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Hi I have a hairy one for you. Imagine if you will that you have a mystical

Hi I have a hairy one for you. Imagine if you will that you have a mystical experience and you encounter the Supreme, Ultimate Absolute i.e. God. And that you can ask this being any question you desire. But being a bit of a skeptic you ask it "what question should I ask you?" Would this constitute a good test or would I simply be acting cute and incur Gods wrath? But in all seriousness if you did encounter a being claiming to be God, what would constitute proof? I figure we would probably know anyway, because I can't envision God not installing some sort of Truth recognition factor, but then I've been influenced by a lot of New Age mumbo jumbo, so I want to know what a philosopher thinks. Cheers Pasquale

I like the ploy of asking an apparent Supreme Being (SB), "What would be the best question to ask you?" but only if you can also make sure that the SB answers that question. How frustrating would it be if SB responded, "You should ask me, 'What is the meaning of life?'" and then laughed at you as you realized you'd used up your one and only question! But I don't see how this question would help you determine if the SB was really God or whether your vision was real or a hallucination, dream, or matrix-like experience induced by a powerful but not supreme being. Heck, you could ask me what question you should ask, and I could give you a good answer. (Ask what is the meaning of life!)

So, what would constitute proof that your vision of an SB was genuine? Nothing, if your standards are set at Descartes' level of proof--you could be dreaming or in a matrix and never be able to tell, no matter what the SB said or did. But you could use a more reasonable standard, like best explanation for the observed phenomena. So, you could ask the SB to produce effects that would be best explained by your having asked such a being to produce them--e.g., "Tomorrow, allow me to fly unassisted for an hour and cure malaria and the flu." When you fly and read headlines about the diseases being eradicated, that seems like good evidence that the SB you met is pretty supreme. If SB is not willing to produce such evidence, you should taunt him/her/it: "What's the matter, you're not supreme enough to do it? Come on, show me a sign!"

Can a nation have an official religion and be a democracy?

Can a nation have an official religion and be a democracy?

I would consider Norway and the UK to be examples of this. Here the fundamental equality of citizens is not seriously undermined because the role of the state religion is largely ceremonial. In other countries, of course, citizens who do not share the state religion suffer severe discrimination which can be grave enough to defeat, by itself, the claim that the state in question is democratic.

It makes sense here to think of "being a democracy" as a matter of degree. Most of the states we call democracies fail fully to live up to democratic principles in one way or another. Having a state religion is a shortfall, but can be a relatively minor one if any resulting discrimination is not too severe.

Is religion the true enemy of freedom in a democratic society since it teaches

Is religion the true enemy of freedom in a democratic society since it teaches us that we have to think a certain way or is science since it teaches us that nobody is truly free but a product of deterministic forces?

Or another mode of reply: First suppose that science DOES suggest determinism. How would anything be different in our lives? Wouldn't democratic processes work precisely the same way as they have been? (After all, our behavior has been deterministic all along, so why would discovering/proving/merely believing that it is deterministic change anything?) Or since 'freedom' seems to be the larger concern for you, again, what would be different? All the cases where we've held people responsible for their behaviors, we still would hold them, wouldn't we? we'd still lock up bad people, teach our children to be good, etc.... So it isn't clear to me why scientific results would threaten anything, really. Ditto for religion: if we think religions are in the business of generating true claims about the world, then, where they succeed, we should be happy to endorse their claims (assuming we want the truth). Whichever dogmatic religions you're thinking of ARE dogmatic because they believe they have the truth which, I suppose, isn't necessarily a bad thing. Of course, greater humility about knowledge is probably more appropriate -- but then very little stops most people from believing their religious beliefs along WITH the humility of recognizing they may be wrong -- so it isn't religion itself which 'suppresses freedom (of thought)', but dogmatic bossy people (some of whom are religious, but many of whom are not) ....

hope that's useful! ...


“The eyes of the Lord are in every place, watching the evil and the good.”

“The eyes of the Lord are in every place, watching the evil and the good.” (Proverbs 15:3) This implies to me that God is omnipresent, through time and space. With that premise, what argument can be made for free will? If he can see every action we make, he knew the actions that Adam and Eve would make before their creation. Thanks, James

Just because God knows what is going to happen does not mean it has to happen, in the sense that human beings have to do what they end up doing. For example, I always have sugar in my coffee, if sugar is available, but that does not mean that I am incapable of having coffee without sugar. I used to smoke after a cup of coffee, but no longer do so, and here again I did not have to give up smoking. God doubtless knew what I was going to do before I did it, but the decisions to use sugar, and discontinue smoking all belong to me.

I am very interested in the idea of aesthetics as a spiritual phenomenom.

I am very interested in the idea of aesthetics as a spiritual phenomenom. Spirituality for me is not something limited to one religion. I recently bought the Routledge companion to Aesthetics and I also have a collection of academic essays in aesthetics that is supposed to be comprehensive. But I am very disappointed, the only essays or chapters that relate aesthetics with spirituality are those of 19th century German thinkers but no thinkers that are modern. I would really like to study this subject (probably entirely outside the university) and contribute an article in a journal but I don't know the names of those journals or if any exist. So what journals are there on that subject? (the intersection of spirituality and aesthetics)

There is quite a good literature on aesthetics that gets at spirituality. I co-authored a recent book (out last year) with the American artist Jil Evans: The image in mind (Continuum) that gets at the aesthetic dimension of different ways of viewing the world (principally theism and naturalism) and we have a co-edited book Turning Images with Oxford that deals with aesthetics and religion / spirituality. An older book which has an excellent collection of different thinkers is: Art, Creativity, and the Sacred edited by Diane Apostolos-Cappadona. Gordon Graham has a good book: The Re-enchantment of the Word (OUP 2007), and Oxford has published an amazing series of five books on aesthetics and theology or the sacred by David Brown. It is disappointing that the Routledge volume did not include more on spirituality, as many of those who contributed to aesthetics historically and quite recently have had spiritual concerns. Plato's dialogue on beauty, the Symposium, is partly about the ascent of the soul to the higher beauties, and it deeply impacted subsequent religious thinkers and artists. Three quite diverse thinkers from the 20th century who thought of aesthetics in spiritual terms include Kandinsky, Dewey, and Tolstoy. Good wishes!

Is it logical to infer a higher power given how extraordinary human life is?

Is it logical to infer a higher power given how extraordinary human life is?

If by 'logical' you mean 'a decent argument can be constructed of this form' then i would say the answer is yes -- but if you mean 'an absolutely convincing argument ...' then, well, you don't find too many of those anywhere in philosophy -- my favorite version of the kind of argument that Allen Stairs mentions is some version of the fine-tuning argument -- which observes how perfectly fine-tuned features of the universe seem to be, such that they could easily have been otherwise, and yet had they been otherwise then human life (conscious, rational, moral life) would not have been possible -- and goes from there to argue that it is reasonable to think this didn't occur by chance -- a good source on this topic would be any of Paul Davies' recent books ...

best, ap

Is the doctrine of the trinity illogical?

Is the doctrine of the trinity illogical?

I thought I would add just a tad more.

Here is one argument against the Trinity and a reply:

It has been argued that the Trinity involves Tri-theism or the supposition that there are three Gods (Father, Son, Holy Spirit). There cannot be three Gods for this reason: If there is a God, God is omnipotent. A being is omnipotent if it is maximally powerful; there can be no being more powerful than an omnipotent being. But if the Trinity is true, neither of the persons in the Godhead are omnipotent, because the power of each can be challenged by the power of the other. The Father cannot make a universe, unless the Son or Holy Spirit consent. That is less powerful than if only the Father exists.

Here is a reply: If God exists, God is essentially good. That is, God cannot will that which is not good. If the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit share an essentially good nature, their wills cannot conflict. This seems more plausable when one takes up what I mentioned in my earlier reply: the parichoretic model of the Trinity which understands each Person as interpenetrating or being in a state of co-inherence with mutual, unequaled access to the mind of the other.

Here is one other interesting argument from medieval philosophy, but revived today by Richard Swinburne and Stephen Davis.

If God exists, God is perfect in love. (This might be justified either by an appeal to revelation or some kind of ontological argument to the effect that if God exists, God is maximally excellent)

The three highest loves are: love of self; love of another; and the love of two for a third.

IF God is Triune, God has self-love (each of the Persons possess this), the Father loves the Son, and the Father and the Son love the Holy Spirit.

Why not the love of three for four, etc? Swinburne thinks that is a further love that extends the three highest, so love of three for four or five or... are all goods, but they are not the chief, maximal perfections of love from which the other loves follow. A further point can be made that in classical theism, the love in the Triune Godhead, does lead to the love of more, namely the love of creation.

In any case, check out the reference I gave earlier, starting with the free online Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy

Doesn't the "problem of evil" objection to God's existence presuppose that

Doesn't the "problem of evil" objection to God's existence presuppose that people ought to be happy? Isn't the idea that people ought or deserve to be happy questionable?

While I think that Andy is quite right to note that the problem of evil is normally framed in terms of suffering instead of happiness, I nevertheless want to add a couple of remarks concerning the possibility that happiness is the ultimate end of the human being, and how this might relate to the problem of evil, and then to take up the issue of whether human beings deserve happiness, a deep and interesting question in its own right.

Philosophers from Aristotle through Kant have taken happiness to be an end, if not the ultimate end, of human beings, although they have cashed out the respect in which happiness might play this role in very different ways. Indeed, Christian philosophers have traditionally believed that the blessed in Heaven will be rewarded with a vision of God that constitutes bliss. Now such philosophers recognize that in this life, at least, human beings may not experience happiness at all, but nevertheless this constitutes no block to their thinking that ultimately the worthy will be rewarded with happiness, at least in the next life. Interestingly, in the Critique of Practical Reason, Kant takes this idea to constitute the basis for what may be called a moral proof of God's existence: given that virtuous human beings are often not rewarded, and even suffer, in this life, and given, Kant claims, following the tradition, that happiness is one of man's ends, God must exist in order to ensure that virtue is ultimately proportioned with happiness. And I think that Kant's predecessors would have accepted his conclusion, if not the argument that he makes for this conclusion. Now insofar as the problem of evil is supposed to challenge the plausibility of thinking that God exists, or at least that God does not have the attributes commonly attributed to Him by theists, the question of how human beings are ultimately to achieve happiness, answered by appealing to the existence of God, is also threatened by the nest of considerations traditionally associated with the problem of evil. This is one way to see these issues as related, although a theist must of course respond to the problem of evil if s/he is to be entitled to appeal to God's existence in order to justify the claim that happiness is the ultimate end of human beings, which they can indeed achieve.

Yet as you point out, there's a deep question as to why it should be believed that happiness is an end of human life. Arguments for this claim have often tended to appeal to human nature, and especially in the Christian era, also to appeal to Biblical and Patristic claims about the ends of life. But why should it even be thought that happiness is an end of human life? This, I think, is a deep and important question, consideration of which might well illuminate a host of issues, from questions regarding the nature of religion to issues about the nature of a human being, that have been engaged both by theists and non-theists alike. One way to begin to approach this question, I submit, is to examine both the nature of happiness itself, and its relation to desert, and, indeed, whether the very concept of desert is reasonable.

I have a friend who is an Atheist because he claims that the burden of proof

I have a friend who is an Atheist because he claims that the burden of proof (for the existence of God/other practices and belief's) is on religion and he has not been satisfied with any proof set forth. He says, "if you propose the existence of something, you must follow the scientific method in your defense of its existence. Otherwise, I have no reason to listen to you." Should one believe in God or practice religion only if it can be proven by the scientific method? What do you think of his reasoning? Is it rational to believe in a God/Religion without the SM? Thanks and I'm a huge fan of the site!

It would be interesting to draw your friend out a bit more on what he means by the scientific method. Is he including non-behaviorist psychology, in which it is permissible to describe and explain people's subjective experiences, employing introspection? Does he include history? Or is his domain only the natural sciences? Even addressing these questions will, I believe, bring to light that your friend is operating on something that goes beyond the "scientific method"; he is employing a philosophy of science. Science alone (physics....) will not tell you that it is the only reliable basis of knowledge, and if a physicist says this, then she is being more than a physicists; she is a philosopher of physics or science. In any case, questions about ethics, religion, and meaning go beyond science (I suggest) and in fact science as a practice must presuppose some ethics (minimally one must be trustworthy / not falsify data, etc) in order to be practiced at all. Questions about whether or not there is a God or objective values, etc, seem to me to be the sorts of things that require a philosophical investigation, an assessment, for example, of why it is that there is a cosmos in which science is so successful. To make one further observation that I hope is helpful: these days, philosophers rarely speak in terms of "proofs." It is very difficult even to prove that radical skepticism is wrong (do I know that I am not in the Matrix? ). In most contexts, we refer instead to good or bad arguments. So, I am sympathetic with your friend it is good to discuss the reasons for and against theism but I suggest you do so, drawing on, but not limited to science alone. Good wishes to you both!

I have been teaching philosophy for a year now, and the Paradox of the Stone has

I have been teaching philosophy for a year now, and the Paradox of the Stone has come up again and again, boggling my student and me later on. The standard answer is that God cannot create the stone since it would imply a contradiction, and these philosophers say that even God cannot do that. But if He is God, why can He not create a contradiction? Is there something wrong with accepting the conclusion that God can make 2+ 2 = 5, given that God is all-powerful? Or put it another way, why cannot the concept of omnipotence be the ability to do everything, even if that would imply a contradiction?

Voluntarists say just that: God can make contradictions true. And if someone is really prepared to say that contradictions might be true, it's not exactly clear -- to me, at least -- how to answer. But I'll confess that I've never understood the pull of this solution.

Here's a way of getting at what bothers me. Suppose, to see if it could make sense, that there's an omnipotent God. (Our goal is to see if the concept is coherent; not whether it fits any actual thing.) Suppose we have a computer screen with 1280 x 720 pixels. (Let them simply be on or off; ignore color.) Suppose we ask God to turn a set of pixels on so that there's a circle on the screen. (We have to allow for a certain amount of approximation, but that won't affect the real point here.) God can easily do that. (So can anyone with a good Paint program.)

Now suppose we ask God instead to arrange pixels so that there's an equilateral triangle on the screen. Once again, no difficulty. But now suppose we set God a third task: turn on a set of pixels so that the result is a figure that's both a circle and an equilateral triangle.

The problem, I suggest, is that nothing would count as success. There are 21280x720 combinations of "on" and "off" for the pixels. God can arrange the screen in any of those ways. But none of those ways count as making a circle that's an equilateral triangle. I suggest the reason that God can't do what we ask is that there's no coherent task to be done; nothing counts as doing it. What we've asked God to do is what I've elsewhere called a "pseudo-task," and the suggestion is that it's no limitation on God's power (nor any other being's) that s/he can't perform a pseudo-task.

Some people balk at this. They say that if God can't are contradictions true, or can't make triangular circles, or can't make 2+2=5, then God isn't "absolutely sovereign." Let's grant the term: a being that can't bring contradictions into being lacks "absolute sovereignty." But so what? Why is this of any religious interest at all? Why would a God who can't perform pseudo-tasks be unworthy of our worship?Why care about "absolute sovereignty" defined this way?

Think about the stone. You want a ten-ton one? God can make it. You want one that weighs as much as the rest of the world? God can do that. Pick your weight; God can make it. Why, if I'm a believer, should I be bothered by the fact that there's a certain weird, self-referential "task" with an extra step that God can't perform? After all: for any weight, God can make a stone that has it. And for any weight, God can lift a stone that heavy. Put those two bits together and it follows: God can lift any stone, no matter how heavy. How would God be even more powerful if there were a weight beyond his capacity to lift?

Perhaps there's something the voluntarist is looking for that matters, but I can't for the life of me see what it is. I think I understand what it means for there to be a "task" that nothing would count as performing. Do we need to say that God should be able to perform a task that nothing would count as performing? Why? What do we mean? What possible logical, theological or devotional reason could we have? We can allow that God is beyond our understanding. But that doesn't get us to the conclusion that God must be able to perform pseudo-tasks. Or if it does I've never been able to see why.