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

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Is atheism the default position? (Short version)

...From a forum post

Doug, leaving aside the whole 'existence of God' question, you do believe that at the most basic level, reality is basically material, composed of inanimate matter, right? I'd imagine that all atheists would think that is probably the case, if they studied the issue. That seems like something really important to atheism. But it can't be said to be automatically the right position... wouldn't you have to say?

Longer article on this.

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Thursday, March 26, 2009

How does God sustain the universe?

The Bible says that God sustains our world intimately:

Colossians 1:16-17 "For by him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things were created by him and for him. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together."

Acts 17:28: "'For in him we live and move and have our being.' As some of your own poets have said, 'We are his offspring.'"

What is a good way of thinking about this? (picture below, click to enlarge)

I think a good way of visualising God sustaining the universe is this: imagine a circle with a dot in the middle. Now imagine lots of lines going out from the middle of the circle to every point of the circle. You'll need an infinite number of lines to make a connection to *every* point of the circle, or when you zoom in enough (eventually) there will be gaps. So you need an infinite number of lines to make a 'fully connected circle'. Now, take one line out of this infinite number of lines and extend it out from the circle, and you have what you could call a single 'finity' out of an infinity. This is like finite existence out of the infinity that is God.

So God is literally everywhere, and sustains everything, because that 'finity' (that line in the circle) is sustained by living inside the whole circle. In a similar way, between my two hands there is an infinity of possible points, between New York and Los Angeles there is an infinity of possible points, between everything there is an infinity. Between 1 and 2 there is an infinity from 1.000...1 to 1.999...9. Infinity is literally everywhere. This is God being the infinite 'glue' that holds all of creation together, this finite existence being dependent upon His infinite existence. So God holds our world, the universe, everything together as a single finity out of His infinite being.

This is the most dependent relationship, of the universe on God, that you could ever imagine. It includes and goes far beyond God merely holding all the atoms together; He 'glues' (or holds) finite existence itself together.

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Sunday, March 22, 2009

Why Christians are tested; why God lets us experience doubt

I should caution that in places this contains a fair degree of theological speculation...

I think that before we had physical bodies, God made our souls (Jer 1:5) and He 'knew' how everyone would choose in an infinity of possible situations. Some people God knew would come to Him very easily, some people would come to God through a lot of effort, and some people would not come to Him at all.

In Zec 13:8-9 it says that 1/3rd of all the people in this age will be saved. That seems a bit high considering traditional talk on how hard salvation is. But it's not when you consider how many people die outside the age (children) or state (mentally disabled) of accountability, and thus go straight to heaven.

Even more people are saved than that. In the next age (where the lion lies down with the lamb) virtually everyone will be saved (Isa 33:20-24).

It's interesting to me that most people in the Kingdom of God (those outside the age/state of accountability, and the people in the next age who live in a paradise) will have undergone virtually no testing at all in their faith. But obviously, almost all Christians who are mature Christians in this world and serious about their faith undergo moderate to severe testing in their faith, in all kinds of ways ("I will refine them as silver is refined" - Zec 13:9).

I think this is because state-of-accountability Christians in this age are composed of the souls that God has identified as 'borderline cases'. There's something about us that means we need to change in some way before we will accept God's grace forever, never taking leave of it in the Kingdom. But change we can. So God puts us in difficult situations and tests us over our lives so that when we die, God knows that we have changed in ways that will allow us to accept His grace forever. Unfortunately, this testing is grievous (Heb 12:8-11). But it changes us in ways that are needed for us to live forever in God's Kingdom, so it is absolutely the right thing for God to do.

So God's will is for ALL state-of-accountability Christians in this age to be tested, possibly severely, and to pass, and He will always provide us with a way out if we choose to take it (1 Cor 10:13). So all accountability-age Christians have been inserted into history facing the specific (often painful) tests that will, with enough time, change us in ways allowing us to be with God forever. Our salvation would be in danger without these personality changes, because without growing in His word God foreknew that we would have failed at some point in the Kingdom of God by rejecting His grace.

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Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Is it coherent to say that the Biblical God is not perfectly good?

Think about this: there are four options with regard to the Biblical God:

a) The Biblical God does not exist. Another God may exist, but not the Biblical God.
b) The Biblical God exists and people misinterpret/misunderstand scripture when they believe it shows He is not perfectly good.
c) The Biblical God exists and is perfectly good, but He let the Bible describe Him in a genuinely negative light.
d) The Biblical God exists and is morally flawed, either partly or entirely.

A lot of skeptics will say that if Christianity is true then (d) is the case. But does that make sense?

Consider these verses:

Ex 23.6: "Do not deny justice to your poor people in their lawsuits.

Deut 16.19: Do not pervert justice or show partiality. Do not accept a bribe, for a bribe blinds the eyes of the wise and twists the words of the righteous. 20 Follow justice and justice alone, so that you may live and possess the land the LORD your God is giving you.

Deut 24.17: Do not deprive the alien or the fatherless of justice, or take the cloak of the widow as a pledge.

Deut 27.19: "Cursed is the man who withholds justice from the alien, the fatherless or the widow." Then all the people shall say, "Amen!"

Isa 5.22: Woe to those who are heroes at drinking wine and champions at mixing drinks, 23 who acquit the guilty for a bribe, but deny justice to the innocent.

Mat 5:44: But I say to you, Have love for those who are against you, and make prayer for those who are cruel to you; 45 So that you may be the sons of your Father in heaven; for his sun gives light to the evil and to the good, and he sends rain on the upright man and on the sinner.

1Jn 2:9: He who says that he is in the light, and has hate in his heart for his brother, is still in the dark. 10 He who has love for his brother is in the light, and there is no cause of error in him. 11 But he who has hate for his brother is in the dark, walking in the dark with no knowledge of where he is going, unable to see because of the dark.

There are lots more where those came from.

Say that the God of the Bible is morally flawed, why would the God of the Bible go to such great, enormous troubles to say such nice things? Isn't it more likely that if the God of the Bible is real, that people are either a) misinterpreting the Bible when they accuse Him of being flawed, or b) the Bible inconsistently describes Him?

OK, well maybe a person could say that the Biblical God, if real, is 'talking Himself up', making Himself appear better than He really is. But why?

If God is completely evil, like a psychopath or a sociopath, then how does He have any idea of goodness at all? Psychopaths and sociopaths have almost no idea of the right thing. Yet the Bible is overflowing with verses encouraging people to do the right thing.

If God is partly evil, like 50% evil, then what determines the level of evil of God? Why is God 50% evil and not 70% evil, or 30% evil? The level of God's evil needs to be accounted for otherwise this is just puzzling.

People argue there's a hell, and so God does take revenge on His opponents like an annoyed dictator. But consider this: have they ever looked at what Christian theologians say about hell? Hell is merely being conscious and not being perfectly good. If you're not perfectly good, then you're in hell, because hell is merely life continuing on as a sinner (I think the world is a kind of hell, an unjust hell, as opposed to the hell on Judgement Day which will be just) - Rev 7:14-17. Being a sinner = suffering = unavoidable. God cannot annihilate people as people are made in His image and He is necessarily eternal, so we are necessarily eternal as well (Ecc 3:11). So it does not work to say that hell shows that God is evil.

A fair thing to do is to apply this reasoning to other religions as well. Unless you can construct a system where a God would have reason to a) advocate that people should follow perfect standards, while b) being in reality evil, then you have to say that other religions believe in a good God(s) as well.


Sunday, March 15, 2009

Why didn't God only make people who would follow Him?

I think if we understood it really well then we'd know that free will is *like* a random process in a couple of ways. Creating a person is kind of like flipping a coin that will come up 50/50 heads or tails. This is important because if a process is random then you can't make it go heads or tails. So God making a person is kind of like flipping the coin in the sense that God can't make someone on the basis of how they're going to choose, just like I can't make a random coin toss go the way I want. But unlike flipping the coin God *can* predict how we'll turn out - He just can't make only the people who will choose the way He wants.

So in some ways free will is *like* randomness, but it's not really random because randomness is a terrible thing in people. It's somehow a 'third option' out of cause and effect that mimics randomness in this aspect, but is overall a genuine, great thing to have.

In Matt 13:24-29 God says that there's some kind of ratio of people who'll choose the way He wants and people who won't. Salvation is kind of like a statistical generalisation of e.g. X:Y ratio that becomes meaningless on an individual level because individually everyone has the power to choose the way God wants. It's just that on a generalised statistical level God knows X:Y ratio will be saved. It's like individually most philosophy students can choose to study metaphysics but statistically only a certain proportion will. Individually every Internet user can visit Apple.com but statistically only a certain proportion will.

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Thursday, March 12, 2009

Does God's foreknowledge contradict free will?

The 'God's foreknowledge contradicts free will, because we can't make God wrong' argument ONLY works if free will is something that exists within what you might call the 'three known causal categories'. The three known causal categories are: a) randomness, b) probability, and c) determinism. For a human the whole idea of a 'prediction' necessitates these categories. 0% certainty = randomness = no clue at all, 50% certainty = probability = it could go either way, 100% certainty = determinism = no chance of it not happening. We can never think outside of these known categories, or even imagine how any being possibly could... Determinism is the predicting category of the three, and that pretty much kills the idea of free will (for obvious reasons).

But free will doesn't necessarily have to exist within the 'three known causal categories'. Maybe it can exist in a completely different causal category, outside of cause/effect/probability/random 'space'. If so, then unfortunately we can never understand it (and it's very mystical). Yet it may not have to exist within those categories. If so, God could know something without forcing it to happen.


Sunday, March 08, 2009

Is it weird to say that our only purpose in life is to glorify God?

Revelations 4:9 And when those beasts give glory and honour and thanks to him that sat on the throne, who liveth for ever and ever, 4:10 The four and twenty elders fall down before him that sat on the throne, and worship him that liveth for ever and ever, and cast their crowns before the throne, saying, 4:11 Thou art worthy, O Lord, to receive glory and honour and power: for thou hast created all things, and for thy pleasure they are and were created.

Is it weird to say that our only purpose in life is to glorify and serve God? Isn't that a little 'odd'?

This is an issue that I used to find counter-intuitive/odd, when I read e.g. Revelations. And then I realised that you could think of it kind of like a 'protection mechanism'. Let's say you had two people in a really heated argument, it would be very difficult not to say hurtful things to the other person which would hurt your relationship with them down the road. But if they were both focused completely on serving God, then they wouldn't even think of doing hurtful things because they wouldn't be concerned with what they wanted at that particular time, but only what God wants at that time. And God always wants people to love others. So by only focusing on what God wants, that protects us from doing what we think is right (but isn't) at a particular time. Serving God with all our heart and mind ensures that we will always do God's will, which is a 'protective cover' for helping us always love others and God as we should.


Sunday, March 01, 2009

Podcast: The theology of an infinite God

Podcast Notes:

-It's often said that we can never understand God using our intellect. Why is this? Is it because God is infinite? But what does that mean? This podcast discusses the nature of God as an actual infinity. This kind of discussion can help to explain why our limited reason is on the 'wrong level' needed to fully understand God.

Title: Theology of an infinite God (OR: 'Why we can't ever intellectually understand God')
Time: 20:32 minutes
Size: 9.4 MB mp3

Direct link to the audio file (Right click and 'Save As')
Link to the audio file page

A couple of important clarifications:

-I should note that I'm not saying there's no difference between good and evil with this distinction-less idea. Evil comes from 'messing up' the A = A (love) of the infinite world, which can't happen to God because He's consistently infinite in every respect (so there is no evil in God). But we do evil because we're not all-infinite and so can be tempted to make mistakes. There's also a difference between anger and love in God, but only when viewed through finite reasoning. Both God's anger and love are part of a single whole that is His personality, but this is divided into sections with our finite reasoning.
-Also, on the trinity, there really are three distinct persons in distinctionless existence who are also one person. This is a mystery to finite reasoning - maybe it comes out of distinctionless existence being conscious and loving in some way? It's a mysterious attribute of fully infinite persons. These ideas shouldn't be taken to go against the trinity.

Further reading:

-Article on which this podcast is based.
-A longer version of the above.
-The theology talked about in this podcast transcribed into a few pictures.
-My theology in 60 seconds.
-What is a soul? (longer article).

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