17 July 2013

Describing God by analogy: another trick that doesn't work

Whenever contradictions arise in apologetic arguments, the "nuclear option" is to describe God as in some way ineffable or incomprehensible, which has the convenient effect of immediately terminating all critique. In the recent comment threads going back-and-forth about Aquinas' argument from motion, two commenters, when faced with the inevitable contradictions entailed by their arguments, have argued that when they use certain terminology to describe God they are speaking analogously – and this is supposedly just as legitimate as describing God in unequivocal terms. I want to take a moment to explain why I'm not buying it.

First, a quick primer: my central objection to the argument from motion (though certainly not my only objection) is that it ends with a God that is 'pure actuality'. It says that change occurs when 'potentiality is reduced to actuality', and this creates an infinite regress lest terminated in a source of 'pure actuality' which is, in Aquinas' words, the 'First Mover'. The obvious problem here is that if God is really pure actuality, then he's non-functional. God can't think, act, cause, will, or anything of the sort because these actions all imply change. This means that not only can God not have free will, but humans can't either – because all that God can do or be is fully actualized, and the arrow of time from his perspective would be meaningless.

Now, while you have to love the irony of theists arguing for an omnipotent God who can't actually do anything, theists try to weasel out of the convoluted nature of their conclusion by saying that God still does all those conventionally temporal things – think, be, experience, cause, act, will, etc. – but we can only describe those concepts analogously because, well, God is ineffable.

Well, pardon me for thinking that the apologist hasn't said anything remotely meaningful at all. It's tantamount to saying,
God has thoughts, but they are not "thoughts" in any sense that we would ordinarily use the term.
In that case, what's the point in even saying that God has thoughts at all? Why call them 'thoughts' if they bear little to no resemblance to our everyday conceptualization of the term? This is the kind of semantic bullshit that only religious apologists can pull off.

Have you ever been chatting with a friend when one of you whips out an impromptu analogy, only for the other to say, "Actually it's not like that at all!" before you both laugh? Analogies are used in communication to clarify conceptual ambiguities by expressing common relationships between two concepts or scenarios. But the apologist is using analogy in a completely different sense: not as conceptual clarity, but rather to justify conceptual ambiguity. It's a misguided use of language and a misunderstanding of how analogy is used. But being as they are like magicians with a seemingly endless supply of smoke and mirrors, I'd expect nothing less from apologists.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.