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Ask a Theologian III

Discussion in 'Off-Topic' started by Plotinus, Nov 7, 2009.

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  1. pau17

    pau17 King

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    Aquinas holds God outside of time since he knows all future contingents. He also says that although God primarily wills himself indepdently of other things, he can love things other than himself insofar as their relation to his goodness is their end. God loves all his creatures, but not equally, since they are differing in their actuality versus potentiality (God being pure form without potentiality, unmoved mover, primary cause independent of any other form which would condition it further into actuality, etc.).

    But doesn't this unequal love violate God's externality to time? How can he love something less for its lack of perfection, if perfection is a temporal process and God is outside of all temporality?

    To put it another way, Aquinas says God cannot create a better world in essence, but surely he can in existence. Essence is already perfect...so back again to God loving something less because of its existence, even though its essence is perfect. God's love is then temporal, right? But how can that be?
     
  2. _random_

    _random_ Jewel Runner

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    Sorry to quote an older post, but I'm doing a research report on the development of pacifism within Christianity. Do you have any good sources on this? I'm particularly interested in the decline of this ideal. Were there any overtly pacifistic writers (heretical or otherwise) in the Middle Ages?
     
  3. flyingchicken

    flyingchicken 99 117 110 116 115

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    Um this got me thinking, what is the Pope supposed to be and do, exactly?
     
  4. burleyman

    burleyman Chieftain

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    The Papacy was briefly hereditary in the Medici family, but as the other part of the deal was that the family financed the Renaissance I think the net effect was beneficial to mankind. One could go further - as the blatant corruption and nepotism of the Medici Papacy helped fuel the Reformation, perhaps the Medicis were responsible for both Renaissance and Reformation? As they were also in at the birth of banking, once could also lay capitalism at their door.

    Truly, God moves in mysterious ways.
     
  5. Plotinus

    Plotinus Philosopher Administrator

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    Looks like I forgot to answer a load of questions again. Sorry!

    The short answer is that (in my opinion) it doesn't, really. An adherent of this view might give one of a number of answers, but I think the most persuasive would be this. If we consider God's omnipotence by itself, then he is capable of redeeming those who have been enslaved by the devil without any preconditions. However, such an action would contravene his justice, because it would be unjust to rob the devil of his property. (In late antiquity and the early Middle Ages, people thought that the devil had rights over us, and this is why God couldn't just strongarm the devil into giving us up, because it would be unjust to the devil.) So in effect God's omnipotence - or, more precisely, his use of that omnipotence - is constrained by his justice. Offering Christ as a ransom to the devil is a way of redeeming sinners without acting unjustly.

    A similar answer can be given to similar objections to other theories of the atonement. For example, defenders of penal substitution would say that God cannot just pardon everyone without punishing them because it would be unjust; here again his omnipotence is constrained by his justice. So he punishes Jesus instead, which allows him to pardon us but still meets the requirements of justice that someone be punished. (Of course this doesn't address the manifold other problems with this theory.)

    You are thinking of 2 Timothy 3:16, but even that doesn't state that the Bible is perfect or even the word of God. According to the Bible, the "word of God" is Jesus, not anything written down. Plus of course the author of 2 Timothy is thinking of the Old Testament writings, if anything, not what we know as "the Bible".

    In antiquity, the Bible - or what would become the Bible - was revered for two reasons. The first was historical and the other was more mystical. The first was that the New Testament was believed to have been written by the apostles, and so it was a very valuable record of the beliefs and practices of the first Christians. Justin Martyr, writing in the mid-second century, mentions that at their services Christians read out "the memoirs of the apostles", presumably the Gospels and letters of the New Testament. So they derived their authority from their authorship, and if someone thought that a book wasn't actually written by an apostle, they would regard it as non-canonical. For example, Dionysius of Alexandria analysed the text of Revelations and concluded that it wasn't by the author of John's Gospel, and was therefore non-apostolic and shouldn't be canonical.

    The second reason was basically a transference to Christian texts of pagan attitudes to pagan texts. Classical pagans believed that the writings of the poets were divinely inspired and that the gods, or the muses, had literally played Homer, Hesiod, and the others like musical instruments. They believed that the great epics and poems about the gods contained divine instructions and teachings as a result, which required spiritual insight and the art of allegory to uncover. It was natural for the Christians to think exactly the same thing about their holy books. This is the idea in the 2 Timothy passage. Thus you find, for example, the pagan anti-Christian writer Celsus denigrating the Christians for the rubbish in their scriptures while praising the contents of the pagan writings, and the Christian Origen answering him in exactly the same way, but in reverse. So in this view, the Bible derived its authority from being directly inspired by God, not from its human authors. Although not entirely consistent with each other, these two views were combined and held in tandem by most Christians by the end of the patristic period.

    However, in antiquity the Bible was not regarded as an authority by itself, taken in isolation. On the historical view, it was authoritative because it was a source for the beliefs and practices of the early church: thus it was the church which was authoritative, and the Bible was just a witness to that. Moreover, the Bible had to be interpreted by the church and in line with the church's teaching. 2 Peter 1:20-21 makes this clear. In antiquity, the ultimate authority was the "rule of faith", literally the canon, which meant the body of teaching handed down in the apostolic churches, recorded in the New Testament, and taught by bishops in communion with the apostolic churches. This basically remained the case throughout the Middle Ages except that more emphasis was placed upon the current teaching of the church (in the west, at least).

    Things changed at the Reformation when, for the first time, people began to think of the Bible and the church as rival authorities instead of different branches of the same authority. So the Reformers criticised the church on the basis of the Bible (or of their interpretation of it). Extreme Reformation groups tried to do everything on the basis of the Bible alone. This encouraged a higher view of Scripture among later Protestants. In theory, they regarded the Bible in much the same way as Catholics, as divinely inspired and infallible, but in practice it meant much more to them because Catholics understood the Bible's inspiration and infallibility as just part of the wider inspiration of the church as a whole. For Protestants, the Bible was all they had, so they regarded it as all-sufficient and the sole source of authority.

    Of course, Protestants did, and do, read and interpret the Bible in ways prescribed by their own churches - just as much as Catholics. But they don't mean to.

    And then the same thing happened again in the nineteenth century, when for the first time science really diverged from the Bible and began presenting a rival understanding of the world. This began in the early nineteenth century with the rise of geology and the view that the earth was much older than just a few thousand years, and intensified later with the development of evolutionary biology. So where, at the Reformation, the Bible and the church were wrenched apart and became rival authorities (to the Protestants), in the nineteenth century the same thing happened to the Bible and science (to those who viewed it in this way - of course not all Protestants, let alone all Christians, did). Those who saw science as a threat emphasised the authority of the Bible all the more, and moreover stressed that it held all scientific truth as well as spiritual truth. And this was the origin of fundamentalism, and so it went on from there.

    I think the links between fundamentalism and political conservatism came a bit later. In fact in the early twentieth century fundamentalism was more often linked to progressive politics, as in the case of William Jennings Bryan. But this is more US-specific so I don't know much about it.

    As for how to oppose the fundamentalist conception of scripture, it's not easy to do simply because fundamentalists accept so few basic procedures of rational thought. One can find plenty of inconsistencies between different biblical books, but there's always an answer if you contrive things enough - even if, as a last resort, the answer is that the text has been corrupted. If someone says that there's not much you can say to disprove it. The problem is that fundamentalism of any sort - not just Protestant, and not even just religious - is about taking some particular idea, text, or whatever and making that your absolute authority, and then judging every other idea, text, or whatever in its light. If you do that you cannot even conceive of judging the thing that you're taking as primary, and even if you could conceive of doing so, you have no means of doing so because you have nothing to judge it by. Thus, an objective person might examine the Bible and other texts and draw conclusions about the nature of the Bible on the basis of this examination and by comparison with other texts. A fundamentalist is committed to a certain view of the Bible before he even opens it, and so the only conclusions he is capable of drawing are those of other texts in the light of the Bible (as he understands it); he has no resources for considering the Bible itself. This is why one cannot really debate with them. And the same for fundamentalists of other kinds.

    His introduction seems very idealistic. I don't know if the early church was really as revolutionary and wonderful as he suggests and it seems to me that he's often attributing his own ideals to them, such as the claim that they thought private property was sinful or that slavery was evil. And he forgets that the early Christians disagreed greatly among themselves, including over the ethical standards that he attributes to them. He also seems to favour a charismatic sort of ministry, and overlooks the proponents of more institutional, official ministry - including quotations from Ignatius of Antioch on other topics, for example, but not those where he exhorts everyone to obey the bishop as they would obey God. He presents a picture of an idealistic, counter-institutional, charismatic church up to the end of the second century AD, which then began to be corrupted into an institutional one, and he's quite clear that he thinks this was a Bad Thing.

    I don't see how this follows. Take your first argument first. Let's accept that temporal things vary in their perfection, and that God is atemporal. Why can't an atemporal God love temporal things? He doesn't have to be temporal to do that. I can like the fish in an aquarium - perhaps to varying degrees - without having to be underwater myself.

    In your second argument, I don't see why God's love has to be temporal. He's loving something that is temporal, but that doesn't mean that his love has to be temporal. If you think it does then you need some argument to support it.

    I'm afraid I don't know much about this, but I will try to find out.

    [EDIT] I've said a bit about it here.

    The Pope is the bishop of Rome. (Although today he does not perform any episcopal duties for the Roman Christians as other bishops do - he has special people to do that for him, just as the prime minister has special people to discharge his duties as MP in his constituency.) In antiquity, the idea developed that some bishops were more important than others. These were called metropolitans or archbishops. Basically, each city or town has a bishop. But in the case of a large city, it has an archbishop, who is in control of the church in the whole area. The bishops of other towns in the area are his subordinates. And the archbishops themselves are subordinate to patriarchs. A patriarch is the bishop of a really major city. In late antiquity, it was held that the bishops of Rome, Jerusalem, Alexandria, and Constantinople were patriarchs. (The Church of the East did not recognise the bishop of Constantinople as a patriarch and held that the bishop of Ctesiphon was a patriarch.) So you have patriarchs at the top as the most important bishops, then archbishops, and finally normal bishops.

    The patriarch of Rome was considered especially important. This was partly because Rome was obviously an especially important city, although by the fourth century it had lost its political importance; the capital of the empire was now Constantinople, which is why the bishop of Constantinople became a patriarch. And even the western empire was governed not from Rome but from Milan, which is why the archbishop of Milan became very important. Whoever was bishop of the imperial city was automatically important. However, the patriarch of Rome was also important because Rome had been historically a significant city to Christians: both Peter and Paul were supposed to have died there; Peter, the most important apostle, had been the first bishop of Rome; and it was to the Roman church that both Paul and Ignatius of Antioch wrote very important early letters. This, combined with the pre-eminence of the city of Rome within the Roman empire during the first couple of centuries of the church, led to the church of Rome and, by extension, its bishop being seen as especially authoritative.

    When the Catholic and Orthodox churches separated from each other, the Catholics had only a single patriarch, namely the patriarch of Rome. The other patriarchs were all in the eastern, Greek-speaking part of the church. So naturally the Roman patriarch came to have far more authority within the western church than any single patriarch did in the eastern church. This, combined with the fact that he had always been regarded as the most important patriarch for the reasons given above, made him ever more important and authoritative.

    Today, the Pope retains his authoritative power over the Catholic Church. He has the power to appoint cardinals, for example. Cardinals appeared in the Middle Ages and are basically bishops with special powers. (Actually not all cardinals are bishops, but the vast majority are.) One of the powers is the ability to elect Popes. The Pope also does things such as canonise saints, write encyclicals expressing the teaching of the church, and call councils of the church. In modern times the First Vatican Council and the Second Vatican Council are examples of this. The Pope is also the only person in the Catholic Church who can authorise breaching the secrecy of the confessional: if a murderer goes to a priest and confesses his sin, the priest cannot inform the police or anyone else unless the Pope himself permits it.

    Since the nineteenth century, the Pope has also been infallible, at least sometimes. Papal infallibility derives from the infallibility of the church. In the Middle Ages the idea developed that the church, being inspired by God, cannot go wrong in its teaching - although individual representatives of the church might do so, of course. In early modern times some Catholics believed that the Pope, as the head of the church, is infallible as well. The idea was highly controversial until Pope Pius IX made it an article of faith that, when the Pope speaks "from his seat", in a special capacity, when defining the faith of the church, he does so infallibly. So he is not infallible as a general rule, only under certain conditions when he basically acts as the mouthpiece of the church. However, it is not entirely clear exactly when those conditions hold.
     
  6. Bill3000

    Bill3000 OOOH NOOOOOOO! Supporter

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    How on earth can (were?) people be attracted to Calvinism?
     
  7. Plotinus

    Plotinus Philosopher Administrator

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    Why wouldn't they be?
     
  8. Cynovolans

    Cynovolans Not in my dimension.

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    Has there ever been Christians who worshipped Saints like deities? In northwest Africa there is a practice known as Maraboutism that involves worship of Muslim Saints.

    And have you heard anything of a Christian Patriarch in Egypt being forced to worship the Greco-Egyptian God, Serapis?
     
  9. Plotinus

    Plotinus Philosopher Administrator

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    I have been thinking about this and can't really think of a good example. Of course it depends on what you mean by "worshipped". A hardline Protestant evangelical might think that simply modern-day Catholicism is idolatrous in its attitude to saints. But even those who venerate the saints have always been keen to distinguish between their attitude to the saints and their attitude to God, ever since the second century:

    Now I'm sure there are probably syncretistic versions of Christianity which have blurred the line more than this. The famous Kakure Kiri****an, for example, worshipped a vast range of Japanese kami deities in addition to the more orthodox Christian ones. But I can't think of any examples where the Christian saints are worshipped, although no doubt such examples exist.

    There is a reference to that in the Historia Augusta. But what the truth behind it is, I don't know. Certainly Christians at that time were normally quite resolutely opposed to such things, and I don't know of any similar accounts of the worship of pagan gods by Christians at this time. Obviously by the fourth century Christians viewed Serapis as a rival, as indicated by the actions of Theophilus of Alexandria in his temple.
     
  10. pau17

    pau17 King

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    I don't know much about Aquinas, but it just struck me as a little odd. I'll try to rephrase.

    An atemporal God can love temporal things, but that makes loving itself a temporal process. So let's say that in the temporal realm, at time = 1 you are a certain amount of good with respect to God and are in a certain standing with respect to his love. Then, at time = 2, you might be either better or worse--the point is that God's love for you has changed, temporally speaking. I guess this isn't problematic so far with respect to God's nature between temporality and atemporality, but if we flip it around to the loved object, what then of the self that God is supposedly loving? Does God love individual points in time of you, like collecting images in a photo album ("wasn't that a fun picnic?" "oh, I look horrible in this one")? Or is there a "self" which has a definite standing in God's love despite having undergone fluctuations throughout time? Or is this decided in the final judgment? Is this a more general theological problem outside of Aquinas with general answers, or am I barking up the wrong tree?
     
  11. Plotinus

    Plotinus Philosopher Administrator

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    Put it like this: if you stand in the light of the sun, you can feel the warmth of it on your skin. Walk into the shade and you can no longer feel it. Has the sun changed? No - only your spatial location in relation to it. Similarly, I don't see any problem in saying that God's love may be atemporal and unchanging, but it appears different at different temporal locations. In your example, the amount of love that you receive from God is different at the different times, but that is just because God, who is outside time, is directing different amounts of love to you at those different times. God directs one amount of love to you at time 1 and a different amount of love to you at time 2. From his point of view, these emanations are simultaneous (or comparable to simultaneous, since atemporal acts are not literally simultaneous with each other). The effect is that you get a different amount of love at those different times, but this does not mean that God is changing or that his love is variable, any more than walking into the shade means that the sun has suddenly become colder.

    It's actually a more general philosophical problem. There are two main positions regarding identity over time. The first is that an individual (human or otherwise) is complete at any one time. So I am the person that exists right now. This complete individual moves through time just as it moves through space. A problem with this view is explaining what it is that makes an individual at time 1 identical with an individual at the immediately following time 2. For example, suppose that I am annihilated and instantly an exact copy of me, complete with (fake) memories of being me, pings into existence. How would this differ from the usual situation of me moving from one moment to the next? Yet we would instinctively say that it does differ.

    So the alternative view holds that an individual at a given moment of time is actually just a temporal cross-section. The complete individual is the individual throughout all the time that it exists. So me yesterday, me today, and me tomorrow are all temporal parts of the complete me, which is something that extends throughout time as well as throughout space.

    I don't think that the problem with Aquinas you're talking about is much affected by whichever of these one chooses. On the former view we can say that I at time 1 get a certain amount of love and I at time 2 get a different amount. On the latter view we can say that the temporal part of me that is at time 1 gets a certain amount of love and the temporal part of me that is at time 2 gets a different amount. It comes down to the same thing in the end.
     
  12. Supermath

    Supermath A Circle Has No End

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    Would someone who did not believe in the divinity of Christ (but still believed that He died on the cross, was raised form the dead, etc.) still be saved according to any Biblical or canonical intrepretation?
     
  13. Plotinus

    Plotinus Philosopher Administrator

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    That's exactly what Jehovah's Witnesses believe, so they would say so.

    I can't give you a "biblical" answer because the Bible doesn't work like that. It's questionable, indeed, whether the doctrine of Christ's divinity is taught in the New Testament at all - my opinion is that it is at least implied at various points, but it is not clear. The usual idea is that God was working through Christ, but the question whether Christ himself was God is not usually addressed. As for who will be saved, different texts will give you different answers:

    As for the views of the church, the traditional view is that those who deny the divinity of Christ will not be saved because they do not truly believe in him. This is shown by the decision of the church in the fourth century to rebaptise Arians. The view of the church by this time was that heretics or schismatics who had already been baptised by their heretical or schismatic churches, and who later joined the mainstream church, should not be baptised again, because baptism is a once-for-all thing and remains valid even if performed by a heretical or schismatic priest. However, Arians - who denied the divinity of Christ - were rebaptised. This was because it was held that the Arian baptism wasn't a baptism at all because it was not a baptism in the names of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, because they denied that the Son and Holy Spirit were fully divine.

    However, this is assuming that salvation is dependent upon right belief in the first place. There have been (and, even more, are today) plenty of Christians who think that it's possible to be saved without believing anything about Christ at all, because salvation may be possible through other religions. But we've discussed this at length in these threads already, as you can see by looking at the contents list at the start of this one.
     
  14. Supermath

    Supermath A Circle Has No End

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  15. Eran of Arcadia

    Eran of Arcadia Stormin' Mormon Retired Moderator

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    I am going to answer (even though nobody asked me) that although it is worthless as a reason to believe in God, it is a useful tool for making decisions on occasion.
     
  16. Plotinus

    Plotinus Philosopher Administrator

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    The problem with Pascal's Wager is that it doesn't take into account probability.

    If the probability of God's existing is roughly equal to the probability of God's not existing, then yes, it may be rational to choose to believe in God. However, if the probability of God's existing is very small, then it wouldn't be. This is shown by the fact that one could construct parallel arguments to Pascal's Wager for all kinds of belief, for example belief in Father Christmas or in Linus' Great Pumpkin or whatever. It's not rational to believe in these entities because they very probably don't exist.

    Plus, of course, Pascal's Wager assumes that it's possible to choose what to believe on the basis of expected return calculations, which I think is a pretty dubious assumption. Even if the expected return of believing in God is higher than the expected return of not believing in God, and even if I believe this to be the case, that won't turn me into a theist. It would more probably just make me a somewhat miserable atheist.
     
  17. Agent327

    Agent327 Observer

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    I see two problems here. I'm assuming it is said that God's love is atemporal and unchanging, because God is supposed to be. Which gives problem no 1: if God is atemporal, we cannot experience him nor his love, as we cannot experience atemporal phenomena.

    The second problem is with the analogy: the sun is temporal, which is why we can experience it. (It also is changing, but that is beside the point here.)

    Now, if we experience God's love, it follows that God is temporal, since God's love is an attribute of God, who is unchanging. (I'm leaving aside the experience of God's love, which may always be changing, i.e. subject to change, as it is subjective.)

    It leads me to the conclusion that God is permanent and unchanging, but not atemporal. (I'm assuming this follows from the creation of time by God?) That God does not experience time or is impervious to it, does not imply the God is atemporal, merely that he is above time. (This already follows from the attributes 'permanent' and 'unchanging'. Adding atemporal to it seems only confusing. Is it added to profess God not being affected by time? That, however, is not conform what the bible reports of God's acts: he actually is affected by timely events. They may not matter to him, as he is God, but that again is beside the point.)

    Lastly, if God is permanent, unchanging and atemporal, why would he care about temporal phenomena (like ourselves) at all? They do not affect him in any way.
     
  18. Plotinus

    Plotinus Philosopher Administrator

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    How do you know? We are temporal, but I don't see why that means we can't experience atemporal phenomena, even directly. Your claim rests on the assumption that a temporal being can experience only temporal phenomena, but what's the argument to support that assumption?

    Moreover, we could surely experience temporal effects of an atemporal cause, and that might be enough to say, legitimately, that we experience the atemporal cause itself. An analogy: my visual experience of the world around me is caused by light bouncing off objects and hitting my eyes. To speak strictly and literally, what I directly see is the light, not the objects themselves. But I can legitimately say that I see the objects themselves (perhaps indirectly). I can say that I see you, when in strictness what I see is light bouncing off you. Indeed the only part of you that I can see at all is your skin. But I still see you. To extend the analogy (this image comes from Brian Leftow, although he uses it for something else), when the Invisible Man covers himself in cloths and a coat, we can legitimately say that we see him, not merely that we see his clothes. This is so even though he himself is invisible. So, similarly, let's say that we can't experience God directly because he is atemporal; nevertheless, we could experience temporal effects caused by God, and that could be enough to say legitimately that we experience God himself.

    Yes, but the point of the analogy was that our changing experience of the sun changes not because the sun itself changes but because our spatial location changes. When I stand in the sunlight, I feel the sun's warmth; when I move into the shade, I do not. Or imagine two different people, one standing in the sunlight and one standing in the shade at the same time. Their experiences of the sun are different, at the same time, even though it is the same sun. So how we experience the sun depends, in part, on our spatial location. Similarly, it could be that how we experience God depends, in part, on our temporal location. The fact that the sun isn't atemporal or unchanging doesn't affect the legitimacy of this analogy.

    I don't see why this follows, for the reasons given above: if can experience God's love I don't think that that entails that God is temporal at all. Immutability (unchangingness) is neither here nor there. If he's atemporal then certainly he is immutable. If he is temporal then he could be mutable or immutable.

    What is the difference between being atemporal and being "above time"?

    I'm not sure that being atemporal would mean that God is unaffected by temporal events. If cause and effect are necessarily temporal categories, then certainly he couldn't be - but then he couldn't cause anything either. So a theist who believes that God is atemporal is already committed to the claim that cause and effect are not necessarily temporal categories. In which case, that theist could be quite open to the claim that temporal events affect the atemporal God.

    However, classical theism holds that God is not affected by anything, because he is pure agency. So on this view, events in time - and anything else - cannot affect God in any way. But this has nothing to do with his atemporality and would presumably remain the case even if God were temporal. So I don't think it's right to suppose that the doctrine of God's atemporality developed specifically to defend the doctrine of his impassibility (his inability to suffer, in the broad sense of being acted upon).

    The whole point of the claim that God is love is that God's care for his creatures is not based upon self-interest. God doesn't love his creatures in the hope of getting something out of it - his love is unconditional. This is not a particularly alien concept to grasp. The fate of starving millions in Africa might not affect me in any way whatsoever, but that doesn't mean I don't care about them.
     
  19. ParkCungHee

    ParkCungHee Deity

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    If we were looking for examples of atemporal experiences wouldn't mental phenomenon also count? Math, as far as I understand it, is atemporal. You can't ask when Arithmetic was created, or when it will end, yet we certainly can experience arithmetic.
     
  20. Plotinus

    Plotinus Philosopher Administrator

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    That's an interesting example. One might say that what one experiences - if one "experiences" anything - is a particular mathematical act. For example, I experience the act of adding two and two. This is temporal, but it allows me to experience, indirectly, the atemporal fact that 2+2=4.

    On the other hand, I'm not sure whether many theists would be willing to push the analogy between the eternal truths of mathematics and the eternal God too far. Maths may be atemporal but it's abstract. There isn't a thing out there called maths which exists atemporally, at least not in the same sense in which most theists think that God does.
     
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