I wasn't aware that one could be confirmed as a "Christian." — Arkady
There's a ceremony called confirmation in Anglicanism (and I'm sure the other denominations.) It's the standard rite-of-passage into the Church. It takes place at early adolescence. You have to learn a Catechism and go to a set number of services. It seemed like a lot of work to me, I was a poor student anyway, and my family was not at all encouraging about it, so I didn't go ahead with it. But that was also because I didn't know if I really believed it. I've never been atheist, but I also don't have any kind of image or idea of what God is. (That is why, later, I found the 'way of unknowing' congenial.)
I've repeatedly ask what phrases such as "ground of all being" mean, and have never been given a good answer. — Arkady
I think that's because of the spirit in which you ask the question. As you're naturally inclined to scepticism about anything religious, your questions are of the 'clay pidgeon' variety, i.e. elicit a response which you then proceed to shoot at.
There is a description of 'the ground of being' in Paul Tillich's books, and other books by recent philosophers of religion. An example:
"Existence - Existence refers to what is finite and fallen and cut of from its true being. Within the finite realm issues of conflict between, for example, autonomy (Greek: 'autos' - self, 'nomos' - law) and heteronomy (Greek: 'heteros' - other, 'nomos' - law) abound (there are also conflicts between the formal/emotional and static/dynamic). Resolution of these conflicts lies in the essential realm (the Ground of Meaning/the Ground of Being) which humans are cut off from yet also dependent upon ('In existence man is that finite being who is aware both of his belonging to and separation from the infinite' (Newport p.67f)). Therefore existence is estrangement."
"Although this looks like Tillich was an atheist such misunderstanding only arises due to a simplistic understanding of his use of the word existence. What Tillich is seeking to lead us to is an understanding of the 'God above God'. We have already seen earlier that the Ground of Being (God) must be separate from the finite realm (which is a mixture of being and non-being) and that God cannot be a being. God must be beyond the finite realm. Anything brought from essence into existence is always going to be corrupted by ambiguity and our own finitude. Thus statements about God must always be symbolic (except the statement 'God is the Ground of Being'). Although we may claim to know God (the Infinite) we cannot. The moment God is brought from essence into existence God is corrupted by finitude and our limited understanding. In this realm we can never fully grasp (or speak about) who God really is. The infinite cannot remain infinite in the finite realm. That this rings true can be seen when we realize there are a multitude of different understandings of God within the Christian faith alone. They cannot all be completely true so there must exist a 'pure' understanding of God (essence) that each of these are speaking about (or glimpsing aspects of)...."
This plainly diverges from the depiction of the 'god as person' given in the Plantinga quote. It's more like the approach in classical theology, which says that God is not actually good, but that 'goodness' is an analogy, likewise the other supposed attributes of God. But to really explore the question, takes at the very least an open mind towards it, as it is the kind of question that can only be explored by contemplation. It doesn't concern a crisp definition which gives a finite and obviously measurable output, like a formula.
[Eagleton] says, "Doesn't Dawkins realize [word salad, word salad], — Arkady
I think that simply conveys your own inability to comprehend his review (and yes, it's a review, rather than a philosophical analysis.) I personally found his criticism perfectly lucid. (Thomas Nagel's review
, entitled The Fear of Religion, was much more along the lines of philosophical analysis.)
The New Atheists don't engage with your notion of God, and so they're wrongheaded, in your view. If this view is so wrongheaded, why are you not equally vituperative towards those religious believers who believe in the "wrong" sort of God? — Arkady
Partially because they're inclined to be beyond argument, and partially because you're a lot less likely to encounter them on philosophy forums. But people who really do believe in biblical creationism are so immune to reason, that it is clearly pointless to argue with them. They argue with or about the fossil evidence. //ps// Although I've also come to the view that to argue against
religion on the basis of fossil evidence, is a type of fundamentalism.//
and cosmological and teleological arguments for God's existence (yes, existence) abound today. — Arkady
I am well aware of that. But at issue is a very difficult question of ontology
- what does it mean to say that 'God exists'? As the Tillich quote above indicates, the very term 'existence' implies 'separated, standing apart'. There's another great column I quote from time to time by Bishop Pierre Whalon, God does not Exist
, which has a similar perspective - that 'what exists' is of a different order to the source of existence. (Whalon's article is very much in keeping with Platonic Christianity, which in turn is very much at odds with general Protestant philosophy of religion, in my view.)
This type of 'hierarchical understanding' used to be represented in the Great Chain of Being, versions of which are found in many different cultures. It differentiates between the mineral, animal, human, angelic and divine realms, which all exist on different levels or 'modes':
The Great Chain of Being - traditional woodcut.
In early theology, this differentiation of levels was articulated by John Scotus Eirugena. Very hard to present summarily, but a key point is as follows (from the SEP entry)
Eriugena proceeds to list ‘five ways of interpreting’ (quinque modi interpretationis) the manner in which things may be said to be or not to be (Periphyseon, I.443c-446a). According to the first mode, things accessible to the senses and the intellect are said to be, whereas anything which, ‘through the excellence of its nature’ (per excellentiam suae naturae), transcends our faculties are said not to be. According to this classification, God, because of his transcendence is said not to be. He is ‘nothingness through excellence’ (nihil per excellentiam).
The second mode of being and non-being is seen in the ‘orders and differences of created natures’ (I.444a), whereby, if one level of nature is said to be, those orders above or below it are said not to be:
For an affirmation concerning the lower (order) is a negation concerning the higher, and so too a negation concerning the lower (order) is an affirmation concerning the higher. (Periphyseon, I.444a). According to this mode, the affirmation of man is the negation of angel and vice versa (affirmatio enim hominis negatio est angeli, negatio vero hominis affirmatio est angeli, I.444b).
In subsequent centuries, this hierarchical ontology became progressively 'flattened', until we arrive at modern philosophy, when it was decided that only the material layer exists (which is scientific materialism). So Dawkins, et al, can only conceive of that level or mode of being, and then says 'it is ridiculous to believe that there is a God' - which it is, if that is your understanding of the nature of reality. You can fire up the LHC, or the Hubble, and he's not 'out there somewhere' or 'in there anywhere'. In the sense in which Dawkins, et al, understand the meaning of 'existence', then indeed, God does not exist.