Friday, November 18, 2005

Can We Hurt God’s Feelings?

I remember back when I was first being introduced to the Christian culture I heard a song by Michael W. Smith called “I Miss The Way” concerning someone who had fallen away from the faith. One of the lines is, “Somewhere in the saddest part of heaven’s room our Father sheds a tear for you – He’s missing you too.” It’s a beautiful song, and while it was certainly touching to think of God like that, it always seemed a bit . . . off. I still have a difficult time picturing the all-powerful creator of the universe having to go off into a quiet corner of heaven and have a good cry because one of His creatures doesn’t like Him anymore.

As I grew in my knowledge of God it became even more difficult to accept this rather sappy idea, but it seemed I could not escape it. Through college I kept hearing about how “passionate” God was for me. I even knew a girl who had regular “dates” with Jesus. Sorry, but that just seemed rather creepy. Later I was told that our relation to God was a “sacred romance.” In seminary I thought things might get a bit clearer and was told that God had “unchanging emotions.” This made more sense – metaphysically God cannot change nor be affected, so of course however He feels cannot change or be affected either.

But then someone asked me what it meant for God to have feelings about things that did not affect Him. Hmmmm. Good question. Isn’t that like someone finding me in a bad mood and asking me what made me so mad –to which I answer, “Oh, nothing.” Another good question: Without a body what would it mean for God to have “feelings” in the first place? Double hmmmm. So I turned to The Theologian, St. Tommy himself, and found some interesting stuff that I thought might be of interest to other philosophy geeks.

There are different facets of passions by which we can discover if they may be found in God. First is the source of the passion. In God there can be no passions of sense, for these require a body with which to sense and that can undergo some change (as when our hearts beat faster to produce certain feelings), but God does not have a body, nor does He change. So when we speak of passions in God we are not using the term to mean “feelings” as we often do when ascribing these things to humans. Rather, we are referring to the intellect - the will. In good marriage counseling it is often pointed out that love is a choice more than a feeling – it is thus more properly said of love that it is an operation of the will (viz. the willing of the good of another), than a reaction of the emotions or body.

Second, we can also look at what a given passion is directed toward and in what way that passion is directed to its object. For example, sorrow’s object is some present evil. God cannot be directed toward evil, thus He cannot have sorrow. Joy is the opposite of sorrow for its object is the present good. God can have joy, for He is the ultimate good to which He is directed and in which He has joy. Hope is in relation to a good that is not present. Because God is directed to His own good, which is ever present, God cannot have hope. Fear, the opposite of hope, is relating to a non-present but threatening evil. Fear cannot be found in God then, Who cannot be threatened.

Using these metaphysical criteria one may deduce the appropriateness of assigning passions to God. For example, envy, which is sorrow over the good of another, cannot be found in God – not only because it requires sorrow, but it takes the good of another as being evil – and this confusion is not present in God. Anger, which is the willing of the evil of another due to sorrow over injury, cannot be found in God for it too requires sorrow and the willing of evil which God cannot do (in fact, if God were to will evil of a thing then it would simply not exist). Love, which is the willing of good for another, is not improperly said of God, for He wills the good of Himself and others. Joy and delight are properly attributed to God, for both require that one finds rest in a present good – which is God in Himself. Hatred, which is the willing of the evil of another is not properly said of God, unless one takes hatred to mean the willing of less good (which it often does in Scripture, see Luke 14:26 and Rom. 9:11-13). It is not that God simply wills less good for one than another, rather that the proper good of one is less than the proper good of another.

So what about the Bible passages ascribing the above passions to God? Thomas’ answer is simple: other than love and joy these other passions are said of God metaphorically. Often passions that are attributed to God are done so based on effects that, when considered from a human perspective, would usually indicate the passion’s presence (such as anger resulting in punishment). While it might at first seem merely arbitrary to label some statements in Scripture as metaphor and others as proper truths, we must remember that all metaphors require some prior knowledge of a thing’s essence in order to properly communicate. Thus, one’s prior metaphysical beliefs will determine how one takes these descriptions of God (for if they are all taken literally contradictions would result, see Num. 23:19 cf. Ex. 32:14). So in the end it is really more a matter of whose metaphysical system is most correct.

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Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Can't We All Just Get Along?

Well, it seems safe to say that the ID vs. Evolution debate isn't going to go away. As time keeps ticking, the issue seems to be gaining more and more attention in the public square.

So, since neither ID nor evolution seem to be disappearing, what I would like to see take place in the next phase of things is . . . . well . . . both sides working together for a common good.

What I am hoping for is that a committee will form that consists of both prominent ID scholars and prominent evolutionists (and, of course, the necessary legal council from both sides, as well).

And, what I would like to see form from this committee is a charter that details all of the reasonable parameters for teaching science--including both Intelligent Design and Evolution.

There is obviously a ton of stuff that needs to be discussed regarding this notion. But, in short, I will submit that two basic boundaries need to be implemented, one for each side of the debate.

(1) In the charter, evolution needs to finally come clean. All of the stuff that is being conceded behind closed doors by evolutionists needs to be included in the charter, and, what is bunk in evo teaching needs to be addressed as such, what is mere hypothesis needs to be explained as such, and what is actually being observed as taking place in an evolutionary manor put forth as fact. Any of the standard evolutionary hypotheses concerning origins need to be clarified as being merely "one side of the story."

(2) Also, in the charter, strict boundaries need to be set on Intelligent Design theory as taught in science class in order to avoid sliding into a full Paley. Critiques of evolutionary theory by ID are fair game. Probabilities regarding origins and issues of complexity are good to go (as the other side of the story). But, strict guidelines prohibiting creation science evangelism taking place under the guise of ID must be established, and, some sort of legal line drawn that carries a penalty of some kind if crossed (and in all fairness, no proselytizing into secular humanism, either).

I think that this last stipulation would eliminate the evolutionists fear of religious fundamentalists misusing ID (which is a legitimate fear, mind you) and, it should be made crystal clear that religious questions that arise from inferring design in science class are to be deferred to the Philosophy of Science and Religion classroom, without exception.

Furthermore, the charter could/should also address issues of discrimination against ID that take place at the College and University level. All of the discriminatory bologna that takes place against ID friendly scholars at the hands of evolutionists needs to be addressed, the proper stipulations made, and legal boundaries set with consequences put in place for certain violations.

This will open up the door for any closet IDrs to come out in the ranks because they are normally not willing to surface due to the fear of losing their tenures and so forth. Also, students will have more academic freedom with these guidelines in place as blackballing and unfair treatment by the establishment would be met with a penalty.

In sum, I am obviously putting this forth with my hand heavy towards ID. Many stipulations from the evolution camp would need to be included in the charter, of course. But, it should be understandable that my submission has to be leaning towards the needs of ID, as it is the evolutionists that possess most of the land at this time, and the ball of making concession is in their court.

The $68,000 question in all of this is . . . will the evolutionists be willing to go through the pain of giving up their Gaza strip in the name of peace?

only time will tell.

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Friday, November 11, 2005

Fear and Loathing of Metaphysics

A well-done thought piece on ID and theism was opposed and critiqued by one of our beloved constant commenters. In any case, it brought to mind a quote that I thought I would reproduce here. Etienne Gilson was writing about the universal knowledge aimed at by metaphysics, why Kant got it wrong, and why we should not be afraid because of him.

Theology, logic, physics, biology, psychology, sociology, economics, are fully competent to solve their own problems by their own methods; on the other hand, metaphysics aims at transcending all particular knowledge, no particular science is competent either to solve metaphysical problems, or to judge their metaphysical solutions.

Of course Kant would object that, so far, his own condemnation of metaphysics still holds good, for he never said that metaphysical problems could be solved in that way; he merely said that they could not be solved at all. True, but it is also true that his condemnation of metaphysics was not the consequence of any personal attempt to reach the foundations of metaphysical knowledge. Kant busied himself with questions about metaphysics, but he had no metaphysical interests of his own. Even during the first part of his career there was always some book between this professor and reality. To him, nature was in the books of Newton, and metaphysics in the books of Wolff. Anybody could read it there; Kant himself had read it, and it boiled down to this, that there are three metaphysical principles, or transcendental ideas of pure reason: an immortal soul to unify psychology; freedom to unify the laws of cosmology; and God to unify natural theology. Such, to Kant, was metaphysics; a second-hand knowledge, for which he was no more personally responsible than for the physics of Newton. Before allowing Kant to frighten us away from metaphysics, we should remember that what he knew about it was mere heresay.
--E. Gilson, The Unity of Philosophical Experience

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Thursday, November 10, 2005

Whether There Are Causes

The article that follows is a amateurish attempt to tackle an issue in the style and tradition of Aquinas’ Summa. It asks a general question and then gives objections to thinking that the answer is negative. It then follows the objections with an appeal to some authoritative source and then a brief explanation of the affirmative position. After that comes brief answers to the objections posed. This is a first attempt at this style and it is understood that many things are assumed and remain to be defended and/or explained. But nevertheless, enjoy.

It appears there are not causes, for: Objection. 1: There is nothing incoherent in the idea that something may arise from nothing. Since a causeless beginning can be imagined there is no need for a cause. Objection 2: Further, a first event would need no cause since it is the first, thus there is a cause is unnecessary. Objection 3: The term "causality" is simply a mental construct to allow anticipation of future actions but it is not a real principle. Objection 4: It will be argued that all things that exist need a cause, but then so does the first cause. Objection 5: Even if there were a first cause that cause would not now exist, just as smoke lingers from a fire that is extinguished.

On the contrary: Hume notes "I never asserted so absurd a proposition as that something could arise without a cause" (Hume, The Letters of David Hume, 1:187). The Philosopher, likewise, observes "It is of ultimate causes that we must obtain knowledge, since it is when we think that we have grasped its first cause that we say that we know a thing" (Aristotle, Metaphysics, I. 3. 1).

I answer that: It is altogether repugnant to the intellect to deny there are causes. Nonbeing cannot cause being, for there is nothing to do the causing – nothing comes from nothing. Only being causes being. By definition all effects need a cause, and by cause is meant that which creates an effect. All effects pre-exist in their cause. No effect is greater than its cause. Events are effects and are thus caused. Likewise that which is contingent is caused by another. All change is simply a reduction of potentiality to actuality, but actuality precedes potentiality in the order of being. Therefore, all things that are reduced from potentiality to actuality are done so by that which is already in act. Potentiality simply limits act to the type of act that it is. There are six causes that are ordered to any effect. The efficient cause is that by which something comes to be as a carpenter is the one that builds a chair. The formal cause is that which something is, it is what defines the carpenter’s creation as a chair. The material cause is that of which something is, as wood is of which the chair is made. The final cause is that for which something is, as the chair is made for sitting. The exemplar cause is that after which something is, as the blueprint for making the chair. And the instrumental cause is that through which something is, as tools are used to make the chair. It is through these causes that it can be said that we know something truly.

Reply to Objection 1: I argue it is wholly incoherent to assert that something may arise from nothing. As nothing is neither in act nor potency. Thus, for anything to come into existence there must be something since all change is a reduction of potency to act, but if there is neither, then there is no change or creation. Further that there was nothing followed by something is not incoherent, but that nothing caused or produced something is repulsive to the intellect. Reply to Objection 2: It is unintelligible to assert that a first event needs no cause. An event is an effect by definition, thus to assert an event is uncaused is contradictory. Reply to Objection 3: Causality is a real principle of human knowledge. It is not simply a mental construct. When potentiality is reduced to actuality a real change takes place, not one simply of intellect. It is true that causality allows for anticipation but it is not limited to such an understanding. Reply to Objection 4: I argue not all things that exist need a cause, only those things that begin to exist. As stated above actuality precedes potentiality in the order of being. If there is no thing already in act then no thing can come into existence. If there ever was a time that there was literally nothing, then nothing now would exist. Reply to Objection 5: This analogy confuses effects and after-effects. The smoke lingers because it is being caused to exist by other physical laws. If those physical laws ceased to exist, then so too would the smoke. Likewise, those who rely on a here and now cause for exist-ing always require a cause for there continuing to exist. The continuing to be of here and now things depends on more than physical laws. Every contingent being needs a cause for its moment by moment existence, since its existence is not intrinsic to them. If existence were ever intrinsic to a contingent being, then it would no longer be contingent but necessary. Existence is ordered to act as essence is ordered to potency. Anything that has the potential to not exist is not necessary. Only that being that has no potential to not exist is necessary. It is thus clear that not only are there causes, but by them we can have knowledge.

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Thursday, November 03, 2005

Flagellar Technology

Check out this video report on the work done by a team led by Dr. Namba in Japan. Their purpose was to understand and analyze the nano-technology of the bacterial flagellar motor. Their work was reverse engineering. It is a streaming windows media file.

HT: bipod at Telic Thoughts

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