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Some Postulates


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.

Synthesis, Part 5: Hell Hole (concluded)

OK, back on topic after a slight diversion into other avenues!  Last time we looked at the issue of pre-existing natural evil from the perspective of the cosmology of Evagrius Ponticus.  In short, given that we’ve put the concept of the Fall, in light of modern science and polygenesis, on a sounder basis, how do we then account for the natural evils of the world (moral evil–the bad behavior of individuals–is another matter, which is not directly germane to the issue here)?

This is easily explained by the Gnostic mythos, since matter and the material world are considered to be evil by nature.  Thus, there’s nothing to explain–a material world is by definition an evil and corrupt one.  It is for this reason that I’ve not discussed the Gnostic mythos much in this series.  Whether or not one accepts it, it does do a pretty good job of accounting for the Fall, polygenesis, and the evil in the world.

The Evagrian perspective is a little tougher, but as I said, I think it’s not too hard to use it to account for the observed nastiness of the cosmos.

It’s when we come to the orthodox view that we have the biggest challenge.  Granting that man was created sinless (with the modification that it was an original population, not an original couple, of which this could be said); and granting that the material world obviously contained great amounts of natural evil long before the existence of humanity; then it seems that God put unfallen humanity smack in the middle of an egregiously fallen–or at least questionable–cosmos.  Attempting to explain–or at least to give suggestive lines of thought towards explaining–this conundrum will be the purpose of this post. Read the rest of this entry

Synthesis, Part 4: Hell Hole

A nice 80’s reference, and a change of pace from Lady Gaga, huh?  😉

OK, so we’ve discussed what I think is a reasonably plausible scenario for understanding how the Fall could affect all humanity even without a primal “Adam and Eve” from whom all subsequent humans are descended.  It also allows us to move away from the penal model of the Atonement towards a more Athanasian view in which the Incarnation itself restores the Divine image in man.  So far, so good.

We are left with a few loose ends, though.  In either the view I posit in “Synthesis, Part 3” or the Evagrian view, one needs to explain the extreme amount of evil in the world.  Recall, Evagrius had the Fall occurring in the Pleroma, with the material world as a sort of Plan B created by God as a way of re-educating the now-incarnate souls so that they can eventually return to the Pleroma–to be once more in God’s presence.  Since the material world is in a sense a cosmic reform school, from the Evagrian perspective, it is somewhat easier to explain the existence of natural evils (earthquakes, floods, etc.–things not attributable to misused free will).  What would one expect from a reform school?

One might still argue, of course, that it’s an awfully sadistic reform school, with much more evil and nastiness than seems necessary.  Thus, a certain amount of exploration of the issue seems appropriate.  The need to do so with my scenario from the last post is even more necessary, since in that case you have innocent humans placed in an already-marred cosmos before their fall.  I will postpone that, however, and reserve this post for discussion of the Evagrian scenario.   Read the rest of this entry

Synthesis, Part 2: Humans, Elves, and Mortality

So, if we can’t assert that Adam and Eve were the original ancestors of all humans, and thus cannot assert the traditional Western explanation of Original Sin, then what do we do?  What I want to do is take ideas from some of the various sources I’ve cited over the course of this series (and some from J. R. R. Tolkien, in this post in particular) and try to see an alternate way of viewing Original Sin and the Fall of Humanity.   A good place to begin is to look at various ways of what we understand the Fall to be.   Read the rest of this entry

Synthesis, Part 1: I want your ugly, I want your disease

Hey, it’s a change of pace from all the Adam and Eve scenes, and it might get the post more hits!  😉  Actually, there is  a logic here, as I’ll show later.  Seriously, we’re going to take all the ideas we’ve been developing about the Fall of Man and try to start putting things together and see where that gets us.

For those who may not have read the series thus far, it begins here and proceeds thenceforth (there are too many links to embed at this point).

Last time, we looked at criteria that any successful account of the Fall of Man must meet if it is to be taken seriously.  Given its strong mythological and allegorical tendencies, I think the Gnostic view could satisfy them all; and the Evagrian view no longer exists as a living theology in any branch of Christianity that I know of.  As to the orthodox Christian understanding, I think most non-fundamentalists have long since made peace with evolution and a massively old cosmos.  The two points that I think are the crux, because they are not addressed by traditional Christian theology are points three, that evil pre-existed mankind; and four, that human origins may be polygenetic.   I think the first of these is the less problematic, so I’ll save it for later.  The second I want to talk about here. Read the rest of this entry

Legends of the Fall, Part 6: Laying Groundwork

I’m not going to link back to the previous entries this time–if you’re reading this, you can scroll back; if you’ve been keeping up, you know what we’ve discussed thus far; and I’m getting way too many pingbacks whenever I put in links!  Before we move on to looking at possible candidates for a theory of the Fall of Man, I think we need to lay some groundwork by deciding what criteria such a theory must meet.

Scientific Criteria

1.  Any theory must acknowledge the great age of the cosmos and of the Earth.

2.  The evolution of humans over time from lower mammals must be acknowledged.

3.  The existence of natural evil in the material world before the human race came into being must be acknowledged.

4.  The possibility of polygenesis of humankind must be allowed for (see the last post).

Theological Criteria

A.  Any theory must assume one God.

B.  The one God must be all-good and perfect.

C.  He must be the creator of at least the souls of humans.

D.  Humanity–all humans that ever have existed, do exist, or ever will exist–must be a unity, at least in a metaphysical sense.  That is, we must all share a common nature and (if Original Sin in any form is to be meaningful) some kind of common metaphysical status.

E.  All humanity is redeemed–at least potentially–by the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.  This also requires some type of metaphysical unity of the human race.

The Gnostic system (especially because of its diversity) could probably deal with 1-4 fairly well–certainly, neo-Gnostics have no problem with them.  It also deals well with A-C.  D and E wouldn’t be fully applicable, since Gnostic anthropology and soteriology are substantially different from that of the orthodox, but that’s a discussion for another place and time, not relevant to the issue at hand.

The Evagrian system never had to deal with modern science, but I think it could handle 1-3 fairly well, and probably 4 as well.  I don’t know enough of it to speak to A-E as well, but I think Evagrius’ system could deal with them, as well, with proper development.

Orthodox Christianity has traditionally had a hard time with all of the scientific issues here, but most non-fundamentalists have made their peace with 1 and 2, and more careful thinkers are at least aware of 3 and 4, though I think work still needs to be done in this area.  D and E bear some relationship to 3 and 4 (once more, see the previous post).  Thus, the issues touched on by these four points are what I want to concentrate on for next time.

Part of the series Legends of the Fall.

Legends of the Fall, Part 5: Compare and Contrast

OK:  I’ve discussed various theories of the Fall of Humanity here, here, and here; I’ve talked about Evagrius Ponticus; I’ve looked at some of the other issues involved here, here, here, here, here, and here.  What I’d like to do now is look at ways in which the three systems of thought I’m examining–orthodox Christian, Gnostic, and Evagrian–are similar and those in which they are different.  Once we’ve done that, we can look at the strengths and weaknesses of each in terms of figuring out how best to understand the Fall. Read the rest of this entry

Excursus: Evil, Part 3–Who’s In Charge Here, Anyway?

As I discussed in the previous post, I’m examining the hypothesis (discussed in greater detail there) that while natural evils–hurricanes, floods, disease, etc.–existed before humans, they were not actually evil, or perceived as such, by humans before the Fall.  That is, presumably, if Adam had broken his leg, got a bad cold, come down with cancer or tapeworms, or got third-degree burns from the lava spewed in a volcanic eruption, nevertheless he would not have perceived or considered such things as being evil, as long as they occurred before he ate the Forbidden Fruit.  As strange or unconventional as this view may seem, it does have a certain internal consistency, and it can’t be falsified as such.  Nevertheless, I don’t believe it to be accurate.  Thus, I want to explain here why this is so, from my perspective. Read the rest of this entry

Excursus: Evil, Part 2–Your Wicked Ways

For my thoughts are not your thoughts, and your ways are not my ways.  This is the very word of the LORD.  For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.–Isaiah 55:8-9, NEB

Last time, I discussed how I was rather taken aback by the following statement by A. Sinner in a discussion we were having at Vox Nova (given at greater length in the last post) regarding the Fall of man and evil in the world (my emphasis):

Earthquakes and animal bodies decaying and all the “chaos” you see in the world…are only evil inasmuch as Man constructs it as evil, only inasmuch as Man fears it, only inasmuch as Man has defined himself as self-contained and therefore mortal.

I want to discuss this at length.  To do so will require substantial unpacking.  Read the rest of this entry

Excursus: Evil, Part 1

The time before last, I said,

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.  There are a few subtleties here that I will save for a later post, but right now let’s just say that evils or Evil can’t be blamed on Eve’s apple.

It has generally been held by Christian theologians that the Fall affected not only humans but the whole world itself.  Some examples, with my emphases added and with sources: Read the rest of this entry