Monday, 24 May 2010

Paradox and Faith

Something else which I suspect will get up the nose of atheists is the concept of religious paradox.  I want to say (and mean) both that God is powerless and that God is powerful.

When we are talking about God we cannot use language - God is bigger than language - instead we are working with metaphor - and sometimes a metaphor of powerlessness helps us understand more, and sometimes a metaphor of powerful does.  All of these help us colour in our picture of God - or perhaps taking an apophatic path help us in removing bits that aren't in the picture!

Pete Rollins is very good on paradox in all his books


  1. I enjoyed this post. An appreciation of paradox is absolutely vital to my understanding of God and Christianity. And I could listen to that accent forever!

  2. I don't get the benefit of paradox in faith. Can you enlighten me? God is powerful, God is powerless - what does that mean?

    It seems to me that this is just a fudge. Simply stating that it means something doesn't mean it does.

    "All run by immaculate wellies." - That's a meaningless sentence. If I declare it true does that make it true. I'm sure I could fish some meaning out of it somewhere, even though I just made it up.

    Religious language seems to evolve out of questions about religion: "Mmmm, is God all powerful? What does that mean? What would it mean if he was powerless? Mmmmm. How about powerful AND powerless? Ah! That's pretty heavy. Must be true." The quest for profundity out of the meaningless. And I suspect the more meaningless the more profound and the more helpful at avoiding refutation. Bingo, A winner.

    "I suspect will get up the nose of atheists" - With good reason.

    Well, apophasis seems a safer bet than saying what he is. He's not my finger nail, he's not a stair rod, he's not green, ... this could take a while. Given that you could go on describing everything as not being God, aren't you left with the possibility that God is nothing? Another paradox - God IS, yet he is nothing.

    This is a can't lose philosophy. Quite worthless though.

  3. You seem to be saying here and on the other posts that if something is not within your comprehension then it might as well not exist because there is no evidence. This approach is an attempt to describe the indescribable (another paradox - like the biggest number that can't be described in ten words).

  4. Hi Alan,

    "This approach is an attempt to describe the indescribable" - No. It's a suggestion of what to do when not seeing the unseeable, the simply unseen, or the non-existant - because they all look the same: as if non-existence. So, 'it might as well not exist', or alternatively, 'that we might as well assume it doesn't exist'. No Paradox.

  5. They do not all look the same to me! But under the level of proof you require they do.

    You appear to be saying that if something can't be proven to your standard it might as well not exist. I disagree - to pick up on Andrew Browns comment there is a whole load of things which cannot be proven scientifically without which we would be impoverished.

  6. I suppose it depends on what you mean by 'comprehension' and 'it might well not exist'.

    a) No God? Nothing to comprehend?

    b) Something might exist that is within our comprehension (i.e. we could see it and understand it) but it's nowhere close enough in space, time, or maybe size/force, or dimension, to make any difference. A star on the other side of our galaxy, a particular ant in a rainforest - we could comprehend them but they aren't withing reach of our senses, or if they are they are swamped by lots of other stuff. This can apply to people - until we interacted on these blogs we might as well have not existed to each other. Is this what a 'real' finite God would be like? Out there, but unobserved, not significant?

    c) Then there might be something that is so big, so outside our range of vision, our ability to detect, or even our ability to understand, even if it's right in front of us, that it too might as well not exist because we do not recognise any interactions with it. This could be the incomprehensible God I guess.

    But, an alternative view to saying 'it might as well not exist' with the same outcome for us is 'that we might as well assume it doesn't exist'. Either view is possible and we couldn't tell the difference. And so, referring to God, he might be not be there; or there and comprehensible but not accessible; or there accessible but incomprehensible. How do we tell?

    The problem as I see it for theists then is, if he's not there, you're wasting your time, but even if he's there you can't know anything about him (otherwise evidence would exist). All the evidence that you might attribute to God being there could be explained by simpler means. Basically, everything you claim about God, except his existance, is made up by humans. Every time you utter anything about him it might have no correspondence with him. A loving God? How do you know? A creator God? How would you know?



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