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, March 31, 2010

Either a completely evil or a completely good God

People sometimes say there are four kinds of Gods that can exist when it comes to goodness. Either an evil God, an amoral Deist God (neither good nor bad), a 'usually nice' God, or a completely good God.

But I actually think there are only two options here: a completely evil God or a completely good God.

Consider this: an amoral Deist God, just like an amoral person, has no concept or awareness of good or evil. A Deist God started the universe off for unknown reasons, and doesn't interfere. It doesn't care whether people are happy or suffer.

An evil God actually delights in evil and inflicting pain on people.

But let's say that the amoral God found it useful to suddenly wipe out humanity, or to inflict pain on people. Then the amoral (Deist) God would do so, because It has no concept of good or evil - our suffering wouldn't be an issue to It.

So the difference between an evil God and an amoral Deist God seems to be this: an evil God has a selfish reason to inflict pain on humans, but a Deist God has no selfish reason to inflict pain on humans. In all other respects, the evil God and the Deist God are the same. Just like the evil God, the Deist God has no concept of (or concern for) good and evil, and always acts to fulfill whatever It determines Its interests to be.

This means that if we feel like believing in a God, we can't believe in a God who is neither good nor bad. A Deistic God who has no concept of good or evil is actually a purely evil God.

So, if there's a good God, then why does it have to be completely good? Can't a good God be a generally nice person but sometimes a 'jerk' to people?

There are two reasons why a good God is probably perfectly good.

The first reason is that to be good at all (in any way) you need to feel that treating people the way they'd like to be treated has SOME importance. So a 'usually nice' God feels treating people the way they'd like to be treated is important to some degree.

But why would a 'usually nice' God value treating people the way they'd like to be treated on Mondays, Tuesdays, and Thursdays only (so to speak)? If a God valued treating people right some of the time, then why wouldn't it be consistent? If being good has value then why not go all-out? A God (a superior being without our issues and hangups) should be able to handle that. I.e., 'If I'm going to value treating people the way they'd like to be treated I might as well do it with 100% consistency.'

A second reason is that a 'usually nice' God would have some arbitrary level of flawed goodness, and that isn't a very 'neat' view of things. It's sort of like the 'zero, one, infinity rule' in maths. For example, if you're deciding how many angels can dance on the head of a pin it makes sense to say either none can, one can, or all of them can at once, rather than '57 angels can dance on the head of a pin but if there were 58 then they would fall off'. So it makes sense to say a caring God is 100% caring rather than e.g. '80% caring'.

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Tuesday, March 23, 2010

What is eternal life and why would it be good?

"Wowbagger the Infinitely Prolonged, having seen and done everything there is to see and do, decides to dedicate the rest of his existence to insulting every single living being in the universe - in alphabetical order. It is interesting to note that the Guide points out that those who are naturally immortal are born with the psychological capacity to cope with immortality and would not suffer from this trope; Wowbagger's immortality was thrust upon him by accident, which is why he has such a hard time of it."

-From TVTropes

Douglas Adams' makes an interesting point in the Hitchhikers series about immortality and happiness. He points out that being immortal would actually have a lot of downsides. Although perhaps the first few hundred years would be pretty interesting, eventually it would get tedious.

Perhaps one of the reasons for this is that humans are not naturally immortal. We are finite beings who live on earth for a short period of time. We get bored rather easily and I suspect we aren't naturally able to cope with eternity.

But even if we never died physically we would still not be eternal in the way that God is. Even if we never died physically and 'continued' forever we would still exist within time. So we could never say that we had actually lived for an eternity, like God can (Psalm 90:2), even if we were immortal.

God is naturally eternal and outside the restrictions of time, so surely God is naturally able to cope with eternity; with living forever. Whatever happiness God has must be an eternal happiness that never gets boring or pointless, otherwise God would not be able to 'cope' with His own nature (and that would be strange).

This may explain why the Bible talks about eternal life (God's plan for humanity) as experiencing God's happiness:

Romans 14:17: For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking, but of righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit

Psalm 16:11: You have made known to me the path of life; you will fill me with joy in your presence, with eternal pleasures at your right hand.

Psalm 36:8-9: They feast on the abundance of your house; you give them drink from your river of delights. For with you is the fountain of life; in your light we see light.

Because God is naturally able to cope with living forever, God's happiness is an eternal happiness that never becomes monotonous. That is, eternal life. So giving that happiness to humans would be giving humans eternal life, a life that is fulfilling and pleasurable for eons; forever.

The only problem is that according to the Bible, failing to do what is right separates us from God strongly enough that God cannot give us eternal life (Rom 6:23). God cannot be that close to sin. That's why Jesus died on the cross for us (Rom 6:6), where God did a 'character swap', exchanging our moral failures for Jesus' perfection, to be fully manifested after we die.

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Thursday, March 18, 2010

The Christian view of human nature

Here is a visual illustration of the Christian view of human nature, below. Click on it to see it full size:

(I'd like to note that even though I refer to God using male pronouns, God is not a guy. God has no specific gender, but has chosen to refer to Himself in the Bible using male pronouns. I think that's mainly for two reasons. First of all, using a gender neutral pronoun is a bit awkward ('It created the universe') given the way our language works. Secondly, when God came to earth He chose to be born as a man (Jesus), rather than a woman, and so that probably led to every member of the trinity being referred to as a 'He'.)

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Tuesday, March 09, 2010

How does human nature change in heaven?

A lot of skeptics have this question about heaven: why won't people in heaven do bad things? Especially when you consider how Christians cannot avoid sinning in this life.

Is it that God changes human nature? Well then why didn't God create Adam and Eve with a nature that wouldn't sin? It doesn't make sense. But what other explanation is there?

So does God prevent evil in heaven by changing human nature?

In one sense yes, in another sense no. The answer lies in what Jesus did on the cross for us.

You could say that humans are made out of two components: a body-brain, and a soul-mind.

People will always have a body-brain (whether physical, spiritual, or glorified resurrected body) and a soul-mind. So in the sense of the 'components' of human nature, human nature never changes.

Is it a problem that the components of human nature never change?

Yes. For some reason God can't make anyone with these components like Himself when it comes to sin. By this I mean, only God can never be tempted by sin (James 1:13). And we're smart enough to know that if we mess other people around then we can often fulfill our needs and wants better. And if God hadn't given us needs and wants then we would be self-contained social islands (not a good alternative).

So how can God make heaven perfect if we're stuck with these components of human nature, and these components lead to sin?

Part of the answer is that human nature isn't the only issue. There is also the issue of our own individual moral characters.

We have free will, so in theory, heaven could have no evil in it if people just chose not to do evil there (despite our bad track record on earth).

But in practice, having free will doesn't really help things that much. We are smart enough to know that selfishness/evil often makes a lot of sense, and so we can't make ourselves do something like 'be perfect' that is clearly against our self-interest.

But maybe, the problems of human nature could be sidestepped if just one person lived a morally perfect life.

How so?

Well, if one person lived a flawless life with a body-brain and soul-mind, then perhaps God could 'give' their moral character (pattern of moral choices) to others... That would make the human nature problem irrelevant.

If God could just 'give us' a morally perfect character, then we'd still have our human nature, but it wouldn't be a problem because now everyone would have a perfect moral character.

There was such a perfect person, according to Christianity. Although Jesus had a body-brain and soul-mind exactly as we do (Rom 8:3), for Jesus sin wasn't ever a problem. This is because Jesus had God's soul (John 10:36). So Jesus had the soul of someone (i.e. God) who had chosen to never sin from eternity.

We don't exactly know how it works, but Jesus' moral character (pattern of moral choices) can be handed out to others. On the cross our sinful selves somehow died with Christ, and in return Christ now lives in us (Rom 6:6, Gal 2:20). This is referred to as getting a new nature and being a new creation (2 Pe 1:4; 2 Co 5:17).

This world is the 'choosing period', where people decide whether this is something they want. For some reason, God waits until after we die to 'fully manifest' the effects of the 'swap' - but the 'swap' is fully accomplished as soon as someone genuinely believes in Christ (Col 3:3).

So heaven makes sense. We will still have a body-brain and soul-mind, but this time there will not be any problems. Because our moral character has been changed through the cross.

[1] Part of the idea of Adam and Eve is that you can have a body-brain and a soul-mind and nevertheless avoid sinning. I think this is possible because the 'Garden of Eden' situation is one where God protects our understanding of good and evil. So we rely on God's understanding of what to do, whether to get angry with someone, or help someone, for example, rather than our own. The 'Fall' seems to be a situation where people decide to rely on themselves for working out good and evil and to let go of God's protection.

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Friday, March 05, 2010

Looking at creation and Romans 1:18

"There are these two young fish swimming along, and they happen to meet an older fish swimming the other way, who nods at them and says, "Morning, boys, how's the water?" And the two young fish swim on for a bit, and then eventually one of them looks over at the other and goes, "What the hell is water?"

...The immediate point of the fish story is that the most obvious, ubiquitous, important realities are often the ones that are the hardest to see and talk about."

-David Foster Wallace

I thought of this joke when I was trying to understand what Paul was talking about in Romans 1:18.

Rom 1:18: "For ever since the world was created, people have seen the earth and sky. Through everything God made, they can clearly see his invisible qualities--his eternal power and divine nature. So they have no excuse for not knowing God."

The joke seems relevant because looking at the beauty of a garden, a forest, a galaxy, animals, the clouds, a sunset, and so on, is stuff that we deal with everyday (and in today's science we see elegant mathematical laws governing the universe). So it's not really that amazing to us. We get used to it. But actually, when you think about it, it's pretty amazing that the world is so beautiful and seems like e.g. a painting with no visible painter.

I think the point in Romans loses a lot of force because we're very used to the world we live in so it's not really that amazing it's as beautiful etc. as it is.

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