Re: God and nature; miracles

From: D. F. Siemens, Jr. (dfsiemensjr@juno.com)
Date: Thu May 15 2003 - 16:31:42 EDT

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    On Thu, 15 May 2003 09:13:36 -0400 "Howard J. Van Till"
    <hvantill@chartermi.net> writes:
    >
    > >From: "D. F. Siemens, Jr." <dfsiemensjr@juno.com>
    >
    > > .... But little men want to have a deity that they can
    > > understand.
    >
    > Dave, are we not all on an earnest quest to come to a richer
    > understanding
    > of God? Does quest that really diminish our humanity?
    >
    What I said about "little men" does not diminish anyone's humanity. The
    petty egotist is neither more nor less human than the great
    philanthropist or the widow who gave her mite. But some have a better
    insight than others.

    > > So they claim that God cannot know the future because our
    > > experiential knowledge ends at the present moment.
    >
    > Is it really the case that the only reason a person might have for
    > positing
    > such an idea is the limitation of our own personal experience? Is it
    > only
    > "little men" who portray God as the Creator of a universe that has
    > been
    > given such authentic being and such genuine freedom that not even
    > God can
    > know in advance what these authentic and free beings will do?
    >
    I believe the answer to your first question is "Yes." We are so much
    creatures of time that we cannot understand timeless being. I ran across
    a reference to one chap who argued that God became temporal only when he
    created the universe. This apparently was an attempt to have a God in
    time without the problem of what God was doing before creating.
    Temporality is evidently intended to limit divine knowledge. This is a
    deity in the image of man.

    Your second question I place in the same category as "Can God create a
    rock so big that he can't lift it?" It assumes that God isn't smart
    enough to produce creatures with freedom within time while he recognizes
    their choices from outside of time. It also absorbs an element of
    scientism, that we can only know future events as they are strictly
    determined and we know the causal chain. Therefore God must be the cause
    of what he would know and so eliminate freedom with his knowledge. But
    this involves a category mistake, confusing knowing with causing, easily
    made. Category mistakes are common errors among philosophers who ought to
    know better.

    A related problem involves modalities. We recognize current and coming
    events in which choice is involved as contingent. I'll abbreviate this as
    Cp. Obviously, anything Cp is possible, Pp. But Pp does not necessarily
    entail Cp, even though some modern systems define Cp by Pp&P~p.
    Aristotle, for example, distinguished the notions, although there is no
    evidence that anyone understood Aristotle's two modal logics until the
    20th century. A problem arises when someone notes that a Cp sometime in
    the past which is realized cannot be changed, and tries to make it
    necessary, Np. Applied to the future, a Cq that will happen is claimed to
    be Nq similarly. So anything that God knows will happen must be
    necessary. The mistake is that past Cp's do not become Np's, only true;
    if you will, factual, Fp--a different matter from Np, which may be
    defined by ~P~p. The problem is sufficiently subtle that most folks miss
    it.

    > > But God is
    > > not me written bigger and maybe a little better, for I think well
    > of
    > > myself ;-)
    >
    > Perhaps the God who is "us writ large" is something like this:
    >
    > We humans value power, so God must be omnipotent -- all powerful,
    > able to
    > overpower and control any other being.
    >
    > We humans value the capacity to act, so God must be omnicompetent --
    > able to
    > do anything.
    >
    > We humans value knowledge, so God must be omniscient -- knowing
    > everything,
    > even the outcome of contingent events that have not yet occurred.
    >
    > We humans value our presence in a place, so God must be omnipresent
    > --
    > everywhere.
    >
    > Etc.
    >
    > Howard Van Till
    >
    I know of no one who constructs a deity this way. On just the first point
    here, omnipotence is not understood as "overpower and control," except by
    those who distort theology. Rather, it is to produce what is beyond the
    power of the creature. Even there, apart from the Hebrews and their
    descendants, everyone held that true creation was impossible: _ex nihilo
    nihil fit_. Plato's deity was an artificer; Aristotle's, an attractor.
    Both thought matter eternal. "Creator" comes by revelation. Another side
    of this is that God sets the rules, whether of physical nature,
    biological entities, or spiritual reality. I will grant that both Calvin
    and Luther overemphasized inexorable election, but they did this by
    neglecting other scriptural emphases--which they noted elsewhere. There
    is a balance that must be observed without ascribing creaturely
    limitations to the Creator.

    It is vital to note that "omnipotent" is not defined by "arbitrary."

    Dave



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