No, a theist is not a kind of atheist.

The following argument is popular:

“I contend that we are both atheists. I just believe in one fewer god than you do. When you understand why you dismiss all the other possible gods, you will understand why I dismiss yours.”

(Vox Day gives two proponents, Dawkins is a third, and Lukeprog at “Common Sense Atheism” makes the argument his epigram)

The argument is a sophistry one could use to prove anything. A parallel example is the quickest proof:

Flag waving American: God bless the USA! The greatest government on Earth!

Anarchist: Actually, you and I are both anarchists.

FWA: No, I love government. I’m nothing like you at all!

Anarchist: That’s not true. You’re an anarchist about Communism, Socialism, Monarchy, Oligarchy, and every other government that has ever existed. I just take things one step further.

Get it?  Once you get the swing of this sort of argument, you could prove that Stalin was an anti-communist (since he condemned Trotskyism, Leninism, and innumerable other forms of socialism) or that Adam Smith was against free markets, or that Charles Dickens hated literature (he didn’t have very warm feelings about Thackeray, did he?) And so on ad infinitum.

Aristotle wrote a whole book about such argumentative fool’s gold – the particular mistake in the above is in muddling what is true simply with what is true in some way (the Medieval names for the two are, respectively, the simpliciter and the secundum quid). Confound the two, and you end up contending that theists are kinds of atheists.

Two kinds of experience compared to the teaching of God the Savior

The aspect the soul that gives rise to science does not raise the question of God as savior. Metaphysics or reflective empirical science show us God as the cause of being (simply or in some way) or God the intelligence, and either of these can be developed far more than they have yet been developed to this point, but no such development leads to raising the question of God the savior. The failure to raise a question is not the same as giving a negative answer to it (pace to the unreflective pseudo-axiom “absence of evidence is evidence of absence”)  and these sciences can see some true things about God’s governance and care for the world, but this is not the same thing as raising the question of God the savior, or as calling out to God the savior.

On the other hand, other aspects of the soul by nature relate to God first of all as savior. Human beings naturally cry out to something above themselves when they are in distress; and at other times they question something above themselves when they are sullen, depressed, or in the face of suffering, and all such actions see God as a savior (the argument from evil presupposes this account of God as protector and savior from evils). Again, the ancient people would take on the Gods of those who conquered them, which again makes perfect sense if one relates to the gods as the ones who will protect you and save you from evil. In this existential-  social experience of the divine (which myth simultaneously corrupts and preserves), the divine nature seems to be first of all a savior and protector from evils.

The question of God the savior thus divides two aspects our experience against each other. The experience that we cultivate into science is set against the existential-social experience of the divine as the one we must call out to in distress, or the one that has abandoned us or been disproven by those evils that we were neither saved nor protected from. No facile division of “logos” from “mythos” or “reason” from “religious experience” does justice to the two aspects of the soul that are split by the question of God the savior. The division is in the soul itself, which is unable to integrate different aspects of experience. Plato’s genius is very much manifest in the way he tried to integrate both of these aspects of experience, for he saw the divine as both an “Absolute” and “Goodness itself” while at the same time integrating into his philosophy the experience of the gods personally preserving Socrates from evils. Nevertheless, the integration is certainly not complete – it is not “Being Itself” that speaks to Socrates, or tells him to avoid such-and-such, though there are hints throughout his works that Plato wanted to move in a direction like this (the Symposium comes to mind).

But even the existential-social experience of God as savior is warped and radically incomplete of itself. We might call out to God or question him in the face of suffering, but this call rarely penetrates beyond the merely physical level. In times of comfort, ease, and luxurious city living few call out to be saved, even though the interior world of human beings is just as dark, superficial, gloomy, and twisted in times of comfort as in times of want. We are content when we are preserved from merely animal evils, which is a silent testimony that we are content with mere animal goodness. If I’m healthy, well-fed, roomed, and clothed, with some chance to express my own talents and follow my interests, what could possibly be missing?

And so the experience we cultivate into science never raises the question of God the savior, and our social-existential experience that gives rise to natural religion never quite manages to see exactly what we need to be saved from.

The analogy of coffee

In every language I know, the word for the grounds and the drink is the same; but they are not two different kinds of coffee. The predicate does not indicate unity in kind, though it speaks to some sort of unity.

12. 23. 10 #2

There are things about which we are not absolutely certain, but which are always capable of revision after experience and testing; and other things that are not. Both require their own methods to be made clear, and there is no promise that we can ever articulate either class of knowable things with perfect clarity.

It is easy to mistake our need to articulate and clarify everything we know with the idea that everything is subject to review. In one sense it is true, in another not.

12/ 23/ 10

It might be fruitful to compare Hume’s critique of causality to Aristotle’s distinction between knowing  that something is and what it is. On Aristotle’s account, the “that” is a fact of the matter and the “what” is one that attains to the cause, and so both Hume and Aristotle see facts as alientated from causes.

Aristotle, however, says that if we could just see the moon interpose itself between the earth and sun that we would just see the cause of an eclipse, and so for him at least some causes are facts, but it is not clear that such causes are included in what Aristotle calls knowledge that something is so. We would only distinguish that and what because they are usually separated for us, and science most of all seems necessary to deal with the alienation of facts and causes. And so we might see Hume’s critique of causality going as far as all things that are capable of being advanced or treated  of by the natural sciences, though there is a dispute whether all causes (or even all natural causes) are such.

In a word: if we could just see the moon interpose itself, would the cause of an eclipse be a scientific fact for us? This seems doubtful. The cause of my own shadow is not a scientific fact, either because the cause is found withotu investigation or because the sort of investigation involved is not one that raises to the level of what we call science.

pt. 2

Say we see a set of behaviors (like the ones now attributed to epilepsy) and attribute them to demonic possession. To do so places them within a sphere that includes notions like God, the autonomy of the will, sin, the ultimate destiny of human action (heaven and hell), the mystery of evil, and a historical connection to New Testament times. This is not to say that our explanation of the behavior is correct, it only notes the sort of explanation we are trying to give of it. Say we then give a natural explanation of the same behavior. The whole sphere of actions we sought to see the behavior in vanishes from view. But how are we to take this vanishing? Are we to say that our previous explanation is an error? But within the sphere of actions we had previously seen it in, there are also erroneous and correct explanations, and mistakes about what should be included in this sphere of analysis. How is the judgment “this behavior is not a demonic possession” a judgment of a natural scientist, even when it is made using techniques of the natural scientist? (for to use a technique of natural science does not make an inquiry natural science any more than the use of numbers and calculus turns natural science into arithmetic or mathematics.) Either we say that the techniques of natural science include simply everything in any sphere of existence (in which case we simply assume naturalism prior to the evidence) or we say that the judgment that certain behaviors are not demonic possessions, but are rather explained by natural causes,  is a judgment that theologians make, and that the old explanation is not bad natural science, but bad theology. To move from seeing behaviors as demonic to natural, therefore, is not an advance of natural science but an advance of theology.Or perhaps it would be better to say that it represents an advance in two different sciences, depending on how it is considered: theology advances by being purged of an error; natural science advances by explaining another phenomenon.

Scientific progress pt. 1

We once explained certain behaviors by attributing them to demonic possession, we later attributed them to mental illness, but they were not both attempts to give natural explanations. They do not represent the advance of a single science moving from one thing to another, or from ignorance to knowledge. They do not try to explain the same thing about the behavior. When we call the second account better, the “better” does not have the same sense as when says that one scientific explanation is better than another.

The plenitude of the Hail Mary

The whole universe praises the blessed mother in the Hail Mary since the universe divides into its temporal and sempiternal parts, and the temporal part is divided into what comes before the Incarnation and after it. The sempiternal aevum praises Mary in the angelic salutation: Hail full of grace, the Lord is with you. The old covenant praises her though Elisabeth and the Baptist: blessed are you among women, etc. The new covenant praises her through the decree of the Church which (against the Nestorians) defined her as Holy Mary, mother of God.

Notes on metaphysics

-Being is not a genus, and so there are no kinds of being. Its unity is not the unity of several kinds, its analysis does not consist in classifying various sorts.

– Squirrels and mice are both kinds of vertebrates, while color and animals are not kinds of healthy things. But a squirrel is a vertebrate and so is a mouse; an animal is healthy, and so is medicine.

-Heidegger gave contemporary philosophers a phobia of onto-theology. As a counter-balance, it’s worth pointing out that it’s very difficult to get a good view of being and not think it is a divine thing, either in itself or as an immediate reflection of it. The world got its first glimpse of being through Parmenides, and all he could see was the unity of all things, pure simplicity, timelessness, the foundation of all things compared to which the sensible world is opinion and unreality (as Dionysius put it, God is neither this nor that, but all things as cause). Being is the nexus where creation proceeds from the divine activity.

Quantitative and logical parts

A body can neither be known nor be without its parts, but to bring any part fully into act destroys it as a part. A stick with endpoints A and B is known by any multitude of parts – let AC be one of them. One actualizes this part by making a cut at C – but to do so makes AC no longer a part of a whole. A part thus has an intrinsic and essential repugnance to actuality, so far as its act is its annihilation as a part.

This nature of body allows a way to approach the logical whole by likeness and  negation: for one actualizes a part by separating it from the whole by a difference, but to actualize such a part (say to actualize “animal” from the larger whole “living”) does not require making it no longer a real part of the greater whole:  animals remain essentially living. By this separation, the logical whole enters into the part as a different sort of part- in the sense that “living” only partially accounts for what we find in animal.

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