Goodness and Revelation

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This is the the thirty-sixth post in my Theories of Knowledge and Reality series. Follow the link for more on the series and for links to other entries as they appear. In the last post, I continued a series within the series on philosophical theology, looking at the problem of divine foreknowledge and human freedom. This post moves on to questions about divine goodness and revelation.

The final discussion from Ganssle’s book (see the first of the philosophical theology posts in this series) has to do with God’s goodness, but it is less a puzzle and more an argument for a thesis. Ganssle’s claim is that if God exists in anything like the traditional monotheistic view, i.e. the view that most of the philosophical arguments for and against God assume, then we might expect such a being to have communicated with us in a particular kind of way.

Ganssle's argument starts with God’s goodness. The argument can be formulated as follows:

1. If God is good, God would want us to understand as many as possible to know what
is best for us.
2. If God wants us to understand what is best for us, the best way to do that would be to communicate it clearly.
3. If God were to communicate clearly to us, God would use language, since we are beings who communicate and understand things most clearly when we use language.
4. If God were to communicate with as many people as possible about what is good for us, God would use written communication, since that can be preserved. We thus should accept some kind of written scripture if God exists.

A good being would want us to understand what is best for us. Otherwise God would be allowing us to wallow in what is not as good. Would a good being do that if it is possible not to? So we might expect some kind of communication if God exists.

The best way to communicate is to communicate in a way that we understand best. This seems relatively uncontroversial. It might be worth remembering the response John Hawthorne gave to the Divine Silence Argument earlier in this series. This could not be the kind of communication that would mean everyone would automatically believe. That would mean people would end up believing for the wrong reasons, even if they did not want to follow the best kind of path God would want us to follow. That is not the kind of belief a good God would want, since it allows for us to be bad while thinking we are good. That is not in our best interests.

Yet it seems some communication would be good, and a good being might be expected therefore to communicate in as clear a way as possible without getting to the point of getting so clear that all would believe. What might be the best way to achieve that?

Ganssle suggests that communication via language is far superior to any other way, since it is the way we communicate with each other when we want to be clear. Non-verbal signals can be misread. Allowing people to have vague thoughts would not seem to be as clear as language. Simply showing miracles also would not show absolutely clearly what God wants us to see. Language would make it fairly clear, but it would not make it so clear as to leave no room for doubt. Someone who wants to doubt something said via language can do so. Others can believe it. But it is usually clear enough what is being said, even if there is room for some confusion with language. It is at least the best that can be done with limited beings like humans.

To get this communication to as many as possible, it would ideally be the sort of thing that could last longer than people last, which would mean it would need to be in some preservable medium. One very good candidate for such preservation is writing. This is in fact what the major monotheistic religions believe God did. They believe God revealed matters of importance, perhaps even crucial importance, to us through a written revelation. Whether this is the Torah, the Hebrew Bible as a whole, the even larger Christian Bible, the Qur’an, the Book of Mormon, or whatever set of documents someone might take to be divinely inspired scripture, this would be something like what Ganssle thinks a God like the traditional monotheistic God would be expected to do.

There would still be all sorts of questions about which scripture would be the right one, but that is not as much a matter for philosophers as it is for other people (though philosophers might have something to say about it). But the point is that Ganssle has given a philosophical argument for a view most of the members of the biggest theistic religions believe, and it starts just from the view that God is good. If such a being does exist, we should expect some sort of written revelation, according to this argument.

This is the last post on philosophical theology. The next post moves into the free will topic, the next section of the course that these posts are based in.

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2 Comments

I expect that the view stands in need of extension.

God's message to us would be of value only if we believed that it was from God.
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.
To weigh the reasons, we must have already have in our possession some knowledge of the charactertics that must be possessed by divine communication.
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.
So, then, for God's message to find its mark, we must already possess (even if only implicity) knowledge to do with God's nature.
This seems a kind of knowledge that cannot be derived empirically. Rather it must be, in some sense, innate.

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.

Franklin, I agree that there should be a way to recognize that it's from God, but I don't see why it needs to be innate. Couldn't it be a special ability given by God that isn't innate? Or would you include that as innate even though it doesn't come from the way the person is on their own?

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