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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Anonymous aldrine said...

This is great.In-depth assessment of the nature and attributes of spiritual and physical body.


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