Friday, August 22, 2014

In Defense of Classical Theism

From Strange Notions:
As Eastern Orthodox scholar David Bentley Hart puts it: "When I say that atheism is a kind of obliviousness to the obvious, I mean that if one understands what the actual philosophical definition of 'God' is in most of the great religious traditions, and if consequently one understands what is logically entailed in denying that there is any God so defined, then one cannot reject the reality of God tout court without embracing an ultimate absurdity."3
But if the classical and modern traditions so starkly diverge, what accounts for this? In a large way, the divergence arises from a disagreement on whether God participates in existence.

All of nature has being, and it is by virtue of having being that it exists (whether that being is substantial, material, or whatever). Folks working in the modern tradition discuss whether God has being, a topic about which there could obviously be rational disagreement given its assumptions. But, classical theists do not think that God has being, or that he could, even in principle. On classical theism, God is the most fundamental reality, and just is subsistent being itself. Thus, he does not instantiate properties, or participate in forms of being, as if there were anything independent of and prior to him: everything apart from God is subsequent to and dependent upon him. Everything else derives from the fount of being. Is there room to rationally think that derivative being ultimately doesn't derive from anything?

Instead of considering that question, I’d like to look at a way an atheist might respond to classical theism. She might agree that regardless of what shape derivative being takes — whether it extends infinitely into the past, or forms a causal loop in which A causes B, B causes C, and C causes A, etc. — derivative being is still derivative being, and thus there must be something from which it derives, namely a First Cause. But, she might caution, this First Cause needn't be God. Sure, it might be immutable, and even the source of all value4 and so forth, but we needn't say it has intellect or will. (Read more.)

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