Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Bones of Contention...

Outspoken atheists are occasionally accused of “jamming atheism down other people’s throats”. The sheer fact that we aren’t cowering in the shadows, afraid to stand up to the all the righteous religious folk running around out there, just sticks in some people’s craw. We stand accused of “intellectual snobbery”, “dogmatic naturalism”, and, of course, all kinds of throat-jamming. There’s a certain irony to all this that isn’t lost on us, but it quickly becomes tiresome and the specific accusations need to be addressed.


A commenter recently left a rather long post elsewhere on this blog regarding the “Out Campaign” logo in my sidebar. The Out Campaign is a campaign being run by Richard Dawkins to help atheists find the courage to publicly acknowledge their rejection of religion. Would that there had been such a campaign when I was in high school, to give me a bit of moral support in the face of the jeers of my classmates. (I caught a lot of flak in school for being an atheist. I won’t pretend that it was from everyone, or even from a majority of people, but there was a large handful of folks who took every opportunity to give me a hard time about it.)


To quote the Out Campaign site, it’s all about

“[allowing] individuals to let others know they are not alone. It can also be a nice way of opening a conversation and help to demolish the negative stereotypes of atheists. Let the world know that we are not about to go away and that we are not going to allow those that would condemn us to push us into the shadows.”


Naturally this is considered throat-jamming of the highest order. There’s some beautiful irony to this as our dear commenter is Garret from over on Ray’s blog. Ray, as you’ll recall, is all about street preaching, evangelizing, and blindsiding random folks with threats of hell if they don’t pray to his fearsome God Yahweh. I know of no atheist equivalent to this. I have never, nor has, to my knowledge, anyone else, set upon a believer on the street, harshly admonishing him that his religion isn’t real and that no he won’t go to hell when he dies ("There'll be no hellfire for you, and you'd better learn to accept that, damn it!") . That being said, I’m more than willing to do such things, with what I hope is a bit more nuance, on internet discussion boards – after all, if people didn’t want to discuss things they wouldn’t be there.


There are a number of fearsome stereotypes about atheists. We’re called amoral monsters, depraved sex fiends, and minions of the devil. The current president has even gone so far as to say that atheists should be considered neither citizens nor patriots. And most of all, whenever we contest these claims, whenever we talk about our atheism without apologizing for it, we’re accused of jamming atheism down everyone’s throats.


One thing that is of particular concern to me is that a lot of Christians who feel threatened by organized atheism seem to confuse the two concepts of secularism and atheism. I don’t know that this is the case with Garret, but it crops up enough that I’ll address it here anyway. When atheists such as myself talk about things like removing “in God we trust” from our currency (added 1865 for coins, 1957 for bills), deleting the reference to God in the Pledge of Allegiance (added 1954), or teaching empirically based rather than religiously based science in public schools, we aren’t talking about an atheist state, we’re talking about a secular state.


A secular government exists to, among other things, secure the freedom of conscience of all of its constituents. Specific endorsements of Christianity (in the United States) or any other religion (Islam in Iran, for example) undermine that principle. Recall, for example that the only mention of religion in our Constitution (I keep a copy in my jacket at all times) is Article VI, section 3 and explicitly states that “no religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust.” It may also be worth noting that the addition of God to the Pledge has, very literally, divided “one nation, indivisible”. A secular government provides for “equal separation”*, wherein neither the religious or the nonreligious are favored over the other. The desire here is for everyone to be protected equally, rather than having some folks held up as "more equal than others". There is no desire to place the religious at a disadvantage, but there is considerable desire on the part of atheists to pull religion down from its privileged place and put it on equal footing with the rest of us.


In any event, Garret’s two main concerns are not really so much about the Out Campaign itself but assumptions that he feels it unfairly makes. I will quote him in full and address each in turn:

“The claim to intellectual superiority because of rejection of supernatural claims such as miracles. This is an entirely metaphysical, philosophical construct, a BELIEF that is based on a "lack of evidence", and is a representation of what exactly constitutes knowledge, and how we come to know things.
This is not the only possible legitimate metaphysical reality, though it is presented as such. As an educated person, I realize that I COULD be deluded - that in fact (atheists) might have it right. This should always be an option on the table, for civility to remain. The claim to all logic, reason and knowledge fall within multiple worldviews and philosophies, and is a debatable reality. To not acknowledge this is intellectual snobbery, and intellectual suicide. One can claim that they are right, but to add that they are intellectually superior is another thing altogether.”


As usual, there’s an extent of course to which Garret is right. As the old canard goes, the absence of evidence is not evidence of absence. Arguments from silence are never definitive. However, when it comes to the issue of the supernatural, this argument from silence becomes somewhat stronger because the silence is just deafening! Ghosts, miracles, the afterlife – to accept these things leads to assumptions about the world that can be empirically tested. Are there ghosts? Then we should be able to measure, interact with, or detect them. Is there an afterlife? Then NDE reports shouldn’t correspond so neatly with the physiological reactions of the brain to oxygen deprivation with occasional details of the individual’s religion training (regardless of what religion it is) shoe-horned in. Miracles? Should there not be miracles in modern times, measurable by modern means and flying in the face of understood natural mechanisms? What of “miracles” experienced by members of other religions (recall that Garret is speaking for Evangelical Christianity, not just general theism)?


It is not that people are not looking for evidence of these things – they are. Some people dedicate their entire professional lives to the search for ghosts or the verification of miracles. Yet always they fail. There is specific evidence that we would expect to find if such supernatural claims are true, but we do not. That is a powerful argument from silence. Sure, at some point in the future some supernatural phenomenon may be verified – something that so defies the current understanding of science that it forces a radical restructuring of our view of the world. When and if that day comes, I will be forced to seriously reevaluate my position on a lot of things.


That being said, those of us who prefer an experience-based worldview simply don’t have the evidence in front of us to decide in the way that our friend Garret has decided for himself. He, I can only imagine, would not buy into the contention that there is a magical purple unicorn flying invisibly around the solar system just outside of Pluto’s orbit. It's a patently ludicrous statement, but it cannot be disproved. Someone making that assertion would cause him, at the most, the slightest moment of pause. Why then, should we be compelled by his purple unicorn?


As for claims of “intellectual superiority”, I would note that it is a methodologically materialist worldview that yields useful results. As many of you know, I live in Louisville, Kentucky. One of the greatest sources of pride for my city is that it was the site of the country’s first hand transplant. A man named Matthew Scott lost his left hand to an M80 firecracker in 1985. 14 years later he received a transplanted hand from a cadaver and now has a functional left hand. Pictures of Mr. Scott at his 8-year check up are available here. It was methodologically materialistic science that gave this man a new hand, not metaphysics, spirituality, or miracles. In terms of real world results, it is naturalism that works, not supernaturalism. Another example, one that I am quick to point out, is that of Francis Collins, project leader of the Human Genome Project. Collins is an Evangelical Christian and devout believer in Yahweh (He is very impressed by the anthropic argument.), but his considerable contributions to the field of human genetics come entirely from his use of methodologically naturalist research strategies.


No one, to my knowledge, makes the claim that atheists are smarter than theists simply because we are atheists. (There is statistical correlation between level of education and non-belief in deities, but both of these things primarily correspond to socioeconomic class. That is to say that they often occur together because they both share an underlying factor, but they do not necessarily flow from one another.) Indeed, some theists, such as Dr. Collins, are eminent members of their fields. To pretend that religiosity is tantamount to stupidity is, in itself, asinine. We sometimes speak, however, of the irrationality of religious belief. Though he would disagree with that choice of terms, I suspect Garret would agree in spirit to what that means.


He believes, he has faith, in his deity despite the lack of concrete evidence. His god either lurks behind the natural laws that run the universe or dwells entirely outside them, never to be quantified by empirical methods. Nonetheless, he believes, not through evidence, but through faith. It sounds almost noble in some strange way, and it is something that most religions ask of their followers. Yet when we aren’t talking about religion, when we’re talking about purple unicorns and Sasquatch and faeries (or even science-ish things like orgone energy, n-rays, and Velikovskian cosmologyl), such claims of “faith” are quickly seen as irrational. Faith is inherently irrational. There’s an extent to which that’s the point.


His second concern is this:

“The claim that Christianity is illogical. It is perfectly logical IF the claims of supernatural in it are true, then Christianity logically follows from it! It is logical within itself and its own metaphysic, as it were. Even if one were to disagree- if you understand it properly and are able to understand the metaphysical concept that undergirds it, then you can see its logic.”


I understand what he’s saying here: Christianity makes perfect sense if the supernatural claims upon which it is based turn out to be true. Well…yeah. He’s 100% right on that one. He was, however, quite right in capitalizing his “if”. It’s an enormous if. There’s also an issue here that he doesn’t confront. I assume that it’s obvious to him and he simply left it out for the sake of brevity, but I’ll go ahead and state it here: ANY religion is logical if the supernatural claims under-girding it are true. That goes for Christianity. It goes for Judaism. It goes for Islam, Hinduism, Paganism, the Cult of Cthulhu, and Dungeons and Dragons. He’s right to say that “if it’s right, it’s right”, but there’s a limit to how far that logic can take us in a discussion.


On the other hand (and I run the risk of becoming snarky here), it must be admitted that there are doctrines of Christianity that, on their face, are quite paradoxical. The Triune Godhead, for instance. God is Yahweh, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit, and all of these are simultaneously parts of a whole and yet also distinct. (Like Voltron.) This is a strange act of mental gymnastics – preserving monotheism while still claiming full divinity for Jesus and making reference to an autonomous “Holy Spirit” that acts in hearts of the people. Clearly it is understandable that proto-orthodox Christians endured long periods of controversy over just how many gods there were and do what extent Jesus was divine. Likewise the very idea of the Passion of Christ as redemption for humanity’s sins makes little sense on its face, given the Triune Godhead. Jesus is simultaneously both God and God’s son, ergo God sent Himself to earth to suffer horribly in order to redeem humanity in His own eyes and move Himself to mercifully stay His own hand…? I could go on – theodicy, free will, and numerous other issues have confounded theologians since antiquity. The internal logic of Christianity is therefore obviously not self-evident even to people who spend their entire lives discoursing on it.


Again, Garret is right that if it’s all true, Christianity makes sense, but that “if” is enormous.


Well, I think I've said I need all I have to say at the moment. I suspect my friend will have numerous objections to the issues I've addressed here. Notably I anticipate that he will claim that he does indeed have solid evidence for the veracity of Christian doctrine, though I would be quick to remind him that the approx. 3.9 billion non-Christians on the planet, the vast majority of them belonging to some other religion, also feel that their faith is fully justified, and he needs to address their contentions as well as my own.


* See this excellent book by the late Dr. Paul J. Weber, one of my mentors. We didn't agree theologically - he was a believer and former Jesuit - but his Constitutional analysis of church-state separation is tight.

9 comments:

Garret said...

Thanks Skippy for the long reply! I always get a lump in my throat at the long replies, because, OH NO here comes the mathematical formula that disproves God, found in some obscure book from 1834 lol!

Secularism is good and fine for our Government, no problem there!

"to give me a bit of moral support in the face of the jeers of my classmates."

Sorry about that, I don't personally operate with jeers...Pauls says to do it with pleading and tears.

"One thing that is of particular concern to me is that a lot of Christians who feel threatened by organized atheism seem to confuse the two concepts of secularism and atheism."

Good point!

"or teaching empirically based rather than religiously based science in public schools"

Why not both?
Empirically means observed, there is nothing particularly inherent in "religiosity" that says we should not observe, and learn from observation. The only question becomes, what is it that we are observing, and why do the empirical evidences say something different when you apply a different metaphysic....doesn't this fascinate you? It blows me away!

"The desire here is for everyone to be protected equally, rather than having some folks held up as "more equal than others".
I don't see how this is accomplished by removing the word God from coins and pledges, but I understand that is only the tip of your "struggle".

"Garret’s two main concerns are not really so much about the Out Campaign itself but assumptions that he feels it unfairly makes."

Actually, I have that concern mainly from my interactions with atheists, such as Laura, Clostridium, Dale, et al.

"However, when it comes to the issue of the supernatural, this argument from silence becomes somewhat stronger because the silence is just deafening!"

It is not silent, really, in any other fashion than it is "uncommon" and not "scientifically verified". Saying "lack of evidence" in quotes was not intended by me to imply silence...the 66 books of the bible are claims to miraculous interference in the day to day natural law sort of world. There are many Christian (and non X) claims to it today, so I don't believe it is silent. Would science need repeatability of miracles when one is observed? I don't think science is the right tool for this in the first place check this link out http://www.str.org/site/News2?page=NewsArticle&id=5190
and this one too...
http://www.str.org/site/News2?page=NewsArticle&id=5558
actually I think the second link is better.
"Should there not be miracles in modern times"
Yes, very limited, just like in the bible.

"measurable by modern means"

how do you suggest this should be done?

"flying in the face of understood natural mechanisms?"

But science would explain it by natural mechanisms, wouldn't it? That is my whole metaphysics/philosophy diatribe. If one believes that it is in fact a closed system, then a closed system explanation is necessary, right?

"What of “miracles” experienced by members of other religions"

Many Christian miracles that are called miracles in the modern times are not that at all- same for non Christian faiths. Determination of miracle claims should be on an individual basis, not a blanket statement of miracles per se.

"Some people dedicate their entire professional lives to the search for ghosts or the verification of miracles. Yet always they fail."

This speaks perhaps to wrong tools, wrong methodology.

"There is specific evidence that we would expect to find if such supernatural claims are true, but we do not."

I heartily disagree here! I have addressed this many times on Rays against the skeptical. An old quote

"The bible is a collection of documents for which its writers suffered and died (for the gospel), as you know, having read the documents of Paul. WHY would they suffer for 25 years or so before being put to death, through the imprisonment, beatings, rejection, societal persecution, for something they only kinda-sorta believed could possibly be true, versus KNEW to be true."
This indicates that something drastic happened to a man who wrote with incredible lucidity and organization. His and Peters sermons in Acts are very clear, logical and lucid as well....i.e. they were sane! This is compelling evidence, the transformation of these people to believe that a series of miracles completely transformed them.

"As for claims of “intellectual superiority”, I would note that it is a methodologically materialist worldview that yields useful results."

Wrong there too, for my money. I would argue that worldviews don't get results, methodology does! Scientific methodology, the scientific method, TRANSCENDS metaphysics and philosophy and brings together evidences apart from strict philosophical materialism. Just because someone deals with "material" does not make the methodology materialistic, that changes the term drastically, and in fact introduces the metaphysics you are claiming it doesn't need!

"In terms of real world results, it is naturalism that works, not supernaturalism."

In general yes....except I would say for those special cases, RE: Bible.

" To pretend that religiosity is tantamount to stupidity is, in itself, asinine."

Part of the reason I love Skippy!

"Nonetheless, he believes, not through evidence, but through faith."

Yes, and evidences too!

"Faith is inherently irrational."

A self defeating statement. You cannot prove that statement empirically. At the same time admitting that my faith is correct with a big IF...it then would prove itself rational in your own eyes. Instead, you have to accept your statement "Faith is inherently irrational" on faith! A faith which then calls itself irrational.

"The Triune Godhead"
I can and will demonstrate the logic of that for you in a bit, getting tired here.

"though I would be quick to remind him that the approx. 3.9 billion non-Christians on the planet, the vast majority of them belonging to some other religion, also feel that their faith is fully justified, and he needs to address their contentions as well as my own."

Yes, I practice those apologetics as well, throw any objection from these religions at me and I will "give it a whirl".
Thank you Skippy, remember to check the comedy I linked you to. let me know what you think!

Garret said...

Those links failed go to this...
http://www.str.org/

then click Science on the left side, find the article titled "Weighing a Chicken With a Yardstick"
and "What Science Can't Prove"
Or simply put them into the sites search engine.
Thanks!

BTW here is an argument for the logic of Trinity:

Being= (a.k.a. extant) anything that exists, people, animals, inanimate objects, and in my worldview, non physical entities.

Personhood= a special quality of being, the attributes of personhood are such things as identity, self awareness, etc..

Taking that information-

How many beings is Skippy? one
How many persons is Skippy? one

How many beings is a cup? one
How many persons is a cup?Zero

If a being can be one person and less than one person, there is no logical contradiction in saying that a being could be more than one person.
This of course does not prove that the Trinitarian Godhead is a reality, rather, that it is a logical possibility.
Does that make sense? Hope so

Skippy said...

I'm going to address the being vs. person issue first here because I'm hugely dissatisfied by the formulation that you've given.

You've given a definition of a "being" as, basically, anything that's a noun. Fair enough for our purposes. You've given a definition of a "person" as something that is self aware and has an identity, etc. Again, for our purposes we can run with that definition.

That being said, it seems to me that personhood is a binary issue - a yes or a no. The formulations that you have given - that a cup is a being but not a person, while a human is both a being AND a person, still treat the issue of personhood as a "yes/no" sort of thing. They do nothing to address the idea of one being with multiple personhoods.

I described the Triune Godhead as Voltron (Semi-autonomous parts that also comprise an overarching whole). It could also be formulated as something more akin to Super MechaGodzilla, wherein three FULLY autonomous parts combine into a whole.* Those formulations, in their own peculiar way, make sense. It is multiple parts that are each things in and of themselves but also comprise a whole. The problem why applying that to the Christian God is that He's not meant to be, for lack of a better term, a committee. He is ONE thing.

The single entity with multiple personhoods formulation has the effect of reducing God to a schizophrenic or a dissociative. Sure, we all have different aspects of our selves, but they aren't independent selves, as the Godhead implies. (This goes back to my concerns about the Passion.) The formulation you have offered points to God as Sybil.

The Trinitarian doctrine is one of the most paradoxical aspects of Christian and one can easily see why it was initially controversial. (You can also see what might have motivated the insertion of our old pal the Johannine Comma.) Trying to maintain that there are three supremely holy beings while maintaining strict monotheism seems to me to be a high theological hurdle.

*(Interestingly the parts of Super MechaGodzilla are the father craft [MechaGodzilla], a man [the pilot] and a "bird" [the Garuda airship]. Maybe we're onto something. :-D )


Oh, I'm going to check out that link later this evening. I've not had much computer access over the last couple of days. You said it was Christian comedy? (I'm too lazy to open another tab and look.) What was your opinion of that Book of Daniel show that only lasted for a couple weeks about a year or so ago? Wasn't that meant to be an uplifting Christian show that ended up getting shouted down for not being Christian enough? I never saw it, but I remember there was some controversy about it.

Garret said...

Hi Skippy!
I don't know about the book of Daniel show, I will look into it. Jesus People is a "mock-u-mentary", with a good lesson every once in a while. We were supposed to get Kirk Cameron,but he backed out with some concerns of conflict with WOTM, he and Rays ministry, so we got VJ instead!

You said "The formulation you have offered points to God as Sybil." Well, Sybil didn't have legitimate personhoods, other than her one true self, I don't think!
The word 'being' can be replaced by 'extant', as I pointed out- meaning "anything that exists", and not all things that exist have personhood.

"The formulations that you have given - that a cup is a being but not a person, while a human is both a being AND a person, still treat the issue of personhood as a "yes/no" sort of thing. They do nothing to address the idea of one being with multiple personhoods."

I am kind of stuck with the exact nature of your objection here. The idea of one being with multiple personhoods is still a yes/no proposition.
The point I meant to make was that with the "yes" of the special property of personhood, if there is one vs. none, there is the possibility of more than one vs. none. The possibility is there in virtue of the fact that it is a property that is distinguishable in a yes/no sense. If all extants had personhood, then one would be hard pressed to say "hey, there is a being with more than one personhood out there", because there would be no case where there was a demonstrable variance in 'personhood'. But because logically one can show variance in personhood(one or zero), there exists the possibility for a further variance in number.
Get it? Or is this crazy talk?

"Trying to maintain that there are three supremely holy beings while maintaining strict monotheism seems to me to be a high theological hurdle."

I understand perfectly.
Re: MechaGodzilla concept, all I know is that theologically it can't be this formula.....1/3 + 1/3 + 1/3= 1, because that is an example of "tripartism".

Skippy said...

I'm still not seeing your logic here. You've provided only a binary model of personhood, and I think you're making a leap to use the "yes/no" variance to make the case for other possibilities. You make the objection to my "God as Sybil" statement that Sybil didn't have three complete personhoods. (Keeping in mind, of course, the multiple personalities as characterized in such works have been largely demonstrated to be bollocks.) God, as you understand Him, is not one entity with three partially developed personhoods. Thus, God is not Sybil.

I would take our discussions to mean that you feel that the three aspects of the Godhead are each complete in and of themselves. Just as He is not one thing divided, He is also not three incomplete things combined. Otherwise God would be Voltron (An amalgamated whole made from separated, incomplete parts). We have thus established that God is not Voltron.

With that in mind, I propose the following formulation in response to your concepts of multiple, complete personhoods: A cat can be (hypothetically) all black, all white, or all red. It can also be a mixture of any pair of these colors, or it can be a mixture of all three, but it cannot simultaneously be completely black AND completely white AND completely red. That would make it three distinct cats, not three aspects of one cat.

This, weirdly, leads us back to MechaGodzilla: all of -its- parts are complete and act according to their intended function when alone, but also combine into something greater. But, as we've both point out, God is not a committee. Thus God is not MechaGodzilla.

Finally these leads to yet another formulation - God as one root entity that extends, from His base "self", three distinct operating agents that nonetheless serve some central "will". This formulation could, I suppose, be labeled 'God as King Ghidorah'. It is an imperfect analogy, since King Ghidorah, having three heads, is a central being with three operating agents but these agents are limited in their scope. The problems here are multitudinous - The Godhead is meant to be composed of three omnipotent agents that nonetheless constitute one whole. However, if there is a root will at work, then it is that will, rather than it's operating agents, that is truly God.

Just as King Ghidorah's heads are operating agents of the being that is King Ghidorah, the Trinity would thus be operating agents of God. Just as we do not speak of King Ghidorah's heads as being distinct entities, it therefore would make no sense to speak of the Trinity as distinct entities. King Ghidorah is King Ghidorah, not Lefty, Righty, and Middly. Thus God would just be God, not a Father, Son, and Holy Ghost. To paint God as King Ghidorah would remove the doctrinal usefulness of the Trinity. Since you appear to accept the Trinity, however, I suspect that we can therefore provisionally declare that God is -probably- not King Ghidorah, either.

In any event, I'm not going to have computer access for the majority of the weekend, and thus this discussion will have to continue somewhere closer to Sunday evening. I understand that I'm becoming increasingly peculiar in my analogies, but there's a sense in which I think it helps keeps things in some sort of perspective. I'm frankly delighted to be having such a peculiar discussion.

Love and peace,
-Skippy

Garret said...

Hi Skippy!
Peculiar discussions do rock, I agree.
“God is not Sybil.”
“God is not Voltron.”
“God is not MechaGodzilla.”
Nor is He your cat or King Ghidorah.

Okay lets go back a bit and take a circuitous route, to lay some groundwork, in an effort to clear up some concepts and misconceptions.

The ‘law of identity’ is a concept that all of us are familiar with before, and without, being taught it. Identity is in fact determined by the differences between things, the individuality of many different factors, or even just one variance, technically. Let me give a simple example. Please play along, lets pretend we know each other well, and live near each other for this…Lets say we are having a conversation, and I bring up my friend John Erikson- you say “I know John! He’s a good friend of mine!” I say “Oh, wow!…you know his wife Joan is pregnant with their their fifth kid now!” Suddenly, like a rifle shot, you realize that we are talking about different John Erikson’s…the John you know is a bachelor, and is 19 years old. It is impossible for them to be the same person, given that you know a lot about him.

This is the law of identity- “everything is itself, and not something else” Joseph Butler.
For any x and y, if x and y are identical (they are really the same thing, there is only one thing you are talking about, not two) then any truth that applies to x will apply to y also. Hence a test for identity: if you could find one thing true of x not true of y, or vice versa then x cannot be identical to y. (taken from J.P. Moreland)

This is why all religions can’t be true, they describe God in different, contrary ways to other religions. Religious pluralism is false on this very simple, very basic law of identity. On these grounds alone, God is not identical to the list of comparisons you made. The God of the bible of course has very specific traits that need to be considered when talking about the Trinity, for instance. I do realize, however, that you meant in comparison of specific 3 part traits, not overall identity. I have described the law of identity for future groundwork.

Now I will highlight the problem with your physical comparisons-
This brings me back to the trinitarian concept.
1. Remember God has characteristics ascribed to Him, and omnipresence is one of them. This is vital to consider whether there is ever any separation at all in the Trinity, if He is everywhere at the same time.
2.He is not physical, another problem with the physical non omnipresent beings used to construct an analogy.
This is why I would bring in the law of identity, because a comparison to MechaGodzilla, et al is a comparison to a limited being without omnipresence, i.e. your cat is in only one location at a time, not everywhere. Physical manifestations of the omnipresent God would be local expressions of omnipresent being for the purpose of interaction in the very limited physical realm. Was Jesus omnipresent while on earth? Certainly not in a physical sense. God the Father was and is. The Holy Spirit indwells believers all over the earth, and yet is and was everywhere at the same time, as one of the Godhead. If God is Trinity and omnipresent, then Jesus would never have been outside the Godhead at all, you can‘t be outside of omnipresence, though you can be a separate being from the omnipresent. Our claim is that Jesus is part of that omnipresent Godhead, still in resurrected physical form in heaven. The Hindu’s say all is god, god is all. This is a different concept. God is omnipresent, but unique and separate from His creation.

“You've provided only a binary model of personhood, and I think you're making a leap to use the "yes/no" variance to make the case for other possibilities.”
That is exactly what I did, if it is insufficient, and it probably is, it was an attempt to limit physical comparisons, which are hard to do given the traits of God as revealed in the bible.
Thanks Skippy. Lets keep going! Peace to you!

Skippy said...

I have to reply more briefly than I'd prefer (Amazingly enough, there's actually work to do at work this week.), but when you talk of Jesus as just being a "physical manifestation" of the Godhead, it seems to me that we're just going back to King Ghidorah. If Jesus and the Holy Spirit are naught but "manifestations", then it makes more sense just to talk about "God" than any specific aspect of the Trinity.

This is especially true if, for example, Jesus and the Holy Spirit are purely instruments of the central will of God - then they would be little more than appendages, the "heads" on King Ghidorah if you like.

Besides, the idea of Jesus as a non-autonomous instrument performing the central will of God would rob the Passion of it's meaning. It would, as I've said before, come down to God sacrificing Himself to Himself to impress Himself with His own mercy so much that He stays His own wrath - Where is the deep meaning of -that-?

Now, I'm sure you're aware that Jesus is said to have pleaded with God at Gethsemane to avoid his Passion (Eventually relenting, of course.) This speaks not to an instrument, but a free-willed entity. But if Jesus is free-willed, distinct from God and with, at Gethsemane at least, interests that run contrary to God's at some points, then this once again runs contrary to teaching about the Trinity.

A fully divine Christ that has desires and goals apart from what God wants (even if he gives in so that God's "will be done") is a distinct entity, not a part of God. (Unless we would accept the notion of a Godhead that disagrees with itself like the 3-headed knight from Monty Python and the Holy Grail.) It would be create a system closer to that of Zeus and his son Hercules. For Christians, this would be a dangerous flirtation with polytheism.

I contend that the desire for a fully divine Christ, juxtaposed oddly with the desire to maintain the monotheistic tradition of Judaism, resulted in the rather paradoxical doctrine of the Trinity. As you've stated yourself, without the Johannine Comma, the Trinity is something that must be drawn from the Bible by "inference". It seems to me to be a bit of a "ret-con" (retrofitted continuity) on the part of the victorious orthodox in order to smooth down the contrasts between two of their core beliefs (A fully divine Christ vs. a single God).

Anyway, that's all I have time for at the moment. Sorry to have kept you waiting so long for a reply.

Garret said...

Hi Skippy!
"but when you talk of Jesus as just being a "physical manifestation"
well He is not just that...He is fully man and fully God. John 1:14, and Colossians 2:9,10

'This is especially true if, for example, Jesus and the Holy Spirit are purely instruments of the central will of God - then they would be little more than appendages, the "heads" on King Ghidorah if you like.'

That would be an unwarranted reductionist claim. Jesus and the Holy Spirit are not just "instruments of the central will" of God, they are God. A function that is humanly defined is not the limits of that which is being defined, rather it is a function, and the function is not the thing itself.

"t would, as I've said before, come down to God sacrificing Himself to Himself to impress Himself with His own mercy so much that He stays His own wrath - Where is the deep meaning of -that-?"

That is actually a straw man, to say that the sacrifice was "to impress himself with His own mercy"
1 Peter 2:24 "and He Himself bore our sins in His body on the cross, so that we might die to sin and live to righteousness; for by His wounds you were healed."
I can't possibly add anything to that from Peter as to the Bibles view on the meaning of the sacrifice. Again, fully man and fully God...the man portion of the sacrifice is the redeeming power of the cross. If He was not also fully man, this would not be a redemption of man at all.

"But if Jesus is free-willed, distinct from God and with, at Gethsemane at least, interests that run contrary to God's at some points, then this once again runs contrary to teaching about the Trinity."

I can see what you are saying. But, if his interests were contrary to God, would He have not taken it on Himself to avoid the crucifixion, rather than obedience? He could have, but He did not, that He asked for another way shows his humanly fear and dread. Fully human.
From Matthew Henrys comentary
"...if it were the will of God, this cup of suffering, this bitter cup, might be removed from him. This was the language of that innocent dread of suffering which, being really and truly man, he could not but have in his nature. 5. That he, knowing it to be his Father’s will that he should suffer and die, and that, as the matter was now settled, it was necessary for our redemption and salvation, presently withdrew that petition, did not insist upon it, but resigned himself to his heavenly Father’s will: "Nevertheless not my will be done, not the will of my human nature, but the will of God as it is written concerning me in the volume of the book, which I delight to do, let that be done,’’ Ps. 40:7,

"A fully divine Christ that has desires and goals apart from what God wants (even if he gives in so that God's "will be done") is a distinct entity, not a part of God"

It does not appear that His desires and goals were separate. As you yourself Skippy, can have a goal, lets say rock-climbing. You come to the rock with the desire and goal of climbing it, yet you at the same time have a deep sense of dread and excitement in the pit of your stomach. That dread is a natural fear for humans, but is distinct from your goals and desires. You still have the desire and the goal AND the freedom to walk away, but you remain true to your goals and desires.

"
I contend that the desire for a fully divine Christ, juxtaposed oddly with the desire to maintain the monotheistic tradition of Judaism, resulted in the rather paradoxical doctrine of the Trinity."

No man, or few men, have been convinced through argumentation and reason in this matter.

"It seems to me to be a bit of a "ret-con" (retrofitted continuity) on the part of the victorious orthodox in order to smooth down the contrasts between two of their core beliefs (A fully divine Christ vs. a single God)."

If Christianity is false, then this is the only plausible explanation. I contend that Jesus is Lord, has died for our sins, I confess Him per Romans 10:9 (my favorite verse), and publicly thank him for that!
I appreciate this discussion, Love and Peace to Skippy, and hope all is well.
BTW, saw your youtube videos, sorry to see the huge tree down, did you guys turn it into firewood?

Skippy said...

Hey brother. Sorry I've not replied in a while.

"Physical manifestations of the omnipresent God would be local expressions of omnipresent being for the purpose of interaction in the very limited physical realm. Was Jesus omnipresent while on earth? Certainly not in a physical sense."

I took the above quote to indicate that you supported the idea of Jesus as a physical manifestation of God. Sorry if I misread you.

As for my account of the Passion as being a straw man argument, I have to say I disagree. If God is Jesus and Jesus is God, then the point of the Passion was God (pardoning the profanity here) kicking the living shit out of Himself so that, for whatever reason, He wouldn't have (inasmuch as God "has" to do anything) to kick the living shit out of everyone else. Your verse from Peter says just that, only he uses less profanity and more flowery speech.

It also creates weird theological issues - Can God actually suffer physical harm and agony at the hands of humans? If so, how can He be totally omnimax? If not - that is, if Jesus only "appeared" to suffer- what point would there be to the crucifixion?