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

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

A definition of grace

Christians often talk about how grace means that we don't and can't 'earn' our way into heaven.

Eph 2:8-9: "Because by grace you have salvation through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is given by God: Not by works, so that no man may take glory to himself."

Rom 11:6: "But if it is of grace, then it is no longer of works: or grace would not be grace."

Think about it. What does it mean for salvation not to depend at all on works? Are 'works' involved in salvation if people who don't care about philosophy at all are more likely to go to heaven - because they experience fewer doubts?

Are 'works' involved in salvation if someone is more likely to go to heaven should they be an incredibly trusting person who accepts whatever religious texts say? And if someone who is very cynical is less likely to go to heaven because they automatically doubt religious authorities?

Are 'works' involved in salvation if someone who is very nice is more likely to accept Christ, because following Christ is more appealing to them? Whereas someone who is an arrogant jerk is less likely to accept Christ?

My answer to all these questions is 'Yes'. I've thought about it a lot and I think that if these situations really occur then salvation has to partly involve works. Otherwise being philosophical, being cynical, and being a jerk makes it less likely you will get to heaven = salvation is partly of works.

So where does that lead us?

I think that if grace is completely grace, that this is the right definition of grace:

Grace: free will is involved, God wants everyone to go to heaven, and our personality and character traits don't put an obstacle in our way when it comes to getting into heaven, and don't give us an advantage over anyone else in that area, at any stage.

And yet, I should add, some people don't make it into heaven.

I'd rather not take Calvin's explanation given passages like Eze 33:11; John 3:16; Matt 23:37; 1 Tim 2:3-4; 2 Pet 3:9 and so on.

If you don't take Calvin's route then grace is hard, very hard, to understand from a philosophical point-of-view. I think this makes grace a lot like free will. Which makes sense if grace involves free will.

No one can get very far in explaining how 'can do otherwise' free will works. But we know that we have free will intuitively, we can act as though we have free will, and we could surely know how free will works through the Spirit, as a form of spiritual knowledge (1 Cor 2:12-14).

Similarly, we can know what grace is intuitively (like free will), we can act on the basis that we are saved by grace, and we can know how grace works through the Spirit, as a form of spiritual knowledge. But I don't know exactly how the definition I gave above (plus some people don't make it to heaven) makes sense from the point-of-view of philosophy.

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Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Would a creator of the universe imply a loving God? The 'motivation' argument

Assume there is a God who created the universe. Are there reasons to believe that 'It' is a loving God?

I think this is an interesting argument that may have potential. One could call it the 'motivation' argument.

The 'motivation' argument says that there aren't many motives that a God could have for creating the universe. There may be only one, because a lot of suggested motives are actually really implausible. This motive is that God is loving, and therefore belief in a creator God leads to belief in a loving God.

First of all, assume that if a God created the universe, then It would have a motivation for doing so.

Here is a list of possible motives that a 'God' might have for creating the universe:

1. Loving God: If God doesn't create then reality only contains one being who is happy - God. If God creates and makes billions of other beings happy, then there is a lot more happiness in reality overall. So out of love, God makes us so that beings other than God can be happy.
2. Amoral God: The universe is like a science project. God makes the universe to create and look at black holes, evolution, and other cool stuff. It watches and observes the universe, and species in the universe such as humanity like in an interesting scientific experiment.
3. Amoral God: God gets bored. God is hanging around in eternity and has nothing to do. So God creates the universe as something to do. It might whittle away some time.
4. Amoral God: God gets lonely, but Its not loving. Or at least, God is not very loving. Creating some other beings that go and do stuff would make God feel a bit less lonely and allow It to 'connect' with other sentient beings.
5. Evil God: God is actually malevolent. Creating sentient life, like humans, allows God to inflict pain and suffering. If God didn't make the world, then It couldn't inflict evil on us, and God couldn't be evil. So God made the universe to make us suffer.
6. Amoral God: Unknown motive. An amoral God could have a motive not on this list, because I didn't think of everything.

I'll go through them and hopefully eliminate all motives except 1 and 6. The conclusion will be that if we have to choose between 1 and 6 we should choose 1 because, I guess, it makes the most sense. This means that if a God did create the universe, then we should guess that He/She/It is a loving God, because it is hard to think of a motive for God to create the universe that isn't a loving motive.

Let's go through motives 2-5. Suppose an amoral/evil God created the universe.

How powerful and knowledgeable is this amoral/evil God? There are two possibilities:

1. An amoral/evil God who knows everything. An infinite God, probably.
2. A very powerful amoral/evil God, but not the most knowledgeable God that we can imagine.

If it's 2 then this doesn't seem like a very 'neat' view of reality. It means there's a God but He/She/It is not the greatest possible God, and it's a bit more appealing for some reason to talk about God in terms of absolutes, like the greatest possible. Also, it would mean that God isn't infinite as Its knowledge would be quite good but not quite the most you can get. But a God who created the universe would probably be a God who is so great that It 'grounds all of existence'. This implies an infinite God (link). So there are two problems with the second view.

So it seems that any God who created the universe would probably be God no. 1 rather than 2. An infinite God, probably.

Now, if the amoral/evil God is no. 1 (infinite) then I do think there is something hard to explain about this God making reality for a 'science project' type of reason. This God already knows everything that It could possibly discover by making the universe. There is nothing that the infinite amoral/evil God can possibly learn. So it makes no sense God would make the universe for that reason. This seem to rule out motivation 2.

What about motivation 3? God gets bored. But isn't it a strange view of the greatest possible being to say It gets bored? It seems that the greatest possible being shouldn't get bored, otherwise It has problems. An infinite God should have so many things going for It that It would not get bored. Motivation 3 implies the second type of God, and that idea of God has problems. This can rule out motivation 3.

Motivation 4: God gets lonely. If God creates because It gets lonely, then it seems God isn't perfect. God isn't complete and happy in Him/Her/Itself. So it seems this God lacks things, and thus It isn't the greatest possible God. So if God is lonely we're talking about no. 2 God rather than 1, which is a view with problems. This might rule out motivation 4.

Motivation 5: God is evil. But looking at the universe, I don't think you can say that God is evil, I think the most you could say is that He/She/It is indifferent. I can certainly think of a lot of ways in which there could be more evil in the world. Such as if God created a billion people every second and tortured them with indescribable pain forever (by the way, hell isn't an example of this because hell is just giving people who want to be separated from God the right to do that). This might rule out motivation 5.

So assuming that a creator God needs a motive to create the universe, and that the creator is infinite, then we are left with motivation 1 (a loving God) or 6 (unknown purpose). These assumptions, which I think are reasonable, lead us to believe in a loving God if we believe that a God created the universe.


Monday, November 09, 2009

Do humans have no right to make a reply back to God?

Rom 9:20: "But, O man, who are you, to make answer against God? May the thing which is made say to him who made it, Why did you make me so?"

James 1:13: "When tempted, no one should say, "God is tempting me." For God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does he tempt anyone"

My belief on this is that we can't really answer back to God BUT this is ONLY because God cannot be tempted by evil. If there's a God who can be tempted by evil then I think we have the right to answer back to them. But if there is really a God who cannot be tempted then if we believe this with our whole heart I think it's appropriate to decide never to answer back. And also, this applies only as long as we genuinely know what this God is really saying/wanting. That part is very important. So provided those two conditions are fulfilled, then yes.

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Sunday, November 01, 2009

A discussion on whether being infinite = God not needing a beginning, and not being complex

A lot of skeptics would argue that if the universe needs an explanation for its existence, then God needs an explanation as well. Moreover, God sounds a lot more complicated than the universe, so how did we end up with such a complex God?

From a discussion... other person is in [] brackets

I think one helpful way of thinking about this issue hinges on whether God is infinite. We know that in the finite 'world', any kind of thinking or computing requires a lot of complexity. From a calculator to a human brain, finite intelligence needs to be pretty complex to do stuff. The key is whether 'infinity' brings a whole other group of considerations into play. So for example, infinite stuff doesn't behave like finite stuff. Infinity plus infinity plus infinity equals infinity, but 1 + 1 + 1 = 3. Georg Cantor thought that there might be an 'absolute infinite', a kind of existence without distinctions (like 1, -1, 2, -2, 3, -3) that somehow contained every possibility in its being in an absolute unity. A personification of that reality - God - would be 'everlasting to everlasting' and would know everything without being complex.

[But why can't infinity be complex? If the universe was infinitely old, for example.]

If the universe was infinite in the sense of being infinitely old then it would be infinite and complex. There would be an infinite number of things that have happened in the past. This is one kind of infinite, and seems to create a lot of paradoxes. When we try to imagine an infinite that is built out of finite things then it is a lot like trying to imagine the highest number. It's arguable we can't really imagine it.

Another idea of the infinite tries to treat the infinite as a completely different sort of number or (if you talk about 'infinite reality') plane of existence. In the second approach, by saying that the infinite is fundamentally different to the finite, it does sort of make sense without some of the difficulties of the first approach. The second sort of infinite might help God 'escape' the complexity problem, by making it so that we can't talk about complexity in the usual way there.

The latter kind of infinite is based on a logic that contradicts finite logic (e.g. 1 + 1 = 2) but which makes sense within its own 'world'. So it's a development of an alternative logic that makes sense but which is not like finite logic. For example, the members of a 'proper subset' of an infinite set is as large as the whole set altogether, whereas the members of a subset of a finite set cannot be as large as the whole set, because it is just a subset. So while this criticism applies to the first sort of infinity, it may not apply to the second.

[1 + 1 + 1 = 3 no matter where you are.]

Well, no matter what universe you're in, 1 + 1 + 1 always equals 3. No matter the environment. But if infinity actually exists (and isn't just an idea in people's heads) then in 'infinite reality' 1 + 1 + 1 = 1. Infinity plus infinity plus infinity equals infinity. So assuming the reality of infinity, there can be some very strange stuff going on mathematically.

[Mathematically, perhaps, but not physically.]

But if there is really a God then infinity is not an idea in people's heads but is 'out there'. Infinity could not be contained in a trillion multiverses. It would exist, but would be 'too much' to be contained in physical reality. We could not know it through finite reason except in the most general way.

[God would still need a beginning or explanation for His existence, just like the universe.]

It's always strange to finite reason for something to always exist because finite reason starts at '0' and goes upwards forever (1, 2, 3, 4, etc), from the starting point of nothing. But maybe the infinite 'starts' at the infinite ∞ and never changes, so to God maybe it is puzzling that humans ask why there would need to be a starting point for everything.

[How can God just 'be'?]

If God personifies this infinite world then He is something like a 'distinction-less unity' that encompasses everything, but somehow in a way that doesn't entail differences/distinctions within what He is encompassing. A person like this is 'everlasting to everlasting' because there are no 'distinctions' like 1, 2, A, B, cause, effect, time, in God (or 'infinite reality') that would allow us to talk about a 'beginning' to Him.

(Picture expressing this idea below, click to enlarge)

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