philosophy

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Book Review: “Theology’s Epistemological Dilemma: How Karl Barth and Alvin Plantinga Provide a Unified Response” by Kevin Diller

ted-dillerKevin Diller’s Theology’s Epistemological Dilemma: How Karl Barth and Alvin Plantinga Provide a Unified Response is a work that seeks to offer a unified approach from Karl Barth and Alvin Plantinga to a major difficulty in Christian doctrine: reconciling the necessity of having theological knowledge with the notion that our cognitive capacities are somehow faulty due to sin. But the book is much more than that, for throughout the book Diller gives major, applicable insight into the thought of both Plantinga and Barth.

Diller first goes deeper into the epistemological problem, then analyzes Barth’s view of revelation and his theological epistemology, and wraps up the first part of the book with a deep look at Plantinga’s concept of warrant and how it may impact the question of theological epistemology. He puts forward a consistent interpretation that allows for a unified perspective of Barth’s and Plantinga’s thought. The second part focuses on this unified perspective and puts it forward in analysis of natural theology, human knowledge of God, and Scripture.

Such a brief summary of contents does not do justice to the broad scale of the book, which touches upon many different topics of importance, while always remaining centered on the question of knowledge in theology. Diller has thoughtfully brought forth key aspects of the thoughts of both Barth and Plantinga in such a way as to demand reflection from both philosophers and theologians.

Some of the most interesting insights come from Diller’s integration of Barth’s concept of revelation with Plantinga’s concept of warrant. By focusing on God as self-revealing and self-attesting (Barth), believers are able to maintain warrant in their knowledge of theology (Plantinga).

Another area of profound interest is the way that both Barth and Plantinga approach natural theology–they largely argue that it cannot succeed in its end goal–to demonstrate the existence of God. Barth’s thought reflects this because God will necessarily be hidden from unaided human reason, while Plantinga argues that the arguments of natural theology are part of but do not ground warrant for belief in God. This latter section has much to reflect upon for one who, like me, thinks natural theology can be largely successful.

Theology’s Epistemological Dilemma is a superb, worthwhile read for anyone with interest in the questions of how we may have knowledge within the worldview of Christianity. I highly commend it to my readers.

Disclaimer: I received a review copy of the book through InterVarsity Press. I was not obligated by the publisher to give any specific type of feedback whatsoever.

Source

Kevin Diller, Theology’s Epistemological Dilemma: How Karl Barth and Alvin Plantinga Provide a Unified Response (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2014).

Links

Be sure to check out the page for this site on Facebook and Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies and more.

SDG.

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The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from quotations, which are the property of their respective owners, and works of art as credited; images are often freely available to the public and J.W. Wartick makes no claims of owning rights to the images unless he makes that explicit) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. If you’d like to repost a post, you may do so, provided you show less than half of the original post on your own site and link to the original post for the rest. You must also appropriately cite the post as noted above. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

“Interstellar”- A Christian Perspective on the Film

interstellar“Interstellar” is the latest from the acclaimed Christopher Nolan. A sprawling epic, it delves into some of the deepest questions we face. Here, I will reflect on the film from a worldview perspective. There will be SPOILERS for the movie in what follows.

A Crisis

Humanity must face the slow creep of possible starvation and suffocation on the Earth of “Interstellar.” The “blight” is impacting crops and has caused the death of 6 billion people. It is unclear as to what this “blight” is but it clearly means that humans will not survive if it continues. The question is of our mortality, and although it never becomes explicit, it seems that “blight” could be some kind of analogy for climate change and the problems we may bring upon ourselves.

But humanity’s crisis is not merely mortal; it is also moral. A few hints are offered of this, but the most poignant is when Dr. Amelia Brand spoke to Cooper about how evil does not exist in the places humans are going (at times one-by-one) to explore. She argued that nature itself is not evil; morality is a transcendent concept. The way that it is transcendent is unexplained.

Another aspect of the crisis is epistemological–as the crisis continues, people have rewritten history in order to avoid glorifying space travel. Cooper struggles to form concepts of seemingly transcendent ideas in a universe that he strongly believes is entirely explicable based upon science. The questions these ideas bring up should be clear: how do we know anything?

We’re So Tiny

I watched “Interstellar” in IMAX, and one of the most beautiful scenes was when the Endurance was shown against the backdrop of Saturn. It was a mere speck–a speck of a speck. It poignantly drove home a point that was found throughout the movie: We are tiny. But this message was not found alone; instead, it was juxtaposed against the continued focus on humanity and our struggles to survive in the universe. In a way, though we’re tiny, in “Interstellar,” we’re what is important. Humanity is what it’s all about. Or is it? It seems that the question is ultimately left open; perhaps there is transcendence beyond us. Our (minuscule) place in the universe may point beyond it.

Who Helps Us?

The question is another which is found through the film. Where did the wormhole come from? Cooper assumes that it is from a future humanity–we save ourselves!–but reflection seems to show this cannot be the case. After all, if the wormhole were not there, humans would have had no way of surviving; no future. Perhaps Dr. Brand is closer to the truth, because she argues that love is a transcendent concept which goes beyond space and time. It cannot be fully explained by our calculations.

The film never goes beyond this kind of stirring question, and Cooper’s assumptions are offered as one possible explanation for many questions: perhaps humans do rule all, and perhaps they are the end-all. But realistically, the ultimate questions of morality, the origin and power of love, and some others remain unanswered. I think that’s certainly intentional–it allows viewers to form their own conclusions–but the reality of the situation is that Cooper’s purely scientistic worldview (his notion that science is ultimately the only possible explanation) find itself inadequate to explain reality.

Conclusion

Some have argued that “Interstellar” is merely a secular humanist manifesto, but it seems to me the story is much deeper than that. I have argued above it leaves open several questions about the nature of humanity, our crisis, and the transcendent. Whatever else is said about the film, it is one that will start conversations and one with which, I would argue, Christians need to be conversant. It’s a fabulous space epic that is a must-see.

What are your thoughts? Share your own perspectives in the comments.

The image used in this post is from an official movie poster. I claim no rights to it and use it under fair use.

Links

Be sure to check out the page for this site on Facebook and Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies and more!

Movies– Read other posts on this site about movies written from a worldview perspective. (Scroll down for more.)

Like sci-fi movies? Read about another one I really enjoyed in my look at “Edge of Tomorrow.”

SDG.

The image used in this post was a movie poster and used under fair use. I make no claims to the rights for the image.

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The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from quotations, which are the property of their respective owners, and works of art as credited; images are often freely available to the public and J.W. Wartick makes no claims of owning rights to the images unless he makes that explicit) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. If you’d like to repost a post, you may do so, provided you show less than half of the original post on your own site and link to the original post for the rest. You must also appropriately cite the post as noted above. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

Book Review: “In Search of Moral Knowledge” by R. Scott Smith

ismk-smith

R. Scott Smith’s In Search of Moral Knowledge: Overcoming the Fact-Value Dichotomy is a systematic look at the possibility of moral knowledge in various metaethical systems, with an argument that a theistic, and specifically Christian, worldview is the most plausible way to ground the reality of morals.

Smith begins by providing overviews of various historical perspectives on ethics, including biblical, ancient (Plato and Aristotle), early (Augustine through Aquinas), and early modern (Reformation through the Enlightenment) systems. This survey is necessarily brief, but Smith provides enough information and background for readers to get an understanding of various ethical systems along with some difficulties related to each.

Next, the major options of naturalism, relativism, and postmodernism for ethics are examined in turn, with much critical interaction. For example, Smith argues that ethical relativism is deeply flawed in both method and content. He argues that relativism does not provide an adequate basis for moral knowledge, and it also undermines its own argument for ethical diversity and, by extension, relativism. Moreover, it fails to provide any way forward for how one is to live on such an ethical system and is thus confronted with the reality that it is unlivable. Ultimately, he concludes that “Ethical Relativism utterly fails as a moral theory and as a guide to one’s own moral life” (163).

For Naturalism, however, Smith contends the situation is even worse: “we cannot have knowledge of reality, period, based on naturalism’s ontology. Yet there are many things we do know. Therefore, naturalism is false and we should reject it not just for ethics, but in toto” (137). His argument for this thesis is, briefly, that naturalism has no basis for mental states–and therefore, for beliefs–and so we cannot have knowledge (see 147ff especially).

Various postmodern theses are also examined, including the highly influential views of Alasdair MacIntyre and Stanley Hauerwas. Ultimately, Smith argues that there are several issues with these ethical positions, and primary among them is the difficulty that without any facts which are un-interpreted, there is no way to have moral knowledge, dialogue, or grounding (see 264ff, esp. 265; 277-278).

Finally, the book ends with Smith’s proposal for grounding moral knowledge: namely, Christian theism. First, he notes that there is a “crisis of moral knowledge” which is that it seems we really do have moral knowledge, but no solid basis for this knowledge. However, to solve the difficulty, we may find another ethical stance which can support this fact of moral knowledge. For supporting this thesis, he both presents arguments for Christian theism and notes the paucity of rival positions.

One major strength of Smith’s work is that he doesn’t merely outline or only critique the ethical systems with which he interacts. Instead, each system is allowed to present its theses on its own terms before Smith turns to a critical assessment. This is particularly evident in his interactions with Alasdair MacIntyre and Stanley Hauerwas–each of whom has a dedicated chapter to their own systems and then a shared chapter of analysis and critique–but is the case in each instance of a system which he evaluates. This strength is increased when one considers the number of ethical systems Smith interacts with throughout the book. Although no work of this length (or any length, really) could be truly comprehensive, here is offered a broad enough variety of ethical theories that readers will be able to engage with those which are not mentioned.

There are tables scattered throughout the book which actually add quite a bit to the readability and argument. I commend Smith for a great use of these tools throughout the work.

I would have liked to see more development of the positive notion of exactly how Christian theism serves as the basis for moral knowledge. Smith does provide some clear insight into this, but it seems that after the significant development given to so many rival theories, the case for the Christian perspective could have gone deeper.

R. Scott Smith has accomplished an enormous achievement with In Search of Moral Knowledge both by providing an excellent survey and critique of relevant ethical systems and by coupling it with a positive case for a theistic–Christian–grounding for morality. The book can serve as an excellent text for a class on ethics, but may also be used by those interested in exposure to and critical insight into various ethical systems. Smith’s argument for Christian metaethics is compelling and strong, and his criticisms leveled against other systems–particularly naturalism and relativism–are crucial.

Disclaimer: I was provided with a review copy by the publisher. I was not obligated by the publisher to give any specific type of feedback whatsoever.

Links

Be sure to check out the page for this site on Facebook and Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies and more!

Source

R. Scott Smith, In Search of Moral Knowledge: Overcoming the Fact-Value Dichotomy (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 2014).

SDG.

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The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from quotations, which are the property of their respective owners, and works of art as credited; images are often freely available to the public and J.W. Wartick makes no claims of owning rights to the images unless he makes that explicit) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. If you’d like to repost a post, you may do so, provided you show less than half of the original post on your own site and link to the original post for the rest. You must also appropriately cite the post as noted above. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

Sunday Quote!- The War Between Science and Religion

ia-adEvery Sunday, I will share a quote from something I’ve been reading. The hope is for you, dear reader, to share your thoughts on the quote and related issues and perhaps pick up some reading material along the way!

The War Between Science and Religion

I recently finished reading Imaginative Apologetics: Theology, Philosophy, and the Catholic Tradition. I have a review of the book coming in some time, but for now I’ll say it was an uneven experience. Lots of high points; many low points. One high point was Alister McGrath’s discussion of science and religion and the alleged war between the two:

This conflict is often expressed more generally in terms of the phrase ‘science and religion’, which unhelpfully reifies both notions, attributing concrete identity to abstractions. Science and religion are not well-delimited entities, whose essence can be defined; they are shaped by the interaction of social, cultural and intellectual factors, so that both notions are shaped by factors that vary from one cultural location to another… the historical evidence suggests that it was actually [two 19th century works not by Darwin] which crystallized a growing public perception of tension and hostility between science and religion. (144, 145)

I think this quote is particularly thought-provoking due to its two pronged approach to the “science vs. religion” mentality. First, I think McGrath is certainly correct to note that the reification of the terms is unhelpful, to say the least. People often say things like “science says ___” or “religion says ___.” Such statements turn either science or religion into separately existing, distinct entities which somehow make proclamations. In other words, they remove either concept from the people putting for the concepts under the umbrella terms “science” or “religion.” I find this unhelpful, and as McGrath later notes, only use the terms out of convention.

Second, exploring the historical origins of an idea like the “war” thesis between science and religion often has astonishing results. One finds, often, that one’s assumptions are challenged and even overthrown by the evidence.

What do you think? What other concepts might we unintentionally reify through our use of terms? How might we seek to avoid doing this?

Links

Be sure to check out the page for this site on Facebook and Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies and more!

Source

Alister McGrath, “The Natural Sciences and Apologetics” in Imaginative Apologetics: Theology, Philosophy, and the Catholic Tradition edited by Andrew Davison (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 2011).

Star Wars: Fate of the Jedi- a Christian reflection on the most recently completed Star Wars series

sw-fotjStar Wars is not normally where I go to begin discussions about worldview. The most recently completed mini-series, however, “The Fate of the Jedi,” was full of material for discussing worldview perspectives. Here, I will only touch on a few of the many themes the series brought up. Some of these include world religions, objective morality, and theism. Of course, there will be HUGE SPOILERS for the Star Wars universe prior and up to this point. PLEASE REFRAIN FROM POSTING COMMENTS FROM OTHER STAR WARS STORYLINES.

I’ll not be summarizing the plot of the Fate of the Jedi series, which you may find by following the links for the individual books here.

World Religions and the Force

A huge part of the early stages of Fate of the Jedi involved Luke Skywalker and his son, Ben, traveling around the galaxy and visiting other various Force-using schools. These different Force-using schools paralleled, in many ways, various world religions. For example, the Baran Do Sages held onto a kind of gnostic way of knowing, where secret knowledge was preserved by a select group of masters to pass on from generation to generation. Another example is found in the Mind Walkers, who try to separate body from soul in order to walk in a completely different reality. Not only does this also seem gnostic in its bent, but it also reflects the notion of the extinction of the self found in some Eastern religions like Buddhism and Hinduism. There are a few other schools that the Skywalkers visit throughout their travels, and each has aspects of at least one world religion reflected therein.

Of interest is that the way the series approached the various parallels to world religions is that many of them appeared to be fairly obviously wrong. That is, they had a feel of wrongness to them, but they also seemed to get aspects of reality wrong. The Mind Walkers, for example, allowed their bodies to waste away while they experienced their own way of entering into the Force. One cannot help but sense a kind of aversion to this belief system, in which the body is so totally denigrated. Some of their comments also reflected a lack of concern for distinctions between good and evil. Yet again, this is a distinctive of some Eastern religions, and it is a way in which they are factually mistaken. Those who fail to make distinctions between good and evil, between reality and the mental life; they are operating under a mistaken view of reality.

The Fate of the Jedi, then, does not teach a kind of religious pluralism. Instead, it eschews pluralism for showing that some belief systems do not work. They simply do not line up with reality.

Redemption and Betrayal

The character of Vestara Khai is an extremely interesting figure. She may be the most complex character since Mara Jade. A Sith, she is captured by the Skywalkers, who initially do not trust her whatsoever (and for good reason). Yet, in a kind of typical story of conversion in the Star Wars universe, they begin to turn her to the Light Side of the Force. She realizes that her own life has not been based upon good, and she also acknowledges a distinction between good and evil. Her realization is centered around her relationship with her family and friends (such as they are). For a little while, it seems that Vestara is a true convert.

Yet the reader knows throughout that although Vestara has changed her whole way of viewing the universe, she is not entirely a convert. She still puts herself first. In fairness to her, she does so thinking that she is putting others first, and she often does seem to prioritize the needs of Ben–whom she’s come to love–over herself. But when push comes to shove, she betrays the trust of the Skywalkers in the most dire possible way, by giving away the secret identity of a loved one and dooming her to a life of dodging the Lost Tribe of the Sith. A commentary on the darker side of human nature, Khai’s life in the books also begs the question of where one goes from there: what redemption may be in store for someone who seems to have ruined all chances at salvation?

Prophecy and the Celestials

The notion of prophecy is found throughout the Star Wars universe. There was the prophecy of the “Chosen One”; later, prophecies revolved around the Sword of the Jedi and the Unification of the Force. Each of these prophecies were expected to be fulfilled. In the Star Wars universe, prophecy is the product of the Force. One wonders, however, how this plays out with what is an essentially impersonal force. It seems that in order to give revelation, there must be some kind of personal reality; for prophecy relates to the actions of persons.

Ultimately, readers encounter the Celestials–a group of beings (Father, Son, and Daughter… and later Mother) of extreme power. These beings are tied into the whole plot of the expanded universe books of Star Wars in some ingenious (and sometimes a bit questionable) ways. Although these beings may appear to parallel a kind of pantheon, it becomes clear that they are not. They may be seemingly eternal, but they are also contingent: it was entirely possible for them to be destroyed. Again, it is not these beings who drive reality; it is the Force. The Force is the power in the universe, the ‘all in all’ of the Star Wars universe. Yet, as I’ve argued above, it is hard to envision the force as entirely impersonal. It delivers prophecies and sometimes even answers the call of those in need. The “Trinity” created and driven by the Force ultimately drive the Force themselves in many ways.

Conclusion

The Fate of the Jedi series explores a huge number of issues related to worldview. I didn’t get to nearly all the major issues, let alone the minor ones, which come out throughout the series. Of interest is how the series clearly brought up world religions in such a way as to avoid pluralism, but rather provided ways to distinguish between truth and falsehood in religion. Prophecy begs for a personal being, yet the allegedly impersonal Force provides it. It was great to experience the Star Wars universe in such a way as to have it bring up so many issues of worldview in often thoughtful and, frankly, thought-provoking ways.

Links

Be sure to check out the page for this site on Facebook and Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies and more!

“Fitzpatrick’s War”- Religion, truth, and forgiveness in Theodore Judson’s epic steampunk tale– I take a look at the book Fitzpatrick’s War, a novel of alternative history with steampunk. What could be better? Check out some of the worldview issues brought up in the book.

I have discussed the use of science fiction in showing how religious persons act. Check out Religious Dialogue: A case study in science fiction with Bova and Weber.

Source

Troy Denning, Star Wars: Fate of the Jedi- Apocalypse (New York: Del Rey, 2012).

Disclaimer: The images in this post are copyright of the Star Wars universe and I use them under fair use. I make no claims to ownership of the images.

SDG.

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The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from quotations, which are the property of their respective owners, and works of art as credited; images are often freely available to the public and J.W. Wartick makes no claims of owning rights to the images unless he makes that explicit) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. If you’d like to repost a post, you may do so, provided you show less than half of the original post on your own site and link to the original post for the rest. You must also appropriately cite the post as noted above. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

Cosmos: Episode I Recap and Review

cosmos-foxThe Cosmos is all there is or was or ever will be. – Carl Sagan

I will be watching the “Cosmos” TV series and providing recaps and responses as we go. I’ll evaluate the ideas presented for accuracy and give critical responses where I see necessary. Future “Recaps” will likely be shorter, with more length dedicated to the response.*

Episode I: Recap

The episode started off with the above quote from Sagan. Then, we took a trip in a spaceship with the “imagination” to see what the Earth looked like millions of years ago, followed by a picture of what it might look like in the future (apparently like the Borg invasion in “Star Trek: First Contact,” so watch out!).

Then, we got a pretty sweet CG-heavy tour of the solar system via fake spaceship that looks like Eve from Wall-E. I mean it, it was awesome! I was reminded of the majesty of a Ben Bova novel (if you haven’t read him, I would recommend it, but be aware of some rather simplistic discussion of religion). Finally, we zoomed in on Voyager I which had sound travelling from it in vacuum. I’m pretty sure that can’t happen, but I could easily be mistaken about that, so I’d be happy to be corrected.

An unimanginably awesome picture of the Milky Way through infrared really put us in perspective: there are seemingly infinite stars to be seen merely in our galaxy, which is one of an untold panoply of galaxies. As we zoomed out through the gigantic extremes of the universe (the Supercluster), we find that that supercluster is but one among untold billions of galaxies and the observable universe.

But what is meant by “observable universe”? The universe is actually so huge that we can’t actually observe the entire thing because there is more beyond what we can see. But “many… suspect” that our universe is but one in an extremely huge number of actual individual universes (here shown as little bubbles spreading out continually over the screen).

Let’s also not forget the church is a big destroyer and persecutor of science. Galileo proves that science and religion are forever enemies, right? Galileo’s story is preceded by Giordano Bruno, who is portrayed as a kind of anime graphic novel hero maverick because he went along with Copernicus. I’ll just narrate along. He “dared to read the books banned by the church… and that was his undoing.” No really, that’s what they said about him. Interestingly, they also say that Bruno reasoned that because God was infinite, creation couldn’t be anything less. But the evil church threw him out into the cold and he had to sleep on the ground and freeze at night! Then, he had a vision of science dreamland wherein he broke the universe with his finger and lifted the veil of knowledge that the idiots surrounding him had put in place. He floated around the universe and was the first person to figure out that there was vacuum and also the first person to fly in space and land on the moon and sun. (Again, I’m not making this up: this is what he does in the animated sequence in the dream.)

If Bruno was right, according to “Cosmos,” then not only is church authority overthrown, but the Bible can be brought into question *cue religious people gasping in shock.* Bruno was condemned by the church and burned at the stake but magically had powers to float throughout the universe so that’s pretty cool: throw off the chains of church oppression and what you’ll get is genius and the ability to fly in space.

The episode then walked through the history of the universe by paralleling a single year. The Big Bang: we are all made of “star stuff” which was produced through various processes during and after the Big Bang. Earth formed through a number of collisions with various asteroids and the like. The origin of life “evolved” through biochemical evolution. These “pioneering microbes” invented sex, so that’s pretty cool. December 30th (in the cosmic year) brought about the desolation of the dinosaurs with an asteroid. Humans only evolved “the last hour of the last day of the cosmic year.”

Dark_matter_halo2Evaluation

I love space. I love astronomy–my wife can attest to this as I randomly bought an astronomy textbook to read when I was in college. Yeah… I’m a nerd. I don’t claim to have science training or be a scientist, but there is something I can spot: unfounded metaphysical statements. That’s something I honestly expect to see quite a bit of when it comes to this TV series. It actually began with one from Carl Sagan: “The cosmos is all there is or was or ever will be.” Is that a scientific fact about the cosmos? Could you demonstrate that one for me? No. In short, the show begins with an ungrounded metaphysical statement.

Another issue I have is the personification and reification of science. “Science” does x; “Science” gives us y. I’m not at all convinced that “science” is a clearly dilineated entity such that we may speak of it as though it were a reified, ontologically extant entity. What does it mean to say that “science” does something? Don’t we mean that scientists are really the ones who do this? And are not scientists just as much people as anyone else?

The episode’s portrayal of history was very unbalanced. They depicted Giordano Bruno as a kind of hero against the church full of blundering idiots. When he was finally excommunicated, the quotes they put into the church’s mouth were interesting because they portrayed some of the actual issues happening, such as a strict adherence to Aristotelian science. At the time academia really was fully behind Aristotle, and it helped that the church had bought into his cosmology as well. However, for every minimal effort they made at showing some of the historical background, there was some significant effort made to show that the stupid church and its evil Inquisition had a “sole purpose to… torment anyone” who disagreed with the views of the Church. Bruno thought God was infinite so the universe could be infinite as well. Interesting thoughts, but these are juxtaposed against a depiction of everyone else as a bunch of religious idiots who couldn’t transcend space like Bruno could.

Moreover, what banned books that Bruno read are they referencing? Copernicus’ works weren’t put on the list of banned books until 1616 (thanks to Tim McGrew for this information). Just for reference, Bruno died in 1600. I’m curious as to what this depiction was supposed to suggest. I think they mentioned someone else earlier but the ties to Copernicus were evident throughout this section, and given that it was really the rejection of Aristotelianism which was condemning, there was some historical accuracy to be desired here.

Tim McGrew also points out a number of other historical errors, such as the notion that Bruno was burned at the stake for his astronomical views; the notion that everyone at the time thought the Earth was the center of the universe; the notion that being the “center” of the universe meant Earth had a privileged place; and several more major difficulties. I highly recommend surveying them.

The depiction of the multiverse with little-to-no qualification was alarming, for there is much debate over whether there even is such a multiverse, and if there is, to what extent it may be called a multiverse. The portrayal within this episode was essentially a fictitious account being passed off without qualification as something a lot of people believe. The wording used was that “many… suspect” there is such a universe. Well yes, that may be true, but to what extent can we test for these other universes? What models predict them and why? I am uninterested in how many people hold to a belief; I am interested in whether that belief is true.

The survey of the history of the universe was interesting, but there were some major glosses. As an apologist, let me admit my bias here: I would have loved to see some discussion of the fine-tuning involved for life. But that aside, I have to say that the brief snippet used to explore the origin of life: “biochemical evolution” was astonishingly insufficient. I’m sure we’ll get into that in the next episode, but the origin of life is one of the great unsolved mysteries within science and to just hand wave and say “biochemical evolution” is, well, notable to say the least.

Overall, I have to say I was unimpressed by this episode. The historical difficulties were great, but the metaphysical claims throughout passed off as scientific fact were more disturbing.

Links

Be sure to check out the page for this site on Facebook and Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies and more!

Cosmos, Giordano Bruno, and Getting it Right– A brief but incisive critique of a number of major historical errors made throughout the first episode.

Cosmos with Neil deGrasse Tyson: Same Old Product, Bright New Packaging-  In this post, Casey Luskin takes on the notion that science and religion are at war alongside some other errors in the episode.

Is there any science in the new “Cosmos” series, or is it all naturalistic religion?– Wintery Knight takes on the episode for making a bunch of claims without evidence.

Notes

*I may miss an episode or two if I have to work.

The image with the text “Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey” is from Fox and belongs to them. It came from promotional material and I use it under fair use and make no claims to ownership.

SDG.

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The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from quotations, which are the property of their respective owners, and works of art as credited; images are often freely available to the public and J.W. Wartick makes no claims of owning rights to the images unless he makes that explicit) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. If you’d like to repost a post, you may do so, provided you show less than half of the original post on your own site and link to the original post for the rest. You must also appropriately cite the post as noted above. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

Book Review: “The Philosophy of History: Naturalism and Religion- A Historiographical Approach to Origins” by James Stroud

phnr-stroud

…Either we will stand behind objective truth or sink into the abyss of relativism in the name of political correctness. (278)

One area Christian apologists need to explore further is the study of historiography. Historiography is, basically, the study of how to study history. It provides the framework in which one might seek truth in understanding historical facts. The way we study history will directly impact the results of historical investigation.  John Warwick Montgomery, Michael Licona, and N.T. Wright have done an excellent job integrating historiography into their approach, and there are several treatments of historiography in works on archaeology with apologetic import (K.A. Kitchen is but one example), but there remains much room for development of this essential discipline in the area of Christian evidences.

James Stroud, in his work The Philosophy of History: Naturalism and Religion- A Historiographical Approach to Origins, has provided much development in this area. Historiography, he noted, touches upon a number of extremely important questions such as “What does it mean to know something?”; “How do we come to know something?”; “Can we know the past?”; “How does one study history?”; “Is there objective meaning to history…?” (30-31). He does a good job presenting some of the difficulties inherent in the study of the past, as well as providing a few possible solutions. Central to Stroud’s argument is the notion that “one’s personal philosophy and presuppositions guide.. one’s interpretation of the available data…” whether one is talking about science, history, or religion (31).

Next, Stroud turned to an analysis of positivism and academic freedom. His argument is essentially that one should not pre-commit to a “closed” philosophy of history such that one cuts off any and all debate about the presuppositions one uses to interpret history and historical sciences. The winners write the history, but they are also capable of restricting the direction research may turn (49-50). There must be a distinction between the definition of science and science in practice; that is, one should not restrict scientific study through the use of one’s presuppositions to determine what is even capable of being studied or used as a hypothesis. Instead, people should be allowed to follow the evidence where it leads, even if such a project may discover things which lie outside the accepted explanations.

It must be acknowledged that Christianity is, by its nature, a distinctly historical religion: “[T]he truth or falsity of Christianity stands or falls with individual events within history…” (69). Thus, Christianity is almost uniquely capable of being approached in such a manner as to discern its truth through historical claims.

Interestingly, Stroud did not limit his use of “philosophy of history” to the study of history. Rather, he expanded it to include origin sciences, which are, he argued, a kind of historical science themselves. Thus, he examined both the origins of the universe and the origin and diversity of life alongside the historical portions of the book. In these sections on the historical sciences, he presents the design argument both in its cosmological and biological forms.

The meat of the book, however, may be found in the exploration of human history, which comprises approximately half the book. Here, Stroud really gets into stride. One central part of his argument is that “Language, writing, civilization, and religion all seem to be in a fairly advanced stage of development [from the beginning]….” (146). Proposed solutions which argue for a gradual evolution of human culture continue to be confronted by discoveries to the contrary, such as Gobekli Tepe, which shattered preconceived notions of the history of religion (155-157). Language appears to be highly complex from the beginning, and there is little reason to think that some languages are more primitive (in the sense of development) than others (149-150). Stroud relates these points back to the expectations one might get from the biblical text and argued that the biblical text presents a plausible interpretation of such evidence (163ff).

The Flood served as one of the case studies Stroud utilized to make his point. He argued that the preponderance of evidence suggests that the biblical flood is accurate (174-177). The Table of Nations in Genesis 10 also hints at “astonishing” accuracy regarding the historical recordings in the earliest portions of the Bible. Moreover, stylistic evidence within Genesis places its date as very ancient, just as one might expect from taking the book at face value.

Yet Genesis is not the only portion of the Bible which received insight from Stroud’s analysis. The conquests recorded in Joshua have been backed up by archaeological findings. The history of David also garnered attention, and Stroud’s handling of the archaeological data is informative and concise.

The New Testament is, of course, centered around Christ, and Stroud explores the evidence for the Resurrection and the narratives related to Him. One very important point he made is that “…it must be pointed out that the… manuscripts we have for Jesus today did not start as a ‘Bible’ but were later [collected into one]… [T]o dismiss any of this manuscript evidence is in effect to dismiss the most primary sources we have on the Historical Jesus” (240). Yet even sources apart from these can account for a number historical aspects of Christian faith and practice, to the point that it becomes very difficult to reject entirely the Christian story (240ff). Stroud defended the Resurrection itself with a type of “minimal facts” argument, in which he reasoned from several largely established facts of the historical Jesus to the resurrection (248ff).

Naturalism, argued Stroud, fails to account for the historical and scientific evidences for the origins of the universe, life and its diversity, civilization, and the evidence related to the historical Jesus. One should therefore not be constricted to operating within a naturalistic paradigm when one investigates origins or history generally. An a priori rejection of the supernatural is unwarranted.

Thus far, I have shown a number of  positive portions of the book. That is not to say there are no areas of disagreement or any problems. First, Stroud’s writing style often comes across as autobiographical, which takes away from the academic feeling of the overall work. Second, there are a number of grammatical errors in the book which are sometimes quite distracting. Third, there is a tendency to overstate the case in some places, such as asserting that any discussion of evolution beyond microevolution is “100 percent speculative”  (117) or that “all scholars” in some certain field agree with some fact or another. Fourth, at points Stroud states the view of the opposition in ways that I suspect would be objectionable. One example may be found here: “[T]he vast majority of naturalists confirm that humankind did indeed share a common language…” (177) or the notion that “even the most adamant proponents of naturalism” would admit that the origin of life is unexplainable through naturalistic means with the current understanding (115). I suspect that adamant naturalists would object to this and argue that the RNA world hypothesis or some other origin-of-life scenario does, in fact, explain the origin of life.

Many of these difficulties are minor, but they tend to pull down an otherwise excellent work. It is unfortunate, because it also seems like these could all be solved by a good editor. As it stands, however, one should be careful when reading the work to be aware that in many cases one should perhaps temper the sweeping conclusions Stroud makes. In any field of study, there are rarely (if ever!) times where “all scholars” might agree on something, and the language in the book constantly implies that there are many such agreements in some of the most contentious areas of all historical or scientific studies. Although this does not throw his conclusions out the window, it does somewhat devalue the work, as one must read it with an actively cautious eye.

I don’t often (in fact, I can’t think of ever mentioning this before) discuss the cover of a book I’m reviewing, but I have to say this has what might be the coolest cover for an academic book I have seen. I mean seriously, look at it! It is awesome.

With The Philosophy of History James Stroud has provided much needed development for Christians who might want to look into the study of the methods of historical investigation to develop their own understanding of Christianity. He also applies these methods in sometimes surprising ways. I have noted a number of areas of difficulty found within the work, but it should be noted that these are comparatively minor when compared to the project as a whole. Stroud has provided some necessary development in an area of study that Christians should continue to develop. Historiography is an essential field for Christians to study and become involved in, and The Philosophy of History has provided a broad framework for others to continue the work (and hopefully for Stroud to continue, himself). It is an excellent, thought-provoking read which illumines areas of which many apologists, unfortunately, remain unaware.

Source

James Stroud, The Philosophy of History: Naturalism and Religion- A Historiographical Approach to Origins (Mustang, OK: Tate Publishing, 2013).

Disclaimer: I was provided with a copy of this book for review. The author only asked that readers provide feedback of any kind, including negative, in order to broaden the dialogue in this area. 

SDG.

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The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from quotations, which are the property of their respective owners, and works of art as credited; images are often freely available to the public and J.W. Wartick makes no claims of owning rights to the images unless he makes that explicit) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. If you’d like to repost a post, you may do so, provided you show less than half of the original post on your own site and link to the original post for the rest. You must also appropriately cite the post as noted above. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

“The Knower and the Known” by Stephen Parrish, Part 2

kk-parrishStephen Parrish’s The Knower and the Known is not merely a critique of physicalism. As we noted in the review of the first part, that critique itself is a decisive, thorough demolishing of major physicalist theories of mind. Here, we will explore Parrish’s exposition of a theory of consciousness.

Thought and Consciousness

What does it mean to have a thought? Parrish notes several aspects which go into the very act of knowing. There must be an object of knowledge; there must be a subject to consider the object; there must be consciousness in order to apprehend concepts and aboutness; there must be a relationship between subject and object and consciousness; there must be understanding of that relationship; and finally there must be a view of the world in which all of this can occur.

Consciousness itself is an extremely complex notion which involves phenomenality: the actual experience of thought; intentionality: the turning of one’s thoughts to consider an object; subjectivity: an agent which is itself the subject of the thought; and rationality: the capacity to order thoughts in such a way as to make sense of them. (206-213).

Consciousness has certain phenomenal properties. That is, when we consider our own thoughts, there is a distinct feeling to them which allows us to differentiate them from simple sense perceptions. There is an aspect of inentionality or attending-to our thoughts which is itself irreducible. Moreover, we are able to comprehend things which are themselves non-physical, such as the nature of a logical argument like modus ponens (226-228).

Consciousness must somehow interact with the physical world. If one is a physicalist, it becomes a matter of reducing consciousness to purely physical explanations, eliminating consciousness, or offering a brute relationship between consciousness and the physical world.

Qualia are also extremely important when considering consciousness. How is it that we are able to see objects as objects with certain properties? What process allows for individual particles/rays of light to manifest themselves in phenomenal consciousness in such a way as to provide a coherent picture of an object? Moreover, “there is more to recognizing qualia than just having color in one’s sensory field; there is also our attention to said qualia, the judgments we make about them, the objects that they represent, and also our memory of them–and these factors can make all of the difference” (257).

Subjectivity is also extremely important to forming a theory of consciousness. It seems that subjects are, in fact, irreducible. For the physicalist, the concept of a subject is extremely difficult. After all, a subject at t1 is going to be different from that subject at t2 in a number of highly relevant physical ways. Their neurons are firing differently from t1 to t2. How is it that subjectivity is maintained. The substance dualist holds that subjectivity is maintained through unity of consciousness which may not be reduced to the physical (291). The unity is preserved through intentionality but more thoroughly through rationality. The use of reason is one of the primary ways to offer continuity of the self. For the subject, S, at t3 is considering both thoughts at t1 and t2 in order to come to a  conclusion at t4. Reason itself has aspects of intentionality which cannot be accounted for on a physicalist view of reality, for a physical object is capable of performing mathematical computations but not understanding the aboutness inherent in those computations (266-267).

Our Minds in the World

Parrish grounds his understanding of consciousness in a theistic worldview. There are numerous difficulties with an account of substance dualism which seem to only be soluble on a theistic interpretation. One of these is the problem of the interaction between body and mind. If God exists, then it seems inherently possible that a deity would be capable of forming the world in such a way that mind could interact with body. Parrish addresses several objections to the notion that an immaterial being could interact with a physical universe while also making an argument for non-physical selfs apart from God interacting in the universe (324ff).

The match of our minds with the world is something which must be accounted for. Parrish notes that if we ground ideal objects in an immaterial being like God, the difficulties with such objects existence and subsistence may be solved. Moreover, the glorious match of our mental life with reality is also explained, for a rational being is the source of all which we observe. If that is the case, then we no longer must appeal to simple brute fact to attempt to explain the phenomena of consciousness; instead, we may note that it is exactly as one might expect given theism (337ff).

And Then There was More…

Parrish concludes the work with a brief comparison of physicalism and substance dualism across multiple questions related to consciousness and the physical world. Finally, there are two appendices which address free will/agency and the theory of panpsychism, respectively.

Conclusion

In Part 1 of this review I outlined Parrish’s discussion of physicalism. Here, we have seen the structure of his substance dualism. It seems to me that Parrish’s deconstruction of physicalism is quite powerful. In particular, I noted that he makes a strong argument that physicalist theories ultimately boil down into either epiphenomenalism or mysterianism, neither of which is plausible. Moreover, his use of numerous examples and thought experiments throughout makes the work easier to comprehend while also providing a solid basis for grounding further discussions in philosophy of mind. Finally, the vast amount of research and documentation Parrish provides makes the work invaluable as a reference for physicalist writings alongside its clear value as a thorough critique of those same works.

The second major section, in which Parrish outlines his view of a theistic dualist ontology, is equally important. He provides a large amount of background for understanding how to put together various aspects of consciousness while also noting that, on theism, these observed phenomena cohere within an ontology, while on physicalism they are generally either discredited or ignored. The one thing the work may lack is a bit of cohesion in the section on substance dualism. Parrish has given a broad vision for how to hold a dualist ontology, but sometimes leaves it up to the reader to put the pieces together. The pieces are there, but not always assembled. I should note, however, that even here Parrish has provided an invaluable resource for those who wish to argue for a dualist vision of philosophy of mind.

I have already noted that Parrish’s The Knower and the Known is a tour de force in the realm of analyzing physicalist theories. However, the work is much more than a simple refutation of physicalism. Alongside that critique, Parrish has laid out the groundwork for substance dualism as a cogent alternative. Simply put, it is a must read for anyone with any interest in philosophy of mind. Comprehensive in scope, exhaustively documented, and interesting to read, The Knower and the Known is a must-have.

Source

Stephen Parrish, The Knower and the Known (South Bend, IN: St. Augustine’s Press, 2013).

SDG.

——

The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from citations, which are the property of their respective owners, and works of art as credited) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. If you’d like to repost a post, you may do so, provided you show less than half of the original post on your own site and link to the original post for the rest. You must also appropriately cite the post as noted above. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

The Epistemic Argument Against Abortion

demolitionEpistemology is the study of knowing. That is, it is the study of how we know something is true. Here, I will offer an argument against abortion which concerns the question: what do we know about the unborn?

An Analogy*

Suppose you are a demolition expert. You’re sitting outside a building you are to blow and you are about to hit the button. The area has been declared clear and so you have flipped the cover of the button up and you’re about to blow the building. Suddenly, someone cries out–a little red tricycle has been discovered outside the building. Fortunately, however, the people who spotted the tricycle tell you there is only a 20% chance that the child made his or her way inside the building. The equipment being used is expensive and your company is paying more Shrugging while thinking “Time is money,” you go ahead and press the button, blowing up the building. After all, you’re 80% sure there is no one inside.

…Wait a second. That’s horrible! Shouldn’t you check and be sure that there is no one inside the building? After all, that person’s life is worth so much more than the extra money your company will have to spend as the child is searched for.

The question then must be asked: what percent is low enough for you to press the button? Suppose you were 90% sure the child was not inside the building, would you pull the button then, confident that you gave your best effort? How about 95%? 98%? It seems to me the only morally permissible situation would be certainty. The building has been swept entirely from top to bottom and cordoned off, you are positive no one is inside. Then, you may press the button without moral culpability: you are certain you are not killing anyone whether directly or indirectly.

*I should note this example is from Kevin A. Lewis. I modified the scenario slightly.

The Argument Stated and Defended

The argument is actually very simple:

1) If it is possible that the unborn is a human person, we should not kill the unborn.

2) It is possible that the unborn is a human person.

3) Therefore, we should not kill the unborn.

Premise one seems obviously true to me. In order to deny premise one, the advocate for abortion must claim that we may destroy “fetuses” even if it is possible that they are human persons. That is, the pro-choice position must hold that it is permissible to blow the building at 80%; or perhaps even at 98%. Given a similar situation: the doctor with the tools for abortion goes and destroys the fetus with the possibility that, like the red tricycle sitting outside the building, they may not know whether they are killing a child; instead, they go forward with the procedure, even though they may be murdering a baby.

Note that what I’m claiming here is a very small claim: it may be even a .5% chance that the fetus is a baby (of course, I am convinced that from conception, we have a human being, but for the sake of argument I will grant even .01% chance), but then the doctor, like the demolition expert, goes ahead and “blows the building” anyway.

Premise 2 also seems to be obviously true. In order to show me that it is wrong, the pro-choice party must make an argument towards the claim that the unborn is not a human person. Why must they try to prove a universal negative? Well, my claim is very broad: It is possible the unborn is a human person. I have argued towards this end multiple times, and would be willing to engage someone on those points. But the bottom line is, even if my arguments fail, I still think that it is possible the unborn is a human person. I just need reasonable doubt here, not epistemic certainty. Unfortunately for those who are pro-choice, their position must yield epistemic certainty, but it cannot.

The conclusion follows from the premises via modus ponens. Thus, the argument succeeds.

Objections

We can never be sure about anything

Perhaps the most thoughtful answer a pro-choice advocate might make for this argument is that we can never be sure of anything. After all, we cannot be certain that when we drive somewhere, a child might run in front of our car and get hit and killed. Indeed, in the case of a demolition expert, one could always have a helicopter drop a small child onto the building at the last second, or a child could tunnel underneath and get in, etc.

My response to this argument is fairly straightforward. In abortion, we are intentionally going in and killing the fetus (or dismantling it; however you want to put it). The analogy with driving simply doesn’t work. In order for it to be even close to accurate, the driver isn’t driving safely. Instead, it would be like driving drunk along a sidewalk in Chicago. You shouldn’t do it.

The problem with the ‘certainty’ objection is that while it is true we cannot be 100% of just about anything, it is also true that there are some steps we should take in order to give ourselves epistemic certainty. That is, there is a line between saying something is broadly logically possible and saying that it actually reduces one’s epistemic certainty of a proposition. Certainly, it is possible for a helicopter to parachute a child onto the building in the seconds before it explodes, but does that reduce one’s epistemic certainty pertaining to the situation? I do not think so.

You’re A Man

Unfortunately, I run into this argument far more often than one might think. It should be pretty obvious that this argument is completely fallacious. Whatever my gender happens to be, I am capable of reasoning.

Sometimes, the argument is put forth as “get out of my womb” or something similar. Well again, if the unborn is a human being, then I am attempting to protect a distinct human being. Thus, this objection not only begs the question, but it is also insulting. It is nothing more than a rhetorical device.

We can never be certain that the fetus is not a human being

A response like this basically grants my argument. As I have argued, if this is the case abortions should be impermissible. We shouldn’t just bank on uncertainty to gamble with lives. Of course, I am not going to merely appeal to uncertainty, I have positively argued that the unborn are human beings. Period.

Links

Like this page on Facebook: J.W. Wartick – “Always Have a Reason.”

Be sure to check out my other posts in which I argue for the pro-life position. Particularly relevant to the present discussion are “From conception, a human” and “The issue at the heart of the abortion debate.”

Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons Chixoy.

SDG.

——

The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from citations, which are the property of their respective owners, and works of art as credited) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. If you’d like to repost a post, you may do so, provided you show less than half of the original post on your own site and link to the original post for the rest. You must also appropriately cite the post as noted above. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

Against Christian Materialism

central nervous systemIs it possible for Christians to be materialists? A number of Christians say that yes, it is. Here, I will argue that the conjunction of Christianity and materialism is indefensible.

The Biblical Witness

Having read a bit on this topic, I realize that many who are Christian materialists do not think that the Biblical data is conclusive. However, granting that this is their position, I would maintain that the Biblical evidence is very strong: we are more than a material body. Here, I will examine only a small collection of texts.**

Matthew 10:28- “Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell.” (NIV)

What does this text mean if the soul and the body are not different things which compose the human being?

Ecclesiastes 12:7- “and the dust returns to the ground it came from, and the spirit returns to God who gave it.” (NIV)

When we die, our bodies–made of dust–return to the earth, but our spirit returns to God. What does this mean on materialism? Which part of our material selves go to God?

Revelation 6:9- “When he opened the fifth seal, I saw under the altar the souls of those who had been slain because of the word of God and the testimony they had maintained.” (NIV)

The souls of those killed for their faith cry out for justice from under the altar. The objection may be made that this is apocalyptic language. In answer, I would simply point out that even then it makes no sense on materialism even in that context. What are the souls that are crying out in this vision? What is the referent for the alleged metaphor?

In Matthew 17:1-8, Jesus speaks with Moses and Elijah, who have died. Did God raise them bodily, and did they then die again immediately afterwards and decompose when they are no longer visible?

1 Peter 3:18-19- “For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God.He was put to death in the body but made alive in the Spirit. After being made alive, he went and made proclamation to the imprisoned spirits…”

What was Jesus proclaiming the Gospel to? What is imprisoned? Where are the physical/material bodies in this passage? (Note that in context it is talking about those alive in Noah’s day–so again, where did their bodies go?)

Verses like these could be multiplied continually. Perhaps more telling is that the reasoning I’m using here regarding the texts and the distinction between body and soul is similar to the arguments put forth to justify the Trinity. That is, texts which discuss the Father and Son as different entities or even have all three persons of the Trinity in the same context are used to demonstrate that there really are three distinct persons in the Godhead. Yet this is exactly the type of argument I am here making for body and soul. They are used too many places together to be the same thing.

It seems to me utterly clear from the Biblical text that human beings are not purely material entities. Again and again texts can be shown to refer to the body on the one hand and the soul on the other. This is not to say that humans are necessarily one or the other; instead, it is to point out that humans are (at least) body and soul. (I say “at least” because there is a long tradition of trichotomy in Christianity wherein people hold that humans are body, soul, and spirit. I remain neutral in that debate and here only wish to show that humans are not merely material entities.)

The Philosophical Debate

Suppose that one maintains that the Biblical evidence is inconclusive. What then? Could we then say that Christianity and materialism are compatible, for materialism is not explicitly ruled out by the text? Here, I will offer two arguments against these conjoined propositions.

Identity Through Time

How do we maintain identity through time? Here, the problem must be answered by all materialists, not just Christian materialists.

The problem is, of course, that our bodies don’t maintain physical identity. We are continually replacing the physical parts of our body over time. Now, I am hesitant to make the oft-repeated claim that our entire bodies are replaced every so many years, as I have been unable to find any research confirming it. However, it simply is the case that large portions of our body are replaced. Given this fact, how do we maintain identity? What is it that keeps us the same person over time?

Another major problem is this: to which part of our body are we identical? Or, to put it another way, which parts of our body do we need to keep in order to be the same person? Here we can appeal to a thought experiment. A mad scientist has us captured and he wants to see how long we can maintain identity. Slowly, he replaces each part of our body with a new one with the exact same DNA, structure, etc. As he replaces these parts, he discards the old ones and destroys them. He starts with the legs. Then he moves to the midsection, replacing one organ at a time. Then the heart, the arms,  the ears, the eyes. When he gets  to the brain, he goes through and replaces only single neurons at a time.

The question is pretty obvious: When do we stop being the same person? The materialist simply has to admit that we are our bodies (for what else could we be?). But given that fact, to which part are we identical? The brain? If so, at one point in the experiment do we cease to exist? 51% of our brain is gone? 70%? All but one neuron? So is our identity grounded in that one neuron? If so, which one? Or is it just grounded in having any one neuron as the same? If so, how?

Frankly, I think this problem is devastating for materialists, but especially those who are Christians. Why would it be more acute for Christians? Well…

800px-Caravaggio_Doubting_ThomasIs There Hope in the Resurrection?

Central to the Christian hope is the hope for a future resurrection. The question which must be asked is this: Is this hope grounded in reality?

Suppose materialism were true. If that is the case, then humans are identical with their bodies in some fashion. I am intentionally vague here because I admit I’m not convinced as to how identity works within a Christian view of materialism (see above). If this were the case, then when we die and our material body decomposes, it may go on to become all sorts of different things, which themselves later pass away (plants may grow from the nutrients broken down from the body; then those plants may be harvested and eaten by other humans/animals/etc, which then die and are broken down, etc.). In the resurrection, then, God creates our body anew, complete–I assume–with our memories, experiences, etc. built in (perhaps they are simply functions of our brain, which God recreated perfectly, which thus contains our experiences).

Is there actual hope on this scenario?

Suppose the mad scientist were to come and kidnap you. He gleefully announces that he is going to use you for excruciatingly painful experiments which will take place over several years until you die. But, do not worry, because once you die, he is going to create a new body which is an exactly perfect copy of you, which will of course have all your experiences (minus this torturous one) and memories in place, and then he is going to give you billions of dollars.* Would you be comforted by this scenario? After all, you’re not going to remember the pain and you are going to come out the other end extremely rich!

Well there is a problem: the new body is not you. It is just a copy. For any materialist, this is problematic. We seem to know that identity transcends the body. But let us not delve into that difficulty right now. Instead, we will focus on Christian materialism. Now, it seems to me that this problem is almost the same for the Christian materialist with the Resurrection. After all, we are going to die. But we are told, don’t worry, we will be raised bodily by God! But whose body is going to be raised? How will God gather the material from our body (and at which time of our body–see above) in order to recreate us? And will not this body purely be a copy, rather than actually us?

There is a real disconnect here. Christian materialism cannot offer us the hope of the resurrection, without which our faith is worthless (1 Corinthians 15). Instead, it offers us the hope for our future copies, which will themselves have our memories and experiences, but will not be us. Our bodies will die and distribute throughout various portions of the world (even the universe–who knows if an asteroid might hit and distribute the molecules which made up our body elsewhere?). Then God will create us again in some fashion, and that body will live on in the Kingdom. But that body is not us. It will be a new body. This isn’t begging the question, it is merely stating a fact. The body that will be raised is not the body I have now. Thus, if I am my body, I am not raised.

Interestingly, Peter van Inwagen, a Christian philosopher who is himself a materialist, concedes the point I made in this section. In order to escape this extreme problem for Christian theology, he comes up with a rather unique solution: “Perhaps at the moment of each man’s death, God removes each man’s corpse and replaces it with a simulacrum which is what is burned or rots. Or perhaps God is not quite so wholesale as this: perhaps he removes for ‘safekeeping’ only the ‘core person’–the brain and the central nervous system–or even some special part of it… I take it that this story shows that the resurrection is a feat an almighty being could accomplish. I think it is the only way such a being could accomplish it…” (Van Inwagen, 121, cited below).

What response can we have to this? Well surely, it is possible for God to do this, but it raises all kinds of speculation. First, what Biblical evidence do we have to support that our bodies or our brains/nervous systems are  transported by God somewhere in order to preserve them? Honestly, I think that someone who posits this kind of miraculous working holds a burden of proof to support it. Second, where is this storage yard of brains/nervous systems? This question is not intended to beg the question. Instead, my intent is to point out that they would have to be somewhere in the physical universe. Thus, we should be able to find a planet where all the brains/central nervous systems of everyone who ever died are being stored. Third, given this, could we potentially destroy this planet and thus destroy all possibility of the resurrection? Fourth, other than as a completely ad hoc measure to preserve the possibility of hope, what possible justification (philosophical, theological, and/or Biblical) do we have for this?

On the whole, it seems to me that Peter van Inwagen’s proposed solution fails. It fails because it is extremely ad hoc and because it may not even solve the problem it is intended to solve. Thus, it seems to me that Christian materialism fails as a worldview. 

Conclusion

I have offered several arguments against the conjunction of Christianity and materialism. I think any one of these arguments is successful on its own (I should note that I also think the argument from the ego is successful–I have argued here against atheistic materialism, but this argument would be equally successful against Christian materialism). If any one is successful, the conjunction of Christianity and materialism must be false. Frankly, I think all the arguments are successful. I leave the Christian materialist to justify their position.

Links

Like this page on Facebook: J.W. Wartick – “Always Have a Reason.”

If Materialism, are there Subjects?– I contend that a materialist worldview cannot account for subjects. This post was written specifically to address atheistic materialism, but is perfectly relevant for theistic materialism as well.

Sources

*I am indebted to Alvin Plantinga and Stephen Parrish for this type of argument.

**I am indebted to Kevin A. Lewis for his list of texts provided in his “Essentials of Christian Doctrine II” syllabus.

Peter van Inwagen “The Possibility of Resurrection,” International Journal for Philosophy of Religion, 9:2 (1978), 114ff.

SDG.

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