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DO THEISTIC PROOFS PROVE THE WRONG GOD?
By Douglas Groothuis, Ph.D.
(used with permission)
the "memorial," a fragmentary record of a profound experience of God,
Blaise Pascal contrasted "the God of philosophers and scholars" with
"the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob" or "the God of Jesus
Christ." The former is but a philosophical abstraction; the latter is
a living reality of whom Pascal testifies, and not simply a warranted
conclusion. Pascal summarizes his
experience with one word, "Fire," and elaborates by saying:
"Certainty, certainty, heartfelt joy, peace."
He further differentiated the God of the philosophers from the God of his
fiery experience by saying "He [God] can only be found by the ways taught
in the Gospels."[i]
Theistic proofs are certainly not in view.
Even if one would assent to classical theistic proofs, this would not
yield the biblical deity. As Pascal affirms in Pensées:
Even if someone were convinced that the proportions between numbers are immaterial, eternal truths, depending on a first truth in which they subsist, called God, I should not consider that he had made much progress toward his salvation.[ii]
last phrase is paramount for Pascal. Here,
unlike the passages on God's infinity that introduce the wager argument, he
seems to grant that some kinds of natural theology might yield the existence of
a metaphysically ultimate being, but that such proof, in itself, lacks the
religious force required to transform one into a devout and obedient Christian.
One convinced by the argument from immutable truth—and Pascal probably
has Father Mersenne or Augustine in mind—need not, for instance, view the
Christian doctrines of original sin or the Incarnation to be truths.
Rather, if the argument is successful, God's existence is deduced from
the existence of eternal truth, but not all of these truths need be those of
orthodox theology. Such a God may
be a divine mathematician, but not much more.
Pascal goes on to say: "The Christian's God does not consist merely
of a God who is the author of mathematical truths and the order of the
This "God," Pascal avers, is too abstract and too impersonal to
be a compelling object of spiritual consecration.
fundamental worries about the sub-Christian object of natural theology have been
voiced by Christian theologians and philosophers throughout the centuries.
These thinkers—such as Tertullian, Kierkegaard, Karl Barth, and John
Hick—join Pascal to argue that the kind of entity argued for by the various
forms of natural theology falls far short of the living and personal Deity of
As such, these proofs or arguments[v],
even if philosophically successful, do little if anything to substantiate the
biblical position because the "God of the philosophers" has so little
(if any) affinity with the living Lord of Christian faith.
light of the recent renewed interest among philosophers in theistic arguments,
this kind of criticism is important to discuss, since its truth would render
even the best argument (or collection of arguments) religiously inadequate or
even misguided. I believe Pascal's
objection highlights the theological limits of any natural theology but that he
is, nevertheless, essentially misguided in claiming that the enterprise of
natural theology is defective in principle.
A close scrutiny of Pascal's arguments will, I believe, help disclose the
inadequacies of his objection.
I. THE GOD OF THE PHILOSOPHERS
overall argument against the "God of the philosophers" from the Pensées
can be reconstructed as follows:
1. The biblical God is not an abstract being or general metaphysical
category, but a personal deity with specifiable and particular attributes.
2. The God of philosophy, derived from natural theology, is an abstract
being that lacks the specifiable and particular personal attributes
necessary for Christian theism.
3. Therefore, the biblical God and the God of philosophy cannot be
4. Because of 3, natural theology is not a legitimate enterprise to derive
knowledge of the (non-abstract) biblical God.
philosophers who find theistic arguments compelling or at least plausible admit
that the classical arguments taken singly or conjointly do not demonstrate the
existence of a God possessing all of the important attributes of God as given in
revealed theology. Elements of the
divine character essential and indispensable to Christian theism—such as the
Trinity or the Incarnation—are not deducible through philosophical argument
alone (although they may be rendered more intelligible or coherent through
St. Thomas Aquinas readily admitted that theistic argumentation, what he
called "the philosophical sciences," must be supplemented by
revelation for any adequate view of God and, further, for any hope of attaining
these lines, Richard Taylor, having presented cosmological and design arguments
for God's existence, admits that his theistic conclusions hardly "amount to
any sort of confirmation of religion" because they are "metaphysical
and philosophical considerations having implications of only a purely
speculative kind" that "imply almost nothing with respect to any
divine attributes, such as benevolence."[viii]
Taylor is being too theologically modest. If
his arguments succeed, he has proved this:
1. God exists as a causally necessary being and who thus supports the
2. God exists as the designer of our cognitive equipment who
renders them generally reliable for reasoning and observation.[x]
being would be the only such being to possess causally necessary existence or
self-existence (aseity). This
accords well with Christian theism's view of God as the supreme existent who
sustains the universe. Taylor's
philosophically derived deity is also like the Christian God because both are
viewed as a cosmic designer.
two qualities, contra Taylor, surely are
part of a larger cluster of essential "divine attributes," classically
understood. But these attributes,
while necessary for the Christian view of God, are not sufficient to establish
God's moral character ("benevolence") or any specific intentions
toward humanity. They say nothing
of the Trinity or of the Incarnation or of any way of salvation.
Taylor himself seems to rest content in something less than Christian
theism when he concludes Metaphysics by recommending that one seek to understand "what
Spinoza meant by the intellectual love of God."[xi]
This shows that a philosophically derived deity may be worthy of assent
and some wonderment, but may fail to evoke the worship required by a spiritually
vigorous monotheism. Whether this
less than orthodox view is necessarily or even likely the conclusion for those
who argue philosophically about God will be taken up below.
ii. PETER Geach on
Abstract Natural Theology
referring to Pascal directly, Peter Geach attacks the idea embraced by Pascal
that the God of natural theology is too abstract to be identical with the
"true and living" God of revealed religion and religious belief.
Geach finds this view confused. He
argues that abstract inferences can single out concrete referents in certain
situations; and if this is so, there is no reason to disqualify natural theology
from referring to the God of Scripture simply on the basis that natural theology
can yield only an abstract entity that lacks some of the essential attributes of
the God of biblical revelation. His
project is not to construct a cogent natural theology but to justify this kind
of project as free from any intrinsic theological deformity.
make his point about abstract reference and concrete referents, Geach uses an
example from Sherlock Holmes's investigation of a mysterious death.
Imagine that Holmes deduced from available evidence both the existence of
a murderer—that the death in question was a homicide—and some of the
murder's characteristics. This is a rather abstract notion of the murderer in the sense
of being general; it is not a specific or personal description.
The description is abstract in that the characteristics of the murder are
ones that many people share. The description fails to pick out one particular
person, as would that person's finger prints and social security number.
suppose the police then arrested a man with the general characteristics deduced
by Holmes and found other "confirmatory proofs of his guilt."[xii]
Geach says, "it would occur to nobody, I imagine, to distinguish
between the abstract murderer of Sherlock Holmes' deductions and the real live
murderer raging in his cell."[xiii]
In other words, the two kinds of reference would, nonetheless, have a
return to the issue at hand, Geach's claim seems to be that abstract
reasoning—or reasoning that infers the existence of a subject that can only be
described through the use of rather general references—need not exclude the
discovery of a specific and personal subject of that reasoning.
He seems to be arguing that a rather abstract description will fit a
specific case under certain circumstances, such as when the murderer is
apprehended. But he notes that
other "confirmatory proofs" are required to properly establish the
identity of the particular man as the murderer.
These evidential factors are presented in addition to what Holmes has
deduced and so involve evidence compatible with, but also beyond the scope of,
his original inference.
anticipate a distinction later made by Geach in connection with natural
theology, the inference that there is a murderer means that someone or another
occupies the title, position, or status as "the murderer" (as opposed
to there being no murderer because the death was accidental or suicidal).
A particular person is the murderer, but we do not yet know which person
has the status or claims the position as the murderer, even though we have a few
leads as to what kind of a person it is.
Whoever it might be, "murderer" is not his or her proper name. Before the "confirmatory proofs" are found, any
number of people could conceivably occupy the title or position of murderer,
just as several baseball players could bat in the cleanup position for their
team in the opening lineup.
situation of identifying a title or position that someone (we know not who)
occupies as a murderer differs from another context in which we are acquainted
with a "nice" person who we later discover is a murderer.
In this kind of case we know the particular person before knowing that he
has the title or position of being a murderer.
does not develop his provocative analogy any further, but we can do so without,
I think, departing from his essential insights:
Natural theology tells us in the abstract that there is a God with
certain attributes who can be discovered with the assistance of certain other
"confirmatory proofs," just as Holmes's murderer is discovered through
this means. When these additional
arguments are given, we find that the specific God discovered is one and the
same as the God of abstract natural theology, just as the abstract description
of the murderer corresponds with the actual apprehended murderer.
To stay with Geach's analogy, the additional arguments, whatever they
might be, would have to show that God possessed certain attributes neither
proved by, nor incompatible with, the project of natural theology alone.
confirmatory project of proof could be difficult, more difficult, in fact, than
in the case of the murderer. If
natural theology yields a necessary being or designer or a maximal being, is
this the God of Judaism, Christianity, or Islam or some monotheistic God
distinct from these traditions (there is, for instance, a theistic strain in
Hinduism) or of any historical tradition? Geach
does not take this up, apart from his comments on how far one can stray from a
proper theological description without describing the wrong God.
Historically speaking, most natural theologians have only claimed to
establish philosophically a monotheistic deity whose specific identity is not
exhaustively determined through their procedures.
Aquinas ends his discussion of the theistic proofs with the famous
conclusion "and this all men call God," but he grants that natural
theology cannot prove the Trinity or creation ex
nihilo. Room must be left for
revelation and other types of argumentation to fill out the picture.[xiv]
Natural theology tells us that there is a God and that God has certain
attributes. But it is left to us to
inquire as to which of the theological contenders, if any, is the specifically
the case where Holmes's deduction leads the authorities to pursue the purported
murderer, the natural theologian might stop at the deduction of a generic deity
and investigate the matter no further. If
this is all that natural theology can establish, why go beyond it?
There is clearly a moral imperative to catch a murderer, but is there
such an imperative to transcend generic theism and decide between competing
the case of the murderer, a suspect is apprehended through descriptions given by
Holmes. Then, through
"confirmatory proofs," the suspect becomes a convict.
In the case of the God of natural theology, we have at least three
suspects and the matter of convicting or confirming proof is very involved
indeed, more involved that what is required to identify the murder suspect.
Viewed in this way by filling out Geach's analogy, these
"confirmatory proofs"—whatever they may be—have substantial
epistemic force in identifying the true God.[xv]
cases are analogous in that some kind of "confirmatory proofs" are
needed; but a disanalogy appears in considering the complicated nature in
discerning just what this confirmation would involve.
Holmes gives an abstract description of a human being.
His description is abstract in that it could refer to any number of
people because it is general. But
as Geach says, no one will have any reason to differentiate the "abstract
murderer" from the "real live murderer" raging about in the cell.
Yet this assertion confuses matters.
Strictly speaking, there was, in this historical scenario, no
"abstract murderer" (to use Geach's term), only a concrete murderer
who, when his existence was first deduced by Holmes, was referred to in an
The reference was abstract because of a lack of knowledge by Holmes that
rendered his speculative reference a general one.
At that point, the question of the existence or non-existence of a
murderer was solved, but the exact or specific identity of the murderer remained
unsolved. To use our previous
distinction: we know that someone holds the position or title of
"murderer"; we do not know exactly who holds that title.
I cannot now remember the name of the queen of the Netherlands; but I
know that there is someone who occupies that position or title.
Holmes knew that the murderer was a human being of some stripe, and he
knew what kind of creatures human beings are, even if he could not give a
specific description of the particular person.
worries thinkers like Pascal is that natural theologians not only make abstract references
to God (that refer to God in philosophical, and not devotional, terms) but
actually may refer to God as an abstract being—as
a kind of Cosmic Principle or Source lacking concrete personality or goodness or
the ability or willingness to redeem erring mortals.
We know the murderer is some kind of person, but do we have this
knowledge of God, given the restricted scope of natural theology?
Pascal explains the nature of the God in which he is interested in a
section contesting natural theology. He
emphasizes people's subjective response to the biblical God that would not
necessarily be entailed by abstract deities:
The God of
Abraham, the God of Isaac, the God of Jacob, the God of the Christians is a God
of love and consolation: he is a God who fills the soul and heart of those whom
he possesses: he is a God who makes them inwardly aware of their wretchedness
and his infinite mercy: who unites himself with them in the depths of their
soul: who fills it with humility, joy, confidence and love: who makes them
incapable of having any other end but him.[xvii]
does not elaborate on the exact nature of his concern with the limits or
misleading aspects of natural theology, but we can develop it, nevertheless. The
God of natural theology might fall short of the biblical deity in at least three
natural theology might claim to establish the existence of a God that is more of
a metaphysical principle than a personal being.
This would contradict the orthodox claim that God is a thoroughly
personal being who cannot be subsumed under any higher impersonal philosophical
category. H. P. Owen notes that
theists "differ from thinkers such as Sankara, Spinoza, Hegel, and F. H.
Bradley for whom personal images of God are intellectually immature depictions
of a suprapersonal Absolute."[xviii]
For theism, God is personal all the way down.
Proofs for an impersonal deity would not assist the theistic cause; they
would contradict it.[xix]
natural theology could claim to establish the existence of a God that is the
source of the universe but maintain that the question of whether God possesses
any distinctly personal attributes (such as a moral disposition, reflective
self-awareness, and a capacity for volitional agency) transcends its
philosophical prowess. This is
roughly Richard Taylor's position as explained in his book Metaphysics.
Third, natural theology could argue that it demonstrates the existence of a personal source of the world but cannot tell us very much about what God's personal characteristics might be. This is similar to an archaeologist who unearths a piece of ancient pottery that he discerns was made by a human, not by natural processes or by any animal; but he cannot determine very much as to what the creator of the pottery was like.
first instance is the only case in which natural theology directly threatens
Pascal's theology. The last two
cases of natural theology do not necessarily undermine any Christian notion of
God; they simply underdetermine it.
anticipates the problem of defining the attributes of the God of natural
theology. He raises the difficulty
of the natural theologian who, on the one hand, correctly proves the existence
of God with attributes ABC, which are solely predicable of God, but who, on the
other hand, predicates to God attributes XYZ, which God does not, in fact,
possess. This, according to Geach,
is the error of Spinoza, who falsely believed that "God produces all
possible creatures, by a natural necessity of fully manifesting his infinite
In this case, Geach contends, the natural theologian has proved the
existence of the true God (there is only one) but his conception of God is
critic can question Geach's claim that the true God may be proved by those who
significantly misdescribe this God. He
might think that such an understanding is too charitable and wonder whether the
deity derived can really be considered the true God. He might ask: Which
deity has been deduced (by Spinoza or any other erring natural theologian)--the
real God or another one? Can Geach
accommodate the distressing contention that natural theology may
"prove" false deities? Put
another way, if the procedures of natural theology allow for conflicting
theistic conclusions, then, by reductio ad
absurdum, something is wrong with those procedures.
It could be that the procedures are intrinsically defective.
attempts to dissolve this problem by more carefully articulating what is at
issue. The question, he thinks, is
not "Which God has been proved to exist—the true God or some other?"[xxi]
Rather, the proposition "A God exists" does not predicate
existence to one of several God-candidates (one real, the others illusory), but
instead "affirms that something-or-another has Divine attributes."[xxii]
The situation could be put another way: the divine attributes ABC are
uniquely predicated of X--whatever else X may be (in addition to ABC).
Geach gives an example. Someone
correctly believes that the President of France exists, but is mistaken as to
who exactly holds the office--he might even think it is occupied by someone
whose very identity was a muddle, such as Poincare who was thought by a student
to be an eminent statesman as well as a mathematician.
And similarly, there is nothing to stop a natural theologian, or anyone else, from at once truly believing or even knowing that the Divine attributes belong to something, and making a false ascription of those attributes to an inferior or phantom object.[xxiii]
seems to be saying that one might truly believe or know that divine attributes
exist but falsely believe that, for instance, the Hegelian Absolute (which does
not exist) is the philosophically discovered God that possesses them.
This is what Geach likely means by “a phantom object,” in this case
“the God of the philosophers.” On
the other hand, if one takes the universe to be identical with God and so
possessing divine attributes (pantheism), Geach could say that the universe in
this case is an “inferior object” because, although it does exist (unlike
the Hegelian Absolute), it has no divine attributes--attributes that only inhere
in a God who transcends the universe and is who not identical with it.[xxiv]
perhaps Geach could also refer to a situation where a partially erring, but theistic natural theologian might
correctly ascribe the divine attributes of omniscience and omnipotence and
omnipresence to a being whom, the natural theologian wrongly supposes, also
possesses an attribute not truly possessed by the extant Trinitarian God, such as the absolute and undifferentiated unity
ascribed to Allah in the Koran. In
this case of false unitarian ascription, the partially erring natural
theologian's concept of God is "inferior" to that which Geach takes to
be the correct concept of the existing Christian God.
However, the theological offense would not be as severe as ascribing
divine attributes to the nonexistent Hegelian Absolute (“a phantom object”)
or the existent but nondivine universe (“an inferior object”).
Geach might describe the non-Trinitarian idea of Allah as an “inferior
object,” but the order of theological offense would not be of ascribing divine
attributes to an entity that possessed no divine attributes (such as the created
universe). Such “phantom” and “inferior” objects taken to
possess divine attributes raise the question of just what comprises the divine
attributes. The Hegelian Absolute
is metaphysically supreme, providential, and omnipresent (all attributes of the
Christian God), but not a personal being (as is the Christian God). The same is
true of the universe in a pantheistic view, although the purported divine object
differs somewhat from the Hegelian Absolute.[xxv]
reflections on Geach’s discussion help establish an important differentiation.
Although he doesn't put it this way, Geach is drawing a distinction
between (1) the word "God" as an office, title, position or set of
capacities that is owned by one entity or another and (2) "God" as a
proper name that can refer to only one person (a more rigid designator). This
echoes the distinction previously made between "the murderer" as a
position and the occupant of that position.
To use another example, any number of people could be the president of
the United States. However, all the
recent presidents, by virtue of their office, have certain things in common such
as being the Commander-in-Chief of the armed forces, being over thirty-five
years of age, being limited to two terms in office, etc.
Therefore, although someone could know that the presidency was occupied
by someone he could be mistaken as to who that person was.
But one could not be so confused as to think that the presidency was
occupied by a thirty-one-year old who was elected for a ten-year term.
The American Constitution forbids this.
states that only God can "draw the line" where a natural theologian
stops believing in the true God because of the admixture of false predicates.
It is certainly true that we often err in our beliefs about other
people—many of whom we know quite well—without being mistaken about their
essential identity. I know my wife
truly, but I might hold a few false beliefs about her—if my past experience
can serve as a guide. None of these
errors have been serious enough to discredit my opinion of her completely, as
would be the case if I discovered to my horror that she was an escaped serial
killer. The discovery of her
criminality would show my belief in her as a decent person to be radically
erroneous and would reveal that I did not really know her at all.
My wife, qua loving person through and through, does not exist.
surely some determinate divine attributes must be properly identified if the
claim can be sustained that the partially erring natural theologian has proven
and identified the real God at all. Here
Geach appears to be somewhat careless. Upon
closer inspection, his example of Spinoza is not a case where substantial
theistic attributes are properly identified but muddied up with additional
attributes not possessed by the real God (who Geach understands to be the
Christian God). Properly
understood, Spinoza's God is the one infinite substance that includes all
existence (monism). He says in
Proposition 14 of Book One of his Ethics
"There can be, or be conceived, no other substance but God."
This substance is, in his words, Deus
sive natura, (God or nature), a pantheistic deity not ontologically distinct
from nature; it is impersonal as well, as the previous quote by Owen noted.
Therefore, Geach should say that Spinoza fundamentally misidentified what
the "divine attributes" actually are because Spinoza includes
important attributes that are antithetical to classically essential theistic
attributes—even if he retains some attributes compatible with Christian theism
such as self-existence and omnipresence. This case is similar to the one where
someone says that he knows that the present President of the United States is
thirty-one-years old. Geach should
recognize that Spinoza goes beyond misidentifying who occupies the title of God;
he misunderstands what the title itself stipulates.
distinction works better in cases where basic theistic attributes are defended
by natural theologians, but, nevertheless, other attributes are falsely ascribed
in addition to the necessary theistic core. In Geach's case as a Roman Catholic believer, he could say
that the Jewish natural theologian Maimonides as a monotheist correctly ascribed
to God the attributes of omnipotence, omniscience, omnipresence but incorrectly
denied the Trinity. Consider these
six criteria necessary for any classical monotheism:
1. There is only one God (not many) who is
2. Knowable through some means (not ineffable)
3. Personal, possessing a moral disposition, reflective self-
awareness, and capacity for volitional agency (not impersonal)
4. Worthy of adoration, devotion, and worship (not indifferent)
5. Distinct from the world (not pantheistically or monistically identical
6. Continuously involved in it (not deistically detached).
affirms 1-6. Spinoza unambiguously affirms only 1, 2 and 6; in any event, he
falls outside of theism, as the leaders of his synagogue rightly concluded
before excommunicating him for heresy. Richard
Taylor unambiguously affirms only 1, 2, and 5; he may accept 3 and 6; but he
rejects 4 outright, a point crucial to Pascal. Similar criteria checks can be
made for various natural theologians.
the limitations delineated above, if natural theology could establish 1-6 it
would at least narrow the theological field considerably because these divine
attributes, if proved, would eliminate pantheism, polytheism, deism, and dualism
as metaphysical challengers to theism--even though it would still permit a
variety of monotheisms. If this was
the case, additional argumentation or investigation could concentrate on which
of the theistic religions is the true religion.
Natural theology would have done some important prefatory work, albeit
limited in scope. Even if the "God of the philosophers" ends up being
abstract, at least some other abstract notions would be eliminated from theistic
iii. Is the Biblical God Abstract?
first premise that the biblical God is not abstract should also be assessed.
The premise requires some unpacking considering the various meanings of
the word "abstract."
the word abstract may concern general or basic descriptions lacking certain
content. This is the matter taken
up by Geach's murderer example and we need not discuss it more.
another use of "abstract" that Pascal is concerned about, I think, is
talk of God that is abstract in the sense of being philosophically abstruse and
impersonal. In Thomistic language,
to refer to God as "pure act" (actus
purus) is abstract in that it says nothing about any personal traits such as
love, mercy or justice; it also takes some thinking to understand just what actus
purus means because we must master the Aristotelian categories of actuality
this objection to abstraction as abstruse language and impersonal can be
rebutted through a consideration of different types of complementary
description. God, as presented in
biblical materials, is not described philosophically, but as a particular divine
being with specifiable attributes often evidenced in relation to human beings.
For instance, the living God of the Hebrews is never referred to as
"aseic" or as "omnicompetent” (abstract epithets) used by some
philosophers and theologians. Nevertheless, the biblical God, according to orthodox
thought, possesses attributes that, when distinguished from particular claims
about historical intervention, are abstract in the sense of being metaphysical
or somewhat abstruse.
say that God is self-existent or the maximally greatest being or the First Cause
is to speak in abstractions since we are not speaking of particular divine
actions or intentions but of rather arcane (but not unintelligible) metaphysical
concepts. Yet as understood within
the theistic traditions, these abstract attributes do apply to the particular
and personal deity described in Scripture.
In that way, God does possess attributes that can legitimately be seen as
abstract (from one philosophical angle at least), but these abstract
descriptions do not necessarily override or undermine the distinctively personal
attributes of God.
Hick seems to agree with Pascal's concern when he speaks of the difference
between the God of religion and the God of the philosophers.
He says that the Hebrew-Christian God “was not a proposition completing
a syllogism, or an abstract idea accepted by the mind, but the reality which
gave meaning to their lives."[xxvi]
Of course, no orthodox theist, philosophically inclined or otherwise,
thinks that God is a proposition. God
may be provable through an argument that concludes with the proposition
"God exists," but that is a different matter than God being a
proposition. Caricature aside,
Hick introduces a different aspect to the notion of an abstract God when
he says that this intellectual view of deity is merely "accepted by the
mind." This might be called intellectualism,
which means a purely cognitive recognition of certain theological facts that
fails to affect existentially one's innermost spiritual life.
description does seem to fit the orientation of the biblical writers, but there
need be no dichotomy between the philosophical and the devotional approaches to
God. There is no necessary
contradiction between believing God's existence (or at least certain things
about God) can be proved through argument and believing that this same God,
understood from within a religious tradition, can give meaning and inspiration
to one's life. Also, as mentioned
above, certain attributes of God can be "abstract" in the sense of
being metaphysical qualities, such as aseity, and also be possessed by a living
and personal God who acts in history. We
should remember that Anselm's rather abstruse ontological argument was
situated—without artifice, I believe—within a prayer.
theology offers arguments for a God who is self-existent, or the maximally
greatest being, or the designer, or
the source or the moral law, etc. Successful
proofs provide an abstract framework for the divine being, but they do not fill
in the specifics about that being's character.
Even an ontological argument—which, if successful, establishes a
maximally great being—does not specify just what the good may be or how we
should imitate it. For instance, if
it is good to be both loving and just, how then are these two goods both
maximized in the divine nature? Revealed
religion answers this question by appealing to the doctrines of the Incarnation
and atonement, but the ontological argument does not answer it because of its
formal and abstract character. Nevertheless,
this abstraction does not logically preclude the claim that God is a personal
being who can be accurately, if inadequately, described in an abstract
manner--and who could harmonize in his being both love and justice.
IV. CONCLUSION: NATURAL THEOLOGY
in all, Pascal's premise 1 is not clearly true since the God of religion can be
understood in certain abstract ways without necessarily suffering any spiritual
diminution in the philosophical process. Natural
theology will, by its very nature, fail to demonstrate all the attributes of the
Deity described in Scripture, but this need not cripple the endeavor.
This conclusion frees the aspiring natural theologian from at least one
theological fetter often applied to his metaphysical endeavors.[xxvii]
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Blaise Pascal, Pensées,
translated by A. J. Krailshaimer (New York: Penguin, 1966), 309.
Ibid., 449/556. The first number is the Lafuma enumeration of the fragments;
the second is the older Brunschvicg system.
Hick's position will briefly be discussed below.
Recent discussions of natural theology have distinguished a theistic proof
(as a demonstrative argument) from a theistic argument (a compelling but
less than demonstrative case). For
the purposes of this paper, the distinction is moot because in the case of
both theistic proofs and arguments the object of the argumentation is philosophically
derived--and this is the factor that bothers Pascal and others.
In addition to the elements of monotheism discussed below, I take Christian
theism to mean the belief in one God who exists in three co-equal and
co-eternal persons--the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.
God is also taken to be omnipotent, omniscient, omnipresent, and
omnibenevolent, as well as having incarnated in the person of Jesus Christ
for the purpose of human redemption. Theological debates on the precise
definitions of all these theological terms need not be addressed for the
purposes of this paper; although my understanding of Christian theism does
rule out the Process theology of some thinkers (especially those
significantly influenced by Alfred North Whitehead) who identify themselves
with the Christian tradition despite their redefinition of key Christian
doctrines about God.
See Summa Theologica, 1a, 1, 1.
Richard Taylor, Metaphysics 4th ed. (Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey: Prentice Hall,
Inc., 1992), 115.
Peter Geach, God and the Soul (London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1969), 113.
The rational defense of the Christian world view has traditionally been
divided into two categories: natural theology and Christian evidences.
The latter addresses specific historical claims such as the
historical reliability of the Scriptures.
Of course, the categories overlap in many interesting ways.
Pascal himself offered several different kinds of arguments for the truth of
the Christian faith in his Pensées.
However, he did not invoke natural theology as traditionally
Given my construal of the situation we need not discuss the deeper
ontological question of whether or not there are abstract objects or
H.P. Owen, "Theism," Encyclopedia
of Philosophy, Paul Edwards, ed., (New York: Macmillan Publishing
Company Co., and the Free Press, 1967) 7:97.
Although Pascal does not mention the problem of theological impersonalism
specifically, he could have been concerned that Aquinas' proofs, relying as
they do on Aristotelian notions, might only prove an impersonal Unmoved
Mover, and not the "I am who I am" of the Scriptures.
This is a legitimate concern whether or not Pascal had Thomas in
Geach, 114. Geach's description of Spinoza's God as "producing
creatures" may be somewhat misleading since the God of Spinoza was
really God/nature where God is not ontologically distinct from nature and so
does not produce distinct creatures. But
this is a minor point since it is clear that Spinoza's theology is at odds
with orthodox monotheism at many pivotal points.
See the following discussion on this.
I owe the germ of these insights to a perceptive comment by an anonymous
Hegel’s metaphysic is usually taken to be panentheistic (the Absolute
encompasses the world but is not identical to it because it also transcends
it) as opposed to pantheistic (the world and God are identical).
John Hick, Philosophy of Religion, 2nd ed. (Englewood, NJ: Prentice-Hall,
I would like to thank Professor Robert T. Herbert and an anonymous reviewer
at Christian Scholars Review for
their helpful comments on earlier version of this paper.