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Is God a meaningful term outside of religious belief?
Posted: 13 February 2010 08:11 PM   [ Ignore ]
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I have a theory that God is not a useful term outside of religion.  Pantheists try to redefine God to mean the creative process of the universe, but I believe the baggage that comes with the term only muddies what one is trying to understand. (See Stuart Kauffman’s Reinventing the Sacred)

If I define “God” as that which caused the universe to come into existence, then, assuming the universe could not have been uncaused, my definition of God must correspond to something in reality (ergo: my God is real).  But what other predicate could I possibly logically derive to apply to God?

We cannot assume that my “real” God is intelligent (we have theory enough to explain how all we see came to be from the original conditions without requiring intelligence- i.e. we can’t argue from ignorance that God must be intelligent because there is no other explanation).  We cannot assume this God is aware, and we can’t even assume it exists today, since whatever created the universe might have been destroyed in the process. 

We cannot logically call that which caused the universe a Supreme Being, since there is no reason to assume a lesser thing can’t give rise to a superior thing (otherwise, Socrates’ father must have been a superior or equal philosopher to Socrates).

Anselm’s ontological argument begins by defining God as that than which nothing greater can be conceived, and because it is greater to exist than to not exist, God must exist.  This argument fails at the next step where Anselm then equates this “must exist” definition of God with the God of Christianity.  There is no logical reason to draw this connection.  He sidesteps logic to fall back on faith.

Without appealing to divine revelation or religious scriptures, can anyone make a single-attribute definition (any definition that would traditionally be applied to God) and apply a second logically-derived predicate to the term?

Please don’t define God as the Supreme Being- supremacy is subjective, so you would have to first define Supreme, as well as what Being means.

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When I was 15 years old, I could no longer reconcile religion with reality, and I knew one of them would have to go.  It still amazes me how many people make the other choice.

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Posted: 14 February 2010 07:51 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 1 ]
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Before I went to grad school I think I had the same problem you do—as used in daily life, the word “God” has so many meanings that it is impossible to define with any real precision. If one defines it as people like Einstein and Spinoza did, that is, as some sort of regularity in nature, or the natural laws, then we have reasons to say that God exists—but no reason to pray to God nor have any particular religious concepts associated with God at all. (The laws of nature don’t need anything from us).

In grad school I had a number of courses in philosophy of religion with a theistic teacher. One might say, he had the same problem with the word “God” that I did. That’s to say, the term was so broad as to be functionally meaningless. But in the tradition of Christian theology there was one standard definition of God, going back to the early church. (I don’t recall precisely the origins of the definition, but I could try to look them up). Basically, it is this: God is the omniscient, omnipotent, perfectly good creator and/or sustainer of the universe.

Now, these terms are meaningful or can be given meaningful interpretations outside of religious belief. E.g., to be omnipotent is to be able to do anything it is logically possible to do. (“Logically possible” = “doesn’t involve a contradiction”).

The definition is admirably simple and clear, though of course no definition can ever be completely without controversy. However, as I’ve argued elsewhere, the problem of evil is basically fatal to this version of God. E.g., were such a God to exist, one would not expect there to be evil of any kind in the world, and certainly not evil in the amount we see around us every day.

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Posted: 14 February 2010 09:22 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 2 ]
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Thinking of a deity aka God evokes the diverse Creation myth:

In Chinese philosophy:

There was something featureless yet complete, born before heaven and earth; Silent – amorphous – it stood alone and unchanging. We may regard it as the mother of heaven and earth. Not knowing its name, I style it the “Way.”

The Way gave birth to unity, Unity gave birth to duality, Duality gave birth to trinity, Trinity gave birth to the myriad creatures. The myriad creatures bear yin on their back and embrace yang in their bosoms. They neutralize these vapors and thereby achieve harmony

In Greek philosophy/theology, the Demiurge

Demiurge (the Latinized form of Greek dēmiourgos, δημιουργός, literally “public or skilled worker”, from dēmios “belonging to the people, public” + ergon “work”, and hence a “maker”, “artisan” or “craftsman”) in philosophical and religious language is a term for a creator deity, responsible for the creation of the Universe.

From the same wiki, in Gnosticism:

The term also appears in Gnosticism in which the material universe is seen as evil or at least created by a lesser and or inferior creator deity. In Gnosticism, the Demiurge is a being that never should have come into existence, the result of Sophia emanating without her male counterpart.

That would account for the prevalence of evil and suffering in the universe.  cheese

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Posted: 14 February 2010 10:02 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 3 ]
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kkwan - 14 February 2010 09:22 AM

That would account for the prevalence of evil and suffering in the universe.  cheese

I can’t tell if you’re being serious or not. At any rate, that would not account for evil and suffering, since if God is omnipotent and omniscient, he is perfectly able to thwart the actions of any “lesser deity”. The only way to make this sort of gnostic (or manichean) picture work is to assume that God is either unable to thwart the “lesser deity” (in which case God is not omnipotent), or that God is unaware of its evil deeds (in which case God is not omniscient), or that God agrees with the evil deeds of the “lesser deity”, in which case God is not perfectly good.

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Posted: 14 February 2010 03:55 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 4 ]
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dougsmith - 14 February 2010 07:51 AM

But in the tradition of Christian theology there was one standard definition of God, going back to the early church. (I don’t recall precisely the origins of the definition, but I could try to look them up). Basically, it is this: God is the omniscient, omnipotent, perfectly good creator and/or sustainer of the universe.

Ah, but this is right back to my point- this is a meaningful definition only within the confines of dogmatic belief- say we define God as the creator of the universe, we have no logical reason to then apply sustainer, omnicience, omnipotence, or benevolence.  This definition already starts with a full description of a mythical being which can only be taken on faith.

And I will agree that this is how most Christians, Jews and Muslims would describe God, yet it is not scripturally supported.  When God decides to flood the earth, he says that he regrets having made man (Genesis 6:5-6), which implies that he didn’t see this coming, i.e. he is not omnicient.  I could even say this one phrase disproves omnipotence (was such a wicked species the best he could do?), benevolence (he could have put them out of their misery in a more pleasant manner, without killing off all the other animals), and since he was going to end it all, sustainer, too.

Even a Deist has a hard time saying anything meaningful about God.  It dives right back into the practice of making stuff up, the same as any other religion.

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Posted: 14 February 2010 04:27 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 5 ]
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fausinator - 14 February 2010 03:55 PM

Ah, but this is right back to my point- this is a meaningful definition only within the confines of dogmatic belief- say we define God as the creator of the universe, we have no logical reason to then apply sustainer, omnicience, omnipotence, or benevolence.  This definition already starts with a full description of a mythical being which can only be taken on faith.

Perhaps, although the theologians who came up with this definition believed that it could be rationally supported. I think that’s why they went to all the trouble.

fausinator - 14 February 2010 03:55 PM

And I will agree that this is how most Christians, Jews and Muslims would describe God, yet it is not scripturally supported.  When God decides to flood the earth, he says that he regrets having made man (Genesis 6:5-6), which implies that he didn’t see this coming, i.e. he is not omnicient.  I could even say this one phrase disproves omnipotence (was such a wicked species the best he could do?), benevolence (he could have put them out of their misery in a more pleasant manner, without killing off all the other animals), and since he was going to end it all, sustainer, too.

Agreed completely. The God of scripture is neither all knowing nor all powerful, and is certainly not perfectly good. The link between theology and the Bible is tenuous at best.

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Posted: 14 February 2010 08:03 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 6 ]
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dougsmith - 14 February 2010 10:02 AM
kkwan - 14 February 2010 09:22 AM

That would account for the prevalence of evil and suffering in the universe.  cheese

I can’t tell if you’re being serious or not. At any rate, that would not account for evil and suffering, since if God is omnipotent and omniscient, he is perfectly able to thwart the actions of any “lesser deity”. The only way to make this sort of gnostic (or manichean) picture work is to assume that God is either unable to thwart the “lesser deity” (in which case God is not omnipotent), or that God is unaware of its evil deeds (in which case God is not omniscient), or that God agrees with the evil deeds of the “lesser deity”, in which case God is not perfectly good.

From the wiki on Gnosticism:

In many Gnostic systems, the æons are the various emanations of the superior God, who is also known by such names as the One, the Monad, Aion teleos (Greek: “The Complete Æon”), Bythos (Greek: Βυθος, ‘Depth’ or ‘profundity’), Proarkhe (Greek: προαρχη, “Before the Beginning’), E Arkhe (Greek: ἡ ἀρχή, ‘The Beginning’), Ennoia (Greek: “Thought”) of the Light or Sige (Greek: Σιγη, “Silence”). From this first being, also an æon, a series of different emanations occur, beginning in certain Gnostic texts with the hermaphroditic Barbelo, from which successive pairs of aeons emanate, often in male-female pairings called syzygies; the numbers of these pairings varied from text to text, though some identify their number as being thirty. The aeons as a totality constitute the pleroma, the “region of light”. The lowest regions of the pleroma are closest to the darkness; that is, the physical world.

Two of the most commonly paired æons were Jesus and Sophia (Greek: “Wisdom”); the latter refers to Jesus as her ‘consort’ in A Valentinian Exposition. Sophia, emanating without her partner, resulting in the production of the Demiurge (Greek: lit. “public builder”), who is also referred to as Yaldabaoth and variations thereof in some Gnostic texts. This creature is concealed outside the Pleroma; in isolation, and thinking itself alone, it creates materiality and a host of co-actors, referred to as archons. The demiurge is responsible for the creation of mankind, by create he traps elements of the Pleroma stolen from Sophia in human bodies. In response, the Godhead emanates two savior æons, Christ and the Holy Spirit; Christ then embodies itself in the form of Jesus, in order to be able to teach man how to achieve gnosis, by which they may return to the Pleroma

Like Plato does, Gnosticism presents a distinction between a supranatural, unknowable reality and the sensible materiality of which the demiurge is creator. However, in contrast to Plato, several systems of Gnostic thought present the Demiurge as antagonistic to the Supreme God: his act of creation either in unconscious and fundamentally flawed imitation of the divine model, or else formed with the malevolent intention of entrapping aspects of the divine in materiality. Thus, in such systems, the Demiurge acts as a solution to the problem of evil. In the Apocryphon of John (several versions of which are found in the Nag Hammadi library), the Demiurge has the name “Yaltabaoth”, and proclaims himself as God:

The Demiurge is the imperfect sub-creator whose creation (the material universe) is fundamentally flawed.

[ Edited: 14 February 2010 08:05 PM by kkwan ]
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Posted: 15 February 2010 06:41 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 7 ]
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kkwan - 14 February 2010 08:03 PM

The Demiurge is the imperfect sub-creator whose creation (the material universe) is fundamentally flawed.

I am quite aware of what they say. That’s what I was rejecting as unsupported, above.

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Posted: 19 February 2010 01:43 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 8 ]
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kkwan - 14 February 2010 08:03 PM

I can’t tell if you’re being serious or not. At any rate, that would not account for evil and suffering, since if God is omnipotent and omniscient, he is perfectly able to thwart the actions of any “lesser deity”. The only way to make this sort of gnostic (or manichean) picture work is to assume that God is either unable to thwart the “lesser deity” (in which case God is not omnipotent), or that God is unaware of its evil deeds (in which case God is not omniscient), or that God agrees with the evil deeds of the “lesser deity”, in which case God is not perfectly good.

From the wiki on Gnosticism:

In many Gnostic systems, the æons are the various emanations of the superior God, who is also known by such names as the One, the Monad, Aion teleos (Greek: “The Complete Æon”), Bythos (Greek: Βυθος, ‘Depth’ or ‘profundity’), Proarkhe (Greek: προαρχη, “Before the Beginning’), E Arkhe (Greek: ἡ ἀρχή, ‘The Beginning’), Ennoia (Greek: “Thought”) of the Light or Sige (Greek: Σιγη, “Silence”). From this first being, also an æon, a series of different emanations occur, beginning in certain Gnostic texts with the hermaphroditic Barbelo, from which successive pairs of aeons emanate, often in male-female pairings called syzygies; the numbers of these pairings varied from text to text, though some identify their number as being thirty. The aeons as a totality constitute the pleroma, the “region of light”. The lowest regions of the pleroma are closest to the darkness; that is, the physical world.

Strange, when I read the Wiki paragraph about aeons, I was astounded at the almost perfect description (for that time) of a basic generic molecule. Sounded to me as an inspired and elegant theoretical scientific presentation, where: (Barbelo=duality/quantum), (zyzygies=subatomic particles), (aeons=atoms), (pleroma=molecule), (region of light=energy), (lower regions=matter).

[ Edited: 19 February 2010 02:37 AM by Write4U ]
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Posted: 19 February 2010 09:42 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 9 ]
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fausinator - 14 February 2010 03:55 PM

Ah, but this is right back to my point- this is a meaningful definition only within the confines of dogmatic belief- say we define God as the creator of the universe, we have no logical reason to then apply sustainer, omnicience, omnipotence, or benevolence.  This definition already starts with a full description of a mythical being which can only be taken on faith.

good post
interesting thread
nothing to add
but glad I’ve read it

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Posted: 19 February 2010 11:17 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 10 ]
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Write4U - 19 February 2010 01:43 AM

Strange, when I read the Wiki paragraph about aeons, I was astounded at the almost perfect description (for that time) of a basic generic molecule. Sounded to me as an inspired and elegant theoretical scientific presentation, where: (Barbelo=duality/quantum), (zyzygies=subatomic particles), (aeons=atoms), (pleroma=molecule), (region of light=energy), (lower regions=matter).

It does come across as a philosophy of reality (which science reveals to us) with the ultimate reality (from which these entities emerge) as unknowable and infinite.

This ultimate reality can be compared to Immanuel Kant’s Noumenon

The noumenon (from Greek νοούμενoν, present participle of νοέω “I think, I mean”; plural: νοούμενα - noumena) is a posited object or event as it is in itself, independent of the senses. It classically refers to an object of human inquiry, understanding or cognition. As a concept it has much in common with objectivity. That which is tangible but not perceivable, the reflection of phenomenon.

Roughly, a noumenon may be distinguished from the following concepts, although it has been argued they are actually synonymous:

  * Thing-in-itself, an actual object and its properties independent of any observer.
 
  * the Absolute, the totality of things; all that is, whether it has been discovered or not.

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Posted: 19 February 2010 01:51 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 11 ]
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Is it possible to say that the abstract definition of Potential as “that which may become reality”, is a noumenon?

[ Edited: 19 February 2010 01:55 PM by Write4U ]
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Posted: 20 February 2010 12:34 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 12 ]
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Write4U - 19 February 2010 01:51 PM

Is it possible to say that the abstract definition of Potential as “that which may become reality”, is a noumenon?

If potential is “that which may become reality”, then it is not a noumenon.

In the Kantian sense, the noumenon exist as the ultimate reality (independent of observation), but is unknowable. The reality that is knowable is the phenomenon (which can be observed).

Contrast this with the philosophy of Neutral Monism

Neutral monism is a monistic metaphysics. It holds that ultimate reality is all of one kind. To this extent neutral monism is in agreement with idealism and materialism. What distinguishes neutral monism from its better known monistic rivals is the claim that the intrinsic nature of ultimate reality is neither mental nor physical. This negative claim also captures the idea of neutrality: being intrinsically neither mental nor physical in nature ultimate reality is said to be neutral between the two.

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Posted: 20 February 2010 02:54 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 13 ]
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kkwan - 20 February 2010 12:34 PM
Write4U - 19 February 2010 01:51 PM

Is it possible to say that the abstract definition of Potential as “that which may become reality”, is a noumenon?

If potential is “that which may become reality”, then it is not a noumenon.

In the Kantian sense, the noumenon exist as the ultimate reality (independent of observation), but is unknowable. The reality that is knowable is the phenomenon (which can be observed).

Allow me to flesh out my paradigm of Potential, before I restate the question.
Potential (noun): “That which may become reality”, latent, unmanifest energy for a possible future event.
Thus, while not all Potential becomes reality, all reality, past, present, and future, ...was, is, and will be preceded by Potential, including the Big Bang. Potential is the single common denominator of all events, past, present, and future, in the universe.
I present this as a fundamental metaphysical universal condition (Universal Potential) which must be present before reality can become manifest, and is a fundamental constant in Determinism.

Would this definition qualify as a noumenon?

[ Edited: 20 February 2010 07:56 PM by Write4U ]
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Posted: 21 February 2010 09:35 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 14 ]
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Write4U - 20 February 2010 02:54 PM

Allow me to flesh out my paradigm of Potential, before I restate the question.
Potential (noun): “That which may become reality”, latent, unmanifest energy for a possible future event.
Thus, while not all Potential becomes reality, all reality, past, present, and future, ...was, is, and will be preceded by Potential, including the Big Bang. Potential is the single common denominator of all events, past, present, and future, in the universe.
I present this as a fundamental metaphysical universal condition (Universal Potential) which must be present before reality can become manifest, and is a fundamental constant in Determinism.

Would this definition qualify as a noumenon?

In Kant’s philosophy, the noumenon is the ultimate reality and is infinite. As the infinite, it is beyond finite human comprehension, otherwise it is not infinite. The reality that can be known is the phenomenon.

Can you provide arguments to support your assertion that potential exist and it is the precursor to reality?

What precedes the Big Bang could be another universe and this process of “birth” and “death” of universes could well be infinite with no beginning and end, not potential.

Can the fundamental philosophical question, why is there always something instead of nothing or nothiness, be answered by potential?

Since metaphysics is the study of what exists, one might expect metaphysicians to have little to say about the limit case in which nothing exists. But ever since Parmenides in the fifth century BCE, there has been rich commentary on whether an empty world is possible, whether there are vacuums, and about the nature of privations and negation.

Russell’s conclusion:

In the end Russell gave up. In a famous lecture at Harvard, Russell concluded that irreducibly negative facts exist. He reports this nearly caused a riot.

In phenomenal reality:

Historians of science wonder whether the ether that was loudly pushed out the front door of physics is quietly returning through the back door under the guise of “space”. Quantum field theory provides especially fertile area for such speculation. Particles are created with the help of energy present in “vacuums”. To say that vacuums have energy and energy is convertible into mass, is to deny that vacuums are empty. Many physicists revel in the discovery that vacuums are far from empty.

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Posted: 21 February 2010 03:32 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 15 ]
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I realize that this is not the proper thread and actually I am still in the data gathering process for my paradigm, so Ill keep this very basic.

kkwan
Can you provide arguments to support your assertion that potential exist and it is the precursor to reality

The definition given in all dictionaries, identify the noun Potential as “That which may become reality” (among several other definitions used in science in the form of adjectives, etc).  Similar to Gravity; “That which makes things fall towards the center of a massive body” (which has been identified and quantified). In my paradigm, Potential does NOT exist in reality, but is an infinite constant which makes the creation of reality possible.

What precedes the Big Bang could be another universe and this process of “birth” and “death” of universes could well be infinite with no beginning and end, not potential.

This was in context of the theory that there was a beginning. However it does not preclude the possibility of multiple universes. The phrase “universal energy contained in a singularity”, is by definition contradictory to any theory of an ultimate beginning. I have replaced “universal energy” (reality) with the term “universal potential” (not yet real).

Can the fundamental philosophical question, why is there always something instead of nothing or nothiness, be answered by potential?

Yes.
This fundamental contradiction of energy being present before energy becomes real is my motive for using the word potential. Potential, before it becomes real is in fact unreal and therefore not in conflict with the requirement that there can be no reality before the beginning of reality. Thus potential is not “something” which is real of itself, but “that” which is unreal which may become reality. It is also compatible with the suspension state in quantum and the notion of a binary universe in general.

kkwan, I lack the scientific knowledge to speak authoritatively on the subject, thus I submit this as a philosophical paradigm, in the hope that an interested scientist might see the “potential” (using my definition) present in this paradigm.

p.s. I always thought the concept of a doughnut shaped universe(s) as very elegant. Creation from a “white hole”, expansion in all directions along the surface of the doughnut until the equator is passed,  then contraction into a “black hole”, ad infinitum.
Unfortunately I had to give up on doughnuts and thus am deprived of the fantasy of occasionally eating the universe.  sick

[ Edited: 21 February 2010 05:24 PM by Write4U ]
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