Friday, January 17, 2014

A Christian reviews God Doesn't; We Do and may agree with me

It appears that my discussion with Tom Gilson inspired one of his friends to review my first book, God Doesn't; We Do: Only Humans Can Solve Human Challenges. Actually, two Christians have now reviewed it, for which I'm both happy and thankful, though I'd like to focus on the review of Jenna Black here.

Jenna Black is a hopeful Christian apologist to be, or so she has stated at least both on Tom Gilson's and on Rick Henderson's blogs, both in comments on posts about me. She has written a long review, and I hope you have a look at it. I'll only quote a bit from the middle, which I do not think misrepresents her:
Attempts to "model" God based on the sacred scriptures of the Abrahamic religions, which are monotheism, are problematic, and Lindsay's is no exception. First of all, Lindsay confuses "claims" about God's character or nature to be claims, whose sum total, can be used to reject the "claim" that God exists. On p. 111, Lindsay states that his purpose is to provide an "understanding of what it means for a concept to have probability zero." I think that this very telling statement is not just a rhetorical slip of the tongue or merely imprecise language. It hits at the core of Lindsay's argument. Concepts are organizing ideas, mental constructions. Above all, concepts are language, linguistic frameworks for understanding, describing and explaining concrete or abstract realities. Definitions are attempts to summarize and establish the boundaries of a concept in a few words. The more abstract and complex a reality, the more language is needed to frame and communicate about its related concepts. This is where Lindsay's claim that we can determine the probably that a concept exists is gibberish.
The beginning of this I don't find surprising. As I think about these ideas more and more, I feel as though we have two positions vying for primacy. Those who believe in God seem to be accepting the premise that "God exists" as a presupposition (though I prefer the term axiom for reasons I've elaborated upon several times now); those who do not, well, do not.

As such, from within theism, it is not possible to see God as a hypothesis, particularly one that can be tested. From outside of theism, it could be treated either way, merely as an axiomatic construction or as a hypothesis. The moment that believers assert that God interacts with the world in any way (the God--or really gods, for those indicating that I should put more attention on polytheism too), for those who do not accept existence presuppositionally (or axiomatically--taken to be a starting point of a reasoning process, formally, or as "self-evidently true" informally), all of those interactions, and thus God's very existence by extension, become treatable as hypotheses.

I thought I articulated this dilemma nicely, but perhaps my memory of my writing is better written than my actual writing. Here it is:
  1. Believers can accept that their God is either remote or imaginary--in the latter case he is obviously abstract, a concept, but this is true in the former case for all intents and purposes--and asserting as much and supposing that their actions follow their claims accurately, the rest of us will do so as well and not care; or
  2. Believers can insist that their God interacts with the world in any way whatsoever, at which point those of us who do not accept God's existence presuppositionally or axiomatically will treat the matter as a hypothesis to be examined.
In that light, I mentioned that by saying that I suspect the plausibility of the God hypothesis is almost surely zero, what I mean is that God is almost surely an abstraction accepted axiomatically. If my claim that the plausibility of the God hypothesis is "gibberish," then, we see that Black is committed to the notion that God's existence is an axiomatic assertion, that God is a concept, and that, by extension, God doesn't interact with the world.

That said, I think Jenna Black may be agreeing with me, though she disagrees with the validity of atheism--and odd way to phrase something that means "I don't think a coherent view of the world can be formulated without assuming there is a God to answer some metaphysical questions."

Of course, I don't think she does agree with me generally, of course not, and I wouldn't want to mischaracterize her in that way. She is quite sure that God exists in actuality, whatever her words seem to give away, citing Genesis 1:1, "In the beginning, Elohim created Heaven and Earth," along with the existence of the Earth as strong evidence for God's existence. I have, of course, left the original Hebrew in place of "God" in Gen. 1:1 here to highlight the plural because I find it odd she doesn't also see that verse as evidence for the polytheistic belief system that predates the monotheism Judaism eventually became.

At any rate, I thank her for her willingness to read my book, her time invested, and her candor in the review she left me.

3 comments:

  1. First of all, Lindsay confuses "claims" about God's character or nature to be claims, whose sum total, can be used to reject the "claim" that God exists.

    Is she doing what I think she is doing? You show that the characteristics of the particular god of the believer are incompatible, proving that god cannot exist, saying nothing about other types of gods. The believer realizes you haven't proven that no god exists, then does an end run back to believing in the god with the incompatible charateristics.

    I think WLC does that with "The Problem of Evil" though he tends to misstate it.

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    1. And pretty much the whole theme of Chapter 4 (which she misidentifies as Chapter 3) is that this is exactly what they do.

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  2. Jenna Black (who wrote the review) has asked me to post this comment for her since she cannot seem to get the comment feature to work for her. All that follows this paragraph is Jenna's words.

    James,

    Thank you for taking the time to read and respond to my review of your book, "God doesn't; we do" that I posted on amazon.com. I appreciate your respectful tone and your critical approach to your analysis of what I have to say. I think that we do, in fact, agree that it is difficult, if not impossible, to define "God" as you say in your book on p. 92-3, "...in any satisfactory or practical way." However, I don't think that this effort should be "abandoned" or that to be unsuccessful at defining the term "God" carries any transcendental or metaphysical or religious meaning. This is why I am puzzled as to why you think we agree. I do not agree that God is an abstraction. I believe that the term “God” is a name, label and concept for existing reality, or a dimension of existing reality.

    Since you referred to my use of Genesis 1:1, the first sentence in the Bible, as an example, please allow me to elaborate on my analysis, which is an attempt to understand what the ancient Hebrews understood by the term translated as "God" into English, or "Elohim" in Hebrew. Most certainly you will agree that in this first sentence, "In the beginning, Elohim created the heavens and the earth..." the Hebrews were not speaking about an abstraction, or as you define God in your book, an "entity" that "does nothing." "Created" is a verb that denotes an action, which in this case had tangible, visible, concrete results, a product: the heavens and the earth. The Hebrews 3,500 years ago gave a name "Elohim" to whatever it was, that concert of forces, events, processes, laws of nature, etc. that brought the heavens and the earth into existence. This is the concept, notion, idea of God as Creator. This is a far cry from the Hebrews thinking of and believing in God as a mere abstraction. God is an actor, a maker, a dynamic and active force.

    The issue I see here and write about frequently is the relationship between language used to define, describe, explain and represent reality and the reality itself. God is not the language or images or metaphors or axioms we use to depict God. This is why all attempts to define God are doomed to fail: human language isn't up to the job and this is because the human mind is incapable of fully grasping all that God is. But this need not trouble us since we are capable, each individually, of formulating an understanding of God through our experiences of/with God.

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