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Philosophy of Language

Rowan Williams on Self-Defeating Determinism

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A determinist theory of human utterance has to be expressed in words; and such a theory amounts to saying that one group of noises (this particular theory) is and one group of noises isn’t reflective of what processes outside the self are ‘like’. The noises by which we purport to construct a comprehensive picture of causal necessity are saved from the bonfire which consumes the claims of all other utterances to show a state of affairs truthfully — whereas, in strict consistency, these noises would be as susceptible as any others to an analysis that correlated them with causal factors beyond themselves. It is the central and vitiating Cretan paradox of determinism — that I should have to be obliged to say that everything is determined, while necessarily implying thereby that nothing I say can be relied on to reflect extra-mental truth. If it is true that all my utterances are determined in a way that denies any connection between what I say and what is the case, at least one must also be truthful — that all my utterances are determined. And any supportive arguments for the truth of that utterance must likewise be exempted from the overall disconnection, if the claim is not to be wholly arbitrary. to five reasons for believing determinism is true is to undermine determinism. To articulate the evidence is to relativize it, because to assume that the noises I make in defending determinism have the property of causing you to believe it, or even disposing you to believe it, is manifestly unfounded, and dangerously near to being a flat contradiction of the warning not to assume that a state of belief can be caused by anything except a set of immediate physical causes.

The Possibility of Theological Statements

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Christianity, as a human activity, involves much more than simply believing certain propositions about matters of fact, such as that there is a God, that He created this world, that He is our judge. But it does involve believing these things, and this believing is, in a sense, fundamental; not that it matters more than the other things that a Christian does, but that it is presupposed in the other things that he does, or in the manner in which he does them. This is a fact, but it is in some ways an awkward fact, and for many years some theologians have tried to sidestep it. It is an awkward fact because, for example, if one professes certain beliefs, it seems that one ought to be willing to offer some kind of grounds for them. Yet we all know that it is difficult, and some think it is impious, to offer adequate grounds for the faith. Again — a requirement which has become more prominent with recent developments in philosophy — if one professes certain beliefs it seems that one ought to be willing to map out, roughly at any rate, the extent of the claims one is making by saying what is compatible and what is incompatible with them; and that again, in the case of religious beliefs, is something which is difficult to do, for reasons which will be considered in this chapter. Therefore some theologians have tried to sidestep these problems by denying that the Christian religion involves anything that may fairly be called factual beliefs about a transcendent being. That, it is said, is metaphysics , and religion has no interest in metaphysics. A simple-minded move, that has had its devotees, consists in saying that we do not believe that there is a God; we believe in God. More sophisticated apologists have urged that credal affirmations may, without significant loss, be treated as equivalent to recommendations of the behaviour and attitudes that are agreed on all hands to be their proper corollaries. ‘There is a God’ thus becomes equivalent, or nearly equivalent, to something like: ‘Treat all men as brothers, and revere the mystery of the universe.’ Beliefs are said to be merely the expression — the somewhat misleading expression — of an attitude of worship. ¶ But, in spite of the piety and wisdom of those who have been seduced by them, these expedients must be denounced as evasions. The distinction between believing that and believing in is, of course, valid; but it does not help us, for believing in is logically subsequent to believing that.

The Impossibility of God

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Since 1948, a growing number of scholars have been formulating and developing a series of arguments that the concept of God — as understood by the world’s leading theologians and major religions — is logically contradictory, and therefore God not only does not exist but, more significantly, cannot exist. In short, God is impossible. This unique anthology collects for the first time most of the important published arguments for the impossibility of God. Included are selections by J.L. Mackie, Quentin Smith, Theodore Drange, Michael Martin, and many other distinguished scholars. The editors provide a valuable general introduction and helpful summaries of the cricual issues involved. ~ Product Description

John Hick on Language and Perception

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It is within the phenomenal or experienceable realm that language has developed and it is to this that it literally applies. Indeed the system of concepts embodied in human language contributed reciprocally to the formation of the humanly perceived world. It is as much constructed as given. But our language can have no purchase on a postulated noumenal reality which is not even partly formed by human concepts. This lies outside the scope of our cognitive capacities.

Brian Hebblethwaite on the Centrality of Incarnation

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There can be no doubt that the doctrine of the Incarnation has been taken during the bulk of Christian history to constitute the very heart of Christianity. Hammered out over five centuries of passionate debate, enshrined in the classical Christian creeds, explored and articulated in the great systematic theologies, the doctrine expresses, so far as human words permit, the central belief of Christians that God himself, without ceasing to be God, has come amongst us, not just in but as a particular man, at a particular time and place. The human life lived and the death died have been held quite literally to be the human life and death of God himself in one of the modes of his own eternal being. Jesus Christ, it has been firmly held, was truly God as well as being truly man. As we have seen, this belief is not only expressed in the doctrine of the Incarnation, but also in countless hymns and devotional rites that belong to the very stuff of living Christianity, not to mention the art and sculpture which it has inspired down the centuries.

Gordon Kaufman on Language and Theology

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The central problem of theological discourse, not shared with any other "language game," is the meaning of the term "God." "God" raises special problems of meaning because it is a noun which by definition refers to a reality transcendent of, and thus not locatable within, experience. A new convert may wish to refer the "warm feeling" in his heart to God, but God is hardly to be identified with this emotion; the biblicist may regard the Bible as God’s Word; the moralist may believe God speaks through men’s consciences; the churchman may believe God is present among his people — but each of these would agree that God himself transcends the locus referred to. As the Creator or Source of all that is, God is not to be identified with any particular finite reality; as the proper object of ultimate loyalty or faith, God is to be distinguished from every proximate or penultimate value or being. But if absolutely nothing within our experience can be directly identified as that to which the term "God" properly refers, what meaning does or can the word have?

Francis A. Schaeffer on the phrase ‘Jesus Christ’

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[P]eople in our culture in general are already in the process of being accustomed to accept nondefined, contentless religious words and symbols, without any rational or historical control. Such words and symbols can be filled with the content of the moment. The words Jesus and Christ are the most ready for the manipulator. The phrase Jesus Christ has become a contentless banner which can be carried in any direction for sociological purposes. In other words, because the phrase Jesus Christ has been separated from true history and the content of Scripture, it can be used to trigger religiously motivated sociological actions directly contrary to the teaching of Christ.

G.K. Chesterton on Predication, the Meaning of Is, and an Egg Being an Egg

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Against all this the philosophy of St. Thomas stands founded on the universal common conviction that eggs are eggs. The Hegelian may say that an egg is really a hen, because it is a part of an endless process of Becoming; the Berkeleian may hold that poached eggs only exist as a dream exists; since it is quite as easy to call the dream the cause of the eggs as the eggs the cause of the dream; the Pragmatist may believe that we get the best out of scrambled egos by forgetting that they ever were eggs, and only remembering the scramble. But no pupil of St. Thomas needs to addle his brains in order adequately to addle his eggs; to put his head at any peculiar angle in looking at eggs, or squinting at eggs, or winking the other eye in order to see a new simplification of eggs. The Thomist stands in the broad daylight of the brotherhood of men, in their common consciousness that eggs are not hens or dreams or mere practical assumptions; but things attested by the Authority of the Senses, which is from God.

Is Free Will A Pseudo-Problem?

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In the days when the Verifiability Principle was accepted by its devotees as a secure philosophical truth, one could understand, though one might not agree with, the sweeping claim that many of the traditional problems of philosophy had been shown to be mere ‘pseudo-problems’. It was easy to see how, given the Principle’s validity, most of the leading questions which agitated our forefathers in metaphysics, in ethics, and in theology, automatically become nonsensical questions. What is perplexing, however, is that despite the pretty generally acknowledged deterioration in the Principle’s status to that of a convenient methodological postulate, the attitude to these same questions seems to have changed but little. To admit that the Verifiability Principle is not an assured truth entails the admission that a problem can no longer be dismissed as meaningless simply on the ground that it cannot be stated in a way which satisfies the Principle. Whether or not a problem is meaningless is now something that can only be decided after critical examination of the particular case on its own individual merits. But the old antipathies seem in large measure to have survived the disappearance of their logical basis. One gets the impression that for at least many thinkers with Positivist sympathies the ‘liquidation’ of a large, if unspecified, group of traditional philosophic problems is still established fact. If that impression is mistaken, well and good. One may then hope for an early recrudescence of interest in certain problems that have too long suffered the consequences of an unhappy tabu. If the impression is correct, a real service would be done to philosophy if it were plainly stated which of the traditional problems are still regarded as pseudo-problems, and what are the reasons, old or new, for passing this sentence upon them. The smoke of old battles, perhaps understandably, darkens the philosophic air, to the considerable inconvenience of all concerned.

A.J. Ayer on the Probability of God

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What is not so generally recognized is that there can be no way of proving that the existence of a god, such as the God of Christianity, is even probable. Yet this also is easily shown. For if the existence of such a god were probably, then the proposition that he existed would be an empirical hypothesis. And in that case it would be possible to deduce from it, and other empirical hypotheses, certain experiential proposition which were not deducible from those other hypotheses alone. But in fact this is not possible. It is sometimes claimed, indeed, that the existence of a certain sort of regularity in nature constitutes sufficient evidence for the existence of a god. But if the sentence “God exists” entails no more than that certain types of phenomena occur in certain sequences, then to assert the existence of a god will be simply equivalent to asserting that there is the requisite regularity in nature; and no religious man would admit that this was all he intended to assert in asserting the existence of a god. He would say that in talking about God, he was talking about a transcendent being who might be know through certain empirical manifestations, but certainly could not be defined in terms of those manifestation. But in that case the term “god” is a metaphysical term. And if “god” is a metaphysical term, then it cannot be even probable that a god exists. For to say that “God exists” is to make a metaphysical utterance which cannot be either true or false. And by the same criterion, no sentence which purports to describe the nature of a transcendent god can possess any literal significance.

G.K. Chesterton on Defining Terms

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Much of our modern difficulty, in religion and other things, arises merely from this, that we confuse the word “indefinable” with the word “vague.” If some one speaks of a spiritual fact as “indefinable” we promptly picture something misty, a cloud with indeterminate edges. But this is an error even in common-place logic. The thing that cannot be defined is the first thing; the primary fact. It is our arms and legs, our pots and pans, that are indefinable. The indefinable is the indisputable. The man next door is indefinable, because he is too actual to be defined. And there are some to whom spiritual things have the same fierce and practical proximity; some to whom God is too actual to be defined.