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Ask a Theologian III

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

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  1. Lone Wolf

    Lone Wolf Chieftain

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    Plotinus may elaborate here, he talked about Christian (in sense that they believed Jesus to be God, etc) theologians which didn't share the option of Hell being eternal. Origen, for instanse.

    Also, Plotinus, what can you say about the use of Hume's problem of induction as a way to equate science and religion?
     
  2. Agent327

    Agent327 Observer

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    Like Erasmus' Enchiridion militis christiani: http://oll.libertyfund.org/?option=com_staticxt&staticfile=show.php?title=191 (translated as "Manual for the Christian Knight" - although "soldier" seems more appropriate here -, and despite its title is more concerned with living a devout life as a common man).
     
  3. MagisterCultuum

    MagisterCultuum Great Sage

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    There isn't really anything about religion in The Lord of the Rings, but there is more in The Silmarillion. It has been years since I read it, but I recall it specifically saying that Morgoth and many of the Maiar that followed them had compelled men to worship them before the other Valar discovered that the Second Born of Ilúvatar had already come to be. I believe it also stated that while men and elves revered and tried to worship the other Valar, they refused worship and insisted that only Eru Ilúvatar ("The One, The Father of All") was worthy of their adoration. (As a Catholic, Tolkien made a distinction between Veneration and Adoration, reserving the latter for Eru Ilúvatar.) Iirc they built a great temple to Eru Ilúvatar on the Isle of Númenor, and declared that The One True God would have only this one temple dedicated to him. The lack of religious institutions in Middle Earth is thus analogous to Jews not allowing the construction of temples outside of Jerusalem.


    If I recall, the Fall of Númenor came about largely because the kings of the Dúnedain (due to the influence of Sauron, who had submitted to be a prisoner of the Dúnedain once he realized it would be easier to corrupt them than to destroy them in battle, and them quickly rose to being the king's chief advisor) had set up high places and offered human sacrifices to Melkor and his Maiar, much like those the Kings of Israel made to Canaanite deities. I believe these sacrifices where based on those the Jews had offered to Moloch, which would be burning one's own children to death. Sacrificing on's own son with fire was essentially what the Steward of Gondor was doing in Lord of the Rings, so the reference to the Heathen Kings of Old may have been not simply about cremation but the sacrifices made by men who worshiped Morgoth.


    When Sauron led the Númenoreans to attack Aman and steal immortality from the Valar (not that they actually could become immortal that way, but Sauron convinced them they could), the Valar gave up and prayed to Eru Ilúvatar to save them. He then broke the world in half, and reformed the half containing Middle Earth into a sphere (it used to be flat) while leaving one narrow path the elves could use to sail off the sphere into the Undying Lands.


    Some of Tolkien's unpublished writings show an attempt to bring his work much closer to Christian theology. In one such draft, the Noldor named Finrod (who was described as "the wisest of the wise") speculates that the salvation of humanity will require Eru Ilúvatar's eventual incarnation. At least late in his life Tolkien tried to make the tales of middle earth transition into known earth history, as a sort of Alternate Genesis leading up to the same Gospel.



    While the Song of the Ainur laid the basis for creation and they were assigned to help bring it into creation, its actual existence came with Eru Ilúvatar uttering the word "Ea" ("be"). Mankind was weaker than the Ainur or Elves, but their gifts were btoh greater and stranger. Death was a great gift, as their souls could escape Ea (which also means the universe), presumably joining Eru instead of languishing here until they perish with the world. It is speculated that Mankind is to join Eru in creating the Next World, taking on a role much like that of the Valar. One of Melkor's greatest deceptions was convincing Man that their death was something to fear instead of cherish.

    Man's other gift was true libertarian free will. (It is not quite clear, but it may be implied that these two gifts are closely connected, and that gaining immortality would have robbed Man of their freedom.) The Elves and the Ainur appeared to have free will, but nothing they could do could actually alter Eru's plans. Even Melkor was but a pawn of Ilúvatar. Man however was given the ability to overcome predestination, to shape the world into what they want it to be without needing to stick to the Music of the Ainur or even Eru's intent. Most of the Valar saw this as an innate wickedness and similarity to Melkor, but it was Ilúvatar's design for Man to be able to truly rebel in order for them to truly choose him.
     
  4. Gelion

    Gelion Captain

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    Thanks for that great recap MagisterCultuum!
     
  5. onejayhawk

    onejayhawk Afflicted with reason

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    This is not a question. I thought it would tinkle your fancy. Its from David Drake's preface to his book The Legions of Fire.
    http://www.ericflint.net/index.php/2010/01/29/legions-of-fire-snippet-01/

    There are various literary borrowings throughout The Legions of Fire. This wasn’t research on my part, exactly: I read classical literature for fun, and I found it easier to snatch something from (for example) the elder Seneca, or the Homeric Hymns, or Silius Italicus, than to invent it myself. (This is the first time in forty-odd years that I’ve found familiarity with Silius Italicus to be useful knowledge.)

    J
     
  6. Plotinus

    Plotinus Philosopher Administrator

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    Sorry to take a while getting back to these again...

    A deontologist would probably say that that reflects a kind of consequentialism: you are acting in the belief that expected consequences (rather than actual consequences) make the act right. The deontologist would simply deny this and say that the act is wrong no matter what consequences you anticipate (and no matter what consequences actually result).

    Someone who thought that intended consequences are relevant to morality would probably see this as a case of culpable ignorance. Your intention is good, but this is not enough to make the act good, because (a) you lack certain knowledge, namely the knowledge that killing people is wrong (and perhaps the knowledge why), and (b) this is knowledge that is so important and readily available that your lack of it reflects a moral failing on your part. In other words, it's your responsibility to ensure that you know that killing people is wrong, and if you don't know this, then perhaps you are not exactly morally culpable for the act of murder itself that you have committed, but you are certainly morally culpable for the ignorance which led you to commit it.

    I'm not sure what you mean here. How could Hume's view of induction do that?

    Thanks for that - yes, you never know when this stuff will come in handy! That looks an interesting series although oddly baffling in setting, since it appears to be set in a fantasy civilisation which is not only very similar to Rome but occupies Rome's place in the world. If I understand it right.
     
  7. pau17

    pau17 Chieftain

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    Why is Augustine so widely read? Did Augustine contribute any big stock insights that contemporary scholarship values? I know City of God is a classic, but I'm talking more about his style and argumentation.
     
  8. burleyman

    burleyman Chieftain

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    For anyone who is interested in fantasy novels set in quasi-Rome (in this case, a Roman empire that has survived into C21) Sophia MacDougal's Romanitas and Rome Burning (and a 3rd volume due to be published April 2010) are worth reading, though they are sadly lacking in theological debate. Christianity survives in this world as a minority pursuit.

    Thanks to Magister Cultum for his summary on Tolkein and theology. I think it is interesting that, while everyone knows that Tolkein extensively incoprporated Anglo-Saxon and Viking mythology into Middle Earth, the underpinning theology is slightly esoteric Judaeo-Christian.
     
  9. onejayhawk

    onejayhawk Afflicted with reason

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    As he said in the intro, Drake likes to borrow rather than create. However, he uses a fantasy or Science fiction setting, so he can change things without offending purists (like himself). In this case, magic works, and the Oracle speaks truth. Yet it makes surprisingly little difference in the broad sweep of things. There is a trilogy of books based on Sir Francis Drake, but set in the far future. You get oddities like hand crafted rifles on starships.

    J
     
  10. ParkCungHee

    ParkCungHee Chieftain

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    I was thinking just now..

    As a Roman Catholic, the Canon texts of the bible are canon because, put simply, the Roman Catholic Church says so. The RCC being the authority on these matters and such. However, that lead me to wonder why there wasn't more divergence as to canonical texts after the protestant reformation. After all, the authority being broken on every other matter...
    While I know there are some divergences between the Protestant faiths as to what they regard as Canon, these seem relatively minor. But was there any issue in the reformation as to changing the canon? Or were apocraphyl texts etc. simply non-issues then?
     
  11. Plotinus

    Plotinus Philosopher Administrator

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    I think the key things that made Augustine so widely read are:

    (1) His exceptionally clear, elegant, and readable writing style.

    Augustine was always a student of rhetoric and it shows in his work: he is typically Latin in this respect and favours the no-nonsense, straightforward clarity of Cicero rather than the more flowery stuff you find in the Greek rhetoricians and classically trained theologians (such as the Cappadocian fathers). I think there is no-one else from late antiquity who writes as well as Augustine. Not only is he clear, but his arguments are straightforward and reasonable, he is honest about what he thinks and why, and you get a very real sense of him as a personality. Perhaps the bottom line is simply that he seems very likeable. Whatever one may think of his doctrines, Augustine comes across as a decent, honest person, who argues out of concern for the truth rather than for personal glory, and who treats his intellectual opponents with respect. Remember that his Confessions was a very innovative kind of book - a spiritual autobiography written as a prayer, but incorporating a lot of pure philosophy as well - and it was recognised as a classic within his lifetime (the Pelagian controversy began when Pelagius, attending a public reading of this book, protested at some of the ideas in it). Similar innovation can be found in his other works too. I remember when I first read On the Trinity, and expected it to follow the lines of all the other patristic works on this subject I'd encountered. In fact it is completely different in style and argumentation; if Augustine had written nothing else he would still be a major figure.

    Augustine was also an immensely talented and charismatic preacher, and his voluminous sermons have been an important source of material to preachers ever since.

    There is also the fact that Augustine wrote so much, something which to an extent served him badly personally because he had less time to read other people's works (people read more slowly in antiquity than we do). The sheer quantity of his writings meant that in antiquity and the Middle Ages, while no-one might have read everything he wrote, most people would have read at least something.

    (2) His mastery of philosophical and theological issues.

    None of the other church fathers can match Augustine as a philosopher, with the possible exception of Origen and Gregory of Nyssa - both of whom wrote in Greek, meaning they had far fewer readers in the west. Augustine's earliest surviving works are basically philosophy (admittedly not particularly good philosophy, in my opinion, but still). When he came to devote himself to Christian topics he was able to bring such a weight of learning to it - but without being pedestrian or dull - that his discussion was quite authoritative. Plus, he was a very creative thinker, with that special talent of taking ideas that had been knocking around for years and doing something new with them, but without being so radical as to be generally unacceptable.

    (3) His importance in the doctrinal debates of his day.

    Augustine was a major figure, personally, in the Manichaean, Donatist, and Pelagian controversies, and had something to say about pretty much everything that was going on at the time. He was invited to the council of Ephesus in 431 to weigh in on the Nestorian controversy, and was prevented from going only by the fact that he had died the previous year (news travelled slowly in Vandal-ravaged Africa). That indicates the prestige which this bishop of an unimportant town enjoyed, based upon his personal stature and the popularity of his books. So his writings weren't simply big and impressive tomes about these matters, they were written in the heat of controversy and were themselves pioneering, advancing or defending new ideas. They were, in effect, the source material for those controversies.


    These various factors led to Augustine becoming extremely widely read in his day and immediately afterwards - at least in the Latin-speaking west. (He was never anywhere near as important in the Greek-speaking east, where his association with the Filioque made him an object of suspicion. However, he was still venerated there, at least officially, and there was something of a brief revival of interest in him when his works were translated into Greek in the Renaissance.) In the case of his Pelagian writings, they were still the object of acute controversy, especially in Gaul, where many people thought he had gone too far, although eventually his authority was (mostly) absolute. This initial period of influence basically never ended, because all of the major figures of the next few generations were so influenced by him, above all Boethius. His theological writings were profoundly Augustinian. By the time the Middle Ages came along, Augustine was pretty much the authority on pretty much everything. Although there were considered to be four major doctors of the church - Augustine, Ambrose, Gregory the Great, and Jerome - Augustine was by far the most important. Ambrose was a great preacher and a good theologian, but no philosopher and not very innovative. Gregory was a great preacher and commentator, but not really a theologian or philosopher. Jerome was a great scholar and controversialist, but not much else. Augustine was all of these things rolled into one.

    I don't know much about the Reformation so I can't answer this very authoritatively. However, it's important to remember that the Reformation grew, in part, out of the Renaissance. The Renaissance interest in antiquity and denigration of the Middle Ages influenced the Reformers' desire to strip away what they saw as the accumulated superstition of the Middle Ages and get back to the pure faith of the fathers. Luther and Calvin were both (in different ways) humanists and were influenced by the new emphasis on the scholarly examination and evaluation of ancient texts, including new ideas about dating and authorship. Now in the case of the canon, it had always been known that the deuterocanonical books were - well - deuterocanonical, even though they were regarded as part of the canon, but only in a secondary way. It was known that these books were not in the Hebrew canon although they were in the Greek and the Vulgate. At the time of the Reformation a number of humanist scholars were of the opinion that they should not be regarded as canonical - remember that there had been, at that point, no ecumenical council or similar definitively laying down the canon. (There had been various councils which listed the canonical books, I believe, most notably a couple in Africa in the 390s, but the Catholic canon even by the sixteenth century was more a matter of tradition than of clear stipulation.) So it was really quite natural for Luther and his followers to hold that the deuterocanonical books should be excluded from the canon, on the basis that they were not part of the "original" Christian canon. As far as I know there was not much controversy among the initial Protestants about this. Luther of course went further and tried to exclude a number of New Testament books from the canon as well. He had much less success with this, as there were no good humanist reasons for doing so - his dislike of James, for example, was doctrinally motivated and had nothing to do with scholarship. German Lutheran Bibles still print these works at the end of the New Testament, but they are nevertheless included.

    The Catholic authorities, of course, would have no truck with this messing about with the canon, and were careful to stipulate that the deuterocanonical books were truly canonical at the Council of Trent.
     
  12. Atticus

    Atticus Chieftain Retired Moderator

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    Did George Berkeley have unusual view about transubstantiation (or con-)? The reason I'm asking is that considering his other thoughts it would be weird if he thought that some thing is "metaphysically" something other than it's qualities tell you. Yet he seemed to be very fierce when it came to religion, although I haven't yet understood whether he was defending orthodoxy or his own views about it, which one he was defending in your opinion?

    Another question about B: Did his The Analyst spark any discussion about deism? I've understood that the real point of the text wasn't to attack Newton's calculus, but to present ad hominem argument against deists and free thinkers: they held maths as the pinnacle of human knowledge, but still Newton's calculus incorporated argumentation that would not be allowed in divinity. The text produced fair amount of discussion among mathematicians, but how was the text welcomed in the religion-camp?

    EDIT: the second question is very poorly formulated. Holding maths in high esteem isn't probably in any way essential to deism or free thinking. However it looks like there were some people at that time who thought theology to be unclear etc, and they were the people Berkeley wrote against. I'm not sure how many of those people were actually deists or free thinkers. It looks like Berkeley at that stage of his life was arguing against at-least-partially-imagined enemies.
     
  13. Plotinus

    Plotinus Philosopher Administrator

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    Sorry to take so incredibly long to get back to this.

    Yes, you are right that transubstantiation is pretty much impossible in an idealist system like Berkeley's. The whole point of transubstantiation is that there is a distinction between the thing itself and its perceptible qualities, so that it's possible for the thing to change but the qualities to stay the same. But equally, the whole point of Berkeleyan idealism is that the thing is identical with its perceptible qualities (considered either as powers to produce sense impressions, or as those sense impressions or their contents themselves), in which case to say that the thing persists but its qualities change is literally absurd.

    Berkeley was of course an Anglican and therefore proposing principles which ruled out transubstantiation was not a problem for him, as it was for the Catholic Descartes. I'm not aware of any passage where Berkeley directly addresses this issue. However, he does seem to assume that the doctrine of transubstantiation is absurd. In Principles I 124 he is arguing that the notion that any piece of matter consists of an infinite number of parts is obviously absurd, but it is widely believed because people are led to it by gradual steps, and he compares this to the case of transubstantiation:

    So although he's not directly discussing transubstantiation there, I'd say that it indicates pretty strongly that he thought the doctrine nonsense.

    I think as far a religious views go, Berkeley was a perfectly normal Anglican of his day, which included rejecting Catholic doctrines as superstitious nonsense. However, he was not one of those antagonistic Anglicans who thought Catholicism was terribly evil. His A word to the wise was addressed to the Catholic hierarchy in Ireland, on social and political matters, and written in a conciliatory tone.

    I have to say I don't know much about this, which is going outside my area of speciality, but as far as I know, it didn't make much of a splash as regards deism. The point of the book, insofar as it touches religion, is that certain mathematicians apply the principle of believing only what can be shown clearly in religious matters, but believe in all kinds of weird stuff when it comes to mathematics, and this is inconsistent. So it's not really an attack on deism itself, or even on the Socinian principles which were often associated with deism, namely that the only religious claims one should believe are those which can be rationally demonstrated. Berkeley is attacking only the holding of these principles in conjunction with the holding of the mathematical views of those he addresses. So it seems natural to me that it should have excited more of a response among mathematicians rather than deists (at least as deists), which I think was the case.
     
  14. Lone Wolf

    Lone Wolf Chieftain

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    All natural science (except maths) is based on induction. But induction is fundamentally irrational.

    Therefore, science is no more rational then religion.

    If I believe that everyone indeed goes to Heaven (though I don't), why is this act so horrible from my point of view?
     
  15. Plotinus

    Plotinus Philosopher Administrator

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    I see. Well, I don't think that Hume would accept that conclusion, because he would distinguish between different kinds of faith and their legitimacy. It may be irrational, in some sense, to accept the findings of science, because they are based upon induction, but nevertheless we may at least do so non-culpably because the principle of induction has great psychological strength. That is, it may be irrational to believe these things, but we can't help doing so. This isn't the case with religious claims, which, Hume would hold, are not even based upon the principle of induction (in fact he would say that some religious claims, such as the claim that miracles occur, contravene the principle of induction). So while science may be irrational, at least it's justifiable at some level, whereas religion is not. Whether you call that a difference in rationality or in something else is probably not important.

    By hypothesis, it's not horrible at all from your point of view. But the question is whether that point of view is distorted. If it is, then what may be non-horrible from your point of view may be quite horrible from an objective point of view.
     
  16. burleyman

    burleyman Chieftain

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    Why should we accept the statements that 'all natural science is based on induction' and 'induction is fundamentally irrational'? The first statement is highly contentious, ignoring all the work around falsification in the empiricist tradition, and completely ignoring any non-empiricist view of truth. The second lacks foundation; you can only begin to make that argument by saying what you mean by rationality. If the statement boils down to 'induction is not deduction' then it is true, but it does not follow that accepting inductive inferences is irrational.

    One might constructively re-phrase the issues as a question in the history of philosophy (ignoring post C-18 scholarship): if Hume believed induction to be irrational (but that we are psychologically programmed to accept it) was he justified in saying that belief in religion is less justified than belief in inductive-based science? In addition to what Plotinus says on this, I think Hume would also argue that we continue to use inductive reasoning, despite it not being based on deductive proof, because it usually works - the sun will rise tomorrow, as it always has. The 'black swan' counter-examples are so rare and basically irrelevant that they simply don't affect our reasoning. Induction in science is therefore confirmed by experience, unlike religious claims, in particular miracles which are explicitly disproved by our experience.

    Contra Plotinus, surely the sense in which scientific belief is rational and religious belief not is extremely important?
     
  17. _random_

    _random_ Jewel Runner

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    How exactly does the ransom view of atonement work without compromising God's omnipotence?
     
  18. Moss

    Moss CFC Scribe Retired Moderator

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    You've talked about this a little bit (at least, in how much you disagree with it or feel that it's not a Christian trait to believe this to be true), but where did the idea that the Bible is the perfect, authoritative word of God come from?

    I believe there's a verse in Timothy that says all scripture is breathed out by God and is profitable for teaching...

    ...but why has that view been so prevalent in the last 50 years among conservative churches in America and elsewhere, and if you could, what would you your first counterpoint to the their argument that the Bible is perfect?

    Mainly, I'm asking for a history lesson. :)
     
  19. Lone Wolf

    Lone Wolf Chieftain

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    Well, there's an assumption that the laws of nature will be the same next second...
     
  20. Agent327

    Agent327 Observer

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