Introducing myself with an explanation of basic terminology like objective and absolute

(Mitchell W McKain) #41

Hello back atcha.

So far my look at NHI give me a definite feeling of modern Eastern Orthodox. I have already mentioned my agreement with them on a few issues. My source on the atonement issue is the book by Clark Carlton, “The Truth: What Every Roman Catholic Should Know About the Orthodox Church.” Oh and I like the idea of examining the theology embedded in popular literature. I have done something similar on a few movies and tv shows like “Lucifer”. Though, looking at the Harry Potter one, his are a little too overboard with lists and diagrams – something I am not a big fan of.

Hmmm… watching his video, I am skeptical of Mako’s idea that Jesus heals us by removing sin from himself. That is a bit farther from orthodoxy than I every considered going. I don’t see the need for this. I am not hostile to his perspective at this point in time. It is definitely an idea I haven’t encountered before, and I will have to think about it.

The Oord article is definitely interesting. In the spectrum he paints, I am not in either extreme though, of course, closer to one end than the other. But I guess that is obvious above in how I treat with the hardening of Pharaoh question. I don’t believe God looks at what we will do before we choose. But most of the time, He doesn’t have to. Sinful man is very predictable, and when our free will is that far enslaved to our sins, then I think we are fair game, so to speak.

But I don’t think Oord’s argument against voluntary self-limitation is valid. Nor do I agree with his idea of God being a necessary cause in all things or that God is a partial cause in all events. None of that makes any sense to me at all. I do believe God is intimately engaged. But it is only simple logic to employ delegation and the automation of natural law.


Welcome to the forum Mitchell. As others have said, folks here come from assorted theological and philosophical persuasions.

Several here are glad to engage in “hearty discussions” (or debates) at times. In my estimation, these are most profitable when following this axiom: “suaviter in modo, fortiter in re” (gentle in manner of presentation, but powerful in argumentative substance).

(Mark D.) #43

Sorry to select such a large quote but since I’ve been ruminating on this a while perhaps the context needs refreshing. Oh and I have been remiss not to say hello and welcome, I am glad you are here. I must say I am appreciating your directness.

At the end you say “I would not confuse the God I believe is real with any of the human conceptions of him”. I’m sure you realize that you too can only communicate anything about the God you believe is real by way of a concept, and that none of us is in a privileged position to rule on which concept comes closest. Still I’m curious what you feel are essential aspects of God.

I just went to wiki and read how John of Damascus described God but my take away from doing so is that God is limitless in every way a person of that time could imagine to describe a such being. But how does a person ever know for certain that God has no limits if we ourselves are limited in our ability to take His measure? Given that we are as we are and can only know what we can, I prefer to start from there. The God I can imagine is no god at all by John of Damascus’ standard. Anyhow, if you can and are willing to tell me what you think are the essential aspects of the God you believe is real I would be interested.

(Mitchell W McKain) #44

It is very tricky, even dastardly, to ask me for a human conception of God after I have said this about confusing God with a human conception of Him. LOL Yet I am intrigued by the challenge. Lets see if I finesse my way out of the trap you set.

I am very much inclined to start with the very thing you read about how John of Damascus described God and add the word infinite as very much a part of how I conceive of God. Though I would include in God’s limitless-ness the ability to limit Himself as He chooses. It is a complaint I have in much theology that they put all the power over God Himself in the hands of theologian definers rather in the hands of God Himself, and I would say that having power over oneself is perhaps the most important power of all. Thus I would say that limitless only necessarily applies to God in the beginning.

And that brings us to a little digression on the topic of time on which I think many theologians fall into the trap of absolute conceptions of time which are no longer viable in science. It has been logical especially since we discovered that time is part of the structure of the universe to conclude that God exist outside of time, and this has led to confusing ideas about God in an unchanging “eternity” and ultimately putting all kinds of absurd limitations upon God. But once you let go of absolute conceptions of time and realize time is nothing but a ordering of events that in no way has to be singular then time just becomes something one can use in a particular way and there is no reason to think that God cannot use time also quite separate from any time we experience ourselves. This eliminates a whole mess of contradictions which makes us wonder how God can think and make decisions or even act except when he is participating in the temporal ordering of our existence of course.

So back to my description of God being limitless at the start, I would thus say the traditional attributes of omnipotence and omniscience apply in the same way, where they do not restrain God from limiting Himself as He chooses. Thus I often explain that omniscience means God can know whatever He chooses to know just as omnipotence means God can do whatever He chooses to do, within the constraints of logical consistency, which is frankly more a constraint upon our ability to put what he knows and does into the words of human language rather than a constraint upon God Himself.

And now after all this talk of God in terms of power and knowledge I would make the this warning that to know what someone is by nature is not to know the person. Consider the scene when a person walks into your place of work and you register such things as their race and sex. Do these things define the person and tell you who he is? I would say that if you really want to know him then you must find out the things which are a product of his choices rather than his birth – what he values and does with his life is more important, don’t you think? And thus I would apply the same principle to God to say that things like omnipotence and omniscience are no more God’s essence than a person’s race and sex.

Well then, we now come to my often repeated assertion that I believe in a God who chose/chooses love and freedom over power and control. It is something I think is strongly implied in His creation of life, for life serves no purpose in the making of tools for a function and purpose which is all about what they can do for you. Tools exist for an end but it is part of the very nature of life as things which exist by growth and learning, or as I would say, self-organization, that they exist as an end in themselves. And then there is the problem of morality in bringing living things into existence when death and suffering is an unavoidable part of life. I believe the only thing which can ethically justify this is when your motivation is to give your love to them. There are philosophical connections here to questions of free will and my philosophical position as an incompatibilist libertarian, but I will leave a discussion of that for elsewhere. In any case, I would say all this is leading up to an agreement with 1 John which says, “God is love,” to which I will say that it is by this identification that God becomes more knowable perhaps even than ourselves and our fellow human beings who are by contrast filled with conflicting motivations.

Another way in which I often come at the question of defining God is to ask what is the most essential feature by which I would distinguish a being to whom I can give such a label as “God,” with the implication that this is one whom I would revere and worship? In this case the most essential quality is that no righteous cause can stand against Him, or to put in other words, that He is ultimately blameless or I suppose the word most would use is “righteous.” I cannot worship or revere a God who is not wholly good and thus would not use the label God if this were not the case. A word I often hear, but which I find a bit dubious, is that of “omnibenificient.” I do believe it is possible for a person to be motivated by love alone and will even suggest that perhaps no other motivation is left for a being who has and is everything already – for what else is there but to give of your abundance to others. But just because love motivates you doesn’t necessarily means everything you do looks kind and loving from the outside and that is why I am wary of the term “omnibenificient.”

Well that will have to do for now. It is time for me to move on with other tasks this morning…


The doctrine of the Trinity isn’t spelled out, but can be strongly inferred from Scripture. It’s part of Christian orthodoxy. Even a good number of evangelicals accept the doctrine of the Trinity.

(Albert Leo) #46

IMO that is the difficult hurdle that religious teachers have always faced: God is sometimes experienced by individuals, but not in ways that lend themselves to forming a general concept that can be transmitted to other seekers, no matter how willing. From the perspective of old age, I can appreciate that the God that was described to me in kindergarten was as accurate and useful as any generalized concept could be for a recipient at that age level. I wish that it was made clear at the time that, as my intellect expanded and I was enriched by experiences of life on this wondrous earth, I should be open for my God to approach me personally and make known to me his loving and caring nature. I am not sure this is possible for anyone in their youth. Furthermore, by comparison to most of my peers, I am not by nature especially ‘spiritual’, and so such a ‘metanoia’ was unlikely. But so was St. Paul’s, since he was persecuting Christians, On the way to Damascus he was struck in the head by a thunderbolt, and he was given a few days to recover his conscious mind and a new perspective based upon a personal relationship with his Creator. In WWII, by crude comparison, I was struck in the head by grenade fragments on my way to Berlin and given a month of recuperation to think if there was anything other than luck in the fact that I survived. Of course my immediate family accepted it as a miracle, but following a career in science, my colleagues, sticking to rationality, had me leaning toward my being just incredibly lucky.

Nevertheless, this experience had me looking for very subtle ways God could be gently contacting me in everyday life, contacts I could easily overlook. After all Einstein (who was a Deist and not religious per se) is quoted as saying" "Raffiniert (subtle) ist der Herrgott, aber boshaft ist er nicht". Over a period of 50 yrs. I had accumulated dozens of very subtle incidents of this type. Then, about 20 yrs. ago, He favored me with an "honest to God Miracle", which I described in earlier posts. I do not hesitate calling this a miracle, even tho it broke no law of physics, because it was witnessed by three other skeptical scientists besides myself. It clearly defied all odds–even billions to one. The one to whom it was directed, Prof. Eric Lien, the head of Medicinal Chemistry, USC, has proclaimed it (at his retirement dinner) as changing his life for the good.

Following the course set for ‘good Catholics’, I had read about the miracles in the OT (Exodus), in the NT (Jesus) and in the Lives of the Saints. For all of those, except for the Resurrection, I reserve a grain of salt. They may have been exaggerated and recounted for selfish reasons, as @mitchellmckain points out. The one I observed first hand actually had the effect of undoing the damage done by over-zealous Christian missionaries. Like any powerful tool (e.g.atomic energy), religion can cause immense harm if misused.
Al Leo

(Mitchell W McKain) #47

Of course. I am a Trinitarian after all. The way I would put it is that the doctrine of the Trinity is the conception of God which is most consistent with all of the Bible. But… people can and do argue that this is only my opinion and subjective judgement on the matter.

Still… I relish the fact that this defining belief of Christianity isn’t actually in the text. Just one of the things I love about the Bible and Christianity – perhaps I am bit perverse that way. LOL

(Mark D.) #48

Thank you very much for your very well considered response. I appreciate the time and effort this would require. If others choose to comment I may learn even more.

The most essential feature for me would be to know what roles God play in the lives of the people who believe in Him. Sometimes I think the appeal to God as an explanatory principal for arcane philosophic questions is over emphasized. If the only role it played in people’s lives was to provide an origins tale, I can’t imagine God belief would ever have caught on, spread and remained so popular.

What I’ve imagined to be important roles are: making sense of death; promoting concern for the community over narrow self-interest; to focus intention (as through prayer); and to provide an audience for conscience. God could be really important without having been the creator of absolutely everything. I know Christians will point to the bible for support but alas I do not place the value on that source which they all do, and, considering its age, it just seems pretty likely that God’s attributes were over hyped with all those omni-superlatives.

Thanks again for your thoughtful reply.

(Mitchell W McKain) #49

In general, I don’t believe that God explains anything. If you expect this then I think your playing into the hands of atheists who like to characterize religion as primitive science. So at least in this regard our views are compatible. On the next point, however, I will challenge you a little and I hope there is no offense.

The idea of, the role God plays in our lives, being the essential feature, this is uncomfortably close to worshiping God because of what He can do for you. I tend to take the opposite attitude that I would worship God because of who He is even if I am in the depths of hell because He cannot do anything for me. But I know that is not what you said. On the other hand, I am inclined to ask you how you would distinguish God from a really nice and helpful alien, or… would you?

As for what made the idea of God catch on, that must be distinguished from a good reason to believe in God. After all, observations of people might quickly bring you to the conclusion that the idea of God is popular because he is a convenient scapegoat to blame all sorts of bad things on, including how their life is not going the way they planned. This applies even if the origin of this idea of God is, as I believe, communication with the real thing.

To your list of important roles, I would add that of personal identity – deciding who and what kind of person we are. I would say that is the most important role of God and religion in general, from my perspective – or you can take this as a combination of some of the roles you have already described in different words.

Although I consider the Bible to have authority over Christianity as part of what defines the religion, I certainly don’t think that “because the Bible says so” is a valid reason for anything outside of Christianity. And I confess I will sometimes dispute whether something expressed by a particular human author in the Bible really has the support of God (there is at least one passage in particular which I really disapprove of).

(Mark D.) #50

Yes, that make sense and I do think it can make one a better person or a worse one depending. I think the belief that one is answerable to God and that the world is God’s creation can lead to taking a longer view on how to live in the world. Unfortunately some believers seem to regard the world as something transitory with the real show beginning after death. That and the idea that God gave man dominion over the other creatures being interpreted as the world being our personal larder contribute to being a destructive presence on the planet. But I find that attitude more rampant in fundamentalist circles. Old earth creationists strike me as much more likely to take a conservator approach to this world.

My primary interest in thinking about God belief is anthropological. But I should hasten to add that I do not regard God belief as something primitive. Rather, it gives me ways to reflect on what may be missing in my own experience.

I wonder if any scientists in the OEC community have reflected on roles God belief has played in their own cultures? This site seems more interested in the hard sciences but I for one would be interested in the self reflection that could lead to when the people doing the study are of that culture. I should say I’ve only ever taken one course in anthropology and it isn’t something I think about all the time so I’m certainly no expert.


Mark, I’ve really appreciated your inquiries. I haven’t responded because I wouldn’t even know where to start. It is hard to condense an entire worldview with its experiential implications in a forum post. Any chance you’d start a new thread with a few of your specific questions?

(Mark D.) #52

Hello Jason. I have started a few and no doubt will start others. But I definitely would not like to hijack or divert Mitchell’s introductory thread. Is there anything in particular I’ve brought up that you would like to have become the focus of a thread?


Maybe we could this topic concerning practical implications of belief in God?

(Mark D.) #54

I’ve got to get going now but I’ll think about that and do it if no one else beats me to it.

(Robin) #55

Thanks for your story. Well said on many points. In some of your closing remarks, you said “so long as the secular is acting to protect us from the excesses of religion then we must accept that our religious liberties only make sense when the demands of the secular are given governance.”

This also is a sensible remark, but it presumes (I think) that the secular is more reasonable and less out of control than the religious aspect of things. We do need to respect the partidular beliefs of others, incl religious, even if we do not agree. In that sense, some sort of non-religious, or secular, standard has to exist. But secularism can and has run rampant in the 20th century, and probably before, The one field-- secularism – is not cool, calm, and rational – while the other frothing at the mouth. Also, both these areas seem determined to influence the other, and it probably cannot be otherwise. Religion, for example,.argued for and then argued against slavery in the past…and probably secularism alone, outside of some sort of religious or moral influence, would never have thought to throw off slavery — and very nearly did not…

But I do generally see what you are saying as a whole…

(Roger A. Sawtelle) #56

I am sorry to rain on your parade, but I fear that the basic alternatives that you are using, science and religion, objective and subjective, absolute and relative are FALSE dichotomies based on outmoded Western dualism which is the foundation of our way of thinking.

Take for instance scientific reductionism. The idea is that if we just dig deep enough we will discover the Absolute or basic essence of nature or being which will enable us to understand all the secrets of Reality.

However, this is not what happened. When science dug to the basis of physical reality it found quantum mechanics. Quantum reality is not objective, Matter can be energy and energy can be matter. Probability which is not absolute reigns.

Newton said that there are absolutes in nature, absolute time and space. Einstein said that this was not true and Einstein was right. Nature is relative and so is truth.

Now it is true that some kinds of truth is more relative or complicated than others. Scientific truth is less complicated than moral truth. This does not make one less or more than the other.

We must not give up on moral truth just because it is more complicated and difficult to understand and carry out than scientific truth. Indeed we must value it more.

However here I do not think that the issue is rally truth, but values. We need and society has the right to expect basic values in life, primarily: honesty, truth telling, keeping our commitments, and respect for others.

As long as people maintain these values, it really does not make much difference why they do so. The problem today in the USA these values, which are basic to the Christian faith have broken down and it seems that to a significant extent the church has contributed to this.

So you think that science or secularism can help restore the values of community?

(Mitchell W McKain) #57

Incorrect. The above gives the definition of these terms as I use them. You are free to define these terms as you choose and if you only object and do not define them for yourself then your statements are likely to communicate nothing. We are left with only dictionary definitions which give a choice of many meanings.

Your meaning here is very unclear. Are you saying that science is necessarily reductionist? I am a scientist and I reject this as many scientists do also. Instead they see the phenomenon of emergence implicit in the very structure of science: math, physics, chemistry, biology. Reductionism would imply that there is no biology but only chemistry and no chemistry but only physics and no physics but only math. But this is absurd. In each case the former is only a tool to bring some understanding of the details but emergent properties mean that each is a science in its own right.

I don’t recall anyone making such a prediction. Quantum physics is also founded on written procedures which anyone can follow to get the same result and it is therefore just as objective (according to my definition) as any of the other sciences. But what can you mean by your claim that quantum “reality” is not objective? The dictionary gives the definition of impartial and I am not even sure how you mean that to apply to a “reality” – are you saying there is a reality in quantum physics which is not the same for everyone??? You seem to be confusing science with some kind of personal metaphysics.

As for energy, what physics has discovered is that everything in the physical universe both substance and action are all different forms of energy. And what can we make of your comment on probability? The dictionary gives definitions of absolute as complete or universal. The proposition that quantum physics is incomplete has been disproven and all the evidence shows that it applies everywhere in the universe.

Neither said anything of the sort. Your philosophical characterizations their science are absurd. Newton gave mathematical rules for motion and gravity which continue to be used because their accuracy in most applications are fabulous. Einstein improved upon these to extend our ability to calculate motion and gravity for more extreme circumstances which are rather hard to find. So what do we make of your comment on nature. Are the laws of nature relative to something? Hardly! They work the same way everywhere and no matter who does them depending only on the variable in the equation and on nothing else. What do you imagine they are relative to?

Yes relativity is founded on the idea that motion is relative, and then discovers quite surprisingly that a other things like simultaneity are also relative. Thus when you try to talk about what is happening in a distant place like on mars or in the vicinity of Alpha Centauri at the same time as something here on earth then you have to careful. On mars, “at the same time” includes everything that happens in a period which is at least a 4 minutes long (i.e. what you might view as simultaneous could any time in the period depending on your relative velocity) and near Alpha Centauri it is period more than eight years long.

Oh… does this mean you are defining the word “relative” as “complicated and difficult to understand?” Frankly I think what is complicated and difficult to understand is rather relative to the person. Some people find math and science too complicated and difficult to understand while others like me find it easy – perhaps even easier to understand than people, philosophy, or religion.

What we must do in a free society is distinguish between “moral truth” which is founded on objective evidence and absolute reasons from “moral truth” which is founded on subjective inclinations, personal experience, and relative to religion, culture, and personal ideologies. The former can be the basis of law and judgment governing everyone while the latter has no value except in the conduct on ones own personal life.

Incorrect. The reason why they do things is what distinguishes between what is reasonable for the person to guide his own life and what is reasonable to expect from others. Thus in a free society we don’t impose Islamic laws regarding prayer times, but they are certainly free to organize their life so they can pray whenever they want.

I think science can determine if there are objective reasons for prohibitions and thus whether it is reasonable to demand that others abide by them. I think secular rule is required for the existence of religious liberty. Otherwise you can move to a Muslim nation where they force their religion on everyone, and if you manage to make a country where they force your religion on everyone then I will not live there – not peaceably.

(Mitchell W McKain) #58

Your use of the term “secularism” goes very very far from my definition of the term “secular.” What can I do in order to understand what you are talking about except go to the dictionary. Google gives “the principle of separation of the state from religious institutions.” Accordingly I can only applaud that this has run rampant in the 20th century and before because I don’t want your religion or Islam or some other religion running either my city, my state, or my country. Perhaps that is not what you are talking about, though apart from the dictionary I can only guess at your meaning.

So here is a guess. My guess is that when you talk of “secularism running rampant” by secularism you mean something like the term “godlessness” in the Bible, which seems to be a synonym for being without a moral compass of any kind to take what you want without respect for property and the well being of others. Though in this case I would guess you are equivocating a bit so that anything deviating from your personal set of rules is equated with that kind of lawlessness. I cannot see this as anything but a pretext for forcing your religion on other people. Anyway, at the very least, this is the sort of confusion which arises when you do not define your terms. It is precisely why we need the distinction between what science and objective evidence can determine is truly harmful to others so that we can make people keep their personal ideas and moral fetishes to themselves and leave other people alone.

(Robin) #59

“Secular state” would, I suppose, be a better term. But there is really no such thing as value-free or nothing being influenced by the philosophies or morals of another. Even wanting people to keep hands-off with their “personal set of rules” is a value judgment.

(Mervin Bitikofer) #60

I started a (now locked) thread many moons ago where we hashed through some of this … though there too we would probably run afoul of your charge that terms are still left ill-defined or undefined. Nonetheless, I’m curious if you’ve read what Leslie Newbigin has written on the subject?