“Why precisely would anybody want the truth value of a theological statement to depend upon how the actual world is?” indeed

23 Oct

A comment I made on the blog of the atheist, Jerry Coyne (this post):

Myron shared this quote:

“[B]elieving in God is more than accepting the proposition that God exists. Still, it is at least that much. One can’t sensibly believe in God and thank Him for the mountains without believing that there is such a person to be thanked, and that He is in some way responsible for the mountains. Nor can one trust in God and commit oneself to Him without believing that He exists: ‘He who would come to God must believe that he is, and that he is a rewarder of those who seek him’ (Heb. 11:6).”

(Plantinga, Alvin. God, Freedom, and Evil. 1974. Reprint, Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1977. p. 2)

I commented:


That quote from Plantiga is interesting. But what I find most interesting about it is how little it affirms. That an Intelligent Mind, i.e. a “Logos” of some sort, exists? It seems to me that Rebecca Goldstein is basically going in that direction now as well (Plato at the Googleplex), even if this Logos is impersonal for her (and personal for Plantiga).

I find it interesting that even more conservative religious persons do seem to be affirming less and less every day – looking to perhaps keep the kernal of what they believe while getting rid of so much more. For instance, I recently saw this re-posted on FB by an up and coming conservative theologian:

“Consider the proposition, “the sun is on average 93,000,000 away from the earth.” Notice that the truth of the statement does not depend upon the one asserting it. Now consider the proposition, “God loves Molly deeply even though she is young, very sick, and dying a horrible death.” Notice that the truth now seems to depend upon the one declaring it so. Or do you not see the problem? Some fact of the matter falsifies the first, but not the second. Failure to specify what would count against the truth of the latter statement has traditionally been used to declare it meaningless. The idea is that a statement consistent with any way the world might be really makes no assertion, and a statement making no assertion is meaningless.

But “the square root of two is irrational” also seems to be consistent with anyway the world might go. But surely it is not meaningless!

So is God loving Molly despite her condition more like the square root of two being irrational or more like the sun being 93,000,000 miles from earth? If the former, is this a bad thing for meaning and truth?

Mathematical propositions have truth values that neither depend upon the ones who entertain them nor are logically dependent from how the world is. Such statements are true in all possible worlds. So why precisely would anybody want the truth value of a theological statement to depend upon how the actual world is?

(The deepest questions in theology often return to Lessing’s “broad ugly ditch.”)”

See what I am saying? One might think that a good, conservative and theological answer to this last question (“So why precisely…”) would simply be this:

“…because theological statements often can’t be separated from God’s work in history and because he has given us statements about Himself that can’t be separated from the past.” (I.e. that the theological statements don’t really depend on how the actual world is but depend on God simply choosing to tell us what He desires to tell us in accordance with the way the world was and is).

But the person who posted this on FB is basically saying that theology statements should just be like those solid math statements – and should be untethered from actual historical fact and occurrences…. This is a God akin to Plato’s then, not the Christian God. There is much in common here with Spinoza’s god (who Goldstein seems to like as well).

Again, I would submit that that’s a pretty flimsy argument for a purportedly conservative Christian theologian. One would think that there would be a more robust defense of other truth claims (incarnation, death and resurrection of Christ, miracles and prophecies in history pointing to Christ, etc) – other than basically saying that the real world doesn’t matter.

So I am saying that Illing may not be that far off… even some conservative theologians of the religion which almost certainly has the greatest reason for saying their beliefs are true and related to what has really happened on earth seem to backtrack.

[Sean Illing, in the Salon article Coyne criticizes,] simply seems to be saying that the existential questions really are more prominent here and important here than we usually give credit for. I think that is right. Beliefs certainly drive behavior, but sometimes behavior has a big impact on what we believe as well – and as long as what they believe seems to go along with what they want to do – and seems plausible enough to them and the ones they know who they care to please – perhaps that is enough for some persons.


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Posted by on October 23, 2015 in Uncategorized


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