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It was no less than Charles Spurgeon who began one of his famous sermons thusly,
“It has been said that ‘the proper study of mankind is man.’ I will not oppose the idea, but I believe it is equally true that the proper study of God’s elect is God; the proper study of a Christian is the Godhead. The highest science, the loftiest speculation, the mightiest philosophy, which can ever engage the attention of a child of God, is the name, the nature, the person, the work, the doings, and the existence of the great God whom he calls his Father”.
I heartily agree with Spurgeon’s sentiments here, however I would go further in claiming that mankind in general should also take an interest in God’s nature and existence as well, after all their eternal destinies are on the line.
The focus of the next few blogs will be on the specific locus of understanding some of God’s main attributes in order to determine whether they are logically coherent (i.e. broad logical possibilities) or not. Traditionally Christians have primarily derived knowledge about God from two main sources; i) the Bible (i.e. divine revelation) and, ii) Perfect Being Theology (as per an Anselmian understanding of God as the “Greatest Conceivable Being”). Gleaning information from both of these sources, Christians have identified multiple attributes of God which can be classed into various categories (some of which may overlap with each other); the first major category of divine attributes refer to those that are “communicable” to other beings (i.e. God’s creatures) vs. His “incommunicable” properties which belong to God alone (see a couple sources here = https://carm.org/communicable-incommunicable-attributes-of-god or https://www.gotquestions.org/communicable-incommunicable-attributes.html ). Other Christian scholars have opted to differentiate God’s attributes into His “Infinite” vs. “Personal” characteristics, which more or less translate into following the same distinction between the communicable and incommunicable categories (see here = https://www.reasonablefaith.org/podcasts/defenders-podcast-series-3/s3-doctrine-of-god-attributes-of-god/doctrine-of-god-part-1/ ).
In this series, we shall focus on several main features of God (which are applicable to multiple varieties of Theism) before turning to concentrate on more Christian-specific aspects of God’s nature. The series aims to culminate with discussion of Ontological arguments which can be used to “prove” the existence of such a Being (whether merely referring to a Theistic God in general and/or to the Christian God in particular).
When philosophers are interested to evaluate whether or not a given proposition/statement is “coherent” they are ultimately looking to see if it “makes sense to suppose as being true; one such that we can conceive of or suppose it and any other statement entailed by it is true or one such that we can understand what it would be like for it and any statement entailed by it to be true”. An incoherent proposition on the other hand, is one where it makes no sense to suppose is true or is inconceivable in that it and/or any other propositions entailed by it are nonsensical/logically contradictory (whether the contradiction is explicit or hidden) and hence not something we can conceive as being true. Therefore, it is important to notice that in this series a given proposition/statement may in fact be false, yet still be considered a coherent one.
In modal logic terminology, a coherent proposition is one that logicians say “exists” (abstractly) in a “logically possible world”. “Possible worlds” are not concrete objects like a planet or even a universe, instead they are “maximal descriptions of reality”- think of them as being more akin to “sets” in mathematics. They are a complete list of all the given propositions or their opposites/contradictories within such a “world”– a sort of massive conjunction as it were; and thus, by negating different conjuncts and/or propositions we obtain different possible worlds. Only one of these descriptions will be comprised of propositions and/or conjuncts all of which are true, and it is this description of reality that we call the “actual world/universe” (Note: this is not necessarily the same thing as the Multiverse hypothesis but such could provide some helpful parallels of what we are talking about here) (see = https://www.reasonablefaith.org/podcasts/defenders-podcast-series-3/s3-excursus-on-natural-theology/excursus-on-natural-theology-part-23/ & https://www.reasonablefaith.org/podcasts/defenders-podcast-series-3/s3-excursus-on-natural-theology/excursus-on-natural-theology-part-24/ ). Now, it’s important to note that it is not enough for a proposition to be “supposed to be true” in isolation, but it also needs to be conceivable in light of all the other propositions within the “possible world” as a whole before it can be considered “logically coherent” (this is what we mean by the “conjunct of the propositions”) and as such, once we begin to accumulate explanations of God’s various attributes, we shall also need to assess them in light of His other attributes and other “world propositions” to see if the conjunction of them is likewise coherent or not.
The Coherence of the Christian God- Attributes #1-2 (God as a Personal & Incorporeal Being)
God as a Personal Being;
The first major attribute of the Christian God is that He is personal; namely, like humans, He is a person. However, one may immediately notice a problem here since the Christian God is not technically one person but a multiplicity of persons (3 persons to be exact, as per the doctrine of the Trinity). However, at this point in our series, we shall avoid addressing the Trinitarian complication of the Godhead (this specific issue will be addressed in an upcoming blog/Podcast) and instead for now, our analysis will simply focus on examining God’s personhood and/or personal nature (being consistent with either a unitarian concept of God such as in Islam or Judaism or at the same time perhaps being applicable to a multiplicity of persons as well such as in Christianity).
Now minimally, God is said to be a “person” in more or less the same sense that we as humans are considered persons (see Biblical support for this here = https://www.gotquestions.org/is-God-a-person.html ). In a modern psychological sense, a “person” is a substantial being that is a center of self-consciousness and/or has a set of cognitive/noetic faculties sufficient for “personhood”. By this, we mean to say that God has the properties of being sentient/conscious, intelligent, emotional, etc. Additionally, a person stands in “I-Thou” relationships with other persons/beings, as characterized by philosophers using what are called “P-predicates/properties”; such properties include statements like “is smiling” or “is walking” which contrast with “M-predicates”(such as “weighs 15 lbs.”)- people typically like to describe the bundle of such personal or P-properties as signifying the presence of a “Mind” or “Soul” (though as we shall see these common colloquialisms may not always be entirely apt). In the case of the Trinity however, God would simply have 3 sets of cognitive/noetic faculties sufficient for personhood, each of which bears the various properties alluded to above; but again, we will reserve further explanation of this for another blog.
Quite obviously, we know with 100% certainty that the property of being a “person and/or personal substance” is logically coherent since human beings are “persons” that undeniably exist- not just in a logically possible world, but in the actual world itself.
God as an Incorporeal/Spiritual Being;
Not only is God a person and/or personal, but unlike humans, God is said to be an incorporeal or disembodied Person/Mind/Soul (for example, see John 4:24). Skeptics commonly deride Christians over such a concept claiming that modern science has utterly discredited the idea that an incorporeal person can exist; they claim that all known examples in our experience consist of embodied “minds/persons” and thus no other types of “persons” could possibly exist. The obviously logically fallacious nature of such skeptical claims aside, what might it mean for a person to be incorporeal and is there an understanding whereby such a concept is conceivable?
Well, perhaps it might be insightful to begin with a proper understanding of what it means to be an “embodied” person. Jonathan Harrison, in his paper entitled “The Embodiment of Mind, or What Use is Having a Body?”, answers this question by suggesting that there are 5 aspects that usually apply when one is saying that a given body is “their own body”; a) disturbances in this body cause “me” pains, aches, tingles, or other physically-induced sensations whereas disturbances elsewhere do not produce such effects, b) I “feel” and or know the goings-on inside my body (emptiness of the stomach for example), c) I can directly move or influence many parts of my body via a “basic” or “immediate” action by me whereas I can only move other external bodies/things via moving my own body (this avoids any complications about neurons or nervous impulses and muscle contractions, etc. since it only contrasts “deliberate” actions not unintentional ones within our bodies), d) I look out on the world from where this body is spatially located in contrast to other points of view or perspectives and finally, e) My thoughts and feelings are affected non-rationally by goings-on in this body and not by the goings-on in others.
By inference then, one could suppose that the property of being “unembodied/incorporeal” (i.e. a spiritual substance) would relate to persons whereby they do not possess a body which instantiates one or more of these 5 aspects. Clearly, at a conceptual level, it seems we can conceive of what it might mean to suppose that God is a spiritual/incorporeal person is true, however I think we are able to go beyond this and provide some actual argumentation which demonstrates objectively that unembodied beings actually do exist in reality- enter the evidence for substance dualism!
For length-sake, I will choose to focus on only 2 major argument categories advanced by philosophers to prove substance dualism in humans:
1. The Argument from First-Person Perspective (the Indexical “I”); This argument essentially argues that if humans were simply a brain/body, then third-person physical descriptions would capture all true facts about them, but there are clearly facts or true propositions based on a first-person perspective (such as “I am hungry” that exist)- in other words, such propositions reflect a self-awareness that mere physical matter does not and hence the essential human person must be composed of an unembodied or immaterial substance/s.
2. The Enduring Self Argument; This argument utilizes the obvious and scientifically proven fact that our physical bodies/brains change and are constantly in a state of flux- being composed of new and different parts over time (new cells, neurons, etc.). Therefore, via the logical law of identity, our brains and bodies are literally a different thing from what they once were, yet we all know that people endure as the same person despite any physical changes taking place in our physical bodies and brains. The skeptic who denies his enduring self and claims that he is a completely brand-new person with no association to his “former-self” is nothing short of positively deranged. Thus, it is obvious, there must be some substance which contains our essential selves/persons that is both non-material and which endures through physical change over time.
Despite not knowing the precise details as to how the soul interacts with the physical human body on the level of a scientific mechanistic level, the above arguments demonstrate that we can at least know that souls/minds or “unembodied persons” do in fact exist regardless of any areas of current ignorance and thus, we can know such a notion is coherent. Likewise, the concept of God as an unembodied person is perfectly coherent as well- indeed many process theologians have tried to make the analogy that the universe is like a “body” for God (where God constitutes the “soul” of the universe).
This latter notion goes too far however, as it is not consistent with the Christian conception of God since God is said to be able to exist and function entirely independently of the physical universe (no interaction between the two in the same sense as human bodies and souls interact and influence one another). Going back to the 5 aspects of “embodiment” as outlined by Harrison, we can immediately see that the first and fifth aspects do not apply in the case of the Christian God, yet He is supposed to be able to move any part of the universe directly without exception (Aspect #3- getting into Omnipresence territory here). Furthermore, there is no one localized place or spatial location where God is said to “look out on the world/universe” (Aspect #4) and the second aspect has some relevance but only partially in the case of God as God can exist entirely independent of the physical universe (though God is somewhat dependent on happenings within the universe in some ways.
Defining God into Existence (Skeptic’s View)
Allow me to recap Dale’s argument so far:
“ Blah blah blah, blah blah, blah blah blah blah, blah. God is personal. God is incorporeal because the bible says so, and because such is coherent according to the leading philosophers, theologians, and academics. Besides, you can imagine it. So there must be something to it.”
I think that pretty much covers it.
The entire premise of this argument is bat-shift-crazy! Not one element of it leads to good epistemology. Since Dale has chosen to be rather longwinded, I will attempt to counter it with brevity.
The bible says so
This is a stupid argument for anything, as I am pointing out in my concurrent series on why I don’t take the bible seriously, and why you shouldn’t either. Including the bible as a part of his argument only hurts his case. I will leave it there for now.
The ontological argument
Here is a video takedown of the problems with the ontological argument that will take you less than five minutes to watch, and has less jargon than Dale’s 900 word introduction:
Logically possible worlds
This is how Dale describes possible worlds. Try to keep up you intellectual and academic laggards:
In modal logic terminology, a coherent proposition is one that logicians say “exists” (abstractly) in a “logically possible world”. “Possible worlds” are not concrete objects like a planet or even a universe, instead they are “maximal descriptions of reality”- think of them as being more akin to “sets” in mathematics. They are a complete list of all the given propositions or their opposites/contradictories within such a “world”– a sort of massive conjunction as it were; and thus, by negating different conjuncts and/or propositions we obtain different possible worlds. Only one of these descriptions will be comprised of propositions and/or conjuncts all of which are true, and it is this description of reality that we call the “actual world/universe” (Note: this is not necessarily the same thing as the Multiverse hypothesis but such could provide some helpful parallels of what we are talking about here)
I have face-planted into mud puddles that were clearer than this. Note: Dale really believes this insane level of jargon is what is necessary for you to understand the Christian god. I suspect only 2% of the entire population can fully understand those three, tedious, jargon-rich, run-on sentences. I am somewhat inclined to let them hang in the air as a witness to how hopeless an enterprise it is to even try and understand Dales tiresome and hopelessly convoluted notion of what and who god is.
While Dale tries to differentiate logically possible worlds from the many worlds theory, it still provides him a mechanism for suggesting that almost anything is possible given all the possible factors and combinations of all the possible imaginary worlds.
What Dale fails to consider is that it doesn’t matter what he thinks is possible in some logically possible world that nevertheless, does not exist. The only thing that matters is what does exist in this world, and what is possible in this world. That is all we need concern ourselves with.
Dale wants to dazzle you with jargon and theoretical physics that he does not understand. Nod politely if you are so inclined. But keep your eye on the prize. Arguments that he makes for a non-existent world have no bearing on the realities of this one.
God is a person
That is a claim without any substantiation. Dale tries to define what a person is. But cannot prove that his god is a person as opposed to a mere, mindless force. Dale’s god is a person because he says so. Till Dale ads more to his argument, I have nothing more on the subject.
God is insubstantial
Dale believes that god is a person without a body, and thought without a brain. He far over-reaches by suggesting that, “we can at least know that souls/minds or “unembodied persons” do in fact exist…”
Bat! Shift! Crazy!!!
Dale attempts to ground his assertion in the enduring self argument. However, the ESA is fundamentally flawed. It suggests that even though the matter that makes up our body is different by the day, our incorporeal selves persist in a steady state.
The fact is we all change every moment, and not just the gross, physical state of our bodies. Our memories change by the moment so much that almost all memories of our childhood are false. Our emotions change with our physicality. Our likes and dislikes change. Our tastes, our moods, our capacity to learn, our hopes, our dreams, and everything else about us radically changes over the course of our lifetime. We are in fact different persons than we were.
So many marriages fail because the claim is true that we’ve changed. And our partner changed. We have different motivations, different fears, different lusts. There is no steady state of being. When the matter changes enough, a person doesn’t even remember themselves from one day to the next. Diseases like Alzheimers and amnesia defeat the idea that our sense of self is separate from our physical stuff.
Dale’s god cannot be proven or even explained in any way that is accessible to the average person. So he reaches for ivory tower theories that attempt to define god into existence. Having had a glimpse into the crystal ball, I can assure you that his arguments get even worse from here.
And that’s the view from the skeptic.