Friday, January 05, 2007

Like Lock and Key

Gregory E. Ganssle argues that God, if conceived in the traditional way, likely would wish to communicate with humanity, and that the most likely form of communication would be the written word. (What is the traditional conception? God is the all-good, all-powerful, all-wise creator and sustainer of the world who so loves his creation that he acts within it to insure its redemption. Orthodox Muslims, Jews and Christians all assent to this.)

I accept the claim but think that the view stands in need of extension.

1. God's message to us would be of value only if we believed that it was from God.
2. But in all matters to do with belief about such things, we ought carefully to weigh the reasons to believe that the message really does come from God.
3. To weigh the reasons, we must have already have in our possession some knowledge of the characteristics that must be possessed by divine communication.
4. These characteristics, presumably, would derive from God's perfect nature - the divine message would reflect God's goodness, God's love for us, God's justice, God's knowledge, God's power, etc.
5. So, then, for God's message to find its mark, we must already possess (even if only implicitly) knowledge to do with God's nature.
6. This seems a kind of knowledge that cannot be derived empirically. Rather it must be, in some sense, innate.

The most obvious of the lacunae in the argument is found in 6. Why think that our knowledge of God's nature cannot be of empirical origin? That is a difficult question to answer, and let me here say only this. (I will limit myself to the attribute of goodness.) There is nothing that we observe by means of the senses that possesses the perfection of omnibenevolence. Indeed it seems that by the senses we do not so observe even imperfect goodness. We do of course observe things that are imperfectly good. But though the thing is observed, its goodness is not. Thus if we have some notion of goodness (and we do), it cannot be derived empirically; and if it is not

The upshot is that God must have made us such that we have within ourselves the means to verify that God's message does truly originate in God. An analogy: if God's message is the key, within us there must be a lock that precisely fits that key.

(A hat-tip to Jeremy at the Parableman. His discussion of Ganssle is quite good.)

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