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, October 25, 2009

Did Paul say that the body is evil? The idea of 'the flesh'

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.

Based on verses such as these (and there are a lot) some people have thought that Paul is saying that the body is evil. How could the body not be evil if 'the flesh' causes us to do evil? It sounds like all of our problems will go away once we get a spiritual body that doesn't have the setbacks of our physical bodies. But that makes you wonder why God didn't start humans off in spiritual bodies, and saying that the body is evil seems to go against common sense.

I think Paul is being a lot more abstract than this, and that 'the flesh' is another word for 'game theoretic reasoning'.

Game theory is a branch of mathematics that deals with what the most self-interested option is; what happens when people act purely from self-interest. It just so happens that our reason, the reason of our brain, finds it very easy to understand game theoretic principles (even if most people never hear about game theory). The same reasoning ability that helps us understand 2 + 2 = 4 will also, it seems, be able to understand game theory if it is clever enough.

Because our brain understands game theory so well, we get constant temptations to act from motives of self-interest without properly regarding what the moral point-of-view is. As long as we have a brain, this situation will be the case. Being able to reason means being able to understand game theoretic principles, even if we don't call it such.

I don't think Paul is saying that there's anything evil about the brain or our bodies. He's speaking of something more general and abstract. Any brain, whether physical or spiritual, needs to be able to understand self-interest if it is able to reason. That means any brain, whether physical or spiritual, is probably tempted all the time. So 'the flesh' really refers to the way our reason finds it so easy to think in terms of game theoretic considerations. It's not saying that the body is evil, it's a more general comment on reason that is the case for any conceivable brain.

Does this mean that reason is evil? No, for three reasons. First of all, if people had no reason then they could not exist. To be made in God's image we need to be able to think. Secondly, we share reason with calculators and computers, and they aren't evil. Because calculators and computers don't have free will, they can't be evil, and thus evil is 'owned' by persons who choose wrongly and not reason. Thirdly, the vast majority of the time we use reason for good or neutral purposes, like working out how to help someone, or what to buy. So reason is actually more like a good thing (like a car) which can be used for evil (like driving recklessly) - we wouldn't say that cars are evil because they can be used for evil.

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Wednesday, October 21, 2009

The incarnation, quickly

Just like humans have a soul because we're made in the image of God, so God (not the image, but the actual God) has a soul. Jesus was God's soul in a human body.


Tuesday, October 13, 2009

One of religion's most common mistakes

It's often said by atheists that one of the problems with religion is that it tries to reward people for doing good, when the fact that an act is good should be motivation enough. The Bible agrees with them:

Luke 17:7-10: "But which of you, having a servant who is ploughing or keeping sheep, will say to him, when he comes in from the field, Come now and be seated and have a meal, Will he not say, Get a meal for me, and make yourself ready and see to my needs till I have had my food and drink; and after that you may have yours? Does he give praise to the servant because he did what was ordered? In the same way, when you have done all the things which are given you to do, say, There is no profit in us, for we have only done what we were ordered to do."

If you know that you have a moral obligation to do something, then you should do it because it's right. Whether or not there's a reward is irrelevant to moral obligations. For example, we don't believe that someone who reaches the age of 50 without murdering someone deserves a reward, because obviously it's wrong to murder.

I think that God rewards people for doing the right thing not because it's an arrangement that religious people have with God, but merely because God is a generous person and generous people are generous. In no sense would God reward a religious person, I think, for doing the right thing in any other sense.

This is one of the mistakes that religious people often make: assuming that being loving and doing God's will deserves a reward as if it was not an obligation.

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Thursday, October 08, 2009

The purpose of religion...

It's a common belief that one of the main purposes of religion is to help people be good. So one thing that Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, Christianity, Judaism, etc., and so on are all doing is that they're basically about making people better people (in all the different ways that they try to do that).

I don't think that's what's going on... or shouldn't be...

Let's say that there's a town somewhere that is trying to reduce crime. So they give a reward of $1,000 if someone reaches the age of 50 without murdering someone. This seems like a rather odd thing to do. Why? Because you shouldn't reward people for doing what they're obligated to do. We're all obligated not to murder people, and so we don't deserve a reward for not murdering people.

Let's say religion is trying to get people to be better people. Is it trying to get people to do stuff that is a good thing that they have no obligation to do? Or is religion trying to get people to do things that are good that they have an obligation to do anyway?

I'd say the latter. Religion tries to encourage people to be nice people. But we should be nice people anyway, regardless of whether religion had ever existed.

And so I don't think religion can really be, or should be, about making people better people. Regardless of whether religion had ever existed, we should have been good people anyway, and so we don't deserve any reward for being good people, wherever our obligations were concerned.

With regard to Christianity, it's purpose is not about making people into better people. Christianity isn't about making people into 'good people', it's about God saving people through the cross, which took away our wrongdoing somehow. It's about God taking away people's bad intentions without needing our help, rather than people getting into heaven because of their own abilities.

Any religion that is about making people better has worthwhile effects when it does so, but it's doing something that people should have done anyway, and so in a strict sense, is redundant. In the case of Christianity, God puts people into a right relationship with Himself for eternity without needing any help from us.