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, May 29, 2009

What does the Bible mean when it says 'our flesh wars against our soul'? Part 1

Romans 8:5-8 For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit. For to set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace. For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God’s law; indeed, it cannot. Those who are in the flesh cannot please God. (ESV)

1 Peter 2:11 Beloved, I urge you as sojourners and exiles to abstain from the passions of the flesh, which wage war against your soul.

Gal 5:17 For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do.

I guess the basic question I want to ask here is: why does our 'flesh' have to war against our 'soul'? Why can't God just arrange for us to have brains that help us always do the right thing?

I ask this because it's becoming common to say that people behave the way they do purely because of their genes. Accordingly, many people would probably criticise God for shooting Himself in the foot. Since evil is merely the result of our genes, God could avoid all sin and evil merely by giving us better genes. In fact, God could ensure that absolutely everyone in the whole world will be perfect by giving them more helpful genes... so this way of thinking goes.

The problem with this view is that it goes against the concept of 'free will'. Let me explain where the mistake is.

The Bible says that God made us in His image, but not everything about humans is made in God's image. Consider Isaiah 55:8: "My thoughts are not your thoughts" (also Romans 11:33-34). Our emotions, free will, moral sense, and consciousness is clearly made in God's image because God has those things just like we do. But our intellectual reason obviously isn't made in God's image, or we would know all that God knows.

We can either look at free will intuitively or intellectually. Intuitively it's 'case closed'. We know that we have free will. Intellectually it's 'case closed' that we don't have free will, because free will doesn't make sense on an intellectual level.

This is because the only thing that can understand something made in God's image is a thing made in God's image. Since our intellectual reason isn't made in God's image, it cannot grasp the things of God or the image-of-God (it can, however, grasp the things of the universe, since the universe isn't made in God's image).

That said, you can think of free will like this:

a) if humans have free will and God does NOT exist, then we simply don't understand it.
b) if humans have free will and God gave it to us because we're made in His image, then we can never understand it. Our reason would be on the wrong level since it's not made in God's image.

Bertrand Russell once said that 'a stupid man's report of what a clever man has said is never accurate because he unconsciously translates what he hears into something that he can understand.' You could say something like that about humanity trying to understand free will.

If free will exists 'outside' of what our intellect can know then we will unconsciously translate our feeling that we have free will into terms that our intellect can understand, terms where there is no free will.

So to go back to the question: why doesn't God just create 'flesh' that is at peace with the 'soul'? To answer this, we first need to ask ourselves, do we really know what we're talking about?

I say this because if free will comes from the image-of-God in humans, then our different-to-God intellect could never understand it well.

So we can't say with much confidence that God could fix all sin and evil by merely giving us flesh that never wars against the soul/Spirit. That presumes that we have a good vantage point on the issue when we really don't.

More in part 2.

Labels: , ,

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Where skeptics often go wrong on the concept of God

It seems like one of the frequent divides between religious people of various faiths and atheists/agnostics is that religious people tend to have the idea that there are two 'levels' of reality, whereas atheists/agnostics only accept the idea of one 'level' of reality.

For the atheist/agnostic, there is only level of reality, which is the 'Universe/Multiverse' and everything in it can be understood if you're a) smart enough, and b) scientifically advanced enough.

Whereas for the religious person, there's two levels of reality: there's 'creator' and 'creation'.

Creator (infinite)
Created reality (finite)

Everything in created reality can be understood if you're smart enough and scientifically advanced enough, but the 'creator' level of reality is a completely different matter.

As a being in 'created reality' you simply can't understand 'creator' reality on an intellectual level. It can't be done. It's not a matter of needing more IQ points, or more scientific knowledge, the problem is that 'created reality' is on a lower 'level' of reality. People on the 'created' level of reality are intrinsically unable to understand the infinite intellectually (our name for the 'higher level' of reality).

Ergo, to relate to God you have do it on a person-to-person basis (based on the idea that our personalities are made in God's image) or use some kind of 'faith' to jump over your 'creaturely' limitations.

So why do religious people think this way? What is the theoretical justification for two 'levels' of reality, especially when everything seems to make sense on one 'level'?

On reflection, I think that the reason for the separation between creator and created comes from God being a distinction-less object. I think this is what the idea of an 'infinite' person must mean. See my argument for this view here and here (podcast).

This causes the creator/creation divide because our reasoning operates through distinctions. The difference between a really clever smart and an average person is that the clever person is capable of ordering and categorising numerous distinctions in a useful way at a much faster rate. E.g. a good philosopher thinks of many useful distinctions between various things, and orders and categorises them under various theories in an enlightening way.

That's why our reasoning just gets it hopelessly wrong about God: God is a distinction-less object. Yet we can't think except in distinctions. And it can never be any different, unless we abandon trying to figure God out as an intellectual concept and approach Him/Her/It through faith. This either requires some form of philosophising about God or a shot in the metaphysical dark via joining a spirituality that appeals to oneself.

I would add to the creator/created divide that human consciousness draws on, or make use of, the 'creator' level of reality in some mysterious way. So we shouldn't have to understand how the mental world works. People are not from the 'creator' level of reality, what I'm saying is that consciousness somehow makes 'use' of it. This could be how humans in 'created' reality can be made in the image of the 'creator'.

(Picture of this process below, click to enlarge).

Labels: ,

Saturday, May 23, 2009

The incarnation

(A helpful picture for understanding the point-of-view of this article below, click to enlarge).

An interesting way of thinking about the incarnation (where God became a man - Jesus) might proceed along these lines:

First off, let's say that consciousness is kind of similar to our concept of 'infinity.' You can never have more than one actual infinity, e.g. infinity plus infinity equals infinity. Let's say that, like infinity, 'mind' is possessive. So you can never have more than one being who is completely made out of mind. The being who is completely made out of mind we call 'God.' So there can be only one God.

Because you can't have more than one person who is 'completely mind' (one God) all other minds must be 'half-minds.' Being a 'half-mind' means that your mind needs to be based off a physical brain. Humans are 'half-minds' because unlike God, our mind is dependent on and makes use of a physical brain.

Let's say that normally, when God makes a half-mind (like you or me), we immediately have our OWN personality the moment mind and brain meet. This personality is totally unique for each of us and different to God's personality.

The way the incarnation worked is that instead of creating another unique personality when He made Jesus' body (which God did for everyone else), God used HIS OWN mind in the body of Jesus. So Jesus did not have a separate 'mind' to the Father but Jesus had the Father's mind matched to His brain. So Jesus had the soul/personality of God Himself. Therefore the soul of Jesus was the soul of someone who had chosen to do the right thing for an eternity (God) in every possible situation. Thus Jesus found Himself always choosing to do the right thing - because His soul was a perfect soul. Accordingly, He was sinless even although He was tempted in all ways as we (Heb 4:15)! And of course this means that Jesus and the Father are one (John 10:30) as they are the same soul (even though Jesus has a physical body, unlike God who is 'completely mind').

So Jesus and the Father are one - Jesus' soul is the soul of God, although the Father has more 'mind' than just a soul. The Father is 'completely mind' as opposed to 'half-mind-half-brain' like you, me, and the incarnate Jesus (note: being completely mind makes God a trinity, allows Him to look at minds like we can look at a painting, among other things).

Labels: , ,

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Is God responsible for how everything has turned out?

Question: isn't God responsible for how everything has turned out, by choosing to make things in the way that He did?

I think at some point, one has to make an intellectual leap and say that as beings with finite reasoning, our reasoning is on the 'wrong level' to understand the infinity of God effectively, which also includes the image-of-God in humans. This frees us from having to work out in-depth how something like free will could work, which might come from something Godlike (infinite) that human brains make use of (Ecc 3:11; John 10:34-36).

So I don't think that Christians can be expected to explain how a) God could predict something without narrowing everything down to only one possible outcome, and, b) how we could possess a 'thing' called free will where multiple outcomes were possible, although only one outcome in fact occurred (which is part of our intuitive grasp of the concept of free will).

This means that we can trust from our feeling that we have free will, that although God knew what would happen by creating the world, the fact that there is evil in the world is our responsibility.

Labels: , ,

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Why does God value faith 3: One way God uses faith in Christ

Part 1, part 2.

What's so great about believing in Christian theology? Why does God place so much emphasis on believing in a particular, specific religion to get saved?

I have a theory that God uses faith in the following way:

1) God makes an association between Christian faith (an intellectual belief) in someone's mind and the decision to follow Christ (a decision of the heart to follow God and repent).
2) God then allows a lot of pressure to be put on that person's intellectual faith, in order to put a lot of pressure on their decision to follow Christ through putting pressure on their intellectual faith. Why? To ultimately strengthen someone's resolve to follow Christ by making them hold on to it over many struggles. This pressure is known as 'doubt'.

Why do this? Why create (2)?

Because we have to be willing to follow God *forever* in the Kingdom of God; not a limited amount of time. And we have to be willing to walk into the perfect self that God has provided for us all in the cross. Putting pressure on someone's 'intellectual faith' can be used to accomplish greater resolve. It involves suffering, but it is needed for us to walk into the perfect self that God has provided for us, so it is absolutely the right thing for God to do.

So one possible reason God might value faith in Christian theology, and Christian claims, is because it is an easy way to make this situation happen (Heb 12:11).

Labels: , , ,

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Two kinds of facts

I think you can show that there are two kinds of facts: facts that you can accept without having to make a decision on whether to accept them, and facts that you need to choose to accept before you can know them.

An example of the first kind of fact is 2 + 2 = 4. I could hold a grudge against mathematicians and their discoveries but I could never doubt that 2 + 2 = 4. In a similar way, I could never believe that the moon is made of green cheese.

The second kind of fact you need to choose to accept before you can know. These tend to be facts about other people. For example, I know it's a fact that everyone has the right to freedom from violence, unless they do something really awful.

But not everyone knows this. Evil dictators, for instance. But we do. So why can't we go up to an evil dictator and say 'Look, it's a fact that people deserve more than this'. I could convince anyone that the moon is not made of green cheese with superior arguments. But I could never convince the dictator that people have rights, not in a million years. That conversation would go nowhere pretty fast. Yet people do have rights... So clearly some facts you need to choose to accept them before you can know them. That's how a 'dictator' doesn't really know what we're talking about when we tell them they're wrong.

I think this applies to religious debates as well. It seems obvious to me that we just can't understand God perfectly through reason. We just can't with finite intellects. And yet so many arguments against God's existence rely implicitly on a) Finding the right definition of God in Christianity, and b) Showing that it's contradictory. How could you do that when it's impossible in principle to ever intellectually understand God? So, to really see where religious people are coming from you would need to choose to accept something like an finite/infinite divide in reasoning and so on...

Labels: , , ,

Friday, May 08, 2009

Objective morality: God is love, mind is love, consciousness is love

It's often said that morality is only 'objective' if there's a God. But what is that supposed to mean? How is morality any more 'objective' if a God exists? I think the following situation would make morality objective in a very significant way, if it was true:

Imagine that 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.

But humans have minds, so why aren't we completely loving? Because our mind is localised in (based off) a brain, and the brain isn't 'love.' Our mind pulls us in the direction of loving others unconditionally. But our brain isn't love, and so we have a source of thinking that isn't love. This ends up 'pulling' us 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). (Read more about this dualistic assumption here.)

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: , , , ,

Tuesday, May 05, 2009

Why does God value faith 2: Moral faith versus religious faith

Part 1, part 3.

'Faith' has gotten a bad reputation in recent times because of its connection to religion. A lot of people do really bad things because they have some kind of faith that leads them to do evil. For some, faith is a bad thing not because it can sometimes cause people to do wrong, but because it's seen as irrational.

I think it's interesting that 'faith' is used so often regarding religion, but it's used less regarding morality. I think that the concept of 'faith' can have just as much connection to morality as to religion. I'll give you an example:

Take a case frequently occurring, where someone does something really awful to someone else. Would it be easier to seek justice or revenge, or to forgive the wrongdoer? It would be much harder to forgive. Way, way harder.

To forgive someone for a reasonably big slight goes against our natural instincts. It goes against the demand either for justice or revenge (which one it is depends on whether the wrong is really wrong).

When someone does forgive a serious wrong, then it would be fair to say that they are acting against their own human nature, which seeks recompense. So how does one find the ability to act against one's own human nature?

Unless it's beneficial to forgive others, then forgiveness can only happen through some kind of faith: either faith in God/Karma, or faith in the idea of forgiveness itself.

Let's say that the person doing the forgiving doesn't have a religious bone in their body. It seems that such a person would need to have faith in the idea of forgiveness, because otherwise it wouldn't be likely to happen.

Now, the point here is that such people are thought to be very nice. People wouldn't necessarily think they should do the same thing, but they would say 'That person is very nice' (I'm talking about wrongs against the forgiver, not wrongs against others/the community. It could depending on the situation be immoral not to take steps to protect others/the community).

So faith in good intentions (in this case forgiveness) is associated with kindness.

People being nice is a good thing... so this kind of 'faith' can be argued to be a good thing as well. You could call it 'faith in trying to have good intentions' or 'moral faith'.

Why does 'moral faith' involve faith? Well, it's not like you can rationally persuade people to be good, like Socrates tried to do. If you could, then no one who could reason would be bad. People are bad because being good is often non-rational. So 'moral faith' involves the irrational... it involves taking a 'blind leap', where a person chooses to have good intentions to a non-rational degree.

So actually, regardless of your position on religion, it seems that faith in some situations is definitely a good thing.

Continued here...

Labels: ,

Friday, May 01, 2009

The problem of evil

Can the difference between our mind and our brain help explain why we suffer?

If you have a cup of coffee with a friend, and sit across from them, will you ever see your friend's mind? Of course not. You can see their body but not their mind. Can you see your own mind? You can feel your mind: emotions, happiness, thoughts and so on, but you can never see it. That means that we cannot really see ourselves and others because we ARE our minds. We can see our own and other people's bodies, but never minds.

If I cannot see my mind then where is it? My mind isn't hiding under a rock, and although it is based off the neurons in my brain it cannot literally be hiding inside my brain. So where is my mind?

In a sense, humans are like a person standing with one foot in the sea and one foot on land. My brain could be viewed as the foot in the sea. My mind could be viewed as the foot on land. They both make up the whole person because I need some kind of brain to think with. So my mind must be somewhere else, somewhere not in the sea, somewhere on land...

But where, and what, is this 'land'?

I think the 'land' must be the World of God. If we're made in God's image then something about us must be like God, and anything like God could be thought to live in His reality. So our mind is in the World of God. It has always been in the World of God and it can never leave there. Our foot in the sea is our physical body and brain; our foot on land is our mind in the World of God.

When suffering happens, we usually think it happens like this:

Bad physical event
Bad mental event (pain, suffering)

We usually think bad physical event => leads to bad mental event. But what if it sometimes operates differently? What if a bad mental event can cause another bad mental event, purely in the World of God (the mental world)?

If our mind is in the World of God, then presumably it's natural for it to be connected to God in a very deep way. And we know that God is perfect. So if we do evil with no excuse for our actions, then surely that could weaken, or destroy, our mind's connection to God in the World of God, because God is a holy and good God. It's easy to think that any sin could cut-off our mind's relationship with God in the World of God. It's also easy to imagine how this would make us suffer, because anything in the World of God can only feel truly happy when it's connected to God (Ezekiel 18:4; Romans 5:12-14).

That would mean a bad mental event can cause another bad mental event purely in the World of God (the mental world).

So how about this:

Bad mental event involving our mind getting disconnected from God in the World of God due to sin
Bad mental event (pain, suffering)
Bad physical events going along with the bad mental events like parallel train tracks, which mirror but do not cause bad mental events.

Like parallel train tracks, God makes bad physical stuff go along with bad mental stuff. But this doesn't add to anyone's suffering - suffering MUST happen if there's a disconnect between our mind and God in the World of God.

In other words, God chooses to make bad physical stuff go along with bad mental stuff for His mysterious plan. Bad physical stuff doesn't add at all to suffering; suffering must happen, because our sin separates us from God in the World of God, regardless of what happens physically.

This doesn't explain why people suffer different amounts, although it does account for generalised pain and suffering. It also doesn't explain the suffering of those before the age of accountability, and animal suffering. But it is an interesting view of it...

(Check out the comments as well)

Labels: , ,