What drives religious pluralism?

Can we accept the conclusion that the God of love who seeks to save all mankind has nevertheless ordained that men must be saved in such a way that only a small minority can receive this salvation? It is the weight of this moral contradiction which has driven Christian thinkers in modern times to explore other ways of understanding the human religious situation.

John Hick, God and the Universe of Faiths, 1977

So it is unacceptable to John Hick – as if that determines truth – that the God of love (this is a hangover from his distinctly Christian upbringing, how does he know God is love?) save only a minority (as if God is obliged to save anyone or is unjust in his wrath against rebel sinners)?

But where is the moral contradiction? There is none, unless God is obliged to save all men (due to his ‘love’).



13 Responses to “What drives religious pluralism?”

  1. _ Says:

    I’m in a Philosophy of Religion class this semester (We’re using two books by John Hick). I am decently versed in both theology and apologetics, but I’m finding I am sympathizing frequently with the skeptic side and my faith is plummeting. Any suggestions?

    • soulangler Says:

      Harold Netland is very helpful in my view. I’ve read Dissonant Voices and Encountering Religious Pluralism. he latter is reviewed here and seems to be right up your street since it critiques John Hick.

      John Hick has, perhaps you know, made quite a journey from conservative Bible-believer, through Presbyterian minister. Then he started talking about ‘God’ as if other faiths are equally salvific. Then,it seems to me, he had to stop using ‘God’ because it is too specific and personal – it didn’t fit the impersonal concepts of the East such as Brahman. So he started to talk of ‘The Real’ and adopted a neo-Kantian paradigm (I’m going from memory here so I can’t give all the details and page numbers etc.).

      He thought he could use Kant’s distinction between the noumenal (Hivk placed ‘The Real’ here) and the phenomenal realms. But as anyone who knows Kant’s thought knows – we can’t know the noumenal realm because it is ‘before’ our minds have interpreted it in the categories of the mind.

      To cut a long story short, the religious pluralist’s god must become more impersonal (more Eastern) and basically unknowable. This is problematic for the Christian who believes in the incarnate Word.

      From the point of view of presuppositionalism – the religious pluralist usually does what all forms of relativism/historicism/perspectivalism do -they make their own pronouncements and worldview exempt from the relativism they apply to all others. In postmodernism, no one likes to admit that the ‘rejection of all metanarratives’ is in itself a metanarrative. The nihilist believes the statement ‘all is meaningless’ is meaningful, the relativist hates to have his opponent say, ‘You relativism is only true for you’ etc. I think this is the avenue I would want to explore and is rarely articulated in a secular university where there is, let me assure you, an agenda.

      Hope this is of some help – Harold Netland is worth a read – at least you want to hear an intelligent critique from the ‘believing’ side before accepting hook line and sinker what the pluralist is arguing for.

      Thanks for stopping by 🙂

  2. _ Says:

    Hm. Alright, I read those posts and a few posts that were linked to on them (Automatically Generated i.e. http://defeatingdefeaters.wordpress.com/2008/02/29/lewis-moore-on-naturalism/)
    Very interesting, I haven’t read about this much so it was new info. I’ve been meaning to read Miracles by Lewis for some time, though I didn’t know it was about this! (I’m actually reading Surprised by Joy (Lewis’ autobiography) at the moment.

    Anyways to the argument. Ooh lookie there, last time I was here I only saw your last post, missed the one before it. Good stuff. But:
    “Naturalism tends to view the immediate, mechanistic cause as the only real one.” Right, and so it makes me wonder, what is there left for God to do?

    It seems that the main refutation of naturalism is that; if naturalism is true then our thought is merely the source of chemistry and physics. This supposes two things: First, that we do, in fact, experience free will; Second, that in the amazing complexity of our brains there isn’t sufficient operatives to support the thinking we call free will. Which really seems like a “God of the gaps,” what we can’t explain let’s attribute to God. First people took a stand that God created all the animals, but then evolution came and so people took a stand that God created life, but that can almost be explained to chance (relative to the number of planets in the universe etc.), so shall we then take a stand on the thinking of our minds? It seems VERY safe to assume that not too long in the future we’ll know more and more about our brains and figure out just how the cause and effect of chemicals and physics can work as a sort of functional free will (though still HEAVILY influenced by our socialization and learning etc).

    After writing that^ I just looked up “God of the gaps” in Wikipedia. Turns out that every single person referenced under the “Origins of the term” section are Christian! Now, you did basically say that Naturalism and Christianity aren’t mutually exclusive; but still my question stands: What is there left for God to do?

    An answer I would anticipate is; Matters of the heart. But even then–I’m an INTJ and, I think, tend to be quite perceptive–I can rationalize away most things that go on that are attributed to God. And furthermore my theology doesn’t allow me to leave God out of the contemporary picture it demands I pray without ceasing, it is clear that only the Holy Spirit can birth someone again, and we should be able to heal people and “The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working” (James 5) (Sure there are cessationists out there (maybe you’re one) but from what I’ve seen it’s not too hard to tear them a theological new one). And so I say again, “What is there left for God to do?”

    Thanks for dukin’ this out with me.

    James 5:19-20 “My brothers, if anyone among you wanders from the truth and someone brings him back, let him know that whoever brings back a sinner from his wandering will save his soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins.”

    • soulangler Says:

      I would recommend Miracles by Lewis – it’s been a while for me but it really is all about the possibility of miracles, naturalism and science.

      I think ‘and so it makes me wonder, what is there left for God to do?’ is your main question (agreed?)

      Well, what about going back to the example of brushing teeth? Your question sounds a bit like, ‘What further explanation is needed once you’ve established that my teeth are cleaned by the motion of the brush?’

      Would it be wrong to ask, ‘Yeah, but what makes the brush move?’? Appealing to an agent doesn’t seem like an ‘agent of the gaps’ to bring in as soon as the explanation has run out.

      I was going to write what’s below and then thought it’s off topic so nearly deleted it – but I’ve left it so treat it as irrelevant or helpful (!)

      The scientific method deliberately looks only at mechanistic cause and effect so as to achieve results. But the first proponents of this (such as Bacon) didn’t say that this meant there could be no other explanation.

      Scientism is not to be confused with science. Scientism is a faith that assumes (without proof) that the only method of arriving at truth is via the induction method. But science presupposes an orderly universe with regularities that can be systematised and known.

      • Z Says:

        Word. But, according to science, it’s less like brushing teach and more like throwing a bouncy ball. The primary cause only happens once and then it bounces as it wills. Just today I wrote an essay on the Cosmological argument.ad
        Hopefully I’ll get to read Miracles soon.

        Where are you from? What’s your profession?

      • soulangler Says:

        it’s less like brushing teach and more like throwing a bouncy ball. The primary cause only happens once and then it bounces as it wills

        I think that’s a valid point. But the disturbing ‘move’ is when we are no longer talking about rocks and plants but people. So, OK, rocks are acted upon and behave according to their nature and the laws of physics. Fine.

        But now let’s consider you and I. Are we acted upon by the (impersonal) laws of nature only? Of course, we are acted upon in this way when considered as physical bodies. If I jump off a building ‘gravity always wins’ to quote Radiohead. But are my thoughts, my mind, subject to natural law in just the same way? What would responsibility or human choice mean then? Surely it would be nothing more than an illusion?

        And then the ‘thoughts’ of my ‘mind’ are but the chemical reactions in my brain. For how could I ‘think’ in any way contrary to the laws of nature – that would be a violation of the laws of nature that are, on Naturalism’s terms, inviolable. Thinking implies transcendence (another point made by Lewis, but also Blaise Pascal – see a recent post of mine)

        Of course, this isn’t, strictly, a proof of the falsehood of Naturalism. But then again, Naturalism would seem to give no reason that such a thing as ‘true’ or ‘truth’ has any meaning. What would ‘true’ mean in a Naturalistic worldview? What meaning is there in the statement, ‘This pebble is true’?

        Alvin Plantinga has also written about Naturalism in a more technical manner. But I have not read this.

        I’m a teacher and I live in England. Would I be right to guess you’re an American? Which uni?

        Hope your essay is well received!

      • Z Says:

        For how could I ‘think’ in any way contrary to the laws of nature – that would be a violation of the laws of nature that are, on Naturalism’s terms, inviolable.

        I hear yuh. But I still think that just as science has been able to explain away other things in time our capacity for free/creative thought will be given scientific support. It just doesn’t seem like it’s that far off. Do you ever play video games? AI is getting better and better. And sure, they’re still pretty rigid, but it hasn’t been around that long. In a naturalistic world view brains have been around and developing for a long time.

        Again I (I think) understand what you’re saying, but It seems no different that an argument form personal incredulity (and as I said earlier God of the gaps). The sublime, exquisite, amazing-ness of our thought, I experience, and I experience the same thing often when I walk to class and look at the sky and the trees and the buildings and the people. Everything is just so AMAZING.

        It seems very inconsistent to concede that 99.9% of things have a rational cause and basis but that thought doesn’t. Just as Dietrich Bonhoeffer (I trust you’re familiar with his prestige) says (on that Wikipedia page), “…how wrong it is to use God as a stop-gap for the incompleteness of our knowledge. If in fact the frontiers of knowledge are being pushed further and further back (and that is bound to be the case), then God is being pushed back with them, and is therefore continually in retreat. We are to find God in what we know, not in what we don’t know.” Now, I’m not sure what he meant by “We are to find God in what we know,” but I agree with the rest. And as Charles Alfred Coulson says, the gaps have a habit of shrinking, so it seems foolish to take a stand there, on human thought, against naturalism.

        What would ‘true’ mean in a Naturalistic worldview? What meaning is there in the statement, ‘This pebble is true’?

        Well, I have little to no education from the Naturalistic camp, most of my exposure is hearing them as “opponents” in debates I’ve listened to, etc. But I’d wager that what is true is that which one can perceive. And as you said, “Science presupposes an orderly universe with regularities that can be systematised and known.” So is this pebble true? Well I can see it, smell it, touch it, hear it click against other stones, and it provides no contradiction to the world around me, so sure, the pebble is true [that is, it exists].

        I’ve bookmakarked the Naturalism Defeated article, hopefully I”ll get to it this weekend (seeing as I have less homework than normal), thanks.

        Yeah, I’m a Junior English Major (Have a French Minor & contemplating trying to sqeeze in a Philosophy minor) at Washington State University. Actually just this morning I watched the discussion (http://ow.ly/rc9e) between John Piper and Douglas Wilson about his movie Collision and in it Wilson referenced visiting the Athiest club at WSU, which he did last year; my room mate went, I didn’t, he said Wilson tore did very well and was able to sufficiently answer/shut down anyone.

        What do you teach? Subject? Age level? From this last summer to the year before I was certain I was going to go into the pastorate, but now that kinda depends on how my doubts pan out. So a sort of C. S. Lewis-y life is looking more appealing–just reading my butt off and writing and teaching. But I think the church really needs good preachers who have a doctrinal foundation and are willing to engage the intellect (like Tim Keller and Doug Wilson R. C. Sproul etc.)
        The Lords will be done, huh?

      • soulangler Says:

        I teach English! 🙂 But at a fairly low level at a post-16 college.

        I don’t I’m arguing for a God of the gaps. It’s not that Naturalism explains lots but not everything – it makes ‘explanation’ an unintelligible category. How can there be such a thing as ‘knowing’ without some transcendence. To argue that Naturalism will work it out in the end is faith – it is an ultimate commitment.

        When I asked if a pebble can be true, I admit it was ambiguous – I didn’t go into much detail, but I didn’t mean to equate existence with truth. Sure a pebble is there, it exists. But to say of something that it is true is another category altogether. Truth would mean a correspondence between my mental state and the physical state of affairs ‘out there’. But Naturalism would imply there be merely two separate physical states of affairs (one being the ‘thought’ of my mind and the other being the pebble on the floor or wherever).

        For a Naturalist to say, ‘Statement x is true’ would seem to be inadmissible in, or inconsistent with his worldview. Sure he will say it, but not consistently with his worldview. So to say, ‘what is true is that which one can perceive’ is to beg the question what ‘true’ would mean in a Naturalistic worldview.

        But truth is not the only casuality of Naturalism. You will have to kick God out. But once God goes, so will your soul (and there is an element of deliberate ambiguity there), and morality, and logic, and free will.
        Let’s take take free will. You say:

        (science will eventually) explain (away) our capacity for free/creative thought will be given scientific support.

        Which is it? Will science explain away the illusion of free will by saying it’s all chemicals and genes and electrical impulses? Then free will is an illusion. Free will is not explained and supported – it is negated.

        If, on the other hand, free will is ‘given scientific support’ then it must give some other explanation than a mechanistic one. Fine. But what would that be? It wouldn’t be a scientific explanation any more, since science (as narrowly defined and commonly understood) deals only with material cause and effect.

        So I don’t see where that line of thinking takes you.

        I think it’s great if you’re really trying to bottom all this. It would be fantastic if you do, come out the other side an intellectaully convinced Christian and THEN pastor a church that minister to the whole person (mind and emotions etc.) May the LORD be pleased to make it so. If you are influenced by the likes of Piper, Sproul, Wilson, Keller you can’t be far off base (in my humble opinion!).

        I’ve seen so many go into secular university with a Christian background, but not adequately versed doctrinally and intellectually and then have their thinking challenged or smashed by unbelieving (e.g. deconstructionist, relativist or Marxist) professors – it used to upset me a lot.

        But Naturalism cannot offer one other thing – the forgiveness of your sins. Z- I guess you must know you are a sinner and the scriptures teach we must all die once and face the judgement (Heb.9.27). Christ will either be our judge or saviour on that Great Day. Please flee to him, seek Him for your refuge, fear for your soul if you are not safely in Christ.

        Got to go… take care 🙂

      • Z Says:

        “If, on the other hand, free will is ‘given scientific support’ then it must give some other explanation than a mechanistic one. Fine. But what would that be? It wouldn’t be a scientific explanation any more, since science (as narrowly defined and commonly understood) deals only with material cause and effect.”

        -Thanks for including the gospel in at the end there. Not something you should assume in a conversation about these things.

        -So I just saw today that when I said “naturalism” in the bigging, I meant was more the simplistic “materialism”. But I don’t think “naturalism is too far off, what’s the difference?

      • soulangler Says:

        I use naturalism in the philosophical or worldview-ish sense of a universe that is purely material/natural and rejects supernaturalism. It is the metaphysics of atheism. Materialism is the same except that it has connotations in non-philosophical senses – i.e. a preoccupation with money-making etc. I think the two are related but I’m trying to be clear that naturalism is a worldview that excludes God and the soul etc. It explains everything in terms of natural cause and effect and that non-natural explanations are not allowed.

        Naturalists won’t allow non-natural explanations – they de legitimize them as if they are obviously bogus. But it is not ‘obvious’ that a material thing cannot be caused by a non-material thing or person. Decisions appear to be a ’cause’ but what is my decision made of? What is the cause of the existence of matter itself etc.? I’m not saying this is proof, but it is sufficient to say that it is not ‘obvious’ or transparent to all rational agents that only material causes can explain material effects.

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