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Ask a Theologian

Discussion in 'Off-Topic' started by Plotinus, Feb 13, 2007.

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  1. Neonanocyborgasm

    Neonanocyborgasm Chieftain

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    It's an academic exercise to debate points which have no meaning outside of their academic assumptions. That's why I never get involved in the many moral scenarios posted at CFC. They're all based on totally unrealistic situations. I don't derive any satisfaction, since a conclusion can never be reached as the situation is unlikely to occur.

    Goes back to my previous point. If you are intent on outarguing illogical premises within their own sphere, for your own satisfaction, go right ahead, but it doesn't gain you anything. The most religious people are so irrational that they care nothing for arguments anyway, and so will not be moved.
     
  2. Ayatollah So

    Ayatollah So the spoof'll set you free

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    I like the way you think, there. I have a few historical questions about the Free Will Defence in theodicy:

    Did it become more popular when the 3-"Omni" characterization of God became official dogma?
    Did the "contra-causal" definition of free will also become more popular?
    What are the historical origins of the "contra-causal" interpretation of free will?

    Thanks.
     
  3. Blue Monkey

    Blue Monkey Archon Without Portfolio

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    How is it logical or rational to frame the summation of your argument in terms of a grossly generalized ad hominem attack?

    Specifically to your point: "The most religious people" is a fairly slippery and subjective valorization, but I would place both Scholastics such as Aquinas and the ancient Indian philosophers including Sakyamuni in that category. Logical argument is used in both schools precisely to move one spiritually and religiously.
     
  4. Plotinus

    Plotinus Philosopher Administrator

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    Hmmm, philosophy of physics perhaps!

    In that case you've contradicted what you said before: the study of irrational opinion is not the same thing as the study of nothing. And of course the study of "irrational opinion" can lead to conclusions. You can conclude that the irrational person certainly had this opinion.

    Of course, to assume that all the people studied in theology are or were irrational is itself a pretty irrational thing to say, and really little better than playground abuse. It puzzles me when people are unable to tell the difference between rightness and rationality (or, conversely, wrongness and irrationality). I think Aquinas was wrong, at least when it comes to theology. But I don't think he was irrational because of that - on the contrary, he was one of the most rational people who ever lived. I also think that Dawkins is right on a lot of matters. But I don't think he's rational, at least when it comes to philosophy and religion - on the contrary, he's a fundamentalist as extreme as any Bible-basher.

    I take it you're referring to questions like the famous trolley car problem (it's going to kill five people, but you could change its direction and have it kill just one, so what do you do etc). I think you misunderstand the point of these "thought experiments". Of course they could never really happen, at least not with such limited possible outcomes. But the whole point of trying to see what you would do if they happened is to shed light on the moral values that guide you in the real world. For example, if you said that you would change the course of the trolley car to kill only one person, although that person would have lived had you done nothing, then that suggests that you think it of overriding importance to minimise loss of life even when that necessitates actively causing some loss of life in order to prevent a greater loss elsewhere. And that tells us something about how you think morality works.

    It's even clearer in the kind of "thought experiments" that philosophers of mind talk about. For example, we can imagine that someone has a cell in their brain replaced with a tiny artificial device that works in exactly the same way: it receives signals from the cells around it and sends out signals just as the original neuron would have done. Is that person still the same person they were before? Now imagine that, every day, another neuron gets replaced in the same way, until eventually there are no biological cells left in the brain and it is entirely artificial. It still functions in precisely the same way and the person has never felt any change. Are they still the same person? Are they human at all? Suppose that all the cells, when taken away and replaced, were reassembled somewhere else and you now had a functioning human brain in a jar. Would that brain be the original person? Has a new person come into being? Or what? All this is completely impossible, but that's not the point. The answers you give to these questions show how you think about matters such as personal identity and the nature of the mind.

    I don't know what you mean by "outarguing illogical premises within their own sphere" - that's just a collection of words that don't mean much to me. However, once again, your assumption that the more religious someone is the less rational they are is quite unfounded. Presumably most people would agree that the archbishop of Canterbury is a particularly religious person; yet Rowan Williams is certainly not irrational. On the contrary, he's extremely learned and sensible.

    The notion of contra-causal free will really goes back to Platonism, I think. You can certainly find it in the Middle Platonists, who were writing in around the first and second centuries AD. They were typically engaged in polemics with the Stoics, who were determinists. The Platonists responded that if determinism were true then there would be no morality, since to perform a morally significant action demands the possibility of not doing it. That's basically the argument in the passage of Justin Martyr that I quoted before, and he lifted it from the pagan Middle Platonists (he was essentially a Christian Middle Platonist).

    Now although the Christians usually relied upon this notion of free will in their ethics, it became important in theodicy with Origen - though not as part of the "free will defence" as normally conceived. Origen argued that everything created by God is good. Whence, then, evil? The answer is that it comes from creaturely free will: only a free act can be evil. In fact it is only acts that are evil, properly speaking, not things. However, Origen combined this with a fundamentally Irenaean theodicy, arguing that suffering etc is part of God's plan for the world, which means that creaturely free acts - although free - are part of that plan. That would preclude the use of a full free will defence, since the essence of that defence is that suffering is not part of God's plan but there's nothing he can (or will) do about it because it's an unfortunate side effect of free will.

    Now the free will defence proper really became popular with Augustine. Augustine believed that Adam had contra-causal free will. He could do good or evil as he saw fit. Unfortunately, Adam chose evil. As a result, human beings became corrupted and lost contra-causal free will. They can no longer do good, at least not to any significant degree. We are all driven by "concupiscence" - an overriding tendency to sin. Now, because of Christ, concupiscence can be overcome, and in the next life, we will be free of it completely. In fact, in the next life, we will still not have contra-causal free will, but our determination will be reversed: we will be unable to sin at all. And Augustine thinks that that is actually a greater freedom than the original freedom to do good or evil was. To put it another way, Adam was free to sin; in the next life, we will be free from sin.

    There are a couple of things that are important to recognise about the free will defence in history, though, and these are not often appreciated. In fact I've never seen them in any book and only worked them out myself after a long time.

    First, Augustine argued that the existence of sin in the first place was due to the misuse of creaturely (contra-causal) free will. That is, Adam chose to sin, thereby messing everything up. However, Augustine denied that people now have (contra-causal) free will. This is quite different from the most common modern form of the free will defence, which argues that every evil act comes from the misuse of creaturely (contra-causal) free will. In other words, the modern proponent of the free will defence is typically committed to the claim that we now have (or may have) contra-causal free will; Augustine actively denied that we do.

    Second, and more important, the free will defence in its modern form was rarely used until modern times. You don't find it in medieval theology, for example. In fact, medieval theologians don't seem much bothered by the problem of evil at all. And they couldn't use the modern form of the free will defence at all, because it would conflict with their understanding of divine grace. To clarify, the modern form of the free will defence goes something like this:

    (1) We have contra-causal free will.
    (2) The actions of a being with contra-causal free will are inherently unpredictable or at any rate can't be interfered with if that being is to retain contra-causal free will.
    (3) God cannot predict (or interfere with) our actions. (From 1 and 2.)
    (4) All suffering is directly or indirectly caused by us (or by other beings with contra-causal free will).
    (5) God cannot predict (or interfere with) the occurrence of suffering. (From 3 and 4.)
    (6) Anything that God cannot predict (or interfere with), God cannot prevent.
    (7) God cannot prevent suffering. (From 5 and 6.)
    (8) Anything God cannot prevent, God is not responsible for.
    (9) God is not responsible for suffering. (From 7 and 8.)

    Or something like that. You might replace the "cannot"s with "will not", perhaps, but it makes little difference.

    Now the problem is that premise (3) is a direct contradiction of the traditional understanding of grace. According to this, although creaturely acts are indeed free, they are nevertheless the acts that God wants creatures to perform. You see, after Augustine defeated Pelagius theologically, it was the orthodox belief that we do not save ourselves: God saves us by grace, and this grace is internal, not external. That is, God doesn't simply provide the conditions under which we can save ourselves and then leave it up to us (as Pelagius believed) - he actually goes into the soul, as it were, and does something to it. So are we simply puppets in the hands of God? No, because we still have free will nevertheless. It is still necessary for the creature to do something in response to God's grace, because God's grace (in some form) is bestowed upon everyone, yet not everyone is saved (according to Augustine). There is therefore some kind of cooperation which the creature has to do in order to be saved.

    This means that the creature must do something, but it must still be what God intended the creature to do. If salvation were entirely determined by the creature's response then you'd have something akin to Pelagianism. But if God determined the creature's response then you'd have strict predestination, which the Catholic Church has always rejected. Thus, here you have what must be a free creaturely act which is nevertheless predicted and willed by God.

    To put it a bit more broadly, Christians also traditionally believe in providence, the notion that God is actively guiding what happens. Now if you reject predestination then you must reject the notion that God actually causes everything to happen, but you can still believe that what happens is what God wants to happen, and this is the view of the Catholic Church. And in fact most Christians today seem to believe that too. If something good happens to them, they are grateful to God (if they remember to be). This is the case even if the good thing is the result of someone else's free decision, for example if they get a job that they wanted. If the employer has contra-causal free will then the decision to hire was entirely their own, but the Christian still sees God's hand in it. In other words, what happens is what God wants to happen, even when it is the result of the exercise of contra-causal free will. And if that is so, then God clearly can predict free acts - indeed, more, he can decide which free acts are going to be performed, without affecting their freedom. Leibniz talked about God surveying all the possible universes that he might create - each one containing many free acts, all of which God knows and comprehends - and then God selects the possible universe that is best and actualises it. And that is the real universe. On this view (which is basically Molinism), God knows every free choice made by every free creature before he even creates them. He still doesn't determine what their free choices will be; he only determines which free creatures are going to exist, in the full knowledge of what they are going to do. Leibniz didn't believe in contra-causal free will - he was a compatibilist - but that doesn't really make much difference to the account.

    Now on all this - which, again, is the traditional faith of the church - the free will argument in the form given above is impossible. Because premise (2), which is the key premise of the argument, is false. And that means that someone who accepts the traditional belief in providence cannot use the free will argument to explain evil. The funny thing is that many of them still try.

    I'm not sure if there's any specifiable time when the "three-omni" view of God became "official dogma"; something like it was common currency among Middle Platonists in the patristic period so the Christians picked it up without too much difficulty. I suppose Origen was really the major figure in developing it (or something like it) in a Christian context, but once again Augustine would have been the major figure in making it standard. It was those two, for example, who insisted that God is outside time, a notion that would have been foreign to earlier theologians such as Justin and even Tertullian. The notion of the timelessness of God was developed at roughly the same time by Origen and the first Neoplatonists, but it became central to mainstream Christianity thanks to the efforts of Athanasius (who lived after Origen but before Augustine). In response to the Arians, who (like Justin and Tertullian) insisted that there was a moment in time when the Father produced the Son, Athanasius used Origen's idea of an eternal generation of the Son to show that this needn't be the case. With the theological defeat of most of the Arians by the end of the fourth century, this became the standard view.
     
  5. Eran of Arcadia

    Eran of Arcadia Stormin' Mormon Retired Moderator

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    Do you think there is any significance in the fact that those who use suffering as an argument against the existence of God tend, by and large, to live in circumstances in which they suffer far less than those who don't use that argument? In other words, no one in the Middle Ages seemed to have a problem with suffering seeming to argue against God, even though they lived in far worse conditions than those who much later would make the argument.
     
  6. El_Machinae

    El_Machinae Colour vision since 2018 Retired Moderator

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    Wouldn't that be a function of our empathy, then? I mean, people in the Middle Ages couldn't [as] easily conceive of how much less suffering there actually needed to be in the world while still having an internally-viable world.

    I'm not relying too much on my own suffering to disprove variants of the God concept, but moreso on other people's suffering that I (reasonably) assume exists.
     
  7. Eran of Arcadia

    Eran of Arcadia Stormin' Mormon Retired Moderator

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    But as much as you may have empathy, it still isn't the same as experiencing it. By the standards of the human species as a whole, we live amazing lives.
     
  8. Plotinus

    Plotinus Philosopher Administrator

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    I don't know if people in the Middle Ages had such more miserable lives than we do - at least, the kind of people who had time to think about this sort of thing. I've always thought it would be nice to be a medieval monk (apart from minor downsides like having to believe in God and be chaste, and so on). The average medieval peasant had more days off than most modern workers do (and in England it was considered just as sinful to fast on a feast day as it was to feast on a fast day...).

    The reason medieval thinkers didn't devote much time to the problem of evil is simply because God's existence seemed so blindingly obvious to them that there wasn't much point considering apparent arguments against it, especially when Augustine seemed to have had it all wrapped up centuries earlier. Medieval theological problems all concerned details of the faith rather than its basic premises.

    Perhaps El Machinae has a point though. We are used to being able to alleviate suffering. That is, when people are ill, we can generally cure them, and if we can't, people get annoyed because they think it should be possible. In the Middle Ages, by contrast, this wasn't the case. So people wouldn't have had such an expectation that God ought to be alleviating suffering, they simply endured it stoically. This is just speculation though.
     
  9. Eran of Arcadia

    Eran of Arcadia Stormin' Mormon Retired Moderator

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    I would have to say, all things considered, that even so we have much better lives now than anyone did then.

    But I guess that sort of works - we can conceive of a much better world than this.
     
  10. Veritass

    Veritass Chieftain

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    Quoted for lunacy.
     
  11. Veritass

    Veritass Chieftain

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    Nice attempt at (1) ducking the question, and (2) purposely misunderstanding the question. You have quoted at length about what other people believe, and summarized well many varied schools of thought, but I am curious about the end product (or at least the product to date) of such study. What do you believe? What truths do you hold most dear?

    I will make it easy. Finish the following three paragraphs in a serious attempt to give a stranger such as myself a view into the mind of Plotinus:

    1. I believe in...

    2. I believe that...

    3. I believe I...

    You can change the order of the paragraphs if you like.
     
  12. shortguy

    shortguy It's a working title

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    That reminds me of a story I read in Bede's Historia a few days ago for my Anglo-Saxon England class. There was a plague going through a dual monastery, and a light shone in the darkness to some sisters, showing them where they ought to be buried (once the plague inevitably got to them too). To us this seems a very strange miracle--instead of being healed or protected, they are told where they're going to be buried?--but for Bede (and presumably his audience) it was quite the miracle nonetheless. Obviously, we have different expectations than they did.
     
  13. ironduck

    ironduck Chieftain

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    Does this mean you could actually follow the train of thought? Because I read it several times and still don't have a clue.. is the 'proof' that there are stars that viewed from the earth have been named as a group called the virgin constellation? Is the proof that the stars look like a virgin? Or that at some point someone thought that group of stars look like a virgin?
     
  14. CartesianFart

    CartesianFart Chieftain

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    I didn't say that Abelard is a nominalist.I just said that after reading some of his remarks have influenced and ingrained my thoughts on the subject of nominalism.:confused:

    Ok...but you will probably hate my narrative.

    Theology to most people(of the present day) who are interested in some obscured esoteric and sacred realm the encompasses a particular worldly dimension are fools to believe that it have any significance for cultural and general life of our present day.

    It is funny to me to see others firstly grasp the meaning of "theology" as literally the study of God,man,the world,salvation,and eschatology.This is a sickness of a person not seeing and grasping that theology of today as it once was in anitquity is merely Chrisian metaphysics.

    Of course,then,the above indicated diffuculty becomes apparent since i just did a switcheroo of taking theology and replacing it for Christian metaphysics.The reason i do so is not in fact that i just want to for the sake of being subversive in your precious thread but to undermine theology as an art that have no relevencies of today as it once has been in the olden days of the beginning and the decline of scholasticism(probably during the time of the 12th century all the way to the secularization of most Universities in the Western world).

    For me to make the point clearly of what i am trying to convey i have to define the meaning of theology and Christian metaphyisics.

    1.Theology

    A concept by convention that its origin is derived by the tradition of the Greeks(theos-"God") but in time change of its meaning during the evolution of its method and content whithin the rise of Christendom after Constatine.A spiritual or religious attempt of "believers" to explicate their faith against the laities,later the so-called Mohammendans, and etc.

    Indeed there were theologians of the Christian faith(whether it be Catholics,Arians,pre-Catholics,or other faiths that was later stamped out due to competion) before Constantine.I do however just want to state that during the time of Constantine and later that the pre-organized Christians got what they needed-that is,the right to regulate the masses by way of the Christian World-View for all citizens in the Romanized world and the adminstratorial authority to do so.What great place for the Vicar of Christ and clergys to call his home?-Rome that is.

    After the Dark-Ages till probably the Carolingian renaissance,the reformation of the monastic orders and the church government give birth to the institution of education that gave the clergy and the lay aristocrats(under the guidance and regulation of the Eccuemunical Church) an open debate which in fact monopolized by Dogma and revelation instead of reason for inorder to incorporate the secular lay intellectuals into the church fold.-Which is the Ideal of Christendom run by the clergy beuracrats.

    To understand "theology" especially during its intellectual golden age of the 12th century to age of Reformation(just a guess) and rise of Science;one must look at the competition of clergy and laities(Emperor/Kings vs. Pope/Ecclesiates princes) as an ideological battle on how to define the activities and purpose of theology of its day and age.

    This is what is,i think, what confuse modern theologians when reading texts of medieval thinkers of long forgotten post.We just don't know fully on how to know and think as a Medieval intellectual or scholars and we defer its meaning of theology based on our conditioned modern-oriented sense of the world.Our essence of our day and age precede on how to know the medieval man essence on what theology is.

    So...I must conclude that whenever an individual of present day claim to be an theologian or mastered in the degree in theology is a fine line of a joke and a nut.Especially the ones who study the Great such as Aquinas,Abelard,Ockham and many others.:lol:

    It is as they are validating themselves in secret before reading these texts with some extra-advance literary criticism of their day as better explanation of the meaning of theology and how people think days long forgotten.These teacher of theology(of what i've gathered in books i've read) or student of theology of antiquity such as the medieval age or before ,subvert the meaning of theology of the medieval man himself.Pure conjectural nonsense!

    2.Christian Metaphysics

    Christianity had affected the activity of philosophy as in other aspect of human life.It is true that these Christianized medieval thinkers or later probably in most cases have read philosophical of antiquity as an essentially pagan phenomenon and refused(or just cautious)to allow the propriety of subjecting Christian dogma to philosophical scrutiny.-Which is deductive reasoning that in fact contrast the truths rested on revelation and traditions.

    Even if they called themselves theologian as what was understood(i am speculating) amongst their fellow contemporaries of their day and people who teach and study it today is still wrong to infer that the subject being contemplated is theological at all.It is an activity of a wrong label to dissassociate pagan metaphysics from Christian metaphysics.It is misleading that happen to be changed because of the very fact that the institution itself changed overtime.One have to look at the fact that there is a difference of law,custom,practice,system,administration policies,and etc. in relative time and place such as the Academy,Lyceum,monasteries,Univeristy of Naples after Frederick II,La Fleche(where Descartes have learned),Oxford(an example of many universities that was originally scholastic in its beginnings and later secularized and departmentalized),Harvard and all the way to present day such as M.I.T. to name a few.

    Theology in what i make sense of it,is merely a branch of metaphysics with its own sub-branches (Thomism and Avorroists to name a few) and subject oriented doctrines.It is not a independant subject having the notion of a systematic subject categorized of being the study of God and the relations of God and the Universe.It is a basterization of a marriage of deductive reasoning from first principles and the problematic question of Ultimate realities into the study of Christian doctrines and matters of divinity which in fact divinity(God) is a word replacing the ideal of first principles and question of ulitimate reality into doctrines that of a christian one.
     
  15. Bill3000

    Bill3000 OOOH NOOOOOOO! Supporter

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    Congrats for insulting a poster who has more knowledge in philosophy and theology than you do. I'm sorry, but it is bordering on a personal attack in a thread like this to call their profession useless.
     
  16. CartesianFart

    CartesianFart Chieftain

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    I am not making a personal attack but i am as you say that in some indefinte sense that the profession is useless to me.It is only an opinion not a specific personal attack.

    Please,in the future,try not to misconstrue and take things of what i've said out of context.:rolleyes:
     
  17. Bill3000

    Bill3000 OOOH NOOOOOOO! Supporter

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    It may not be a literal personal attack, as if it is an attack or not depends if the person gets offended. Plotinus is mature enough to debunk your claims instead of taking offense.

    However, it's just a stupid thing to say in the first place in a thread like this. Saying that you think Islam is inherintly evil isn't going to bring a productive response in the Ask a Muslim thread - nor will talking about priest abuse be productive in the Ask a Catholic thread. It's a provocative statement which leads to nothing positive. At the very least, it's a troll, and at the most, a personal attack; either way, it is against the very spirit of this type of thread, if not against the rules.
     
  18. CartesianFart

    CartesianFart Chieftain

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    I can't believe i am actually in this conversation but i will try to communicate with you anyway since you are somewhat being neurotic or just plainly can't read very well.:lol:


    Well i am not really asking for Plotinus to debunk (eventhough he is with my permission allowed to do so) my polemic,i am just telling him what i think of theology and the practitionaires who teaches it.I am open for his response but all of the sudden you are self-electing yourself as some kind of mouth-piece of Plotinus himself.:confused:

    To each its own. :D

    I have never said any of this and these analogous examples are silly for me to response.Poor argument.:nope:
     
  19. ironduck

    ironduck Chieftain

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    It seems to me you're trolling just for the sake of it.. if you don't have any questions, why not just open your own thread of why you think theology is wrong/stupid/silly?
     
  20. CartesianFart

    CartesianFart Chieftain

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    Such hostillities!:lol:

    Well,i am gonna sit and wait for Plotinus to response since it is Plotinus not you guys that can determine what is a trollling and what is not.:)
     
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