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Ask a Theologian

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

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  1. GenMarshall

    GenMarshall Ghost Agent

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    You might have to narrow your question down. Because there are two kinds. The Capital C and the lower case c.

    Lower Case c: catholic - Universal
    Upper Case C: Catholic - A member of the Roman Catholic Church whom is in communion with the pope and it's teachings.
     
  2. frob2900

    frob2900 Chieftain

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    This kind of truth is completely out of vogue in physics. Even the cosmologists have adapted a pragmatic point of view (in their professional work) Of course I have nothing about debating such isses for recreational purposes. I'm just saying they are entertainment rather than science.

    I've nothing against logic. Given a meaningful problem and usable assumptions logic can be a very powerful tool.

    Well in that case this truth isn't really of any use to us except recreational debate (that is, if it really is undemonstrable, unobservable and cannot lead to useful manipulations).

    Again, I'm not against recreational debate and like it a lot. It hones rhetorical as well as thinking skills so I suppose there is some value there, but I still don't see the matter of "absolute truth" to be anything other than an impediment to actual operative science. Better to be flexible. By this I mean that by all means have some "absolute truth" in the back of your mind, but be ready to throw it away in an instant if experiment proves it wrong. A major problem is that people tend to get emotionally attached to absolute truths more than operative definitions.

    Well, I'll just have to throw out the standard "There might also be an invisible and undetectable magic tortoise running around in New York City"- argument as an example as another thing that might be true but not knowably so. I know it's a tired counterargument, but I believe it does illustrate the fact that debating these truths merely serve as training grounds for intellectual faculties rather than usable propositions about the universe.

    Then if we had a suitably large set of such universes, the inhabitants of either universe would perceive exactly the same laws of nature, and given the same set of starting conditions would have exactly the same technology/life expectancy/art/cuisine as each other. So operatively it makes no difference.

    This is actually an achilles heel for me, as the issue of my own personal existence is something I and I alone observe and as such does not fall under the operative scheme which has been so fruitful in modern science. I can't really add anything to your above statements except say that I have before had debates along very similar lines and I find them very interesting.


    If I may, I'll hijack the cosmetics thing for a moment into a point I'd like to make: Think about it from the point of view of the cosmetics company. In that analogy we (humans) are the cosmetic company and the scent connoisseur and smell simulation guy are two competing laws of science. If they produce the same results we should hire the one that's cheaper (i.e. w.r.t. science leads to more concise, shorter and encompassing theory in the textbooks)

    So from that point of view it makes no difference. However as to someone wondering "Is my sense of smell different than the other guys", like I said above, that's an interesting personal issue and does not pertain to science (if, as we seem to agree, it would be unobservable)

    This also cuts to the core of why religion debates (with non-fundamentalists) are usually fruitless. If one can define ones own personal belief system in such a way that it doesn't conflict with observable phenomena, then no army of Dawkinses can topple you.

    (I am using the standard physics definition of observable phenomenon , which is that it should be identically observable by many independent observers,)

    Isn't "In how many ways can people perceive the same color differently yet unmeasurably" getting awfully close, though? (Note: I might have misunderstood the context in which it was brought up, and if it was relevant then I apologize).

    [EDIT] In the "suitably large set of universes" comment above, I meant that if this set was split 50/50 between the two possible options, then we would still see no difference when examining either half of the set. We would then have a large sample of observational results indicating that the two possible systems are operationally identical.

    It would always leave open the possibility of finding more subtle differences upon closer examination, but up until that point they could be considered to be identical.
     
  3. MayNilad Man

    MayNilad Man Chieftain

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    Upper case C: Is not limited to Roman Catholics, it includes Anglican and Eastern Orthodox.

    My question was more on what defines a catholic (lowercase), i.e. what is the universal church, who defines the church, what does it mean to be a member of the universal church?
     
  4. Eran of Arcadia

    Eran of Arcadia Stormin' Mormon Retired Moderator

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    Given that some forms of atheism predate Christianity, I would have to say yes.
     
  5. MayNilad Man

    MayNilad Man Chieftain

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    Perhaps I should elaborate the question (which is always a good idea, damn my scattered mind).
    Could Atheism have survived without Christianity, i.e. did it require the values (like charity, justice, love) of Christianity to give Atheism its viability as a world view?

    Bsackground: I was reading Carl Jung's The Undiscovered Self, where he makes the claim that religion is a necessary foundation to civilized human life.
     
  6. Eran of Arcadia

    Eran of Arcadia Stormin' Mormon Retired Moderator

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  7. MayNilad Man

    MayNilad Man Chieftain

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    Cause and foundation are two different things?

    Hmmm...
    Cause being the catalyst for the formation of something.
    Foundation being the required circumstances for something to successfully come about.

    Am I understanding you right?
     
  8. Eran of Arcadia

    Eran of Arcadia Stormin' Mormon Retired Moderator

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  9. MayNilad Man

    MayNilad Man Chieftain

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    Ah.
    Well, I find it hard to believe that people will work together other than to praise God(s).
     
  10. El_Machinae

    El_Machinae Colour vision since 2018 Retired Moderator

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    Humans have an inate desire to work for something grander than themselves: this desire can be focused into many useful or evil outlets.
     
  11. Eran of Arcadia

    Eran of Arcadia Stormin' Mormon Retired Moderator

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  12. MayNilad Man

    MayNilad Man Chieftain

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    Hm. So you're saying that Religion is but a manifestation of this urge?
     
  13. El_Machinae

    El_Machinae Colour vision since 2018 Retired Moderator

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    Not entirely, of course there are other aspects to why religion is so powerful (it was/is used as an explanatory tool, the ability for some people to trigger the feeling of divine connection, etc.). But, in general, people rally around a religion because people like to rally.

    And, in recognition of Eran's comment, yes: the rallying can be used for great benefit or great ills.

    Our desire to rally might be a by-product of tribalism and a by-product of combating depression. i.e., it combines the benefits of teamwork with the benefits of convincing ourselves that life is better than it really is.
     
  14. MayNilad Man

    MayNilad Man Chieftain

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    So is Religion a foundation of Civilization, or the cause?

    If I understand you right, it is both because as much as Religion rallies people, it also fills certain needs that much be satisfied on order to bring about civilization.
     
  15. Eran of Arcadia

    Eran of Arcadia Stormin' Mormon Retired Moderator

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    If we can convince ourselves that our lives are better than they are, doesn't that really make them better?
     
  16. Ayatollah So

    Ayatollah So the spoof'll set you free

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    "Causes" is prejudicial, unless you think that psychological and/or physical events can cause themselves. If event A causes event B then, by the usual way of thinking about causes, those are two different events. Rephrasing, the question should be:
    Is any proposition about the chemical and physiological events observably associated with the sensation also a proposition about what it is like?

    Sure it's counter-intuitive. And so is, for example, the idea that the temperature of the air is a fact about the masses and velocities of tiny particles. Even the fact that the Morning Star and Evening Star are the same thing may strike some people as counter-intuitive. That's the joy of science for you - it's full of surprises.
     
  17. El_Machinae

    El_Machinae Colour vision since 2018 Retired Moderator

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    I struggle with the question. Objectively, we can't just look at the extremes (perfect knowledge, vs. perfect bliss) to see the solution. I think that there's a fine balance to be sought.
     
  18. DNK

    DNK Member

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    On religion and civilization: I've read a rather nice theory that religion was a significant cornerstone in civilization's founding: it provided a hierarchical social structure, one in which specialists (priests) could innovate and control their constituencies, which lead to such things as calendars, astronomy, legal codes, writing, alphabet, etc, etc. Religious "miracles"/"magic" would allow this class to continue its existence, while at the same time improving the wellbeing of the whole, albeit not without some extravagance for ceremonies (not without their benefits, though) and the otherwise unproductive lives of the priests. Without such a necessitated class (necessitated by a religious world-view, that is), these things would not have arisen, or would have arisen much more slowly since knowledge wouldn't have accumulated as much and innovation would have taken far longer probably with everyone engaged in subsistence agriculture, with a purely tribal organization.

    Perhaps religion isn't a necessary condition for civilization, but it appears to be a real boon to progress (at times).
     
  19. Fifty

    Fifty !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

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    Could you explain what the heck the following bible quote means in plain english:

    "Verily, verily, I say unto you, except a corn of wheat fall into the ground and die, it abideth alone: but if it die, it bringeth forth much fruit." -John 12:24
     
  20. Plotinus

    Plotinus Philosopher Administrator

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    The belief that everything that happens has been pre-arranged by God. For example, if you decide to do X today, that is only because God made you in such a way that you would certainly do X. More specifically, the doctrine is about who will be saved and who won't. God predetermines some people to salvation, but not everyone. "Double predestination" is the slightly stronger view that God predetermines some people to salvation and predetermines others to damnation.

    I'm not sure what you mean by that.

    But what has physics got to do with it? We're not talking about physics.

    I hope you don't think that all activities can be categorised as either "entertainment" or "science"! Isn't a lot of science "entertainment", in the sense that it has no practical purpose, or at least is not undertaken with a practical purpose in mind?

    Right, but that doesn't really address the point I was trying to make.

    The point I'm trying to make is that truth and use don't have anything to do with each other.

    Now I do half-agree with you that non-scientific questions are "recreational", in the sense that people engage in (many of) them for non-practical purposes. Although surely major exceptions to this are ethics and politics. One of the largest subjects in philosophy is ethics, and people engage in that not simply to find out what is true but because it is supposed to have a practical application. Yet, of course, you can't use the scientific method to work out right and wrong, or define what right and wrong are.

    But for the most part, philosophy is about trying to work out what's true, simply because you want to know, not out of pragmatic concerns. It's a pure quest for knowledge for its own sake. And in that respect it's very similar to science, or at least to how science used to be. I'm sure that when Galileo pointed his telescope at the moon it wasn't because he expected to learn anything of any use whatsoever, but because he wanted to know about it. And when the first members of the Royal Society met up at each other's houses to perform unpleasant experiments on dogs it was simply because they were curious about how the world worked. That is why science was, for a long time, simply a branch of philosophy: it was that part of it which dealt with the natural world. Over time, of course, natural philosophy developed methods and presuppositions of its own, and some time in the nineteenth century became its own discipline. But in intent, philosophy and science have the same basic goals in common. Now if you want to characterise the quest for knowledge for its own sake simply as "recreation" then fair enough, but then most human endeavour will fall into that category too, and certainly the most interesting parts of it.

    In other words, we could define (modern) philosophy as the attempt to find out truth that can't be established by (strictly defined) scientific methods. Of course that's perfectly scientific in the literal sense of the word. But to protest that the notion of "truth" employed is not that used by natural scientists, or that the methods used are not those of natural science, is rather to miss the point. Of course it's not, otherwise it would be science!

    That is certainly the case; but don't infer from that that there isn't such a thing as absolute truth, no matter how unknowable it may be.

    I don't see how that's a counter-argument to what I said. In fact it supports it. If you think that "There is an invisible and undetectable magic tortoise in New York City" is making a claim that is different from "There is no such tortoise in New York City" - that is, if you think they are making distinct claims about the world - then you have accepted my point. But by your own standards, these two claims actually describe the same hypothesis, since they are observationally exactly similar. And if that's the case, then it is just as rational and indeed just as true to say that the tortoise exists as it is to say that it doesn't. I don't care how operationally similar these two statements may be - that doesn't make it them equally rational.

    But the point is that there would still be a difference, even if no-one could recognise it. It's not enough to keep insisting that "operatively" there would be no difference; you need to show why we should suppose that a lack of observable difference entails a lack of any difference.

    Quite, and as an account of the psychological difficulty of arguing against such a view, that's entirely right. Certainly if two rival hypotheses are both equally consistent with all observed (and observable) data - and equally probable in themselves - then it would seem that there could be no rational justification to believe one over the other. Now the two hypotheses could be very different, and it could well be the case that one is true while the other is false, but if we can in principle never know which, it's going to be rather hard to discuss them.

    However, I think that any decent belief system, whether religious or not, should avoid being such a "null hypothesis". This is especially so when we think in terms of probability rather than mere consistency. For example, most philosophers of religion today agree that theism is consistent with the existence of evil. This is because there could be some reason (which we don't understand) why God permits evil to exist. However, even granted this, we might still think that such a situation is improbable: if God exists, he would probably not permit the sort of evil that we see, although it is possible that he would. If that is our view, then the existence of evil is evidence against God's existence, although it does not definitively disprove it.

    So debates of this sort can have teeth, as it were, even if we accept that all rival hypotheses are equally consistent with the observable facts. For example, suppose that we are trying to explain the fact that presents appear under the Christmas tree each year. One possible hypothesis is that parents put them there, and tell their children it was Father Christmas. Another possible hypothesis is that it really is Father Christmas, who not only delivers the presents but modifies the parents' memories. Each of these hypotheses is equally consistent with the observable evidence, but we would probably think that one is far more probable than the other.

    Well, we haven't talked about causation here at all, so I'm not sure I understand your point.

    Sorry, I missed these questions before. A vast amount. There is a huge quantity of literature on Gnosticism.

    That's not really possible, because most theologies don't have names; there is just the theology of this person, the theology of that person, and so on. There are identifiable trends in theology, which often get names: major trends in the twentieth century have included Cross Theology, Process Theology, Liberation Theology, Feminist Theology, Death-of-God Theology, and so on and so forth, but each of these will vary in different writers according to the different uses that they make of them.

    In the late Middle Ages, it was believed that all you need to be saved was to have faith in Christ. However, it was also believed that, as a rule, you couldn't go straight to heaven when you died; although you would be saved if you had faith, your soul would still be in a bad way, and you would need to go through purgatory first. The more sins you had committed, the longer you'd spend in purgatory before reaching heaven. Now it was also believed that some people led such good lives that they didn't have to go through purgatory at all. These were the saints. In fact, some of them had been so good that they had built up a sort of excess of goodness, a "treasury of merit", which was at the disposal of the church. The effect of which was that the church could, if it wished, apply some of this treasury of merit to whomsoever it liked and reduce their time in purgatory. And that's what an indulgence was. Indulgences started with the Crusades, when the church declared that anyone who went on Crusade would get time off purgatory in exchange; after a while the church realised it was onto a good thing, and by the late Middle Ages you could simply buy time off purgatory.

    It's important to recognise that indulgences weren't a matter of buying forgiveness, or buying salvation; the church always believed that forgiveness and salvation came through faith in Christ and couldn't be bought or sold. However, by the time of the Reformation, some apologists for indulgences seemed to be very close to the brink of saying things like that. That's one of the things that annoyed Luther so much, with the following result (sorry, couldn't resist it):



    Different theologians would have different answers to that. The first thing to bear in mind is that the distinction between upper-case-C "Catholic" and lower-case-c "catholic" is not one that the early Christians would have recognised. In fact it's really a post-Reformation distinction. Before then, people generally assumed that to belong to the church as a whole necessarily meant belonging to the Church as an identifiable historical and social institution. Thus, when there were schisms, the people on each side denied that those on the other were members of the "universal church". The church fathers had no concept of ecumenism!

    How, then, could one be sure that the organisation to which one belonged was the One True Church? The answer was a combination of historical pedigree and correct doctrine, which for the church fathers were very closely connected to each other. The idea was that Jesus taught the true doctrines to the apostles and charged them to establish his church. The apostles went off and founded churches in various cities, which continued to teach their doctrines. Each bishop of these churches was ordained by his predecessor, guaranteeing the correctness of the doctrine. Moreover, the doctrines were taught publicly, so that anyone could check them against those taught in the other churches (in contrast to the gnostic belief that there was a hidden tradition of teaching available only to the initiated).

    So true doctrine was what was taught in an apostolic church. Those churches which were not of apostolic foundation could be judged simply by comparing them to the ones that were. If they taught the same doctrine, then they were part of the same church. So:

    The idea was that all the parts checked each other. So if one apostolic church were to lurch into heresy, for example, you'd be able to tell because the others would oppose it. And if all the churches were to become heretical, you'd still be able to tell because they would contradict the Bible, which was understood as a sort of written record of the apostles' doctrine, which also acted as a check. All of these elements together defined the "canon" of belief, and were mutually checking and consistent.

    Well, if you insist on quoting the AV, it's not going to be very plain English. The idea is presumably that if you want to live, you must die: in other words, success comes only through sacrifice. In the context, of course, it means that Jesus can only accomplish his mission if he dies. In antiquity, people thought that seeds literally die before they sprout, which is why the metaphor is relevant.
     
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