My Dissapointment with the Matt Dillahunty and Jordan Peterson Discussion

Since writing this article, Matt Dillahunty has released his reflections on the discussion. I’ve revisited the dialogue here in light of his comments.

I recently listened to the Matt Dillahunty and Jordan Peterson’s Pangburn Philosophy sponsored discussion and was extremely disappointed by it. The discussion represented something that has become commonplace in the secular movement when prominent thinkers attempt to discuss religion: there is a full stop at the question of the existence of God. This is unbelievably stifling and, frankly, uninteresting for (at least a few) reasons I will outline below. After a brief interchange with Dillahunty himself about this, I am still rather unsatisfied by his responses to my questions. He welcomed an email from me, and I will update you all when I hear his response.

As a precursor for my exposition below, I just want to give a brief description of my history with religion and religious people, specifically Christianity and Christians, to show that my ideas are not, indeed, foreign either to the study of this religion or these religious people themselves. Dillahunty had charged that I sounded like a person who has never talked with a fundamentalist or Evangelical Christian. In fact the truth is the opposite: these are the people I have known my whole life, and many friends of mine still live within both traditions. I grew up in a small town of 2,000 people in northwestern Indiana: a rural, mostly farmland community where 90% of the population was conservative, Christian, and Republican. I still attend a church there sometimes, although I live near Indianapolis now, and consider myself a secular humanist. I also attended a small, private Christian University (Anderson University in Indiana) to study philosophy and theology (although they cut their philosophy program my fourth year there and I dropped out). I attend seminary courses at the Christian Theological Seminary in Indianapolis in my free time and anticipate enrolling in their MTS program in the coming months. I like to, as Christopher Hitchens used to say, keep two sets of books. Though I’m a secular humanist, I am fascinated by belief in God and have a deep desire to understand it.

This is where the recent discussion comes in. It seems like the secular humanist movement really needs to get beyond the question of whether God exists, mainly because this question assumes it understands what religious people mean when they talk about the “existence” of God. I just want to briefly suggest here how difficult it is to understand what is meant by the “existence of God,” or the meaning of faith by referring to the ideas of a few prominent theologians.

The theologian Rudolf Bultmann wrote on the difference between talking about God and talking from the existential reality of God, effectively claiming that the person of faith can never talk about God (positing God as an object outside herself to be comprehended), but that for religious people God is something like the “Wholly Other” that exceeds all language and thought. Consequently, for him faith means “the abandonment of man’s own security and the readiness to find security only in the unseen beyond, in God.” This is a far cry away from the notion that religious people have some kind of rational grounding for believing in God, or that the average religious person strives to do so. The language Bultmann uses suggests an entirely different grammar from the logic of rationality.

Similarly, Paul Tillich defines faith as “ultimate concern.” As JBH commentates, “While faith may certainly involve rationality and emotion, for Tillich it transcends them both without destroying either, thereby overcoming the gap between subjectivity and objectivity.” Continuing, for Tillich, “God functions as the most fundamental symbol for ultimate concern. Regardless of whether one accepts or rejects ‘God,’ the symbol of God is always affirmed insofar God is a type of shorthand for what concerns humanity ultimately.” Here again, we find a robust definition of faith and belief which goes beyond the understanding that belief is merely the acceptance of a proposition without evidence. It is an open question, given Tillich’s understanding, whether faith can be obtained through reason, or whether faith itself provides a logic of its own for interpreting the world and its events.

Indeed, Friedrich Schleiermacher, the father of modern liberal theology, writes in his book to “Religion’s Cultured Despisers” that faith is different from physics, ethics, and art. This Christian thinker understands religious doctrines and dogmas as contemplations of a feeling of ultimate dependence on the universe. Schleiermacher recognizes that this exposition of religious language, as an expression of a certain feeling, puts it in a distinct discourse: “Religion, however loudly it may demand back all those well abused conceptions, leaves your physics untouched, and please God, also your psychology.” He goes on, in this light, to describe the uses of religious terms. A “miracle” is “simply the religious name for an event.” A “revelation” is every “original and new communication of the Universe to man.” I take this to mean that when language gives perspective to life, then it is revelatory language. He also makes a distinction between true belief and false belief: “Not every person has religion who believes in a sacred writing, but only the man who has a lively and immediate understanding of it, and who, therefore, so far as he himself is concerned, could most easily do without it.” Although Schleiermacher calls “God” and “immortality” ideas as opposed to feelings, he points to “God” as a unifying concept “in whom alone the particular thing is one and all.” “Is not God the highest, the only unity?” “And if you see the world as a Whole, a Universe, can you do it otherwise than in God?” With this kind of talk, we secular humanists are certainly standing on a strange continent. Yet we should not turn around, now, and give over thinking to cliches about what “God” or “faith” or “religion” must mean, but we should explore the jungles of religious thought in hopes to find what is worthwhile and intelligible, for in either case we learn about the common humanity that connects us all, whether secular or religious.

With a few questions, let’s further free our minds from the prejudices derived from overly simplistic understandings of religious belief and think for a second about what it would mean for religious people to understand God as a being like other beings. It would mean that fundamentalists themselves would say that we can get closer to God depending on where we stand on the earth, that we could see God if we had better qualities of perception, that we could hear God if our auditory system was more powerful. But this isn’t what even fundamentalists claim. They’ll say God is everywhere. And we have to take that seriously. God isn’t a being like other beings (see the debates surrounding the analogia entis).

You might ask why listen to the major thinkers of theology when we can ask everyday believers what their belief means. This is an important question and bears more attention than it has received. This is a question the philosopher of religion D. Z. Phillips took up in The Concept of Prayer. Just because someone knows how to paint, it doesn’t follow that they have anything to say about art theory. Just because a religious person prays, it doesn’t follow that they have some kind of robust understanding of prayer or can articulate it with symbols other than those passed onto them. Daniel Dennett makes this wonderful distinction between having competence in a game and comprehending the game (many pragmatist philosophers of language do as well, such as Robert Brandom in Making It Explicit). I can be competent at playing guitar, for instance, but it doesn’t follow that I comprehend what I’m doing when I play guitar: that I know what the chord names are or I know how to place musical symbols on a scale and write a song with notation. In the same way, not all religious people comprehend the meaning of their beliefs, although they are competent actors within the rituals and systems of discourse in their communities. So a discussion with the actors who are competent religious actors and comprehend religion’s history is paramount for understanding it. This, I think, is the import of Peterson’s point that Sam Harris doesn’t reference Eliade (virtually the founder of religious studies) once in his works.

Another point that D. Z. Phillips made over and over in his career is that distinct discourses (or “language games”) can infect each other, and this infection can either undermine discourses or revolutionize them. The undermining process occurs when the logic of one discourse (say science) is used to interpret the surface grammar[1] of another discourse (say religion), so that even religious believers begin to use scientific logic to think about their beliefs, despite this logic being foreign to their beliefs. So the problem with being a competent actor who does not also comprehend the discourse she participates in is that she is susceptible to this undermining. It creates cognitive dissonance. I think this happens a lot to religious people. And examples of this undermining can be seen when faith is reduced to the shallow understanding of belief (the acceptance of propositions without evidence), when God is reduced to a being (existing somewhere), and religious practices are reduced to their social benefits.

The secular humanist movement would be better off, especially in its relation to religious people and its understanding of religion and religious belief, if it sidestepped the question of the existence of God and asked what it means to say that God exists and what it means to believe or have faith in God. It seems to me that this change of emphasis must be granted purely out of the principles of charity and skepticism; the principle of charity because to arrive at a position about religion and religious belief, we have to engage with the best religious thinkers who do ask these questions; and from the principles of skepticism because we have to be skeptical of our own assumptions and ideas about what religion and religious belief are.

As we have seen, the father of modern liberal theology Friedrich Schleiermacher wrote on the relation between religion and the sciences and arts. And I think his answers still have pertinence  today. Is faith a feeling of ultimate dependence? Is “miracle” the religious word for any event, and the more religious you are the more miracles you see? Do religious beliefs, in fact, have nothing to do with ethics and physics, as he claims? These are open questions, I think, and can’t be answered just by taking a small sample size, as Dillahunty seems to do, of a small movement, of a relatively new branch of Christianity at its word (fundamentalist Southern Baptists, for instance). A certain sect’s view of theology isn’t necessarily the majority Christian view, nor is it the most traditionally representative. For instance, the Americas only house about a third of the world’s Christians, and at least half of the world’s Christians are Catholic. Why not engage with the thoughts of someone like the Catholic thinkers Karl Rahner or Thomas Aquinas?

As the theologian Paul Tillich defined faith as “ultimate concern,” a disposition toward reality as a whole shaped by an ultimate concern (for instance, maybe that being is good despite suffering), and another important theologian said that beliefs are the “thoughts of faith,” we can begin to see how the question of “what do you believe” is a little misleading and unhelpful for us who want to understand religion. The beliefs of religious people seem to be expressions of a disposition toward life as a whole, and aren’t themselves what is worthy of worship (the Reformers for instance distinguished between the letter of the Bible and the Spirit of the Word). Let’s therefore draw a distinction between faith and belief. Belief is an expression of faith and does not ground it. Our questions should be directed toward the lived reality and experiences indicative of faith rather than the propositions of belief. Wittgenstein once said that the concept “God” is something like the concept “object,” in that it is a basic concept for a way of conceiving the basic things in reality. I think it would be fascinating to explore the ways in which the word “God” is similar to that of “object,” for in answering that we might actually articulate an authentic abstraction of religious belief and, perhaps, distill the meaning of faith.

Why fixate on the question of the existence of God when even in theological circles it is a cliche that people do not come to faith through rational argument and, in philosophical theology, there is a distinction made between the God of the philosophers (something like the first mover, the idea greater than that which can be conceived, etc.) and the God of religion (who is worthy of worship, the God of love and hope and freedom, etc.)? Why argue against a God not worth believing in, even by religious standards (and quite likely nobody believes in), and not try to articulate the God who religious people put their faith in? It seems like the major thinkers in the secular humanist movement have done next to no homework on the variety of religious experiences and the different conceptions of religious belief and ritual (as these have been explored extensively in religious studies), and the secular humanist movement suffers for it. If indeed it is possible that the grammar of religious language differs from the logic of rationality, it seems absurd to dismiss it out of hand as not worthy of discussion or serious thought. It seems we have a long way to go before we can actually mount a criticism of religion, because we have yet to understand it. And I’m not advocating here for a distinction between the facts of religion and the values of religion, for us to see the social or psychological benefits or ill effects of religious belief, but an investigation into the phenomenology of religious experiences, and the kinds of experiences and the kinds of thinking that religious belief expresses.

I hope this makes some sense and that I have presented my question sufficiently enough (though of course not comprehensively) so that where I’m coming from might be at least basically understood. Is my concern here unfounded? Does the secular humanist movement have no more work to do in the realm of understanding religion, and the only work before it is to deny and refute it at every turn? Might there be a possibility for building bridges, to recognize the possibility that our common humanity might allow for different dispositions toward the world, and that understanding these differences might allow us all to work together better?

 


 

[1]  Some Wittgensteinians draw a distinction between “surface” and “depth” grammar. The surface grammar is the way the grammar of a statement appears to a person. So the surface grammar of “God is in heaven” appears for many nonreligious people as the same as the depth grammar of “Mom is in the kitchen.” Depth grammar is the intended logic that underlies a statement and motivates inferences and conclusions from that statement. So the depth grammar of “Mom is in the kitchen” could be something like “Dinner will be ready soon” or “Mom is not in the living room, basement, upstairs, etc.” The question I am raising here is something like: The surface grammar of the statement “God is in heaven” misleads us to think religious people are making an empirical claim when the depth grammar might mean something like “Come what may, existence is good.”

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Co-Founder | Reason Revolution
The main project Tylor has been working on is formulating an account of meaning that takes into account Heidegger‘s existentialism, Wittgenstein’s philosophy of language, Brandom‘s pragmatism, and Jung’s psychology.
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19 replies
  1. Tom Collins
    Tom Collins says:

    You contend that atheists need to engage more seriously with the thoughtful theologians, or at least with Jordan Peterson. You limit the engagement to “the god of religion” rather than “the god of the philosophers,” suggesting that it’s pointless to argue about the latter because “quite likely nobody believes in” it.

    Judging from what I’ve seen of his call-in show, Matt Dillahunty usually spends his time conversing with average everyday Christians, most of whom lack the theological background to name an idea affiliated with Tillich, Bultmann or anyone else mentioned in your post. While I take your point about extending a charitable hermeneutic, believers are almost uniformly predictable in their approach to conversations with atheists, and the claims they make are usually quite straightforward: “God exists. The Bible is the word of God. Jesus was born of a virgin and died for our sins. These things are literally true, and the way I know that is that I just know it.” It is also the believer who routinely brings the conversation to “the god of the philosophers” by trying to make the non-believer responsible to answer every difficult cosmological question they can come up with. To which a Dillahunty justifiably replies, “I don’t have the answers. You think you do, so let’s talk about why you think so.”

    I think it ultimately just has to be asked this directly: Schleiermacher said this and that about religious language. Practically speaking, so what? What is the relationship of abstruse theology with everyday believers? As a non-believer, it mostly strikes me as a huge misuse of mentation.

    You’re introducing these notions that, for example, faith means ultimate concern and miracle means event. To engage those concepts seriously, first of all, you have to be talking with someone who believes them. I didn’t hear Peterson, for example, asking to debate the finer points of Schleiermacher. Say we get William Lane Craig to drop the smarmy debate team captain shtick and give us a great breakdown of all these concepts you touched on. He isn’t speaking for any believers but himself, right? Will his interpretations of the theologians change anything about our future conversations about religion?

    If a believer says to me “I have faith in God,” and I respond, “the person of faith can never talk about God (positing God as an object outside herself to be comprehended), but for religious people God is something like the ‘Wholly Other’ that exceeds all language and thought. Consequently, for him faith means ‘the abandonment of man’s own security and the readiness to find security only in the unseen beyond, in God,’” this will be reacted to as me putting words in their mouth — and rightly so, because who are we to tell them that we know the actual ‘deep’ meaning of their words, while they’re too thick to know more than the ‘surface’ meaning of them? If a theologian gets to play this translation game with a believer’s words, then a non-believer should also get to play it (e.g., “when you say that Heaven is real, you actually mean that you can’t accept the idea that good deeds might go unrewarded.”)

    Try to even imagine that the next Christian you randomly meet at a bus station or somewhere will cheerfully agree that his statement “God is in heaven” actually just means “existence is good.” Dollars to donuts he will say thanks but no thanks, I meant what I said and I meant it literally. Because if the words do actually have the same meaning, we could clear up ambiguity by replacing one with the other and talking, for example, about events instead of miracles, and ultimate concern instead of faith. Christians are going to resist that as reductionism on the grounds that there is still some ineffable meaning in a word like “faith” that isn’t done justice by the language change, no? I don’t see that ineffable thing, and it’s around this point that I start to suspect a big shell game being played to shift the onus of meaningfully answering difficult questions.

  2. Thomas
    Thomas says:

    I agree it was frustrating to watch Jordan and Mark talk past each other. It seems to me that every debate between a theist and an atheist is something similar to the following.
    Atheist. 1+1=2
    Theist. Yes 1+1=2 but also 1+2+3=1is something you should consider.
    Atheist. Well I don’t see why 1+2+3=1 has anything to do with the fact that 1+1=2 is and is sufficient for me.
    Theist. Well that’s fine if you want to stop there but there is more complexity to math than 1+1=2…etc.

  3. Tom
    Tom says:

    I read your article, and I was extremely disappointed by it. Here’s why…

    1) God is “Wholly Other,” exceeding language and thought. Then what is there to talk about, if God is beyond language and thought?

    2) Faith (and the symbol God) is “ultimate concern,” which you find a “robust definition of faith and belief.” Nonsense. Even if all of humanity could agree upon what is of “ultimate concern,” you still haven’t defined faith or belief in these terms. One can believe something without it being an ultimate concern. And if both faith and belief mean the same thing, then we can dispense with one of the two words without consequence.

    3) A “feeling of ultimate dependence on the universe.” That’s not profound, nor a feeling – that’s simple fact. Without a physical universe, we would not be here.

    4) “Miracle” is synonymous with “event.” Then why use the word “miracle,” when we have a perfectly adequate word “event” that doesn’t come loaded with other baggage? On second thought, shouting, “It’s a miracle!” when I stub my toe might have a certain comic value when describing that event.

    5) “Revelation” is the universe communicating to man. This is either so broadly defined as to be useless, or so narrowly defined as to be absurd. The universe “communicates” with us via electromagnetic waves, sound waves, etc., picked up by our senses. So what? This does not mean the universe “communicates” by whispering in our ear, giving us cosmic insights and ideas from distant planets, black holes, empty space, conscious agents without physical bodies or brains, etc. That’s a whole other claim, one which would need to be demonstrated.

    6) God is a unifying idea or concept. Really? Theologies have had millennia to unify around the concept of God, including religious wars, church divarication, endless theological disputes around doctrine, philosophy, etc., with no unification in sight. When will this God concept unify everyone?

    7) “God isn’t a being like other beings,” presupposes there is a God who is a being, but that being exists as something we can’t fully appreciate or describe other than via analogy. But you have to first demonstrate that God is a being, before you can speculate as to whether that being can only be appreciated through anologia entis. Otherwise, you are just making another claim that “God is a being” or “Leprechauns are Irish” or “Unicorns have one horn,” none of which has any real bases outside of our imaginations.

    8) The major thinkers of theology are no more unified in their beliefs than the everyday believers, all with their own definitions of God and faith. You assume there are “competent religious actors” who actually understand religion. Why, because they agree with you? And those who don’t are, obviously, incompetent? This is the no true Scotsman fallacy writ large. You said early in your article, “I just want to briefly suggest here how difficult it is to understand what is meant by the “existence of God,” or the meaning of faith by referring to the ideas of a few prominent theologians.” But if even “prominent” theologians can’t reach the same conclusion, then who are the “competent religious actors?” Is the Pope a “competent religious actor?” If so, do his recent comments on hell supersede longstanding Catholic teachings?

    9) Sam Harris doesn’t reference Eliade. This is an appeal to authority fallacy. Not all who read Mircea Eliade need be convinced of his philosophy in whole or in part, as is evident from the number of detractors. Peterson doesn’t know whether or not Harris has read Eliade, where Harris agrees or doesn’t on any given topic, and whether or not Eliade was objectively correct in his philosophy concerning any given point of contention.

    10) Sidestepping the existence of God to ask what it means to say God exists is simply changing the question from an empirical one (God actually exists in reality independent of human minds, like stars, planets, and the material universe), to a psychological one (God only exists in the minds of some people as an abstract concept, an idea, much like Santa Clause). The belief of Santa’s existence may persuade some children to be nice rather than naughty, but if Santa doesn’t really exist, then he has no moral authority and we can’t ask him to settle ethical disputes. Thus, Santa’s nonexistence makes him irrelevant to any conversation regarding morality.

    11) “Why not engage with the thoughts of someone like the Catholic thinkers Karl Rahner or Thomas Aquinas?” Why not convince the other half of non-Catholic Christians to get on the same page first, before demanding Dillahunty address Catholics? (Which, by the way, he has – see Dillahunty vs. Father Hans Jacobse.) And did Karl Rahner agree with everything Aquinas said? If yes, then we don’t need Rahner, we only need Aquinas. If no, then which authority do you appeal to?

    12) “It seems like the major thinkers in the secular humanist movement have done next to no homework on the variety of religious experiences and the different conceptions of religious belief and ritual (as these have been explored extensively in religious studies), and the secular humanist movement suffers for it.” Nonsense. It is BECAUSE many in the secular humanist movement HAVE done their homework and realized the ridiculous and incompatible range of religious experiences and their myriad religious beliefs that many have thrown in the towel and dismiss all clamoring claims of religious superiority of one over the other as just mere noise. I would challenge you to imagine putting the 12 best religious thinkers you can imagine representing a fair variety of world religions (Christian, Muslim, Hindu, etc.) locked in a room together, only released upon the unanimous agreement of defining God, Faith, Heaven, Hell, etc. Good luck with that.

    13) “Does the secular humanist movement have no more work to do in the realm of understanding religion, and the only work before it is to deny and refute it at every turn?” No one that I know of denies “religion,” only the unsubstantiated claims of many religious believers. If you want to redefine “God” as “ultimate concern” and “miracle” as “event,” then you have an uphill battle with the majority of religious advocates.

    14) “Might there be a possibility for building bridges, to recognize the possibility that our common humanity might allow for different dispositions toward the world, and that understanding these differences might allow us all to work together better?” It is not a possibility that humans have “different dispositions” to the world, it is empirical fact. Acknowledging that we have differences in no way guarantees we can work better together – and in fact, sometimes our differences, if irreconcilable, means we do better a part (which is why many marriages end in divorce). The way forward is to agree on reality, to base our common understanding on fact rather than fiction. That will allow us to work together better – not our differences.

    Religious claims are a dime-a-dozen. Believing that Harris, Dillahunty, et al., haven’t done their homework to appreciate the diversity of religious thought is pure hubris on the part of Peterson and those who think like him. Does this mean they’ve read the exact same studies, authors, etc. as Peterson? No, of course not. No two people have. But what Dillahunty and Peterson can agree upon is that religious claims are a dime-a-dozen. They just both have very different takes as to what this means.

  4. John Boettcher
    John Boettcher says:

    This is a wonderful piece! It articulates some of my own feelings on the subject in a clearer manor than I have been able to express. As well as opening my eyes to knew unexplored ideas. Thank you! My only wish is that you could have a discussion with Jordan about this subject as it seems it would be more enlightening.

  5. Paul J Evans
    Paul J Evans says:

    Jordan Peterson falls under the category of Phenomenology, watching part of the debate between JBP and MD, confirmed that for me. Which few people have an understanding of, at least not the common person and most atheist don’t even consider it. Jordan Peterson when he was discussing the issue of drugs he was coming from a phenomenological perspective. Matthew Dillahunty, as far as I can tell, has no education on that subject and since he is strictly a naturalist (non-supernatural beliefs), phenomenology would offer a strong punch against that concept. Phenomenology deals with concepts of Perception and the acts that a person expresses through the phenomenon; which would completely fall out of the purview of naturalism.

    Jordan Peterson’s study of Psychology fits very well within the scope of phenomenology since he has read a vast number of individuals who would classify themselves as phenomenologists, such as Jung, Nietzsche, and Dostevesky.

    The Atheist who are discussing these issues, and I am arriving at this conclusion more and more, are vastly ignorant of the intellect within the Theological Debate, and many modern Apologists are just as ignorant.

  6. Paul H VanderKlay
    Paul H VanderKlay says:

    Thanks Tylor for this piece. I thought it was helpful. My peacemaker tendencies have long wanted to work on helping people who can’t in this moment profess conventional Christian beliefs still explore belonging in the Christian community. Given the enormous diversity of explanations of belief found throughout the history of the church it seems possible to flex enough to allow room for atheist others within. That flexing naturally leads us to ask “then what really IS faith?”

    Watching JBP and Dillahunty talk past each other for so long was painful. I felt a similar thing watching JBP and William Lane Craig talk past each other. Your piece was stimulating or at least stimulated ME! 🙂

    • Kyle knight
      Kyle knight says:

      VANDERKLAY!!! I poke around to find other people who have commented on the things you commented on, only to find you have already commented on those commentaries. Thanks

  7. Peter Zachos
    Peter Zachos says:

    It seems to me that all you have argued with this article is that religious faith/belief and the understanding of what “god” is to the faithful is ever obscured, concealed, confused and adumbrated hazily to the point of unintelligibility….. not simply because no concordance can be found amongst believers as to what “god” is, but crucially BECAUSE this is the only realm in which such an unintelligible concept can flourish.

    That is the point that the Dillahunty’s of the world seek to impress by stridently keeping the focus on existence. Pragmastists and methodological naturalists do not claim that gods must be viewed as all other beings (as, in your example, in relation to yourself on the planet, whether up, down, east or west, etc.) Instead, simply present your view as to what sort of being this is, and explain how that relates to existence and the essence of being in the first place. And if your contention is that the final answer is ultimately incomprehensible by humanity, explain then the grounds for believing outright what you can’t comprehend.

    • Tylor Lovins
      Tylor Lovins says:

      Hey Peter! Thanks for the comment!

      I’m not sure I argued that the only realm in which the notion of “God” is intelligible is the religious, because, although I don’t think its meaning has been adequately delineated in the secular world, it still might be. My argument that religious discourse has its own grammar and logic is simply pushback against the popular move to reduce the logic and grammar of religious expressions to pseudo-scientific ones.

      I think you’ve actually stated quite nicely the problem central to Dillahunty’s method: in the requirement that religious people “simply present” their view “as to what sort of being this is…” we have already asked a question foreign to religion. I think it’s important to consider what kind of discourse we are participating in when we ask the question of the existence of God, and whether we have already exited the religious discourse when we ask such a question. I’m not saying this question is therefore senseless or won’t illuminate anything important about belief or faith in God, but it’s certainly a question that must come after we have some kind of idea as to what is meant religiously by the existence of God in the first place.

      At any rate, I appreciate you reading this article Peter and I think you’ve asked a good, clarifying question here.

      • Peter Zachos
        Peter Zachos says:

        >>>”My argument that religious discourse has its own grammar and logic is simply pushback against the popular move to reduce the logic and grammar of religious expressions to pseudo-scientific ones.”

        Which is precisely why it’s so important to get clarity on definitions: grammar is only useful to humans if the noises we make into the ether are understood by others. A word is simply an audible placeholder for a concept, and if the word you say points to the same concept that I think the word points to, we can communicate! (Case in point, you read and understood my post enough to reply to it, and I am now replying to your reply. This would have proven truly difficult if you were using an entirely different grammar, especially one you just made up.)

        The problem, then, is when words not only point to obscure and ill-defined concepts, but when the concepts are purposefully obscured in order to avoid having to deal with logical examination. Remember, Tylor…. logic is not this “thing” out there that resides in all parts of the universe. It’s just a structural tool, like math, only instead of plugging numbers into it, we plug language, in an effort to see if our language is consistent, valid and sound. Religious discourse has its own grammar? Fine… I accept that. What, in this grammar, does this word or that word mean? If you have no answer, you have no grammar, you’re just obscuring.

        >>>”in the requirement that religious people “simply present” their view ‘as to what sort of being this is…’ we have already asked a question foreign to religion.”

        Nonsense. What makes you say that? Who wrote that rule? Where is it stated? Is it something you just think? Or is it in the bible? Because when I, and also millions of adults and children, are proselytized to, the language used is making quite confident statements about the actual nature of things and the existence of gods. Existence and its presentation in that proselytizing is presented as not-at-all foreign.

        I think it’s clear that what is foreign to religion is any stable and consistent notion of what “exist” means, along with many other words.

        “I think it’s important to consider what kind of discourse we are participating in when we ask the question of the existence of God”

        Okay, but what made you conclude that a skeptic who is asking whether gods exist hasn’t considered the discourse? And what of it, anyway? Here’s an issue: when someone asks you a question, it’s bad form to choose the kind of “discourse” that that question resides in. You’re of course free to ignore the question, or just straight up leave the conversation. In fact, you’re even free to assume and misapply an incorrect discourse to the question that’s not what the fellow intended. Where does that get you? All it does it obscure and slow down the dialogue. This all sounds like a lot of excuse-making by believers who understand that they don’t have a satisfactory answer to the question.

        Thank you for your reply. ~ Peter Z.

        • Peter Zachos
          Peter Zachos says:

          (realizing ad hoc, in the context of my previous post, I made many allusions to “you” in examples and my intentions in those statements are a generalized “you”, as in “we” or “everyone.” Not you, Tylor Lovins. I’m sorry if that didn’t come through clearly.)

          • Peter Zachos
            Peter Zachos says:

            (realizing post hoc that my previous statement of “realizing ad hoc” was supposed to be “post hoc.” Praise comment thread tools that don’t allow editing!)

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