Wednesday, October 2, 2013

The Anselmian Conception of God

From guest blogger, Natalie N.

In the philosophy of religion, the discussion of God is often centered on the omnipotence, omniscience, omnibenevolence of God and the compatibility of those attributes with each other and the laws of nature and reason.  These are the widely accepted attributes of God by both philosophers and theologians alike.

An attempt to find the source can be made by citing religious Canon.  Here are some often cited examples from the Torah:
(Isaiah 44:6)
"Thus says the Lord the King of Israel, and his redeemer the Lord of hosts; I am the first, and I am the last; and beside me there is no God."

(Job 42:2)
"I know that you can do every thing, and that no thought can be withheld from you."

(Jeremiah 32:17)
"Ah Lord God! behold, you have made the heaven and the earth by your great power and stretched out arm, and there is nothing too hard for you:"

(Jeremiah 32:27)
"Behold, I am the Lord, the God of all flesh: is there any thing too hard for me?"
I don’t think this approach is valid for many reasons.  It reinforces these attributes in part, but our current conception of them is far from a direct quote from the Torah.  Modern religious study has convincing evidence, and it is the widely accepted view in the professional field of Jewish studies, that the Torah as it exists today is not the revelation of God to Moses on Mount Sinai.  The Documentary Hypothesis exposes that the Torah is a compilation of works by four different groups of authors: the Yahwists (J), the Elohist (E), the Deutoronomist (D), and the Priestly source (P).  The earliest estimates of the time period in which the first source, the Yahwists, were writing are around 950 B.C.E.  This was one thousand years after the supposed authorship of the Torah by Moses.  It seems that in our philosophical study, we should be bounded by these rational and logical historical findings.  Therefore, we cannot accept these attributes without first proving them.  The New Testament is an even more recent human conscription, the theological developments in the later books of Jewish canon and interpretation by rabbis are all based on the Torah, which has been undermined by the Documentary Hypothesis.  It seems that there aren’t any sources of valid authority behind the claims that God is necessarily omnipotent, omniscient, and omnibenevolent. 

My opinion is that these are human ideas that have developed and become entrenched in the discussion that need to be uprooted.  One explanation as to how these attributes became the norm is that they were an attempt to explain in understandable or general terms the unfathomable power and perfection of God.  These attributes are what I consider to be infinite attributes, meaning that it would be impossible to go any further than these in regards to what they pertain to.  This is the same concept as infinity, in that there is no such thing as infinity plus one.  There is no greater power, conscience, or benevolence that is greater than these attributes of omnipotence, omniscience, omnibenevolence.  It seems that a human conception of perfection would be tied to these infinite attributes.  In reality, we can prove that these attributes are contrary to each other and the world as we experience it, so they are not in reality the components of perfection.  The incapability of people to conceptualize the attributes of God does not necessarily mean that those attributes must be boundless or infinite. 

I think that beginning philosophical discussion with these attributes of God as assumptions bears the risk that the entire discussion may be based on a false claim.  However, I’m not sure where the discussion should begin.  A possibility is to begin with the attempt to logically prove that these attributes must belong to God to show that the assumptions on which further discussions are based are correct.  Any discussion or conclusions based on invalid assumptions are fruit from a poisonous tree. 


Anonymous said...

A penchant for propositional logic will not serve very well here. The bible is a study of character and disposition - the world in-itself so to speak. It treats iniquity and righteousness rather than good and evil per se. Meditate on the panoply of character and disposition midst a host of variety and circumstance. It is as much a study of man as it is God.

Anonymous said...

Regarding the testimony of the Pentateuch, there are two vital occurances in human civilization at this time - language and animal domestication. You might look into the Pulitzer prize winning "Guns, Germs and Steel - The Fates of Human Societies" by Jarod Diamond before you completely discount the Pentateuch as worthless. The rites regarding animal sacrifice are often repeated verbatim over and over again. These represent the influence of other cultures; regardless, it is clear that the fates of human societies rested on animal domestication. In the books that follow, God's people are constantly rebuked over idolatry, graven images, groves, high places, the worship of Baal, etc. but iniquity always seems to be the last straw, as when God appeals to the will of the Babylonian king to bring them into captivity; and Pharaoh did release them... It is Spiritual Idea, appealing to the great men of history, that is the thesis of Hegel's "Philosophy of History".

"For I spake unto your fathers, nor commanded them in the day that I brought you out of the land of Egypt, concerning burnt offerings or sacrifices:"

Jeremiah 7:22

Andrew Josten said...

So you're basically saying that we have been analyzing properties of a god when there are no reasons to think that if there is a god, he has those properties. Basically we have pulled a list of properties out of our asses (or an old book - there's no authoritative difference) and asked whether these properties are consistent with one another and therefore could be the properties of a god. And you are suggesting that instead of analyzing this unjustified list of properties we come up with a justified list of properties to ascribe to a god and then analyze those. This is what I think you are saying.
My response: I can understand the desire to make a justified list. For some of the properties we have been analyzing, there have been philosophers who have tried to make positive arguments that there is a god and he must have those properties, without appealing to books that were supposedly written by that god. You could suggest that we look into these arguments when we discuss what to fill the to-be-decided spaces in our class schedule with. As an atheist, I have not come across any arguments that I find convincing for the existence of gods, let alone that they have certain properties. So basically I think that if you want to make a justified list, good luck. In my opinion that is a mission doomed to failure.
I think that something Jesse said about philosophy of religion and philosophy in general describes my view on the subject. He said something along the lines that progress can be made by ruling out theories that don’t make sense. Tying this together with philosophy of religion and my view: If the atheist view is correct and all the gods humans have believed in are essentially “pulled out of our asses”, then what philosophy of religion can do is eliminate the contradictory gods, tell us what certain gods would entail, maybe tell us something about whether or not we should believe in any of the non-contradictory, logically possible but unproven gods, etc. But I wouldn’t hold out hope that it is going to prove that there is a god and it has properties x, y, and z.

Anonymous said...

I like your verve. It is generally understood in epistemology that what is required for having knowledge of x is:

a. You must believe that x is true.
b. You must have reason to believe that x is true.
c. x must be true.

You deny a nor b yet you opine on the possibility of c? Jesse teaches you this?

Jesse Steinberg said...

Most philosophers these days don't think that knowledge amounts to (a)-(c). Ed Gettier has a famous paper in which he provides some counterexamples to this analysis of knowledge.

I don't follow your last remark. Do you mean to deny that there can be instances of justified false beliefs?

Anonymous said...

No. These would simply be instances of not, in fact, having knowledge. I mean to insinuate that idle, or wild, speculation on matters of unjustified true belief or disbelief is not philosophy, nor is it theology, but creative writing.

Anonymous said...

Perhaps a concrete example might better illustrate my point: Is Pascal's Wager philosophy or theology? Or is it nothing more than a naive bet?

Anonymous said...

Hehe... nothing really follows from a definition. This is the USA and you may call it what you like. I would suggest "propositional theology", or "naive transcendentalism", or "probable absolutism". (g)

Natalie N said...

General clarification: I’m not discounting the canon in worth, usefulness, or saying it’s historical backdrop is misconstrued. All I’m saying is that the revelation is justifiably disputed, and therefore it cannot be used as the basis for why the assumptions of these infinite attributes are justified.

Arguments that God doesn’t exist or others only prove that if the assumptions are true, then the conclusion is true. These are admittedly worthwhile arguments to partake in, but often the conclusions are taken as true despite the unsound assumptions.

Natalie N said...

Andrew: First of all, you just likened the canon to something pulled out of our asses. You don’t need to respect “an old book” if you don’t want. However, you do need to respect other people if you want to participate in an exchange like this, and you just offended millions. There is an extremely defined line between persuasive and offensive.

I have experience with Descartes, Locke, Berkeley, etc. I’m aware of those claims. I would say that if someone accepts one of their arguments as sound and an argument with assumptions derived from them as sound as well, then they have reason to believe the conclusion. My main problem here is that people constantly refute these as unsound, but proceed using the assumptions to make new arguments.

Natalie N said...

On (a)-(c) mentioned by an anon, I wouldn’t ascribe to the view you have put forth. In the case of your requirements, I would say is it not possible for something to be true although you don’t have knowledge of it in this sense. (C) could be true even though you don’t (a) believe it is true or (b) reasonably/justifiably believe it is true. I think my argument adheres to this strict definition of knowledge, as I am saying that it is possible that (c) x must be true, but I am saying that people are basing their arguments on assumptions that has not been determined either way. People use assumptions that violate one, two, or three of these requirements, which I think is the problem.

I think the accepted requirements for knowledge make more sense if put forth in this way:
(a2) x is true
(b2) You believe x is true.
(c2) You reasonably and rationally believe x is true/ You justifiably believe X is true.
Therefore, you have justifiably true belief, what has been called knowledge.

I actually hold the belief that people can believe something and believe that they are rational in their belief, but if their knowledge is incorrect, they are wrong. I’m calling into question (a2) and (c2) in regards to the knowledge of the assumptions as true. These are perceptions that people believe, but that does not make them objectively true.
A break down of my belief would be like this,
Assumption: X is an objective truth.
Therefore, If someone has correct knowledge and is properly rational, then they believe x is true.
This is an idea that I have explored in my first paper and would like to continue to develop. I believe that there are justifiably true beliefs and justifiably false beliefs. I also believe that the role of human perception complicates the idea quite a bit.