David Bentley Hart at Biola

David Bentley Hart’s lectures at Biola University’s 2013 Art Symposium. I posted the first a few months ago. But all three are worth watching. I think starting with the second lecture on violence makes a better introduction to the first.

Beauty, Being, and Kenosis: the Aesthetics of the Incarnation

Beauty, Form, and Violence

Being, Consciousness, Bliss: Beauty as Knowledge of God

34 comments on “David Bentley Hart at Biola

  1. Jeff says:

    At the beginning of the 2nd lecture, Hart speaks of the radical claim that creation is a “peaceful” donation of “being to being.” Then he says, “whether that’s plausible or not …” and then moves on. Here is the heart of the issue. It’s NOT plausible, in two senses.

    First, it’s not plausible in the sense that there is no extra-scriptural evidence that there ever was such a “peaceful” state of affairs. This is completely irrelevant, however, if scriptural history provides the only plausible explanations for certain major historical events. And this happens to be the case.

    Second, it’s not plausible because apart from such a “peaceful” donation of “being to being,” there is no way of accounting for the intelligibility of “plausibility.” This is because apart from being designed to BE satisfied, even inductive criteria are merely arbitrary.

    Relevant to both of the above senses is the claim that the available data indicates that the earth was a very non-peaceful environment long before humans appeared on it. This is, however, is based on a misunderstanding of the nature of inductive evidence. Per induction, there are only criteria for the relative plausibility (which is what “evidence” is about) for EXPLANATIONS. Those criteria for explanations have to do with the parsimony and breadth of explanations.

    But there is NO explanation of the currently-observed relative ordering of earth’s biota (I say “currently-observed,” because observed stratigraphic ranges of species, etc constantly changes with new fossil finds). This is because the contingencies of fossilization (taphonomy), population density and geographic extent (and, therefore, the spatial density of fossils), and subsequent preservation (from erosion, etc) are such that one has to make ridiculously over-simplified assumptions to assume that humanly-observed fossil succession has anything to do with existential ranges of species, etc. Indeed, no one has ever even explained the current sediment distribution with any plausibility whatsoever, much less its fossil content.

    What, then, is going on when humans assume that ridiculously over-simplified assumptions can be both warranted AND indicative of the falsehood of a “peaceful donation of being to being,” is pure, unadulterated INCOHERENT thinking. The latter rules out the conceivability of plausibility/warranted belief, in the first place. But more to the point, ridiculously over-simplified assumptions are, by definition, a-plausible. Indeed, fossil finds have already extended observed stratigraphic range increases well beyond any ability to account for consistently with such over-simplified assumptions.

    As Michael Benton etal admitted (in http://www.academia.edu/450680/Assessing_the_quality_of_the_fossil_record_Insights_from_vertebrates):


    Assessing the quality of the fossil record is notoriously hard, and many recent attempts have used sampling proxies that can be questioned… A single answer to the question of whether the fossil record is driven by macroevolution or megabias is unlikely ever to emerge because of temporal, geographical, and taxonomic variance in the data.

    So the argument seems to go like this:

    1) If I’m not intentionally designed to be satisfied, there is no reason to believe I’m designed to infer aright.

    2) If I’m not designed to infer aright (with warrant/plausibility), plausibility is unintelligible.

    3) If I’m not a creation that, as such, was originally hoped to experience a “peaceful” donation of “being to being,” then using 1) and 2), plausibility is unintelligible.

    4) Given the radical contingencies of merely empirical data (see Benton etal’s statements above), there is NO inductively plausible way to ascertain the past relative ordering of species such that we can plausibly rule out a creation consistent with a “peaceful donation of being to being.”

    5) Conclusion: The minute I proceed to contend for a position with an inferred “other,” I’m implicitly acknowledging the existence of a peace-loving creator of myself.


    • Jeff says:

      I quoted Benton etal to the effect that

      “A single answer to the question of whether the fossil record is driven by macroevolution or megabias is unlikely ever to emerge because of temporal, geographical, and taxonomic variance in the data.”

      It is important to realize that what they’re saying there about macroevolution is IDENTICALLY applicable to the notion of successive creations over relatively long periods of time. It’s just that scientists don’t articulate that since they don’t even consider non-naturalistic scenarios in their research.


  2. tgbelt says:

    What Hart means is that GOD himself IS that peaceful state of affairs and that God AS THIS PEACE is the unchanging, transcendent ground of all created being. That’s what is meant by an ‘ontology of peace’. However violent creation becomes, that never determines what GOD IS essentially and necessarily. An ‘ontology of violence’ on the other hand insists that violence play a necessary and determining role in the achieving of creation’s perfection via the determination of divine being by violence. Violence shares in, has a proper contribution to make to, the explication of ‘the Beautiful’ in created being. There are so-called Christian versions of the latter (Moltmann, Boyd, others we could name), but that wasn’t the Christian story from the start, and Hart isn’t going to grant that these later views are ‘Christian’ in the proper sense.


    • Jeff says:

      To be a ground of something, is to be part or all of the explanation of that something, if that something is contingent. It does no good to posit a peacefulness of God san creation if it doesn’t play INTO God’s intentions for creation. So the problem always ends up being an epistemological one, just as the EO seem to realize. Greg seems to be right that the epistemic distance that was originally intended must be consistent with libertarian choice AND the ability to KNOW what outcomes are probable/plausible.

      What is pertinent is that sufficient certainty in inferences requires a belief in a benevolent God. And, seemingly, a belief in a benevolent God is either absolutely fundamental, at the propositional level, or else a benevolent God is seen as the only explanation/ground OF any inferential “warranted” belief at all, as Hart has admitted elsewhere.

      I take the latter approach. And that approach seems to imply that God could not have created with original epistemic distance being as large as it is now unless we want to additionally posit that either:

      1) infant death is as inevitable as it seems, but God couldn’t avoid it


      2) infant death isn’t inevitable.

      I have problems with both of those. I don’t see how my approach is discernibly less plausible than either of those. Indeed, once you posit creatio continua, 1) seems a-plausible.


      • Jeff says:

        For clarification, I contend that infant death, etc, was not inevitable in the original, sufficiently-peaceful creation (which had lower epistemic distance). But it is inevitable NOW.


      • Jeff says:

        I mentioned “extra-scriptural” evidence above. I say that because I think that once you realize that scripture, QUA scripture (including its claimed divine authorship), provides the only plausible explanation for the rise of Christianity in the Roman empire and the non-gradual collapse of the Old Egyptian Kingdom (http://www.biblicalchronologist.org/index.php) and subsequent events, scripture QUA scripture is evidential in the sense that it has been corroborated inductively. Thus, whatever scripture says about the original creation is evidential in that sense. I.e., to the extent that it aligns with what seem to be necessary truths, with no less plausibility than other conceivable alternatives, it abides as a basis for evidence for its other historical claims.


      • tgbelt says:

        J: I mentioned “extra-scriptural” evidence above. I say that because I think that once you realize that scripture, QUA scripture (including its claimed divine authorship), provides the only plausible explanation for the rise of Christianity in the Roman empire and the non-gradual collapse of the Old Egyptian Kingdom and subsequent events, scripture QUA scripture is evidential in the sense that it has been corroborated inductively. Thus, whatever scripture says about the original creation is evidential in that sense. I.e., to the extent that it aligns with what seem to be necessary truths, with no less plausibility than other conceivable alternatives, it abides as a basis for evidence for its other historical claims.

        T: Let’s grant all that, Jeff. There are still problems. One is that this doesn’t tell us how to determine “what scripture is saying” about the original creation. Even if we agreed that what it says ought to be trusted. Do you think Scripture’s proven trustworthiness implies a literal hermeneutic? I don’t. A second problem is that it’s not impossible to suppose that Scripture is truthful enough in its description of events (Old and New Testament, but mainly those centered on Jesus) to explain its rise as a persecuted minority in the face of a declining empire. The advantages of monotheism per se (esp. the of the Jewish sort) and then later the events of Christ’s life seem in themselves quite power without having to suppose Genesis be read literally as incompatible with evolution.


  3. tgbelt says:

    Hart’s clear on what he means by ontology of peace vs ontology of violence. Going with the former doesn’t commit one to denying other things you mention, like God’s being benevolent and having exclusively benevolent intentions for creation. Nobody’s positing an ontology of peace that doesn’t play into God’s intentions for creation. And affirming an ontology of peace doesn’t commit one to denying epistemic distance as definitive of libertarian freedom. The EO wouldn’t disagree with this at all. Quite the contrary.

    How this plays out in evolutionary vs non-evolutionary theories of origins might be what’s frustrating you. Are you thinking that holding to an ontology of peace commits one to a particular theory of human origins (on that does not entail inevitable infant death for example)? It doesn’t. Hart holds to evolutionary science, to original mortality, and to the prevalence of natural catastrophes (mudslides killing infants), etc. I’m sure he realizes this involves something like the kind of inevitable vulnerability to horrors that Adams talks about. This doesn’t impinge upon an ontology of peace. The peace vs violence talk with respect to ontology describes transcendent vs non-transcendent peace of divine being relative to whatever kind of created ontology obtains.


    • Jeff says:

      T: This doesn’t impinge upon an ontology of peace.

      J: But what I’m saying is that there is no INDUCTIVE evidence for what he “holds to” precisely for the reasons Benton etal (quoted above) articulate. And at best, his positings are harder to SQUARE with our intuitive notion of divine benevolence and competence simply because he NEEDS (if his positings are to be taken seriously by others) to explain, consistently with those very historical views you mention, either:

      1) why God simply HAD to create a world where infant death was inevitable (thereby significantly diminishing the possible extent of analogical extrapolation),


      2) why infant death hasn’t been inevitable all along after all.

      That’s quite a task, wouldn’t you agree? See, Tom, I’m not arguing that he’s wrong. I’m arguing that he’s gained nothing by positing–contra otherwise plausible interpretations of scripture–what has no inductive plausibility in the first place since it merely necessitates the need to explain what otherwise didn’t need explaining. When ALL historical scenarios relevant to scriptural exegesis are a-plausible (and they are), there is no epistemological virtue in imposing such constraints ON our exegesis.


      • Jeff says:

        And more to the point, I don’t hold to the view that we are destined to find contradictions, as Kant argued (schizophrenically). So where all we have is coherence but no inductive plausibility, I’m not going to posit that which I can’t explain to just muck the waters up. But that’s what I see many people doing. Now, if the EO see contradictions everywhere in the first place, it’s ALREADY mucked up for them. So why not add to the fury, I guess.

        But I’m not seeing the contradictions they supposedly do. Nor am I seeing plausibility in claiming God can’t create without the inevitability of infant death, nor the plausibility of claiming that infant death is currently not inevitable. The former seems utterly a-plausible to me, and the latter seems utterly IMplausible to me.


      • tgbelt says:

        They don’t see contradictions everywhere. They just believe that divine transcendence means created categories can’t contain God or make God our intellectual property.


  4. Jeff says:

    T: They just believe that divine transcendence means created categories can’t contain God or make God our intellectual property.

    J: That’s certainly true. E.g., we have to just posit certain attributes to God to explain, say, warranted belief, etc. But we can’t know thereby that there’s anything about the godhead or its activity, sans creation, that violates the law of non-contradiction.

    What’s important is that we DO have to posit attributes of God TO account for the existence of warranted belief. And even THEN we end up believing some historical beliefs that are just a-plausible merely to stay coherent. And what Benton etal are admitting is that the notion that the currently observed fossil succession has anything to do with a corresponding existential succession of those species/genera/etc is “unlikely ever to emerge” as actual warranted belief “because of temporal, geographical, and taxonomic variance in the data.”

    Thus, unwarrantedly positing answers to that question which, as a deductive side-effect, impose unnecessary constraints on scriptural exegesis may very well BE a sin. Because it is to exercise a perogative we don’t have if scripture is to be exegeted inductively/parsimoniously. And while Greg does the same thing as Hart, in that regard, Greg’s view (at least past view) about a smaller epistemic distance in the past renders seemingly possible that the whole question about infants never needed an explanation at all. And I doubt that Greg, at the time he discussed epistemic distance issue in his SATPOE, thought it did. So it’s not fair to tie an evolutionary “horror” history to Greg’s views on epistemic distance. They ARE separable even if he didn’t separate them in the way Benton etal imply is possible.


  5. Jeff says:

    Thanks for the link, Tom. But I have problems with both sides of that article, as explained below:

    Article: The God attacked by most modern atheists, Hart argues, is a sort of superhero, a “cosmic craftsman” – the technical term is “demiurge” – whose defining quality is that he’s by far the most powerful being in the universe, or perhaps outside the universe (though it’s never quite clear what that might mean). The superhero God can do anything he likes to the universe, including creating it to begin with. Demolishing this God is pretty straightforward: all you need to do is point to the lack of scientific evidence for his existence, and the fact that we don’t need to postulate him in order to explain how the universe works.

    J: This is what I contend is logically impossible. I will post at the bottom an explanation, which I provided to an inquiring atheist, of why I think that is impossible.

    Article: Some people really do believe in this version of God: supporters of ‘intelligent design’, for example – for whom Hart reserves plenty of scorn –

    J: Most ID’ists would disavow Hart’s claim. THAT God explains more (indeed, the very possibility of inductive science) than the instantiation of specific material composite forms would not be denied by the vast majority of ID’ists.

    Hart: … according to the classical metaphysical traditions of both the East and West, God is the unconditioned cause of reality – of absolutely everything that is – from the beginning to the end of time. Understood in this way, one can’t even say that God “exists” in the sense that my car or Mount Everest or electrons exist. God is what grounds the existence of every contingent thing, making it possible, sustaining it through time, unifying it, giving it actuality. God is the condition of the possibility of anything existing at all.

    J: The problem, here, is that if God doesn’t “exist,” He is not conceivable as a “condition” either. This is the problem with trying to explain anything with that which is posited to transcend our categories. To explain is to imply in a certain way. But nothing that is unintelligible (by virtue of transcending our categories) can explain anything to us.

    The problem, here, like so many others, is created needlessly. All we have to do is limit causality to changes of STATE, and then this unintelligible “cause” of existence per se goes away. For then, existence PER SE doesn’t need an explanation. Then, only CONTINGENT existence needs explanation.

    Here is the part I mentioned above. I wrote it hastily, but you’ll be able to follow it, probably, given our previous discussions:

    V: How would this designer explain the existence of plausible beliefs?

    J: The only plausibility criteria that virtually all humans seem to use at least SOME of the time are inductive criteria. These criteria apply to explanations. They are the criteria of parsimony, breadth of explanation, etc, which are obviously related to human satisfaction (which, btw, most atheists absurdly deny has any relevance to truth whatsoever). This is why analogical explanation is so popular to the human mind — because analogical extrapolation is a way of increasing BREADTH of explanation. But we’ve learned that corroborative tests are necessary to warrant extrapolations to some extent. But of course we couldn’t have learned any such thing apart from foundationalism. For without foundationalism, we don’t even know if real possibilities are limited to logical possibilities (which is what the law of non-contradiction means) or that we remember.

    So let’s think through (which atheists virtually never do, since they can’t seem to be radical skeptics any more than the different brand of theists can) what it means to MERELY eliminate inductive criteria as KNOWLEDGE. We certainly can’t test them. And if they are invalid QUA criteria, then we are left with an infinite set of merely logically conceivable histories to which we have no KNOWN criteria to apply to them. This means knowledge not only doesn’t exist foundationally, but it can’t exist inferentially, either. For 1 divided by infinity is ZERO, which would be the only conceivable probability of any one of those histories being true APART from the validity of inductive criteria.

    But what, then, would EXPLAIN that the inductive criteria are valid after all? First of all, certain other axioms need to be true.

    1) Events have to be caused, since there are no criteria by which to test WHETHER an event is caused–remember the inductive criteria apply ONLY to explanations, not uncaused, merely-conceivable histories.

    2) Explanation has to have finality, else all events have an infinite explanation, and humans can’t conceive of an infinite number of specific causes to know whether they imply, hypothetico-deductively, an event — IOW, the only kind of human explanation that could be known to BE an explanation IS a finite explanation.

    3) Apparent memories are probably actual memories unless the inductive criteria indicate otherwise.

    4) Apparent memories occur (even this is denied as knowable by anti-foundationalists like Scott–if you don’t believe me, ask him to define knowledge consistently with his denial of the existence of positive evidence).

    5) The law of non-contradiction is true.

    1), 2) and 5) alone imply design unless one can think of another way to account for finality of explanation of the events we’re conscious of. A sympathetic designer is required to account for 3) and 4) since inductive criteria are clearly used for their believed conduciveness to human SATISFACTION. And this is just another way of saying that discursive, inferential reasoning/deliberation is voluntary (until it becomes habit, at least), unlike intuition, which is natural. Take away design and you can’t even account for 1) or 2). And yet design is an instance OF 1) & 2).

    In short, induction can only be known to “work” if benevolent teleology is true. Now, explain to me what I’ve missed.


    • Jeff says:

      I just thought of a good example to clarify the specific way that “truths/realities” that transcend human categories are relevant to explanation, Tom. Once we had that long debate about God’s knowledge, given the non-exhaustive foreknowledge of God. And at one point, Alan argued against me saying something like, “the problem with finite theism, Jeff, is that it can’t explain the unconditional fidelity of God.”

      The idea I think Alan was getting at was this: God has to know things that we can’t conceive of how He could know it. That’s because we can only explain in terms of propositional premises that are self-evident (categorical truths) or sentiently-irresistable (inductive criteria). And the only we can account for these is design, as I explained above. But then Alan’s point kicks in. How can God know that another being can’t just pop into existence a-causally and frustrate His purpose? We can’t begin to imagine how to explain this. Positing infinite theism is unnecessary and, therefore, pointless, because what we need to posit is clearly finite: We need only posit to the effect that:

      1) God simply knows such is impossible


      2) God simply knows He can do any SPECIFIC thing He prefers to do at any given time (and since creation is finite, any specific thing He wants for it is finite).

      It’s not the divine belief per se that is so mysterious, given the limitations of our categories and analogical thinking. It’s the correspondence of that divine belief to what is actually possible and impossible. IOW, the difficulty is due to the fact that, analogically, we can only think of knowledge as a species of belief–i.e., reality-corresponding belief. That’s why we can’t explain divine knowledge. For ourselves, the correspondence of belief to reality is explained by competent/benevolent design. But we have to just POSIT 1) or 2) to account for the warranted belief of contingent beings. We can’t explain the correspondence of those divine beliefs to “reality.” Nor can we assume the correspondence is serendipitous, else there is no human warranted belief after all. Hence, the mystery.

      But note what I’ve done. I’ve acknowledged the existence of a divine attribute that transcends our ability to account for it, but yet that very attribute, that explains my own warranted belief, is perfectly intelligible.

      But what the EO folks seem to be saying is that the very word “God” is unintelligible. This gets us nowhere. This renders “divine attributes” unintelligible as well. Indeed, this renders the belief in the existence of “warranted belief” unwarranted!!!! It results in the same radical skepticism that atheism does when taken to a logical conclusion. The fact that they, like atheists, can’t take it to the logical conclusion just means they’re not being logical. But then what’s to talk about? Doesn’t communication depend upon the law of non-contradiction applying to propositions to render them intelligible? And if not, how could you communicate to me what it does depend upon?


      • Jeff says:

        The key is that “science” is about explaining FINITE experience of CONTINGENT beings. This actually requires finality of explanation. But it doesn’t imply that there was no infinite past of caused events. Nor does it imply that there are no beings or attributes that are necessary. That’s the relevant point.

        My CHOICE to diet explains my subsequent dietary changes. That means those dietary changes can’t be explained by events preceding that choice TO diet. But caused events were, nevertheless, going on prior to that choice. It’s the free creation of a necessary being with necessary attributes that renders a finality of explanation of our finite experience consistent with warranted belief about explanations.


  6. Jeff says:

    I’ve given a little more thought to Alan’s challenge. It may be that we’re making a category mistake even trying to conceive of causeless events. This is more often done with the categories of time and space, where people try to think of the past as a “place in space” one can “go to.” One thing seems relatively clear: If the principle of causality isn’t valid, there is no warranted belief, even if it’s merely conceivable that the principle is invalid. And therefore there is no human knowledge.

    But isn’t that all we’re saying if the LNC is also invalid? If “reality” isn’t constrained by the correlativity of substance and attribute, then even the LNC is invalid as a principle (since beings, in that case, need not have attributes and, therefore, abstraction may not be a real process) and “warranted belief” has no intelligible meaning.

    If the nature of the abstracted concept, due to certain correlative relations involved in the process of abstraction, is such that the phrase “uncaused event” is, after all, as nonsensical as is the notion of “time-travel,” then we aren’t even saying anything intelligible when we try to articulate the problem Alan is trying to solve by “infinite” theism. We may be creating problems that can’t be intelligibly conceived of as existing and, therefore, can’t BE solved.


    • Jeff says:

      J1: We may be creating problems that can’t be intelligibly conceived of as existing and, therefore, can’t BE solved.

      J2: Rather, we may be attempting to create problems that can’t be created intelligibly. Where there is no knowable problem, there is no knowable need for a solution. I suspect this is probably the case for some of our supposed conundrums. The category mistakes made for time and space tend to be more obvious. But that doesn’t mean there aren’t more subtle ones that are quite difficult to catch. It may be that we’re literally contradicting the grounds (certain corollaries, etc) of the nature of the process of concept formation when we try to articulate such “problems.”


      • Jeff says:

        Note, this doesn’t mean that our categories capture all the relations in the godhead. But it does mean, if true, that we can’t coherently generate unsolveable problems. What this means (again, if true), then, is that IF we distinguish between warranted and unwarranted belief, we’ve already assumed a benevolent/competent teleology which is only known in the limited way that our categories are capable of, but is known in a way SUFFICIENT to account for the rational and moral order that science and religion require as necessary and sufficient conditions for their intelligibility. The logically-consistent alternative is radical skepticism, which no one can live.


  7. Jeff says:

    On reflection, I think it’s enough to realize that warranted belief requires the validity of inductive criteria. For without them, we can’t distinguish between more and less plausible PREDICTIVE theories. And without predictive theories, free-will is worthless.

    But induction requires as an axiom that events are caused. This alone means we can’t even posit the possibility of an uncaused origin of an entity without denying the existence of warranted beliefs. Moreover, an inductive criteria is parsimony, Thus, we don’t posit any more beings involved in the design of our intellectual faculties than is necessary, either. To do so is to deny the validity of warranted belief.

    In short, we can’t conceive of all these putative problems that philosophers make so much of without positing that which is inconsistent with warranted human belief in the first place. Thus, the real situation may simply be this: IF we have warranted belief about predictive theories, the necessary and sufficient conditions for such belief, by definition, are competent and benevolent (and, therefore, by analogy, PERSONAL). Our only other choice is radical skepticism. But no one can live that out.

    So it matters not whether the godhead, in all its relations, transcends our categories. So long as warranted belief exists in the way we pretty intuitively think it does, our few categories can’t be false on the other hand.

    But what I hear you, Tom, saying is that the EO claims is that there is some sense in which we can’t make intelligible sense out of God. But this would seem to mean we can’t make sense out of warranted belief. And this is what I see as confusing about Aiden’s prior comments (see below: clarification is WELCOMED, Aidan 🙂 ). He seems to think we can know something about the world and know basically nothing about God.

    I don’t see how that’s possible. Rather, we either know something about God, or we believe nothing with warrant. Note, warranted beliefs only have to do with inferential, discursively-derived beliefs, not naturally-occurring beliefs which, per se, can’t be known to be true.

    Aiden quotes seemingly inidicative of the notion that humans can known nothing of God:

    “Actually, to say that God is one is just as mysterious and incomprehensible as to say that God is three. This is one of my concerns about Dale Tuggy’s insistence on numerical identity. It seems to imply that we actually know what we are talking about. We don’t. ”

    “The Christian God transcends counting. This is but one example of where theological language breaks. ”

    “Nor can God be considered in any way to be a being or thought of being a being.”

    “There’s no need to speak of “senses” of divine, as we have no idea what it means for God to be God, which is why the early Church Fathers unanimously agreed that the divine essence is incomprehensible. ”

    “The Fathers weren’t trying to create a consistent philosophical theory of deity. God forbid!”

    “The patristic doctrine of the Trinity does not explain anything, as it was never intended to explain anything.”

    “God is not a being whose nature we can define, as we can do with creatures.”


    • tgbelt says:

      J: But what I hear you, Tom, saying is that the EO claims is that there is some sense in which we can’t make intelligible sense out of God.

      T: I shared a Google.doc (Denys Turner) with you. Perhaps that will help. I like how he approaches it. David Hart’s The Experience of God is also good.

      What I’d want to say is that God cannot be reduced to our categories, i.e., the reality which is the self-sustaining, triune essence/existence of God cannot be “said” as in “___ ___ ____ ” (fill in the blanks) and there it is — God in a sentence. Now, you might agree that God-in-a-sentence is silly, but a) it seems to me that this is at the heart of your view because b) if you agree it is silly, you agree because you think there’s so much to God that he hasn’t revealed nobody could claim to fit it all into any number of sentences. But that’s NOT what makes it silly to me (or my guess is to the Orthodox). They mean something far more. For you, I think, God is nonetheless exhaustively revealable in propositional terms even if we don’t have it all revealed. Still, everything that God is, everything about how God is, the machinery, the nuts and bolts of divine being (as it were) is all without translatable into the terms of our categories and logic, and if not, then we can’t trust those categories to speak truthfully about God at all, ever. For you, I think, if we can’t “say” God (i.e., give a propositional account for divine being), it’s only because of our limited understanding. But by your account there’s nothing to God, to being God, which cannot in principle be accounted for in terms of our categories and logic.


      • Jeff says:

        Tom: But by your account there’s nothing to God, to being God, which cannot in principle be accounted for in terms of our categories and logic.

        J: No, that’s not what I’m saying (and I did get that article – thanks – hopefully it’ll help). Take my previous example. Best I can tell, the only way I can see how to account for a correspondence of my belief that events are caused to the “truth” of that belief is by the competent design of my faculties. But here, I mean “intelligent design,” not the stripped down version of design that atheists mean. But I can’t account for the correspondence of a divine “belief” to the “truth” of that belief. This means God’s knowledge is a brute fact to us, even though it would seem, on the basis of our categories and criteria, to mean that the correspondence between, say, the Father’s conscious thoughts and “reality” is purely serendipitous! But for it to be knowledge it can’t be serendipitous! That’s a bona-fide mystery. That doesn’t imply, though, that God is unconscious or that He can believe what is false. That would require premises we can’t generate with our categories and the criteria for warraned belief.

        Likewise, our categories are incapable of grounding the intelligibility of propositions that could imply that “some changes of state in the godhead are not caused” consistently with the existence of warranted human belief. So we understand some things of God in terms of our categories, but some of what seems implied by those things seems to be knowable ONLY as brute facts which, for contingent beings, make no sense. Behind those brute facts may “lie” categorical relations we simply don’t have. Indeed, we virtually must suppose so to avoid the dilemma I mentioned above.

        But that’s NOT the same thing as saying God doesn’t “know.” We have to take analogy as far as we can to be consistent with the criteria of warranted belief. That means we have to say God knows in the sense of possessing consciousness of truths, even though we can’t account for the how of that knowing, analogically. Otherwise, we can’t consistently distinguish between warranted and unwarranted human belief about ANYTHING.

        So, again, it seems to me that we are in this choke-hold — if we distinguish between warranted and unwarranted belief, we are only doing so consistently if we don’t deny benevolent/competent design of the constitution of our intellectual faculties. But that’s saying something POSITIVE about God. When God tells us, via Paul, that “every mouth will be stopped,” it’s because something IS knowable about God by humans–enough to intelligibly account for accountability, etc.


  8. Jeff says:

    Inductive criteria are so involved in human thought that they are used even in determining how to collectively assign which attributes to their implied substances. We choose those assignments that give us the most satisfaction, including the resultant greatest conceivable explanatory breadth. But those criteria are not testable. And therefore their validity is only explicable by benevolent/competent teleology. This is why the vast majority of humans can’t cease to be theists of some stripe or another. People typically learn about a god per some tradition and never see how to explain their experience atheistically, thereafter.


  9. tgbelt says:

    I’m gonna bow out, Jeff. I confess I’m not following you for the most part any longer. Hopefully Turner will clarify my point.


  10. Jeff says:

    Tom, it sounds like Aidan has summed up the essence of EO quite succinctly if what I’m reading in this article is typical of EO thought. Aidan said:

    “The Fathers weren’t trying to create a consistent philosophical theory of deity. God forbid! Read St Gregory of Nazianzus’s Theological Orations for a sample of patristic disdain for that kind of philosophizing. They were principally interested, if I might put it this way, in identifying the grammatical rules of properly Christian discourse.”

    If that is true, and if those grammatical rules don’t include the language of open theism, then to the extent that that tradition is DEFINED as orthodoxy, open theism will never be eastern orthodoxy. Because all orthodoxy is for them is the right use of language. The language isn’t even claimed to BE true. If I’m misunderstanding, it’s merely because I accept the LNC as a valid principle. If that gets me burned in hell as an idolator, so be it. 🙂 But in that case, you certainly have no valid criticism (one that uses the LNC) to make against hyper-calvinists.


    • tgbelt says:


      a) You’re not burning in hell! ;o)
      b) I’ve never thought open theism would be accepted by the Orthodox; not even trying to negotiate that one!
      c) If you think divine transcendence (as I’ve poorly expressed it) means LNC is so undermined that we have no valid criticism of Calvinism (or Arianism, or Docetism, etc.), then you’re missing the point. The Orthodox are on record as criticizing theological determinism as unbiblical and theologically unworkable. And they employ LNC in making their point. If you read Denys Turner, note the place of the cataphatic along with the apophatic. Transcendence doesn’t leave us no basis upon which to say, “No, we don’t say THAT [i.e., determinism].” But that’s how you’re taking it,


      • Jeff says:

        If the “cataphatic” is that which isn’t denied, what ISN’T denied, then. Some of Turner’s and Aidan’s statements seem most plausibly interpreted as saying we can’t know anything about God. That’s what’s confusing me. Take this one by Aidan, discussing the irrelevance of MONOtheism to co-substantiality:

        “The Christian God transcends counting. This is but one example of where theological language breaks. ”

        He then says co-substantiality is the only way to explain how Christ is fully divine. But what IS it to be divine such that that claim makes any sense at all? What is KNOWN about the divine by humans? And how?

        The bit about hell was a joke, as I’m sure you knew. I could never believe a God like that is knowable, and so I could never believe accountability of that kind exists. Where nothing is given, nothing is required.


  11. Jeff says:

    If you can’t give even one example of what ISN’T denied, Tom, how do we even define open theism consistent with that?


    • tgbelt says:

      Cataphatically speaking…nothing rightly affirmed to be true is denied.

      Apophatically speaking it’s all denied.

      Cataphatic denials and apophatic denials are not the same species of denial. In other words, to apophatically deny the cataphatic affirmation “God exists” is not to affirm its contradictory “God does not exist,” though that WOULD follow cataphatically. Rather, it’s to deny that the truth about God is captured/exhausted by the truth of the disjunction. The truth always exceeds the proof, you might say.


      • Jeff says:

        Tom: The truth always exceeds the proof, you might say.

        J: So we can’t know God doesn’t exist, then? You’re saying that it can be true that God at LEAST “exists” in the sense we mean by that term? If so, how do we know the truth in that regard transcends those 2 options? How do the EO claim to have arrived at that conclusion?


      • tgbelt says:

        J: So we can’t know God doesn’t exist, then? You’re saying that it can be true that God at LEAST “exists” in the sense we mean by that term?

        T: I’m trying to say that what it means for us to exist is so exceeded by what it means for God to exist, “the proof so exceeded by the truth” (Godel), that qualified denials are a legitimate way to assert this excessiveness and to prevent ourselves from assuming the Process position that holds categories derived from what it means for us to exist to be attributable univocally to what it means for God to exist.


  12. Jeff says:

    Tom: qualified denials are a legitimate way to assert this excessiveness and to prevent ourselves from assuming the Process position that holds categories derived from what it means for us to exist to be attributable univocally to what it means for God to exist.

    J: Well, they would be if we had a reason for thinking “being” can ever be more than what we categorically mean by it. But I’m not seeing how we could know that. On the other hand, as open theists, we DO believe God acquires certain knowledge IN time. That can’t be explained by any mode of warranted inference. From our perspective, it seems serendipitous and therefore neither actually knowledge nor consistent with any intelligible understanding of divine competence.

    Luckily, “science” is not the explaining of all of God’s experience. It’s the explaining of our OWN finite experience in terms of a finite set of propositions. Thus, we need only explain our own experience by positing WHAT God knows, not how He knows.

    I see the EO approach (at least that indicated by their word usage) as suggesting that beliefs about a non-divine reality are more warranted than beliefs about God. I can’t see how that’s possible. If God doesn’t explain warranted belief, I see no reason to think there is any warranted belief since, in that case, it’s unaccounted for and therefore arbitrarily distinguished from non-warranted belief (assuming there are even real memories, which is questionable apart from a way to distinguish between merely apparent memories and actual memories!).

    Hart is being inconsistent if he accounts for an extra-ego rational order by God only to render, out of the other side of his mouth, “God” a meaningless word. The burden of proof is on the EO to explain why God can’t exist as a being. And it does no good to do so by making an assumption that has no more plausibility (if not less plausibility) than another that doesn’t create that problem.

    As Aidan pointed out, the EO conception of the trinity had nothing to do with polytheism. Indeed, as he also pointed out, it renders the ability to think of God in turns of number/quantity impossible. Numbers apply to distances, durations, beings, etc.–things we can CONCEIVE of in terms of units. So avoiding polytheism can’t BE the issue for positing co-substantiality unless you can count God as being only 1 after going there. I agree with Aidan that you’ve already left the world of intelligible counting at that point.


  13. tgbelt says:

    Looks like we’re done. Whew!


  14. Jeff says:

    Hey, I’ve sorted my thoughts out better than ever. Debate is good stuff! 🙂

    The more I think things through, the more I see why Porter came down as he did. Naturally-GIVEN categories constrain what can ground the intelligibility of the distinctions of what we call the RELATIVE plausibility of discursively/inferentially-DERIVED beliefs. The coherently-articulating atheist insists we can’t know THAT the categories or inductive criteria are true or probably true. That’s irrelevant since they can’t live that way any more than can theists. In the meanwhile, theists can teleologically EXPLAIN the necessary and sufficient conditions of the VALIDITY of categories and inductive criteria. That we can’t explain God’s experience by these same categories and criteria is irrelevant. We explain our own experience in terms of a subset of divine attributes and historical divine choice(s), not by explaining divine experience.

    What is important to keep in mind is that the categories constrain ONLY what can ground the intelligibility of (i.e., not the validity of) the distinctions we make regarding RELATIVE plausibility of discursively/inferentially-derived beliefs. The validity of those distinctions is explained by a godhead with the relevant divine attributes that chose to create.

    According to Porter, this works because teleology is the synthetic category of human thought. Humans both analyze and SYNTHESIZE when they think with intention. Synthesis is teleological because intention is teleological. But we infer (inductive inference is synthesis) that we are contingent and too historically recent to be the teleological explanation of the “world” we infer. The godhead is that teleological explanans that is sufficiently parsimonious that we can still explain teleologically. And induction compels us to be as parsimonious as possible. Indeed, parsimony is a property of intentional action, even when multiple ends are being balanced consistently with their relative value.

    But I really do appreciate the value of recognizing the need to posit the super-categorical of God. It’s just that being super-categorical, they don’t explain anything about our experience except in the sense that they must be posited to render uncontradicted that which DOES knowably explain our experience. IOW, I can say with warrant that God’s truth-awareness is caused without having a clue what could conceivably cause it. If Porter is right, even “natural” causality is teleological in the sense that natural causes are MEANS to some end (if only the rationality of the universe). Seemingly, the godhead experiences some of its experiences causally, but with a MODE of causality utterly OTHER than teleological. Such a mode or modes seem to need to account for the non-serendipitousness of God’s truth-awareness. Otherwise, the seeming serendipitousness of God’s truth-awareness seems TOO unlike what we mean by knowledge.

    So I’m with you in your general point. But I think you and the EO take it to an extreme that implies you know more than you could possibly know rationally. Why, apart from appealing to rationality, do the EO constantly refer to philosophical problems when defending their approach? How, e.g., could you know that the sense in which God “exists” transcends our category of existence? What problem is created by positing that the godhead exists in the same sense we do? As I’ve contended, causality need only apply to changes of STATE, not existence per se.

    Moreover, this extreme implies even Rom. 1 makes no sense in conventional language. And maybe that’s what you’re trying to say–that scripture is not intended to say anything intelligible per MERE conventional/rational language. In that case, I suppose I should not read Rom. 1 to mean that humans can know something inferentially about God from the common world we infer and inhabit (in particular, as Paul says, a lower limit on God’s power).


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