkers, and was able to believe in action at a distance because he did not think, like the dualist Descartes, that the world was a machine, and because he understood the effects of dissipative forces and inelasticity, anticipating what today we call entropy, thought God had to sometimes tweek the laws he was continually the cause of in order to revivify the cosmos. His laws are now proven incorrect, not because of other forces (such apparent anomalies did not lead to an overthrow of faith in his laws but to the discovery of new planets, one my a distant relative of mine, and new phenomena) but because bending of light and the perihelion of Mercury etc can not be explained by new forces. Newton’s laws remain but a superb approximation to the truth.

          • David Hillman

            As the angel points out to Adam in Milton’s Paradise Lost, all our theories about the cosmos are tentative, never absolute truth, never reflecting the full richness and complexity of reality. But Milton’s sympathies were all with Galileo when in his dispute with the pope, the pope had pointed out that God could make all things move around the Earth but in such a way that they seemed to orbit the Sun – admitting that the bible narrative could be poetic metaphorical or condescending, but that Galileo had no right to teach against its literal truth unless the scientific evidence was overwhelming. One is reminded of Einstein’s aphorism that God may be enigmatic but he is not malevolent. As far as she can, nature loves simplicity.

      • Msironen

        I offer you a different, but analoguous argument. Suppose we successfully create an artificial intelligence that, after rapid self-improvement, makes our feeble human minds look like nematodes. How much would you be willing to bet that after scanning through the Bible in a picosecond, this intelligence will come to the conclusion that ‘Yes! This is exactly true! Lord Jesus Christ is our saviour!’ ?

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

          I would be willing to bet that such an AI would not do that.

          We, on the other hand, might turn to it for insight that our human minds and texts cannot offer.

          • Msironen

            I appreciate the intellectually honest answer.

  • plectrophenax

    Some Jewish mystics have had the idea of God’s withdrawal, termed ‘tzimtzum’, which occurs, so that created life can exist. It’s more complicated than that, (‘the contraction of infinite light’ is one of the phrases used), and I don’t know if this idea has been picked up in Christianity, except by Simone Weil, who has a rather similar idea. But she adds, that if I negate myself, God returns.

    So there is a double negation, which is pretty. It also connects with Eastern ideas of non-dualism, (loss of ego), but Christianity hasn’t been too keen on that either, although you would think they might, since it seems to fit with ‘dying to self’.

    One of the strange senses of tzimtzum is that the first creative act is one of divine exile. Of course, atheists can chime in here and say, it’s almost as if God isn’t here!

    • stuart32

      I would go along with this. I think it is necessary for God to withdraw from the process by which life is created. Some people may regard this as unfortunate in the sense that we are deprived of a potential source of evidence for God’s activity, but this is unavoidable. The answer certainly isn’t to pretend that we have evidence when we don’t, as creationists do. The existence of the universe itself will have to do as evidence.

      • plectrophenax

        And you would say that this is a standard Christian view? I’ve known it from Jewish mysticism, and some of the Christian mystics like Weil, but I didn’t think it was actually theologized about. I suppose the divine hiddenness debate must bring it up, and one of the standard arguments here is that a loving God would not be withdrawn. In fact, didn’t ancient Jews think that the actual presence of God was very dangerous, if not fatal?

        • stuart32

          This isn’t a standard view but I think it is implied by some theologians. One thing that leads to it is a consideration of epistemology. We should expect God to create a universe that we can understand. The triumph of science shows just how successful we have been in achieving this. But this is where creationists raise doubts. They would accept that much of science is genuine knowledge but declare that some of it at least is bogus. The question then is how to decide which is which. The creationists are no help here because they can’t decide between themselves. They agree that the science of evolution is bogus but can’t agree on whether geology is bogus. I think it makes much more sense if God created a world in such a way that we can learn about it by using one method.

          Another thing that leads to this view is a consideration of free will. Since our minds are part of nature would it make sense to say that our minds are free but the rest of nature isn’t? I don’t think so. Therefore, it could be argued that freedom has to be extended to the whole of nature in order to make us free. And the only way for God to achieve this is by withdrawing from nature as a whole.

          • plectrophenax

            Well, there’s an interesting argument that if God intervened a lot in the world, it would render it magical and unintelligible. And intelligibility is an interesting variation on the ‘rational’ nature of the universe, which I suppose used to be taken as indicating God’s reasoning, or if you like, God as reason.

            One problem with this line of reasoning is that you are half-way to deism, I would think. And atheists of course can have their jokes, that gee, it’s almost as if God wasn’t here at all.

            • stuart32

              Exactly. And yes, that is a risk.

  • Ben George

    Inconceivable belongs to no one with brain, if it is inconceivable, there is no brain conceiving. evidence belongs to those unable to comprehend at certain point in time what is presented. Because humans have limitations, until the limitation is over come, comprehension is stifled. God is complete and understands possibilities, he is limitless, capable, resourceful bound by no one and nothing, independent of our lack of comprehending his Ominipotence. Our lack of faith is sad and is our downfall.

  • David Hillman

    This was the argument of Simplicius in Galileo’s Dialogue on the Two World Systems – and of Galileo’s opponent the pope.

  • Yonah

    What God can do or could do is none of my business. What God likes to do and chooses to do is a worthy topic.


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