Practical Deity


I’ve begun to notice that when people talk about truth now, they tend to refer to “whatever works”. Contrary to popular belief, this is not limited to the social sciences, but extends to the physical sciences where interest (and research dollars) go to research that has “practical” applications.
Now before I begin basing an argument (here meaning a series of premises designed to lead to a conclusion, not a disagreement) for my beliefs on practical usefulness, I should note that I think good science (physical and social) is a search for what actually is true, not a simple subscription to a theory or worldview. In fact, I think my belief in a divine, good God that claims to gain glory from the physical world demands that I think of science that way (see Psalm 19:1). To think otherwise is to be a blasphemer (to say that the world does not speak of the glory of God, and that God thus lies in Psalm 19:1). Anyway, here endeth the tangent.


Anyway, I was given a couple of tickets last week to the Massey Lecture given here in St. John’s. For my reader who may not know what that is, it’s a series of lectures given on CBC radio (on the show “Ideas”), meant to encourage intellectual discourse in Canada. They’re usually quite good, and this year’s offering seems to be little exception.

Dr. Margaret Somerville, speaking on a general topic of “Ethical Imagination”, and in a lecture on poetry and ethical imagination, developed the idea of a secular sacred. She did this to provide a basis for a shared ethic. She sees a shared ethic as necessary for the future, as without a shared basis for ethics, we end up unable to make generally acceptable ethical decisions (and instead leave our ethics to what can practically be done). I would tend to agree.

There need to be sacred things, else whatever we do generally becomes technically ethical (whether that’s give to the needy, or massacre the needy). If you don’t see anything as sacred, as above your right to ethically alter, you can alter anything.

The difficulty is that a secular sacred cannot really hold up to the stresses any ethical idea needs to face. As a Calvinist, I think people generally suck, and you need only remember the last time your friends messed you about to see that as true. People thus have a vested interest in ignoring the ethical (of rationalizing unethical behavior), thus what they call sacred becomes alterable based on what is expedient. That is, unless the sacred is imposed from without, and that imposition of sacredness is true independent of our acceptance of it. Here is where we get God.

What I’m saying is that we need a good, just, and revealed entity on which to base our ethics, even if it is simply a construct. Luckily, there seems to be just such an entity that exists. We theists call Him God (and I would argue that Christian theists have the most ethically practical visions of God). If you murder, and get everybody on earth to agree that the murder is ethically valid, that is unimportant, as there is an independent revealed God that says it is not.

Does this mean that the Christian God must exist? No, but if this God-concept works practically and ethically, it’s generally evidence that such a God is not outside the realm of possibility (and may actually exist, as we can conceive of such a God as necessary).

This leads to some interesting implications when it comes to evangelism. I’ll get to those tomorrow. :-)

Author: Stephen Dawe

Steve is a part-time vocational elder Calvary Baptist Church, St. John's as well as a full-time student at Memorial University of Newfoundland, in the Religious Studies Department.

2 thoughts on “Practical Deity”

  1. Definitely a scholar, Steve-o. That’s a scholarly argument from one whose gift is most certainly in knowledge. I’m curious. Are you planning to start series entries, working through various posiitons, doctrinal arguments and rationalizations to an ultimate conclusion? If not, it might be kind of a neat idea. It’ll give your blog readers a chance to work out doctrine for themselves.

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