Saturday, March 13, 2010

God Your Way, Right Away- Part 1

Everyone who's read this blog for a while or have talked with me extensively on worldview issues, knows that I am really big on defining terms. Anytime that I'm on the sidelines of a heated discussion and notice that the conversation can be cooled a bit by the participants understanding the other's terms, I point it out- it normally works to help understanding, but not necessarily agreement.

This is another short series on the power (constructive and destructive) that definitions possess.

Something that has really been getting me lately is how people are defining "God," then say that "God" does not exist. Many of the objections by atheists to God's existence come in this form. The problem with this is that if someone where to say, "there is obviously evil in this world. God would not allow evil to exist. Therefore, God does not exist," they are making this exact mistake. 

An atheist who raises this objection has defined "God" as a supreme being who would not allow evil to exist and is obtaining his conclusion based on that definition. The problem is that most theists would agree that this "God" defined by the atheist does not exist! The atheist is quite rational with his conclusion, based on his definition of "God". This would throw off many who hold this definition of "God", especially when the theist concedes the conclusion but follows up with, "...but that's not the God I'm defending."

If someone is to avoid a conclusion, they need to demonstrate that either the logic is not sound or that one of the premises is false. The logic in this particular argument is sound, and the second premise is not under dispute by this particular atheist and the theist. However, the theist will dispute the truth of the first premise. Because of this, the theist does not accept the conclusion. But didn't I just say in the paragraph above that the theist would gladly accept the atheist's conclusion? Yes, but notice that is dependent on the acceptance of the first premise.

Notice that in the first premise we are working with different definitions here. These different definitions are not typically made clear in a debate forum or in discussion. The people who are on the side of the atheist make the same assumed definition and project that assumption onto everyone (including theists). As a result, they get frustrated (and even indignant) because they don't see how such an obvious conclusion is being denied. The same goes for the theists in the group. They are assuming their definition of "God" and projecting it onto everyone, including the atheists. The same result occurs: they get frustrated (and even indignant too) when they see that the atheists do not accept such an obvious conclusion. Both sides appear to have valid points and be correct in their conclusions...but only to those who assume the same definition of "God".

This is just one example of where differing and assumed definitions can cause confusion. I have more on the importance of defining terms in last year's series of posts "Defining Terms". Next week, I'll get more into the purpose for this series in the first place.

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