Atheist-Orthodox Dialogue Post 2

In these essays, we post some thoughts from our conversation regarding “origins.”  From whence did we come?  Jon claims not to know but suggests science may yet determine a purely natural answer, with no need for a transcendent Creator: Where did we come from-1.  I claim that a belief in God’s creative act is not testable by science and that an inductive argument for a Creator is legitimate: Origins.


17 Responses

  1. Jame Ignatius McAuley

    I have read Aquinas’s Anselm’s, and Scotus’s arguments for the existence of God. I also read Peter Kreeft’s superb collection of arguments in favor of the existence of God. however, one that I have grown to be more in favor of Is Dumitru Staniloae’s argument from Love, found in his book The Holy Trinity: In the Beginning there was Love. Atheism reduces things to a natural , material causality that excludes the fire of Love. An atheist cannot agree to this sort of argument, however (they too often wan to set the terms of the debate to exclude such an approach) because it goes beyond the blasé, dry natural material causality they are trapped in.

    The other issue of atheist is death, They really do not want to delve to deeply into this issue, and try to make death merely a banal, natural thing. But people consciously or unconsciously rebel against such an approach, or why the obsession with good health, exercise and trying to stretch out our life spans? And, what atheist would not, for the sake of argument, take the 9 rings of Sauron for men in order to avoid death?

    I deal with a lot of elder care and end of life issues. My experience is that atheism crumbles in the face of a long, withering time in the winter of one’s life. I amazed at how many people in their 80s and 90s will agree to see a priest or minister when they have not gone to Church in years (decades!).

    1. Jane–I do not disagree that what seems to be the majority of people do not like the notion of death being a time of composting. It is perhaps human nature to want something more out of it. The nonbeliever wants evidence there is something else. So far nothing has shown up.
      I do object a little to your observation elderly people close to death tend to embrace the super natural faith. The elderly I have known in Red River Freethinkers certainly have not. Obviously, your experience is different. Could not it be that the faith is all around the frail, that it is sometimes suggested at points of distress (I’m not saying you are doing this)? In my experience, when those family supporting a dying atheist do not offer the faith, it is not asked for or sought out. Thanks for commenting.

  2. Josh Packwood

    Hi James, I find your account regarding atheism to be interesting. I am not sure that “atheists” (I use quotes because I don’t think we can paint with a broad stroke here, anymore than we can with the concept “Christian”) don’t delve deeply into death. For example, Christopher Hitchens delves rather deeply into death in his book “Mortality” (which he wrote shortly before he died) and he doesn’t seem to want to take the 9 rings in order to avoid death. All that to say, I think atheism is much broader than this and I don’t find your account compelling. There are quite a few philosophers that argue that death isn’t such a terrible thing, for example, Thomas Nagel’s paper “Death.” Nietzsche didn’t find the “Christian” concept of immortality appealing because he wondered, who really wants to live forever?

    This brings me to my next point. Maybe a better place to think of origins would be to begin with an emanationists theory, as opposed to a creationists view? I know, Lossky, Meyendorff, Romanides, etc. would not approve. However, I think there is really good evidence that Neoplatonic cosmogony deeply influenced the Greek Fathers, especially Dionysius and Maximus. If we take Neoplatonic philosophy as a way of grounding our theology, then we find a metaphysical account of emanation that brings forth everything from within God, or the first principle, the One. In this way the concept of ex nihilo becomes, not out of sheer nothingness, but rather out of nothing other than God. Moreover, I think this is the point Bishop Kallistos Ware is making in ch.3 of “The Orthodox Way”. Therefore, God does not “create” the cosmos as if he distinct from it, rather, or so it seems to me, God brings forth the cosmos from himself. Of course to make this argument work depends entirely on understanding Plotinus’ metaphysics, which this isn’t the place for that. But maybe it is to Neoplatonism that we should go to work first through these arguments and not modern science? In fact, Wayne Teasdale in “The Mystic Heart” argues that modern science confirms an ancient metaphysical view of emanation.

    1. Ware has never, to the best of my knowledge argued for a form of emanationism or pantheism. Creation comes from God, yes, via the Logos, but not in an emanating way. Other than that clarification, I leave you and Jame to your conversation.

      1. Josh Packwood

        Actually he does explicitly argue for a form of panentheism (as does Louth). In an article titled, “God Immanent yet Transcendent” in the book “In Him We Live and Move and Have Our Being” (Eerdmans press) he argues for what he calls, “Palamite Panentheism.”

        I am merely suggesting here that Ware’s account in “The Orthodox Way” is compatible with Neoplatonic cosmogony, which is, God “creates” out of nothing other than Himself.

        1. Josh, pantheism and panentheism are two quite different views despite their nearly identical spelling. I’m a panentheist too but panentheism does not require emanation. That said, there will always be some resonances with Neo-Platonism. Pseudo-Dionysius established that very very well, for instance.

    2. Jame Ignatius McAuley

      Fair enough. Perhaps, have painted atheists to broadly. But your day to day atheist that I deal with does not read Hitchens or Nietzche. They tend to be plain, uneducated people who, for one reason or another, have become angry at God or suffered a great wound (traumatic event) in their life where evil seemed to triumph. In their anger and frustration, they denounce God, cease going to Church and eventually deny His existence. They do not care about intellectual arguments. When the cold finger of death begins to touch them, I find they are more likely to listen to a gentle reminder. Of course, I pray for them, too, and ask their Guardian Angel for help as well as any relative or ancestor in heaven who could intercede for them before the throne of God.

      Respectfully, Josh, I am not going to get into a discussion about emanationism. I believe I remember reading about it in Plotinus years ago, but I never found it in Augustine, Dionysius, or Maximus. It is obvious that many Fathers took Neo-Platonism as a basis for theology, but in doing so, they filtered out what was expressly pagan and contrary to scripture.

  3. Josh

    Yes, Father. Very different indeed. I suppose I don’t equate emanation with pantheism as you seem too. Thus my point is not related to pantheism at all. My suggestion is emanation, not pantheism.

    1. If one merely means, by “emanation” that God the Father “overflows” in love, which is common in some patristic authors, then emanation works fine. My point is twofold: +Kallistos Ware does not uphold pantheism and if emanation is an extension of God’s own self (not via “energies” like creative love, etc.) then one has a pantheism of some kind. That’s all I was saying. Initially, I was concerned with the first part. Ware isn’t a pantheist.

  4. Jason B

    A couple thoughts on these essays –

    First, agnosticism does not mean belief in a 50/50 chance of God vs. no God. An agnostic is someone who does not claim a position in the debate, not someone who predicts the odds of God’s existence.

    Second, there is a sense where you’re both right. Mr. Lindgren rightly dismisses attempts by religion to butt into the realm of science (Intelligent Design and/or Young Earth Creationism from a scientific perspective – ie not the Appearance of Age argument) and notes that there is no way to scientifically prove or disprove the existence of God. Fr. Herbel agrees, at least in regard to the latter part. He does not mention Intelligent Design in his essay.

    You can find all sorts of ways that the universe seems fine-tuned to our existence (for example a constant that is tweaked less than 1% leading to a universe entirely of helium or hydrogen, depending on the direction, or the ridiculously low chance of life evolving randomly – something like an expected value of one in a trillion galaxies), and you can make an inspired choice based on this or the beauty of the world, or anything else you like, but you can’t prove religion. It’s a personal choice.

    It’s also, interestingly enough, a heritable characteristic to have a desire for religious faith. In the age of hormonal contraceptive, religious people tend to have more children than atheists and agnostics. Natural selection exists, and it’s selecting toward religion.

    1. No, I did not mention intelligent design or creationism. Those will be mentioned in due time. One question/issue at a time. keep in mind the structure of our posts. I don’t buy the natural selection hypothesis you offer, though, and I would argue what you call “choice” is a bit reductionistic. It’s not just a mere matter of whim, but an inductive argument. They are not exactly the same, though one does need to make a choice in regard to things I noted and you noted.

  5. Fr. James

    I really think that this dialogue serves Jon more then religious believers. He will use it to “prove” that he is reasonable and civil. Yet on his blog he recently said that Pope Benedict and Fred Phelps were just the same. I do not believe that he is engaging with us honestly.

    1. That is a risk, sure, but any time there is dialogue there is a number of risks. Thus far, for his essays here, Jon has been writing coherently and well. I haven’t seen his site recently, so I’m not sure why he made that comparison or what he was comparing. How they have ministered and to whom they have ministered are radically different. I am also unaware of anything approaching the level of Phelps’ hatred ever coming from Pope Benedict. So, I don’t know what was going on there. I think that should be addressed on Jon’s blog (and perhaps it already was). We’ll see how things progress here with this dialogue on this blog and I do welcome you, father, to speak to whatever we raise here. You’re more than welcome to do that.

  6. Jon confuses a cosmological explanation of the universe (about which scientists can debate) and an ontological explanation of the universe (which brings us into metaphysics and religion). The two are quite different. Science can never offer an opinion about the latter. It just can’t. (

    1. Yes, I agree. That is what I was doing my best to say in layman’s terms in my piece. It’s one thing if Jon remains an agnostic/skeptic, but it is another if he (or others) expect science to “discover” a God-cause. It cannot. Science can play a part in discernment and play a part in an inductive argument perhaps but science isn’t trying to do “spiritual alchemy.”

  7. I must note that Fr. James did not quote me from my blog, or from the free wheeling discussion that take place there. He merely made a sweeping statement that may not be correct. I don’t what he is referring to. However, it is true that Fred Phelps and the Catholic church share a dislike of homosexual acts and of gay marriage. I admit they may have very different reasons.

    1. But they also have very different responses, and not to acknowledge that is to make a much larger error in reasoning. I think that’s what Fr. James was getting at. That you shouldn’t tar the Catholic Church with the Phelps’ brush. Pope Francis and Phelps are too radically different people as well. One has served the poor throughout his life. The other protested military funerals and truly hated homosexuals. One preached compassion toward homosexuals, even while adhering to “sex only in heterosexual marriage” while the other targeted homosexuals explicitly in a deep and abiding anger. Conflating the two is a gross error of intellectual judgment and I think you came across that way to Fr. James.

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