Thanks very much for your reply. I agree with many of the individual points you make, but I think the discussion is starting to revolve too much around differences in how one uses words. At that point, it’s more constructive to use common sense and employ the human faculty of “seeing what the other person means, and seeing that it’s right, even if the other person uses words slightly differently than I do.”
Remember that this discussion started when Joshua expressed disagreement with a statement by Greg. Greg had written:
“The first ingredient necessary for understanding the gospel is the fact of God’s existence.”
To which Joshua replied:
“I suppose I disagree. Jesus himself is strong enough reason to believe in God. I’ve seen atheists jump from atheism to Jesus, without believing God first.”
I’ve tried to make clear from the beginning that I don’t disagree with Joshua (or you) that a “direct to Jesus plus God” movement of reason is possible, that reason doesn’t have to first prove the existence of God separate from any consideration of Jesus, and then prove the divinity of Jesus. But I suggested that Greg did not mean to say that there had to be a two-step process, first to God, and only later to Jesus. I suggested that he probably meant something much less complex than that – i.e., merely that you can’t understand the Gospel (notice that he wasn’t talking about steps by which one becomes convinced of either Jesus or God, but of understanding) if you aren’t working out of an intellectual framework in which God exists. And that seems to me to be true.
Nothing in how Jesus acted, how he talked about himself and his mission, what he did, makes sense (i.e., can be understood) properly without the background concept of “God”. Without the conception of God, one might find all kinds of things interesting and admirable about Jesus (his remarkable healing powers, some of his teachings in the Sermon on the Mount, his courage in facing death, etc.) but one could not be said to understand what he was about; without reference to the existence of God – and not just any God, but God as understood in the Hebrew Scriptures – his story would be a jumble of inexplicable happenings and sayings. But the Gospel writers make sure that his story is not such a jumble; they tell it against a constant backdrop of the Old Testament conception of God. It is understandable because of the “God language” they cast it in.
(Which is exactly Wittgenstein’s point, that mere “events”, no matter how remarkable, don’t have religious meaning; it is context supplied by religious minds that gives them religious meaning. A Martian who watched Jesus heal someone or get up from the dead would never write the Gospels, but a Jew well-versed in Old Testament prophecy and the books of Moses could. The Jew and the Martian, seeing exactly the same event, would tell two different stories, the Martian one a story of disconnected, incoherent, strange events, the Jewish one a coherent story connecting those events to the history of God’s dealings with Israel.)
I trust that you can agree with the above; let me know if you can or can’t.
Now, regarding what phrase I should have used, I trusted my instincts, as someone with something like 50 years of reading philosophy plus formal undergraduate and graduate training in philosophy, that I was using “logically prior” in a sense which most philosophers would not find objectionable. (As an aside, let me say that I am fully aware that both epistemology and metaphysical reasoning use logic. )
You have suggested that I should have said “metaphysically prior” instead of “logically prior”. But if I had said that God was “metaphysically prior” to Jesus, I might have found myself in a tangle with some other critic of my words, who might have argued, say, that since Jesus is the Incarnate Logos, and the Logos is part of the Trinity, there is no metaphysical priority of “God” over Jesus (understood as “Logos”); they are all part of one Godhead. I might have been accused of a faulty understanding of the Trinity. And I would not have wished to get into the complex question of possible metaphysical priority among the various persons of the Trinity. I was merely indicating a priority between propositions, i.e., English statements that use words. And the field of Logic concerns statements that use words.
If I say, “Donald Trump is The President of the United States of America”, I am implying the existence of a country called “The United States of America” which has an officer known as “The President.” The statement could not possibly be true for a reader or listener who does not accept the existence of the United States of America or who denies that it has an officer known as “The President.”
If I say, “Jesus was God” or “Jesus was the Son of God”, I am implying the existence of God. The statement could not possibly be true for a reader or listener who does not accept the existence of God.
In this sense, the existence of “The President of the United States of America” and “God” are logically prior to the claims that Donald Trump is the one, and Jesus is the other. It is impossible to assert that “X is President” or “Y is God”, unless you grant the existence of “President” and “God”.
One might substitute “Hillary Clinton” for “Donald Trump” or “Krishna” for “Jesus”, and the logical priority would still be the same.
If you insist, I could say that “President” and “God” have “metaphysical priority” over “Donald Trump” and “Jesus”; but since I am talking here about the structure of statements, rather than saying anything about the real entities to which the statements refer, I think “logical priority” is a better term. But let’s not quarrel over words. You surely now, in the light of my explanation above, know what I originally meant, and what I have been saying all along, don’t you? And if so, then I think we have resolved the misunderstanding.