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26 Cards in this Set

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Q: In what way does intelligent and rational disagreement of any kind presuppose some level of agreement or shared understanding? In what way does this occur in a debate about God?
A: Rational disagreements of any sort presuppose some agreement on some level. Otherwise how could two people argue about who is currently the best tennis player in the world? They would have to entertain some level of agreement as to what tennis is, and of what sort of people are to count as tennis players. In the same way, in their disagreements, theists and non-theists have in mind some idea of God, however rough-edged or vague, in order to entertain the possibility of rational debate. We can think of the theist as believing that some particular idea of God is successfully reality-depicting. Along the same lines, we can think of the atheist as believing that the same idea of God fails to be truly reality-depicting. (p. 29)
Q: In our quest to discover the best method possible for arriving at our best idea of God, we encounter the approach of universal revelational theology. This is the view that recommends consulting all the purported revelations claimed by different religions and from these form a composite portrait of the divine. What is the major problem with this proposal?
A: Many of the purported revelations of God conflict with each other. They offer incompatible accounts of the divine. Therefore this approach does not provide us a criterion of selection. (p. 30)
Q: What about the approach called purely biblical theology? The guiding principle of this method is that we should go to the Bible, and only to the Bible, for our idea of God. What is the problem here?
A: One problem for purely biblical theology is that, despite some theologians’s claims to follow its strictures, it is not clear that anyone can manage to do so if they are seeking a philosophically adequate conception of the divine. The reason why no philosopher or theologian seeking a philosophically adequate conception of God can manage finally to adhere to method’s guiding principle is that, in our capacity of asking philosophical questions about the nature of God, we inevitably ask questions the biblical documents were not designed to answer. (p. 30)
Q: Does this then mean that to the one who seeks to remain a committed adherer to the Bible, that these philosophical questions which seem to go beyond what is given in the Bible, are illegitimate or out of bounds for him or her?
A: Not at all. From the fact that the biblical documents, written as they were to deal with burning practical questions of the greatest personal significance, do not address all the possible philosophical questions which can also, in their own way, be of the greatest intellectual significance, it does not follow at all that these more theoretical questions are illegitimate, or that they are unimportant. They can be quite important for the constructing of any comprehensive Christian worldview. (p. 31)
Q: Okay, so the enterprise of philosophical theology need not require that one abandon one’s fidelity to the Bible, though what can be said, positively, to establish that it is a task important enough to undertake?
A: It can be argued that it is incumbent upon any intelligent person who finds himself asking philosophical questions about matters of religious belief to do whatever it is in his power to do in order to find answers to them. Otherwise, such a person may be blocked from responding to God as a believer in the full integrity of his personality. It is never incumbent upon a Christian to eschew the quest for understanding, even when it leads him beyond the letter of the commitments of the Bible. (p. 31)
Q: So what then is the challenge for the Christian philosopher or theologian?
A: The challenge for the Christian philosopher or theologian should not be that of confining what he says about God to what the Bible has already said, but rather it should be that of constructing a philosophical theology which is thoroughly consonant with the biblical portrayal of God. (p. 31)
Q: What kinds of ideas should be sought by the Christian philosopher or theologian?
A: What should be sought are not just philosophical ideas which happen to be logically consistent, or minimally compatible, with the biblical materials, but rather ideas which are deeply attuned to the biblical revelation, and thus consonant with the whole tenor of the Bible. (p. 31)
Q: What is the method of creation theology?
A: This method for articulating a conception of God centers around the claim that God is to be understood as the ultimate creator of every reality which exists distinct from himself. (p. 32)
Q: Explain the main implication of this method.
A: In this method for articulating a concept of God, it is said that, in order to explain the existence and nature of our universe, we must postulate the existence of a cause whose nature and activity would be sufficient for the production of such an astounding effect as the entire physical cosmos must be considered to be. (p. 32)
Q: This method of creation theology appears to have strong revelational backing. What is another reason for commending it?
A: It has seemed to many people to be an eminently rational method of thought. Indeed, it seems to consist in a procedure of postulational reasoning which, as used in the natural sciences, has proved its value time and again as a method of intellectual discovery: to explain the existence, occurrence, or behavior of A we postulate the existence, occurrence, or behavior of B; we postulate only what is strictly required for explaining A, and by so doing we quite often arrive at what is later confirmed as the truth. (p. 32)
Q: Still, as a sole, independent method for articulating a conception of God, creation theology appears to be unsatisfying. Why?
A: It is because it looks frustratingly incomplete. The idea of God arising exclusively out of this sort of explanatory reasoning inevitably has a rather minimal content which is both religiously and philosophically unsatisfying. Creation theology will direct us to conceive of God as having enough power to create this cosmos, but this doesn’t seem to be enough. Many theists have wanted to ascribe to God the power to have created other sorts of universes instead, had he wanted to. The belief is that he did not exhaust his power in his creation of this universe. It is hard to see how creation theology can authorize such a belief. (pp. 32-33)
Q: What is another reason why creation theology, as a method, is seen as incomplete?
A: In addition to God’s suberabundant power, God’s character would not be able to be established either. It would be extremely difficult, if possible at all, to arrive at the idea that God is morally perfect from nothing more than an explanatory extrapolation from our world. (p. 33)
Q: There are two ways to augment creation theology in order to attempt to alleviate these difficulties. What is the first, and does it succeed?
A: The first way is to see creation theology as only the initial impetus to, and a mere partial application of, a broader comprehensive explanatory theology. This method would take as its data to be explained not only the existence and basic nature of our universe, but also all those occurrences in human history deemed to be of religious significance: apparent miracles, signs of providential intent, and various sorts of religious experience. Although this method would result in some improvement, the same difficulties above still remain. (pp. 33-34)
Q: What is the second way?
A: The second way is to see creation theology for what it is, a method that is based on the Bible, and accordingly utilize the Bible’s content to fill in the gaps. When it comes to the characterization of God, the augmentation provided by this expanded method is considerable. Yet this view fails to adequately provide for answers of a more philosophical bent. (p. 34)
Q: What, then, is a method that we can consider to be both revelational and rational, which will offer, in principle, a complete philosophical perspective on God, and thus will result in the best conception of God we can attain?
A: An idea stated quite succinctly by Anselm of Canterbury (AD 1033-1109), can be taken to have provided us with at least the elements of just that sort of method, if properly understood and developed. This idea is that God is that than which no greater can be conceived. Or put another way: God is the greatest possible being, an individual exhibiting maximal perfection. This core idea, along with an accompanying method for its development, we will call the philosophical procedure known as perfect being theology. (pp. 34-35)
Q: How can we characterize the core of perfect being theology? What is its thesis?
A: (G) God is a being with the greatest possible array of compossible great-making properties. (p. 35)
Q: The key idea here is that God is intrinsically, not extrinsically, good. Yet some modern philosophers doubt that any good can be intrinsic, and propose the idea that all goodness is extrinsic. Why are they wrong?
A: Supposing this would land us in a dilemma. If all goodness is extrinsic then all ascriptions of goodness are either circular or infinitely complex. (p. 37)
Q: Contra these modern philosophers, what do Anselm and many other theists say about goodness? Can goodness ever be intrinsic?
A: According to Anselm and many other theists, some things are intrinsically good, good in themselves, and thus are proper ultimate stopping points in explanations of goodness. That is to say, the recognition of something as an intrinsic good can be an appropriate terminus, or endpoint, to any explanation of value. Thus, a conception of value which countenances intrinsic as well as extrinsic values would seem to be more intellectually or rationally satisfying that one endorsing only extrinsic value. (p. 37)
Q: Since this idea of God requires that he possess the greatest possible array of great-making properties, we will need to fill out what these are. To do so, we will need to consult our value intuitions. Why is this assumption, that our intuitions can be reliable guides for recognizing these great-making properties, not problematic for us?
A: It should be pointed out that by the word ‘intuition’ we don’t necessarily mean to denote here some mysterious faculty for information gathering. An intuitively formed belief seems to be a sort of naturally formed belief, a belief whose acceptance does not derive entirely from linguistic definition, evidence, testimony, memory, inference, or sense experience. Our intuitions are among our most basic judgments about the world around us. (p. 39)
Q: But some critics ask why we should trust such intuitions, or any intuitions at all. Well, why should we?
A: To ask why anyone should ever rely on intuition is like asking why anyone should ever believe what seems to him to be true. The point, however, should be made that not all intuitions are equal. It seems that there are degrees of intuitive support a proposition can have – some intuitions are just stronger than others. And some are reliable, whereas others are not. Most practitioners of perfect being theology take our intuitions about matters of value, as they do most other intuitions, to be innocent until proven guilty, or reliable until proven deceptive. (p. 39)
Q: In order to elaborate an Anselmian idea of God, all practitioners of perfect being theology consult their value intuitions about what basic properties are great-making properties. Can an example be provided of a schematic development of a conception of God?
A: In one representative example of an ascending order of discovery concerning the various aspects of God’s greatness in metaphysical stature, God can be conceived of in this way as: (1) conscious; (2) a conscious free agent; (3) a thoroughly benevolent, conscious agent; (4) number three plus having significant knowledge; (5) number four plus having power; (6) a thoroughly benevolent conscious agent with unlimited knowledge and power, who is the creative source of all else; (7) a thoroughly benevolent conscious agent with unlimited knowledge and power who is the necessarily existent, ontologically independent, creative source of all else. (pp. 39-40)
Q: So, in a nutshell, what is the perfect being theologian seeking to do?
A: To outline a cumulative development of intuitions concerning intrinsic goodness, great-making properties, and the comparative greatness of different arrays of such properties. (p. 40)
Q: Do all practitioners of perfect being theology agree at every point?
A: No, for thinking about God is not a mechanical procedure, capable of turning out precisely the same results regardless of who employs it. There is plenty of room for disagreement among those who conceptualize God in Anselm’s way. (p. 41)
Q: What is an important fact to keep in mind about intuitions, as it relates to disagreements over what is the best way to characterize God’s perfections?
A: Intuitions have defeasible epistemic status. The epistemic status of a belief or judgment is its status with respect to the goal of knowledge. A belief has positive epistemic status, we can say, in case the person with the belief is justified in holding it, given the goal of attaining knowledge. But the status of a belief is defeasible in case it is possible that it be undermined or overturned. To say that our intuitions are defeasible is thus to say that, whatever positive degree of warrant or support they supply for a judgment or belief, they are in principle, and often in practice, correctable. They are not infallible. (p. 41)
Q: Say that we have accepted perfect being theology as our primary method for arriving at our conception of God. Are we excluded from using any other method in a secondary or tertiary sense?
A: No, in fact, perfect being theology acknowledges that can be refined by working in tandem with other approaches, such as creation theology. It is possible that someone not intuit omnipotence as being a great-making property. Here creation theology can assist perfect being theology by coming alongside and requiring God to be conceived of as having great power, and perfect being theology caps it off by stretching that power to something resembling omnipotence. The same goes for the other methods – they too can work alongside perfect being theology. (pp. 41-42)
Q: Explain the interaction that takes place between our value intuitions and revelation.
A: Perfect being theology needs a revelational control. E.g., Wolterstorff provides an example of a value intuition (impassibility) that is influenced by ancient Stoic thought, that ought to be corrected by the Bible’s stress on God as a suffering God. On the other hand, perfect being theology can also act as an interpretive constraint on how we read the Bible. E.g., the biblical texts that speak of God’s hands are not to be taken literally but figuratively, since we know from perfect being theology that it is more perfect not to be by nature limited to such a form of indirect agency as that of having to work by means of hands. (p. 43)