A Dialogue on The Cosmological Argument

*Two friends Jacob and Mark are having a conversation about God. Jacob is a Christian while Mark is an agnostic. Mark is curious about Jacob’s views of the world. 

Mark: God is not something known by reason. God is just like Santa Claus; too fantastic a story made for simple-minded children! Have you seen any evidence of a God anywhere, at any times, at all?

Jacob: Let’s be honest before we start: you and I differ on what is seen. This will ring true in even the simplest of subjective examples: our preference of ice cream, the aesthetic of colors and paintings and so on. However, is it the case that this kind of “seeing” is the case in religion?

Mark: Obviously not, because if we could see it, we would believe it.

Jacob: On principle, you believe what is seen?

Mark: Yes.

Jacob: How does belief differ from knowledge?

Mark: You can believe something to be true, although it might be the case otherwise. Knowledge however lacks this “might otherwise.” If you know something, you just know it.

Jacob: What sorts of things do we know?

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The God of the Philosophers and the God of Christianity

Let’s consider a historical instance. Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274?) in his almost insurmountable work Summa Theologiae (specifically for our purposes the third article of the First Part), offers five arguments or “Five Ways” which demonstrate God exists. The first three arguments are a kind of varying cosmological argument, which look to some phenomena in the world which requires an explanation either in a (i) First “Uncaused” Cause or (ii) metaphysically necessary Being. The fourth argument is a kind of moral argument, which looks at the degrees of perfection or the grades of things in the world to a Most Perfect Cause. The fifth argument is a kind of teleological argument which attempts to argue that intelligent beings act towards an end.

In each argument, we have a picture of God that are probably best taken collectively when considered together. Let’s suppose we took this “collective photo” and ran with an analogy of professional photography. We’ve snapped our shot; we take the photo home and attempt to develop our negative by submerging the material in a stop bath, turn the lights off, let the negative dry for so many hours, and so on. Amidst all of our efforts and painstaking care, will the photo develop to show a picture of the God of Christianity?

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A Dialogue on the Ontological Argument

Two friends Sophia and Nathan are on vacation in France. Sophia is a Christian and Nathan is a skeptic. One day as the two are walking along the foothills of Burgundy, Nathan strikes up an interesting subject with Sophia.

 

Nathan: I was thinking about our conversation the other day.

Sophia: Have you discovered something? Maybe changed your mind?

Nathan: I don’t think so, but I have to say I don’t know whether to find that argument really stupid or somewhat in truth.

Sophia: Well, what is this truth you see?

Nathan: I just want to make sure I have everything right first. Maybe you could better re-explain briefly what the argument is and maybe we’ll see if I see it differently.

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Some Apologetic Approaches

Soren Kierkegaard, “Fideism, Evidence and Stages of Existence” 

Kierkegaard made the distinction between subjectivity and objectivity. More precisely said, he distinguished between subjective truth and objective truth. Consider this brief passage from S.K.’s Journal:

What I really need is to be clear about what I am to do, not what I must know, except in the way knowledge must be precede all action. It is a question of understanding my destiny, of seeing what the Deity really wants me to do; the thing is to find a truth which is truth for me, to find the idea for which I am willing to live and die. And what use would it be if I were to discover a so-called objective truth, or if I worked my way through the philosophers’ systems and were able to call them all to account on request, point out inconsistencies in every single circle? … What use would it be able to propound the meaning of Christianity, to explain many separate facts, if it had no deeper meaning for me and for my life?

Quoted from John D. Caputo, How to Read Kierkegaard (Granta Publications: 2007), p. 9

Subjective truth to Kierkegaard, or “subjectivity,” concerns one’s whole being. This distinction relates to Kierkegaard’s emphasis on two things: (i) the difference between the what and the how of Christianity; and (ii) how faith and sin are opposites. Regarding (i), Kierkegaard acknowledged the validity of objective facts insofar as they are concerned primarily and only with logic, mathemathics, hard sciences and so on. It would be a mistake to mingle the objective with the subjective facts of life.

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Theism and Morality: Some Replies and Questions about the Moral Argument

Let’s make an argument based on several observations. Let’s say that these observations are rational and broad. For example, we can tell the difference between a good and a “lesser good.” Maybe there are some instances when two goods are not so easily distinguished. Let’s suppose instead that there are two situations: one involving a clear good and one involving a clear evil.

By “clear” I mean to say that there is no ambiguity in a thing’s being good and a thing’s being evil. This is evidenced by the fact that we have differentiated them in the first place. Moreover, this differentiating of “goods” is real. Let’s say two things about moral behavior. This first is a  primary question to be asked: (i) Is the moral behavior appropriate? Is it the right thing to do? The second is more nomic or as principle: (ii) an action is morally good if the person’s intentions are good.

Consider four different possibilities (Ronald Nash 1999):

  1. A deed that is a right act and a morally good action.
  2. A deed that is a right act and a morally bad action.
  3. A deed that is a wrong act and a morally good action.
  4. A deed that is a wrong act and a morally bad action.

Someone under (1) could under a good motive want to give money to a charity. Someone under (2) could preform a right action but was brought about by a bad motive; I save someone from dying because I want to gain fame or glory, etc. Someone under (3) has pure motives but is nonetheless preforming a morally wrong act; I wish to bestow a gift on someone which inadvertently hurts them in the process, etc. Someone under (4) would preform a morally wrong act with bad intentions; telling a lie to hurt someone’s feelings, etc.

Now ask this question: Which of these would be the most preferable course of action? I suspect you might say (1). But then suppose I were to ask you to select the next best kind of behavior; which would you pick and why?

Let’s suppose that this differentiating of goods entailed that there is a hierarchy of goods. This is because more or less goods can only be known by comparison to what is “most good.” This is like saying that we cannot know something falls short of that standard unless the standard is known. Now suppose this premise:

  • (a) The maximum of a kind is the cause of the rest of that kind.

If there is a standard of Good, then all other instances of comparison are merely participations in the Good. Nothing is intrinsically good in itself; a thing is only good in so far as it shares in the nature of the Good. Therefore, given the truth of (a), the following is true:

  • (b) There exists a Most Perfect Cause (by whom the standard owes its being).

This little argument has started with the basic and rational observation that goods can be graded. If one follows this path of reasoning long enough, the conclusion follows that “there exists a Most Perfect Cause,” because the Good must be grounded in an unchanging and personal foundation. The Most Perfect Cause could not be changing and finite, all the while accounting for objective moral facts. The Most Perfect Cause also could not be impersonal, like a mere concept or number, since these don’t cause anything.

Objection. This argument supposes that there is a “better.” Is it not the case that any qualification as one thing being “better” than another is purely subjective? Aren’t the gradation of goods bound by opinions and personal perspectives?

Reply. This objection demonstrates the point further. Was it better that you raised this criticism as opposed to not mentioning it all? It seems that you chose one of the other, considering one would serve some “better” purpose than the other.

Objection. There may be some objective moral facts but these are only “apparently” objective and not actually real. Morality is absolute in an unqualified way.

Reply. Think for a moment about the definition of justice. Justice can be defined as the basic Aristotelian notion “situations where people receive their due.” Let’s understand distributive justice on the other hand as receiving some good or burden apportioned to human persons. For example, a woman dies and legally disperses her estate, enheritances and etc. to the rightful heirs among her family. Hence, distributive justice typically occurs when equals are treated equally and unequals or treated unequally. However, according to one philosopher: “This knowledge won’t get us very far until we discover some moral principle that will tell us the relevant respects on which equal and unequal treatment would be based (R. Nash 1999).”

 

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A Philosophy of Wine

I would suspect that when one drinks wine he must have a little bit to think about it. He spends a few dollars at the grocery store and might not think much. In fact, he may take the wine home with any to little intention of thinking at all. All this seems normal. Yet I confess that my pet peeve is just that normality (or routine) doesn’t, or at the very least shouldn’t, escape scrutiny.

Scrutiny? No one is upset at this poor sap at the local supermarket. Wine, however, necessarily invites one before a table (usually with company) and sparks the marriage of its various aesthetic features: pairing the beverage with a complimented meal (e.g., Pinot Noir and rotisserie chicken), intellectual or existential conversation, the experience of the wine’s chemical/sensational characteristics (tannins, descriptors, etc). This of course isn’t usually the case of how one drinks wine.

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God Is Fixing Us

It’s been almost 15 years since the 9/11 attacks. This was a devastating and tragic period of time for American history in particular and a widening rift for those most affected, in general. Sermons (such as Carter Conlon’s post-9/11 service), music (Tori Amos wrote “I Can’t See New York” in 2002), and most significantly, popular books (Sam Harris’ End of Faith in 2004) also emerged to bring about a new conversation on fundamentalism, fanaticism, and religion that would later start a whole new breed of secularists. We would come to see “the decade of atheism.”

Now, I’m not sure why tragedies lead people to unbelief; it’s a strange corollary. From multiple testimonies I have gathered from unbelievers, tragic events seem to be tied one way or another to their disbelief in God. Divorces, death, great misfortune (like Job),  suffering, abandonment and betrayal all sit on the shoulders of humanity. Some men are born blind, after all. “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” (John 9:1)

God has been approached by the most arduously skeptical and provocative thinkers history has ever seen, I’m sure. Though these men lack the advantage of personal acquaintance, Jesus’ own disciples – his closest followers, friends, and rather highly educated “theologians” – questioned Jesus on one man’s misfortune of having been born blind. Jesus, Lord and philosopher par excellence, answered his disciples:

Neither this man nor his parents sinned,” said Jesus, “but this happened so that the works of God might be displayed in him. As long as it is day, we must do the works of him who sent me. Night is coming, when no one can work. While I am in the world, I am the light of the world.

Long story short, the blind man was sent away to wash his eyes and was later able to see (vv. 6-7). Though Jesus knows that his followers are ignorant of God’s overall redemptive plan, He reverts their attention away from one man’s example of worldly misfortune to that same man’s image of redemptive rebirth. This is evidenced by the fact that (a) the man, once blind, “can now see” (cf. 2 Cor. 4:4) and (b) that his neighbors do not recognize him as the same man who was begging just a little bit ago.

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