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The second death

Rev. 20:11-14: Then I saw a great white throne and him who was seated on it. From his presence earth and sky fled away, and no place was found for them. And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened. Then another book was opened, which is the book of life. And he dead were judged by what was written in the books, according to what they had done. And the sea gave up the dead who were in it, Death and Hades gave up the dead who were in them, and they were judged, each one of them, according to what they had done. Then Death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. This is the second death, the lake of fire.

When discussing the doctrine of Hell, there are two misconceptions that often pops up. The first is that place is some “torture chamber” that God sends people away to, and the second, commopnly held by seventh day adventists, that the damned are utterly destroyed and annihilated.

I will take a look at each of these; (i) that God sends people to Hell, and (ii) that Hell is total annihilation.

1. God sends people away to hell.

The Bible uses a lot of different images to describe Hell. It’s interesting that it uses two images that in fact excludes one another: Jesus says that there will be “weeping and gnashing of teeth.” But in Matt. 8:12 this happens in the “outher darkness,” while in Matt. 13:42 it happens in “the fiery furnace.”

Pope John Paul II described Heaven as the “Fullness of Communion with God.” And he said that “[r]ather than a place, hell indicates the state of those who freely and definitively separate themselves from God, the source of all life and joy.”[1]

We could also use an image from The Return of the King, the third volume of the The Lord of the Rings saga. Gandalf talks about what is likely to happen to Sauron if the One Ring is destroyed:

For he will lose the best part of the strength that was native to him in his beginning, and all that was made or begun with that power will crumble, and he will be maimed for ever, becoming a mere spirit of malice that gnaws itself in the shadows, but cannot again grow or take shape.[2]

But there is one thing that people draw from this that I believe is wrong; that two be outside the “Fullness of Communion with God” is not in the presence of God. People often quote 2. Thess. 1:9. In the NIV, which is one of the most used translations, the verse says that the damned “will be punished with everlasting destruction and shut out from the presence of the Lord and from the majesty of his power.” Does the Greek text say anything about the damned being “shut out from the presence of the Lord”? No, a literal translation of this verse tells us that the damned will “be punished with everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of His power” (as it says in the NKJV, emphasis added.)

In the Eastern Orthodox tradition, Heaven and Hell is not different “places,” but the attitude we have towards God, Truth and Love, the state of one’s Heart. Christ in fact tells us that “the kingdom of God is within you.” (Luke 17:21, NKJV) I believe the same thing to be true about Hell. In the afterlife, everyone will be in the presence of God, because God in omnipresent, and that this will be a torment to unrepented sinners, and bliss for those pure of heart. It’s not God who torments us, but our evil and sin who hates the presence of God and Truth. The text quoted in the beginning of this article, it says that both the damned and the saved are placed in the presence of the Throne when the books are opened. I believe that these books are images of our hearts. God opens our hearts, and what is revealed there — love or hatred of God — tells us how our afterlife will be.

When we will “see” God in Heaven (1. John 3:2), we will “see” Him with our “inner eye,” in the same way we “see” those we love. “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.” (Matt. 5:8, ESV)

2. Hell is total annihilation.

No place in the Bible does it say this, but there are in fact a philosophical difficulty with this. If God grants us free will, he also grants us the possibility to reject him for ever (which is in fact the definition of hell.) But if Hell is the total annihilation of the person damned, then one cannot freely deny God for eternity, but only for the finite time one is alive on earth.

Notes & references:

1. Pope John Paul II, “Heaven, Hell and Purgatory” (Three Wednesday Audiences) (August 11th 2007)

2. Tolkien, J.R.R., The Return of the King (Unwin Paperbacks, 3rd ed., 1979), p. 185

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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

Science and the Catholic Church

Some time ago, I had a discussion with a friend who claimed that “the Church has always oppressed science,” and that it didn’t accept evolution before 1996. This is wrong, and that’s what I want to address now.

The claim is that “the Church has always oppressed science.” When I asked for any sources for this, he asked me if I had read any history. I said that I had, but that that was not the issue. He couldn’t give me any real sources, and the reason is this; the Church has never been a oppressor of science. In the fairly anti-Christian/ani-Church book Science and Religion, a selection of articles from Skeptical Inquirer, edited by Paul Kurz, a secular humanist, and published by Prometheus, not exactly a Christian publisher, Timothy Moy writes:

Unfortunately, Galileo’s trouble with the church later became a popular arcetype for the historical relationship between science and religion. Nothing could be farther from the truth. (…)For most of the medieval and Renaissance periods, and even stretching into the eighteenth-century Enlightenment, the primary supporter of research and teaching in the sciences was the Roman Catholic Church.[1]

So, the Church was not a opponent, but a supporter, in fact the primary supporter. Moy continues:

In fact, one historian of science, John Heilbron, har recently published a book entitled “The Sun in the Church” that documents how the Church, in the aftermath of the Galileo affair, continued to promote research into evidence for heliocentroism, even to the point of turning entire cathedrals into giant pinhole cameras to measure the apparent diameter of the solar disk at various times of the year.[2]

And listen to David C. Lindberg, from his book The Beginnings of Western Science:

How did the dominance of Christianity affect knowledge of, and attitude toward, nature? The standard answer, developed in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries and widely propagated in the twentieth, maintains that Christianity presented serious obstacles to the advancement of science and, indeed, sent the scientific enterprise into a tailspin from which it did not recover for more than a thousand years. The truth, as we shall se, is far different and much more complictated. (…)

[If we] compare the support given to the study of nature by the early church with the support available from any other contemporary social institution, it will become apparent that the church was one of the major patrons — perhaps THE major patron — of scientific learning. Its patronage may have been limited and selective, but limited and selective patronage is better than no patronage at all.[3]

And what about evolution? In the Catholic Encyclopedia (New Advent) there is an article on evolution, published in 1909 (vol. 5), 50 years after Darwin published his book, og long before our modern discoveries within biology/evolutionary biology. The article states that “[m]ost of the so-called systematic species and genera were certainly not created as such, but originated by a process of either gradual or saltatory evolution. Changes which extend beyond the range of variation observed in the human species have thus far not been strictly demonstrated, either experimentally or historically.”

That was even surprising for me. How far had evolutionary biology come in 1909?

I claim that the belief in the Judeo-Christian God in fact does not hinder science, but gives is more “wriggle room.” In many ancient cultures, the world was seen as a illusion, and science was discarded on that account. But we say that God has made the world, and given it certain natural laws. And that opens up for science. I won’t write anything more now, but I welcome comments on this.

Notes & references:

1. Moy, Timothy, “The Galileo affair” in Science and Religion: Are They Compatible? edited by Paul Kurz (Prometheus Books, 2003), p. 143

2. Ibid

3. Lindberg, David C., The Beginnings of Western Science: The European Scientific Tradition in Philosophical, Religious, and Institutional Context, 600 B.C. to A.D. 1450 (University Of Chicago Press, 1992), pp. 149.151

“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)

The Magic of Harry Potter

Ever since the fourth Harry Potter movie, Goblet of Fire, hit the silver screen, I have (at times) discussed the books and movies. One question that seems to “pop up” all the time is: Can Christians read a book about a wizard?

In this post, I will deal with two questions (not separately, I will “bake them into” the text): (i) is the magic of Harry Potter evil or good? (ii) What literary purpose does the magic have?

Invocations and incantations. There is two types of magic, one that works (according to the Christian faith), the calling of spirits (which never works the way it is intended), and one that does not work, as it is a fairy tale magic. The first I will call “sorcery,” invocational magic, the second “wizardry,” incantational magic. John Granger explains the difference:

Invocational means literally “to call in.” Magic of this sort is usually referred to as sorcery. Scripture warns that “calling in” demonic principalities and powers for personal power and advantage is dangerously stupid. History books, revealed tradition, and fantasy fiction (think Dr. Faustus) that touch on sorcery do so in order to show us that the unbridled pursuit of power and advantage via black magic promises a tragic end. But there is no invocational sorcery in the Harry Potter books. Even the most evil wizards do their nasty magic with spells; not one character in any of the five books ever calls in evil spirits. Not once.

The magic by spells and wands in Harry Potter is known as incantational wizardry. Incantational means literally “to sing along with” or “to harmonize.” To understand how this works, we have to step outside our culture’s materialist creed (that everything in existence is quantitative mass or energy) and look at the world upside down, which is to say, God-first. (Granger 2006, s. 4-5)

You never find “sorcery” in the Harry Potter books, only “wizardry.” To make things clearer, the American Heritage Dictionary defines sorcery as “[the use] of supernatural power over others through the assistance of spirits.”

I believe that the magic in Harry Potter is more of a “natural resource,” something which is part of the world (of Harry Potter). We can compare it to the powers of Superman, Spiderman and X-Men. The last is in fact very much similar to Harry Potter. Both feature a bunch of kids with special powers going to a school to learn how to control them. And both feature a “wise old man.” The key word, I believe, is science.(1)

Magic and technology. In Tim Burton’s 2001 reinterpretation (not merely a remake) of The Planet of the Apes, Leo Davidson, the main character, uses a technological device, and one of the apes calls it “sorcery.” Davidsen retorts; “No, science.” But the ape was not far from the truth. Magic and technology are not far from one another, as C.S. Lewis points out in The Abolition of Man:

There was very little magic in the Middle Ages: the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries are the high noon of magic. The serious magical endeavour and the serious scientific endeavour are twins: one was sickly and died, the other strong and throve. But they were twins. They were born of the same impulse… 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. (Lewis 1946, p. 52)

The magic of the Harry Potter books is a science, it is a craft that the witches and wizards must do in a logical and reasonable way. And it is never about performing demonic rituals — it is about using a natural resource.(2)

The point then, is not the magic in itself, but the use of it. Once can either use it by “[conforming] the soul to reality,” or by “[subduing] reality to [your own ] wishes.” It is a question about ethics. Alen Jacobs writes that

The educational quandary for Albus Dumbledore… is how to train students not just in the “technology” of magic but also in the moral discernment necessary to avoid the continual reproduction of the few great Dark Lords like Voldemort and their multitudinous followers. (Jacobs 2000)

Harry and Voldemort is good examples. Harry performs magic with a great moral backbone. He is knowledgeable, intuitive, self-disciplined and virtuous. Voldemort, on the other hand is evil and thinks only about himself. His technology — as we see in his Horcruxes — is naturalistic, a subduing of reality. John Granger writes:

Voldemort, fearing death, pursues personal immortality through his horrible Horcruxes. He creates reservoirs in material objects for the splinters of his soul that have separated from the whole in the act of murder. The Dark Lord is merely a cartoon of fallen man; he asserts and seeks his advantage before others (a shadow of murder) and invests himself in temporal things and ideas (modern idolatry and materialism) to flee death and imagine himself immortal. Such a self-focused, unloving existenceironically separates him from the love of others and ultimately from Love himself, who is our life and hope of genuine immortality. Fleeing a human death, Voldemort becomes its nonliving, inhuman incarnation. (Granger 2006, p. 70)

This can further be explained by taking a look at Aristotle’s theory of knowledge. Accordingto him, there are three reasons to seek knowledge, and he attaches one intellectual virtue to each. First there is truth, and its virtue is “knowledge” (gr. episteme). Then we have moral action, and it virtue is “practical wisdom” (gr. phronesis). And then we have power and techology, and its virtue is “craft” or “art” (gr. techne). According to Aristotle, our technical insight is dependent upon a good moral insight, which is dependent upon insight into truth. If our technical insight makes us good at making bombs, we must also have a moral backbone or our world will go under.

And this is what these books are all about. They are, as Jacobs points out, “a multivolume Bildungsroman—a story of “education,” that is to say, of character formation.” (Jacobs 2000) And their core is found in these words from the mouth of Albus Dumbledore: “It is our choices, Harry, that show what we truly are, far more than our abilities.” (Chamber of Secrets, HP2)

Notes:

1. Science like it was in the “good ‘ol days,” before modernism and “man’s conquest of nature.”

2. Read more here.

Cited works:

Jacobs, Alan (2000). “Harry Potter’s Magic.” First Things 99, pp. 35-38. January 2000. June 12th 2006. http://www.firstthings.com/article.php3?id_article=2502

Lewis, C.S. (1946). The Abolition of Man (Riddell Memorial Lectures, Fifteenth Series). London: G. Bles

Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect.

In a discussion I had with a non-Christian the topic of Christ’s sermon on the Mount came up, and I got this question: “Why does Christ command us to be perfect, when he knows it to be impossible?”

I didn’t have much of an answer back then, nut I hope my answer here will be better. The answer I gave him, and which I to some point still believe, is that this was a hyperbolic saying, meaning that he exaggerated to make a point — that we are called to be like our Father in heaven, but that we cannot do this on our own.

Yes, we are called to be — become — like our Father in heaven. But how can we do that? Only through Christ. Well, back to my main point. What is the greek word behind “perfect”?(1) The word is teleios. According to Strong’s concordance, teleios has many different meanings: “brought to its end, finished,” “wanting nothing necessary to completeness,” “perfect,” “consummate human integrity and virtue,” “full grown, adult, of full age, mature.”

In order to understand this, we must read it through the “lense of God.” In Matthew 6:33, Christ says; “But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you.” By seeking the kingdom of God, we know what Matthew 5:48 means. I believe that we are called to beome like Christ, in Heaven, and that Christ really calls us to focus on this. It doesn’t mean that will become perfect in this life, but that we will become that in Heaven. While we are hear, we must strive towards it, constantly reminding ourselves that this is only possible by the Grace of God.

And when we come to Heaven, and reach our telios, our goal, our happiness, we will encounter the light of God, and thus become “perfect, even as (our) Father which is in heaven is perfect.” As John puts it: “Beloved, now are we the sons of God, and it doth not yet appear what we shall be: but we know that, when he shall appear, we shall be like him; for we shall see him as he is.” (1John 3:2)

Notes:

1. It should be noted that this verse is most likely translated from latin, or that one has used the Vulgate as an inspiration. The word used there is perfectus, which in fact do not imply “perfect,” in our modern usage of the word. The dictionary tells us that “perfect” come from Old French perfet, from lat. perfectus, which means not “perfect,” but “completed,” from the verb perficere, from per, “through, completely” + facere, “do.”

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

Purgatory? In the Bible?

“The idea of a Purgatory is nowhere mentioned in the Bible.” This claim, often put forward in (online) discussions, is what I’m here to “tackle.” But in order to understand what Purgatory is, one must understand the underlining premises of this doctrine. I will here put forward four premises, and show 1) how this (can) form the doctrine of Purgatory, and 2) that these premises can be found in the Bible.

  • Premiss 1: Salvation is a process in which we are remade in the image of God
  • Premiss 2: Sin can be punished even after forgiveness is received
  • Premiss 3: Nothing unclean can enter heaven
  • Premiss 4: Before we enter into the full Glory of heaven, our work is tested, we are purged, and made perfect
  • Conclusion: On our way to Heaven, we must enter through Purgatory

If not otherwise mentioned, the translation used is the English Standard Version, ESV.

Premiss 1: Salvation is a process in which we are remade in the image of God

The major premise in my argument, is that salvation is a process, and that Purgatory is “the last stop” on the Way to heaven. Not that I write “Way” with a capital letter, in line with what the early Christians called our religion. “About that time,” it is said in Acts, “there arose no little disturbance concerning the Way.” (19:23)(1) “But Felix, having a rather accurate knowledge of the Way…” (24:22) Bishop Kallistos Ware comments that this is “a name that emphasizes the practical character of the Christian faith.” And further that our religion is “more than a theory about the universe, more than teachings written down on paper; it is a path along which we journey—in the deepest and richest sense, the way of life.” (Ware: 1995: 7-8) With this in mind, we must also read what is written in the epistles — and in Revelation. Let me quote some verses.

2. Corinthians 3:18:

And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.

James 2:22-24:

You see that faith was active along with his works, and faith was completed by his works; and the Scripture was fulfilled that says, “Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness”— and he was called a friend of God. You see that a person is justified by works and not by faith alone.

2. Peter 1:3-4:

His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence, by which he has granted to us his precious and very great promises, so that through them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped from the corruption that is in the world because of sinful desire.

Revelation 20:11-12:

Then I saw a great white throne and him who was seated on it. From his presence earth and sky fled away, and no place was found for them. And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened. Then another book was opened, which is the book of life. And the dead were judged by what was written in the books, according to what they had done.

This shows us that salvation is not a “one time event” where we are declared righteous, but a process in which we are “transformed into the same image,” through the Spirit. And through Him the Love of God is “poured into our hearts.” (Romans 5:5) Now, let us take a quick look at the minor premises.

Premiss 2: Sin can be punished even after forgiveness is received

Let’s take a quick look at 2. Samuel 12:13-15.18a:

David said to Nathan, “I have sinned against the LORD.” And Nathan said to David, “The LORD also has put away your sin; you shall not die. Nevertheless, because by this deed you have utterly scorned the LORD, the child who is born to you shall die.” Then Nathan went to his house. And the LORD afflicted the child that Uriah’s wife bore to David, and he became sick… On the seventh day the child died.

This shows us that temporal punishment for sin can be induced even when the actual sin is forgiven. James (Jimmy) Akin explains that protestants “often deny that temporal penalties remain after forgiveness of sin,” but that they still practice it, “for instance, when they insist on people returning things they have stolen. Thieves may obtain forgiveness, but they also must engage in restitution.” He also adds that “while Jesus paid the price for our sins before God, he did not relieve our obligation to repair what we have done. They fully acknowledge that if you steal someone’s car, you have to give it back; it isn’t enough just to repent. God’s forgiveness (and man’s!) does not include letting you keep the stolen car.”

Premiss 3: Nothing unclean can enter heaven

This is fairly simple. Since, heaven is a perfect place, since it is where God resided, “nothing unclean will ever enter it, nor anyone who does what is detestable or false, but only those who are written in the Lamb’s book of life.” (Revelation 21:27)

Premiss 4: Before we enter into the full Glory of heaven, our work is tested, we are purged, and made perfect

In Hebrews 12:22-23, it is said of heaven that it is “Mount Zion,” “the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem,” where we find “the assembly [or Church] of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven, and to God, the judge of all, and to the spirits of the righteous made perfect.”

But how are we made perfect? This I believe, is shown us in 1. Corinthians 3, and in the last verses of Hebrews 12. 1. Cor. 3:11-15 tells us that,

no one can lay a foundation other than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ. Now if anyone builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw—each one’s work will become manifest, for the Day will disclose it, because it will be revealed by fire, and the fire will test what sort of work each one has done. If the work that anyone has built on the foundation survives, he will receive a reward. If anyone’s work is burned up, he will suffer loss, though he himself will be saved, but only as through fire.

And Hebrews 12:29 tells us that our God “is a consuming fire.”

What we can derive from this is that no one can save us but Christ, that we can — and shall — build on this foundation (James 2:18-26), that our “building” consist of “gold, silver, precious stones,” which I believe is symbols for virtues, good deeds, prayers, etc. that can stand fire, and “wood, hay, straw” that I believe is bad things like vices, sin, etc. The point is that if we have the foundation of Christ,* we are saved, even if it is “as through fire.”

This I believe makes the foundation of Purgatory, as put foreward in the Catechism of the Catholic Church; # 1030,1031:

1030 All who die in God’s grace and friendship, but still imperfectly purified, are indeed assured of their eternal salvation; but after death they undergo purification, so as to achieve the holiness necessary to enter the joy of heaven.

1031 The Church gives the name Purgatory to this final purification of the elect, which is entirely different from the punishment of the damned. The Church formulated her doctrine of faith on Purgatory especially at the Councils of Florence and Trent. The tradition of the Church, by reference to certain texts of Scripture, speaks of a cleansing fire:

As for certain lesser faults, we must believe that, before the Final Judgment, there is a purifying fire. He who is truth says that whoever utters blasphemy against the Holy Spirit will be pardoned neither in this age nor in the age to come. From this sentence we understand that certain offenses can be forgiven in this age, but certain others in the age to come.

Notes:

1. To have “the foundation of Christ” is a term not easily defined. Who have this foundation? Nobody knows, but I believe that people like Socrates have it, because they are seekers, seeking truth for its own sake. And as Christ says it, “Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you.” (Matthew 7:7)

References:

Ware, Kallistos, The Orthodox Way (Revised edition). St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 1995