• Vincent Torley replies to Adair and Lindsay, and gets earful

    So I posted on John Loftus’ DC the other day in plugging Aaron Adair’s The Star of Bethlehem: A Skeptical View and James A. Lindsay’s Dot, Dot, Dot: Infinity Plus god Equals Folly. Vincent Torley, about whom I have written a series of posts, and who writes at Uncommon Descent, looked to critique the two heavily. But it seems he got more than he bargained for. I won’t go through the tos and fros with him and Adair – they are long, though fascinating. Well, well, worth a look at. Here is Vincent on Lindsay’s book, well, his video that we concocted.

    I now turn to James Lindsay’s book. Lindsay has a Ph.D. in mathematics, but no qualifications in philosophy. Despite this limitation, he evidently thinks he can write a book showing that God does not exist, and that philosophers (some of whom are also mathematicians, I might add) who believe in an infinite God have got it all wrong. Can you understand why I’m just a teensy bit skeptical at the outset?

    When you listen to his video, what do you get? A long ramble about how the ancients looked for God at the top of mountains but didn’t find him (hasn’t he ever heard of Moses?), and about how we’ve found he’s not up in the sky either (I couldn’t help recalling Psalm 139 when I heard that – “If I climb to the heavens thou art there; there too if I make my bed in Sheol”). Finally, we get to the meat: if God is infinite, then He is abstract – “that is, mental stuff.” Really? That’s sloppy argumentation if ever I heard any. The man doesn’t even define his terms properly.

    I notice that over on his blog he admits his argument is not a knockdown one, anyway, and he limits himself by focusing largely on one Christian apologist: William Lane Craig. It’s a pity he didn’t have more to say about Aquinas’ concept of Divine infinity: God is necessarily infinite because He is Being itself. The gist of his argument, as far as I can tell, is that God must know an infinite number of propositions, which he considers problematic (where does God keep all this information?) But there’s a difference between explicit and implicit knowledge: the fact that God can answer any meaningful question we ask of Him doesn’t mean that He actually entertains thoughts about the answers to all possible questions. Lindsay is also aware of the traditional response that God’s knowledge is non-propositional, but he feigns incomprehension – “uh, what?” – and declares that he can’t get his head around the notion. He also says that there are some propositions God must know (e.g. facts about our lives), or otherwise He cannot judge us. But God’s knowing what we do does not imply that He knows it propositionally. So I have to say that Lindsay’s argument is far from convincing. He has simply failed to engage with classical theist thought.

    Well, Jonathan, if those are the Christmas presents you’re recommending, I think I’ll save my money, thank you.

    Originally, James was not going to reply, but I am glad that he did.

    Hi Vincent, I changed my mind and decided to respond to some of this.

    First, regarding whether or not philosophers (among whom are some mathematicians, not that this matters), believe in an infinite God have got it all wrong and your skepticism, why don’t you actually engage the argument I put forth instead of dodging it on skepticism. With your background in mathematics and qualifications in philosophy, not to mention your bent toward theology, you can no doubt pick it all apart and have a grand time doing so. Of course you will–and of course I don’t care–because that’s what theology exists to do: pick around the arguments that damage belief in yesterday’s “God” so people can keep going on with their beliefs to avoid confronting the inter- and intrapersonal problems that human beings deal with at the Adult Table.

    Regarding the video, how is it that you call this video a “long ramble” here and “too short” in another comment below? Make up your mind. You claim Moses proves we met God on a mountain, but actually my contention is that he and Abraham (meaning the Jewish mythological literary tradition, not actual people–that remains to be supported by any outside corroboration) are the ones that placed God there. When the rest of us climbed up there, no God. Space? No God. The moon? No God. Anywhere? No God. By “no God,” here, I of course mean no unequivocal, clear evidence of a God or anything remotely God-like. You know as well as I do that only an all-too-human sense of wonder, awe, and astonishment, among stuffing for various psychosocial needs, is all we ever find there.

    As to “the meat,” again, this is a paragraph, plus a little, from the conclusion of my book. Read the rest of the book to see what “As we’ve seen” means in that same sentence. Clever of you to cut that out when you quote me, though. In other words, this isn’t an argument, it is the conclusion of an argument, but I’m not surprised you confused the two.

    I said that the argument isn’t a “knockdown” one? You may have misread when I have said that my argument won’t stop believers from yammering about it. What does? You’re talking about ID and Moses like they’re veridical parts of the world!

    Regarding Craig, however little you like it, and however loath I am to say it, William Lane Craig has the most sophisticated treatment of the infinite that I have ever seen from a Christian apologist–the rest merely saying God is infinite and going all dewey-eyed and awestruck. At least Craig clearly recognizes the fundamental problems with an infinite God and has taken it upon himself to engage the ideas. Because Craig is automatically committed to Platonism via his Christianity, he screws himself here, though.

    Aquinas’ concept of Divine infinity–what does “God is necessarily infinite because He is Being itself” even mean? I mean, that’s a lot of fancy words, but what do they mean? I know what all of them mean individually, I’m good at context, and when I mull these over in this way, I read the thoughts of an thirteenth century theologian who worked night and day to defend his “knowledge” of something he merely pretended to know. Being is infinite? How do you know? Is “Being” only infinite when it’s capitalized? What does “Being” capitalized mean versus “being,” the gerund? Twaddle and poppycock.

    On implicit and explicit, propositional and non-propositional knowledge, this is more theological twaddle, since I’m using that word. It’s exactly what I said earlier: God is conceived a certain way (and presented that way in scripture), someone calls bullshit, and then theologians scramble to find a way to avoid the claim, making claims that they cannot possibly know are true and then asserting that on that merest possibility they must be true. All the while, they and you pretend to know about how the mind of God operates (bold claim), what God’s nature is (utterly unknowable), and that their particular understanding of God is the only right one (obscene claim). Meanwhile, God gets crammed in these weird little boxes where black means white, two and two is five, He can’t know things propositionally, omniscience and omnipotence are impenetrably meaningless, and all the while it’s frosted over with the word “mystery” and a claim that these limits make God limitless. Nonsense. Twaddle. Poppycock. Waste of time.

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    Article by: Jonathan MS Pearce