Monday, November 26, 2012

[PHI 3000] Why call him "God"?

According to Yoram Hazony, we should think of God as an imperfect being, not as a perfect being. Why? Because the former (i.e., God as imperfect being) is consistent with the Bible (the Old Testament), whereas the latter (i.e., God as perfect being) seems incoherent. A more "realistic" conception of God, Hazony argues, is theism's answer to atheism. As he writes:
Today, with theism rapidly losing ground across Europe and among Americans as well, we could stand to reconsider this point. Surely a more plausible conception of God couldn't hurt.
But is he right? Would "a more plausible conception of God" give atheists pause? There are a few problems here:

First, atheism is the claim that God doesn't exist, not the claim that the concept of God is incoherent. (Although some atheists use the concept's incoherence as evidence against theism.) So, Hazony would still need to show that this imperfect being he has conceived of really does exist.

Second, if one talks about God's attributes in terms of degrees, rather than maximums, then one has to specify the degree to which God's attributes are such that they enable him to perform extraordinary feats, such as creating the universe. For example, if God is not all-powerful, how powerful does God have to be in order to be able to create the universe?

Finally, is an imperfect being worthy of the title "God"? Why should such a being be worshiped?


  1. If you need proof to believe in God, then I think you are “missing the point” in regards to what it means to be religious. Belief in the irrational is one that comes from a subjective place in one’s core being. A person who believes in God because of some external “proof” is a person whose “faith” is likely to be resting on a weak, shaky foundation. Religious faith is a risk one takes for the sake of heaven (so to speak). Is this a difficult concept to grasp? Yes, but that’s the point. Faith isn’t supposed to be easy, simple and clear cut. It’s hard and a struggle and a fight and a spiritual war with one’s own ego, soul and mind. If you’re not up for this struggle, I don’t blame you because this isn’t easy “stuff.”

    I think Hazony’s point is that the nature of God (as traditional religion once thought God to be) may be wrong and we must be humble to admit that no one really knows what God is or the reason why anything really exists at all. Additionally, theodicy is an issue that suggests that we will never fully understand the nature of this reality and that God may actually not always be a “nice guy.” Thus, we will never know truly what life’s purpose is or if it has one at all. Therefore, at best what we can do it try to imitate the better things that emanate from the transcendent such as love, good deeds, intellectual pursuit, being grateful for every moment of life etc etc.

    Do you need to have faith to pursue these virtues? Absolutely not. But there are some who passionately do feel “Life” has meaning and that sense of meaning is most strongly embodied and expressed through religious and spiritual traditions, practices, ideology and through the ethical, spiritual and intellectual growth that a genuine, committed religious life should impose.

    Furthermore, no matter if you are a firm “believer” or an strident atheist, one cannot deny the impact that religion and the profound effect of the claim that is being made by the Bible that a divine experience took place. Humanity as never been the same since. Yes, evil things and wars have been fought in the name of religion but if you look a little closer religious wars and evil people hiding behind a religious title have been fundamentally driven by the lust for power, money, land and wealth. Something most religions continue to rail against. But do humans listen? Thus, in my view, it is human beings who have ruined God, religion and the lofty ideals it espouses not the other way around. On the other hand, I think it can be reasonably argued that many social movements, political philosophies and even the progress of science itself are inextricably linked to the claim the Bible is making about there actually being God. To ignore the claim is to not even consider it. And I think most would rather just ignore the claim. Because to consider it means possibly having to change one’s ways of looking at the world or possibly even how one lives one’s life and that it just to darn hard for most people.

    Religion shouldn’t be easy..I think it should be carried out for one reason only: To learn how to never take one single moment of life for granted.

    And that’s it.

    1. Your talk of “taking a risk” brings to mind the Argument from Pragmatism, especially William James’ Leap of Faith version. The argument goes something like this:

      1. If a belief has positive effects on a believer’s life, then those effects are pragmatic evidence for that belief.
      2. Some beliefs have positive effects on a believer’s life only if they are believed.
      3. The belief in God is a belief that has positive effects on a believer’s life.
      4. If one tries to decide whether or not to believe in God based on the non-pragmatic evidence, one will never get the chance to evaluate the pragmatic evidence for God.
      5. (Therefore) One ought to take a “leap of faith” and believe in God, and only then evaluate the non-pragmatic evidence.

      This argument has several problems:

      First, what exactly does “positive effects” mean? How “positive” do they have to be?

      Second, suppose that a Holocaust survivor is able to deal with the trauma only by believing that God made the Nazis commit the atrocities of WW II. Does the fact that this Holocaust survivor is able to live in some relative peace a reason to think that God is responsible for the atrocities committed by the Nazis?

      Third, why should we only consider the pragmatic effects on the believer’s life? What about the effects on everyone else? Could it be that we—humanity as a whole—would be better off without religious belief? The history of religious intolerance and persecution suggests that this is quite possible.

      Fourth, is belief the sort of thing that one can control in the way required for the argument to work? Suppose I take a leap of faith and then realize that the non-pragmatic evidence is not convincing, can I take a leap back?


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