I was browsing the articles at Christian Cadre, and saw the latest from Joe Hinman, which purports to answer the objection that atheists sometimes raise to the Teleological Argument for God: if the complexity of the universe requires an intelligent and purposeful creator, then why shouldn't God? And who is that creator? His answer is the usual theistic pablum: God is love, and that explains everything. Well, it really doesn't, but this is the kind of meaningless starry-eyed theistic drivel we have come to expect from people like Hinman. I was about to move on to other articles that might prove to be more worthy of my time, but then I came to the end of Hinman's piece, where he wraps up by quoting from the SEP on Jean-Paul Sartre to drive his point home. Hinman was using Sartre's ontological duality of in-itself/for-itself as an example of the difference between things that exist apart from God, and God's loving and purposeful act of creation. What? That can't be what Sartre meant, can it?
Here's the passage that Joe quoted:
Being-in-itself and being-for-itself have mutually exclusive characteristics and yet we (human reality) are entities that combine both, which is the ontological root of our ambiguity. The in-itself is solid, self-identical, passive and inert. It simply “is.” The for-itself is fluid, nonself-identical, and dynamic. It is the internal negation or “nihilation” of the in-itself, on which it depends. Viewed more concretely, this duality is cast as “facticity” and “transcendence.” The “givens” of our situation such as our language, our environment, our previous choices and our very selves in their function as in-itself constitute our facticity. As conscious individuals, we transcend (surpass) this facticity in what constitutes our “situation.” In other words, we are always beings “in situation,” but the precise mixture of transcendence and facticity that forms any situation remains indeterminable, at least while we are engaged in it. Hence Sartre concludes that we are always “more” than our situation and that this is the ontological foundation of our freedom. We are “condemned” to be free, in his hyperbolic phrase.Of course it doesn't mean what Joe thinks. I'm not sure he is aware of it, but Sartre was an atheist. As I understand it, he believed that we make our own meaning in life, not that our purpose derives from God. But it's easy enough to find some basic information about what Sartre is saying. First, the SEP article explains that the distinction between in-itself and for-itself is "roughly the nonconscious and consciousness respectively". This is not dualism in a Cartesian sense, but it draws a distinction between the former - that which just "is" as static and passive (as a rock or a table), and the latter - that which is dynamic and self-driven (as a conscious person).
In this article, Rob Harle provides an explanation of what Sartre means by the statement "Man is condemned to be free", along with further discussion of his ontology. Basically, the essence of something in-itself is externally determined (and this would apply to man as created by God, with his purpose and meaning provided by God), while the essence of something for-itself is to be self-determined. Being "condemned to be free" means that man is responsible for creating his own meaning. This is in opposition to the notion of meaning being derived from God. In fact, in Sartre's view, it is a consequence of the non-existence of God. If there is a God, man is not free to define himself. It is because there is no God that man is responsible for creating his own meaning. That's the way I read it.
So what Sartre was actually saying stands in stark contrast to the interpretation that Hinman makes of it. He seems to think that God exemplifies being for-itself.
That in itself is the tie breaker, the universe by itself apart from God is merely being-in-itself, God is being-for-itself. That entails purpose which is creative love. The eternal necessary foundation of all being has a volition and a purpose which to create beings to love. Thus God and a hypothetical accidental universe are on different ontological levels.But Sartre's ontology wasn't about God at all. It was about things that exist in our world. He was talking about the self-determination of man, and the meaning and purpose that we create for ourselves. Oops. Epic blunder.
I had to ask myself why Joe would have chosen to quote this SEP passage instead of something from a fellow theist that would probably have made his point more effectively. Then, I realized that his quotation contains the words "transcendence" and "being". As in being for-itself transcends being in-itself. That's not the same thing as the "transcendental being" that Joe thinks God is. But if you're doing an internet search based on certain keywords, looking for quotes you can use in your article, you might come up with something like this. And without bothering to read more and understand what your quote actually means, you might decide that this looks like something you can use. And I think that's exactly what happened here.
This kind of scholarship is typical of Hinman. I have seen before that he has a tendency to find quotations from scientists that appear to support his point, but he really doesn't understand what they're saying. And then when someone (like myself) points out that he is wrong, he starts spouting about how he is right, because he has the quote right there to prove it. And after all, he's a real scholar (in a PhD program, no less), so no stupid atheist can challenge what he says. Facts be damned.
Joe strikes me as being similar to Donald Trump, who said that he doesn't want to hear daily intelligence briefings because he's a smart guy, and he can figure things out on his own. He doesn't need that same old crap day after day. Right. There's a smart guy for you. And Joe, if you're reading this, I think you're just as smart as he is.
There are some so full of pride that they cannot suffer anyone to say what they really are. They want to be preferred to everyone, and they esteem themselves more learned and erudite than any other, and it seems to them they never need a teacher. Actually, such people are usually extremely ignorant, but no one dares tell them that, for they suppose themselves to be veritable marvels. - St. Francis de Sales [h/t Bob Prokop]