Christianity, Religion and Philosophy, Episode VII!

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Re: Christianity, Religion and Philosophy, Episode VII!

Postby The Rose-Tree Dryad » Apr 30, 2014 2:38 pm

Interesting question, King Erlian! I'd say I ditto a lot of what Ithie says on the matter.

Something else that I find very intriguing in relation to the query of what makes a human "human" is something called Theory of Mind, an ability that some believe is only possessed by human beings. Youtuber Vsauce has an excellent video that touches upon this; his explanation in layman's terms starts at around the halfway point, but the whole video is well worth the watch.

The basic description offered on Wikipedia reads: "the ability to attribute mental states—beliefs, intents, desires, pretending, knowledge, etc.—to oneself and others and to understand that others have beliefs, desires, and intentions that are different from one's own." I find it very interesting from a perspective of faith because it seems to me that being able to comprehend and seek God, a being with beliefs/intents/desires/knowledge that differ from your own, would require having Theory of Mind.

From a secular viewpoint, some might theorize that Theory of Mind is part of why humans create gods and religions, and invent the concept of "infinite", omniscient minds: upon learning that other minds know things they don't, they then begin to wonder if there is a mind somewhere that knows everything. From a viewpoint of faith, I think it really reinforces the idea that humans were created to seek God, desire to learn what is in His mind (and heart), and to be in a relationship with Him where they value His desires above their own.

Now, since it's believed that Theory of Mind is only developed in children by the age of four or so, that's not to say that Theory of Mind is what makes a human human. A one year old child is just as "human" as a five year old child. Still, I think it does tell us quite a bit about what makes humans so incredibly remarkable and unique, and possibly hints at our ultimate purpose as well.

EDIT: One last random thought. If you're someone who believes that Christianity and evolution may be compatible, then I think it's worth considering the possibility that Adam may have been the first human to develop Theory of Mind. To some degree, developing this ability would make him "human" in the sense that we know the word today, and entirely unique from the rest of Creation by virtue of the fact that he could conceive of the concept of God and then seek Him out.

As I've said before, I don't really know what I believe regarding the evolution vs. creationism debate, but it's an interesting thought to ponder regardless.
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Re: Christianity, Religion and Philosophy, Episode VII!

Postby Reepicheep775 » Apr 30, 2014 4:50 pm

^ Great thoughts, Rose!

For quite a while now I've been searching for what separates Man from the rest of the animal kingdom and that just might be it.
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Re: Christianity, Religion and Philosophy, Episode VII!

Postby King_Erlian » May 01, 2014 2:26 am

Ithilwen wrote:Because souls can exist outside the biological body, and consciousness refers to awareness within a biological state, we can be certain that consciousness is not necessary for a soul to exist.

I think I remember reading somewhere that the idea of the soul being something independent of the body, and able to exist apart from it, was more of a Graeco-Roman notion; that the Jewish view in Biblical times was that there wasn't such a demarcation between body, mind and soul, implying that the human soul could not exist without a body to "inhabit" and therefore the afterlife necessitated the resurrection of the physical body.

Are there any Biblical references which would support the existence of souls existing without bodies, or any which would support the contrary?
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Re: Christianity, Religion and Philosophy, Episode VII!

Postby Phosphorus » May 01, 2014 8:23 am

I would add that the issue of Hell is also tied up with the matter of penal substitution. Those who embrace penal substitution as the correct understanding of the atonement (including most Reformed) are highly reluctant to consider universal reconciliation. Penal substitution, for better or worse, is essentially a system designed to reconcile divine necessities. The forensic analogy featuring God-as-judge-and-executioner would seem to require a final, irrevocable judgment for those without a substitute (Christ). Lewis, I think, reconciled to a certain degree with penal substitution, but ultimately he preferred the Athanasian understanding.

As to the question of what makes a human, there are several ways to answer that theologically. One is, of course, the imprint of the image of God. In a sense, every act of God’s creation is an act of revelation, so everything bears the fingerprints of God; but man participates in both flesh and spirit, being composed of both and standing at the boundary on the Great Chain of Being. Some would further argue that a man is defined by his Idea in the mind of God; his real self is found in God, through Christ, and it is this self he must become. This is true of all creation, in a sense, but only man must strive for unity with his Idea through unity with Christ; a tree, to fulfill its purpose, must simply be a tree, but a man must ultimately attain to a much more perfect “imaging” of God.

The Thomist answer is a little more complex. As Josef Pieper explains in The Philosophical Act (a truly excellent little book usually published with his more famous Leisure: The Basis of Culture), if the world is a field of relations, beings of higher order are those with greater and wider power of establishing relations. The plant is only capable of establishing relations with its immediate environment. The animal actually possesses a sensible awareness of features of its surrounding relevant to its survival, but is also limited in its awareness. Man’s cognition introduces a wholly new level of relationship with the universe. In fact, possessing spirit means not only that man has an incorporeal element, but that he possesses the capacity for relating to the “totality of being.” While an animal could be said to live exclusively it “its” world, spirit exists in relationship with “the” world. Reality by its very nature corresponds to spirit. Truth, according to Pieper, would then be something which is known to the absolute spirit (God), and knowable to the non-absolute spirit. “The world coordinated to spirit is not merely the world of all things but at the same time of the essence of things.” Human beings, uniquely of corporeal creation, are capable of grasping the essence of things. Pieper uses this argument, incidentally, to justify philosophy as one of the highest human endeavors—not merely an ability, but a basic human drive, to “see the stars above the roof.”

King_Erlian, it depends what you mean by independent existence. In a certain sense the body and the soul/spirit (if we go with the bipartite view of human nature) are profoundly unified and inseparable, that is, man is both, and he is not fully existent as a disembodied (un-resurrected) spirit. Traditional Christianity would roundly assert, however, that upon death there is a kind of temporary severance of spirit and body. Ecclesiastes 12:7 is a common reference. James 2:26 seems to imply the same, and 2 Corinthians 5:6-8, and Luke 23:43. Another frequent proof-text is the souls of the martyrs in Revelation 6:9. The parable of Lazarus and Dives is also used, though I hesitate to employ that text here for several reasons. Resurrection is reunification of spirit and (glorified) body.
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Re: Christianity, Religion and Philosophy, Episode VII!

Postby The Rose-Tree Dryad » May 01, 2014 9:43 pm

Reepicheep775 wrote:Great thoughts, Rose!

For quite a while now I've been searching for what separates Man from the rest of the animal kingdom and that just might be it.


Thank you! I've often pondered the same question and I think that Theory of Mind is a strong contender for offering some answers.

It's also fun to think about from a Narnia perspective—I find myself thinking back to the Creation scene in The Magician's Nephew where some of the animals become Talking Beasts, and wondering, "Well gosh, was Aslan bestowing upon them the Theory of Mind? ... And really advanced tongues to allow for such complex vocal sounds?" ;))

Here's one more thought that occurred to me relating to the possibility of Adam being the first creature with "Theory of Mind"...

Something I think I've heard proponents of YEC criticize about the allowance of evolution within Christianity is that evolution doesn't seem to fit very well with the concept of Original Sin. However, if we define sin as the rebellion against the will of God, and if, before Adam and Eve, there was no earthly being of any kind that was aware of the will of God—I think it would logically follow that the world was, indeed, sinless.

You can't defy a will that you can't perceive; you can't reject an authority if you don't know that it exists. While cavemen clocking each other over the head with clubs may have been outside the will of God, I don't think you could argue that they were rebelling—sinning—against God if they didn't possess something like Theory of Mind.

Anyway, it's an interesting thing to think about!

Phosphorus wrote:I would add that the issue of Hell is also tied up with the matter of penal substitution. Those who embrace penal substitution as the correct understanding of the atonement (including most Reformed) are highly reluctant to consider universal reconciliation. Penal substitution, for better or worse, is essentially a system designed to reconcile divine necessities. The forensic analogy featuring God-as-judge-and-executioner would seem to require a final, irrevocable judgment for those without a substitute (Christ). Lewis, I think, reconciled to a certain degree with penal substitution, but ultimately he preferred the Athanasian understanding.


It sounds like my views may be rather similar to C.S. Lewis's on this matter. I've been studying different theories of the atonement in the past year or so, and I'd say that I lean towards the ransom theory and/or Christus Victor. The scapegoat theory and moral influence theory are interesting as well. I remember that I was surprised to learn that penal substitution is a relatively "new" view of atonement within Christianity; even the satisfaction theory, which it builds upon, has only been around since the twelfth century or so.

Admittedly, the concept of penal substitution has never sat very well with me. If any earthly parent punished an innocent child in the place of a guilty one—even if the innocent child were willing, God bless them!—I don't know how anyone could think that justice had been done, or that the wrong had been righted. If there was any righting of wrongs in such a scenario, I should think it wouldn't be because the parent's desire for punishment had been satisfied, but because the innocent child's self-sacrificing love had moved the guilty sibling to genuine repentance.

I love Christ from the deepest part of my heart for suffering for me, but if this terrible suffering was demanded from God as a payment for my own sins, to satisfy His law—I don't know how I could find that very satisfying at all. For me, it would raise some very serious questions about the nature of God.

I think it might be possible to simultaneously believe in the penal substitution theory of atonement and also hope for universal reconciliation, provided that you think that... robes of righteousness? ... are still available for those who ask for them in a postmortem condition. Still, because the infinitely enduring, inescapable love of God is at the center of universal reconciliation theory, and because penal substitution appears to elevate God's law over God's love, people who believe in both are probably relatively rare.

(To any proponents of penal substitution who are reading this: please forgive me if I'm not accurately representing the doctrine. I'm not much of an expert on it, so feel free to correct me or clarify something.)

EDIT: King Erlian, here are a couple verses that might help you, to add to the ones that Phosphorus listed—1 Peter 3:19 and Psalms 139:8. Also, here's the link to the wikipedia page for Sheol (translated as Hades in the New Testament), which is a place for the spirits of the departed and distinct from Gehenna/Hell.
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Re: Christianity, Religion and Philosophy, Episode VII!

Postby IloveFauns » May 07, 2014 6:55 am

This is a random change of topic.

I heard somewhere I think on QI(I consider it to be a reliable show) that sometime ago(can't remember when) they use to believe the bible was metaphorical and not literal. Do some of you think the bible is metaphorical?
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Re: Christianity, Religion and Philosophy, Episode VII!

Postby Reepicheep775 » May 07, 2014 8:39 am

^ That's a complicated question.

A lot of the time, Christians will label anything they don't like in the Bible as "metaphorical" as a way of writing it off. On the other end, many Christians say that the Bible is completely "literal" (i.e. historical) to avoid denying any of the Bible's truths.

Personally, although I can understand where each side is coming from, I take literary criticism, particularly genres, and the historical context each book of the Bible was written in into account. I have a deep, deep respect for mythology, fiction, story-telling etc., so I don't at all object to some of these things being in the Bible. The thing that people need to understand though is that myths etc. still convey truth, sometimes in ways that a literal/historical account couldn't. Because of this, I don't think that calling something "mythical" or "metaphorical" is an effective way of writing something off. I will say right off the bat that there is no way the Resurrection is meant to be metaphorical. It doesn't make any sense in context. Paul was right when he said that a Christian's faith is worthless if the Resurrection didn't happen.

Apart from that I am open to a lot of symbolism, picture language, mythology etc. used in the Bible. I am also open to much of the Bible being historical, including miraculous events. The first eleven chapters of Genesis just scream myth/legend to me, although that doesn't mean they don't have a rooting in actual history. Again, my tools of discernment are generally literary criticism and history.

Here's something C. S. Lewis wrote in Miracles that sums up my thoughts on the matter rather nicely:

C. S. Lewis wrote:My present view - which is tentative and liable to any amount of correction - would be that just as, on the factual side, a long preparation culminates in God's becoming incarnate as Man, so, on the documentary side, the truth first appears as in mythical form and then by a long process of condensing or focusing finally becomes incarnate as History. This involves the belief that Myth in general is not merely misunderstood history (as Euhemerus thought) nor diabolical illusion ( as some of the Fathers thought) nor priestly lying (as the philosophers of the Enlightenment thought) but, at its best, a real though unfocused gleam of divine truth falling on human imagination. The Hebrews, like other people, had mythology: but as they were the chosen people so their mythology was the chosen mythology - the mythology chosen by God to be the vehicle of the earliest sacred truths, the first step in that process which ends in the New Testament where truth has become completely historical. Whether we can ever say with certainty where, in this process of crystallization, any particular Old Testament story fails [sic], is another matter. I take it that the Memoirs of David's court come at one end of the scale and are scarcely less historical than St Mark or Acts; and that the Book of Jonah is at the opposite end. It should be noted that on this view (a) Just as God, in becoming Man, is 'emptied' of His glory, so the truth, when it comes down from the 'heaven' of myth to the 'earth' of history, undergoes a certain humiliation. Hence the New Testament is, and ought to be, more prosaic, in some ways less splendid, than the Old; just as the Old Testament is and ought to be less rich in many kinds of imaginative beauty than the Pagan mythologies. (b) Just as God is none the less God by being Man, so the Myth remains Myth even when it becomes Fact. The story of Christ demands from us, and repays, not only a religious and historical but also an imaginative response. It is directed to the child, the poet, and the savage in us as well as the the conscience and to the intellect. One of its functions is to break down dividing walls.
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Re: Christianity, Religion and Philosophy, Episode VII!

Postby King_Erlian » May 07, 2014 9:04 am

I tend to agree with Reepicheep775's view. I think that part of the problem is that our modern Western view is that literal "scientific" fact is regarded as the only valid form of truth and so both some Christians and some who are anti-Christian in their views insist that you either have to take every word of the Bible as historical fact or else you're not a Christian. I don't think that was the normal way of looking at it in Biblical times. But I also agree with Reepicheep that some things have to be historical fact, such as the resurrection of Jesus, or else the whole of the Christian faith is illogical.

Incidentally, I don't think QI is all that reliable. It does get facts wrong - for instance, it's repeatedly claimed that Charles Babbage invented the computer when he didn't - but when it comes to religious matters, Stephen Fry and some of the regular guests such as Jimmy Carr are anti-theists and not impartial. When guests who have some kind of religious faith, such as Josie Lawrence, have started talking about it, Mr. Fry was particularly rude.
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Re: Christianity, Religion and Philosophy, Episode VII!

Postby jewel » May 07, 2014 12:10 pm

I'm for baptizing infants. The early church did it. I believe scripture also supports it.
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Re: Christianity, Religion and Philosophy, Episode VII!

Postby Reepicheep775 » May 07, 2014 4:19 pm

I haven't read all of the previous discussion on baptism, but personally I don't believe that God would have allowed such a split to occur among churches unless both infant and adult baptism were valid. I'm not sure which I think is better, although I tend to lean towards adult baptism, simply because the person being baptized is actually aware of, and has consented to, the the baptism. That said, I was baptized as an infant, and I don't feel too much pressure to get re-baptized as an adult.

King Erlian wrote:I think that part of the problem is that our modern Western view is that literal "scientific" fact is regarded as the only valid form of truth and so both some Christians and some who are anti-Christian in their views insist that you either have to take every word of the Bible as historical fact or else you're not a Christian. I don't think that was the normal way of looking at it in Biblical times.

For sure.
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Re: Christianity, Religion and Philosophy, Episode VII!

Postby Warrior 4 Jesus » May 07, 2014 4:55 pm

The entirety of the Bible contains the theological truths of God wrapped up in our history. Yes, even Genesis 1-11. Yes, the Bible contains parables and symbolism, and different genres, but it's clear from the context and content what is what. Genesis 1-11 are written as historical accounts. There are no myths to be found within God's Word.
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Re: Christianity, Religion and Philosophy, Episode VII!

Postby IloveFauns » May 08, 2014 3:17 am

King_Erlian wrote:Incidentally, I don't think QI is all that reliable. It does get facts wrong - for instance, it's repeatedly claimed that Charles Babbage invented the computer when he didn't - but when it comes to religious matters, Stephen Fry and some of the regular guests such as Jimmy Carr are anti-theists and not impartial. When guests who have some kind of religious faith, such as Josie Lawrence, have started talking about it, Mr. Fry was particularly rude.


One would say it is more reliable that current affair programs on commercial channels. I don't know who Josie Lawrence is to be honest. I do know who Jimmy carr is however and he is atheist but he use to be catholic to be was in his mid-twenties.

I would also like to point out(to those who have replied) that myths and metaphors are different. Is it not possible that god put across his word through the use of metaphors?(I feel a bit silly saying that since I don't believe in higher powers). It is actually rather confusing.
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Re: Christianity, Religion and Philosophy, Episode VII!

Postby King_Erlian » May 08, 2014 8:12 am

Warrior 4 Jesus wrote:The entirety of the Bible contains the theological truths of God wrapped up in our history. Yes, even Genesis 1-11. Yes, the Bible contains parables and symbolism, and different genres, but it's clear from the context and content what is what.

Ah, but is it, though? Knowledgeable, intelligent Christians disagree on whether certain passages of the Bible are historical fact or not. When I read Genesis with an open mind as a teenager, it struck me that there was an abrupt change of style when the narrative began focussing on Abram/Abraham. After that, it looked to me like historical fact; before that, it appeared more like "myth".
Warrior 4 Jesus wrote:Genesis 1-11 are written as historical accounts. There are no myths to be found within God's Word.

Currently I'm reading "Flowers For Algernon" by Daniel Keyes. In it, the central character, Charlie, starts off as a mentally handicapped young man who undergoes an operation to increase his intelligence. Before and after the operation, he is made to do a number of tests to monitor his progress. At the beginning, he is shown pictures of people and encouraged by the tester to make up a story about them, but he refuses, saying that would be "lying".

It strikes me that in a roughly similar way, some Christians seem to be freaked out by the idea that God could use myth in his Word, because that would be "lying". But would it?
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Re: Christianity, Religion and Philosophy, Episode VII!

Postby Warrior 4 Jesus » May 08, 2014 5:02 pm

The only change in style between that of Genesis 1-11 and that of the other books of Genesis, is that the latter are far more detailed accounts of God interacting with His people. All Hebrew Bible scholars, whether they choose to believe the Genesis accounts to be true or not, believe that Genesis 1-11 is written by its writers as if they were historical accounts. God's Word showcases God working through His creations and people within the world He's created, within history. Myth would change that fact. Too many Christians don't realise the damage theistic evolution, the Framework Hypothesis, the gap theory, day-age theory can do to their faith. If we can't trust the very beginnings of God's Word to be truth, why should we believe any other part? It's vitally important that we're consistent in this regard.
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Re: Christianity, Religion and Philosophy, Episode VII!

Postby The Rose-Tree Dryad » May 08, 2014 6:34 pm

Warrior 4 Jesus wrote:All Hebrew Bible scholars, whether they choose to believe the Genesis accounts to be true or not, believe that Genesis 1-11 is written by its writers as if they were historical accounts.


Do you have a link that discusses that? I'd be interested in reading more about it.

Warrior 4 Jesus wrote:God's Word showcases God working through His creations and people within the world He's created, within history. Myth would change that fact. Too many Christians don't realise the damage theistic evolution, the Framework Hypothesis, the gap theory, day-age theory can do to their faith. If we can't trust the very beginnings of God's Word to be truth, why should we believe any other part? It's vitally important that we're consistent in this regard.


Well, Revelation is full of symbolism, and that's still thought to be "truth." I don't think there's anything wrong with using images, symbols and simplified narratives to convey truth, and clearly, it's very effective. Jesus used parables all the time to get his messages across.

Of course, that's not to say that Genesis is symbolic or parabolic, but I do think that truth does not have to be literal truth in order for it to be God's truth, or a revelation from God. Sometimes truth is constrained by the limitations of human language and the time in which God chose to communicate it to humanity. (For instance, many prophecies that were only hazy mysteries in the Old Testament became blindingly clear in the New Testament.) Truth is also often tempered by our ability to comprehend, too, but that doesn't mean that it's not truth.

There's also a difference between the truth and the whole truth, and I'd say that this is fairly plain to see since truth about God was unveiled in stages throughout Biblical history, culminating at the coming of Christ. Even nowadays, we're still in a state of partial revelation; we are still looking in a glass darkly.
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Re: Christianity, Religion and Philosophy, Episode VII!

Postby Reepicheep775 » May 08, 2014 8:45 pm

Warrior, please don't take this the wrong way, but it astonishes me how someone on a Narnia fansite could have such a low view of mythology. You say that we couldn't trust the Bible if it contained myths, but as J. R. R. Tolkien once said long ago, "Myths are not lies".
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