Sunday, April 12, 2009

Post-modern Truth

I posted a quote earlier on the post-modern notion of truth. We can see it in action at Science News.

The key point is:
"Peking Man date[s] to 780,000 years ago, roughly 200,000 years earlier than usually thought, scientists say"
Here is the Stephen Gould quote again:
"Moreover, 'fact' does not mean 'absolute certainty.' The final proof of logic and mathematics flow deductively from stated premises and achieve certainty because they are not about the empirical world. Evolutionists make no claim for perpetual truth, though creationists often do (and then attack us for a style of argument that they themselves favor). In science, 'fact' can only mean 'confirmed to such a degree that it would be perverse to withhold provisional assent."
The first part is important, logic and mathematics achieve certainty - because they are not about the empirical world (they are self-contained, and purely in the realm of thought).

The second is my point - "Evolutionists make no claim for perpetual truth". What was true yesterday ("Peking man is 580,000 years old") is today a total lie (because he is now 780k years old). Any "fact" of science could be overturned tomorrow. There is no certainty, no foundation.

The third is the most ironic. Saying it is "perverse" to disagree. The literal meaning is "twisted". Merriam-Webster gives the first definition as "turned away from what is right or good" - a value statement. What is "good"? Apparently, agreeing with evolutionists is good, and disagreeing is evil.


D said...

Hi, I started reading your blog after you replied to my comment over on He Lives. You said that there is no certainty and no foundation in science, and that's actually mistaken. A scientific worldview, summed up by the statement that "the best way to find out about the world is by carefully looking at it," will obviously prohibit absolute certainty. But all scientific knowledge that has not thus far been overturned is tentative, not completely lacking in certainty as you seem to suggest.

In other words, every scientific statement carries the implicit ending, " the best of our ability to tell, so far." This is nothing more and nothing less than intellectual honesty, an acknowledgment that we are fallible. I think you would agree that there are Christians of other sects than yours who do not accept propositions which you do, and others who accept propositions which you do not. Does the fact of widespread religious confusion and disagreement undermine your faith? Why should the refinement you mentioned (which amounts to scientific progress) undermine science?

nedbrek said...

Hi D,
What is certainty, without absolute certainty? "Probable certainty" is just probability...

My main argument is that "logical atheism" (or "atheistic science") is self-contradicting. That is, science and logic are only possible from the point of view of a logical Creator (and we are logical because we are created in His image).

D said...

I guess I don't know what you mean by "absolute certainty." In my experience, it is impossible for us fallible, mortal humans to justify absolute certainty with reason. I know that we can consciously place all our "certainty chips" on this or that proposition, but every time I've done this, it has caused trouble. Even as a Christian, when I thought that placing all my chips on this or that idea was a "good move," I would find later that I had misunderstood this or that nuance and still had to revise my beliefs.

So now I think that "the belief that I have absolute certainty" is always a silly one to have, because I never "really" do (it doesn't turn out to be always right, justified, correspond to reality, etc.). And so, if you think you have absolute certainty, then how do you arrive at that conclusion, and how do you know you've got it and not an impostor, and how do you know you're not simply fooling yourself into "merely" placing all your certainty chips without actually having truth? Those would be some of the biggest questions for me when it comes to absolute certainty.

Or if you think that's too hairy, we can talk about that second bit ("atheistic science") as long as you like (I love science!). Your sandbox. By way of an introduction, I'll just say that methodological naturalism is simply the assumption that "miracles don't happen all the time," and it seems to work so far. Of course it's going to color certain things (all such basic assumptions do this), but it's why we've got toasters and microwaves and automobiles. I go with it because it gets results, even if I don't completely understand everything involved in it.

Anyway, have a great day!

nedbrek said...

Sorry for the delay...

Three points:

"In my experience, it is impossible for us fallible, mortal humans to justify absolute certainty with reason."

Exactly. We must look for revelation outside of ourselves for truth.

2. "Methodological naturalism" from Wikipedia:
"It requires that hypotheses be explained and tested only by reference to natural causes and events." and you said "it seems to work so far".

This is pragmatism. There is nothing wrong with pragmatism, but it is no foundation for truth or deciding right and wrong.

3. Main point:
You say you were a Christian -
Please explain, "why anyone should be a Christian" and "what is a Christian"


D said...

Aaaaand counterpoints!

1. "We must look for revelation outside of ourselves for truth." Wait a minute. If we can't even justify absolute certainty with our own reasoning processes, then how could an unreasoning process (such as revelation) possibly justify it? Remember that "to justify," as applied to knowledge, means to demonstrate or prove, and is thus inherently a reasoning process. All knowledge must be justified, but nothing can be "absolutely justified" (no principle may be proven or demonstrated "once and for all" such that no new evidence could ever overturn it - this is why scientists continuously test and re-test even "established" knowledge).

Think of it this way: if you come across some source of revelation, how do you know you should trust that revelation? How can you know it's actually a revelation, and not your very own brain just going a little crazy (as brains are known to do from time to time)? In other words, why does revelation "work?" ("It just does" doesn't count - we still need reason, which puts us back at the start of the problem I presented. External revelation is of no help, because the suspected revelation must be checked against the world for accuracy to distinguish it from other competing suspected revelations.)

Bottom line: All human experience is fundamentally questionable, even when you think you've got a divine revelation.

2. Yeah, pragmatism gets results. What else would you expect from answering the question, "How does the world work?" To the extent that we figure that out by probing the world, we'll be able to use those principles to get things done. As for "truth," or "right and wrong" (I assume you mean moral right and wrong, not historical or mathematical right and wrong), defining those terms is rather plainly the purview of philosophy, but whether or not such things apply to the world could once again be checked with pragmatic science. Once we've decided what right and wrong are, or once we've had definitions of right and wrong proposed to us, then we can check the world to see what fits the definition of "right," and what fits the definition of "wrong." Straight back to science.

I'm curious, do you have something like a "sin theory?" When deciding if something is a sin, do you simply consult an objective list of things which are said to be sins, or do you have a theory of sin from which such a list could be derived, which you can check against this or that activity to see if it fits? Similarly, how do you define "truth," "right," and "wrong?" I'm just curious as to what you really think those words mean, and how you apply those definitions in your life - how do you do philosophy, in other words?

3. I suppose one should be a Christian if one buys into the teachings of Christ. I define "Christian" as "a follower of Christ's teachings." Some are better followers than others, I think you'll agree. But I suspect we might have different ideas of who the "better ones" are. Are you getting at why I used to be a Christian, or why I am no longer, or something else entirely?

nedbrek said...

"how do you know you should trust that revelation?"

I look to the promises of that revelation. If it predicts the future, holds together as a coherent story across thousands of years and dozens of authors, and is self-consistent - then it is believable.

"how do you do philosophy"
God is truth, and doing God's will is good. Is there some particular area you are interested in? There is no set list, or program of instructions. Much in life is sin, just because we do things for the wrong reasons. I do not believe anyone can live a life without sin - the questions are "Are you forgiven", and "Are you at war with sin, or have you surrendered?"

"Are you getting at why I used to be a Christian, or why I am no longer, or something else entirely?"
Yes, I am curious as to why you would say you were once a Christian. I would say that a Christian is someone who has come to know Jesus Christ as God and Savior. That is not something you walk away from lightly.

D said...

Thanks for writing back! I anticipate that we're about to get into some really sticky business, so I just wanted to explicitly state up front that I'm not trying to be flippant with any of the below. It's more like I'm deliberately oversimplifying my own position to make it easier to get down to the sticky business itself, which is the matter of comparing different things we actually believe, working from a place we agree. That said...

Re: Revelation. OK, I have a proposed revelation for you that meets your criteria: there is no deity that the two of us (you, ned, and me, D) can reliably detect by the same process, and all religions are simply the codified superstitions of people who were in a lot of ways just as messy and complicated as we are today. Here's a second revelation: every single religion is the direct product of "Wacky God," who deliberately sows religious confusion by giving multiple prophets a kernel of truth, and Wacky God doesn't deliver on all of his promises but he's a jerk so we really shouldn't believe anything he says that we can't check, because he's basically an insecure, passive-aggressive, supernatural bully and nothing more.

There are a million revelations we could pick; I believe the first one up there, but not the second one, but it's a really long story to explain why. So let's get a revelation from you which we can compare to the two above, and do some "rhetorical empiricism": "No god" is my explanation, "Your god" is yours, and "Wacky God" is the control which neither of us actually believes, and these can be sorted out, right? So let's get "Your god" into the picture here and do some argumentative science!

Re: How do you like you do. I see some wisdom in your words here, I really do. But I think sorting out the wheat from the chaff on both our parts will have to wait, because we're both coming to the table here with a whole lot of other philosophical baggage which makes us likely to just talk past each other. I think the starting point above will be a better one. But if you'd rather pick a specific field, I'm game! (I just don't have a better idea right now, is all.)

Re: How many times I've been around the ideological block. I see history not as one damn thing after another, but the same damn thing over and over, my own life included. I gave my heart and soul to Jesus a few times, and every time I was convinced I had the real thing, but each one showed me that the previous was bunk. In other words, over a course of years, my inner monologue showed the following trend: "OK, now I've got the true poop; no, wait, that was bullshit; OK, now I've got the true poop; no, wait, that was bullshit; OK, now I've got the true poop..." and so on, and so forth. Eventually, this convinced me that there is no true poop to be found in theology, so I pretty much quit. This is merely my own experience, though, and no way of presenting it to you "ought to be" clinching proof. But if you have a better way of life for me, I am most definitely interested in testing it out to see whether it's better or not.

If, on the other hand, you do want to hear bout the messy particulars, I just want to warn you first that I anticipate it shall be a long and boring story. I'll try to tell it in the most exciting way possible, but I don't find my life very exciting and I'm going to be honest about that. That's why I'm kind of reserved on that - I don't see my own life as of argumentative value here, but if you're personally interested, then I'll be happy to share.

Talk to you soon!

nedbrek said...

Ok, how would you "sell" someone on Christianity (as you best had it sold to you) - in 40 words or less?

D said...

Oh, gosh... I don't know if I could. I mean, it would really depend on my audience - I don't think there's any way to make a message that will be the best for all, or even most, people. Let me think...

...OK, if I were a Christian, and if I were trying to convert someone to the same brand that I had at the time... I don't think I can do this, actually. Everything I try to come up with, I'm simply too aware of the counterarguments. It would really depend on who I was talking with. But it would probably involve "we're all sinners and Jesus loves us anyway" as a key point. I suppose that's the central bit: the claim that the love of Jesus is somehow better than anything you can get on Earth.

nedbrek said...

I understand.

Let me tell you a story I heard from Ray Comfort (his blog is in my sidebar):

Two men are on an airplane. Both are offered parachutes.

The first is told, "This parachute will improve your flight". He tries it out, just to see.

He finds it a burden, and the other passengers laugh at him.

Eventually, he will take off that parachute, throw it on the ground, and distrust those who gave it to him - because he was told an outright lie.

The second man is told, "Real soon, this plane will be in distress, and you will have to jump out at 50,000 feet."

He will grab that parachute and put it on. When the other passengers laugh at him, and it discomforts him - he will look forward to the jump - with joy. Nothing will be able to take that parachute from him.

D said...

OK, Ray's a nice guy, and that's a cute analogy, but it breaks down (as all analogies do). It breaks down in some real obvious ways, though, and doesn't help me make sense of the whole thing one bit. Let me see if I can keep this concise:

I have no problems with the first guy's bit, as that's more or less the problems I have with religion: it does not correlate with higher quality of life, it imposes what may well be purposeless burdens, it looks silly to everyone who disagrees, and it appears indistinguishable from any number of other lies. The second guy is where things get hairy.

Why should the second man have believed that the plane is going down? Merely because he was told? How does this man know what the parachute will do? How does he know that it is packed well? Why does he look forward to the jump instead of bemoaning the deaths of others, as I would? Why is he happy to have his own parachute when there aren't enough to go around?

Parachutes are a bad example because we can easily understand how they work in their entirety based on some simple physics which can be checked out in the world, we can pack our own chutes and know that they'll work, and there are many different kinds and styles of parachutes which all perform the function of "preventing death by falling" equally well. I do not think that the same could be said of religion.

I think that a better analogy would be of a MacGuffin. I'm on an airplane, told the plane will go down, and that only the MacGuffin can save me. I have no idea what this MacGuffin is, or how it will save me from a plane crash, or even that the plane is in danger of crashing in the first place (I take it that we're being saved from Hell, not merely physical death?). But I do know what lucky charms are, and I can't find a way to distinguish this MacGuffin from all those other useless baubles.

That's the short version; the long version is an argument I'm having with one cl, who you may or may not know.

nedbrek said...

No problem, it's a story, rather than an analogy.

The important thing is you realize your time as a "Christian" was really not real. You were lied to, and are understandably angry and skeptical.

Have you taken Ray's "Good person" test? That is, "Are you a good person?"

D said...

Hello again, nedbrek! I've been busy this past week with my Halloween costume and getting ready for National Novel Writing Month, but I wanted to continue our conversation.

Whether you call it a story or an analogy isn't all that important; the important part is that you were saying "this thing is like this other thing," and I was basically saying, "OK, well if that's so, then I still have this, that, and the other issue." But you seem to have gotten the point, so I won't sweat the semantics yet.

I will sweat the semantics when it comes to words like "lying," though. As far as I'm concerned, a "lie" is defined as "misinformation with intent to deceive." On this definition, I may inadvertently misinform someone and not be guilty of a lie; I have merely misinformed someone while honestly telling them the truth as I see it. I have not lied until I have apprehended the truth and then deliberately set out to hide that truth from someone else by telling what I think will be a convincing lie. The reason that this definition is important to me is because I often inadvertently misinform people, but I think that lies are categorically bad, and I don't think that misinforming someone while intending to tell them the truth is bad (I think "the bad part" is the desire for the other person to believe something other than the truth). Similarly, while my time as a Christian may not have been "really real" on your analysis (which I'm willing to grant, at least for now), I don't think it's fair to say that my erstwhile fellow faithful had been lying to me, because they were being honest with me and not trying to deceive me. However, you may also have a different definition of "lie" than I do, so we may be talking past each other here.

As for Mr. Comfort himself, he may indeed have the true poop, so to speak, and if so then I am interested in learning it. However, he's also a mortal human being just like you or me, he has the same five senses and the same ability to reason as you and I do, and so I just want to make sure we're clear at the outset that any point raised by him (or you, or anyone else for that matter) will be considered "fair game," an open question where either party might be mistaken.

That said, I haven't taken any Good Person Test (care to give me a link?), though I have a feeling I'm going to fail it. I think that I'm a good person, but I probably have a different definition than Ray does. I think I'm "good" as in "good enough;" that is, I recognize that occasionally screwing up (including occasionally hurting someone I love) is part of being human, so I try to approach each situation from the angle of asking what I can do to improve the situation, and working from there. It doesn't always work, but it usually does, and so while I'm a mixed bag on the whole, I think I'm a net positive influence in the world. I have a sneaking suspicion that Ray's Good Person Test will revolve around pointing out to me that I still do make that occasional mistake, that I'm not perfect, and so I'm not "really good" ("good" here meaning "entirely good," as opposed to my sense of "good enough"). Or, perhaps as Ray himself would put it, "No matter how much good I do, I'm still a sinner." So if that's as far as that goes, then I think I'm already there, and I accept that I am a sinner/not-good-all-the-time-type-person; is it about something else? Or if I've hit the nail on the head, then what's the next step?

nedbrek said...

Hi D,
Re. lying: Yes, my definition is a little different (and I am probably not always consistent!). Intentional lying is certainly the worst. As well as lying to harm (as opposed to "no that doesn't make you look fat"). But, I don't think we should back down from the hard and fast rule of "not the whole truth". For example, you were lied to - probably out of ignorance, confusion, or laziness.

That is to get you in the frame of mind for how God sees sin. We are reflection on Him. God created the world to proclaim His attributes. When we sin, we proclaim that God is a sinner. God is wholly truth, without the hint of darkness.

Make sense?
(you are correct about the purpose of Ray's test)

D said...

OK, so regardless of whether it would make sense for me to blame those who told me what Christianity was before, you're saying that they didn't give me the whole scoop, and that's why I had a problem with it. Is that more or less it? What they told me surely didn't make much sense, so I'll buy that there's a "truer Christianity" for now.

You'll have to bear with me because I just woke up, but it sounds like you're saying that God created Creation just to stroke his own ego. I'm skeptical that this is really what you mean, because I don't think that a world of petty trifles and ignorant hypocrites makes God any happier, and I think that the King of the Universe ought to be a better planner than that. Am I missing something, or just coming at it from the wrong direction?

nedbrek said...

"they didn't give me the whole scoop"


"you're saying that God created Creation just to stroke his own ego."

You're intuition is correct here. If a human were to act in this way, it would be the height of arrogance. You could even call it "blasphemy" (pretending to be God).

But God is not like a human.

God is the most beautiful, good, and worthy thing. To express that is a good thing. In fact, since God is the best thing, there is nothing better than expressing God's attributes.

Is that consistent and coherent?

D said...

All right! Seems like we're getting somewhere. You say that God is the most beautiful, good, and worthy thing. What do those words mean? Or, to take it from a different angle, how does God fit their definitions?

I recognize that, metaphysically speaking, God comes first and language is an afterthought. That's fine, and I don't mean to say that God's under any obligation to fit this or that definition of this or that human word. What I mean is, which definition(s) does he in fact fit? Just what are the attributes of God as we may express them?

Similarly, the world comes before humans (whether God has anything to do with that or not). To say that it is "large" has no meaning by itself, but by any human reckoning, the world is quite large indeed (and by "the world," I don't just mean the planet Earth, I mean "all that is"). So I'm not asking (yet) for an entire theory of ethics, aesthetics, or value, I just want to be clear on how you mean those words in the present context.

nedbrek said...

Interestingly, the only attribute of God that is repeated three times, is that God is "holy".

This is a very hard concept for us. It seems to refer to "being different" or "set apart". God is not like us. God is separated from sin.

God is also described as "light", "having no darkness". And "love".

Godly love is different than what popular culture describes as love. Love is not an emotion. Rather, it is choice and action.

Love is giving. It is putting others before yourself. Sacrifice.

Love demands a response in the face of wrong. It is loving to enforce justice. To ignore justice would make love empty words.

Considering love and justice, God is angry (full of wrath) against sin. This is the anger we feel when we hear about rapists and child murderers. Righteous anger. A drive to make things right.

God is also merciful, taking no pleasure in the destruction of the wicked.

It is God's mercy and love (sacrifice) which has provided a way for sinners to no longer be separated from Him.

When we agree with God that we are sinful, and not worthy to stand in His presence - and we trust that Jesus has paid the price for us - God charges our sin to Jesus, and gives Jesus' right life to us.

D said...

A brief preamble: I'm trying to approach this situation as a student; what I seek to study are your beliefs. A lot of these concepts are pretty loaded, so you have my apologies in advance if I step on your toes. You've been nothing but polite with me, so please do not mistake my lack of understanding for malice.

That said, what's so great about being holy? Does God's holiness proceed from his beauty, goodness, and worthiness? Or is it perhaps the other way around? And what's the connection?

The part about light and darkness just confuses me. Visible light is nothing but a certain range of electromagnetic radiation, it is inherently amoral. Furthermore, the very idea of light only makes sense to beings operating under the constraints of sense organs - what use could an all-knowing being have for such a concept?

Love is a word, and the meanings of words are arbitrary and invented by humans. I agree with dc talk that "love is a verb," and I agree that it is giving, but I disagree with you from there. I think of love as a kind of embrace, an acceptance, an identification of someone or something as part of oneself in some important way. The giving, to my mind, proceeds naturally. But it's OK to disagree, because the meanings of words are intersubjective.

What is justice? I think it is people getting what they deserve. I suspect you may have other thoughts. I go on for some length about justice over here, if you're interested. Or you could just tell me what you mean, and I'll respond from there; your call.

As for rapists and child murderers, the wrong I see is the suffering that is caused to the victims, and there is no undoing that. The suffering has occurred and cannot be erased; that, to my mind, would make things right. But this cannot be done; we can only try to stop it happening again, by separating criminals from the rest of society, by trying to make them into better people, and by trying to deter others from causing further suffering. Causing further harm to wrongdoers, to my mind, is no better; it only satisfies what I see as a rather disgusting desire for revenge. Revenge does no good, it accomplishes nothing of value by itself, it is only of instrumental value as a means to an end: a deterrent, a threat to those who would do evil that they shall suffer if caught. This seems to resonate with your statement that God takes no pleasure in the destruction of the wicked, so why doesn't he just make them righteous? That just strikes me as the most obvious solution.

Speaking of sin, what exactly is sin? I mean, I know that this or that act has been described as "sinful," but what is the definition of "sinfulness," and what's so awful about it? I can think of bad things about a great many sins (specifically, the ones that cause suffering - because suffering sucks!), but some of the stuff like what to eat or how to stick it in the naughty place just seems weird to me. I mean, really, what does it matter? I honestly don't understand.

Finally, on worthiness, when I am unhappy with what I have made, I either fix it, start over, or get over myself and accept it if I don't have the time or energy to do the previous two things, and then see what I can learn from the situation. The clay does not talk back to the potter, but what intelligent potter gets upset with clay for being the way he shaped it?

OK, done for now. Again, please forgive any perceived petulance - I'm just trying to be honest, plainspoken, and concise. And thanks again for all your patience so far - we seem to come from very different places, so to speak, and I'm glad that we've been able to have this conversation, however things end up going.

D said...

Hello again, nedbrek. Sorry my last comment was disingenuous, please let me start over.

Here's what I don't understand: why did God create anything separate from him at all? That's my first question. If I need to understand other things first, then so be it; but that's my first question.

nedbrek said...

Hi D, good question!

God has both "intrinsic" (built-in) and "extrinsic" (relational) attributes.

God's intrinsic attributes are present and declared for eternity (such as being eternal, true, holy, love, etc.)

God's extrinsic attributes require a second party for their expression.

For example, God is angry against sin. This requires the presence of sin, and sinners. Also, God is merciful and patient with said sinners. God is also gracious (giving good to whom does not deserve - God deserves all goodness, but sinners do not).

D said...

Hello again, nedbrek!

Your answer helps me understand some of the way you conceive of God, so for that, you have my thanks. However, I'm not sure you answered my question as to why there was ever a Creation to begin with.

If God is perfection, then how could he bear to create anything capable of imperfection? Or if he did, then how could he be upset with the inevitable result of what he deliberately set out to do? This is what I don't understand: God's motivations.

I know you can't pretend to know the mind of God, but even possibilities would help here. To my mind, a complete and perfect being would do nothing but contemplate its own perfection, in the absence of any external stimulus. Lacking such, as God must have back when God was the only thing in existence, I can think of no possible reason for such an entity to create anything. That's why this is important to me: if there is no reason for a perfect deity to create an imperfect reality, then the indisputable fact of our imperfect reality entails (via proof by contradiction) that it is not the creation of a perfect deity.

The only way out of this is for there to be a motivation for a perfect deity to create an imperfect world, and I can't think of one. This is my first obstacle to theism, so if you can give me a working motivation, that's one barrier broken down.

nedbrek said...

I wouldn't focus so much on God's perfection.

There are a lot of attributes that God would like to declare, all dependent on third parties.

Long suffering/patience ("how could he bear to create anything capable of imperfection"). God puts up with us, because it declares this attribute (God need not have patience within Himself).

Wrath/Justice ("how could he be upset with the inevitable result"). He is not upset so much with the outcome. Rather, He must declare justice in return for law breaking.

Similarly, the Law itself is an expression of God's attributes. God does not lie, or murder, etc.

D said...

Why does God need to demonstrate that he is patient? That seems to require sinners, more or less, which means that the Garden of Eden was a mug's game, which means that the Fall was planned, which means that it is totally disingenuous for God to feign anger when we went along with his plan to show us just how "wonderfully patient" he is.

You know what I think would have been more patient? I think it would have been more patient for God to forgive Adam and Eve on the spot, to embrace them as they were despite their sinful nature; in other words, for God to get over his bad self and not be upset with people for acting according to the nature he gave them in the first place.

Mutatis mutandis for wrath/justice as needing law-breaking to fight against. That just strikes me as so petty. When it comes to justice, just like any other good thing, I think that an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Had God wished to prevent wrong from occurring, he easily could have done so; that he did not take such actions (as evidenced by the fact that "wrong were done" on countless occasions), then I cannot but conclude that God lacks such motivation - or just plain doesn't exist. Either way, this does not strike me as an entity worth believing in.

So, in a way, this still doesn't answer my original question of why God created Creation. These answers do not work, insofar as they make no sense to me. I need God to make sense to me before I can start believing again. It also doesn't answer the first cause objection, either, which I'll repeat from cl's discussion board:

What came before everything?
Before the Big Bang, before stars and planets and our Earth, what was there?
We are told that it is God, and that God is eternal, so he needs no time.
God is timeless, we are told, so he is able to exist beyond time.
But time is only a measurement of change.
For time to pass, something must change, either in position, or in composition, or in form. Without change, there is no time.
Timelessness is changelessness.
So if God is eternal, then God is timeless.
And if God is timeless, then God is changeless.
So if there was God "before" the Universe, then there was no time before the Universe.
And if there was no time before the Universe, then there was no "before the Universe" to speak of.
And if God is changeless, then what changed to make the Universe come into being from that timeless void?
God could not have begun desiring to create the world, for to begin desiring something is to have not desired it before. This is change. God is changeless.
To start creating something is to have not been creating something before, and to have created it after. This is change. God is changeless.
Time is part of existence, time is an inextricable part of everything.
Caused things, changed things, are caused and changed by other caused and changed things. For a "before," there must first be "time." And if there is time, then there is change, because time is a measurement of change. Without change, no time can be measured.
An eternal and changeless God does not explain time, or change, or existence.
And if God experiences no time, and undergoes no change, then what makes us think that he exists?
So... what came before everything?
It is a nonsense question.
How far back does change go? And how can we know?
These are better questions.

nedbrek said...

Let me extract (what I think is) the core of your argument:
"Had God wished to prevent wrong from occurring"

God had no desire to prevent wrong from occurring.

The Fall was known from eternity. The sacrifice of Jesus was known from eternity ("the Lamb slain from the foundation of the earth").

D said...

You say that God had no desire to prevent wrong from occurring. Umm... why not? If God really does know the future (and, to be all knowing, or at least completely understanding of his own nature and that of his creation, I'd argue that he'd have to know the future), why's this the one that wound up happening?

It just makes it seem like we're all puppets and God holds all the strings. That very well may be, but... I don't know, I think I'm justified in being more than a little resentful, if that's the case. I'm quite frankly more comfortable with the idea that there's no deity and determinism is still true, because then there's at least no intelligence behind all the rottenness in the world.

No formal objections here, that's just my reaction. Set me straight?

nedbrek said...

Hi D,
We're not puppets, we are moral beings (capable of choosing right and wrong). It's just that we tend to choose wrong. This is not God's fault, but rather a sign from God that we need Him. (I can go into that more, if you like)

"I think I'm justified in being more than a little resentful"

Consider for a moment - your resentment is due to the fact that you are not interested in God being glorified (having His attributes proclaimed - the aforementioned patience, wrath, justice, mercy, etc.)

D said...

Well, if we're not puppets, then I guess I'm not justified in being resentful, so I probably ought to drop that. However, why do we tend to choose wrong? I don't think it's fair to judge people on a standard they literally can't meet. But I might be wrong on that, too.

While I'm not interested in God being glorified, the resentment I mentioned hinged entirely upon the idea that God might be putting us through a puppet show and then yelling at us for playing out the roles he laid before us. If that's not the case, then the resentment goes away with the added understanding. The reason I'm not interested in God being glorified is because I don't understand what's so gosh-darned important about that to him. So maybe that's the next thing, after my above question on our tendency to choose wrong.

Also, I thought wrath was one of the seven deadly sins?

nedbrek said...

"why do we tend to choose wrong?" It reveals how much we need God. If things generally went ok, it would justify people in their rebellion against God.

"I don't think it's fair to judge people on a standard they literally can't meet."

The standard is part of God's nature (an expression of His attributes). It exists regardless of our ability to meet it. God could no more lower the standard than to change His attributes. God understands this, and has made a way for forgiveness - in Jesus.

"I thought wrath was one of the seven deadly sins"
Deadly sins is a Catholic thing. I'm not even sure where the list comes from. Any sin is sufficient to send you to Hell. Anger and wrath are difficult things. The Bible says to be angry, but not sin. This is a very fine line, which God is able to walk. Humans, not so much :) Right (or righteous) anger is driven by our reaction to sin against God, and provides the motivation to make things right (and do the right thing). When we move the focus to ourselves, our rights, that is the path to sin.

"what's so gosh-darned important about that [God being glorified] to him"

To some extent we cannot understand, because God is infinite and holy - and we are not. A bad analogy is like a beauty pageant. As long as you are celebrating what is good (beauty, and not lusting) it is a good thing. It is good to simply sit and stare at a beautiful sunset, or a nature scene.

God is far more beautiful and good than any of these things He has created. So it is the ultimate good is simply to see Him expressed in every way.