A Philosophical Approach to God

Dec 13, 12 A Philosophical Approach to God

 

For what is Time: An Argument for the Existence of an Intelligent Designer

 

“For what is time? Who can readily and briefly explain this? Who can even in thought comprehend it, so as to utter a word about it? But what in discourse do we mention more familiarly and knowingly, than time? And, we understand, when we speak of it; we understand also, when we hear it spoken of by another. What then is time? If no one asks me, I know: if I wish to explain it to one that asketh, I know not: yet I say boldly that I know, that if nothing passed away, time past were not; and if nothing were coming, a time to come were not; and if nothing were, time present were not.”

Saint Augustine of Hippo

This great quote by Saint Augustine helps usher in some of my thoughts and research.  Saint Augustine illustrates how much we know of our universe and conversely how little all at the same time.  Our small perspective only allows us to see what we physically experience.  We are born with many senses to which we spend most of our lives coordinating and fine tuning.  However I would argue that we are born with a sixth sense.  This sixth sense is a combination of thoughts and what it means to be human:  a sense of consciousness, a sense of existence, and a sense of reason and morals.  We as human beings, since the beginning of our known existence, have tried to make sense of something larger and more significant than ourselves.  We spend our whole lives attempting to figure out what exactly that is and what it means to us.  This concept varies and differs vastly across the world.  For the sake of generality I will call these Deity/Deities an intelligent designer.  One of the greatest philosophical struggles among many great minds is that of an intelligent designer.  I will be utilizing many of the theories and ideas of philosophers, theist apologetics and scientists mingled with my own thoughts and application.  Through articulating belief, morality, the Kalam/cosmological argument, and the teleological argument I can strongly argue for the existence of an intelligent designer.

Evolutionarily, traits and genes that improve survivability and increase the likelihood that successful reproduction occurs are what are favored in nature.  Through natural selection and positive mutations this ensures these traits are kept within a population of a given species.  With these theories already accepted by the science community it leaves a few humanistic traits unresolved.  This begs an answer to the evolutionary purposes to the ability of epistemic analytics, belief, guilt, and the phenomena of altruism just to name a few.  These traits don’t serve a purpose in nature so why does the homosapien species possess them?  For the sake of this argument I will only be focused on discussing belief.  William P. Alston states that beliefs are items we find ourselves with, not items we choose to have.  Alston’s article makes valid points about belief being something that is obtained through physical experience and validation.  He employs the idea that you also cannot conjure belief on your own accord meaning you can’t force yourself into believing in anything you have not experienced.  Alston uses the example of a Blue Jay.  Those who have heard and/or seen a Blue Jay know that it is real however I can say that I believe in Blue Jays but if I have never experienced a Blue Jay I can never truly believe they exist.

When we think of morality we tend to think of it as what we think or judge to be right and wrong.  Initially this is not a strong support to the argument for the existence of an intelligent designer so, for clarity’s sake, I will define morality from an agnostic standpoint.  First morality, to put simply, is a judgment call and judgment is moral only if it makes reference to proper human flourishing (Moreland & Craig).  Meaning, if I choose an action that hurts me or others, whether that is dignity or welfare, this in turn would create a moral dilemma thus the induction of judgment.  Judgment, is then deciding on the given action as “right” or “wrong”.  The sole purpose of us possessing morality is so that we, humankind, can progress together.  With morality in place you could counter argue that it’s all in eye of the beholder.  Some cultures are more utilitarianistic who throw our ideas of morality out the window by practicing infanticide.  These cultures employ this in order for the tribe as a whole will survive the difficult seasons and famine.  But for the remaining 99% of the world’s population we can safely say that the killing of babies and rape is morally wrong.  Now evolutionarily speaking most atheists would agree that the sole purpose of our own existence is for the replication of our own DNA ie sexual reproduction.  This idea was expressed in a book called the Selfish Gene written by Richard Dawkins.  In his book he extensively discusses the extreme drive we all posses to reproduce. If this is the goal, then what is it that keeps us from killing our competition and raping post menses women?  It is our innate moral judgment that allows us to see the value in ones dignity and welfare.  J.P. Moreland and William Lane Craig stated in their book Philosophical Foundation for a Christian Worldview state that we all either conscientiously or sub-conscientiously analyze whether we should accept this idea of morality.  “What rational judgment can be given to me as to why it would be reasonable for me to adopt the moral point of view?”  The general preoccupation for another is what I would call a divine principle.  It’s a divine perspective given to us by a creator, a God, or intelligent designer.  Furthermore, the principle of morality is re-enforced by positive feedback not only by other individuals but also physiologically.  In addition, we get a sort of proverbial “pat on the back” or social acceptance within our population when we do accept morality.  Also physiologically we experience a rush of endorphins, a sort of high, if you will, by correctly making moral judgments within this point of view.  This isn’t something that always occurs but the frequency is higher in a right moral judgment than it is in a wrong.

The Big Bang Theory is one of the biggest issues in question as to the existence of an intelligent designer.  The Big Bang Theory suggests that all matter came into existence from a violent cataclysmic event.  All of the elements that we know of that make up our physical world, time past present and future, and space came to be.  The atheistic argument is that the universe came into existence from nothing and by nothing.  There is obviously a contradiction within this view.  How can something simply come from nothing?  The only way around this is by completely redefining what nothing means?  This makes for a weak argument for this view.  A theist’s argument would state that an initiator is needed to cause the Big Bang, in essence from something by something.  This would also mean that this initiator works beyond space and beyond time.  This brings me to my next point, the Kalam cosmological argument.  The Kalam cosmological argument consists of three main concepts:  Everything that begins to exist has a cause, the universe began to exist, and therefore the universe has a cause.  A second premise to this argument is that an actual infinite is impossible.   If this were not true there would be no reason for a beginning or a Big Bang.  Matter would already exist somewhere else in space, eliminating the need for a Big Bang but since this does not hold true, time and space are proven to come to a point or beginning.  Behind this point of space and time resides an initiator, someone or something that holds all of the keys to creation.  As a theist it is it is more probable than not that this initiator is the intelligent designer.

G. J. Whitrow, though not a well known contributor of intelligent design, has brought significant support to the table that is accepted by most of the mainstream apologists.  His greatest contribution is that intelligent life would be impossible save it were a few crucial dimensions.  Within these dimensions are natural constants which seem to be fine tuned for the support of intelligent life namely electromagnetic interactions, gravitation, the weak force and the strong force.  With each of these natural forces there is a very miniscule range of tolerability that allows for basic function for life.  For example, if we were able to increase these systems ever so slightly we would change our environment as we know it.  Carbon dioxide would burn into oxygen and an even slighter increase would prevent the existence of atoms altogether (Craig).  If we were to do just the opposite and weaken the system our entire universe would be made primarily of helium an inert gas rendering our universe completely unproductive.  Another significant scenario is the exact distance the earth is from our sun.  If we were to reduce this distance all living organisms would be sterilized and any further away all of the processes would move too slowly to support life.  Craig strongly stated that the delicate balance of conditions upon which life depends is characterized by the interweaving of conditions, such that life depends for its existence.  Craig goes on to say that it’s not merely upon each individual condition possessing a value within narrow limits, but also upon ratios or interaction between values and forces which must likewise lie with narrow parameters.  In other words each of the natural laws is dynamically interacting within the bounds that even allow for life to exist.  An atheist’s approach to this would be that with as much time is available within the amount of time that has existed, though improbable, has a miniscule probability of occurrence.  It then would make that probability even more improbable because that would have had to occur at the exact moment of the Big Bang event.  Deducing a counter argument could be, isn’t it more likely that an intelligent designer exists putting into place these exact interactions so that life could exist?  The absolute improbability that all of these constants are within the allotted limits, then to make things more complex, the fact that they have to be married together in harmony in order to support life is an utter testament to a grand designers role in our universe.

We are a special species of the animal kingdom.  Our mental capacity far exceeds that of any other species.  With this capacity we under appreciate the capability of being able to tie up our laces when we get up in the morning for the day or to be able to cognitively organize our day’s events with great precision and efficiency.  Our complex mind is what allows us philosophize, emperialize, and debate ideas even the existence of an intelligent designer.  These seemingly insignificant capabilities are one of the many thought out complex architectural pieces of genius.  Throughout my life I have experienced God.  This allows me to believe is such a personage.  Much of my life has been spent analyzing and learning what it means to be human.  My scholastic career has been dedicated to the sciences which have increased the challenges I face with a belief in such a being.  Emperialistic methods have, for some time, successfully removed the coexistence of science and religion.  I am grateful to live in a time where that barrier is being challenged significantly.  If you accept the claim of a grand designer, then you can accept that our life is spent learning about the purpose of a designer.  Through our experiences, both physical and cognitive, we come closer to understanding that purpose.  As far as we can comprehend our universe has been perfectly designed to support life.  I believe I have successfully argued that through the points addressed; belief, morality, Kalam cosmological argument, and the teleological argument that somewhere behind space and time and far beyond our current understanding exists such being.

Works Cited 

Moreland, James, and William Craig. Philosophical Foundations for a Christian Worldview. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2003. Print.

Dawkins, Richard. The Selfish Gene. 2. Oxford University Press, 1989. Print.

Dawkins, R. The Greatest Show On Earth: The Evidence For Evolution. 1st ED. Free Pr, 2011. Print.

Craig, Willliam, and J.P. Moreland. The Blackwell Companion To Natural Theology. Malden Massachusetts: Blackwell Publishing Ltd., 2009. Print.

Audi, Robert. “Belief, faith, and acceptance.” Ethics of Belief: Essays in Tribute to DZ Phillips (2008): 87-102.Craig, William Lane. Reasonable faith. Pearl Pub., 1995.

Adams, Robert Merrihew. “Moral arguments for theistic belief.” Rationality and Religious Belief (1979): 116-40.

Alston, William P. “Belief, acceptance, and religious faith.” Faith, Freedom, and Rationality (1996): 3-27.

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Shawn is a graduate of Southern Oregon University with a BS in Bio-medical Sciences. He is currently pursuing post graduate schools to become a Nurse Practitioner. He is married to a beautiful wife and has three kids that he loves very much and spends much of his free time with. His current day-job is spent as a Medical Assistant for a local clinic.Shawn is an active member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Ladder-Day Saints holding the callings of 2nd counselor in the Young Men's Presidency and Scout Master for the Boy Scouts of America. He served the church in the Mexico Monterrey West Mission. Shawn's hobbies include sports, hunting, and music just to name a few.

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36 Comments

  1. DESIGN

    “Where did it all come from? How can you explain the complex order of the universe? I can’t believe the beauty of nature just happened by accident. Design requires a designer.”

    This argument merely assumes what it wishes to prove. Any attempt to “explain” anything requires a higher context within which it can be understood. To ask for the explanation of the “natural universe” is simply to demand a “higher universe.”
    The universe is “all there is.” It is not a thing. A god would certainly be a part of “all there is,” and if the universe requires an explanation, then god requires a god, ad infinitum.
    The mind of a god would be at least as complex and orderly as the rest of nature and would be subject to the same question: Who made god? If a god can be thought eternal, then so can the universe.
    There is design in the universe, but to speak of design of the universe is just theistic semantics. The perceived design in nature is not necessarily intelligent. Life is the result of mindless “design” of natural selection. Order in the cosmos comes from the “design” of natural regularity. There is no need for a higher explanation.
    The design argument is based on ignorance, not facts. Failure to solve a natural riddle does not mean there is no answer. For millennia humans have created mythical answers to “mysteries” such as thunder and fertility. But the more we learn, the fewer gods we need. God belief is just answering a mystery with a mystery, and therefore answers nothing.

    From LOSING FAITH IN FAITH from Preacher to Atheist, page 123, by Dan Barker

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  2. Brent,

    Dan Barker obviously does not understand cosmology. He is an ex-minister and it is obvious. His arguments, which I have heard in the past, are what I would expect from a freshman or a sophomore in college.

    The universe is not past-eternal. There are two reasons for that: 1) Philosophical – An actual past-eternal is impossible. 2) Science confirms that the universe had a beginning – we commonly call it the big bang.

    There cannot be an actual past-eternal/past-infinite:

    Two Types of Infinity: Actual and Potential

    Actual Infinite – by which I mean a timeless totality that does not increase or decrease with the number of members it contains. An example of an actual infinite would be the number of points on a line; there is no exact number. What are the problems with actual infinites? There are a few:

    First – Consider an infinitely long line of dominos in the universe. If we take half of them, we still have an infinite number. But, 1/2 of the original infinite contains the same number of dominos as the original infinite. This would mean that one half of the whole is equal to the whole. This cannot be.

    Second – An infinitely old clock. The hour hand makes its circuit around the face of the clock 2 times a day. The minute hand 24 times a day. But, an infinite amount of time results in both the minute hand and the hour hand having an equal number of rotations even though the minute has 12 times as many rotations as the hour hand. This cannot be.

    Third – One cannot cross an actual infinite. Imagine a timeless, infinitely long line of dominoes
    By traveling along the line of successive dominos, in order to arrive at any particular domino you would have to traverse an infinite number of them in order to arrive at that particular domino. But an infinite number of dominos cannot be traversed—otherwise it isn’t infinite. So, we cannot have an actual infinite number of dominos.

    Likewise, if each domino represents one second of time and each domino were falling one after another, representing successive moments in time, the line of dominos could not be infinite in length in the past because there would never have been a first domino that fell. If there is no first, there can be no second, no third, no fourth, and so on. Therefore, an actual infinite (timeless infinite number) of successive events in the past is logically impossible.

    Summary: an actual infinite of successive events in the past is logically impossible because:

    a. It would require traversing an infinite number of events which cannot be done.

    b. There would be no first event. If there is no first event, there cannot be a second, or a third, and no following series of events. Therefore, there must be a beginning of events.

    Conclusion – actual infinites do not exist.

    What about a potential Infinite? A Potential Infinite is comprised of a finite set that increases its number through time by adding members to its set. Each addition results in a larger finite set.

    An example would be, dividing line in half, and then in half, and half again, results in a finite set of divisions. It is possible to continue to do this, but with each division, a finite number of divisions still exists. So, we may conclude that a potential infinite can exist.

    Now onto the scientific evidence for the universe having a beginning. The universe either had a beginning or it had no beginning. “Beginning” and “no beginning” is an antonymic pair. There can be no third option in these antonymic pairs. Therefore, these pairs are not false dichotomies since no other options are possible

    If the universe had no beginning, then it is either Eternally Static or Eternally non-Static (Oscillating). An Eternally Static Universe is a universe that has always existed. This presents some scientific problems:
    First – This does not agree with Cosmic Microwave Background Radiation (CMBR) which shows the universe had a beginning.

    Second – As pointed out earlier, The universe always existing would be impossible since it would mean the universe had an infinite number of successive events (atoms moving, stars forming, etc.), before we got to now.

    This must lead to the conclusion that the universe is not infinitely old. It had a beginning.

    What about an Eternally non-Static, or Oscillating Universe? This model of the universe mean that the universe has come in and out of existence as it expands and contracts, forms, collapses, forms, collapses, for an infinite amount of time. This model also presents some problems:

    First – This does not agree with the 2nd law of thermodynamics. The universe, as a whole, is a closed system. There is no known mechanism for a 100% efficient exchange of energy in formation and reformation.

    Second – An eternally oscillating universe would require an infinite number of oscillations but this is impossible since it would mean the universe had an infinite number of successive events.

    This leads to the conclusion that the universe had a beginning and could not have been eternally oscillating.

    So if the universe had a beginning, what brought about its beginning?

    A big-bang requires a banger. Whatever brought it about must have existed outside of time and space.

    Now, what caused God? Only objects that have a contingent, temporal existence require explanation. Unlike the universe, which ontologically is something that is contingent, God is a non-contingent being. God is not temporal thus his existence requires no explanation; although Mormonism has attempted to do so.

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    • I’m sure you have some ideas regarding the multi-universe theory would love to hear them discussed in light of your other ideas.

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      • Carey,

        I do. Last year I started working on a post examining a cosmological argument for God’s existence, but had to table it as I had a weekly Book of Mormon post to do. I will be re-engaging Natural Theology again this coming year. It is there that I will look at the multi-verse hypothesis.

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  3. Theists frequently make the assertion that it is just as impossible to prove that there is no such thing as god as it is to prove that there is such a thing as god; therefore, atheism (the positive assertion that no god can exist) is rooted in blind faith, just as theism (the positive assertion that a god does exist) is. I believe, however, that there is a rational basis for the positive assertion that god cannot exist, which can be arrived at through extrapolation on empirical evidence, and through deductive reasoning regarding the properties of the universe.

    Before I begin to articulate the cosmological basis for a positive assertion against the existence of god, I’d like to first consider the cosmological argument made in favor of the existence of god. Perhaps the best recent articulation of this argument is made by American philosopher and theologian William Lane Craig, whose Kalam cosmological argument, an expansion on the cosmological argument originally formulated by Thomas Aquinas, is highly influential among defenders of theism today. The argument seeks to prove that god–defined as “the uncaused first cause of the universe”–must exist, based on the following points:

    Everything that begins to exist has a cause.
    The universe began to exist.
    Therefore, the universe must have a cause.
    The second assertion is supported by the following argument:

    An actual infinite set cannot exist.
    A beginningless series of events is an actual infinite.
    Therefore; a beginningless series of events cannot exist.
    Craig argues that the existence of an actual infinite is impossible, because such a quantity would possess logically absurd properties. He offers several illustrations of these alleged absurdities, making the case that it is absurd to suggest that a quantity exists that can be divided by, multiplied to, subtracted from, or added to by any other number without ever experiencing a change in its value. In every single one of these illustrations, however, he places some sort of finite limitation on an entity which he initially defines as infinite in his attempt to prove the impossibility of an actual infinite existing. For instance, Craig argues that it is absurd to suggest that a circle which rotates once every one thousand years for eternity will rotate the same number of times as a circle which rotates once every year for eternity; in other words, he argues that it is impossible to suggest that infinity multiplied by one thousand would equal infinity, so therefore, it must be absurd to suggest that an actual infinite could exist. However, one can only say that the circle rotating once a year has rotated more frequently than the circle rotating once every one thousand years by analyzing their behavior during a finite period of time, which is an illogical method of comparison, since we are told that the circles will rotate throughout eternity, and thus are infinite and extra-temporal. Because neither circle ever stops rotating, it is impossible to quantify the number of times they rotate, therefore, we define them both as infinite because both are eternally increasing. The rate at which the circles’ rotations increase is not relevant.

    This principle can be illustrated in a simple linear equation: a line rising infinitely at a 45 degree angle with the x axis will ultimately reach the same height on the y axis as a line rising infinitely at a 90 degree angle with the x axis; it is true that, if measured over a finite period of time, the line rising at 90 degrees will always be ahead of the line rising at 45 degrees, but the 45 degree line will always reach the same points on the y axis that the 90 degree line does, it will simply take it twice as much time to do so, and because infinite entities are by their nature extratemporal, the difference in the rate of increase is completely irrelevant. Similarly, an entity whose quantity is eternally increasing (an infinite entity) does not lose this quality if its quantity at a given point in time is added to or subtracted from. Craig makes the mistake of thinking of infinity as a quantity, rather than an eternally increasing trajectory. An actual infinite trajectory is certainly possible, and time is just this sort of eternally increasing, infinite trajectory, which is advancing with every second that passes.

    Aside from the fact that an actual infinite trajectory is possible, there are other obvious problems with Craig’s argument for god’s existence. Craig, in defiance of the Occam’s Razor principle which states that the simplest logical explanation for a phenomenon is the most probable, postulates an infinite, extratemporal god as his solution to the “impossibility” of an infinite universe. The same “problem” exists with the postulation of a god with an infinite lifespan as exists with the postulation of a universe with an absolute lifespan, the only difference is that there is empirical evidence that suggests that the universal series of causes and effects is infinite, while there is no empirical evidence that a god even exists. Throughout human history, every entity ever detected has had a physical cause; therefore, it is logical to assume that all events have a physical cause, and illogical to assume that there could be an uncaused entity. Therefore, it is more logical to believe that the universe is comprised of an infinite series of physical causes and effects than to believe that it is the finite creation of an infinite creator.

    Indeed, the postulation of god as the creator of the universe creates more uncertainty than it eliminates. If god exists, who created god? God could not have created itself; it is logically impossible for a being to create itself, because creation of the nonevolutionary sort requires intellect and intentionality, and if god evolved, then it is not really god as humans define the concept: the infinite, omnipotent, creator of all existence. It would be impossible for god to create its intellect or intentionality ex nihilo. If god were created by another entity, Super-God perhaps, then not only does god cease to meet our definition of “god,” but we need an explanation for the origins of Super-God, and the origins of his creator, and so on ad infinitum.

    Therefore, I postulate an alternative argument regarding the existence of god and the workings of the universe, defining “universe” as the totality of the physical realm, and using the same definition of “god” as is used in the Kalam cosmological argument.

    The universe is an infinite or beginningless series of physical causes and effects.
    An infinite series cannot have a creator or an initial uncaused cause.
    Therefore, the universe cannot have a creator or initial uncaused cause.
    Therefore, there cannot be a god. David Baake

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  4. Brent,

    I see where you are coming from with what some theists say regarding “proving” God’s non-existence. However, very few things can be “proven”. On the other hand, arguments can be given for evidence of theism or atheism. The argument wins if one sees the evidence for one side or the other as being more plausible.

    Regarding your use of empirical evidence to support one’s belief that God does not exist, I assert using empirical evidence can lead to a conclusion that has theological implications.

    Now onto Baake’s rebuttal of “actual infinity”. His linear equation actually describes a potential infinite, of which I have no problem. His graft has a beginning and it is where the X and Y axis meet. I have never heard of Dr. Craig presenting the argument of a circle rotating for infinity, so I don’t know if Mr. David Baake is representing the argument correctly.

    Mr. Baake’s arguments only engage one leg of the Kalam cosmological argument – the philosophical arguments. He has done nothing to address the other leg – the scientific evidence that point to the universe having a beginning. The evidence does not point to a universe that has an infinite past. It points to a past that began nearly three-billion years ago with the big-bang. Such evidences would include back-ground radiation, and the red light shift. This successfully disarms David Baake’s premise that the universe has an infinite past and thus his conclusion is not tenable.

    Whatever created the big-bang had to exist outside of time and space. This existence was ontologically prior (essence/existence), not temporally prior to the universe. Creation only deals with things that come into existence temporally within time and space. Since whatever caused the big-bang must exist, ontologically, outside of time and space, to ask the question, “What caused IT (insert God if you wish),” makes no sense.

    Secondly an infinite regression of prior causes would mean there is an infinite regression of uncaused causes which would have to be traversed before we found the cause of the universe, but this is impossible since an actual infinite of successive events in the past is logically impossible.

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  5. Michael Barker,

    So God, the Father, who,according to Mormon thinking, existed at first as an “intelligence,” and then became a “spirit”, and then a “man” and then evolved to godhood, if he created the universe in the beginning, does it mean he did so as an “intelligence” entity before he evolved to godhood? Or did he create the universe after attaining godhood, and if he did, how did he exist prior to that creation? Either option presents a problem (paradox)for me with this philosophical head scratcher .

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    • I totally agree with you 100%. I don’t have a clear answer to that. But for the time-being, since the idea of God “evolving” into God, is not part of canonized scripture, I choose to go with the idea that God has always existed and did not evolve into God as Joseph taught in his King Follett discourse.

      I don’t think most Mormons will like my answer.

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  6. Yeah, I think you’re right on that point.

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  7. I mean about most LDS not liking your answer.

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  8. You’re going to be refuting Lorenzo Snow too.

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  9. Not too much. we’re still discussing the universe’s designer– or the absence of one, LOL.

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  10. Brent,

    And to think that this wasn’t even my post. Where the heck is Shawn Blue anyways?!!! Just kidding, he’s been at work all day.

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  11. I haven’t read the comments yet. But I listened to the debate and I read the post. I would have to say it was interesting. I was a bit put off by both arguments though. They both seemed lacking. I would have to reread it again to say what points I found lacking. But that is my initial reaction. (And as Susan Wise Bauer says, you need to read through something at least three times to actually have an opinion on it.)

    Take for example the beginning of existence. That something comes from nothing. Obviously lacking like you said. Then take that God created it. Also, lacking, it seems. Then who created God, ad infinitum? Either way I look at it it seems pretty crazy how existence can be.

    I’m new to this blog (heard from you guys from “A Thoughtful Faith”). Some comments on the appearance of the blog. It is very difficult to read with the text being so lightly gray. I know it is the “in” thing but really, it strains my eyes.

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  12. Is there a way to follow comments via e-mail?

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    • If someone hits “reply” to your comment, when typing out their own, you will get an e-mail message. There are ways (I don’t know how) to sign up to follow our blog and you will get a notice every time a new post goes up.

      I’ll ask my brother Jon about it and have him send you a message.

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  13. Read the comments. Quite fascinating. I take it to have an intelligent discussion on this thread one would need to have some background in philosophy – I guess I have quite a bit to learn!

    So, my question, a bit more basic. Why can’t a person just choose to be agnostic? Why must we make a choice – according to Mormon? If we choose to live an honest life and be good to one another why must we do more than that? Do you have a post that addresses those questions?

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  14. Michael Barker,
    Yes, the first two posts. As such, I gave proper attribution for both. The third is my own feeble attempt to make sense of things. (Some of these concepts are way beyond my own interpretation or recapitulation.)

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  15. Michael Barker,

    Michael, Thanks, but I was looking more for a subscribe to comments in on this blog post, kind of like Wheat & Tares does it. When you replied to me I didn’t get an e-mail from your website. I haven’t subscribed via e-mail from your website since I prefer RSS. So I subscribed via RSS.

    I do like to follow comments via e-mail on certain posts that I am interested in. Not sure if it is possible to do that on your website but it would be a nice feature, makes it easier to be interactive in the comments! I know on websites powered by WordPress/Blogger it is really easy to set up, but not sure how you guys are set up. Thanks.

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  16. i’ll admit i’m a bit of a simpleton, and the dialog in this thread is impressive, after reading it through though, a few scriptures came to mind. maybe they pertain, maybe not, but i couldn’t help wondering.

    2 timothy 3:7 “ever learning, and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth.”

    2 nephi 9:28 “….the foolishness of men! when they are learned they think they are wise, and they hearken not unto the counsel of god, for they set it aside, supposing they know of themselves, wherefore, their wisdom is foolishness…”

    2 nephi 32:7 “….for they will not search knowledge, nor understand great knowledge, when it is given unto them in plainness, even as plain as word can be.”

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  17. jacob,

    Yes, that is the tendency of man – To try and understand the world around him. I see no reason why it is bad to try and understand God – even questioning His existence. That is what makes life so great, to learn and understand the world around us (among other things).

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    • Jon,

      I like your thinking. My brothers and I want you to write a blog post for us sometime. When you come up with a topic, let us know by clicking on the “contact” button on the home page.

      mike

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  18. Jon,

    it is good to reach for understanding, no doubt, but it seems to me that debates of this nature always boil down to one thing, semantics. we aren’t really discussing the true nature of god, we are discussing the meaning of words. this is because things of the spirit can only be understood through the spirit, and without it no amount of intellect can compensate. with the spirit, intellect becomes irrelevant. all the learning and words in the world could never convince anyone, or prove to anyone, the flavor of salt. words can only be used successfully, to convince someone to partake of salt for themselves. revelation is the only source to understanding deity. it cannot be replaced with a degree from harvard.

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    • Jacob,

      Theologians have recognized that there are two ways of coming to know about God: Special Revelation and General Revelation. Within Mormonism, we are familiar with Special Revelation, that is, coming to know about God through spiritual means, ie. miracles, scripture, etc. It is through Spiritual Revelation that one comes to know that Jesus of Nazareth is God the Son, etc.
      The idea of General Revelation is almost entirely unknown to Mormons.

      General Revelation refers to a universal aspect of God, of God’s knowledge and of spiritual matters, discovered through natural means, such as observation of nature (the physical universe), philosophy and reasoning, human conscience or providence or providential history.

      This post, which Shawn wrote, and the friendly debating which I had with Brent, revolves around the idea of General Revelation. The study of General Revelation is often called “Natural Theology”. The specific Natural Theology argument I was using, was a form of what has been called the “Cosmological Argument”

      The locus classicus that justifies a Christian’s study of Natural Theology is Romans 1:20: “For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities – his eternal power and divine nature – have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without cause.” (New International Version)

      If you are interested, I wrote a three-part post based on one of the Natural Theology arguments called “The Argument from Objective Moral Values”. Here is the link: http://rationalfaiths.com/natural-theology-the-moral-argument-part-i/

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  19. Michael Barker,

    i appreciate your response. however, i do not see how it addresses the fundamental flaw in trying to understand the nature, existence, characteristics, etc. of deity from a purely intellectual standpoint. who are the “theologians”, and how have they “recognized” these (two) ways of coming to know “about” god? for example, b.h. roberts in his book “mormon doctrine of deity” make a very intellectual (and lengthy) case that god’s omniscience was to say that god possessed all knowledge of things that could be known, which necessarily, excluded the future, or else man could not truly have agency. he made a very compelling argument showing forth a great deal of the wisdom of man. the only thing wrong with his well written book is that it required breaking away from plain and simple truths contained in the scriptures. it has been given unto us even as nephi saw, that is, “in plainness, even as plain as words can be.”

    you have mentioned somewhere in another post that you are familiar with the prophet’s king follet sermon, which, you will remember, he followed up, shortly over a month later with his plurality of gods sermon. in these two sermons he makes it amply clear how one comes to know god. but even if you choose to set these aside, as they are not canonized, the canonized scripture as well as modern prophets teach the same lessons. our goal as latter-day saints is not to come to know “about” god, but rather to come to know god. it only stands to reason that we as latter-days saints are much more familiar with special revelation than with general revelation. why should it be otherwise? we would simply being trading in the genuine for the counterfeit. because of the priesthood; its keys and ordinances, we are in a very unique position, to do more than compare intellects with those devoid of authentic revelation. for example i noticed you chose to quote the new international version of the bible, yet modern revelation has shown the king james to be the most correct of the english variety. there must have been some reason. what revelation have any of these men claimed? is it the revelation we learn of in the scriptures or is some other?

    p.s. sincerely, i mean no disrespect, but what is with the pipe?

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    • Jacob,

      First the pipe. It’s just to be funny. Look at my eyes – they are all crazy looking. Our office had the practitioners retake pictures for the waiting area at our office. I thought it would be funny to buy a pipe and then slip it in when the photographer wasn’t watching.

      General and Special revelation do not have to compete with each other. it’s really not an either/or scenario. General revelation looks at just the general aspects of God. It only points to His existence. It does nothing to tell you if God as Muslims, Catholics, Protestants, or Mormons understand Him is correct; that is the job of special revelation.

      You are setting up a false dilema with your argument. I don’t have to give up one to have the other.

      Regarding your summation of BH Roberts, I have not read his treatise on God’s Omniscience. If what your represent in your summations of BH Roberts’ thoughts is true, I would disagree with him. I am going to write a post next year on how one can reconcile God’s sovereignty and man’s agency.

      Regarding the King Follett Sermon. As I said on an earlier comment, I don’t have a problem with the notion of us “becoming as God”. I just don’t understand what that would look like as I don’t fully understand our Father in Heaven. To say I did would show hubris.

      Just because there is a prominent idea within Mormon thought, does not make it doctrinal or canonized scripture. So there are many things that have been and are said that I can take as thoughtful opinion, but don’t have to accept. The idea of what is “scripture” within the context of Mormonism is also something I am going to tackle in a post next year.

      King James Bible? That is not the “most correct translation”. There are many other translations that rely on much older and much more reliable manuscripts. A simple example would be what is known as the johanine coma, found in 1 John 5:7. There are no extant manuscripts that contain that scripture. It is only there because the KJ translators relied heavily on Erasmus’ translation and Erasmus was strong-armed to include that verse even though none of his manuscripts contained it. It is only the English-speaking church that uses the KJV; not the Spanish-speakng; not the Chinese-speaking; not the Portugese-speaking, etc.

      The only reason we use it is out of tradition, coherence, and consistency. The language of our extra-Biblical scripture is in the language of the KJV. It is beautiful. It was/is the most used English translation. You don’t need to insert God in there for an explanation.

      Marcus Terentius Varro was the first to express the idea of Natural Theology (the study of General Revelation); from the 8th century, the Mutazilite school of Islam;Thomas Aquinas; William Paley; Robert Plantiga; J.P. Moreland; William Craig.

      If our popular [Mormon] culture demonizes the intellect, that’s not what Joseph [Smith] taught. Joseph taught that we are intellects fully as much as we are spirits. Or sometimes he seemed to talk that our essence is spirit-intellects. That’s what we ontologically are. And to bifurcate those, to sunder the mind and the spirit is to be apostate from major thrusts of Joseph’s theology

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  20. Michael Barker,

    thank you for the explanation of the pipe. i will agree with your statement that “special revelation” and “general revelation” are not mutually exclusive. i’m sure that Marcus Terentius Varro and others have done a great job of elaborating with much eloquence their thoughts on this topic. all of their wonderful words though, do not change this fact, that without what they term special revelation, general revelation is nothing more than intellectual observation. there is nothing revelatory about it. it is true, as we read in the thirtieth chapter of alma, that “all things denote there is a god”, and indeed, we may observe many things that testify of his existence. these observations devoid of revelations of the holy spirit will never enable us to know god. why?, morality is not quantifiable. if we only allow ourselves access to the limited, we cannot comprehend the limitless. the only way to gain access to limitless is through morality. we may paste together very intellectual sounding stings of words, but they of themselves can do nothing help us to know god.

    i am going to go out on a limb, based on your comments and say that you have found an appreciation for many of the apocryphal texts. i too have found there to much of great worth here. i will also say that it is truly a shame that more of our latter-day saints do not utilize these records in their study. i am curious, which of the canonized english versions of the bible would you say is more correct than the king james?(excluding, of course joseph’s translation) what do you base this on? intellect may arguably bear you out, (there will still always be room for the argument), but modern revelation does not. apply this to the book of mormon. intellect alone could never convince anyone that joseph’s statement that the book of mormon is “the most correct” book on earth, is true. only a revelation from god can do this. it is important to remember in all cases who is holding the trump card.

    i do not believe that our “popular mormon culture” demonizes intellect. i do however, see that many of our members wisely do not put the cart before the horse. “And to bifurcate those, to sunder the mind and the spirit is to be apostate from major thrusts of Joseph’s theology” now this is quite a statement. (honestly though, my first thought {just for a moment} was, “who talks like this?”) I found it interseting that you chose to refer to it as “joseph’s theology”. he never claimed it. rather, he defended it’s divine authorship. but, my point is this, i have no intention of trying to “sunder” the mind and the spirit. one is the front runner of the other. they are necessarily connected, if we are to become celestial. but it is important to recognize and remember, which is limited and which is limitless.

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  21. Here’s a tip. First, start off without the assumption that ‘God’ is an ‘omnipotent entity who loves us’. Base that on the Bible. Base it on reason. Hell, base it on anything you want but as long as I can ask 99% of the Christians these 2 questions:
    1) Is God all powerful?
    2) Does God love us?
    and get ‘yes’ for both of them, your god is a non starter. With that being said, thank you for not stoning rape victims, murdering children for honor or hanging gay people. As Abrahamic theists go, you guys are actually pretty civil.

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    • Shawn /

      The sole purpose of the essay was not to argue that “God” is a “loving God”. It is clearly to argue for an inteligent designer/creator. That is all. It seems you are throwing in quite a few tangential point so I’m not clear as to what your actual take is on the article. Also, what do you mean in reference to a “non-starter”?

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