Category: Philosophy


Truly God and truly man

“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God… And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.” — JOHN 1:1.14

Some people claim that Christ cannot be truly God and truly man at the same time. I disagree. And I will try to explain how this is possible, from a philosophical point of view.[1] My starting point will be the doctrinal statements of Chalcedon and of the Athanasian Creed. In Chalcedon we profess:

We, then, following the holy Fathers, all with one consent, teach men to confess one and the same Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, the same perfect in Godhead and also perfect in manhood; truly God and truly man, of a reasonable [rational] soul and body; consubstantial [co-essential] with the Father according to the Godhead, and consubstantial with us according to the Manhood; in all things like unto us, without sin; begotten before all ages of the Father according to the Godhead, and in these latter days, for us and for our salvation, born of the Virgin Mary, the Mother of God, according to the Manhood; one and the same Christ, Son, Lord, only begotten, to be acknowledged in two natures, inconfusedly, unchangeably, indivisibly, inseparably; the distinction of natures being by no means taken away by the union, but rather the property of each nature being preserved, and concurring in one Person and one Subsistence, not parted or divided into two persons, but one and the same Son, and only begotten, God the Word, the Lord Jesus Christ; as the prophets from the beginning [have declared] concerning Him, and the Lord Jesus Christ Himself has taught us, and the Creed of the holy Fathers has handed down to us.

And in the Athanasian Creed we say that Christ, truly God and truly man, is “with a rational soul and human flesh.” And further we profess that He is one “not by his divinity being turned into flesh, but by God’s taking humanity to himself. He is one, certainly not by the blending of his essence, but by the unity of his person.” But some people disagree with this. They claim that the person is the soul, or the union of body and soul, which would mean that Christ’s soul (or soul-body union) would constitute a person on its own. Thomas D. Senor writes that “this claim — that in addition to taking on a body, God the Son took on a human mind — brings with a rather serious philosophical difficulty. For in the standard case (and, as seen likely, in every other case), a human body and mind combination composes a human person.”[2]

J.P. Moreland and Scott B. Rae writes: “You are essentially your soul—same soul, same person; different soul, different person.”[3] I disagree. The person is of course closely connected to the soul, as it is connected to its nature. And the human soul, writes L.W. Geddes, “belongs to the nature as a part of it, and is therefore not a person, even when existing separately.”

Before I go on, I will take a look at the teaching on the Incarnation given by J.P. Moreland and William Lane Craig.[4] They try to give an heresy-free reinterpretation of the thoughts of Apollinarius (d. ca. 390), and writes that he “correctly discerned … that if we are to avoid a duality of persons in Christ, the man Jesus of Nazareth and the divine Logos must share some common constituent which unites their two individual natures.”[5] They also ask, “How does one have to complete natures without two persons?” And takes a look at the Church’s condemnation of Monotheletism, and wonders “how one can have two separate wills and operations without two persons.”[6] The fault of Moreland, Craig Senor and Apollinarius is two-sided.

Firstly, they use a confusing concept, namely the concept of ‘individual nature.’ A nature isn’t ‘individual,’ but ‘universal.’ I believe that the universals exists in the particular things, and not independent of these.

Secondly, they believe that the essential properties of human nature — including soul and body — are sufficient for personhood. I believe that these properties are necessary, but not sufficient, for personhood. In his tract, A Treatise Against Eutyches and Nestorius, Medieval philosopher Boethius defined Nature as “the specific property of any substance” and defined a person as “the individual substance of a rational nature.” (chapter 4) The person is a substance that carries, has and owns his properties. Human nature is a property with certain properties under itself, both essential — properties needed to exist (reason, mind, will, etc.) — and accidental — properties that can change (weight, height, shape, etc.) A substance owns its properties.

It seems to me that a person — the individual, rational substance — is ontologically prior to its properties, including its nature. These properties are universal and exist in — and not independent of — the substance that owns them. Boethius writes:

You must consider that all I have said so far has been for the purpose of marking the difference between Nature and Person… The exact terms, which should be applied in each case, must be left to the decision of ecclesiastical usage. For the time being let that distinction between Nature and Person hold which I have affirmed, viz. that Nature is the specific property of any substance, and Person the individual substance of a rational nature. Nestorius affirmed that in Christ Person was twofold, being led astray by the false notion that Person may be applied to every nature. For on this assumption, understanding that there were in Christ two natures, he declared that there were likewise two persons. (chapter 4)

Thus we say that Christ is one person whom possesses the essential (and accidental) properties of His natures, divine and human. Boethius, therefore, tells us that Christ “is God and man, being God by nature, man by assumption. And in Him nature becomes double and substance double because he is God-man, and One Person since the same is man and God. This is the middle way between two heresies, just as virtues also hold a middle place.” (chapter 7)

Thus Boethius shows us that both heresies really destroy salvation. Because neither one is the assumption of humanity. In one case (Monophysitism), the human nature isn’t present at all. In the other case (Nestorianism), nothing is really assumed, the Incarnation being reduced to a close personal relationship with God, and not the real assumption of humanity. It seems to me that the classical, orthodox teaching on the Incarnation isn’t just more dogmatically correct, but certainly more philosophical correct.

When the Word assumed humanity, He assumed all the essential properties of human nature, including their proper organs, body and soul. He did this to give us a part of what is His divine life. “For in him the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily, and you have been filled in him, who is the head of all rule and authority.” (Col. 2:9-10) “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich.” (2. Cor. 8:9)

God became man to recreate humanity in God’s Image, life humanity up from sin, and take the transformed humanity back to Heaven, to give us the possibility of becoming “partakers of the divine nature” (2. Pet. 1:4). Or, as Robert D. Crouse writes:

Perhaps the finest statement of the broadest implications of Chalcedon would be St. Thomas’ great pronouncement, that “grace does not destroy nature, but perfects it”.

Notes & references:

[1] This of course does not mean that it’s true, but that it is logically possible.

[2] Senor, Thomas D. (2007) “The Compositional Account of the Incarnation.” Faith and Philosophy 24:1, p. 53 (pp. 52-71)

[3] Moreland, J.P. & Rae, Scott B. (2000) Body & Soul: Human Nature & the Crisis in Ethics. InterVarsity Press, p. 180

[4] I have much respect for these two, but disagree with their views on the Incarnation.

[5] Moreland, J.P. & Craig, William Lane (2003) Philosophical Foundations for a Christian Worldview. InterVarsity Press, p. 608

[6] Ibid, pp. 601.602

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You find Aquinas’s Five Ways in Summa Theologiæ 1a 2,3. I will here concentrate on the first three.

In the First Way, Aquinas goes from the fact that there is motion in the world to the existence of a “First Mover.” His argument is as follows:

It is certain, and evident to our senses, that in the world some things are in motion. Now whatever is in motion is put in motion by another, for nothing can be in motion except it is in potentiality to that towards which it is in motion; whereas a thing moves inasmuch as it is in act. For motion is nothing else than the reduction of something from potentiality to actuality. But nothing can be reduced from potentiality to actuality, except by something in a state of actuality. Thus that which is actually hot, as fire, makes wood, which is potentially hot, to be actually hot, and thereby moves and changes it. Now it is not possible that the same thing should be at once in actuality and potentiality in the same respect, but only in different respects. For what is actually hot cannot simultaneously be potentially hot; but it is simultaneously potentially cold. It is therefore impossible that in the same respect and in the same way a thing should be both mover and moved, i.e. that it should move itself. Therefore, whatever is in motion must be put in motion by another. If that by which it is put in motion be itself put in motion, then this also must needs be put in motion by another, and that by another again. But this cannot go on to infinity, because then there would be no first mover, and, consequently, no other mover; seeing that subsequent movers move only inasmuch as they are put in motion by the first mover; as the staff moves only because it is put in motion by the hand. Therefore it is necessary to arrive at a first mover, put in motion by no other; and this everyone understands to be God.

Here we need to clarify a few things. The latin word motus isn’t easy to translate, and “motion” often leads to misunderstandings. Because motus doesn’t necessarily mean local (physical) motion, but any transaction from potency to act, including the act of coming into existence. Therefore, if we say that God is the “first mover,” we do not mean that the world existed as some sort of clockwork, and that God “pushed” it into movement, but that God created it. We also need to explain what Aquinas meant by potentiality and actuality. Here I base myself upon Knut Erik Tranøy’s account of this teaching, as he explains it in his book Thomas av Aquino som moralfilosof (Thomas of Aquino as a moral philosopher.)

Potency and act is two prime forms or manners of existence. Tranøy explains that Aquinas says that a thing that is, is either in potentia or in actu. He explains further that to say that a thing is in potentia is to say that it has existence in a possible form; and to say that it is in actu is to say that it has existence in actuality/reality. And that it says that the possibilities (or rather potentialities) that a thing had when it was in potentia, is now — when it is in actu — actualized, realized, fulfilled.[1]

The First Way is also backed up by the Second and Third Way in which he argues for the existence of “a first efficient cause” and “some being having of itself its own necessity.”

In the Second Way Aquinas claims that “[i]n the world of sense we find there is an order of efficient causes.” But most of these causes hinge upon other causes. Aquinas says that

in efficient causes it is not possible to go on to infinity, because in all efficient causes following in order, the first is the cause of the intermediate cause, and the intermediate is the cause of the ultimate cause, whether the intermediate cause be several, or only one. Now to take away the cause is to take away the effect. Therefore, if there be no first cause among efficient causes, there will be no ultimate, nor any intermediate cause. But if in efficient causes it is possible to go on to infinity, there will be no first efficient cause, neither will there be an ultimate effect, nor any intermediate efficient causes; all of which is plainly false. Therefore it is necessary to admit a first efficient cause, to which everyone gives the name of God.

In the Third Way, which I find most interesting, and which is the argument most philosophically trained people regard as the best one, we find the argument from contingency. This argument, in my own words, basically says that every thing in existence have some sort of explanation for its existence, either in the necessity of its own being or in some external cause. But do we find anything in this universe that can explain its existence by “the necessity of its own being?” No, we don’t. And then the argument goes on, here in the words of Aquinas:

We find in nature things that are possible to be and not to be, since they are found to be generated, and to corrupt, and consequently, they are possible to be and not to be. But it is impossible for these always to exist, for that which is possible not to be at some time is not. Therefore, if everything is possible not to be, then at one time there could have been nothing in existence. Now if this were true, even now there would be nothing in existence, because that which does not exist only begins to exist by something already existing. Therefore, if at one time nothing was in existence, it would have been impossible for anything to have begun to exist; and thus even now nothing would be in existence — which is absurd. Therefore, not all beings are merely possible, but there must exist something the existence of which is necessary. But every necessary thing either has its necessity caused by another, or not. Now it is impossible to go on to infinity in necessary things which have their necessity caused by another, as has been already proved in regard to efficient causes. Therefore we cannot but postulate the existence of some being having of itself its own necessity, and not receiving it from another, but rather causing in others their necessity. This all men speak of as God.

Hope this helps!

Notes & references:

[1] Tranøy, Knut Erik, Thomas av Aquino som moralfilosof (Oslo: Universitetsforlaget/University Press, 1957), pp. 54-55. Here is the quote in its original norwegian:

Potens og akt er to grunnleggende værens-former eller værens-måter. Thomas sier om en ting som er, at den er in potentia eller in actu. Å si at en ting er in potentia er å si at den har væren i mulighets form; å si at en ting er in actu er å si at den har væren i virkelighet; og det vil igjen si at de muligheter tingen hadde da den var in potentia, nå — da den er in actu — er aktualisert, virkeliggjort, oppfylt.

God: beyond Logic?

I recommend this blog article from Tu Quoque; “Is God beyond Logic?”

I would also like to add a few thoughts.

The question which is answered in the post, is this:

My question involves an argument (debate) I’m having with a skeptical friend. He presented an argument I haven’t heard before, and I would like to hear your thoughts (even a hint would be nice). His argument is as follows:

“God is suprarational…that is, he exists above man’s logic. It is thus impossible to prove God exists with a weaker (or even if you want to give it equivalent) form of logic.”

First, I don’t think the conclusion follows. I’ve tried to find the hidden premise of the enthymeme, but I can’t seem to do it without using four terms. So from a logic standpoint, I’m having a hard time checking for validity. Assuming it is valid, what do you think of his first premise? I may be way off, but doesn’t his argument assume God exists in the first premise? Is that something I could use? Is there some material fallacy I’m missing here?

The first question one must ask; what does he mean by “God”? Does he mean the First Mover or any of the other characteristics in Thomas Aquinas’s Five Ways? Or does he mean the God of the Bible?

If he means the latter, than one could perhaps say that God is “beyone logic.” But the expression is misleading. Because every person is in some way or another “beyond logic.” I cannot find out who or what a person is simply by logic. As it says in the answer provided in the Tu Quoque blog;

Validity (based on argument forms), which logic can prove, is not equivalent to soundness (truth based on correspondence to reality), which logic cannot prove. An argument’s soundness comes from having valid form and true premises. But truth is dependant on a statement’s correspondence to reality – not its placement in an argument. So, in this sense, logic cannot prove ANYTHING – much less God.

So, God is “beyond logic,” but so am I, so am you, so is everybody. The question we must ask is not if God is logical, but if the premises leading to “the God conclusion” is true. I believe they are — or at least most of them. But it’s not logic’s job to determine that.

Technology and the Fall

In C. S. Lewis for the Third Millenium, a six part analysis of C.S. Lewis’s remarkable book The Abolition of Man, Peter Kreeft points out two major problems in our new society; the downfall of moral knowledge and the increase of technical knowledge. The latter is not bad in and of itself, but its badness is connected to the first. Kreeft points out that the “most radically new feature of our civilization is not technology, its newly powerful means, but the lack of a summum bonum, an end.”[1] In ancient times, the summum bonum (lat., “good end,” or “the highest good”) was (and it still is [or should still be]) happiness; eudaimonia or makarios in Greek.

Aristotle in facts points out in the first lines of the Nicomachean Ethics, that

“[e]very art and every inquiry, and similarly every action and pursuit, is thought to aim at some good; and for this reason the good has rightly been decleared to be that at which all things aim.”[2]

We all aim at the good, and this Aristotle calls happiness. But for him — and for most ancients over all — happiness is not really about luck or chance, ecen though Aristotle admits that they play a minor role in a happy life.

The greek word makarios, for instance, really means “blessedness” or “blessed.” It is used in Matt. 5:3-11. “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” (v. 3)[3] “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.”

The greek word eudaimonia is also interesting, but it needs more study. The word is a combination of three different words, eu, meaning “good,” daimon, meaning “spirit,” and ia, meaning a lasting state. Thus, in oder to be happy, you must be good, morally good and you have to be spiritually good, good within, not just “on the outside.” And the last word indicates that this should be lasting. Thus, you are not a happy man if you just happens to be feel good a day, but miserable the next.

And this happiness is what is our goal, our purpose, our telos.[4] Alasdair MacIntyre points out the importance of this telos, end or summum bonum in ethics:

Within [the] teleological scheme there is a fundamental contrast between man-as-he-happens-to-be and man-as-he-could-be-if-he-realized-his-essential-nature. Ethics is the science which is to enable men to understand how they make the transition from the former state to the latter. Ethics therefore in this view presupposes some account of potentiality and act, some account of the essence of man as a rational animal and above all some account of the human telos.[5]

But how thos this relate to the Fall (in Genesis)? To explain futher, I must point to a major part of Aristotle’s theory of knowledge. According to him, there are fundamentally three reasons to pursue knowledge (but many things come under these three); (i) to know truth for truth’s own sake (what we could call “wisdom”), (ii) to know how to be as a human being, how to act morally, and (iii) technical knowledge, know-how, craft. The problem we are facing today lies in the turning upside down of this hierarchy, where technique rules truth. And we can show this through the story in Genesis 3. It starts out by describing the serpent: “Now the serpent was more crafty than any other beast of the field that the LORD God had made.” (Gen. 3:1, emphasis added) In the KJV it says that he “was more subtil,” while others use “cunning.” I believe that “crafty” is the best translation, because it shows exactly what the Fall was all about: it was about turning things, upside down, distorting what God had made and deemed “very good.” (Gen. 1:30)

Many have pointed out that God is evil, because he doesn’t want us to gain ethical or practical knowledge. But that is not true. The point is that our practical knowledge, just like our will, conforms to what is above it. Thus, if a man is right side up, his will conforms to his reason.[6] But if we turn things upside down, if we let technical knowledge be on top, than our moral knowledge will not conform to truth, or to our knowledge of it, but to our technical knowledge, and thus good morality becomes pragmatism and utilitarianism.

C.S. Lewis points out this problem, by comparing the ancient and modern (baconian) view on the relationship between truth and technique:

There is something which unites magic and applied science while separating both from the wisdom of earlier ages. For the wise men of old the cardinal problem had been how to conform the soul to reality, and the solution had been knowledge, self-discipline, and virtue. For magic and applied science alike the problem is how to subdue reality to the wishes of men: the solution is a technique.[8]

The point of the Fall story in Genesis is to show us that we should conform to what God has made and deemed good, and not distort it. We should of course seek excellence in technical progress, but that progress should conform to morality (we shouldn’t use our technical immorally), and our morality should conform to truth, to God.

Solomon said that “The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom, and the knowledge of the Holy One is insight.” (Proverbs 9.10) This is further explored in the Book of Wisdom (written, according to tradition, by Solomon[9]):

“For Wisdom begins with the sincere desire for instruction, care for instruction means loving her [Wisdom], loving her means keeping her laws, attention to her laws guarantees incorruptibility, and incorruptibility brings us near to God; the desire for Wisdom thus leads to sovereignty. If then thrones and sceptres delight you, monarchs of the nation, honour Wisdom, so that you may reign for ever.” (Wisd. 6:17-21, NJB)[10]

This is written to kings, as indicatec by vv. 19-21, but it can easily be “internalized.” If we have wisdom, our reason will be the King, reigning for ever, through the will, its “executive officer.”

Notes & references:

1. Kreeft, Peter, C. S. Lewis for the Third Millenium (San Francisco: Ignatius, 1993), p. 46

2. Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics. Translated by W.D. Ross (Kitchener: Batoche Books, 1999) http://socserv.mcmaster.ca/econ/ugcm/3ll3/aristotle/Ethics.pdf (24.07.2007), p. 3

3. If not otherwise noted, all Scripture quotations are from the English Standard Version, ESV. The Holy Bible, English Standard Version (Crossway Bibles, 2001.) I got this through The SWORD Project (http://www.crosswire.org/sword/), and use it in my MacSword computer bible (http://www.macsword.com)

4. Telos is greek for “end” or “goal.”

5. Macintyre, Alasdair, After Virtue: a study in moral theory. Second Edition (London: Duckworth, 1985; 1st ed., 1981), p. 52

6. According to Thomas Aquinas, the humans soul have five faculties; (i) reason, (ii) will, (iii) the ability to sense and perceive (sense-perception), (iv) instincts, and (v) urges. He calles the will appetitus rationalis, the “rational appetite.” It conforms to reason.

7. Lewis, C.S., The Abolition of Man (Lewis, 1944, 1947, HaperSanFrancisco, 2001), pp. 77

8. In The New Jerusalem Bible it says:

The author is supposed to be Solomon who, though not named, is clearly indicated in 9:7.8,12, and the book is called Wisdom of Solomon in Greek. The author writes as though he were king, 7:5; 8:9-15, addressing his fellow kings, 1:1, 6:1-11,12. It is evident, however, that this is a literary device; as with Ecclesiastes, and the Song of Songs, this Wisdom book is published under the nominal patronage of Israel’s greatest sage. And indeed the entire book was written in Greek (including the first section, ch. 1.5, wrongly supposed by some scholars to have been originally written in Hebrew). The unity of authorship is apparent in the closely knit composition of the book and also in the consistency of a literary style which is supple and expressive and, when need arises, rhetorical.

[The New Jerusalem Bible (Study ed., paperback (Darton, Longman & Todd, ltd., 1985, 1994), p. 1042]

9. The NJB is the The New Jerusalem Bible. See note 8.

Some thoughts on Conscience

According to J. Budziszewski (in reply to Edward T. Oakes), Conscience “has both an unchanging deep structure and a changing surface structure.” He goes on to distinguish between (i) synderesis, “Deep Conscience,” the “unchanging deep structure,” and (ii) conscientia, the “changing surface structure” of Conscience. Jim Riley also acknowledges this, pointing out that Thomas Aquinas said that te Nature of Conscience is to “act upon an innate knowledge of morality,” and that it is “[d]iscovered, [and] God-given.” Sigmund Freud, on the other hand, believes that its nature or role is that it is a “moral policeman developed from guilt learnt at a pre-rational stage,” and that it is “[a]cquired, [and] developmental.”

I am on Aquinas’s (and J. Budziszewski’s) side on this issue, but I also believe that Freud has a few good ideas. Before we reach some kind of maturity, or “the age of reason,” we learn a lot about morality through what we feel. In “Men Without Chests,” the first chapter (lecture) of The Abolition of Man, C.S. Lewis argues that in order for a person to become moral, he or she has to be trained in the “right responses” before “the age of reason.” He writes:

St Augustine defines virtue as ordo amoris, the ordinate condition of the affections in which every object is accorded that kind of degree of love which is appropriate to it. Aristotle says that the aim of education is to make the pupil like and dislike what he ought. When the age for reflective thought comes, the pupil who has been thus trained in ‘ordinate affections’ or ‘just sentiments’ will easily find the first principles in Ethics; but to the corrupt man they will never be visible at all and he can make no progress in that science. Plato before him had said the same. The little human animal will not at first have the right responses. It must be trained to feel pleasure, liking, disgust, and hatred at those things which really are pleasant, likeable, disgusting and hateful. In the Republic, the well-nurtured youth is one ‘who would see most clearly whatever was amiss in ill-made works of man or ill-grown works of nature, and with a just distaste would blame and hate the ugly even from his earliest years and would give delighted praise to beauty, receiving it into his soul and being nourished by it, so that he becomes a man of gentle heart. All this before he is of an age to reason; so that when Reason at length comes to him, then, bred as he has been, he will hold out his hands in welcome and recognize her because of the affinity he bears to her.’[1]

But, let’s go back to Aquinas. He emphasizes that the nature or role of Conscience is to “act upon an innate knowledge of morality.” But what is this “innane knowledge of morality”? This is what J. Budziszewski calls synderesis, “deep conscience.” To explain further, we must take a look at the theory of “Natural Law.”

The Natural Law, is the Moral Law which is embroidered in our very Nature. It is “first principles in Ethics,” just as the Law of Non-Contradiction is one of the first principles in Logic. It is what we know intuitively. But what we do, is part of the conscientia. And this might be wrong. What we need to to then, is to rationally seek to do the — and to be — good. How we do this, might not be an easy task. But many ask me how a moral command can exist in and of itself. Let me answer with a counter-question: How can any abstract law, for example the Law of Non-Contradiction, exist in and of itself? Why can that be true, while a moral command is not?

The innate and intuitive knowledge of this Natural Law is what is called synderesis, while conscientia is the way we apply these principles. J. Budziszewski explains (in his reply to Edward T. Oakes) that “conscientia cannot only err but rationalize; we can either try to come to terms with first principles, or play tricks with them instead. Just as Father Oakes suggests, the conscientia of a society can either advance or regress, depending on which of these responses it chooses to make.”

To explain further, I would like to quote St. Jerome (d. 420). He explains the four living creature in John’s vision (Rev. 4:7). There he makes a reference to synderesis (quoted from an article on synderesis):

This the Greeks call synderesis, which spark of conscience was not extinguished from the breast of Adam when he was driven from Paradise. Through it, when overcome by pleasures or by anger, or even as sometimes deceived by a similitude of reason, we feel that we sin; … and this in the scriptures is sometimes called spirit…. And yet we perceive that the conscience (conscientia) is itself also thrown aside and driven from its place by some who have no shame or modesty in their faults.

Notes & references:

1. Lewis, C.S., The Abolition of Man (Lewis, 1947/HaperCollins, 2001), pp. 16-17

“If the end of the world appeared in all the literal trappings of the Apocalypse, if the modern materialist saw with his own eyes the heavens rolled up and the great white throne appearing, if he had the sensation of being himself hurled into the Lake of Fire, he would continue forever, in that lake itself, to regard his experience as an illusion and to find the explanation of it in psycho-analysis, or cerebral pathology. Experience by itself proves nothing. If a man doubts whether he is dreaming or waking, no experiment can solve this doubt, since every experiment may itself be part of the dream. Experience proves this, or that, or nothing, according to the preconceptions we bring to it.”

— C.S. Lewis, “Miracles” (1942)[1]

Although Lewis’s point is clearly hyperbolic, he has a very good point. When we experience things, we always interpret it through our preconceptions. Let me give an example. When discussing with a friend some time ago, the discussion went into materialism and theism. My friend, an agnostic, pointed to a certain experiment (I have not found out anything more than what he said) where a number of people where asked to rest their hand on a table and randomly — within one minute — lift one of their fingers (I can’t remember which). The interesting thing, was that a split second before the people lifted their fingers, the brain told the nerves and muscles to get ready. My friend said that this was proof that we have no free will, and that everything is predetermined. But how can this “prove” this? Let’s see how we can interpret this with either precondition a (naturalism) or precondition b (theism).[2]

A: This shows us that the brain is predetermined, and when we think that we rule ourselves, we really don’t.
B: This shows us that the soul, which is incorporeal, but which is connected to the body — and of course, the brain — as its form. In other words, when we think that we rule ourself, we really do.

The question then, is not what experience tells us — even though all reasoning starts with the senses — but which precondition is true, or the most probable. I will not write about that just now, but I would want people to ponder that noone is absolutely objective when it comes to experience.

Notes & references:

1. Lewis, C.S., “Miracles” in God in The Dock: Essays on Theology. Edited by Walter Hooper (London: G.Bles, 1971/Fount Paperbacks, 1979), pp. 11-12

2. By “theism” I mean a religious approach, allowing for man to have some sort of soul.

Richard Dawkins once claimed that

[a]n atheist before Darwin could have said, following Hume: “I have no explanation for complex biological design. All I know is that God isn’t a good explanation, so we must wait and hope that somebody comes up with a better one.” I can’t help feeling that such a position, though logically sound, would have left one feeling pretty unsatisfied, and that although atheism might have been logically tenable before Darwin, Darwin made it possible to be an intellectually fulfilled atheist.[1]

My response to this claim, is that it is completely wrong, for many reasons. I will name a few; (i) “unguided evolution,” (ii) the problem of knowledge and reason, and (iii) the problem of evolution and naturalism itself.

I. “Unguided evolution”

The fact of evolution does not rule out a creator God. Some biology textbooks claim that evolution is “unguided,” but that does not follow from the facts themselves. The facts of evolution — fossils or mutations, for example — does not claim “we are unguided.” So to claim that Darwin made it possible to be “an intellectually fulfilled atheist” is wrong.

II. Reason and knowledge

Naturalism, which is the view of that atheists claim,[2] does encounter some serious problems when confronted with the concept of reason and knowldge. To explain what I mean, I will take a look at C.S. Lewis’s book Miracles. In it, Lewis claims that the main problem of naturalists is to explain the concept of knowledge. He writes about the relationship between Reason and Nature, and Nature and Supernature. He claims that a Naturalist will “get into trouble” with his view, especially in accordance to Reason and Knowledge.

A naturalist must demand that everything is explained — or at least should be explainable — within “the whole system of Nature.” But Lewis argues that Reason necessarily stands — and must stand — outside and above Nature. He writes that “acts of reasoning are not interlocked with the total interlocking system of Nature as all its other items are interlocked with one antother… The knowledge of a thing is not one of the thing’s parts.”[3] Aquinas also claimed that because

man is able to know all bodily natures by means of his intellect, his intellect cannot have in itself a bodily nature. Having in itself a bodily nature would prevent the reception, and thus the knowledge, of any other bodily nature, since, for Aquinas, one knows by receiving the forms of what one knows into one’s intellect. Thus, if the intellect had a bodily nature, it would not be able to receive the forms of these things; but since it does receive these forms, it lacks any bodily nature.[4]

Lewis writes that “Nature can only raid Reason to kill; but Reason can invade Nature to take prisoners and even colonise.” And that every thing you see in front of you — your books, your Television Set, your clothes, your car, etc. — “bears witness to the colonisation of Nature by Reason: or none of this matter would have been in these states if Nature had had her way.”[5] But naturalists encounter a problem when it comes to reason and knowledge. If naturalism is true, then my reasoning faculty is just something that has happened by chance, and that poses a problem. A person know (have knowledge about) x (ie. he knows that x) if (i) he strongly believe that x; (ii) x is really true; and (iii) he has a good reason to believe that x. For instance; I know that my father just celebrated his 60th birthday because all criteria are fulfilled. The problem for the naturalist lies in the third. And this leads me to the next part.

III. The problem of evolution and naturalism

Naturalism does in fact encounter some serious problems because of Darwin. According to dr. Alvin Plantinga, evolution poses a treath to naturalism. But first, lets’ define the term. Platinga writes:

As Bas van Frassen notes, it isn’t easy to say precisely what naturalism is, for present purposes, suppose we take it to be the view that there is no such person as God, nor anyone or anything at all like him (it isn’t that you believe, for example, that there are one or more finite gods). Paradigm cases of naturalism would be the views of Daniel Dennett in Darwins’s Dangerous Idea or Bertrand Russel in “A free Man’s Worship”: you think that “man is the product of causes which had no prevision of the end they were achieving that his origin, his growth, his hopes and fears, his loves and his beliefs, are but the outcome of accidental collocations of atoms.”[6]

Plantinga argues that “the conjunction of naturalism with the belief that human beings have evolved in conformity with current evolutionary doctrine–‘evolution’ for short–is in a certain interesting way self-defeating or self-referentially incoherent.”[7] Why, because of the problem of knowledge. This creates “a defeater that can’t be defeated.”[8]

Plantinga argues that you only have a good reason to believe something if that belief was formed by cognitive faculties that works correctly — that one can trust. But, if both naturalism and evolutiuon are true, how can we trust our cognitive faculties, how can we trust our reasoning (even when encountered with facts of evolution)? The problem is, you can’t. Plantinga writes:

Imagine, then, that you embark on a voyage of space oxploration and land on a planet revolving about a distant sun. This planet has a favorable atmosphere, but you know little more it. You crack the hatch, step out, and immediately find something that looks a lot like a radio; it periodically emits strings of sound that oddly enough, form senteces in English. The sentences emitted by this instrument express propositions only about topics of which you have no knowledge: what the weather is like in Beijing at the moment, whether Caesar had eggs on toast on the morning he crossed the Rubicon, whether the first human being to cross the Bering Strait and set foot on North America was left-handed, and the like. A bit unduly impressed with your find, you initially form the opinion that this quasi radio speaks the truth: that is, the propositions expressed (in English) by those sentences are true. But then you recall that you have no idea at all as to what the purpose of this apparent instrument is, whether it has a purpose, or how it came to be. You see that the probalitity of its being reliable, given what you know about it, is for you inscrutable. Then (in the absence of investigation) you have a defeater for your initial belief that the thing does, in fact, speak the truth, a reason to reject that belief, a reason to give it up, to be aggnostic with respect to it.[9]

David Jakobsen points out that N&E (naturalism and evolution) could explain why we have things like legs, arms, heart, lungs — and cognitive faculties. But that N&E gives us no reason to believe that these faculties should be “developed with a view to truth.”[10]

The argument can be put in syllogistic form (I have borrowed this from Morbus Norvegicus, a norwegian blog):

  1. Cognitive faculties which function correctly is necessary for real knowledge
  2. Man does have real knowledge
  3. Cognitive faculties which function correctly presupposes a designer
  4. Naturalism rules out a designer
  5. Naturalism is therefore wrong

When confronted with this by naturalists, bare in mind the Law of Causality. You cannot get more in the effect than in the cause, or in the sum total of all causes. So, if the cause is irrational, the effect cannot be rational. Even Darwin himself had doubts:

With me, the horrid doubt always arises whether the convictions of man’s mind, which has been developed from the mind of the lower animals, are of any value or at all trustworthy. Would any one trust in the convictions of a monkey’s mind, if there are any convictions in such a mind?[11]

David Jakobsen goes on pointing out the irony when atheists claim that we are irrational because of our theism. My point is that even though you can be an atheist, Darwin made it completely impossible to be an intellectually fulfilled one. But to be a Intellectually fulfilled theist — that is still possible!

Notes & references:

1. Richard Dawkins, The Blind Watchmaker, p. 6, quoted in the Positive Atheism’s Big List of Richard Dawkins Quotations

2. Some buddhists are atheists, but not naturalists, as they claim that nature is an illusion.

3. Lewis, C.S., Miracles: A Preliminary Study (G. Bles, 1947; Collins, 1977, 1980), p. 29

4. “Thomistc Psychology” in Topics treated in Thomistic Philosophy (June 13th 2007)

5. Lewis, C.S., Miracles, p. 30

6. Warranted Christian Belief, p. 227. Quoted in “Naturalismen besejret” (Apologetik.dk, a danish apologetics blog, July 25th 2006) (July 13th 2007)

7. Plantinga, Alvin, “Naturalism Defeated” (1994) (June 13th 2007)

8. Ibid

9. Warranted Christian Belief, pp. 224-225. Quoted in “Naturalismen besejret” (see note 6)

10. Jakobsen, David, “Naturalismen besejret” (see note 6)

11. Letter to William Graham, Down, July 3rd, 1881. In The Life and Letters of Charles Darwin Including an Autobiographical Chapter, ed. Francis Darwin (London: John Murray, Albermarle Street, 1887), Volume 1, pp. 315-316. Quoted in “Naturalismen besejret” (see note 6)

Reason and Nature

In the various letters of St. Paul we encounter the distinction between “flesh” and “spirit.” What does Paul mean by those distinctions? Reading the New Testament, wee see that Paul often writes about desires, or — as one say it in Western Theology — “disordered desired towards sin.” In a discussion I had with a Catholic lay person, he said that desires is not evil in and of themselves — they are created by God — but that they, because of sin, is disordered. We attribute it to Original Sin, but I believe the Jews also have an interesting look on it. In a discussion about good and evil, one of the debators said that they make “a distinction between the yetzer hatov (good inclination) and the yetzer hara (evil inclination). They say that in each moment of our life, we have to choose which of these to cleave to.”

I believe that Paul took what we could call “the middle ground.” I believe he interpreted this jewish concept through the idea of Original Sin, but called them spirit and flesh, in stead of yetzer hatov and yetzer hara.

In Romans 8:6 (NKJV), we see Paul distinguishing between them: “For to be carnally minded is death, but to be spiritually minded is life and peace.”(1) None of these are evil in and of themselves. They are both created good by God (Genesis 1:31). The point I am trying to make, is that we must — as the Jews claim — “choose which of these to cleave to.” Or in other words: choose which of these are to obey the other. Let us call the good inclination “Reason,” and the evil inclination “Nature.”(2) In “Nature and Supernature,” the fourth chapter of Miracles, C.S. Lewis talks about the relationship between Reason and Nature, and (as the title suggests) between Nature and Supernature. He claims that a Naturalist will “get into trouble” with his view, especially in accordance to Reason and Knowledge.

The Naturalist — by virtue of his belief — demands that everything should be explained (or at least explainable) within “the whole system of Nature,” but Lewis argues that Reason necessarily stands — and must stand — outside and above Nature. He writes that “acts of reasoning are not interlocked with the total interlocking system of Nature as all its other items are interlocked with one antother… The knowledge of a thing is not one of the thing’s parts.” (Miracles, p. 29) Both the Christian and the Naturalist agree that man is an animal. The difference lies in that the Christian (and Aristotle) says that man is a “Rational Beat,” while the Naturalist — by virtue of his belief — does not. While the Naturalist claims that man is essentially a mere part of Nature, the Christian claims the man is the king of nature, and that we, by Reason, should rule it.

Lewis writes that “Nature can only raid Reason to kill; but Reason can invade Nature to take prisoners and even colonise.” (Ibid, p. 30) He also says that every thing you see in front of you — your books, your Television Set, your clothes, your car, etc. — “bears witness to the colonisation of Nature by Reason: or none of this matter would have been in these states if Nature had had her way.” (Ibid)

He claims that this is an unsymmetrical relation. Brotherhood is an symmetrical, while father-son is unsymmetrical. If Jack is the brother of John, John is the brother of Jack. If, on the other hand, Jack is the father of John, John is not the father of Jack. “The relation between Reason and Nature is of this kind,” Lewis writes. “Reason is not related to Nature as Nature is related to Reason.” (Ibid)

Back to the Bible. The Bible claims (if not in these exact words) that man is essentially a psychosomatic union.(3) In Genesis 2:7, we read that God “formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living being.” (NKJV) But there is a kind of hierarchy in this union. Man is created “very good” (Gen 1:31), with a harmony between body and soul. But — bacause of the disease we call Sin — we have lost this harmony and must, as the Jews say, “choose which of these to cleave to.” We are to rule the body by Reason. Our urges are our irrational impulses. We share them with the animals, and they are, so to speak, “pure nature.” We are to rule Nature, by Reason, as Lewis claims in “Men Without Chests,” the first chapter of The Abolition of Man (pp. 24-25):

As the king governs by his executive, so Reason in man must rule the mere appetites by means of the ‘spirited element’. The head rules the belly through the chest—the seat, as Alanus tells us, of Magnanimity, of emotions organized by trained habit into stable sentiments. The Chest-Magnanimity-Sentiment—these are the indispensable liaison officers between cerebral man and visceral man. It may even be said that it is by this middle element that man is man: for by his intellect he is mere spirit and by his appetite mere animal.

The point is that our bodies is to obey Reason, and that our senses — in obeidience to it — shall rule the body. The ones who does this is the well-nurtured, the ones of full age, “those who by reason of use have their senses exercised to discern both good and evil.” (Hebrews 5:14, NKJV)

Let me end this by quoting Miracles, p. 36:

[Nature,] by rebelling against Reason, destroys both Reason and itself. (…) The supernatural Reason enters my natural being… like a beam of light which illuminates or a principle of organisation which unifies and develops. Our Whole picture of Nature being “invaded” (as if by a foreign enemy) was wrong. When we actually examine one of these invasions it looks much more like the arrival of a king among his own subjects or a mahout visiting his own elephant. The elephant may run amuck, Nature may be rebellious. But from observing what happens when Nature obeys it is almost impossible not to conclude that it is her very “nature” to be a subject. All happened as if she had been designed for that very role.

Notes:

1. It can be argued whether Paul in this verse meant the Holy Spirit or our spirit. Personally I believe he means both. When he talks about flesh (gr. sarx. lat. carne), I believe he talks about man in disobedience to God, enslaved to his desires, while by spirit, he talks about man in obedience to God, “empowered” by the Holy Spirit.

2. By “Nature” i do not mean “essence,” but the nature “as it is out there.” In other words, the modern, popular, usage of the word.

3. In greek, psyche means soul, while soma means body. Thus a psychosomatic union is a soul-body union.

References:

Lewis, C.S., The Abolition of Man. C.S. Lewis, 1947, HarperSanFrancisco, 2001

Lewis, C.S., Miracles: A Preliminary Study. G. Bles, 1947; Collins, 1977, 1980