Wednesday, October 18, 2006

There's more to reality than meets the eye

Dagood said:

“Steve,__A couple of questions and a couple of observations, if you could clarify:__Did God exist prior to time?”

Strictly speaking, no.

“As near as I can tell (and I could always be missing something) your definition of necessity within causation does not address the problem. “

What problem? If the definition is correct, then primary causality doesn’t presuppose temporal priority, in which case there’s no problem at all.

“Even if Time could not exist without God (and therefore God is the “cause” of Time) we are left with the problem that at one moment there was God and no Time, and the next, there was God and Time. Yet without Time, it is impossible to get from one moment to the next!”

The precise way of expressing the relation would be to say that while time had a point of origin, there was never a time when God did not exist since God is timeless.

“Can you explain the relationship between the spiritual plane (for lack of a better term) and the physical plane? Can one cross-over from one to the next? What is on the physical plane that is not on the spiritual plane and vice versa?”

In terms of the divine mode of spirituality, time and space are absent.

In terms of the mundane (=creaturely) mode of spirituality, space is absent.

There is no literal passage from spirit to matter since literal passage is a spatial category.

Ordinarily, an embodied agent is only directly aware of his physical surroundings because his consciousness is bombarded by the senses.

But in the case of a discarnate agent or in certain altered states of consciousness, the agent can be directly aware of spiritual entities.

“And without empirical evidence, is there any way, really to make any claims as to what is on the spiritual plane?”

1.We wouldn’t necessarily expect empirical evidence for a nonempirical objecst, although it’s possible for a nonempirical object to have a physical manifestation.

2.We don’t demand empirical evidence for the existence of consciousness or abstract objects like numbers.

3.Evidence for the incorporeal would include the usual arguments for abstract objects, the irreducibility of consciousness, the ontological status of qualia, and well-attested case-studies of possession or postmortem survival.

The Bible also furnishes abundant evidence of the incorporeal realm.

“Perhaps two examples, to clarify my question. On the physical plane, we require light to use our optic nerves to observe. If we ‘observe’ other items on the spiritual plane, will that require a source of light? And a participant with optic nerves? As James Lazarus points out, God is indicated to be a spirit—an entity without an eyeball. Does God ‘see’ differently than humans? If so, and we cannot observe how God sees, is any claim as to what God is doing, when God is watching something pure speculation?”

1.God doesn’t literally “observe” what is going on. Rather, God knows what is going on because he foreordained whatever comes to pass.

2.Spiritual apprehension would be like dreaming. A dream simulates sensory stimuli, even though no external stimulus is causing the effect.

“Another example. On our physical plane, we understand “justice” as being in conformance with a standard. A standard that is external to our point of view. Saying ‘I will do whatever my character allows me to do’ is not justice. If ‘God is Just’ is to have any meaning on our plane, it would mean that God is following a standard that is external to His point of view. But that would make something greater (and more necessary) than God. If God is simply following his character, he is not being ‘just’ as we understand it on this physical plane. If there is some other definition of “just” on the spiritual plane, how can we confirm what it is?”

You’re rehearsing the Euthyphro dilemma. I’ve been over that ground with Loftus.

“Can there be more than one plane? What limits us to supernatural and natural? Can there also be supranatural? And quasi-natural?”

Since you don’t even believe in the supernatural, much less the supranatural, the onus is not on me to disprove something that you yourself disbelieve.

“How do we correctly determine the number of planes?”

It’s sufficient that I have a good reason to believe in one thing, but no good reason to believe in another.

I don’t need a reason not to believe in something. Rather, I simply need a reason to believe in something. Absent evidence for a hypothetical, I’m under no obligation to disprove a hypothetical.

“What if there is another plane behind God’s plane?”

That would be excluded by certain monotheistic proofs—not to mention the Bible.

“I do not ask this for some sort of eternal regression, but rather to demonstrate that—as humans—the ONLY plane we can observe is the physical one. To introduce another brings up the question as to why stop at one.”

While humans can only “observe” a physical domain, they can experience a nonphysical domain.

“Further, I am uncertain as to how you “value” God. You first indicate that in our review of the theist’s position, we must consider God as the most valuable. But then you state God is the highest ‘good.’ The word “good” (as I understand it) is a value determination made, in comparison to other objects. How we get the terms ‘good,’ ‘better’ and ‘best.’ It is unclear if you are talking about morality when you use the word ‘good.’ Are there different values of morality? Some ‘good’ some ‘better’ and some ‘best’?”

There are lesser and greater goods. A paradigm-case would be the exemplary goodness of God, which mundane goods exemplify.

“And if God is the highest value of ‘good’ (can I say ‘best’?) then you seem to be saying that suffering (as a ‘second order’) is still a value of ‘good,’ Are you saying suffering is good? Just not as ‘good’ as God, who is the “best”?”

No, I never said that suffering is good. Rather, suffering can be a means to the realization of a second-order good. Suffering is a means, not an end. The end in view is the good, while suffering can sometimes be instrumental to that end.

“Are you saying that we need suffering to understand the value of God?”

I was more specific than that:

i) A knowledge of certain first-order goods does not entail suffering. But a knowledge of certain second-order goods does entail suffering.

ii) I also distinguished between a greater good for a lesser number, and a lesser good for a greater number.

Not everyone is a beneficiary of the greater good, viz. the damned.


  1. As I have reflected on what you said, it has become a bit clearer. And then murkier. It would seem that in discussing “causation” you would prefer to focus on the necessity of one item causing another, and not the timing of the items.

    I am not saying this in a “Let’s fight” mode, or on some jag, intent to beat you to death with words. This happens to be an area in which I am fascinated, so I enjoy seeing people’s take on the matter, regardless of their stance on theism.

    Perhaps in any other discussion, we can reduce “cause” to focus on necessity, but in reviewing “cause” when it comes to creating Time, it is a key issue. It should not be defined away. What appears is that the timing significance of causation of Time is a problem, so rather than address it; this approach re-defines “cause” to remove any consideration of time, and now claims the problem is addressed. No, what appears is that the problem was just ignored. (Again, this is my opinion, and I am saying this so that you can see where I am coming from.)

    We have the simple statement “A causes B.”

    A brute fact of the universe is that things exist. With the exception of God, they come into existence. Even looking solely at necessity, the reality is that A existed before B, or A came into existence simultaneously as B, or A came into existence after B.

    What I am wondering is, in light of the reality of existence, even with using necessity as the basis of causation, don’t we have to still confront the problem of how this actually works in a universe where there is Time?

    I am uncertain as to how A could cause B, and then subsequently come into existence. The definition of “necessity” would allow it, of course, but is that ever a reality? I can’t think of such an instance, so I will move on.

    A could cause B and come into existence at the same time (Craig’s pillow example), but you have indicated that Time has a point of origin, so if it was simultaneous, that would mean God has a point of origin.

    Leaving us with A (God) existing prior to the caused event B (Time). But you say that God did not exist prior to time.

    Which leaves me back: confused. I do not want to start guessing your position—can you provide more clarification?

    As to the differences between supernatural modes (I said “planes”—I think we are talking of the same thing) are you saying that God has neither time nor space in the spiritual mode, and created creatures have time, but no space?

    Again, I do not mean to mis-state your position, so if I am burning strawmen, I can assure you I have no intention of doing so.

    First you state we would not use empirical (observational) evidence for a non-empirical object. I agree. We cannot use sight, taste, touch, hearing or smell for something that is invisible, inaudible, untouchable, and has no taste or smell. But then you indicate that a non-empirical object can have a physical manifestation.

    I think you are talking about such things as the numeral “2” which is a concept, but in and of itself is not observable. We manifest it by creating a set of lines, and a set of conventions, so that you and I can discuss, and when I place a “2” on the paper, you understand the idea. Am I close?

    However, here we have a mode that has no time, no space, and a non-empirical object (God.) The question that plagues me, is how does this no time, no space, non-empirical item translate over to a new mode, in which there IS time, and IS space, and ARE empirical objects? Further, it would seem that you are claiming it created Time, but not space, on its own mode.

    How does such a thing (for lack of a better term) manage to create something so completely opposite of its own existence?

    Further, you indicated that the Bible produces evidence of the incorporeal realm. (Another term for spiritual mode, I presume?) However, in those instances, there ARE concepts of Time and Space. Within Creation we have the Godhead talking to each other. Which requires both time and space. Certainly you could argue this is an anthropomorphism, and there was no actual talking. No actual time taking place.

    But what about angel’s interaction in the incorporeal realm. What of Satan’s fall? This, too, would take time and space. Or Satan appearing before God about Job. Or the author of Isaiah’s vision of a throne. Or Stephen’s vision of Jesus. Or the author of Revelation’s numerous accountings of events happening in the incorporable realm. Every one of these events are placed within a circumstance of time and space. People talking, moving, causing and effecting. (He He. Just threw that in.)

    If we are to use the Bible as evidence, it would describe a spiritual mode unlike what you have indicated exists. Is the Bible inaccurate? If we say that these are humans limited in their ability to describe the indescribable, then what evidence is it? Bringing us back to the top of the circle, that the idea of a spiritual realm, and its impact on a physical realm appears (to naturalists) to be assertions, and un-provable hypotheticals that only introduce further problems.

    Which, at least for me, is what I take from James Lazarus’ blog entry.

    I am sorry I framed the question on “justice” in what appears to be a Euthyphro Dilemma format. It is very much different. The classic Euthyphro Dilemma in the Christian worldview focuses on how God is restricted regarding morality. With God and Justice, there is a more interesting dynamic when looking at restrictions.

    “Justice” means to follow a law. To be in compliance with a code. “Mercy” means deliberately withholding enforcement. In other words, Mercy means to NOT be Just. If Justice demands you pay a fine of $100, and a Judge rules you pay $50—you have received mercy. Not Justice.

    Within Euthyphro, we often discuss God not performing an immoral action, and how that restriction is imposed. With Justice, there is no such imposition. By indicating that God can be both Just and Merciful, God has no restriction. Even if there is some Law above, below or within God, it becomes meaningless tripe, since God can freely choose to abide by it, or not. At least within the human ideal of Justice and Mercy.

    That is why I was questioning on any real value in discussing “just” about God. We have no verification of any standard by which God is limited, and even if we could, God can, apparently, refuse to abide by that standard. If the very reason for Suffering, is for us to understand what it means for God to be Just, and God to be Merciful, don’t we need to know the standard by which those words, as we know them, are being applied?

    How, exactly, does suffering inform me of God’s Justice, if I do not even know the rule(s) he is forced to impose? How does it inform me of his Mercy, if I do not know the rule(s) he is refusing to impose?

    Are you resolving the problem of Suffering with “the ends justify the means”? Is this the Unknown Greater Purpose defense?

    Thank you, again, for your patience. I am wading through it…

  2. :::YAWN!!!:::

    Jump! Dodge! Weave! Bob!

    You too can employ psuedo-logical gymnastics to avoid looking like a bronze-age fool! Just follow Steve's example!

  3. The question, my dear Dagoods is what ends? After all, the end of defeating Hitler's evil justified the means, viz. invading his fortress Europe and city bombing, which cost hundreds of thousands of lives.

    But if the end had been to exercise dominance over the continent of Europe (as was Hitler's end), then the means used would not have justified it.

    The ends do not always justify the mans, but sometimes they do. Just because some horrible means have been defended because of the end allegedly in view (see Communism) does not mean that the ends can never justify the means. Indeed, what else can justify some means used?

  4. While, my dear anon, if your name is not Ted, you are doing a pretty good impression of him. Well, a good impression of him at any rate.

  5. Oh, and I'm afraid that, whatever gymnastics you tried, logical or otherwise, you couldn't avoid looking like a fool, although not a Bronze age one.

  6. Hiraeth,

    A good question—what “ends”? And I should make a correction. I see in my comment that I question how I would see God’s justice and mercy, whereas Steve indicated that this showing was for the elect. Not me.

    Steve: 9) Apropos (1-9), God foreordained the Fall as a means of manifesting his justice and mercy to the elect.

    So we have our “ends”—God showing his justice and mercy to the elect.

    Talk about the “means.” I appreciate your explanation of the use of means to be rid of Hitler. But part of the problem with analogies in this field is that, as humans, we have limitations. We do not have the ability to instantly kill someone, or rid the world of disease, or cure cancer. We are stuck with the facts as we have them.

    God is not. If God wanted to be rid of Hitler, he could snuff him out in an instant, true?

    This explanation for the Problem of Suffering appears to be that God, in his knowledge and power, determined that the means by which to show the elect His Justice and Mercy is to provide suffering.

    I have some serious questions as to the viability of that defense to the problem, BUT I am not certain that is what Steve is saying. Perhaps I have some serious questions as to the viability of a strawman.

    That is the reason I am questioning—to see if I can understand what he is saying.


    While, at times, I may appreciate the sentiment, the problem of Time is not solely a theistic one. I have yet to see a materialistic resolution as to this issue of Time starting that is convincing. Saying Time started at the Big Bang introduces the same problem as saying God created it. (How can we go from no Big Bang to initiation of Big Bang if there is no time?)

    And, simply writing it off as “time has always existed” would not be very compelling to a theist, I would think. Do you have a solution that I have overlooked?

  7. No DagoodS, this anonymous has no solutions or argumentation. He just likes to throw spit wads...

  8. Of course analogies are lacking in parts, my dear Dagoods, as I have myself observed on more than one occasion. My point was merely to observe that the pejovative use of the phrase 'the end justifies the means' is a cliche, and a bad one at that.

    However, to engage rather than dodge the issue. If God were in the business of snuffing out all evil whenever it started, would we have freedom? And how long would you and I have cumbered the soil?

    You see, the trouble is that the average person believes that they are fundamentally 'all right.' We don't break the law seriously, and when we do break the law, it isn't very serious and if someone does get hurt, it was usually their fault. Criminals are ghastly, horrid people who we could never be like. And unspeakable characters like Hitler, Attila the Hun and Idi Amin are completely outside the pale. Of course, there are some really good people, but they are prigs, so we tend to look don on them as well. Like powerful people, really. We relish their falls and can't help gloating over them, whether they be called Jerry Fallwell or John W. Loftus.

    The trouble is, God has a different view. For God sees within the heart of man. God knows that every man is a mass of sin and evil.

    After all, if I may do my impression of the Shadow, the source of most of the evil in this world is the heart of man. I suppose that if God were to end all evil, he could have done so very easily by blotting out man from the face of the earth.

    Why does God allow men like Hitler and Stalin? Maybe to show the poverty of human pride.

    On the question of disease, I note merely that we all perish some time. And no more. It is too easy to be glib, as you can see from my other comments. The truth is, to say I do not fully understand is no shame.

  9. Hiraeth,

    Just a quick response. I was initially interested in understanding Steve’s claims, but I feel as if I have left you hanging here.

    The free will defense to the Problem of Suffering is…problematic. You appear to indicate that in the question of whether we have freedom. (The Free Will defense being that immorality is necessary to allow humans a choice.)

    By claiming that God required a world with Free Will for some reason, and therefore has evil, means that God values Free Will as of greater import than immorality. In other words, if God could create a world with no suffering but with no free will, then God would prefer a world with suffering just to maintain Free Will.

    “Choice” becomes more important than suffering. Yet, pragmatically, do Christians really follow this, as a value of God? Higher than suffering? In fact, Christians pray to reduce suffering, not to increase choices. Christians pray to reduce the opportunities to sin, not increase choice.

    What I see is that Christians do everything they possibly can to reduce suffering. Pragmatically and practically they treat suffering as something that should be eliminated as much as possible. Yet when faced with the philosophical dilemma of why--if humans and their limited capability are attempting to diminish suffering—why isn’t God with His greater capabilities, the Christian coughs out the “Free Will” defense. It is only trotted out as a philosophical answer of a greater value, and then immediately returned to its box, as the Christian goes out and lessens suffering.

    How many times, Hiraeth have you prayed something, requesting God to decrease suffering? How many times have you prayed something to increase choice? If God values Free Will so much that he allows a child to be beaten to death today by an abusive parent, which should you be praying for?