Weblog of a Christian philosophy student

Weblog of a Christian philosophy student. Please feel free to comment. All of my posts are public domain. Subscribe to posts [Atom]. Email me at countaltair [at] yahoo.com.au. I also run a Chinese to English translation business at www.willfanyi.com.

Location: Melbourne, Victoria, Australia

Friday, July 06, 2007

My Theology In 60 Seconds

My Theology In 60 Seconds

This is a fairly long article that is nonetheless condensed in order to simply and quickly explain my whole theology and ideas to readers, with a paragraph per major idea. Readers can skip to sections that interest them. There is a link in most questions to a much longer in-depth article addressing the topic.

Last Edited 11/28/07

Why Is God Good?

I think it's rather interesting the way humans always see selfishness as the natural state of things. When we think of rational models of agents, we tend to assign them selfish, self-maximising values. I happen to think this view is completely unwarranted and that the opposite is true; that the natural state for rational entities is perfect goodness. Consider: you evolved. Your genes are selfish. If your genes weren't selfish, your ancestors wouldn't have survived. Consider a computer. Is it selfish? Would it ever be selfish if someone didn't program selfishness into it? I think of God as a pure rational will, the most simple kind of being imaginable, having no desires. But because God has no desires, he cannot possibly ever imagine doing anything evil to another person. Why would he? He has no selfish (or any) desires! Thus, since he knows other beings have their own wills, he would incorporate a perfect upholding of other persons' free will in his will, because he could never conceive of a practical reason to restrict it. And this, for a human, is a will of perfect goodness towards someone. He thus would honour our free will, and (implicitly) desire it to be fulfilled, as a most basic characteristics of His being.

Why Would A Perfect God Create Anything?

[Answer redone 11/27/07]. As said before, we have good reasons to think of God as being perfectly good, (in my opinion), should any God at all exist. But why would He (or It, rather) create? One possible reason would be that whether or not other beings apart from God actually exist, God must be consistent in his attitudes. And God's attitude towards other persons would be one of perfect goodness, as shown above. So whether or not the contingent beings God can imagine exist, God has to have the attitude of perfect goodness towards them. Now, at this point, I think that God went from having the attitude that he would fulfill the desires of these contingent beings he can imagine to actually fulfilling them - and thus creating them. (It may seem odd to think of this world as one whose purpose is to fulfill the desires of contingent beings, but I think I address this in what follows.)

Why Didn't God Create Perfect People?

The beings God created couldn't be perfect, like him, in rationality, because only God can be perfect. This manifests itself in those beings having desires that cause them to bizarrely (from God's point of view) want to do something wrong. I put it simply that this is a logical limitation on God's power - no matter what he does, he cannot create perfect, rational persons outside himself. I am not saying God is limited, but I think we should rethink what we understand omnipotence to be capable of. This does not hinder Christian theology because we can receive the Holy Spirit to make our characters perfect in the afterlife with acceptance of Christ, which will replace our evil desires with perfect love. So God created Adam and Eve very good, but not completely perfect. And because of their (small) imperfection, Adam and Eve fell, as they had to.

If God is all powerful, then why isn't everyone saved?

As mentioned, God can't create anyone perfect. This affects everyone differently. Some people are imperfect in the sense of never being able to accept God's offer of salvation no matter what God does - they are unsavable by logical necessity. Their imperfection creates desires that are generated by their imperfect character and leads them to be necessarily unsavable. These are people God can never save in this world, so he doesn't try to. This distribution of savability/unsavability occurs out of people God creates, so he can't cheat by only creating savable people. Also, this ratio is out of all the people God will ever create, and not out of people born, let's say, every hundred years. God allocates savable and unsavable people into history according to his will.

If God gives everyone a choice to go to heaven and hell, then why do some people go to hell if they can avoid it?

It is true God does give everyone a choice to go to heaven and hell, and this choice is always available for anyone to make in this life or the next. However, heaven entails a cost and hell is not as bad as it's made out to be, which is why some people choose freely to go to hell. As mentioned, because of the necessary imperfection of any being outside of God, our characters have to be joined with the Holy Spirit in some deep way to live with God in a perfect community forever, otherwise we'd remain flawed and sinful. However, given our fundamental imperfection, this necessarily entails losing a huge amount of autonomy under God's complete sovereignty. Hell is not painful, but consists of neither joy nor pain. Given this, many people rationally choose to exist in a limbo-like state forever rather than lose a significant amount of autonomy. This is how some people end up in hell. Finally, some atheists might say they would accept the loss of autonomy to go to heaven, but no one can really imagine what this involves (how serious it is) given that we have no experience with such a thing, and it's a deep internal kind of choice, so it's quite possible they're wrong.

If people choose to go to heaven or hell, then why is belief in Christ so important?

Belief in Christ is important because it is perfectly correlated with the choice to go to heaven in the afterlife and join with the Holy Spirit, and rejection of Christ is perfectly correlated with choosing to go to hell. Why exactly does God make belief in Christ so important? I don't know, but there is no reason to suppose that there may not be some important reason why, given the rest of the theology I will outline, and making it not important wouldn't help him achieve his aims in any way.

Why didn't God create us originally in heaven?

As mentioned, every intelligent being that is not God, or connected to God in some way is imperfect, as a matter of logical (inherent) necessity. The first problem with this objection is that heaven is God's presence, and any imperfection cannot exist in God's presence, but has to be at a distance from God. So since God has to create imperfect, God cannot create any intelligent being in heaven. The second problem with this objection is that there are also severe difficulties for God with making everyone perfect so that they can enter heaven later. People experience their necessary imperfection in different ways, and only a minority experience this necessary imperfection in a way that doesn't prevent them from accepting God's grace and being saved (which as we saw involves accepting a significant loss in autonomy.)

Why does evolutionary evil exist, which existed before sin?

Because God was logically limited in having to create imperfect people, he had to create humans imperfect. If it's plausible that every being God creates has to be slightly imperfect, then it's possible to extend that beyond creatures to moral experiences of realities, by saying that moral realities also have to be created somewhat imperfect. That obviously leads to the conclusion there would have to be some 'background' imperfection in any reality God creates which equals evil in reality, which is a perfect fit for many years of suffering by animals before sin.

Why does natural evil, which is not related to moral evil, exist?

As mentioned above, since we're all necessarily imperfect, our moral experience of reality is also imperfect. Ah, but then one might say, this implies a very limited God, who is so ineffectual he must allow tsunamis. Not so. God can eliminate evil, but only by fixing our imperfection. But, unless he makes someone a robot, he can only fix the imperfection of the people who can and will choose to be saved, which comprises a minority of people God creates. He can't get around this by creating only savable people, because the distribution of character traits is out of created beings. Therefore God allows evil for a greater good, the creation of a lot of savable persons, which necessarily entails natural evil. [This paragraph's ideas are more recent than the article referenced.]

That may explain natural evil, but what about spectacularly evil freely willed events like genocide?

As mentioned, God has to allow a certain amount of evil in our reality because of our necessary imperfection, and has to allow it in the world as long as unsavable people exist in it. Now, this may explain natural evil. But it may also explain any kind of moral evil. Consider, does God have a choice about where the natural evil falls? It seems likely he would have that discretion. So for example, God could choose instead of a thousand people dying of a heart attack early in their lives, that a natural disaster could happen in some country. But it seems to me, one way of redistributing evil according to his ineffable plan might be to give much more authority to do evil to certain humans than he should ordinarily in any right frame of mind. So in other words, allowing a massacre to happen doesn't increase the total amount of evil humanity experiences. Rather, God gives evil people the authority to accomplish horrible, evil things to fulfill that 'evil quotient', the evil of which would, necessarily, have happened anyway, in this case by some means other than natural evil, to fulfill whatever his mysterious plan is.

Why does God hide himself?

This argument is obviously based as a core assumption on the idea that there is some reason for God not to hide himself. But in considering the theology here outlined I think this premise is entirely questionable. First of all, it won't save one extra person. It's not a matter of beliefs that determine whether you are saved - you're either saved or not depending on whether you make up the minority or majority of people God creates who are savable or unsavable. And God can save those people entirely well without appearing to anyone, just by making them believe by sheer force of omnipotence if he wants. So it won't save one extra person. Nor will it help deal with evil - we have evil in reality, of all kinds natural moral and evolutionary, because people are imperfect, and that can only be fixed once the savable and unsavable people are separated forever and the savable people made perfect. Appearing to people won't help make any person savable who isn't and so won't help deal with evil. So in the end, why would God make himself obvious? Plus there is another consideration. Let us say having a Christian belief enforces the choice to be saved. Therefore if there were people who believed in Christianity, but who didn't want to choose to be saved (which involves a huge loss of autonomy to overcome our necessary imperfection), their free will would be violated. So there is no positive reason, and at least one negative reason, for God not to become divinely apparent.

Why did God create anything knowing all the evil that would result?

A basic premise of the free will defense, or any defense to the problem of evil, is that a good being, even a perfect being, is free to allow evil if that evil is a necessary though unfortunate byproduct to achieving an even greater good. An example often offered is moral evil being an unfortunate consequence of free will. So there is nothing essentially impossible about God creating humans knowing all the evil that would befall us if he had good enough reasons. My answer to this is that in regards to people ending up in hell, people who go to hell freely choose to go there over heaven, and so God can't be faulted because that's their own choice (see previous answers.) Regarding horribly evil natural, moral, and evolutionary events, I believe we can give a good answer to those problems, as described in this document.

Why did God allow the Fall?

As mentioned earlier, God had to create any creature that he created imperfect, because of a necessary limitation on his power. Therefore God did the best he could, but the Fall must have been, I think, inevitable.

If God knows what we will do before we do it, how can we freely choose?

This argument falls prey to a modal fallacy, which is that 'will' doesn't equal 'must'. I.e. the fact that I 'will' do something doesn't mean that I 'must' do something. No matter how certain the 'will' is, it still remains 'will' and not 'must'. A second answer can be seen below.

How is free will possible given determinism issues?

Some philosophers have defended free will based on our strong instincts that libertarian free will exists. I prefer to say that our libertarian instincts are the result of internal protection mechanisms that are used in the human mind to tell whether someone else's action is 'agent' based or 'originates outside the agent'. It is an evolutionary mechanism. So free will may not exist in the libertarian sense. I have a compatibilist view of free will which I think works with Christian beliefs.

How exactly does a single sin - excluding the salvation given by Christ's work on the cross, damn one to hell for eternity?

I think sin should be conceived in two senses in which a single sin could damn one to hell for eternity. In the first sense, if you commit a sin, then you show yourself to be imperfect, and an imperfect person cannot live in a community with perfect individuals for eternity without causing hurt and pain and contributing to the breakdown of that system. So if you show yourself to be imperfect by sinning, then God will not let you into heaven unless you can be made perfect because you will be a danger to whatever community is there that is perfect. The second sense of sin I would use is that sin may not be a 'guilt' process, but more like an 'inevitability' process. Sin is kind of like getting the Ebola virus. It doesn't matter how you get it, if you get 'sin', you die spiritually. It isn't a matter of retribution of right and wrong - people who sin simply die. Under this view, whenever you sin you catch spiritual 'Ebola' and without Christ's work on the cross you die spiritually.

How does the atonement work?

I think that Christ does substitute for us on the cross, but this isn't a moral substitution, but just plain old substitution, in line with the point above. 'Past deeds sin', the 'inevitability process' I talk about, isn't a judgement from God but is more like catching the Ebola virus: if you sin you die. If sin isn't moral, but is like in some ways catching a fatal disease, then you can substitute it unlike with moral crimes. On the cross, all of our sins, that should have caused us to die spiritually were put on Christ. To do this, it is necessary to have a connection with Christ, which is the free acceptance of Christ as saviour. Those who don't wish to go to heaven when they die (as mentioned above, accepting the costs of heaven in loss of autonomy) never gain belief in Christ in this life and hence die spiritually.

Why doesn't God our answer our prayers if he loves us?

If God doesn't answer our prayers and it isn't related to an evil, then it's possible God may simply have his reasons. But there is a problem regarding prayers relating to evil, because it seems God should intervene for that. The answer is that if you accept my explanation for evil (natural and moral) mentioned above, then you accept that there is a certain amount of evil that must exist in the world as part of our necessary imperfection affecting reality. No matter what God does, God cannot reduce the quantity of natural evil in the world without removing our imperfection, which he won't do because that would mean forcing us to be perfect by accepting the Holy Spirit which is a violation of free will. Nor can he only create savable people because the form of the imperfection is out of the people that God creates. This doesn't mean God can't help us, it means that God can't reduce the amount of total (natural and moral) evil in the world. So when you pray, you are essentially asking God to redirect natural evil from one location to another, from e.g. someone to someone else. Given this limitation on God, God is understandably reluctant to answer our prayers regarding natural evil because it simply redirects evil rather than eliminates it. This explains God's reluctance for miracles.

Isn't the concept of God contradictory for XYZ reason?

Arguments the concept of God is self-contradictory in some way rests on a definitional fallacy. The basic idea of God is the 'greatest conceivable being' and it seems to make a lot of sense that the greatest conceivable being could have many attributes of a God, at least to me. So then why do people say that one attribute contradicts another? By defining the greatest possible being as having X attribute, which necessarily contradicts Y attribute. But wait a second - why must X attribute be defined in such a way that it is contradictory? The problem with these arguments is that they beg the question by defining the attributes in ways that raise problems, or are contradictory. The fact is, that in philosophy no definition is ever really very good about any question fundamental to philosophy, and the definition of God is no exception. If we can't even define what 'good' and 'evil' are, how on earth are we going to be able to define correctly the attributes of God? Basically, if we don't know how to define things well in philosophy, and if our definitions of God don't work very well, then that's probably a problem with the definitions, not God.

Why does the scripture contain mistakes in it if God has every reason to author it perfect?

This is an interesting question and I have no definite answer as yet. But I might point out that although it's very confusing as to why God would allow mistakes in the Bible, it's not impossible that there may be a reason for it. This is a subject of continuing research for me. Plus, it should be noted that if my answers above to problems of hell in Christianity are valid, then no one loses their faith because of the scripture, but because their necessary imperfection ultimately takes form in a certain way (see above).


Blogger macguy said...

I don't understand how being moral makes God imperfect. In fact, I think it's the exact opposite considering that God can't commit sins. Are you discussing some others sort of perfection? I would say God created for His glory...What needs did God have? The question on the sketpic's side, would ask why God didn't create sooner?

Blogger Will G said...

I don't really understand the skeptic's objection myself, either, but I'm just arguing as though it was correct. For some reason they regard it as persuasive. To my mind, I don't get how being perfect means you can't create outside yourself. So I probably agree.

Anonymous Theo said...

I don't quite understand your second point regarding perfection.

How can God be all-powerful and omniscient if He (according to your ideas) is unable create perfection? What evidence is there for this inability?

Is not His creation (plants, animals, the way all components interlock to form a harmonious whole on every level of nature) a reflection of biological perfection?

A clearer definition of perfection in the context you're using it in would be supremely helpful.

Blogger Will G said...


What I meant to say was that God is limited in creating perfection only regarding persons. So he is quite literally able to create perfect stones, plants, animals, etc., universes, but just not perfect people. I've amended the paragraph as a result.

How can God be all-powerful and omniscient if He (according to your ideas) is unable create perfection?

The definition of omnipotence is changed so as not to include the idea of creating perfect people outside himself, which is now seen on the order of making 2+2=5, thus not a 'real' limit to his omnipotence. I don't know how this is the case, but it is possible, and if it's theologically useful then that is evidence of its truth.

What evidence is there for this inability?

Only the theological usefulness of the idea, which does a lot of good work in many areas of theology in terms of answering objections.

Blogger Thomas Lee said...

Hi Will,
I'm having trouble discussing the rationality of the belief in God. Can you point me to the right direction as to where I can argue through a philosophical point how the belief in God can be rational?

Blogger Will G said...

William Lane Craig's website from the sidebar is quite good re: traditional arguments for God, like the teleological, kalam, etc. Then there's the argument to properly basic belief of Plantinga's. Then historical-resurrection arguments available also from William Lane Craig.

Personally, I believe in God also from my belief in 1. Coherentism, 2. That there is good justification for allowing a lot of arguments against Christianity in the world, 3. Properly basic belief considerations, 4. The idea that it makes sense to me within the framework of theology I've worked out, 5. Traditional kinds of arguments for God that I think are valid, although not wholly convincing. And maybe other reasons. That's my personal take on it.

Email me if you want to ask about any specific arguments, or comment on them in the comments section, because I've all written about those.


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