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11/15/2018 2:10 pm  #1


Metaphysical arguments and the apologetic failure

I've been thinking lately that if the typical secular layperson were to ask me to prove the existence of God to him  I don't think I would be able to do it. This doesn't emerge from any doubt in a classical metaphysical picture of reality, proportionate causality, PSR, etc. Rather, I think the typical layperson inhabits a metaphysics that is completely juxtaposed to the classical theist's. There would be too many modern presumptions about science, the utility of metaphysics, etc. for said layperson to even be receptive to metaphysical arguments for God's existence.

In short, in order for the classical theist to be apologetically successful he has to not just prove the existence of God but has to prove the metaphysical system which God is the natural consequence of. It would require a complete conversion of a layperson's worldview. This is obvious, no doubt, to most theists on this forum. But I've just recently been struck at how apologetically handicapped the classical theist is.

This is part and parcel why I believe the apologetic scene is dominated by Paley-style design arguments, or an overdependence on the current findings of cosmology. It doesn't require an entire metaphysical shift for these arguments to work, it meets the secular on his home turf so to speak.

Perhaps apologetics isn't fit for the classic theist. Perhaps the classical theist should just put hope in trying to purge specific metaphysical doctrines from the secular worldview, with a possibility that one day the popular metaphysical system will shift to one more open to classical arguments for the existence of God. Or maybe classical theism is forever constrained to an academic niche.

Last edited by RomanJoe (11/15/2018 2:12 pm)

 

11/15/2018 10:43 pm  #2


Re: Metaphysical arguments and the apologetic failure

Increasingly I agree with Wittgenstein:

What makes a subject hard to understand - if it's something significant and important - is not that before you can understand it you need to be specially trained in abstruse matters, but the contrast between understanding the subject and what most people want to see. Because of this the very things which are most obvious may become the hardest of all to understand. What has to be overcome is a difficulty having to do with the will, rather than with the intellect.

I wouldn't be misled by reading apologists talk about their yield. If you go to your local church's RCIA class, most of the people there will not have any strong opinion about arguments for God's existence, though they may or may not have a conviction that God's existence is clear. For most of the converts I know, it did not hinge on philosophy. I even find that belief in God is not uncommon among the non-religious. And the children of atheists and agnostics forms some of, if not the, demographics most likely to change their religious identification as they grow up.

Religious questions remain alive for most people, though they generally don't have a philosophical outlet. I think that inevitable and also ok. Not just classical theism but apologetics generally is a bit of a niche. Apologetics isn't pointless, and classical theism can probably contribute something to it if it is true, but it's isn't the main thing. The main point of studying classical theism is attaining what knowledge of God you can in this life. And the measure of whether you've done that is not whether you can persuade the typical secular layperson of God's existence and nature.

 

11/17/2018 6:51 am  #3


Re: Metaphysical arguments and the apologetic failure

RomanJoe wrote:

I've been thinking lately that if the typical secular layperson were to ask me to prove the existence of God to him I don't think I would be able to do it. This doesn't emerge from any doubt in a classical metaphysical picture of reality, proportionate causality, PSR, etc. Rather, I think the typical layperson inhabits a metaphysics that is completely juxtaposed to the classical theist's. There would be too many modern presumptions about science, the utility of metaphysics, etc. for said layperson to even be receptive to metaphysical arguments for God's existence.

I disagree. This itself is a pop philosophy picture. In reality the typical layperson has little idea of what metaphysics actually is - if one has to explain it in relation to the natural sciences one introduces metaphysical claims as necessary to even begin formulating empirical scientific claims e.g. many sub-atomic particles we cannot observe directly but we postulate their existence through apparent effects on other particles. (If the layman accepts this common scientific realist understanding they can hardly quibble with the metaphysical nature of the cosmological argument).

RomanJoe wrote:

In short, in order for the classical theist to be apologetically successful he has to not just prove the existence of God but has to prove the metaphysical system which God is the natural consequence of. It would require a complete conversion of a layperson's worldview.

Again, I say this is wrong. Most laypeople, whether explicitly or implicitly, are committed to the Principle of Sufficient Reason, which is the basis of the most basic way of mounting an argument for theism.

 

 

11/17/2018 8:30 am  #4


Re: Metaphysical arguments and the apologetic failure

RomanJoe wrote:

Or maybe classical theism is forever constrained to an academic niche.

Do you mean "forever hereafter"? Classical theism was the majority view of the West for almost two thousand years. So clearly it can exist outside of the academy.

 

11/17/2018 2:47 pm  #5


Re: Metaphysical arguments and the apologetic failure

@DanielCC

I think you're right that most people take PSR to be self evident but I still think there's some muddle headedness around the conditions for contingency. I've come across skeptics who think an argument from contingency can be avoided via an appeal to the big bang or a primordial subatomic soup as ultimate explanations reality. I do think most people have a very common sense metaphysics, that universals exist, essences are real, there aren't brute facts. But I think all of this is infected by a sort of pseudo scientific materialism. E.g. There are natural kinds but really what's really real are atomic structures.

     Thread Starter
 

11/17/2018 2:49 pm  #6


Re: Metaphysical arguments and the apologetic failure

@John West
Yes I'm aware of its prevalence before modernity. I'm speaking loosely about the current state of classical theism.

     Thread Starter
 

11/17/2018 2:49 pm  #7


Re: Metaphysical arguments and the apologetic failure

@Greg

Great quote. Much wisdom in it.

     Thread Starter
 

11/17/2018 3:06 pm  #8


Re: Metaphysical arguments and the apologetic failure

RomanJoe wrote:

@John West
Yes I'm aware of its prevalence before modernity. I'm speaking loosely about the current state of classical theism.

Ah, okay. "forever constrained to an academic niche" was probably the wrong expression then.

 

11/17/2018 3:40 pm  #9


Re: Metaphysical arguments and the apologetic failure

RomanJoe wrote:

I do think most people have a very common sense metaphysics, that universals exist, essences are real, there aren't brute facts

I don't think most people have any opinion about universals or essences (by which you presumably mean substantial forms rather than self-identity) at all. They think that things exist, and have properties; but they don't have a view about whether property means tropes or a universal or a resemblance class including primitively similar things (or whatever). I think something similar can be said about substantial forms (which are, after all, just a species of property in the sense opposed to substance). These are all entities that philosophers posit to deal with problems men like Socrates raised.

 

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