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

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Do thoughts = actions?

Are my thoughts basically the same thing as my actions? Typically we would say no. We don't act on many of our thoughts. But you could say that's only because many of our thoughts never find the perfect 'just right' situation to act in. So every thought is an action under the right circumstances.

That would mean sin = a morally flawed thought, instead of sin = a bad act. This actually makes Jesus Christ's sacrifice a lot easier to understand. On the cross Jesus took on and paid the penalty for our morally flawed thoughts rather than our bad actions. God swapped our morally flawed thoughts with Jesus' perfect thoughts; God didn't swap our bad acts for Jesus' perfect acts.

I think this is the Bible's view of what 'sin' is, check out 1 John 3:15 and Matt 5:27-28.


Saturday, April 25, 2009

A sketch of a Christian theory of emotions

I think that it would be interesting to lay out a Christian 'analysis' or 'theory' of emotions, in the style of secular psychologists', but from a Christian point-of-view.

Here's Robert Plutchik's categorisation of emotions (a secular psychologist) to get an idea of what I mean:

Primary emotions (stronger to weaker versions):

Ecstasy / Joy / Serenity
Admiration / Trust / Acceptance
Terror / Fear / Apprehension
Amazement / Surprise / Distraction
Grief / Sadness / Pensiveness
Loathing / Disgust / Boredom
Rage / Anger / Annoyance
Vigilance / Anticipation / Interest

Second order of emotions (more complicated combinations of the first order):

Love = Ecstasy + Admiration
Submission = Admiration + Terror
Awe = Terror + Amazement
Disapproval = Amazement + Grief
Remorse = Grief + Loathing
Contempt = Loathing + Rage
Aggressiveness = Rage + Vigilance
Optimism = Vigilance + Ecstasy

The reasoning behind this secular categorisation is that, first of all, we have emotions due to evolution, and now we want to find out how our emotions fit together in a hierarchy. All emotions seem to have equal status and come from the same source indiscriminately, which is evolution. The best marker for identifying them would be through a) how intense they are, and, b) whether they are a result of any combinations or whether they are 'primary'.

Now take the Christian view. The Christian view must be different. We don't necessarily disagree that emotions come to humans through evolution (I don't), but the point of them is to reflect the emotions of God. Ergo, our emotions may have evolved, but they evolved to reflect what God's consciousness is like and what emotions He feels.

I'll get to why a 'God' would feel emotions later. Before that the Christian has the problem of morally bad emotions, like pride, envy, and so on. How do we explain the existence of morally bad emotions if God is perfect?

The answer from a Christian view must be of course that not all emotions are on the same level. Our good and morally neutral emotions come from God, but our morally bad emotions come from sin. That's how God doesn't have morally bad emotions, and yet we do even though our emotions are made in God's image.

So you would construct a Christian hierarchy maybe a bit like this:

Emotions that come from God (morally good or morally neutral):

Primary emotions:


Second order of emotions (a more complicated expression of the first emotion, from 1 Cor 13):

Desire to relate to others as equals
Desire to serve others and not oneself
Anger only when seriously provoked
Always forgiving
Delighting in love and truth
Urge to protect others
Sadness, grief at loss
Diligence when it matters
Carefulness when it matters
PLUS, all other morally neutral emotions (won't bother listing them)

Morally bad emotions that are not felt by God, but come through sin:

Unjustified impatience
Cruelty/desire to inflict pain
Short temper
Delighting in misfortunes/evil
Disliking the truth/lying
Being willing to give up on important things too quickly
Insensitivity to pain, loss, grief

This is basically just a morally bad flip-side of the first list.

Let me make clear that when I say 'morally bad emotion' I don't mean a negative emotion like sadness, I mean a morally bad emotion. It's perfectly possible to be really depressed about life and stuff in general and be morally perfect.

Basically the Christian view would be something like this:

God has only good or morally neutral emotions. The ideal state is for us to only feel the emotions that God feels.
Humans sin.
Which means:
We have the ability to feel bad emotions.
Free will + emotion = the freedom to feel emotions that don't reflect God's nature, but which God allows us to feel to give us the freedom to reject Him and the love that He represents.

Another way of putting it is this:

Free will + emotion + doing the right thing = feeling only the good and morally neutral emotions that God has (e.g. love).
Free will + emotion + doing the wrong thing = feeling a morally bad emotion, which God did not originally intend minds to feel, like e.g. unjustified hatred of someone, or envy and pride.

So this would be a different hierarchy or system of categorisation than in the secular world. In the secular world no emotions are 'out-of-place' for a human to feel. It depends on the situation. For a Christian, morally bad emotions are not in our true nature, which is why a) God doesn't feel them, b) why they can only be felt if you choose to sin and, c) why they damage our psychological well-being, unlike loving emotions.

So why would God feel emotions at all? Aren't emotions physical things?

I think it must come from the trinity in some way - God for some reason exists as one being in a community of three persons, and our name for the relationship between them is 'love'. God then gave this love to us. This (somehow) must be the case in a way that we just can't understand with finite reason (more on this here.)

One way of looking at it is that when God made us in our image He gave us something (a mind) that is meant to be love in some way like God.

So just like being physical is part of our concept of 'a stone,' so loving and rejoicing in doing the right thing is part of what it means to be a 'mind' or 'conscious.' Love and goodness is to consciousness what being physical, or existing in the universe, is to a rock. Mind/consciousness is a kind of substance or thing that follows different rules to physical stuff. One of these aspects of mind, different to rocks, is loving and being good. So mind is love.

So why are we tempted to have morally bad emotions in the first place?

Because our mind is localised in a brain, and the brain isn't 'love.' Our mind pulls us in the direction of loving others unconditionally. But since we use our brain to think, and the brain isn't love, we are pulled into thinking thoughts that aren't loving. Our mind gives us the free will to follow either side. This means that humans have to fight our (non-mind) brain to love in accordance with mind, whereas mind by itself is so loving that it IS love (God is love).

The question is: why did God make us brain-Minds instead of 'Mind' by itself? Couldn't God have taken away the possibility of evil? The answer is that to be pure mind you basically have to be God, I think. So the above setup (which makes sin very likely) needs to be the case.

Labels: , ,

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Why is religious thinking so common to people? Why God isn't going away

(above picture gives a summary, click on it to see it normal size)

There's a common idea out there that 'reasoning' and 'rationality' means something like 'secular reasoning,' or reasoning that excludes religious ideas. I don't really think that's the case. I would say that there are two kinds of reasoning that people engage in: 'inanimate object' based reasoning and 'Mind' based reasoning. The difference is like between working out where a ball is going to land, versus working out whether my friend would be offended if I said a particular thing. What people regard as the 'secular' view comes from looking at reality through 'inanimate object' based reasoning, and what people regard as 'spirituality' and 'religious thinking' comes from looking at reality through 'Mind' based' reasoning. Neither is inherently superior or inferior to the other.

If no mind is behind the universe, then inanimate matter must go 'all the way down' (like the turtles). That's why any consistent atheism-agnosticism position must put inanimate matter at the foundation of reality, from which you get everything else (universe, multiverse, people, etc.) Materialism doesn't just follow from atheism, it IS atheism in any really long explanation of what atheism must mean (otherwise some kind of 'super mind' would exist behind the universe in some sense). So atheism-agnosticism comes from viewing reality through 'inanimate object' based reasoning.

Religious thinking comes from viewing reality through 'mind-based' reasoning. It assumes that the foundations of reality are fundamentally mental - a mind like us. Not necessarily like us in our limitations, but 'something like consciousness.'

Either of these positions is an assumption. While atheist/materialists often accuse religious people of exploiting folk intuitive ideas of consciousness, a spiritualist/religious person could accuse an atheist of overemphasising 'inanimate object' based reasoning when they work out their view of reality.

This is why the religious instinct, religion, and religious forms of reasoning will never go away. Being conscious ensures that 'mind-based' explanations for reality will always make sense. The religious instinct is inseparable from consciousness and people viewing reality through 'consciousness' language over and above 'inanimate object' language. This means that although traditional religions may fade, spiritualism can never go away, or even probably, lessen much.

Labels: , ,

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Why is God never tempted to sin?

A brief way of putting it is that God's 'head' is the same kind of thing as His 'heart', and that means they'll always line up perfectly, whereas our 'head' is very different to our 'heart', and so the door is open to us to have thoughts that go against what our 'heart' says.

Another way of putting it is that we only have one thing to go on when we're deciding whether to do The Right Thing. The only thing we have to go on is our moral sense. That's it. But God has something more to go on when He's deciding whether to do the right thing. He has an 'extra thing', kind of like our moral sense, but intellectual instead of emotional. Because of this 'extra thing' God conceives of us on an intellectual level exactly like our highest moral ideals. Just like our highest moral ideals would never allow us not to love someone, God's 'extra thing' prevents Him from conceiving of someone in a way not deserving of love intellectually. So there's nowhere in God for evil to 'come from'.

We can't understand or perceive this 'extra thing', because unfortunately it's one of those things that only God can have, like being all powerful or present everywhere. That's too bad, because with only our moral sense to go on when making decisions we're simply going to fail a lot of the time. ("Why do you call me good? One there is who is good, that is, God" - Jesus in Matthew 19:16-17).


Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Summary of free will in a paragraph

What is free will? An answer I favour is that our intellectual reason wasn't made in God's image - ('My thoughts are not your thoughts' - Isaiah 55:8; Romans 11:34). But our soul, or something like that was made in God's image (John 10:34). We get free will from the latter, but because the former isn't made in God's image it can never understand free will (from the latter) adequately. Something not made in the image of God is on the wrong 'level', or category of reality, to understand something that is made in the image of God. Moreover, to paraphrase Bertrand Russell, this means that we will always unconsciously translate anything to do with free will into non-free will language our intellect can understand.


Saturday, April 11, 2009

Are religious beliefs childlike and simplistic?

People sometimes consider reason and rationality to be overall a more 'advanced' characteristic than emotion. When writers imagine future civilizations, they often imagine them to be rational, calm, not emotional, very, very intelligent, and so on (based on my anecdotal experience with science fiction). Belief in a Deistic God, who has no feelings, who is a supreme intelligence that created the universe, is often considered more 'advanced' in some ways than believing in 'a loving Father in heaven'. Consider this quote by Albert Einstein:

"I believe in Spinoza's God who reveals himself in the orderly harmony of what exists, not in a God who concerns himself with fates and actions of human beings."

Compare that with a description of God in the Christian Bible (Luke 15):

"But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him. The son said to him, 'Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.' But the father said to his servants, 'Quick! Bring the best robe and put it on him. Put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. Bring the fattened calf and kill it. Let's have a feast and celebrate. For this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.'

Meanwhile, the older son was in the field. When he came near the house, he heard music and dancing. So he called one of the servants and asked him what was going on. 'Your brother has come,' he replied, 'and your father has killed the fattened calf because he has him back safe and sound.'

The older brother became angry and refused to go in. So his father went out and pleaded with him. But he answered his father, 'Look! All these years I've been slaving for you and never disobeyed your orders. Yet you never gave me even a young goat so I could celebrate with my friends. But when this son of yours who has squandered your property with prostitutes comes home, you kill the fattened calf for him!'

'My son,' the father said, 'you are always with me, and everything I have is yours. But we had to celebrate and be glad, because this brother of yours was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.'"

Isn't it obvious that Albert Einstein had a much more mature, well thought out, intelligent belief in God in this aspect?

How might a believer account for some people seeing things that way?

According to the Bible, our intellectual reason wasn't made in God's image. Isaiah 55:8 says 'my thoughts are not your thoughts' (see also Romans 11:34). So we have nothing in common with God in terms of our intellectual reason. But we do have something in common with God when it comes to our personality, love, good emotions generally, practical reason, free will and moral sense, because those things *were* made in God's image (picture of this relationship).

So no wonder our intellectual reason has an awkward, uncomfortable relationship with love, emotions more generally, and the world of 'doing and choosing'. It's not made in God's image, so it relates to the stuff that *was* made in God's image in a generally problematic way.

When we prioritise reason we naturally tend to make our ideal of a person, or our ideal of an advanced alien civilization into cold, calm, calculating persons. Just like when we prioritise reason we make our idea of God into a cold, calm, collected, maybe amoral or without-feeling God (Deism).

The truth is that the God in the Father passage above is actually what God is like. We are pushed away from this ideal when we imagine intellectual reason, which isn't made in the image of God, to be something that God has like *we* do. But God's reasoning is actually a kind of reasoning more like our emotion, if that were possible (actually, we can't even imagine what it is like to have intellectual thoughts like God's intellectual thoughts, because our intellectual faculty wasn't made in His image so we don't have His version of it).

Labels: ,

Tuesday, April 07, 2009

How can a loving God send someone to hell?

This picture illustrates the ideas in this article (click to enlarge):

I think that Christianity offers what you could call a really bipolar-like view of reality (speaking as a Christian). A lot of religions will say that when you die you dwell at some kind of distance to God depending on how bad you were. So good people are closer to God and happier, and more evil people live further away from God and are less happy... or something like that. Christianity is bipolar-like in saying that either you're absolutely perfect, flawless in your moral behaviour, and happy, or you're imperfect to the slightest degree and suffering in some sense (either in a hell on earth, Rom 5:12-14, or in some other kind of hell).

I think the reason for this philosophically has to do with our soul. I think that humans have in a sense one foot on the land and one foot in the sea. The foot on land is our physical body and brain, which is what we see. The foot we have in the sea is our soul, which is something that I would say we get from God and exists in God's world. The soul I believe is responsible for generating consciousness, free will, and a moral sense, exactly like what God has.

Because our soul is the same kind of 'thing' as God and exists in His world then it's actually connected to Him in a very fundamental sense. This is what creates the notion of hell. Since God is perfect then if our soul sins God has to sever His connection to our soul, because He cannot be connected to a sinful soul. If God did stay connected to a sinful soul, then that evil would become a part of God, which He will, of course, not allow (remember the old canard, 'God will not allow sin in His presence, being a righteous God'?) This is responsible for what causes hell, because not being perfect = your soul being excluded from God = suffering (either in a hell on earth or another kind of hell). I believe this is why the Christian view of salvation is so bipolar-like.

So when Christians say 'If you remain a sinner for eternity then you will go to hell' they're really saying something like 'Don't walk in front of cars or you will be hit and potentially killed'. It's a legitimate comment because it's a warning to us of something that God cannot change - He simply cannot be connected to a soul that sins, and that equals being in hell (although I should note that the hell in this world is unjust - e.g. good people suffer but evildoers get away with evil - and that the hell in the next world will somehow be just). Souls can't be destroyed because they're made out of stuff that necessarily lives forever because the soul is made in God's image and God necessarily lives forever (Ecc 3:11).

So either we become morally perfect at some point over eternity (only having perfect intentions towards others and God) or we will always suffer.

Universalism: everyone will choose this.
Liberal exclusivism: only good people (by the world's standards) will choose this.
Orthodox Christian exclusivism: only people who accept Christ and do God's will shall choose this (and maybe some people who never got to hear about Christ).

That's the core difference between these radically opposed views (in my reading). They have to work with the basic, unchangeable fact that being a sinner for an eternity = suffering for an eternity.

Labels: , ,

Sunday, April 05, 2009

How the atonement works (short version)

Sin isn't like a crime where you go to prison for a certain amount of time and then get let out. It is a willingness to commit an evil act, whether or not we actually do. Sin is having bad intentions to act towards others and God (1 John 3:15; Matt 5:27-28). That's why sin goes away when someone repents. If you change your behaviour for the better, then you no longer have bad intentions in that area. So no more sin in that area.

A person can theoretically have perfect intentions, which would get rid of sin. But no one can do this in practice.

Another option is for God to swap our evil intentions for someone else's perfect intentions.

All it would take to make someone perfect is to get them not to resist this process.

God had to be born as a human to perform this 'swap', because a) only God's soul, in a human, could choose to have perfect intentions, and b) God the Father cannot receive our evil intentions (bear sin) but God as a human can (Isa 59:2; Hab 1:13).

In the atonement, Jesus took on (but did not endorse or have himself) an infinite number of bad intentions, multiplied over every possible eternity that humans could have lived in, for billions upon billions of minds, to fully swap our evil intentions for His perfect intentions forever. God has chosen the atonement to take full effect at a future date (Eph 1:13-14).

Longer version.


Thursday, April 02, 2009

What is consciousness, how does it work, and why does it love?

...Some metaphysical speculations...

Where does consciousness come from?

You could theorise that it comes from a kind of existence where 'reality experiences itself' rather than 'reality describes what exists'.

What does that mean? Well, when you're conscious you experience very vivid sensations in your mind; the redness of a car, the sound of birds chirping, and so on. Your brain isn't just saying 'OK there's a red car, there's some sounds' and so on, it actually makes you feel the sensations that it is processing. The processing circuitry of the brain doesn't just describe, it also experiences. Experiencing versus describing is what I mean by 'reality experiences itself' versus 'reality describes what exists'.

Another way of putting it is that the brain could theoretically just describe redness (like in a computer program) and never 'feel' redness in the Mind's eye, but it does. This is kind of like reality itself experiences red, rather than merely describes red in the equivalent of a lot of 1's and 0's.

From where comes this 'reality experiences itself' kind of existence that could be thought of as consciousness?

We normally think of the universe as having a solely 'descriptive' kind of existence. The physical laws of the universe describe the universe down to a tee. If you knew the mathematical laws governing the universe, then you would know (effectively) everything about the universe. If the universe is merely a description of some information about laws, then that doesn't seem to leave much room for a 'reality experiences itself' kind of existence.

What's more, almost every kind of reality that we can imagine seems to be missing that special quality that would make a 'reality experiences itself' kind of existence something that you could predict from it.

I think that one needs to use another idea of reality to answer this, radically different to our universe, where it is easy to draw such a connection.

One feature of every world that we can comprehend is that it is always filled with distinctions. Distinctions between various heights, sizes, lengths, dimensions, wavelengths, etc.

Is it possible that there is a mode of reality where there is existence with no possibility of distinctions? A distinction-less, 'undifferentiated unity of everything'?

(An illustration of this kind of reality above, click to enlarge)

I believe this is what 'infinity' symbolises. A mode of being without distinctions encompassing the ALL, the everything. See my argument for this view here, and here[2].

I think that the 'reality experiences itself' kind of existence probably comes from the world without distinctions, the 'undifferentiated unity of everything', the being of God. This is a reality which grounds all possible things in its being, it is the 'being itself' of theologians. This distinction-less unity experiences being reality itself.

This may allow one to argue for a 'reality experiences itself' mode of existence to do with God. But surely, human consciousness is pretty far from the distinction-less, infinite 'ALL' that encompasses everything...

Ah, but you could think of it like this: human consciousness results from a 'blend' of the undifferentiated unity with our brains. The uniting of the distinction-less world and a human brain creates qualia (consciousness) as the 'cherry on the top' of the cake of the brain.

(Picture of mind versus matter above, click to enlarge)

So God's consciousness is an 'undifferentiated unity of everything that experiences being reality itself', and He localises this consciousness within our brain, creating an 'undifferentiated unity that experiences being reality itself when it comes to our brain'. That is, humans have access to an 'reality experiencing itself' mode of existence that applies only to our brain. This makes intuitive sense - we feel our consciousness as a single whole containing everything we are, coming up out of our brain.

God's gift to us is that He allows the brain to access His world. This makes us conscious because we access the 'reality experiences itself' mode of existence that God has (confined to our brain).

(Picture of this process above, click to enlarge)

So to sum up,
a) consciousness comes from infinity, properly conceived as distinction-less existence,
b) we are conscious because God 'localises' distinction-less infinity within our brain. This allows our brain to access distinction-less existence applying to the area of our brain.

But why is God (the infinite 'undifferentiated unity') love? (1 John 4:8)

A = A in our world. The chair a person is sitting on is/equals a chair.

That's the law of identity, the most fundamental law of logic.

Is there an 'A = A' for a world without distinctions, the world of undifferentiated unity?

I think it is love. An active, conscious identification with what exists as opposed to things just passively existing. It is love rather than a mere 'identifies with what exists', because the 'identifies with' is conscious. To put it in a rather abstract way, a conscious 'identifies with' must be love rather than a mere 'A = A'.

Labels: , , ,