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So Why Did God Make the World, Anyway?

003_william_blake_theredlistTo which I can answer only, “Beats me.”  I do think that looking at the question in the title of this post is of relevance in our discussion of the Fall of Man, for reasons that we’ll soon see.  I want to do a bit more detailed followup to this, and to take an interlude before we go on to look at the fall and salvation of bodiless intelligences.

I’ll start by explicitly saying that when I say “the world” I mean the material cosmos.  I’ll also specify that the question of God’s motives is posed in the context of “little-o” orthodox Christianity.  In Gnosticism, after all, the question, “Why did God make the world” is meaningless, since in the Gnostic view He didn’t.  Rather, the material cosmos is a chop-job made by the ignorant and/or maleficent Demiurge.  In the system of Evagrius Ponticus, which we’ve also looked at, the question is meaningful, but it has a clear answer:  God made the world as a sort of rehabilitation clinic for the fallen spirits (angels, humans, and demons) through which they would eventually be re-integrated to the realm of God.

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Legends of the Fall: Let’s Get This Party Started!

‘Cause it can’t always be Gaga–forgive me, Mama Monster!  😉

My series “Legends of the Fall” has been on hiatus for a considerable time.  Finding time and motivation, as well as deciding where I wanted to go with it, have slowed me down.  Moreover, the blog itself has been on semi-hiatus for about a year as life has gotten in the way.  Fiddling around on it and musing a bit today, I had a few ideas as to what I can do.  I won’t say I have a definitive conclusion to the series–what human can claim to understand the Fall?  I do think I have a direction in which I want to go with the series, though, and now is as good a time as any to start hashing it out.

In the next few posts I want to restart the series by asking the following questions:

  1. Could God have made beings incapable of sin?
  2. If not 1, could He have made beings capable of sin but who would never sin in actuality?
  3. Given the assumption (which I accept) that God made the spiritual world and the incorporeal intelligences (what we call angels, etc.), why did He make embodied intelligences–i.e. us, as well as any other intelligent species that may exist here on Earth or elsewhere in the cosmos?

I think that important conclusions can be drawn from number 3 especially.  We’ll get to that in time.  Some of the issues involved in these questions have been touched on before in the course of this very long series, but I think it will be useful to visit them afresh, as well as looking at new angles.

Thus, get ready for new posts, and let’s get the party started!

Part of the series “Legends of the Fall

My 2020th Post, Legends of the Fall, and Blogging: What a Long, Strange Trip It’s Been

My 2000th blog post went up on 15 December.  Lots of things were going on, including taking care of a sick child, so I did nothing special for that occasion.  I have had in mind a post that I’ve wanted to do for some time, and since I didn’t do anything marking post 2000, I’ll make the post now as post 2020.  I used to like the old cartoon Sealab 2020 way back when, so that’s an interesting synch, anyway.  What the heck.

I had never thought to get into blogging.  Being of the tail end of the Baby Boom generation, I was well into my adulthood before the Internet started to become the phenomenon it is now.  I had had some experience with intranet BB’s and such in college, but not that much.  Even though I was a math major, at my university we still were doing things mostly the old fashioned way.  It wasn’t until the mid 90’s that I got an email address (long since defunct), and in the late 90’s that I started spending lots of time in cyberspace.

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Penal Substitution

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Last time I said we need to start our second look at the Fall from the other end; that is, with the Atonement.  To do that, I want to begin with what has tended to be the traditional viewpoint (at least in the West), the Penal Substitutionary model of the Atonement.  I’ve discussed it a bit before, but I want a narrower focus here, and I want to discuss the issues I see with it.  For the purposes here, I’m writing the outline as if the first two chapters of Genesis were literally true.

1.  The first human couple, Adam and Eve, are created innocent and free from sin.  Humans, like the angels before them, and like all created intelligences, truly have free will.

2.  The human race is given a test of obedience:  the command to Adam and Eve not to eat of the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil.

3.  Humans fail the test through the abuse of their God-given free will.  Tempted by the Serpent (traditionally interpreted as Satan), Eve eats the Forbidden Fruit and gives it to Adam, who does so as well.

4.  As a result of this, they and all their descendants are stained with Original Sin both in terms of guilt and of effects.  That is to say, all descendants of Adam and Eve inherit the guilt of their sin merely by descent.  Even a newborn child has the guilt of Original Sin, as well as the effects thereof. These effects include, among other things, weakness of the will, difficulty in overcoming bodily urges, loss of a direct knowledge of God, a tendency towards sinful actions, and most significantly, mortality.  Further, the world itself suffers from this curse, with plagues, disease, and all natural evils being unleashed into the world by Adam’s sin.

5.  Though the action of disobediently eating the Forbidden Fruit was finite, the guilt thereby incurred is infinite.  This is because the sin was against God, who is infinite.  The human race is therefore barred from fellowship with God, and from Heaven after death.

6.  God wishes to restore the human race to His fellowship and make Heaven possible for them.  However, He cannot merely dismiss Original Sin and allow a “do-over”, since He is all-just, and this would contravene His justice.  Through Original Sin, mankind is in “debt”, either to God or to Satan (accounts vary); and since God is perfectly just, this debt must be paid in full.  However, from 5, we see the debt is infinite.  Therefore, by definition, it can never be paid by mankind, individually or as a race.  However, as humankind incurred the debt, humankind must pay the debt; which is impossible.  Mankind is up the well-known creek without a paddle.

7.  God, however, is not only perfectly just, but perfectly loving.  Therefore, He sends His Son, Jesus Christ, the Second Person of the Trinity, to take human form.  This is vitally necessary.  As a human, Jesus can pay the debt incurred by Adam.  As God, Jesus can pay an infinite debt in full.  As both human and God, Jesus can represent the entire human race.  Therefore, his death on the cross pays the infinite debt of mankind to the Father (or the Devil) in full, thereby satisfying both God’s justice (the debt is legally paid, no chicanery) and his mercy (God in Christ does it for a human race that can’t do it for itself).

8.  Though the debt is now paid, individual humans, in order to benefit from it, must accept Christ.  How one does this varies in the teaching of different churches, but all agree on this in one way or another.

I think this is a reasonable summary.  Now let’s analyze it.

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We Had to Destroy the Bible to Save It

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Last time I stated the postulates I’m starting with in order to move forward in considering the Fall.  They seem reasonable to me, in light of what has been looked at and discussed in this series over the last nine months.  However, I want to look at one alternative (which I reject) in order to elaborate on why I reject it and what I see as being problematic about it.

First, I need to correct something I omitted in my last post.  I gave my “postulates” for this discussion, but left out the most obvious and important one, the zeroth postulate, if you will, without which there’s no point in even having written this series to begin with.

0.  Science is correct in asserting the vast age of the Earth and universe, and the evolution of humans from lower animals.

Comment:  As noted in my update to the previous post, this is not a postulate properly so-called; but it’s solid enough.

Corollary:  Any theology which does not take 0. into account is to that extent erroneous, and thus can–and should–be dismissed out of hand.  Therefore, for example, young Earth creationism, anti-evolutionism, and so-called Intelligent Design as presented, are non-starters.

Having set the stage, let’s move on to look at an account of the Fall that seems fairly popular in some circles and discuss its ramifications.

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Some Postulates

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Not geometric postulates, though!  This is a sort of continuation of my last post in this series, as well as trying to articulate what I’m postulating, what I’m trying to avoid, and why.

First, as I said way back here (allow me the luxury of quoting myself without seeming a total egotist!):

Nasty things–evils–existed long before humans came on the scene.  Hurricanes, earthquakes, floods, droughts, tornadoes, predators, disease, pestilence, cancer, and so on have been around for eons.  Thus, any system that posits their existence as coming after the Fall of Man is not going to work.  [E]vils or Evil can’t be blamed on Eve’s apple.

Without claiming to give knowledge from on high, I suggested a possible (and in my mind, not unreasonable) theory as to the origin of pre-human evil, here.

For reasons that I’ve elaborated on in this series, as well as in the previous post, I think it’s hard to maintain the idea of Original Sin as a discrete, specific transgression by a particular individual or couple at a particular time in history.  Therefore, theories of the Atonement that are based on the traditional concept of a literal Adam, Eve, and Fall must be reworked and overhauled, perhaps massively.  Summarizing this,

1.  The evils in the physical universe are not caused by the Fall of Man,

2.  which could not have occurred as a discrete act by a specific person or persons.

I think these are fairly sound postulates, though I want to discuss objections to number 2 in an upcoming post.  The following two postulates are more speculative and will be revisited, but I’ll state them simply for now:

3.  Man was originally good in intention (metaphysically or from a supra-temporal or aeviternal perspective), if not temporally and/or historically, and this original metaphysical goodness was marred, if not temporally and/or historically (lots here to unpack, but let it be for now).

4.  Christ, through his life, death, and resurrection brings atonement to humanity (though how this is done is not yet clear, assuming one rejects the literal Genesis story.  Once more, let it be for now).

This is where I’m starting from as I try to pick my way forward on the Fall and what that may or may not mean.

Update:  It is Lent, so I will repent of my sins against mathematics.  I used the word “postulate” very loosely.  In mathematics (my field) a postulate (or axiom) is the most basic point from which one builds a proof or argument.  Postulates are not proved because they cannot be proved–they’re self-evident.  For example, postulate number one illustrated above (the illustrations show Euclid’s Postulates) is that two points in a plane give a unique line.  If one understands what “point”, “plane”, and “line” mean, this postulate is self-evident; it must be true; it can’t not be true.  The points above are certainly not like this.  None of them are self-evident, and given what we know about the origins of the cosmos, 1 can be reasonably proved (remember, postulates can’t be proved).  It would have been better to call these points my starting points or my basic assumptions.  Oh, well.

I also realized that I should have added another basic assumption; but I discuss that in the next post in this series.

Part of the series Legends of the Fall.

Whither Hence?

where-are-you

In the previous post in this series, I discussed some essays I’d come across dealing with the subject.  So far, nothing that I’ve read by those defending the idea of a more or less literal Adam and Eve has made me rethink the basic thesis of this series–that is, that Christian theology must be significantly revised in light of what we know of human origins based on modern science.  If anything, they’ve confirmed me in the belief that the standard theology simply is inadequate.  I don’t claim to have a final answer as to the nature of sin, Original or otherwise, the Atonement, and how it all works.  I don’t think anyone else has a tenable answer either as yet.  I do have faith in Christ as Redeemer and Savior of mankind; this rethinking hasn’t led me to abandon Christian faith.  It just means that I no longer adhere to any specific theory of how Jesus saves–just that he does so.

The most significant defect in many of the authors I’ve read over the course of writing this series is a dogged insistence on adherence to dogma–be it the Bible or Papal documents–above all else.  It’s like the famous saying by St. Ignatius Loyola (one of the most ignominious and least respectable points of one of my favorite saints), “That we may be altogether of the same mind and in conformity with the Church herself, if she shall have defined anything to be black which to our eyes appears to be white, we ought in like manner to pronounce it to be black.” This is the exact attitude that led to increasingly complex and desperate attempts to preserve the geocentric model of the cosmos as more and more information made it appear steadily more untenable, and ultimately to the sentencing of Galileo to house imprisonment for life.  When I read authors such as Feser parse Papal documents down to the nth degree (or his Protestant counterparts do the same for the Bible), it drives me nuts.  They are basically saying, “Well, as long as I can interpret Encyclical X in such a way and making enough intellectual contortions as to indicate that white isn’t necessarily in so many words to be held as being black, then it’s probably OK to call it white.”  As if I need Papal (or Biblical) permission to say that white is white!

At least I can respect the late Pope John Paul II’s acknowledgement that there is indeed a problem here for traditional theology and the Church at large for keeping its mouth shut.  Really, it needs to do a lot more in terms of bringing the issue up front and center, and revising the theology; but I suspect that there are a lot of recalcitrant prelates who’d be unwilling to open the door to polygenism and re-thinking Original Sin and the Fall.  Thus, better for the Church to stay silent than to shoot itself in the foot again à la the Galileo debacle.

I think the best approach to the whole thing is exemplified by Einstein (stay with me here!).  For decades, the idea of the luminiferous ether–the invisible, intangible, and generally undetectable medium through which light supposedly moved–was regnant.  When Michelson and Morley’s famous (and clever) experiment failed to find evidence of the ether, the physics world was thrown into turmoil, with ever more complex, more elaborate, and more ad  hoc theories being proposed to save the idea of the ether.  Finally, the young patent clerk Albert Einstein took the obvious but at the time startling step of cutting the Gordian knot and saying, “There is no ether.”  Simple as that; and from there, everything fell into place with his Theories of Relativity.

This is why I respect Peter Enns, whom I discussed last time.  He has pretty much done in theology what Einstein did in physics.  Rather than going to heroic lengths to save a more or less literal version of Genesis and the origin of mankind, he pretty much says, “Look, that’s the wrong way to look at it.  This is not what Genesis meant, and Paul was using the tools he had to discuss the Atonement.  Thus, let’s just toss out the traditional view of Adam and Eve as the First Parents whose Fall condemns us all, and look at it from a different angle.”  In short, he  tosses out the ether of an untenable theology rather than doing mental gymnastics to save it.  If I read him correctly, he does not (at least not in this book) come up with an overarching theory to replace the old one, though he does seem to point out some possible avenues.  Still, the first step of coming up with a new system–in theology or anywhere else–is often having the courage and integrity to jettison the old one.

This is where I’m moving.  It seems almost certain that a view of a discrete, specific moment of Original Sin, passed down to future humans, whether by a Primal Couple or a Primal Group,  is incorrect.  In effect, there was no Eden.  Better, perhaps, Eden might be a metaphysical reality–the world as God intended it to be–but never a historic one actually instantiated in the cosmos that actually exists.  This leans me a bit more towards Evagrian theology, but at this point I don’t claim to have a systematic view as to the exact nature of the Fall, sin, and Atonement.  These are still issues on which I need to think.  I’ll probably be posting on this topic a little more frequently than I have been; but it’s still going to be a long haul, and I’m beginning to see “Legends of the Fall” as much more open-ended than I’d previously thought.  In any case, we’ll see where it all leads!

Part of the series Legends of the Fall.

Adam, Eve, and Monogenism: More Perspectives (and more of the same)

australopithecus_family

It’s been some time since I’ve written on the Fall.  Partly, I got a bit burned out on the topic after the many, many posts I did.  Another factor was that I changed my mind on some aspects of the issue.  Finally, after fifty-four posts, I concluded that I didn’t have a conclusion yet.  I still don’t, quite.  However, in the process of surfing about the Internet, I ran across some articles discussing just this issue–to wit, how does one square modern knowledge of human origins with the (apparent) Biblical requirement that all humans descend from a single priaml couple–and I thought it worthwhile to point them out and briefly discuss them.

It’s interestingly appropriate, given the content and image for today’s Rubá’í of the Day.  Since I schedule the Rubá’í of the Day posts months ahead of time, I rarely remember what the specific verse for the day is or what image I selected for it until it posts.  I was thinking about this post last night, and when I decided to write it today, lo and behold:  there were Adam and Eve in today’s rubá’í!  I certainly can’t ignore such a synchronicity, so on we go!

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More News on Polygenesis

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This past summer came news of possible interbreeding between early Homo sapiens (modern humans) and other groups, possibly of different but related species.  This is in addition to the possible and much-disputed hybridization with Neanderthal Man.  Admittedly I’m a little late on this–I was deep into “Legends of the Fall” at the time, and somehow overlooked this fascinating news, which I should have incorporated at the time.  Oh, well–better late than never.

The first story indicates a possibility of mixing between modern humans and the so-called Denisovan hominin.  Denisovans were discovered only four years ago, and the remains are still fragmentary.  Nevertheless, DNA analysis indicates the Denisovans to be distinct both from modern humans and from Neanderthals, though they seem more closely related to the latter.  This analysis also indicated Denisovan DNA exists in modern populations, too, especially Melanesians and Australian Aborigines.  This would indicate some interbreeding between early modern humans and Denisovans.

The second story indicates hybridization between early modern humans and one or more unknown species or subspecies in Africa.  In this case there are no physical remains such as bones; rather, patterns of DNA unlike any other human (or Neanderthal) DNA have turned up in some African populations.  This is interpreted as indicated hybridization with some other unknown group or groups–quite likely, given the large number of early hominids in Africa.  What is surprising is the relative recentness of this interbreeding–as recently as 20,000 years ago, long after other populations had already left Africa.

This is still more evidence that while all humans today have common ancestors in the relatively recent past, there were nevertheless many different groups that contributed to the human genome, and not all original populations necessarily had a single origin.  More and more we see the need to rethink traditional theology in regard to the Fall and the origin of humanity.

Part of the series Legends of the Fall.

Also part of the series Polygenism Revisited.

Hell, Salafis, Philosophers, and Playing the Odds

Over at his blog at The American Conservative, Rod Dreher quotes from this original article over at The New Republic online.  Here’s the part that Rod quotes, my emphasis:

I never asked much of Hesham El Ashry, and Hesham never asked much of me. All I wanted was some conversation about religion and Egyptian politics with someone who had strong views on both.  All Hesham wanted was one more chance to describe in grotesque detail the fate that awaited me and everybody I loved: Our skin would thicken, not with callouses but with soft, thin, tender layers, each more sensitive than the last. Eventually the accumulated layers would be miles deep. And then God—not my god, or the god of the vast majority of so-called Muslims, but the one true Allah, worshiped by Hesham’s fellow Salafis—would burn off those layers individually, savoring the pain until he reached flesh. Then Allah would restore them again, like Prometheus’s liver, so he could blister and rip them away for eternity.

“Do you feel that?” Hesham asked me once, gently handing me a scorching glass of Lipton, poured straight from a whistling kettle. He never missed a chance to illustrate a point. My fingertips burned, and I recoiled a little, losing a splash of the tea. “You feel why Allah chooses heat,” he said. “Because it’s the worst torture there is.”

Hesham is a squat little guy, 52 years old and usually smiling, as guys who think a lot about hellfire and how they are surely going to avoid it often do. Though he is not rich, he spends his time and money freely in an effort to convert new Muslims, and for the last year, I have been a special project. His goal is as much spiritual as hygienic—a quest to purify Islam and the world of heresy and disbelief.

Every couple months, I visited his tailor shop in downtown Cairo for instruction in the narrow, rigid take on Islam known as Salafism. As a Salafi, Hesham explained, he is concerned not only with replicating the ways of the prophet and his companions, but also with erasing all religious “innovation” (other Muslims might call it “development” or “progress”) that has perverted Islam since the eighth century. He always greeted me cheerily, with a “Salaam” and a handshake. Eventually, we achieved a sort of unconventional friendship. “I hate you,” he told me in August, with a smile. “I hate all Jews and Christians, anyone who is not a Muslim.”

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