Thursday, May 19, 2016

So the bible says

Originally published here.

Them that's got shall get Them that's not shall lose So the Bible said and it still is news
So Billie Holiday sang, probably alluding to Matthew 25:29 (‘For whoever has will be given more, and they will have an abundance. Whoever does not have, even what they have will be taken from them’) or Luke 8:18 (‘whosoever hath, to him shall be given; and whosoever hath not, from him shall be taken even that which he seemeth to have’), but that’s irrelevant. The point is that the subject of the verb ‘said’ is ‘the Bible’, and as Joshua Harris objects, the Bible cannot ‘say’ anything. It’s ‘an inanimate object, not an intellectual agent’. Well, perhaps we can change that to ‘it says in the Bible – who then is the impersonal ‘it’? What about ‘Matthew says that whoever has will be given more. What if Matthew didn’t write that gospel? Would it then be false that Matthew says that?

It is key to the theory of reference that I shall propose that we refer by means of the signs we use. Granted, it is through our will and agency that we produce signs: words and sentences that we utter or write, nods, winks, shrugs and other forms of non-verbal signification. But once the signs are in public view, it is they which do the work, as David Cameron found to his cost. Were intentions sufficient to make our meaning clear, there would be none of the confusion, ambiguity and lack of clarity that fill every waking moment.

Indeed, why should intentions or thoughts or stuff inside have anything to do with how we express what some text means or says? Suppose that the thought which Bob expresses by the words 'Sinners will be punished' is the thought that we would express by 'hamburgers with relish are delicious'. So when Bob says 'Matthew 25:46 says that sinners will be punished', he thinks that Matthew is saying something about hamburgers. Now what he thinks is false, but what he says is perfectly true. Matthew 25:46 indeed says that sinners will be punished, or something like that. The stuff inside our heads is just not important at all, indeed, it is questionable whether the Bob example is even coherent. Are we supposing that he has a kind of private language which, if there were a dictionary for it, would translate the spoken word 'sinners' into the mental word 'hamburgers'?

This is fundamentally connected with what I will have to say later about reference. Dale Tuggy asks here about some person who has ‘a goofy and anachronistic interpretation of the Bible, on which both God and Moses are avatars of the Flying Spaghetti Monster. Then what the Bible actually asserts may hardly enter his mind, as he's indirectly quoting it. But I think he [would] still be referring to what it actually asserts, by using the phrase that you've said.’ I agree. In the indirect quotation that he utters, the word ‘God’ refers to God, and ‘Moses’, to Moses. No avoiding that. Perhaps he means to refer so something else, but that does not matter. It is words that refer, not people. But more later.

Saturday, May 07, 2016

God and Deus

Originally published here. Copying here for reference.

Bill Vallicella, the famous Maverick Philosopher, just dropped me a line asking whether, when Thomas Aquinas and Baruch Spinoza use the term 'Deus', they are referring to the same being. This is a difficult and interesting question.
Bill uses the Latin name 'Deus', alluding to the fact that both men wrote in Latin. Latin was the choice of the 'scholastic' theologians of the 13th century, because it was the language of European scholarship. Thus the work of Thomas, an Italian writing in the 1260s, would have been accessible without translation to his English contemporary Roger Marston. For much the same reason, Spinoza, writing 400 years later, also used Latin.
Clearly both writers would have understood each other's work, as regards the dictionary meanings of Latin words. So when Thomas writes (Summa Iª q. 7 a. 1 co.) esse divinum non sit esse receptum in aliquo – the divine being is not a being received in anything, Spinoza would have understood what he meant because he would have understood the standard meanings of 'esse' (being), 'divinum' (of or belonging to a deity, divine), 'receptum' (that which is taken to one's self, admitted, accepted, received) etc. That is clear. All these words are in Latin dictionaries. But when Thomas writes Manifestum est quod ipse Deus sit infinitus et perfectus – it is manifest that Deus Himself is infinite and perfect – would he and Spinoza understand the proper name Deus in the same way?
This is a difficult question, for many reasons. But there is at least one sort of case where it is clear they are using the name ‘God’ in exactly the same way, namely when they discuss the interpretation of the scriptures. Aquinas does this many times in Summa Theologiae, using the words of the Bible and the Church Fathers to support complex theological and philosophical arguments. Spinoza’s Theologico-Political Treatise is an extensive commentary on the text of the Bible and its meaning, also supported throughout by biblical quotation. So when Thomas writes
According to Chrysostom (Hom. iii in Genes.), Moses prefaces his record by speaking of the works of God (Deus) collectively. (Summa Theologiae Iª q. 68 a. 1 ad 1)
and Spinoza writes
As for the fact that God [Deus] was angry with him [Balak] while he was on his journey, that happened also to Moses when he was setting out for Egypt at the command of God [Dei]. (Tractatus ch. 3, alluding to Exodus 4:24-26)
it is clear that they are talking about the same persons, i.e. they are both talking about God, and they are both talking about Moses. It is somewhat more complicated than that, because Spinoza has a special theory about what the word ‘God’ means in the scriptures, but more of that later. In the present case, it seems clear that whenever we indirectly quote the scriptures, e.g. ‘Exodus 3:1 says that Moses was setting out for Egypt at the command of God’, we are specifying what the Bible says by using the names ‘Moses’ and ‘God’ exactly as the Bible uses them. Bill might disagree here, but we shall see.

God and Allah

Originally published here at Dale Tuggy’s site. Copying here for reference.

Last month my publisher gave the green light to start work on The Same God? Reference and Identity in Jewish, Christian, and Muslim Scriptures. Yes, that old question of whether Muslims worship the same God as Christians, which surfaced again last year when Larycia Hawkins, an associate professor at Wheaton College, was suspended following her Facebook post citing Pope Francis's statement that Muslims and Christians worship the same God. Bill Vallicella has a good post about the question here, and see Beckwith’s discussion, as well as this by someone called ‘Tuggy’.

The first, and natural reaction, is that the Muslim and the Christian God cannot be the same, given the radically different conceptions that Muslims and Christians hold of the supreme being. Muslims believe that God is not triune, Christians believe that he is triune. Since being triune and not being triune are incompatible, it follows that no being could simultaneously instantiate the Muslim and the Christian conceptions, and so, given that there can be only one supreme being, it seems to follow that Muslims and Christians do not worship the same God. On this view, either the Christian or the Muslim is an idolater: one or the other entertains a conception of something that does not exist, but that which does not exist cannot be a genuine object of worship. But not so fast! As Christopher Howse pointed out here, the fact that you think others are mistaken in their description of someone's characteristics does not mean that they are referring to a different person.
Someone, for example, might call Spartacus a "freedom fighter" and someone else call him a "murderous rebel", but they are talking about the same man.
On this view, either the Christian or the Muslim is a heretic, by claiming that God has attributes which are contrary to the orthodox view. John of Damascus says:
There are many other extraordinary and quite ridiculous things in this book [Quran] which he [Muhammad] boasts was sent down to him from God. But when we ask: ‘And who is there to testify that God gave him the book? And which of the prophets foretold that such a prophet would rise up?’—they are at a loss.’ ‘Moreover, they call us Hetaeriasts, or Associators, because, they say, we introduce an associate with God by declaring Christ to the Son of God and God.’ ‘by avoiding the introduction of an associate with God you have mutilated Him. It would be far better for you to say that He has an associate than to mutilate Him, as if you were dealing with a stone or a piece of wood or some other inanimate object. Thus, you speak untruly when you call us Hetaeriasts; we retort by calling you Mutilators of God.’
John is clearly referring to God throughout. Second, he is also stating what Muhammad says via indirect quotation: ‘which he [Muhammad] boasts was sent down to him from God’. Thus he concedes that the being that Muhammad is boasting about is identical to the being that he worships. And so it is heresy, not idolatry. Muhammad denies there is an ‘associate’ of the very same being that John worships. Muhammad does not deny the existence of Jesus, but he does deny the relationship between Jesus and God claimed by orthodox Christians. But it is still more difficult. Howse claims that when someone calls Spartacus a "freedom fighter" and someone else calls him a "murderous rebel", they are both talking about the same man. This begs the question. What relation is invoked by calling someone a name? How do we talk about that person? Well, we use a proper name like ‘Spartacus’, but how does a proper name enable us to do this? Does it embed a description like ‘Thracian gladiator who led an uprising against the Romans’? If so, names that embed contrary descriptions like ‘triune’ and ‘not triune’ cannot possible refer to the same being, and so we are back to the first position. The question is one of idolatry not heresy. If, on the other hand, proper names do not embed descriptions, if they simply refer to their bearers, then they must refer to an existing bearer. Hence (a) God necessarily exists, because I am able to refer to him in saying ‘God exists’ and (b) it must be possible to determine from the meaning of ‘God’ and the meaning of ‘Allah’ alone, whether they are the same being or not. If I know the meaning of an English word and an Arabic word, I must be able to say whether one translates the other or not.
Can we understand a proposition in which two names occur without knowing whether their meaning is the same or different? Suppose I know the meaning of an English word and of a German word that means the same: then it is impossible for me to be unaware that they do mean the same; I must be capable of translating each into the other. (Wittgenstein, Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus 4.243)
Neither position seems tenable. More later, but as Vallicella says, there is no easy answer to the question. ‘It depends on the resolution of intricate questions in the philosophy of language’.