Wednesday, October 21, 2015

On the Koukl-Rauser feud

So Greg Koukl and Randal Rauser have been going at it over the culpability of atheism. Koukl seems to be taking a rather strong line, nearly unheard of nowadays, that atheists are culpable in their unbelief - that their unbelief is itself a bad thing, something they should reject, fight against, and will ultimately be made to answer for. Rauser is taking the opposite view.

Ed Feser decided to weigh in on this one, and frankly, it's a bit like having a skirmish between the Somalian navy and some pirates interrupted by the arrival of the Russian navy - everyone rushes to get their story straight because they know if they don't, one of them is about to get blasted into debris.

Rauser made the typical rhetorical move of trying to suggest that Ed was really on /his/ side, and that Koukl is really the target here:
Fair enough. Except I agree with your critique of Koukl and I don't find your purported disagreement with me to be substantive. (In other words, you should say that Koukl's wrong and I'm right!) 
Smooth, Randal.

Ed responds by saying, well, Koukl only gave a short video here, and more can be said by him - indeed, he seems able to sidestep your objections. Randal's response to this is silence, at least until Koukl follows up with a larger explanation of his thoughts.

Koukl himself says he's in some agreement with Feser, but otherwise sticks to his guns: he sees Paul's condemnation of the atheist as both clear and severe. The atheist is culpable, on his reading of Paul. It's not a commendable act of honesty, or being-true-to-oneself - it is condemnable, even if sincere.

At this point, Rauser goes all-in against Koukl, and he makes an interesting move: he argues that if Koukl condemns the atheist for his unbelief, then the Christian should be condemned insofar as -they- lack belief too:
The dilemma for Koukl is clear: if atheists are morally culpable for suppressing God's revelation, the doubting Christian is as well. So if Koukl wants to retain this reading, then he can do so. But if he wants to be consistent, shouldn't he start condemning Christians who doubt for willfully suppressing God's revelation to them?
Rauser has more to say, but I think this is the only real interesting point he brings up. And he invests heavily in it too. What's telling here is that Rauser immediately jumps to a pretty weird extrapolation of Koukl's views, and then calls Koukl out for not condemning Christians along with atheists. Why does Rauser care about that? Well, because he's playing a rhetorical game. This isn't about the argument anymore, it's about instinct and emotion, particularly what instinct and emotions can be provoked in onlookers.

Rauser immediately has support from the world's most boring and unsuccessful evangelical atheist, Edward T. Babinski - basically John Loftus, but somehow more dull. Probably not the best way to start out this encounter. (Let's face it; when you get low-ranking clerics of the Cult of Gnu on your side, it's generally evidence that you're doing something wrong.)

At this point, I should probably note that my opinion of Rauser has dived over the years. Koukl, meanwhile, I've only heard of indirectly. And Feser, of course, I'm a fan of.

Meanwhile, someone makes the point that a Christian 'willfully suppressing' their belief in God would not be a Christian, and Rauser tries to fire one from the hip to discourage this line of thought:
You're free to take the position that a self-described Christian who doubts is willfully supressing God's revelation and thereby is, in fact, not really a Christian. I don't agree with you, but at least you're consistent.
This passes for a bit, until Brandon of Siris shows up (I'll be calling him that more, because it picks him out amongst other Brandons, and also makes him sound like a Lord of the Rings character.) Brandon being a sharp guy who I've snapped at before. Tenacious. Brandon's not buying Rauser's interpretation of the line:
I read JohnD's point in a different way, namely, that taking the doubting Christian to be "suppressing God's revelation" in the sense an atheist does is equivocation: if the doubting Christian were actually "suppressing God's revelation" in the way an atheist does, he would stop being a Christian, for the same reasons atheists aren't Christians. And, indeed, this is a genuine problem with this entire line of argument: since there are relevant differences in mindset between a doubting Christian and an atheist, which are precisely what allow one to classify the one as a doubting Christian and the other as an atheist, it follows that it is entirely possible on Koukl's supposition to take the moral situation of the other to be different from the moral situation of the other. 
Sensible. But, Rauser's playing a game here: he reasons that knocking atheists for their unbelief is one thing, but no one's going to side with Koukl if ANYone with ANY doubt is a sinner too. Especially if they're considered to be /just as bad as atheists/.

There's just one problem, and Brandon's noticed it: this is a bullshit line that's not going to work. You certainly can't argue that a Christian experiencing doubt yet nevertheless believing is on the same plane as an atheist - the Christian believes and is actively committing to belief. The atheist, especially the admitted and avowed atheist, has given in entirely. Randal's move won't work - and it's a move meant for rhetorical sting more than anything. At best, he may be able to argue that unbelief in Christian is a -failing-, but not on par with out and out atheism. But that's diluted to the point of being uncontroversial; the controversy would lie back with the 'atheism as sin' claim.

Randal's having none of it. In part because it's his best shot at Koukl - if this goes down, his whole argument gets a whole lot harder to sell.
Brandon, you write that for "the doubting Christian to be 'suppressing God's revelation" in the sense an atheist does is equivocation'".
But that is not correct. On Koukl's view, anybody who fails to recognize the "plain and clear" evidence of God's existence and nature is culpable, whether that person identifies as an atheist, an agnostic, or a theist. 
To me? This doesn't pass the smell test. Rauser's claiming what must follow given Koukl's view, but it's a sloppy extrapolation at best - not the sort of thing he should be confidently claiming, especially in light of the fact that he can't present any quote of Koukl taking this same line about Christians. And Brandon's having none of it in turn:
This seems to make the obvious error of conflating first-order and second-order recognition of plain evidence as if they were the same thing, which they are not. The distinction is an easily recognizable one in everyday life. To accept plain evidence is not the same as recognizing the plainness of the evidence in one's reasoning; the former requires no reflection, but the latter does.
To put the same point from a different direction, your claim merely propagates the problem: "fails to recognize" in what way? Quite clearly the doubting Christian cannot "fail to recognize" things that point to the existence and goodness of God in the same way that an atheist "fails to recognize" things that show the existence and goodness of God, because ex hypothesi he is a doubting presently Christian, not a formerly Christian atheist. You have literally done nothing to show that the failure to recognize in each case is the same kind rather than different kinds of mindset that happen to be able to be described, if one is loose and vague, in broadly similar terms. 
A word of wise to someone who argues with Brandon: don't try to pull a fast one on him. He's not going to bite, and he actually seems to really enjoy nailing hides to the wall of people who try to do so. He's relentless when he smells bullshit.

This goes on, and my prediction is that it's going to go on for a while, until Rauser likely flees the field, or tries to claw his way to a face-saving truce. He doesn't have the winning argument here, and he got too aggressive in trying to deploy a rhetorical move against Koukl.

As for my own view on the matter? I'm far more sympathetic to Koukl than Rauser. Biblically, I think it's clear that faith and belief is not just this thing that you either have or you don't. It's a clear and certain good to have, it's an evil to lack it, and one is meant to embrace it and heighten it in their lives. Rauser wants to sidestep this, and basically treat religious faith as this thing that, if you have it, hey wonderful - but if you don't, that's maybe unfortunate from one perspective but doggone it at least you're true to yourself and he still respects you, it's not a mark against you in any way.

I no longer think the latter is correct.

33 comments:

malcolmthecynic said...

This goes back to my favorite all-time Lewis essay, "Man or Rabbit":

https://www.google.com/url?sa=t&rct=j&q=&esrc=s&source=web&cd=1&ved=0CB4QFjAAahUKEwiTmr6PoNXIAhVIXD4KHbYKBxg&url=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.calvin.edu%2F~pribeiro%2FDCM-Lewis-2009%2FLewis%2Fman-or-rabbit.pdf&usg=AFQjCNEfbB1tX81wFK12deeMU0xWBYDIew&cad=rja

Andrew W said...

Even if we grant Rauser's intermediate point, I don't think it gets us where he thinks it does.

Romans 1 is merely the first part of Paul's introduction, establishing that everyone - Jew or Gentile - is culpably guilty before God (the introduction ends when we reach 3:21 and Paul, having proven a universal lack of (or more properly rejection of) righteousness, starts discussing how Christ brings righteousness). The atheist is culpably guilty of suppressing the truth of God, as is the Jew, as is the Gentile. "There is no-one righteous, not even one, no-one who seeks God; all have turned away.". Note the language is "turned away", not merely "ignorant" - Paul's concern here is to establish universal guilt.

The Christian is counted righteous not because he has failed to sin, nor sinned less, but because he is granted Christ's righteousness (Rom 3:21-16).

So does the Christian sin when he doubts? Yes; lack of faith is a sin. But the Christian's salvation is not about his sinlessness, but that he has accepted God's grace. I can accept God's grace and still doubt - and thus still sin - and still receive God's mercy. But I cannot receive God's mercy while denying his existence, and suppressing the evidence thereof. This strikes me as the perfect illustration of "What little he has will be taken from him".

That said, not even the atheist is beyond salvation. For if God can raise the dead, He can even save the man who says "go away, I want to stay dead" and bring that man to accept life, if that is what God chooses do to.

IlĂ­on said...

"I no longer think the latter is correct."

Isn't it just the most amazing thing? Bit by bit you admit that *everything* I have ever argued is correct ... and *still* I am wrong (when not outright immoral), about everything.

What is it like to live in such a self-constructed cage?

Crude said...

Bit by bit you admit that *everything* I have ever argued is correct

I've always agreed with you about quite a lot of things. Even after you completely went weirdo-stalker on me, I always made a point of noting how whatever my opinion of you was, I thought you made many good points. One can make good point and be a bit mental, after all.

and *still* I am wrong (when not outright immoral), about everything.

Bwahaha. Bitch, I don't talk about you. You talk about me. For me, your being wrong about Limbaugh is a years-ago minor event. For you, it's an obsession that's frankly pretty creepy.

Anyway, since you've displayed the complete inability to talk about anything but yourself and frankly are starting to get into 'He'd mail dead animals to me if he knew where I lived' territory, here's public notice: I'm done publishing your comments. Seriously dude, all you ever do here is talk about yourself and complain bitterly that I strongly disagreed with you years ago. It's time to move on.

Go write a big crazy diatribe on the blog I don't read.

Crude said...

Andrew,

I agree that there's a fundamental dissimilarity between the two. Rauser's investing heavily here on the idea that they're equivalent, and it won't fly. But I don't think he's going to give it up - there's more going on here than argument.

B. Prokop said...

The Medieval Church defined heresy as knowing something to be untrue, and yet still believing it. This was perfectly illustrated in Cantos 9 through 11 of Dante's Inferno.

From personal, anecdotal experience, I suspect that the overwhelming majority of (silent) atheists out there are not atheists because of any reasoning, evidence, conviction, or any other sort of "intellectual" motive, but are so rather from sheer apathy and never seriously thinking about life's meaning or purpose.

A smaller portion of them appear to reject religion from some childhood trauma or from exposure to false ideas (e.g., "The Church is against science!", etc.).

The internet subculture gives one a totally false impression of atheists being passionate about their (non)beliefs, whereas out in the unvirtual world, apathy is king.

Son of Ya'Kov said...

BenYachov in the house.

a) There are culpably ignorant Atheists. Persons who could know there is a God but reject out of sinful malice trying to find out because they don't want to change their minds.
They are lost unless they repent & convert before death.

b) There are invincibly ignorant Atheists who threw no fault of their own fail to believe and God in His Mercy gives them extra-ordinary Grace to be saved and they will not be lost but go to Heaven.

c) There are invincibly ignorant Atheists who threw no fault of their own fail to believe in God but resist any extra-ordinary Grace God gives them. They will be lost but the only thing their invincible ignorance grants them is their none belief will not factor into their condemnation but their other sins will.

d) If we believe St. Pius X and Pius IX we can't know who among the non-believers falls into which category nor can we use the existence of type b atheists as an excuse not to preach the Gospel.

e) Pius XII taught even if you could know an Atheist was type b you still deny him blessings and graces by not preachign the gospel to him and inviting him to join the church and considering he is type be and recieving extra-ordinary grace he would convert upon hearing.

That is my summery.

Crude said...

One thing that confuses me about these conversations is how X being labeled 'a sin' seems to end up with X being treated as 'the worst thing ever'. I'm very open to the idea that atheism is, in and of itself, a sin - the angry lecturing of many a self-righteous Gnu notwithstanding.

At the same time, 'sin' is a pretty broad category that likely sweeps up what must of us do, at least once, on a weekly basis.

It's as if momentarily, people forget that a sin can be at once severe, yet not UNIQUELY severe. Christianity is demanding. Granting, it's a big step when one recognizes that atheism itself is an immoral act (Yes, I know, people will deny atheism is ever an act as opposed to a belief, but I'm not certain that a belief is not an act, so...), but it doesn't automatically place atheists on a permanent lesser plane than a Christian, so to speak.

Crude said...

Ben,

There are invincibly ignorant Atheists who threw no fault of their own fail to believe in God but resist any extra-ordinary Grace God gives them.

I question this. The doctrine of invincible ignorance, according to my recollection, is a doctrine about the fate of non-Catholics. Not non-theists, which is a different group, even if it's contained in the group of non-Catholics.

malcolmthecynic said...

Reposted from Dr. Feser's place. Lewis again, but then he is especially relevant here, famously being a convert from atheism:

From "The Great Divorce":

[In response to “...honest opinions fearlessly followed – they are not sins.”]

“Let us be frank. Our opinions were not honestly come by. We simply found ourselves in contact with a certain current of ideas and plunged into it because it seemed modern and successful. At College, you know, we just started automatically writing the kind of essays that got good marks and saying the kind of things that won applause. When, in our whole lives, did we honestly face, in solitude, the one question on which all turned: whether after all the Supernatural might not in fact occur? When did we put up one moment's real resistance to the loss of our faith?”

Syllabus said...

I'm going to disagree in part.

The part that I'm going to agree with is that people who reject the existence of God are, in some sense, hardening their hearts against God (see, eg, Romans 1). I think that there is such a thing as the sensus divinitatus, and that rejection of it constitutes, even if not totally wittingly, the rejection of divine grace. Wittingness is an important element of sin and virtue, but it's not entirely constitutive of it. Rejecting that grace is sinful.

The part I'm going to disagree with is the following: you seem to be -- and correct me if I'm reading you wrong -- embracing the view that people who reject the grace in the "light of nature" are uniformly culpable to the same degree. I don't think this is true, and I think some of Randal's examples are in part on point. For instance, someone who rejects God because he wants to be "captain of his own soul, master of his own fate" is rejecting God out of pure pridefulness. But someone like, say, Ayaan Hirsi Ali, whose entire experience of what God is supposedly like was her truly brutal upbringing? I wouldn't call her blameless, because all these sorts of things still require an element of choice, but she certainly seems to have more of a (at least to me) justifiable reason for rejecting God-talk.

Now obviously we're talking about her being raised in Islam rather than Christianity, so the cases are a bit asymmetric, but I think that the point is still well-illustrated. Among the results of living in a fallen world, amongst creatures that have freedom of the will, is that some of these creatures use their freedom to create situations that seem to count against the existence or goodness of God.

To put it into a slightly more succinct manner: I don't think God is going to allow anyone to damn themselves because of what is essentially a clerical error.

Also, re: faith, I tend to think that faith is just what St Thomas called it -- "the act of the intellect assenting to a Divine truth owing to the movement of the will, which is itself moved by the grace of God". In this sense, certainly I would agree that faith is a good, and its privation or lack an evil. But I think that it's certainly true that, under this definition, a Christian will, even though he has assented previously to these truths, and has made a sort of binding vow to continue in that belief, will at times experience weakness of the will and therefore falter in faith. I think that's certainly a failing, but I also don't find it implausible that this could happen to a Christian.

But it seems to me -- not with any sort of commitment, just upon first inspection -- that under this definition the main difference between the Christian and the atheist is the time scale of the doubt. (Though I guess the pre-existing commitment to continue in belief is also a significant difference.)

Son of Ya'Kov said...

>>There are invincibly ignorant Atheists who threw no fault of their own fail to believe in God but resist any extra-ordinary Grace God gives them.

>I question this. The doctrine of invincible ignorance, according to my recollection, is a doctrine about the fate of non-Catholics. Not non-theists, which is a different group, even if it's contained in the group of non-Catholics.

I don't see how it wouldn't apply to Atheists & I have never seen an official document from the Church excluding the possibility? Besides how many Gnus have you and I butted heads with whose Atheism strictly consists of disbelief in some Theistic Personalist Idol/god both you and I are strong Atheists toward believing it? Yet some will admit the existence of a Pure Act or Absolute or Being Itself not realizing that is what we mean by God?

So I have some hope for some Atheists but as Pius IX you can't let the existence of the invincibly ignorant be used as an excuse not to preach the Gospel. Maybe some infidels can plead invincible ignorance but believers can't.

Cheers brother Crude.

Crude said...

Ben,

I don't see how it wouldn't apply to Atheists & I have never seen an official document from the Church excluding the possibility?

I'm just pointing out that this is a very different question. Invincible ignorance, in every manifestation I've seen, is reference to people being outside of the Church. It's not about the sinfulness of atheism.

Yet some will admit the existence of a Pure Act or Absolute or Being Itself not realizing that is what we mean by God?

Frankly, not many. Especially once they understand that pure act is God - most knee-jerk deny it.

Nor, by the way, do those atheists seem to be particularly motivated by their knowledge or understanding. They usually utterly despise Christianity and have political or emotional reactions in play in their rejection of it. That's not culpable?

Maybe some infidels can plead invincible ignorance but believers can't.

Why not? There's no contradiction in saying that someone is invincibly ignorant yet is committed to Christ anyway. It wouldn't be due to a lack of ignorance that they commit, but they can be ignorant all the same.

Crude said...

Syllabus,

The part I'm going to disagree with is the following: you seem to be -- and correct me if I'm reading you wrong -- embracing the view that people who reject the grace in the "light of nature" are uniformly culpable to the same degree.

Not uniformly culpable to the same degree, but more and more I am tempted to believe that they are all culpable to some degree, with none utterly non-culpable.

But someone like, say, Ayaan Hirsi Ali, whose entire experience of what God is supposedly like was her truly brutal upbringing? I wouldn't call her blameless, because all these sorts of things still require an element of choice, but she certainly seems to have more of a (at least to me) justifiable reason for rejecting God-talk.

I dispute this, but more than that - I bet you Ali would dispute it. Let her come forward and say she rejects God not because of rational reasons, but her shitty upbringing. Think she'll go for it?

This also gets into a particular mistake I've opposed for a very long time - rejecting the existence of God on the grounds that if a Creator exists, said Creator cannot be 'omnibenevolent' or the like. 'Look at this evil' etc. I find that a remarkable, unfathomable blind spot in the modern west. It's bizarre.

But it seems to me -- not with any sort of commitment, just upon first inspection -- that under this definition the main difference between the Christian and the atheist is the time scale of the doubt.

I disagree with this. I think the main difference is in commitment and personal cultivation. I suspect that a conscious act of commitment and engagement is of primary concern here, above and beyond bare-stripped belief in a proposition.

Syllabus said...

Crude:

Not uniformly culpable to the same degree, but more and more I am tempted to believe that they are all culpable to some degree, with none utterly non-culpable.

I suspect this is correct as well (though, again, the extent of culpability is hard to suss out).

I dispute this, but more than that - I bet you Ali would dispute it. Let her come forward and say she rejects God not because of rational reasons, but her shitty upbringing. Think she'll go for it?

Nope. But I do think that there's an equivocation going on here between the initial reasons for which the rejection happened and the reasons presently given for said rejection. If we're talking about the former, I suppose they certainly could have been for rational reasons, but I think you'd also agree that certain events in a person's personal history will make them more inclined -- for reasons that may be entirely a-rational -- to grant greater weight to the arguments for a certain side over another. Now, if these reasons take hold and persist for a while, the person's going to become more entrenched in them over time, and eventually come to a place where both their cognitive processes and background information will be such that, judged against both, they'll certainly claim (and perhaps be right) that they've got purely rational reasons for disbelieving in God. Now, one can certainly try and engage her by saying something like "OK, you're judging whether or not God exists against this certain background of beliefs and assumptions, but are these the most rational beliefs and assumptions?", but the extent to which that'd be effective in the first place diminishes the longer one is holding on to such a background, IMO.

Alternately, if you grant that these reasons aren't entirely rationally justifiable, then that works out. But you don't sound like you do, so that leaves you in a very interesting place, it seems to me -- namely, that Ali has reasons for rejecting the existence of God that are entirely rationally justifiable. So if you're going to maintain that a) she's in that position, and b) she's culpable for that unbelief, then you've committed, at least in principle, to the possibility that unbelief reached for entirely rational reasons, through no deficiency of thought or affection of the intellect by the will or appetites, is culpable. This strikes me as something of a bizarre position, which leads me to believe that I may be misinterpreting you, so by all means dispel my misapprehensions if I have.

This also gets into a particular mistake I've opposed for a very long time - rejecting the existence of God on the grounds that if a Creator exists, said Creator cannot be 'omnibenevolent' or the like. 'Look at this evil' etc. I find that a remarkable, unfathomable blind spot in the modern west. It's bizarre.

I think this is right, but I think it's still equivocating. The thing that's culpable (if I'm understanding your position correctly) is not atheism per se, but atheism to the extent that it denies the existence of the God of Christianity. If that's what makes culpability, then a believer in, say, Spinoza's God or some amoral deistic picture is still culpable in the same way (though perhaps to a different degree). Though maybe you think there's a difference in type of culpability between an atheist and an idolater (though arguably the atheist is also an idolater -- human beings are by nature worshipping creatures, and if we don't worship God we'll worship a false god).

(I've been doing problem sets for like the past 6 hours, so my responses may be a little hazy and/or disorganized.)

Crude said...

Alternately, if you grant that these reasons aren't entirely rationally justifiable, then that works out. But you don't sound like you do, so that leaves you in a very interesting place, it seems to me -- namely, that Ali has reasons for rejecting the existence of God that are entirely rationally justifiable.

No, I'd question that too. I'm saying that Ali wouldn't plea the case that you're laying out for her to plead - she'd insist her reasons were rational. I'd agree that here reasons for rejecting God were irrational, but irrational doesn't mean non-culpable.

Saying that certain events in someone's history will make them more likely to choose one view over another does not eliminate culpability. I'm not convinced it even lessens it. It may just make more people culpable.

to the possibility that unbelief reached for entirely rational reasons, through no deficiency of thought or affection of the intellect by the will or appetites, is culpable.

Part of the problem here is that 'unbelief' is treated as a simple state of being, but as I said earlier in this thread - I question that. I think belief, in the relevant sense, is always in part an act of will, particularly where God is concerned. Commitment and investment play major roles.

The thing that's culpable (if I'm understanding your position correctly) is not atheism per se, but atheism to the extent that it denies the existence of the God of Christianity.

I don't think it's the God of Christianity that's relevant here, but a creator God who were are ultimately accountable to. That's very broad and shallow, but it's still theism.

I agree with the claim that an atheist can be an idolator.

No trouble on the haze.

Syllabus said...

I'm saying that Ali wouldn't plea the case that you're laying out for her to plead - she'd insist her reasons were rational. I'd agree that here reasons for rejecting God were irrational, but irrational doesn't mean non-culpable.

I'd substitute "non-rational" for "irrational", personally. But while you're right that non-rational doesn't mean non-culpable, it also seems pretty obvious to me that there's a broad spectrum of culpable non-rational motivations. Hedonism and pride are pretty culpable; reasons having to do with background assumptions and patterns of thought shaped by traumatic upbringings, less so. My use of Ali was specifically geared towards the latter, but you could easily substitute in another example.

Now, if the person is himself mostly responsible for creating the cognitive background that leads them to reject God, that seems pretty plausibly culpable, sure. But if a lot of those background assumptions and patterns of thought are ingrained by others in formative years -- childhood and early adolescence, say -- then I'd be inclined to think it's less culpable, since they weren't the agent primarily responsible for that. But, again, this gets pretty fine-grained pretty quickly.

Saying that certain events in someone's history will make them more likely to choose one view over another does not eliminate culpability. I'm not convinced it even lessens it. It may just make more people culpable.

See, I used to be a pretty strong proponent of something like this, because I thought people could overcome just about anything in their background if only they tried hard enough. I still believe it's possible, but I think I'm a little more inclined to believe that the people who manage to do that are the exception rather than the rule. Not to the extent where I'm a full-blown environmental determinist, but still to the extent where I think it's a lot more consequential than I used to.

And again, who precisely is responsible for the formation of the background is important. This may just be rank sentimentalism on my part, but given that I think that God does in fact want everyone to be saved, I think He also will weigh things appropriately to the situation and not allow people to damn themselves for reasons that were out of their control. Not because He's fair, but because he's a loving Father who wants to give His children every possible opportunity to turn away from evil (though I do think that rejection at a certain point becomes final; I'm not a universalist). Maybe that's too idealistic, but I came of age as a Christian on CS Lewis, so his thoughts on the matter have stuck with me.


cont'd

Syllabus said...

Continuation:


I think belief, in the relevant sense, is always in part an act of will, particularly where God is concerned. Commitment and investment play major roles.

Right, and this is an interesting phenomenological distinction (which may get us into the weeds), because faith (and I think belief more generally) is a combination of motions of the will and the intellect. SO the question becomes "what mixture of the two constitutes belief, and what mixture of the two constitutes unbelief?" That might seems like a totally academic question, but I think it's important. For instance, there are days -- or at least, for the majority of life there have been pretty frequent days -- where I've been unable to give intellectual assent to God's goodness at that moment. Now, because of longer-term commitments concerning the way I've chosen to live my life, I had to will myself to continue in that path until I could again given intellectual assent to that proposition.

But it seems to me that you could very well have the opposite case -- intellectual assent to, say, the doctrine of divine benevolence -- but no real movement of the will to take it seriously or live out any consequences of it. Certainly that's a pathological state of cognition in some sense, but it's not immediately clear to me that we can say that's not belief because the will isn't moving. It's not the right or best kind of belief, certainly, but it still seems to fit the broad definition.

I don't think it's the God of Christianity that's relevant here, but a creator God who were are ultimately accountable to. That's very broad and shallow, but it's still theism.

So Islam counts? I mean, I certainly think that God ultimately judges us according to the light to which we had access, but there seems to be something strange in saying that God'll judge the Christian-turned-Zoroastrian, say, less harshly than the Christian-turned-atheist, at least in terms of culpability of their unbelief.

Crude said...

Syllabus,

See, I used to be a pretty strong proponent of something like this, because I thought people could overcome just about anything in their background if only they tried hard enough. I still believe it's possible, but I think I'm a little more inclined to believe that the people who manage to do that are the exception rather than the rule.

Sure. But I don't think culpability is denied just by pointing out personal failings are overwhelmingly common.

SO the question becomes "what mixture of the two constitutes belief, and what mixture of the two constitutes unbelief?"

For our purposes, I think express and willful commitment to belief in public and private qualifies as belief, and express and willful commitment to non-belief in public and private qualifies as non-belief. That's broad, and it leaves apart limit cases (Spong, though really, that's not exactly a tough one), but I think it's pretty easy when you get down to it.

But it seems to me that you could very well have the opposite case -- intellectual assent to, say, the doctrine of divine benevolence -- but no real movement of the will to take it seriously or live out any consequences of it.

Yep, which may well be another problem (I fail to see how that doctrine necessarily matters morally), but it would be in a distinct category.

So Islam counts? I mean, I certainly think that God ultimately judges us according to the light to which we had access, but there seems to be something strange in saying that God'll judge the Christian-turned-Zoroastrian, say, less harshly than the Christian-turned-atheist, at least in terms of culpability of their unbelief.

Yes, Islam counts. And it doesn't seem all that strange to me. A Zoroastrian is a bit esoteric to us, but - based on what I know - still seems to clearly qualify as God.

I know it's very popular, even among conservative Christians, to take the line of 'Islam is foul and horrific, and it's better to be an avowed atheist than a muslim!' or the like. I'm not in that group.

Son of Ya'Kov said...

Crude hey buddy. I haven’t been around lately because I have been in a bad place (again) but I think I am coming out of it.

Anyway let’s talk about awesome stuff like Politics and Religion!;-)


>I'm just pointing out that this is a very different question. Invincible ignorance, in every manifestation I've seen, is reference to people being outside of the Church. It's not about the sinfulness of atheism.

I see. Of course St Pius X said non-believers by negation (another technical term for the invincibly ignorant) who are in a state of Grace are part of the soul of the Church even if they are not formal members of the visible church.

>Frankly, not many. Especially once they understand that pure act is God - most knee-jerk deny it.

Could be…we really don’t know their hearts and if we believe either Pius IX or St Pius X (my memory fails me as to which on said it) in principle we can’t know.

>Nor, by the way, do those atheists seem to be particularly motivated by their knowledge or understanding. They usually utterly despise Christianity and have political or emotional reactions in play in their rejection of it. That's not culpable?

It seems that way to us & our private intuitions might tell us that but we can’t ultimately know in this life. Still there is nothing wrong with privately suspecting it.

I think something I learned my last week in the Navy applies. “It is better to call a security alert and be wrong. Then to not call a security alert and be wrong”. (I called a security alert because I thought at the time the Radio Room was unlocked and un-maned).

Well it might in most cases be better to assume such atheists as you describe above are lost and try to win them to the Gospel. It is better to assume they are lost and be wrong then like your average modernist assume they are not lost and be wrong.

That is just how I see it.


>Why not? There's no contradiction in saying that someone is invincibly ignorant yet is committed to Christ anyway. It wouldn't be due to a lack of ignorance that they commit, but they can be ignorant all the same.

I should have been more clear. I meant believing Catholics who know the faith. (Still to be fair I don’t know with infallible certainty any ex-orthodox Catholic isn’t in some way invincibly ignorant but l think it unlikely. Still you are right I could be wrong & in cases of suspecting someone’s being lost I hope to God I am.)

Peace Brother Crude.

Syllabus said...

But I don't think culpability is denied just by pointing out personal failings are overwhelmingly common.

It's not really the commonness of them that makes them less culpable, but the fact that the particular person who has them wasn't the person responsible for them having them.

But, in either case, no, I don't think that makes them un-culpable.

Yes, Islam counts. And it doesn't seem all that strange to me. A Zoroastrian is a bit esoteric to us, but - based on what I know - still seems to clearly qualify as God.

Maybe I have too much residual evangelical Protestant in me to totally go this way, but it seems to me that you need faith in Christ in particular, rather than just generic faith in a god/God. But I think this gets at a larger issue -- does God accept the devotion of people directing that devotion towards the "highest power" they know even though it's not directed explicitly at Him? I'm sympathetic to that, but I'm not persuaded enough to come down confidently on that side.

I know it's very popular, even among conservative Christians, to take the line of 'Islam is foul and horrific, and it's better to be an avowed atheist than a muslim!' or the like. I'm not in that group.

Neither am I, but I think there is something... problematical about claiming that they're worshiping the Trinity unbeknownst to themselves when orthodox Muslim doctrine very explicitly denies that Christ is God, which sounds to me like they're pretty clearly saying "no, we're not worshiping the same God you are". So I dunno.

Mr. Green said...

Brandon of Siris (I should start calling him that too) is not just a very clever chap, but a very careful one. If he says you’re wrong about something, you should just concede and acknowledge that you were wrong.

I’m with BenYachov here. To say that it’s impossible to be blameless in such a situation sounds dangerously Pelagian to me, as though if only we tried hard enough we could think our way into faith, rather than its being a divine gift. Of course, it may not be likely, given that everyone is susceptible to these problems — and I include theists and Christians in that; we’re all fallen. In fact, a particular atheist could be more honest and sincere than an orthodox Christian, because one’s spiritual condition is not a matter of being able to reel off the intellectually correct positions. (Which isn’t to say there is no connection between them, obviously, but we can’t see into someone’s soul.) The factors that Syllabus mentions are (or can be) legitimate mitigating circumstances, and while certainly there is no “environmental determinism” for anyone with free will, there are limits to what we can freely do; i.e. someone who has ceased to rebel will not start attending Latin Mass the next day, it will take a considerable period, one step at a time.

Crude said...

Syllabus,

Maybe I have too much residual evangelical Protestant in me to totally go this way, but it seems to me that you need faith in Christ in particular, rather than just generic faith in a god/God.

Sure, but I'm talking about one particular issue of culpability that Paul speaks of - an awareness of God and of judgment. I think Paul is setting the bar very low here, to a very general kind of culpability, but an important one all the same.

Neither am I, but I think there is something... problematical about claiming that they're worshiping the Trinity unbeknownst to themselves when orthodox Muslim doctrine very explicitly denies that Christ is God, which sounds to me like they're pretty clearly saying "no, we're not worshiping the same God you are". So I dunno.

I think the issue there comes down to the question of, 'If I'm wrong about X, can I still address X?' If I have an erroneous belief about Abe Lincoln, am I still talking about Abe Lincoln when the subject comes up? Or am I now talking about some different being who I call Abe Lincoln?

Green,

Well, I think Brandon's fierce. But I disagree with him at times. For that matter, I disagree with Ed - on this topic, in fact.

In particular, Ed argues that Koukl's view of the culpability of atheists isn't open to empirical testing, and he seems to take this as a fairly decisive knock against Koukl's point. I am, to put it mildly, not sold on the idea that (say) a person's statements about what they believe are empirically decisive indicators about what they actually believe. I am extraordinarily wary of getting into psychoanalysis of people, but the problem here is that psychoanalysis is unavoidable, and the psychological issues run deep.

I also question Ed's ending rejoinder about how a person may call themselves an atheist, and be an atheist with regards to crude anthropomorphic conceptions of God, while not denying belief (in part, due to a lack of intellectual awareness of) in the God of classical theism. I think it's hypothetically possible that someone may deny the existence of a perceived 'bearded man in the clouds' yet have a sense and belief in something grander than that beyond nature, something that is in control, even if they have trouble explaining it due to vocabulary limitations. But I also think at that point the argument becomes that some people who claim they are atheists, actually aren't.

And if you think Koukl's view upsets atheists, just try making -that- claim.

To say that it’s impossible to be blameless in such a situation sounds dangerously Pelagian to me, as though if only we tried hard enough we could think our way into faith, rather than its being a divine gift.

I don't think the interpretation of Paul I offer amounts to 'thinking our way into faith' in that sense. It's about an awareness which, while vague and broad, is fundamentally theistic, and which acknowledges our role as moral agents.

Keep in mind, even Paul indicates just how vague and broad this God can be. See Acts 17:23.

Syllabus said...

I think the issue there comes down to the question of, 'If I'm wrong about X, can I still address X?' If I have an erroneous belief about Abe Lincoln, am I still talking about Abe Lincoln when the subject comes up? Or am I now talking about some different being who I call Abe Lincoln?

Without going too far into the weeds of theories of proper names (a time sink if ever there was one), I'll just say the following: I think it depends on what precisely your erroneous belief is. If I believe that Abe Lincoln went to law school (which he didn't), then I can still plausibly be said to be referring to the same Abe Lincoln that you are. But if I think that Abe Lincoln wasn't the President of the United States and wasn't even American, then I'm probably not.

It seems to my that the hypothetical Muslim is in a situation more analogous to the latter than to the former. The Zoroastrian is a more interesting case; very possibly be might be in the first, because I don't think that that tradition has any very definite belief about the relation between God and Christ.

Crude said...

It seems to my that the hypothetical Muslim is in a situation more analogous to the latter than to the former.

I'm not so sure. And again, I've got some Biblical precedent here.

Paul says the Unknown God being worshiped is the same God's he's preaching. How do you square that? Because the muslims overspecify?

Syllabus said...

How do you square that? Because the muslims overspecify?

Basically, yeah.

For instance, if I say, like the denizens of Mars' Hill, "I'm worshiping a god X, whose attributes are I know not what", then it's certainly at least epistemically possible that the god I'm worshiping has attributes A, B, and C. If, however, I say "I'm worshiping a god X, whose attributes absolutely do not include A, B, and C", then it's a little more of a stretch to say that the being towards whom I am directing my devotion is one which does, in fact, have attributes A-C.

In the same way, if I say "Oh, I love movies", and you discover that I think movies are the sorts of things a man puts in his mouth for nourishment, it's not terribly plausible to think that I mean "I love the sort of thing that 'Return of the Jedi' is".

Now, I think it's plausible that there are certainly cases where God would accept said worship even if not directed at Him, but I don't think that the worship can be really plausibly said to be directed towards Him.

But, again -- I'm not God. He gets to sort this out.

Andrew W said...

I might be misunderstanding something, but it looks to me that something very important is being missed in this broad discussion, and I include Feser in this. Romans 1 is not contrasting the pagan with the Christian (or the Jew). Romans 1 is talking about the default spiritual state of every single human, Jew or Gentile. Paul's point is that creation judges you guilty towards God, and if you have the Law (i.e. a Jew), that will judge you guilty too.

Which is why we need a righteousness that is not based on us.

Salvation occurs subsequently to Romans 1.

To contrast Christians to atheists with respect to Romans 1 is to completely miss Paul's point (and, incidentally, Koukl's, although he's using Paul's argument on inherent guilt to make a secondary argument on evangelism).

Andrew W said...

At the risk of jumping into someone else's conversation, I think Paul's argument about "the Unknown God" is as follows:

- you're wise enough to know that while you worship a lot of gods, you might be missing some (and are covering your bases)
- and as it happens, among the gods you are missing is the biggest, baddest God of all!
- but, good news, that God has sent me here today to tell you all about him, and call you to follow him. …

Paul's opener is not "well, you're pretty close", but rather "at least you recognise that there could be a problem", in the same way that the unbeliever who says "I can't shake the feeling that there's more to life than this" is closer than the one who says "you have nothing worth listening to".

Son of Ya'Kov said...

Quick side note..are you going to include a post about the Synod? I have some definite opinions....

B. Prokop said...

I think St. Paul's bringing up the altar to "An Unknown God" in Athens was not to suggest that he and the Greeks were worshiping the same God, but rather a clever proactive legal defense. He had just been accused of being "a preacher of foreign divinities" - a charge perilously close to one that resulted in the execution of Socrates. Paul was likely saying here, "You can't lay that one on me, because you yourselves have left the door open to my preaching."

Crude said...

Bob,

I think St. Paul's bringing up the altar to "An Unknown God" in Athens was not to suggest that he and the Greeks were worshiping the same God

Considering he explicitly says 'The God which you're ignorantly worshiping is the God I'm telling you about', that's quite a trick.

Andrew,

and as it happens, among the gods you are missing is the biggest, baddest God of all!

But Paul doesn't think this God is missing. In fact, he thinks God is being worshiped there - people just are ignorant about the God they're worshiping. Greater knowledge of that God is missed, but not the worship of that God.

Ben,

Probably at some point.

Andrew W said...

"Considering he explicitly says 'The God which you're ignorantly worshiping is the God I'm telling you about', that's quite a trick."

This might be an "agree to disagree" situation, but I think you're misreading the rhetoric. The emphasis is on the "unknown", not the "worship". Paul's point isn't "hey, it's great you're at least trying to worship YHWH", it's that "The times of ignorance God overlooked, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent".

Just as "I might be wrong" isn't the same as being right, worshipping an unknown god isn't the same as worshipping God, even if he is unknown. Which, if I read him rightly, is also what Syllabus is getting at with "but I don't think that the worship can be really plausibly said to be directed towards Him.".


Side topic: I had an interesting (although frustrating) discussion with a friend at church, who insisted that "the Muslim Jesus is not the same as the Christian Jesus". From a worship perspective, this is "true", but misses the point. The reason for equating the "Muslim Jesus" and the "Christian Jesus" is because both make claims on a singular historical person, which makes the discussion "what is he really like?" a meaningful question. It's actually possible to start from the limited and distorted Muslim understanding of Jesus and show that Christianity makes more sense of what Muslims know of Jesus than Islam does.

Similarly, "do Christians and Muslims worship the same God?". The point isn't to try to equate the two concepts of God. Rather, it's to acknowledge that "What is God really like?" is a meaningful starting point of a discussion between Christians and Muslims, whereas "what is Zeus really like?" doesn't provide the starting point.

Paul goes for the "highest common denominator", which initially is an unknown God, but he can also show that their philosophy acknowledges the idea of a creator and sustainer God who gives birth to all races of men.

Crude said...

Andrew,

This might be an "agree to disagree" situation, but I think you're misreading the rhetoric. The emphasis is on the "unknown", not the "worship". Paul's point isn't "hey, it's great you're at least trying to worship YHWH", it's that "The times of ignorance God overlooked, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent".

Paul's point in bringing the topic up is to preach Christ, yes. But I think he's straightforwardly saying 'I'm here to tell you about the God you've been worshiping.' It also seems to dovetail nicely with Paul's Romans comments.

Would it work with Zeus? I don't think so. Allah? I'd think so. Confusing, sure, but most important things are.