Friday, November 27, 2015

If there is a God, why doesn't God provide clear and undeniable evidence of existance?

Sam & Socrates discuss

If there is a God why doesn’t God provide clear
and undeniable evidence of existence?

Sam:  Good morning Socrates, how are you this morning?

Socrates:  Still drinking my first cup of coffee so things are getting better with each sip?  How about you?

Sam:  Been pondering a question.

Socrates:  Well that is always a good way to start the day.  So what question do you have your been musing about?

Sam:  If there were a God why would God not just provide clear and undeniable evidence to everyone of God’s existence?

Socrates:  That is a question that many have wrestled with as they have thought about God.   What are the possible answers?

Sam:  Well let me see: 

1.  No such clear and undeniable evidence exists because God does not exist.

2.  No evidence exists because God does not desire humanity to know of God’s existence.

3.  God does care about humanity.  If this is assumed then it could be that in some way if God did provide such clear and undeniable evidence of divine existence this would harm humanity.

4.  God providing such clear and undeniable evidence of divine existence would hinder some greater good from being attained.

5.  There is clear and undeniable evidence but humanity refuses to acknowledge it because of a lack of desire to know God or the ability to understand this evidence.

Socrates:  That seems a good place to start.  So let us look at each option.  Assuming that no clear and undeniable evidence exists of God being real, then does this prove that God does not exist?

Sam:  No, since the other options would indicate that such evidence does not exist but could be for many reasons ranging from indifference towards us to our indifference towards God.  So if any of these other options are true then God could still theoretically exist.
Socrates:  Also, while some degree of evidence seems to be lacking does this mean that there is no evidence of God’s existence at all

Sam:  No many have pointed to the contingency of the universe and the need of a necessary being, the evidence of design in the cosmos, existential experience of God’s existence, fulfilled prophecy, the resurrection of Jesus Christ and many other things as providing evidence for God’s existence.  

So if one found this evidence to provide a rational inductive argument to justify a conviction in God’s existence compelling, then God could exist, and also some reason that God chose to not provide such clear and compelling evidence to humanity.   [1]

Socrates:  So as long as a there is a possible rational reason for God not providing undeniable proof of the divine existence then the lack of this action by God to give such a demonstration would not require us to accept agnosticism or atheism as the only possible answers to the question of God.

Sam:  That would seem to be the case.

Socrates:  Then the next option we have is that a Creator God exists but there is lack of evidence of the divine existence simply because God does not have any interest in us or desire to make God’s existence known to humanity.  

Sam:  This perspective seems to reconcile the evidence for God’s existence and lack of undeniable evidence of that existence better that the last.  Here we can acknowledge the rational reasons to believe a Creator God exists and yet also understand why God seems hidden from us.  

Socrates:  Yet, we have here testimonies of answered prayers and claims of divine involvement, and even revelation.  Some of this testimony could be false but it is in such a large number of cases that it would be hard to think that none of this revelation and reports of God’s activity was true.   Even today it is reported that 51% of the people in the world believe in God and would feel that there is sufficient evidence for rational acceptance of God’s existence and even care for human beings. [2]  There is even rational defense for miracles and testimonies from modern Western nations that they do occur.[3]  So the claim that God has done nothing to make himself known would not seem to fit all the data and testimony we have historically or currently.

Sam:  So it would be hard to demonstrate that God simply created the universe and then refused to interact with us because of the extent and number of reports that indicate that people have encountered God in various ways.   So while God may not have provided concrete and universal evidence of God’s existence to each person,  it can be argued that God has provided some evidence of the divine existence and this would show a measure of concern for us to know about God.

Socrates:  So let us look at the answer that would say that such a concrete giving of evidence to humanity would do us harm.  

Sam:  I do not see how that can be?

Socrates:  Do you believe that if a person is given undeniable evidence and then rejects this evidence and works contrary to it that this is worst than a person who is given less evidence?

Sam:  What do you mean?

Socrates:  Let us say that a jury was given concrete and undeniable evidence that a person committed a murder.  They had videotapes, fingerprints, motive, and every amount of physical evidence you can imagine. In addition they had a signed confession from the accused person.  Yet, the jury felt that the victim deserved to be murdered and liked the personality of the murderer.  The jury declares the person innocent knowing that he/she is guilty.    Is that jury more accountable than a jury where the evidence is strong but not so absolute?

Sam:  The more knowledge a person has the greater the responsibility to act in accordance with the evidence.

Socrates:  Exactly, so let us assume that God would want the best outcome in providing evidence of the divine existence to us, and that God already knows the outcome of every possible universe.  If we assume a God who cares for humanity the only reason that such a divine being would not provide such concrete evidence is that the outcome would be to make humanity more responsible and yet not lead to a good response to this information.  In other words, the majority of people would not respond in a positive way and therefore be in greater moral guilt.

Sam:  But why would that be the case.

Socrates:  Do we always do what we know to be the right thing to do?

Sam:  No, many times we fail to act consistently with our highest ideals. 

Socrates:  The whole problem with ethics and morals is not so much that people don’t know what is right or wrong but even when they know what is right they don’t do it.  People do not always listen to their conscience.  So why do we think they would respond positively to greater evidence concerning God?

Sam:  I see what you mean.  Our moral problems are not so much caused by confusion about what we believe to be right or wrong but by our failure to do what we would say is the right thing to do.   So if this included the proper moral response to God, which would be absolute surrender and obedience, then those with greater revelation would be more morally responsible. 

Socrates:  That would seem to be the case.

Sam:  The other idea which is connected to this one suggests that some greater good might be lost if such concrete revelation was given. 

Socrates:  I think that we could imagine such a situation.  It is even possible that the process of needing to seek God and process information might actually lead more people to a deeper faith than if everything was handed to them on a silver spoon.   We value what we have to seek more than what we are simply given. 

There could also be other factors that might actually mean that more people respond positively with partial evidence instead of absolute evidence since it does not seemed forced on them.    Kierkegaard, argue that the only way that God could get the relationship God desires with humanity is by giving us less open evidence of his existence. [4] So in such a situation a God who cared about us would not provide absolute concrete evidence to every person. 

Sam:  So one could have in such a situation a God who cares for humanity and yet not provide concrete evidence of the divine existence. 

Socrates:  This is at least theoretically possible.

Sam:   That leads us to one other possibility and that is that God has provided clear evidence to humanity and we simply have refused to acknowledge it or accept it.  I don’t know how we could consider this a possibility.

Socrates:  It has been argued from natural theology for a long time that the universe itself presents clear evidence of a Creator. [5]  At an existential and experience level many people feel that the order they see around them is best explained by a Creator.  The argument has also been made that our moral conscience is evidence of as an ultimate moral judge. [6] 

In this case the argument is not that God has failed to provide sufficient and even compelling evidence but that humanity has suppressed this evidence because of a desire to avoid God’s existence.   So one could argue the problem is not with God but the problem is with humanity’s honesty with the evidence that does exist.

Sam:  So a God could exist that cares for humanity but who would not give us any more evidence than we have about the divine existence.  The fact that more evidence has not been given is not an indication of God not existing or that if a God exists, that God does not care enough about us to give us adequate evidence of the reality of the divine existence. 

Socrates:  I think this is a reasonable conclusion 

[1] The Cosmological Argument from Plato to Leibniz: (Library of Philosophy and Religion) by William Lane Craig
The Kalam Cosmological Argument by William L. Craig
The Creation Hypothesis: Scientific Evidence for an Intelligent Designer by J. P. Moreland
How to Think About God: A Guide for the 20th-century Pagan : One Who Does Not Worship the God of Christians, Mortimer J. Adler
How to Prove There Is a God: Mortimer J. Adler's Writings and Thoughts About God by Mortimer Adler , Ken Dzugan

[3] Miracles: What They Are, Why They Happen, and How They Can Change Your Life by Eric Metaxas

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

What is the Socratic Method?


excerpted from Socrates Café by Christopher Phillips

The Socratic method is a way to seek truths by your own lights.

It is a system, a spirit, a method, a type of philosophical inquiry an intellectual technique, all rolled into one.

Socrates himself never spelled out a "method." However, the Socratic method is named after him because Socrates, more than any other before or since, models for us philosophy practiced - philosophy as deed, as way of living, as something that any of us can do. It is an open system of philosophical inquiry that allows one to interrogate from many vantage points.

Gregory Vlastos, a Socrates scholar and professor of philosophy at Princeton, described Socrates’ method of inquiry as "among the greatest achievements of humanity." Why? Because, he says, it makes philosophical inquiry "a common human enterprise, open to every man." Instead of requiring allegiance to a specific philosophical viewpoint or analytic technique or specialized vocabulary, the Socratic method "calls for common sense and common speech." And this, he says, "is as it should be, for how man should live is every man’s business."

I think, however, that the Socratic method goes beyond Vlastos’ description. It does not merely call for common sense but examines what common sense is. The Socratic method asks: Does the common sense of our day offer us the greatest potential for self-understanding and human excellence? Or is the prevailing common sense in fact a roadblock to realizing this potential?

Vlastos goes on to say that Socratic inquiry is by no means simple, and "calls not only for the highest degree of mental alertness of which anyone is capable" but also for "moral qualities of a high order: sincerity, humility, courage." Such qualities "protect against the possibility" that Socratic dialogue, no matter how rigorous, "would merely grind out . . . wild conclusions with irresponsible premises." I agree, though I would replace the quality of sincerity with honesty, since one can hold a conviction sincerely without examining it, while honesty would require that one subject one’s convictions to frequent scrutiny.

A Socratic dialogue reveals how different our outlooks can be on concepts we use every day. It reveals how different our philosophies are, and often how tenable - or untenable, as the case may be - a range of philosophies can be. Moreover, even the most universally recognized and used concept, when subjected to Socratic scrutiny, might reveal not only that there is not universal agreement, after all, on the meaning of any given concept, but that every single person has a somewhat different take on each and every concept under the sun.

What’s more, there seems to be no such thing as a concept so abstract, or a question so off base, that it cant be fruitfully explored at Socrates Café. In the course of Socratizing, it often turns out to be the case that some of the most so-called abstract concepts are intimately related to the most profoundly relevant human experiences. In fact, it’s been my experience that virtually any question can be plumbed Socratically. Sometimes you don’t know what question will have the most lasting and significant impact until you take a risk and delve into it for a while.

What distinguishes the Socratic method from mere nonsystematic inquiry is the sustained attempt to explore the ramifications of certain opinions and then offer compelling objections and alternatives. This scrupulous and exhaustive form of inquiry in many ways resembles the scientific method. But unlike Socratic inquiry, scientific inquiry would often lead us to believe that whatever is not measurable cannot be investigated. This "belief" fails to address such paramount human concerns as sorrow and joy and suffering and love.

Instead of focusing on the outer cosmos, Socrates focused primarily on human beings and their cosmos within, utilizing his method to open up new realms of self-knowledge while at the same time exposing a great deal of error, superstition, and dogmatic nonsense. The Spanish-born American philosopher and poet George Santayana said that Socrates knew that "the foreground of human life is necessarily moral and practical" and that "it is so even so for artists" - and even for scientists, try as some might to divorce their work from these dimensions of human existence.

Scholars call Socrates’ method the elenchus, which is Hellenistic Greek for inquiry or cross-examination. But it is not just any type of inquiry or examination. It is a type that reveals people to themselves, that makes them see what their opinions really amount to. C. D. C. Reeve, professor of philosophy at Reed College, gives the standard explanation of an elenchus in saying that its aim “is not simply to reach adequate definitions" of such things as virtues; rather, it also has a "moral reformatory purpose, for Socrates believes that regular elenctic philosophizing makes people happier and more virtuous than anything else. . . . Indeed philosophizing is so important for human welfare, on his view, that he is willing to accept execution rather than give it up."

Socrates’ method of examination can indeed be a vital part of existence, but I would not go so far as to say that it should be. And I do not think that Socrates felt that habitual use of this method "makes people happier." The fulfillment that comes from Socratizing comes only at a price - it could well make us unhappier, more uncertain, more troubled, as well as more fulfilled. It can leave us with a sense that we don’t know the answers after all, that we are much further from knowing the answers than we’d ever realized before engaging in Socratic discourse. And this is fulfilling - and exhilarating and humbling and perplexing. We may leave a Socrates Café - in all likelihood we will leave a Socrates Café - with a heady sense that there are many more ways and truths and lights by which to examine any given concept than we had ever before imagined.

In The Gay Science, Friedrich Nietzsche said, "I admire the courage and wisdom of Socrates in all he did, said - and did not say." Nietzsche was a distinguished nineteenth-century classical philologist before he abandoned the academic fold and became known for championing a type of heroic individual who would create a life - affirming "will to power" ethic. In the spirit of his writings on such individuals, whom he described as "supermen,’, Nietzsche lauded Socrates as a "genius of the heart. . . whose voice knows how to descend into the depths of every soul . . . who teaches one to listen, who smoothes rough souls and lets them taste a new yearning . . . who divines the hidden and forgotten treasure, the drop of goodness . . . from whose touch everyone goes away richer, not having found grace nor amazed, not as blessed and oppressed by the good of another, but richer in himself, opened . . . less sure perhaps... but full of hopes that as yet have no name." I only differ with Nietzsche when he characterizes Socrates as someone who descended into the depths of others’ souls. To the contrary Socrates enabled those with whom he engaged in dialogues to descend into the depths of their own souls and create their own life - affirming ethic.

Santayana said that he would never hold views in philosophy which he did not believe in daily life, and that he would deem it dishonest and even spineless to advance or entertain views in discourse which were not those under which he habitually lived. But there is no neat divide between one’s views of philosophy and of life. They are overlapping and kindred views. It is virtually impossible in many instances to know what we believe in daily life until we engage others in dialogue. Likewise, to discover our philosophical views, we must engage with ourselves, with the lives we already lead. Our views form, change, evolve, as we participate in this dialogue. It is the only way truly to discover what philosophical colors we sail under. Everyone at some point preaches to himself and others what he does not yet practice; everyone acts in or on the world in ways that are in some way contradictory or inconsistent with the views he or she confesses or professes to hold. For instance, the Danish philosopher Søren Kierkegaard, the influential founder of existentialism, put Socratic principles to use in writing his dissertation on the concept of irony in Socrates, often using pseudonyms so he could argue his own positions with himself. In addition, the sixteenth-century essayist Michel de Montaigne, who was called "the French Socrates" and was known as the father of skepticism in modern Europe, would write and add conflicting and even contradictory passages in the same work. And like Socrates, he believed the search for truth was worth dying for.

The Socratic method forces people "to confront their own dogmatism," according to Leonard Nelson, a German philosopher who wrote on such subjects as ethics and theory of knowledge until he was forced by the rise of Nazism to quit. By doing so, participants in Socratic dialogue are, in effect,"forcing themselves to be free," Nelson maintains. But they’re not just confronted with their own dogmatism. In the course of a Socrates Café, they may be confronted with an array of hypotheses, convictions, conjectures and theories offered by the other participants, and themselves - all of which subscribe to some sort of dogma. The Socratic method requires that - honestly and openly, rationally and imaginatively - they confront the dogma by asking such questions as: What does this mean? What speaks for and against it? Are there alternative ways of considering it that are even more plausible and tenable?

At certain junctures of a Socratic dialogue, the "forcing" that this confrontation entails - the insistence that each participant carefully articulate her singular philosophical perspective - can be upsetting. But that is all to the good. If it never touches any nerves, if it doesn't upset, if it doesn't mentally and spiritually challenge and perplex, in a wonderful and exhilarating way, it is not Socratic dialogue. This "forcing" opens us up to the varieties of experiences of others - whether through direct dialogue, or through other means, like drama or books, or through a work of art or a dance. It compels us to explore alternative perspectives, asking what might be said for or against each.

Keep this ethos in mind if you ever, for instance, feel tempted to ask a question like this one once posed at a Socrates Café: How can we overcome alienation? Challenge the premise of the question at the outset. You may need to ask: Is alienation something we always want to overcome? For instance, Shakespeare and Goethe may have written their timeless works because they embraced their sense of alienation rather than attempting to escape it. If this was so, then you might want to ask: Are there many different types, and degrees, of alienation? Depending on the context, are there some types that you want to overcome and other types that you do not at all want to overcome but rather want to incorporate into yourself? And to answer effectively such questions, you first need to ask and answer such questions as: What is alienation? What does it mean to overcome alienation? Why would we ever want to overcome alienation? What are some of the many different types of alienation? What are the criteria or traits that link each of these types? Is it possible to be completely alienated? And many more questions besides.

Those who become smitten with the Socratic method of philosophical inquiry thrive on the question. They never run out of questions, or out of new ways to question. Some of Socrates Café’s most avid philosophizers are, for me, the question personified.