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Theism, Atheism, or Neither?
08-06-2009, 07:55 PM
Post: #1
Theism, Atheism, or Neither?
Theists and atheists argue vigorously over a little three-letter word, but they agree on one point. They agree that the word “God” must refer to an invisible being living in an undiscoverable place doing things in the known world by undetectable means. Theists (naive one) believe that such a God exists. Atheists argue that no such God exists. From my perspective, belief in the existence of an invisible being living in an undiscoverable place doing things in the known world by undetectable means is silly. And it seems to me that spending one’s energy arguing for or against such silliness is also silly.

This observation may seem supercilious, but there is another way of using the word “God” in a meaningful way without the silliness of positing an invisible being living in an undiscoverable place doing things in the known world by undetectable means. I know this because I wrote about it in the book "Evil, Anger, and God."

In this way of using the word, “God” refers to (or names) the beyond-explanation mystery (a.k.a. the ultimate/unanswerable/inexplicable/cosmic/or eternal mystery) that what happens happens. Einstein called it "the eternal mystery of the world.” This mystery would remain undiminished even if there were factual explanations for what happens and how it happens for all time. It would be the mystery that such causes (or anything) came to be and operates as it does. The fact that such a beyond-explanation mystery exists provides the factual referential ground of the word “God” when used this way. (If you do not accept the fact of such a mystery, using the word "God" in this way will seem nonsense to you.)

In this semantic understanding, the word “God” does not refer to a being, and it is not appropriate to say that “God exists.” The beyond-explanation mystery exists and the word “God” exists. The latter can be used to name the former, but it in no way explains the former, and it does not refer to an invisible being living in an undetectable place.

You may be able to read about this use of the word “God” by going to Google Books, but the pages you can read are limited and vary. In Search Books, enter the book “Evil, Anger, and God.” In its Preview see if you can read Chapter Six “Understanding Biblical Language [about God],” pages 27-39. Also, you may be able to read Chapter One “About the Book” in which the book’s intended audience is stated and the overall layout of the book is outlined to see whether you might be interested in it all.

Because you may not be able to read Chap 6, I would try to sum it here, but I am not allowed to make my post that long. If you are able to read the chapter on Google, Amazon, or the book itself, does this use of the word “God” resonate with anyone: theist, atheist, or agnostic? For me, it has removed the apparent conflict between language about God as doing things factually done by humans or natural processes (religion) and what we know about causes (science).
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08-07-2009, 04:04 AM
Post: #2
RE: Theism, Atheism, or Neither?
(08-06-2009 07:55 PM)Theodicy Wrote:  In this semantic understanding, the word “God” does not refer to a being, and it is not appropriate to say that “God exists.” The beyond-explanation mystery exists and the word “God” exists. The latter can be used to name the former, but it in no way explains the former, and it does not refer to an invisible being living in an undetectable place.

Leaving aside what you do or do not find believable, why do you need to hijack an existing word to mean something other than what it traditionally means?

You know, if I suddenly started using "poached egg" to mean something orbiting Jupiter, people might wonder why I couldn't come up with a term of my own.
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08-07-2009, 10:38 AM
Post: #3
RE: Theism, Atheism, or Neither?
Good point, Anglican. My preference is for the word "Gu$X*mia}!!!". The debate on how to say it will take centuries all by itself, thereby ensuring a long and productive existence for the new religion.

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08-07-2009, 12:48 PM
Post: #4
RE: Theism, Atheism, or Neither?
Didn't Richard Dawkins use the idea of a poached egg orbiting Jupiter in his book?

Smile

But seriously, this is something that's seemed to come up quite a lot recently. People using the word "god" to mean something that is a non-anthropomorphic, and often non-spiritual force. It's becoming a bit like Humpty Dumpty from "Through the Looking Glass," whose words mean whatever he wants them to mean.

The English language is not the best medium for communication, granted. It is often confusing, and many words have multiple meanings. But even so, those meanings still have limits. If for no other reason than to avoid confusion, lets keep "god" meaning a divine entity of some sort.

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08-07-2009, 04:17 PM
Post: #5
RE: Theism, Atheism, or Neither?
(08-07-2009 12:48 PM)GTseng3 Wrote:  Didn't Richard Dawkins use the idea of a poached egg orbiting Jupiter in his book?

Too bad the teapot is between Earth and Mars or we could have breakfast. Tongue

(08-07-2009 12:48 PM)GTseng3 Wrote:  But seriously, this is something that's seemed to come up quite a lot recently. People using the word "god" to mean something that is a non-anthropomorphic, and often non-spiritual force. It's becoming a bit like Humpty Dumpty from "Through the Looking Glass," whose words mean whatever he wants them to mean.

Humpty paid his words very well. I suppose if one tithes or somesuch, one has enough 'invested' in the word to use it as one wishes. But to do so in public, especially with people one has not paid, is as you say to create confusion.

However, I see nothing wrong with a non-anthropomorphic God. That idea is even in the OT. The old man with the beard business really came about in the Middle Ages, when the revival of artistic realism collided with widespread religiosity.

But a non-spiritual god is definitely problematic.
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08-07-2009, 04:20 PM
Post: #6
RE: Theism, Atheism, or Neither?
(08-07-2009 04:17 PM)Parousia Wrote:  
(08-07-2009 12:48 PM)GTseng3 Wrote:  But seriously, this is something that's seemed to come up quite a lot recently. People using the word "god" to mean something that is a non-anthropomorphic, and often non-spiritual force. It's becoming a bit like Humpty Dumpty from "Through the Looking Glass," whose words mean whatever he wants them to mean.

Humpty paid his words very well. I suppose if one tithes or somesuch, one has enough 'invested' in the word to use it as one wishes. But to do so in public, especially with people one has not paid, is as you say to create confusion.

However, I see nothing wrong with a non-anthropomorphic God. That idea is even in the OT. The old man with the beard business really came about in the Middle Ages, when the revival of artistic realism collided with widespread religiosity.

But a non-spiritual god is definitely problematic.

Agreed. The rejection of anthropomorphism is fairly common to the major three monotheistic religions. Even the ancient Greek philosophers that rejected anthropomorphism usually ended up with a vaguely monotheistic concept of the divine.

If you should see evident sins or defects, draw out of those thorns the rose; perceiving, moreover, that such apparent sinners may frequently have a good intention, for no one can judge the secrets of the heart of man.
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08-07-2009, 07:47 PM
Post: #7
RE: Theism, Atheism, or Neither?
As an Episcopalian, I’m glad to hear from another Anglican and one from our Mother Church to boot and one whose website suggests is of Evangelical persuasion. So you might be interested to read the first blurb in my book Evil, Anger, and God: “WHAT A GREAT BOOK IT IS! Does this book teach me anything? Absolutely You have nailed this topic! I totally loved the strong evangelical approach.”—David Bena, Bishop, Convocation of Anglicans in North America

The writings of the late The Rt. Rev. Ian T. Ramsey (Church of England), especially his Religious Language: An empirical placing of theological phrases were seminal to my understanding of the use of the word “God” found in my book. What I learned from Bishop Ramsey I applied to Holy Scripture. Other theologians like Tillich and McQuarrie have said that “the word ‘God’ does not refer to a being, and it is not appropriate to say that ‘God exists’.” So there are a goodly number of “hijackers.” Actually, rather than “hijacking,” the proper word might be “redeeming” the word “God” from its misuse as referring to an invisible being living in an undiscoverable place doing things in the known world by undetectable means.

Another Bible-centered Anglican, The Rt. Rev. John H. Rodgers, Jr., Trinity School for Ministry Professor of Theology Emeritus, wrote about Evil, Anger, and God: “This book is best read through patiently and with pen in hand; it is not light and breezy. Whether or not you agree with the author at all points, and this reviewer does not, you will find that in the end you will have wrestled with the deep things of God and that you will appreciate the Lord more profoundly, know yourself better and also be a better care giver and/or pastor when suffering makes its presence known, as it surely will.” Trinity Journal for Theology & Ministry, Fall 2008 Vol. II, No. 2.

Give the book a look. Maybe carry it in your shop?
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08-07-2009, 09:52 PM
Post: #8
RE: Theism, Atheism, or Neither?
Even so, though, god has definable attributes, features, and motivations, all anthropomorphic characteristics. No, he is not seen as a bearded man living on a mountain, and the idea of man created in gods own image can only be interpreted through matters of the soul, not appearance, but he is still very clearly defined by the bible.

All gods have at least some measure of these limits. They are specific entities, not vague forces.

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08-08-2009, 04:34 AM
Post: #9
RE: Theism, Atheism, or Neither?
(08-07-2009 09:52 PM)GTseng3 Wrote:  Even so, though, god has definable attributes, features, and motivations, all anthropomorphic characteristics. No, he is not seen as a bearded man living on a mountain, and the idea of man created in gods own image can only be interpreted through matters of the soul, not appearance, but he is still very clearly defined by the bible.

All gods have at least some measure of these limits. They are specific entities, not vague forces.

In the OT we see the tension between Yahweh, the personal God of the Jews who is concerned with ethics and behavior, and Elohim, the almighty creator and lord of the universe. They are taken to be the same being but also not the same character.

In the NT, or at least extrapolations thereof, we see the even more complicated and mysterious Trinity.

As is so often the case, having an Ultimate God that is also relevant to human religion is not so easy.
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08-08-2009, 05:22 AM (This post was last modified: 08-08-2009 05:29 AM by Annolennar.)
Post: #10
RE: Theism, Atheism, or Neither?
Theodicy, I must say that your book sounds intriguing, and just the kind of thing I like to read. Though there is a distinct chance that I may disagree with your basic premise (that theists believe God is an "invisible being living in an undiscoverable place doing things in the known world by undetectable means") - though I have certainly met theists who seem to hold such a view, I do not believe it is either representative or accurate.

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(08-07-2009 09:52 PM)GTseng3 Wrote:  Even so, though, god has definable attributes, features, and motivations, all anthropomorphic characteristics. No, he is not seen as a bearded man living on a mountain, and the idea of man created in gods own image can only be interpreted through matters of the soul, not appearance, but he is still very clearly defined by the bible.

All gods have at least some measure of these limits. They are specific entities, not vague forces.

By identifying God as definable, I think you've lost touch with the way that most theists think about God, and thus aren't truly addressing it. Even the Bible, valuable and unique as it is, can certainly in no way "define God".

In fact, Christian understanding of God hinges on mystery(ies), ranging from "infinite simplicity" to the formalized doctrine of the Trinity.

Human attempts to define characteristics of God, whether in the Bible or elsewhere, even insofar as they are accurate, can never be more than gross oversimplifications, useful comparisons, or educated guesses. What you see as anthropomorphic definitions are such because of their source, not their object.

If you should see evident sins or defects, draw out of those thorns the rose; perceiving, moreover, that such apparent sinners may frequently have a good intention, for no one can judge the secrets of the heart of man.
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