Category Archives: Philosophical Theology

Moral Gravity and Forgiveness of Original Sin

Moral Gravity and Forgiveness of Original Sin

I use this topic to speculate on the Christian Paschal mystery. I try to show that taking gravity -the seriousness – of an offense as an intrinsic feature of the offense is a theologically rich concept although in secular thinking gravity of an offense is extrinsic.

A fruitful opening question runs “Is an intrinsically grave wrong forgivable?” We turn away from legal and ordinary moral thinking because there are no intrinsically grave acts for those ways of thinking. For in legal and everyday moral thinking gravity depends upon the harm done by the act and the intention of the actor to do harm in the circumstance.

In the previous post, it was proposed that by interpreting moral rules as divine commands, we might be able to develop a concept of intrinsically grave wrong. Consider the following working definition.

An act is an intrinsically grave wrong if it is direct disobedience of a command of God. In the Judaic-Christian myth, Eve’s eating the apple was a grave wrong despite the triviality of eating an apple and Eve’s good intention to attain knowledge of good and evil. On the tempter’s suggestion, she directly with full consent of her will disobeyed God’s command. Adam endorsed and participated in the disobedience. So, at our beginning, humanity, represented by Adam and Eve, has directly willed to disobey God’s commands. So, from our beginning we are guilty of grave wrongs. For what Adam and Eve’s choice represents is each of us, except Mary mother of Jesus, accepting as a live option choosing evil – defiance of God – as a means to good.

How can God forgive us for that?

Consideration of what is involved in direct defiance of God, shows what might be needed to forgive such a wrong. Direct disobedience of a command of God is to will not to be as God wills us to be. However, willing not to be as God wills us to be is to will not to be at all. For what God does not will is nothing. So, Adam and Eve willed not to be – that is total evil: complete lack of any being.

I am using a command theory of morality in which choice of wrong requires retributive punishment.

Choice of wrong is choice to have a good inhibited. In general, the retributive punishment for choice of a good not to be is to be deprived of the good one chose to inhibit i.e., not to be. For instance, the apt retributive punishment for choosing death for another in murder is to lose one’s own life. So, in the case of Adam and Eve’s choice of not to be, the suitable retributive punishment is not to be. But, in this model of original sin, based on the Adam and Eve myth, Adam and Eve chose for humanity. The punishment, then, would be the annihilation of humanity.

God forgave Adam and Eve, viz., humanity, by not requiring of us the evil of annihilation that we have chosen. But how might God have forgiven the punishment? God gave humanity free will. Humanity used free will to choose not to be. Letting the choice of a free will come about is a great good because free will is a great good. So, God would not hinder the choice of humanity to be annihilated. But annihilation of humanity would be an evil – lack of being for all humans. God loves, wills the good, of humans. So, God wills that human not be annihilated as they have chosen.

How can God protect us from our punishment of annihilation which we have chosen? God becomes incarnate as a the human Jesus. In Jesus’ execution, human nature was annihilated as a punishment, Jesus’ death was more than our deaths. Jesus’s death was total annihilation. Jesus suffered exceedingly. As a man he suffered horrible biological death on the cross. After biological death, he suffered the total evil -non being- of annihilation which is hell. Only God who sustains all things in being could have had human nature annihilated, kept humans in existence and then re-created human nature.

Imperishability of the Human Soul

The human soul makes a human animal a supernatural being as well as a natural being.

That which makes a human animal supernatural is its moral capacity to know the good and freely choose it. Knowing the good is bipartite. First, there is knowing the basic natural human goods, Second, there is knowing that which the basic human goods are good for. The natural goods are also bipartite. First, there are those conditions which make for human flourishing. Second, there is being the kind of person who freely chooses these conditions for human flourishing. Since basic human goods are goals as well as natural conditions, knowledge of goods as good give humans purposes. Purposes are goods which are intentionally sought. Knowing what basic human goods are good for gives humans a purpose for living itself. But purposes are not part of nature when we think of nature from the perspective of evolutionary theory as we are doing here. So, our having purposes makes us supernatural beings as well as natural beings even if most of our goods are natural conditions.

This capacity for knowing the good is a moral capacity because we can freely choose to act against attainment of what is good. But the fundamental law of morality is “Choose what is good!” With knowledge of what is good and free will comes obligation. We could say that it is having obligations which places us in both the natural and supernatural.

It must be emphasized that exercise of the capacity to know and pursue the good depends upon physiological states of an individual human but this moral capacity is not any physiological state or capacity. It is an additional feature that enables physiological states and capacities to be used in intentionally knowing and choosing what is good. Individuals with severe cognitive capacities still have this moral capacity although unable to exercise it. Individuals receive this moral capacity – the human soul – when they began to be human, which is at conception.

This moral capacity is essential to the human species even if it did not arise by natural selection. This means that in a thought experiment in which humans from the period when humanity began, off-spring of these ancient humans due to mating with contemporary humans would have all of the basic moral concepts we have now. See Natural and Supernatural Origin.

The soul of an individual human is that individual’s capacity to know and pursue what is good.

Why claim that the soul of a human is imperishable? Why claim that the soul of a human does not cease to exist at biological death. Why claim that the soul of a human does not cease to exist when there is no body to form into a moral agent? I give a Kantian answer.

A human being is morally perfect if that person becomes the kind of person who freely chooses the natural goods. Amongst these natural goods is being morally perfect.

Consider, now, these brief syllogisms. The justification for (1) is given above when it was pointed out that our natural goods are obligatory goods. Premiss (2) is an alleged truth of logic.

Syllogism I

1. A person ought to be morally perfect.
2. What ought to be can be.
3. If a person’s capacity to be morally perfect ceased to be at biological death, that person cannot be morally perfect.
Hence: (4) A person’s capacity to be morally perfect cannot cease to be at biological death.

Syllogism II

5. If a person’s capacity to be morally perfect were never embodied after biological death, that person’s capacity to be morally perfect could never be exercised after biological death
6. If a person’s capacity to be morally perfect could never be exercised after biological death, that person cannot be morally perfect.
Hence: (7) If a person’s capacity to be morally perfect were never embodied after biological death, that person cannot be morally perfect.
Using (1) and (2) above, we can conclude:
8. A person’s capacity to be morally perfect – a person’s soul- is embodied some time after biological death.

Note that if a person attained moral perfection that person cannot cease to be. For what ought to be cannot cease to be. If what ought to be ceased to be something which ought to be could no longer be.

The Natural Evolutionary Origin Plus Supernatural Origin of Humanity

It is logically consistency to accept a complete naturalistic evolutionary origin of homo sapiens or homo sapiens-sapiens and still posit a supernatural origin of humanity. I follow some in using homo sapiens-sapiens to admit the prospect of human intelligence itself needing an evolutionary account. I write of a complete naturalistic origin to emphasize that the supernatural origin is not introduced to fill any gaps in the naturalistic evolutionary account. The supernatural should not be introduced to answer any question which could be answered naturalistically. From here on, I will write simply of evolutionary accounts and not use modifiers such as “naturalistic” or “by natural selection.”

What do I accept by granting that there is a complete evolutionary account of the origin of homo sapiens? I give the answer of a non-scientist who sooner or later faces the question “What do you accept or reject by accepting or rejecting an evolutionary explanation of humanity?”

There are two parts to my answer. The first sketches a model which finds a place for empirical evidence to support theories that species, some still existing, evolved by natural selection. The second part presents an imaginary scenario of what it means for the species we are now to be the same species as one existing thousands of years ago.

Perhaps a million or more years ago one particular breeding population in the genus homo, which I label A, flourished and grew. Some members of A would mate with members of other homo populations, which I label B, C, D. Genetic and environmental factors were not favorable for the flourishing and growth of B, C, D despite interbreeding with A. B, C, & D gradually became extinct.

Of course, my sketch is very “sketchy.” Over the thousands and thousands of years B, C & D have had successor populations which have bred, more or less successfully, with other populations, including successors of A. In the end though, all but the successors of A have become extinct.

Only A still exists in the sense that a path down from the present through a tree structure of branches ending before the present, leads from the present to A. The nodes at base of branches on the tree are species; not individuals. It is a branch which has not yet reached its tip.

The genuine hard scientific work lies in tracing such a pathway in the fossil and archaeological data. It is not always clear when they are on the pathway. For instance, do these tool-like rocks clearly indicate A’s? Most likely there can be no specification of a definite time for the origin of A’s. Individuals but not populations have definite origin times. But there can be a bracket of, perhaps, a few thousand years before which there were no A’s but within which A’s appeared. Perhaps, the beginning point of the bracket was fifty to forty thousand years ago.

It should be emphasized that the scientific program is not for explaining the origin of individual members of a species. If one accepts evolution, as I do, it is tempting to believe that there is a “family tree” tracing me back to a breeding pair of humans at a definite time before which there were no humans. But the scientific program is guided by a model of a “species tree.”

Also, it should be emphasized that evolutionary accounts face all of the mind-body problems of any scientific study of contemporary humans. The relation of human thought and feeling, collective as well as individual, to their physiological correlates in the nervous system of individuals, are unexplained in any study of humans.

There is a sexual or reproductive dimension to believing that a species long ago is the same species as ours. This is the requirement that, in general, individuals can reproduce fertile offspring if and only if they are of the same species. There is no way that such a test can be conducted with individuals thousands of years apart. So, I will indulge in a thought experiment.

Suppose somehow a male and female of ancient A had been frozen or preserved in some fashion so that they can now be revived and be sexually active here and now in the twenty first century. Let’s call them Ancient Man and Ancient Woman. They should be able to have offspring by mating with people of the twenty first century. Suppose Ancient Man mates with a contemporary woman Mary and she gives birth to a daughter Clara. Clara should grow up to have all of the cognitive abilities and technical skills of any other child of our century. This means, amongst many other things, that Clara could learn to speak English. Suppose further, Ancient Woman mates with a contemporary male Dick and Ancient Woman becomes pregnant and bears a son Tom. Just like Clara, Tom would be born with the ability to learn the cognitive and technical skills of the twenty first century. To be sure, there would be physical features which set Clara and Tom apart from typical twenty first century people. Almost certainly, they would have smaller body size. Over the centuries, natural selection changes many features of a species without leading to a new species. However, in this thought experiment the prediction is that if Clara and Tom breed with typical twenty first people and then the offspring of these children mate with typical twenty first people the physical differences will be significantly modified to match human features of our century.

The above is my attempt to specify what I admit when I claim to accept that the scientific community has the correct research program for giving a naturalistic explanation of the origin of the human species, indeed for the origin of any species.

The question of whether or not members of this species have been given a purpose or goal for their lives is not, and ought not be, even raised in the evolutionary account. So, it is consistent with this naturalistic account to claim that humans as beings with a purpose began when God specified that each man and woman has the goal of living to know, love and serve Him while living so that they can be happy with Him after biological death.

Of course, consistency is far from significant, let alone true. So, the further questions concern motivation and justification for supernatural claims.

The Transcendent vs Nothing

I am trying to understand the Christian* theme that there is a cosmic battle in progress between God and evil forces. This theme is, on the surface at least, incompatible with the Christian theme of God as the supreme unlimited source of everything except God. The latter theme expresses the standard philosophical concept of God with all the Omni’s, omniscience, omnipotence, etc..

This effort to understand the theme of a cosmic battle is crucial for my project of presenting morality as constituted by divine commands. In modelling morality as laws which are commanded it is very easy to slip into modelling morality as eternal standing laws. The model suggests that there are these immutable laws which were somehow established by a divine command. However, there really is no place for commanding. Classifying the moral laws as simply divine commands adds little to standard natural law models of morality. No new prescriptions can be added. And new prescriptions that some harm ought to occur upon violation of moral laws is crucial to morality as authoritarian morality. To emphasize that the divine commander of morality is an active commander, I try to model the divine commander as a “battlefield commander.”

At the risk of appearing to accept a childish reification of nothing, I explore a conjecture that God is struggling with nothing. There is a cosmic warfare between creating and nothing. Whatever the creator creates, the creator takes from nothing. Whatever the creator sustains keeps something from nothing. Nothing is the loser in creation.

In general, I do not like solving philosophic problems with a verbal change. If the change solves the conceptual problem, it seems an admission that the problem was only verbal. Nonetheless, I will experiment by frequently making the verbal change of “not being” for “nothing.”

The answer to “What is nothing?” is “not being.” So I rewrite my the crucial sentences of the previous paragraph as follows.

I explore a conjecture that God is struggling with not being. There is a cosmic warfare between creating and not being. Whatever the creator creates, the creator takes from not being. Whatever the creator sustains keeps something from not being. Not being is the loser in creation.

Let us suppose that the cosmic struggle is a reaction to creation. Creatures with intelligence and some power are necessary for there to be a struggle not to be – a struggle on behalf of nothing.

The creator creates intelligence with powers. There are intelligence beings with powers to influence what is created. Intelligence recognizes that it depends upon the creator for being. All intelligent beings dread not being. As dependent beings all intelligent beings are essentially capable of not being. And they know it!

There are two ways to react to awareness of dependence. One is to accept the dependent status with faith that the creator sustains one from not being. The other is to rebel against that dependent status.

In rebellion against the dependent status, a creature is rebelling against its being. The rebellious creature is choosing not to be. For a creature to be is to be dependent. Choice of not being dependent is a choice not to be. For a creature to be independent is for it not to be a creature and hence, not to be.

Choice against being a creature is choice against creation. Creation can be attacked only by preventing creatures from being – by having creatures not be. There is a limited way in which creation can be prevented. The only creatures that can be prevented from being are creatures who can not be as the creator intended that they be. These are creatures with free will. The moral laws tell these intelligent creatures what they are created to be. By violating the moral laws they choose not to be. For creatures with free will not to be as the creator intends in a particular area is always a general rebellion against being a creature and, hence, a choice not to be.

Some intelligences have chosen against their dependent status and hence have chosen creation not to be what it is. That means that some intelligences with powers have chosen that there not be creation – that there be nothing. The rebellious creatures want their choice to be correct. The vain hope for ratification of their choice is to have it chosen by all. Thus creatures in rebellion against being seek to use their powers to have others choose not to be which in its limited fashion is always a particular choice not be be as the creator intended in a particular area.

Hence, there is resistance in creation against what the creator creates. The resistant forces can alter what the creator intends in arenas in which the creator grants freedom of choice to some creatures. The typical resistance is disobedience to the moral laws of the creator who is the moral authority.

Subsequent posts will reconsider and clarify the notion of the creator being a moral commander in a contest with intelligences, with powers and free will, who have chosen that there be no creation.

* But I am not working in Christian theology. I want my work to be philosophic. I am here giving philosophic support to Christianity. My line of thought is that authoritarian morality is the correct philosophic model of moral thought. The authoritarian model posits a moral commander in conflict with evil. So, Christianity is shown to use a philosophically approved model of morality.

The Transcendent is Immanent in Moral Transparency

The Transcendent is Immanent in Moral Transparency

Theists establishing the existence of God as a transcendent reality can go on to establishing a consistent divine command moral theory.

In my previous post , I noted that the transcendence of that upon which everything depends for its existence is an artefact of our theoretical thinking. The argument for the being of that upon which everything depends for its existence proceeded by reflection upon our ways of thinking. That the argument proceeded by reflective thinking is apparent premises asserting that we must think in a certain way. In this reflective thinking we form a model of our thinking wherein we posit something beyond our thinking.

Similarly, in a case for a representative realism about truth conditions we form a model of our thinking wherein we posit the truth conditions for representations as things in themselves always beyond our representations. However, this barrier between truth conditions as things in themselves inaccessible to thought is only an artefact of the realism theory, a representative realism theory.

We ourselves along with our thinking are existing entities. We and our thinking are truth conditions for some claims. So, there is no reason for holding that in truth conditions, there is a barrier between thinking and what is thought about. When we are not thinking about our thinking we do not erect a barrier between thought and its objects.

So, there is a basis for holding that if we are not thinking about our thinking to form a metaphysical theory about that on which everything depends, we need not posit some barrier between that on which everything depends and our thinking. In particular, in our awareness that conformity to a moral law is transparent, our thought is in contact with that which from a theoretical point of view transcends thought. Or, so I am claiming. Recall that transparency is the awareness of our obedience, or disobedience, to a moral law is known by something or other. See Core Concepts of Authoritarian Morality.

The theoretical transcendent is encountered in our moral thinking.

This is my “breakthrough” in development of a consistent divine command moral theory.

In a series of post developing a model of moral thought as presupposing a moral authority, I have made a case for a moral commander. In another series of posts, using “high metaphysical” reasoning, I have made a case for a divinity – the Transcendent. Theoretically the Transcendent is beyond the immanent reality it sustains while the moral commander is immanent. Now, though, we have realized that in practical reasoning we could be in contact with what is theoretically transcendent. I can consistently extend my model of moral thinking by identifying the divine commander as the Transcendent in metaphysical.

Theoretical reason pays a cost for this permission to go forward in development of a divine command moral theory. The cost is that theoretical reason has to concede that practical reason is superior. For theoretical reason has to admit that it creates artefacts that need to be set aside for realities uncovered by practical reason.

I have no longer have any intention of interpreting the thought of any philosopher; let alone John Henry Newman. Only recently, I took an on-line course on Newman from Bishop Robert Barron. I wish that I had studied Newman earlier. His wisdom exhibited in combining faith and skepticism guides me. I suggest that my sense of transparency in moral thinking leads me to give what Newman calls real assent to the divine while my theoretical reasoning to the Transcendent leads me to give notional assent to the divine.

The Truth of Spiritual Truth Claims

My realization that there could be truth conditions for religious claims continues to astonish me. The only narratives which could not be true are logically inconsistent narratives.

With respect to what a philosopher can say apriori about what exists is

The only impossibility is logical impossibility!
The only necessity is logical necessity!

In particular, I now hold that there could exist conditions which make one of my favorite bible passages an accurate description of the conception of Jesus which happened roughly two thousand years ago in a town of Galilee called Nazareth when a Cyrinus was governor of Syria. This is the Annunciation according to Luke. (Lk. 1:26-36) .

I cannot clearly articulate what I previously thought about the truth of religious claims. I thought that most of them were fictions. I did not explicitly hold that core claims of my Catholicism, such as the Annunciation, were fictions. I admit, though, that I had a dread that they could not be more than fictions.

Why did I think that they could not be true? I thought that if any religious claims were true, an account of their truth conditions would be given by showing how what formed their truth conditions was built up from what formed truth conditions for claims about physical nature. I cannot think of how it is possible to construct what would form a truth condition about the supernatural from the stuff of truth conditions for the natural. I did not clearly think of myself as trying to construct the supernatural from the physical nature. But that is what I was doing.

I want to make a terminological shift. I am now shifting from talking of the natural vs. the supernatural to talking of the physical vs. the spiritual.

Here I want to examine assumptions behind my futile previous attempts to understand how there could be religious truth. I will note ssumptions I reject and those I still accept.

The physical is primary in the sense that what constitutes truth conditions for claims about physical nature constitute truth claims about anything else. I now reject this physicalism.

That which makes up truth conditions for claims is of one kind for all claims. I call this assumption “the homogeneity of truth conditions.” I now reject the homogeneity of truth conditions.

I now propose the “heterogeneity of truth conditions.” Whatever it is that constitutes truth conditions for our claims may be different for different kinds of claims. For instance, the lawfully behaving stuff that permits truths claims of physical science does not act in lawful ways with the stuff that makes religious claims true.

I conjecture that dismissal of the homogeneity of truth conditions allows use of the Aristotelian causal concepts for talking about any kind of truth conditions. They do not attribute any structure or composition. Indeed the Aristotelian causal concepts might be helpful in distinguishing the physical from the spiritual.

I held inconsistent assumptions about what we can know about truth conditions as they are apart from our ways of thinking. On one hand, I held “inscrutability of truth conditions.” (I use “inscrutability” to move away from the Kantian phrase “things in themselves” when I talk of not being able to say what truth conditions are like in-and-by-themselves.) On the other hand, I held “the ideal language assumption.”

An account of truth conditions is simply another truth claim. So other than to concede their heterogeneity and speculate that we could use Aristotelian causal concepts to talk of any kind of truth condition, I hold that truth conditions in-and-by-themselves are inscrutable.

Now according to the ideal language assumption, there is a correct written language which shows the structure of truth conditions for all claims. The ideal language assumption strikes me as preposterous. An ideal language is not any language but a pretended picture of what any truth conditions must have as a structure and composition. Nonetheless, I have more or less accepted it ever since I read Wittgenstein’s Tractatus as a beginning philosophy student. Even writing a dissertation on Wittgenstein’s remarks on mathematics in which he rejects an ideal language did not remove it as an assumption whenever I turned to core philosophy. Probably, I always assumed what I have called the Parmenidean assumption: The order and connection of being is the order and connection of thought. See Truth and the Parmenidean Postulate

More exactly, what is the ideal language assumption? A formal language in which all of the truth claims of mathematics and natural science can be expressed shows us the composition and structure of truth conditions. The referents of the basic descriptive terms of such a language are the basic constituents of truth conditions. Whatever else that is said to exist is definable in terms of these basic constituents.

Since the ideal language assumptions is preposterous, I do not want to spend more space elaborating on it. Here it is more important to note the assumption with which I replace the ideal language hypothesis.

It is the assumption that there is no right way of speaking, to speak the truth. For instance, the right way to tell the truth about the human condition may be the biblical narrative of the Hebrew tribe. I now hold that the best way to describe the Annunciation is the way Luke described it. There is no more precise way to speak about it.

I still assume the univocity of truth.

To tell the truth is to say of what is that it is and to say of what is not that it is not. However, there may many different kinds of subjects about which to tell the truth and many different ways of expressing these truths.

I close by emphasizing that I have been talking only about the possibility of spiritual and physical truths. I have not given any guidance on how we determine truth about the physical; let alone the spiritual.

Almost All Religious Truth Claims are Possibly True!

What narratives and reports can be true? All logically consistent narratives and reports can be true. But almost all are false, inadequate, or misleading.

For simplicity’s sake, I restrict myself to narratives intended to be an account of what exists. I set aside reports of what ought to be morally and narratives which are indicated by a phrase such as “once upon a time” or context that there is no intent to narrate what is the case. However, any of these fairy tales and myths could be true!

I mention the moral only in passing as it being part of the natural order.

All narratives are representations. A true representation tells the order and connection of existing things in themselves as that order and connection is to be represented. Hence, a true narrative tells of the order and connection of existing things in themselves as that order and connection is to be represented. We have no non-representational access to things in themselves. Hence, we are not entitled to specify what can or cannot exist. We can, assuming realism, articulate two assumptions. First, things in themselves and our representations of them comprise what exists, reality or as I have written “the immanent. Second, the immanent depends upon the Transcendent for existence. The Transcendent lies even further beyond our comprehension than the created things in themselves. Hence, we are in no position to declare that the Transcendent could not have created, viz., have dependent upon It for existence, things in themselves which would be aptly described by the narratives which are generally thought to be only myths or vulgar superstitions.

I am disgusted by the nightmare possibilities amongst the possible imagined realities After years of reflection on how the truth claims of an actual religion, such as my Catholicism, are possibly true requires recognition of a supernatural order. In my mid-thirties, I converted from cultural Catholicism by the aid of a quasi-religious experience that I could be a genuine believing Catholic by professing only theological doctrines while suppressing a philosophical belief that there is no supernatural order. The philosophical struggle to write this post forced me to abandon my suppressed naturalism. My assumption of a demystified Catholicism has been a useful crutch which I no longer need.

As the prefix “super” indicates, the supernatural will be characterized as in tension with the natural. The characterizations of the supernatural and natural are not offered as rigorous definitions for a philosophical treatise.

The supernatural order is bipartite. One part is in things in themselves. The other part lies in our representations. Within things in themselves, the supernatural order comprises the existents which are properly, or improperly, described by religious narratives , or, more generally: narratives about the physical or natural. Within representations there are all the possibilities narrated by legends, myths, sacred writings etc., Prior to being given in faith or somehow discovering which religious narrative best represents the religious existents, I must concede that the possibility presented by some dark and horrible narrative best describes the religious existents. All the silly zombie stuff could be true! Disgusting! Such frightening stupidity ertainly motivates some to seek solace in atheistic naturalism.

The supernatural order is not transcendent. The supernatural is immanent. The natural is also immanent. Both representations of religious significant objects and processes and the things in themselves justifying or refuting religious representations are immanent realities dependent upon the Transcendent for existence.

The natural order is tripartite. The first part comprises representations developed with the implicit or explicit intention of representing reality as being in principle completely intelligible by a careful use of human intelligence. This careful use of human intelligence is the honorific sense of reason as correct reason.

These representations of nature split the natural into the physical and moral. The representations of the physical are representations of that which does not represent. Nothing physical operates for the sake of anything else. The representation of the moral are representations of humans seeking what is good in accordance with rules. Nature would not be properly characterized by splitting representations into those of the physical and mental. Mental is too broad of a notion because because representations of the supernatural includes representations of thinking beings. The natural order is to be separated from the supernatural in our understanding. This does not mean that the supernatural cannot affect the natural. It means that the natural and supernatural have to be understood as separated. Indeed it would not make sense to talk of a supernatural intervention if the supernatural were not different from the natural. The third part of the natural order consists of the things in themselves by virtue of which such representations are true or false. Even idealists who hold that there are only representations seek some way to define a natural order in their systems.

Naturalism goes further than accepting a natural order. Naturalists reject the possibility of a supernatural order. I am leaving behind my implicit naturalism to make room for religious truth by accepting the logically consistent position of there being both a supernatural and natural order.

This tremendous philosophical shift is enough for one post.

Atheism vs the Transcendent

In my previous post,Immanence of the Transcendent I maintained that religious propositions are objectively true or false if and only if the Transcendent is immanent as truth conditions for such propositions.

I further observed that it is not inconsistent to maintain that the Transcendent is immanent as truth conditions. It would be inconsistent to say that the Transcendent is immanent without qualification. But I have qualified the Transcendent as being truth conditions. The Transcendent preserves its transcendence of our understanding by existing as truth conditions. Truth conditions make true or false propositions using our human ways of representing. But we can never think of how those truth conditions are apart from our ways of representing.

I had to concede, though, that the Transcendent as truth conditions does not transcend existence. Truth conditions exist. They are “in the world.”

How might an atheistic critique of my position proceed?

Of course, there could be rejection of the argument for the Transcendent.See . This might be a challenge to the meaningfulness of asking “On what does everything existing depend upon for its existence?”

However, accepting a transcendent beyond anything existing or comprehensible is no threat to atheism. It leaves room only for mysticism which holds and practices nothing beyond interior states of mystics. Religious threats to atheism arise when we try to go beyond total transcendence.

How have I gone beyond accepting total transcendence?

There were attempts to characterize the transcendent as the Transcendent creator and sustainer of features of what exists – the immanent. Traditional arguments for God’s existence were presented as characterizing the Transcendent.

Atheists could dismiss these efforts as worthless for showing that religious propositions are objectively true or false. At best these efforts would get, amongst philosophers and theologians, agreement on some characterizations about the Transcendent as warranted beliefs. In trying to characterize the Transcendent, we do seek only consensus on what is an apt characterization, not objective truth.

I have maintained that the Transcendent be immanent as truth conditions for religious propositions.

This position relies on a “Kantian” realism that truth conditions exist as things in themselves transcending our ways of thinking.

An atheist could reject this model of realism. But I do not think this is philosophically viable.

An atheist could stay a realist but hold that there need be no truth conditions for religious propositions because there really are no religious propositions. Properly understood, the so-called religious propositions say something else which is not a truth claim or a truth claim about something other than what speakers think they are talking about. This roughly describes reductionist critique of religion.

An atheist could accept some type of idealism about truth. In this case the atheist would give arguments to persuade people that there is no reason to warrant any religious belief.

The atheistic critiques of my position bring out that the introduction of God as the Transcendent does little or nothing towards responding to atheistic criticism of religious belief. At most it shows that atheists with a metaphysical temperament can be mystics and should concede that traditional arguments for God’s existence are legitimate philosophical efforts to construct a model of transcendence.

Religious apologetics remains as always. We need to show that religious propositions are genuine truth claims about a special subject matter and that many religious claims warrant belief because genuinely accepting them as true promotes human flourishing.

Love for the Transcendent??

Love for the Transcendent

It is difficult to understand what could bring a person to say “I love God.” What, then, could possibly bring someone to say “I love the Transcendent?”

As a little boy walking home from Nativity grade school in St. Paul, Minnesota, I once wondered how classmates -usually well-behaved little girls- could tell the nun teaching the class that they loved God. When I return to St. Paul, I frequently pass the intersection -Juliet and Prior- where I had that experience, when about seven or eight, of wondering how people could say that they loved God. My experience returns to me. What were they thinking? Would they feel sad if something bad happened to God? It was so troubling that I kept it in mind as one of the many things I would have to figure out for myself as life went on. I would be embarrassed ever to ask anyone “Why do you say that you love God?”

Finally, now, in my mid-eighties, I have figured out what I could mean by saying that I love God. Even with the mature, and correct, notion of love as willing the good of the other, I could not understand how I could will good for God who needs nothing. The answer, which should have been obvious to me for a long time, struck me this week after Epiphany when we have been reading the first letter of John. On Thursday we read in John 1:4 “For the love of God is this, that we keep his commandments.”

The good for God is what God wills. God wills the good of His human creatures. So, aiming at the good for humans is aiming at God’s good. God has willed that the human goods be attained by humans ordering their lives in accordance with rules for attaining these human goods. These rules are the moral rules and can be considered His commandments. So, by willing to obey the moral rules we will God’s good. That is loving God!

Consequently, a Divine Command theory of morality is not interpreting God as a moral tyrant who leaves no room for human freedom. On the contrary, a Divine Command moral theory is an explication of what it means to freely love God. For we are free to will to disobey His commands. But we are also free to will to obey His commands which is to love Him.

What does this have to do with the Transcendent? In my efforts to characterize the Transcendent as the moral authority, I am working towards explicating how we can speaking meaningfully of loving God even when “God” is understood in the most austere philosophical terms.

Religiosity and the Transcendent

We talk of God, the Transcendent ,in both philosophy and religion, in speculation and in prayer. What is the best way?

Repetition of my philosophic recipe for constructing concepts of properties to project upon the Transcendent is useful for the following comparison of philosophic and religious ways of talking of the Transcendent.

1. Argue, or merely claim, that an immanent feature exists independently of anything else in what is immanent.
2. Argue, or merely claim, that this independent feature exists contingently.
3. From these two conclude that the existence of this immanent feature is directly dependent on the Transcendent.
4. Under the assumption “ if the existence of X depends directly upon Y, then we can characterize Y as having something analogous to the properties of X”, we modify descriptions of properties of the immanent feature to characterize the Transcendent.

Here I merely claim that the immanent feature of human religiosity meets the conditions for being directly dependent for its existence on the Transcendent. I use an elementary “World Religions Course” four Cs sketch of human religiosity. People seeking the meaning of life with a sense of the holy form Churches, formulate Creeds and Codes while having Cults or set of ritual practices. My elementary “World Religions” sketch of religiosity leaves so much undone because I want to move immediately to the relation between philosophic attempts to characterize the Transcendent and religious attempts to characterize the Transcendent.

Characterizing the Transcendent is an essential property of human religiosity. It is an essential property of religiosity, in the sense that at least the “seed” of a Creed is every religion. I think that it was the anthropologist, Evans Pritchard, who claimed that primitive religions are danced; not believed. But I think what is permissible and impermissible in the dancing -Cultic practice- would reveal some thoughts about the “whatever” which is holy.

From the philosophic perspective we say that religiosity is directly dependent upon the Transcendent. So, from the philosophic perspective we try to develop descriptions of properties applicable to the Transcendent from descriptions of properties of human religiosity. For instance, we may try to describe the holiness of the Transcendent from a modification of the human sense of holiness.

At first glance, philosophy’s role of developing characterizations of the Transcendent from religious ways of characterizing the Transcendent seems to put philosophy in a superior position with respect to characterizing the Transcendent.

But philosophy’s role is not superior and may even be dependent upon religiosity in characterizing the Transcendent. Religiosity leads philosophers to their attempts to characterize the Transcendent. It is leading me. When I work seriously at the first two steps of my recipe I may find that I cannot separate philosophy from religiosity. Creeds and codes (morality) lead to reflection, speculation, critical thinking and theology. Purely secular philosophy might be basically the intellectual tools for theology and moral theory. The independent immanent reality directly dependent upon the Transcendent for its existence might be human religiosity with human philosophic thinking as only a part. It is an open question as to whether a development of a way of thinking is superior in all ways to that from which it developed

Philosophers are in no position to say that philosophic characterizations of the Transcendent are better than non-philosophical religious characterization. We philosophers have reached the conclusion that the Transcendent is utterly unknowable by philosophical thinking. We philosophers establish skepticism about what we can discover by our philosophizing. For all that we know via philosophy, we may be acquiring truths about the Transcendental via non-philosophical religious thought, sentiment and prayer.

I should emphasize that when I refer to religious ways of thinking and feeling about the Transcendent, I am not writing as some secular philosopher imagining what some benighted religious people still believe. I reflect primarily on myself. I am a practicing Catholic. Weekly I publicly and sincerely profess the Nicene Creed. I believe in the Real Presence in the Eucharist. I find a great similarity in my philosophic thoughts about what I am here labelling “the Transcendent” and my religious thoughts about God Indeed it is hard to separate them. In both cases, I say words with various thoughts and images. Sometimes I think these thoughts and images are really stupid. On occasion I think they give insight and inspiration. But always, be it philosophy or prayer, I think that the thoughts and images are never correct; they do not give the truth. What we can rely upon are the words.

If you and I try to determine whether or not we hold the same belief, we do not try to decide whether we share the varying thoughts and feelings running through our minds. We discuss a variety of claims and facts until we can agree upon using the same words to express our beliefs. In actuality, the hammering out of an agreeable formulation of a creed occur amongst many people over a long period of time. It then becomes an item in a collective consciousness in human intelligence as would a poem or song. Through the ages many people find those words apt for professing what they belief