The Silence of the Absolute

Part of an ongoing discussion.

I asked Mr. Justin Johnson, one of those rare atheists willing to talk rationally and philosophically about theology, a rather pointed question, namely this:

Whether the God in the Bible is true or not, there is a God that the Deists deduce must exist, following a Thomistic argument from First Causes.

Let us call him, for the sake of argument, the God of the Philosophers or “The Absolute Being”.

He would of necessity (if there be no error in the logic) have many the same qualities Christian theology ascribes to God: volitional, eternal, all powerful, benevolent, all-knowing, the creator and disposer of all the worlds, but not the source of the evils seen in mortal life.

Creating all, he created man. This god is the author of human free will, as it can come from nowhere else, as well as the informer of the human conscience, which evidences edicts nowhere found in nature.

From this, additional properties can be deduced: He is the author of being itself. He is the source and legislator of moral virtue, aesthetic beauty, rational truth, superior to and encompassing all these things.

He is infinitely loving and infinitely wise, but bound by no necessity nor compulsion, aside from the logical necessity not to disobey his own nature. Because he acts by his own volition, set in motion by no prior cause, he is more like a Person than anything we can imagine, hence not a mere force nor principle.

I asked previously whether, if this being offered you eternal life, and promised that he could wipe all tears of sorrow from your face, all stain of wrongdoing from your soul, would you accept?

His answer:

“Provided that I was, in fact, sure that this being was all that he claimed to be, then yes”

This leads to the question of how such a being would prove his claims.

What possible form of evidence is open to him?

In our hypothetical, our Absolute Being is not open to physical or empirical knowledge, since he is, by our hypothetical, a spirit existing outside of time and space. He has no parts as well do, and so cannot dissolve nor change. He can, however, inspire motion in others, such as producing a Logos or active principle who creates all creation and acts as a bridge or intercessor. He can create and inspire messengers to action.

Now, this Absolute can communicate to his created beings either directly or indirectly.

If he communicates directly, there is no medium, the ideas or images appear directly in one’s mind, not coming through the senses, as when the conscience speaks, or a prayer is answered directly in one’s mind, or by means of images seen in a vision or a dream. Call this intuition.

If he communicates indirectly, he is in the position of an author who is outside a story trying to communicate to characters in a story. He can arrange events in history, tell the characters what kind of surprise ending he had planned, or introduce temporary characters (lowered onstage by machinery, no doubt) in the form of angels or apparitions.

Since he is in charge of the story, he can also arrange events, such as a virgin birth or a death and resurrection, which have no other natural explanation aside from an surprise twist by the author into the expected course of events.

He can combine both, by sending intuitions to agents to warn the multitude of a planned spectacular event, and then carry out the event.

He also can authorize agents to act on his behalf, who can speak what he directly tells them to say, and who are given some sort of warrant or sign they can produce to the skeptical to show that they speak on behalf of the Absolute Being.

More to the point, as the author of the story, he can reveal to the characters his purpose in making them and placing them in the scenes where they are placed, and what the rules of the story are. He is in the same position as a robot maker talking to an intelligent robot, in that he wrote the instruction manual for how robots work.

In other words, in addition to sending prophets or messiahs to speak on his behalf, surrounded by such signs and wonders as prove a supernatural warrant authorizes their messages, the messages themselves can be examined to see if they are indeed the kind of thing the Absolute, if he be benevolent hence just and merciful, would really send if he were real.

Since he is just, they would contain astonishing threats of dire consequences for evil acts, and since he is merciful, they would contain a means for repenting and escaping such dire penalties. His proverbs would at least contain as much wisdom as the Book of Ecclesiastes, his moral injunctions would at least contain something as grave as the Golden Rule, the Ten Commandments, and the Beatitudes, and his inspired songs and psalms some of the most sublime poetry ever penned.

Now, then, which of methods is not open to dispute or doubt?

By my reckoning, if he speaks to a skeptic by intuition, the skeptic can claim that his conscience is merely the echo of social convention, or that any dreams or visions are merely natural phenomenon, or perhaps a breakdown of the physical machinery of the brain, producing hallucination.

Men do hallucinate, after all.

If he speak to a skeptic indirectly, by means of producing prophets, angels, and miracles, the skeptic can claim that the prophets are frauds if not madmen, that the angels do not exist, and that the miracles either did not happen at all, or no doubt have some more rational explanation, such as mass hallucination.

No such mass hallucination is on record ever to have happened, of course, but it is still theoretically possible.

If miracles were real, every civilized man would have at least heard second hand reports about them, and we would date our calendar from such a spectacular event.

But suppose a skeptic pauses to consider whether or not the worldview produced by the contemplation of all the alleged messages, historical events, prophecies, and teachings (by those who allegedly can produce a warrant to show they speak as agents on behalf of the Absolute) makes more rational sense, inspires more august virtues, and produces more sublime beauty in life, than the alternative.

There is no passage of any message, legal document, historical record, or stanza of poetry invulnerable to misinterpretation. The skeptic could, by willful misinterpretation, rewrite in his imagination whole major sections of the messages from the Absolute, to  make the worldview produced seem absurd, vicious and ugly.

So, all this is preliminary to asking this question. It is one question in three parts.

By what standard? By what means?

Granting the hypothetical Absolute Being has all the properties ascribed to him, by what means could he prove his existence and his benevolent intentions to a reasonable skeptic?

If by intuition or direct vision, what would quell reasonable suspicion that it was not self deception or hallucination?

If my indirect means, why would quell reasonable suspicion that it was not fraud or mistake in the report, either of agents claiming to speak for the Absolute, or of eyewitnesses to signs and wonders allegedly intended by the Absolute as confirmation that his agents speak for him?

If by a comparison of the worldview produced by the messages allegedly sent by the Absolute with its known alternatives for internal consistency, ethical purity, and aesthetic sublimity, what would the comparison have to show that would be sufficient to quell reasonable suspicion that the message was valid, and came from the source from which it claims to come?

I submit to you, that if your answer is that by no means could such a being, directly or indirectly, no matter how rational, virtuous, and beautiful his message, no matter how all-powerful he is, could ever produce evidence sufficient to convince a skeptic, that such a skeptic is not a skeptic at all, but a partisan whose mind is closed to evidence.

If the skeptic has a standard  for weighing evidence, but it is so bent in its design that it leads only to the preferred outcome regardless of evidence, then that is not a standard at all.