I’ve been inactive lately here at the Orthosphere because my sparse mental energies have been focused elsewhere: Bruce Charlton and I have been talking amiably for the last few days about the Mormon versus the Christian doctrines of God, over at his valuable site The Notion Club Papers (which is devoted mostly to the Inklings). Those with a taste for metaphysical disputation might want to check it out. Bruce has said that he wants to keep that thread exclusive to the two of us, for clarity’s sake, and invited those interested to comment upon it in another post at his main site, Bruce Charlton’s Miscellany. I’ll say likewise: comments on this post are closed, so if you want to add your two cents, please do so over at the Miscellany.
Kristor, here’s a question: If sin is always enacted lying, what about people who love to do evil because it is evil? What about a torturer of the innocent, for example? He isn’t saying that torturing is “the appropriate thing to do under the circumstances.” He’s torturing because it _isn’t_ the appropriate thing to do, and because he loves the perversion. Some people love perversion for being perverse–love to read the universe backwards. I take this to be the essence of the demonic, if the demonic can be said to have an essence. Since we can imagine such a thing as a demonic will which truly adheres to evil for evil’s sake, it seems that this must be possible, and indeed (more’s the pity) we do know of monstrously evil human beings who have enacted the demonic will in our mundane world.
This is an especially important question, it has always seemed to me. I’d be a long step closer to being convinced that there is an a priori argument (or nearly a priori argument) for the existence of an omnibenevolent God if I didn’t have a rather vivid sense of the possibility of an extremely powerful (all-powerful?) but truly evil will.
Ugh. That’s a really tough question. I mean, it’s about fifteen tough questions. Thanks! I think …
I do have a response. But it’s too long for a comment. So, I’ll post it as a new entry.
This is that post.
I woke up Saturday morning thinking about sin. I know, I know: it sounds sick. But it wasn’t morbid, or anything. I wasn’t regretting my manifold wickednesses. No, I was enjoying the odd, synchronistic confluence in my intellectual life of inputs from several disparate sources, that each illumined the same issue of sin from slightly different perspectives, in such a way as to provide me as I woke with an increase in cerebral economy, otherwise known as an insight: the discovery of a connection between several ideas, that harmonized and integrated them.
In a post the other day at one of his several useful blogs, Bruce Charlton suggested that habitual lying, such as that in which the slaves of political correctness indulge themselves, deforms the circuitry of the brain in such a way as to cripple the ability to think. I have thought something of the sort for decades, ever since I read William Powers’ pellucid, masterful, amiable and penetrating Behavior: the Control of Perception. The basic idea I derived from Powers, as implicit in his explication of the logical structure of the nervous system under the terms of control system theory, is that in lying, superordinate circuits override the truthful output signals arising from subordinate circuits, either damping them, or masking them altogether. In effect, one control system of the brain disagrees with another, and insists that it get its own way. But, therein lies the rub; for, there is never any free lunch.
Bruce Charlton has noticed an essay by Mormon author Orson Scott Card, in which Card has a “Traditional Christian” and an LDS believer arguing over the nature of the Trinity. The Christian says the Trinity is like three parallel lines that everywhere touch each other, while the LDS says that it is like three disparate parallel lines.
Both these geometrical analogies are of course radically defective. That of the “Traditional Christian” fails to express threeness, while that of the LDS fails to express oneness. They illustrate the difficulty of trying to explain the being who is the very basis of explanation as such. If God is the origin of all that is, then he can’t be explained in terms of anything else. We should hardly be surprised that he can’t be accommodated by the abstractions of Euclidean geometry (especially since it is inadequate even as a formalization of our universe). If you’ve got an explanation of God, then what you’ve explained ain’t God. Nor would a God that you could fully understand be quite satisfactory to the religious impulse, for such a God would be in at least one way smaller than our own minds, and thus scandalous to worship.
Bruce Charlton suggests in a recent post that the eternal pre-mortem existence of the human soul might be a way to provide room for our free agency in a system of things that seems otherwise, as wholly determinate in and by its derivation from some past, and ultimately by and from God, to provide none. If we are eternal, he argues, then obviously we are not determined by anything other than ourselves, and so are free – free, among other things, to Fall.
There are some fatal problems with this suggestion. But hidden within it is the germ of a solution to the problem Dr. Charlton has noticed. All that is needed to unpack it is to apply certain distinctions.
If we can just manage not to bungle our redemption, so that we make it to Heaven, we will there remain free – in the sense that it will be metaphysically possible to us – to err and fall from that state of limitless power and grace and goodness, as happened at the first instants of our world with Lucifer, and as we do every five minutes or so right now. A free man may always sell himself into slavery.
But we won’t want to.
What is it like to live the life everlasting that is promised to Christians? The question has arisen in the last few days both over at View from the Right, where Lawrence Auster is contemplating his own incipient death with awesome magnanimity and serenity, and at Charlton’s Miscellany. Both Charlton and Auster make important points. I had reactions to both posts, so I figure it makes most sense to consolidate them here.
But whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in Me to stumble, it would be better for him if a millstone were hung around his neck, and he were thrown into the sea.
– Mark 9:42
But the Name of the Lord wins through in the end, no matter what. Indeed, that’s why heresy is so serious. Invoking the Name is a dangerous business
Consider Colossians 1:24, where Paul says,
[I w]ho now rejoice in my sufferings for you, and fill up that which is behind of the afflictions of Christ in my flesh for his body’s sake, which is the church.
That’s the KJV. The Greek translated as “that which is behind” or “that which is lacking” is τὰ ὑστερήματα (ta hysteremata), literally, “that which is lacking or empty.” The problem is, how can anything be lacking in Christ’s atonement – which is, after all, the perfect act of an omnipotent God?
I hope all of you saw Bruce’s brilliant post on this topic. Excerpt:
There are two prominent kinds of anti-evolutionist in public life – and by which I mean people who deny the applicability of evolution by natural selection to some aspect of humans
…it turns out that the much demonised and despised religious anti-evolutionists who are skeptical about macro-evolution of humans are in plain fact much more scientific and empirical than are those numerous and influential secular Leftists who challenge the solid, and indeed observable, reality of human adaptation or micro-evolution.
The religious anti-macro-evolutionists who acknowledge within-form adaption are indeed within the historical mainstream of biology in their focus upon form as primary; the secular Leftist anti-adaptationists are chucking-out biology altogether in favour of a political ideology which ignores the most basic level of reality-testing.
Since it is secular Leftists who control public discourse we find public discourse in the extraordinary, and scientifically indefensible, position of asserting that on the one hand macro-evolution is necessarily real and the essential form of the human species certainly arose by natural selection – which is an incremental accumulation of adaptive changes; yet on the other hand denying that micro-evolution, adaptation, has occurred within the human species.
In other words, the speculative and uncertain aspect of Darwinian natural selection is accepted as necessary, as dogma (to reject which is to move outwith the bounds of legitimate public discourse); while the empirically and experientially verifiable aspect of Darwinism is at the same time rejected.
Secular Leftists thus believe in speciation but not adaptation; they believe that humans arose by natural selection, but also that – once humans had arisen – natural selection does not apply to humans!
Before reading this article, I hadn’t quite realized just how ridiculous the Leftist line on human evolution actually is. Of course, this says nothing about what our position should be. I believe that speciation by natural selection is compatible with a realist position on forms (because essentialism just requires the existence of sharp boundaries, not that they can’t be crossed between generations), but greater philosophical minds of the Thomist school are known to disagree (because supposedly an effect can’t have something lacking in its cause–see here for an explanation of this disputed principle). Unlike the Leftists, we have no reason to deny the obvious differences between the human races.