Wednesday, September 30, 2015

The Reason for Heterosexuality in the Creator/creature Divide

For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth. For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse. For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. Claiming to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things.
Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the dishonoring of their bodies among themselves, because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever! Amen.
For this reason God gave them up to dishonorable passions. For their women exchanged natural relations for those that are contrary to nature; and the men likewise gave up natural relations with women and were consumed with passion for one another, men committing shameless acts with men and receiving in themselves the due penalty for their error.
And since they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God gave them up to a debased mind to do what ought not to be done. They were filled with all manner of unrighteousness, evil, covetousness, malice. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, maliciousness. They are gossips, slanderers, haters of God, insolent, haughty, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents, foolish, faithless, heartless, ruthless. Though they know God’s righteous decree that those who practice such things deserve to die, they not only do them but give approval to those who practice them. (Romans 1:18-32)
 The unkillable debate regarding the appropriateness of what is called homosexual marriage tends to try to go on in a non-theological strain, with occasional debates amongst Christians about what the Bible says about it. But the What the Bible says question tends to just be about whether the Bible condones or prohibits homosexual relationships. This post is an attempt to circumvent historical studies suggesting that this passages does not mean that the Bible prohibits homoexual behavior, and then to elucidate what the reasoning behind that prohibition seems to be.

The prohibition is in verses 26-27 "For this reason God gave them up to dishonorable passions. For their women exchanged natural relations for those that are contrary to nature; and the men likewise gave up natural relations with women and were consumed with passion for one another, men committing shameless acts with men and receiving in themselves the due penalty for their error." So, to circumvent the questionable historical studies, read: "For their women exchanged natural relations for those that are contrary to nature; and the men likewise gave up natural relations with women and were consumed with passion for one another" and assume whatever you like about how such relations went at the time. What does Paul actually appear concerned with here? It is set up as a switch, not from one style of relating to another, but from heterosexual partners to homosexual partners. They gave up A and adopted B and the only difference Paul notes between the two is homo/heterosexuality.

So, then, what is the logic? The preceding two verses, 24-25 "Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the dishonoring of their bodies among themselves, because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever! Amen." That is, because they switched from worshiping the Creator to the creature, God gave them up to switch from heterosexuality to homosexuality. How does that work?

Among theologians, there is what is called the Creator/creature divide, based on passages like this one. The point made by it is that God is a completely different sort of being from us. Creatures are contingent, and have their existence in a completely different way from a necessary being, i.e., God, the Creator.

In God's relationship with  his people, of in Christ's relationship with the Church, there is a relation between two fundamentally different kinds of beings. There is the Creator in relationship with the creature. And marriage images this. On that basis, I think we can understand what happens here. When we give up the recognition that our lives are lived in relation to an utterly other being, we will tend to give up the idea that marriage should be between fundamentally different sorts of human beings.

I think we can see this happen in other places, too. As we become more inclusive, and more willing to say that people can get to God through a variety of means, we should expect polygamy, because it makes God out to be a polygamist.

Now, one might argue that this connection is silly, because most people do not explicitly draw any connection between their views on God and their relationship to him, and marriage. What I am suggesting is that we do not need to be explicit about this connection for it to do its work. We are designed so that our views about our relationship to God and our views of marriage will affect each other. This may be part of why it is so easy for romance songs to go too far and sound like worship of the beloved.

If we conceive of the greatest, most important relationship possible along certain lines, we will be inclined to seek to develop our greatest, most important earthly relationship along similar lines. It will necessarily provide the template for what that kind of relationship is like.

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Ockham's Razor and Reductionism

Here is a decently common argument for Naturalism or Physicalism:
1. Ockham's Razor: the simplest explanation of the phenomena is the best
2. Anything beyond the physical is more complicated and unnecessary
Ergo: 3. We should use the physical to explain everything.

1 is fine, 2 is the one I want to poke.

Here is my thesis: the complexity of an explanation cannot be determined by merely counting the number of kinds of things it involves. That is, while if the only difference between two theories was that one included non-physical stuff and one stopped with the physical, then the former would be the more complicated. However, if the former also explains the phenomena in a more straightforward way, bringing in fewer additional principles or new laws of physics, etc., then the question becomes more complicated.

In this particular case, for instance, is it really simpler to assume that only physical things exist (matter/energy) and that certain configurations of matter/energy give rise to conscious experience, or is it simpler to assume that some kind of non-physical stuff is required for consciousness? It does not seem, to me, that it is particularly straightforward. It may be that supposing a new sort of thing that by fiat can handle consciousness is no better than supposing that certain configurations of old stuff can handle it--neither really explains why the configuration or stuff should give rise to consciousness. On the other hand, some think that it is absurd to suppose that the non-conscious can give rise to the conscious, and so it is less complicated to explain the conscious by hypothesizing a conscious sort of stuff than to try to explain how non-conscious stuff can give rise to conscious stuff, or why we should not treat our couches as conscious. Thus, a new kind of stuff may create fewer additional problems than stopping with matter/energy, and in that sense be simpler.

However, why shouldn't we just hypothesize a new kind of thing every time we encounter a problem? We could almost always argue that it would entail fewer new problems. My answer to this is to note that I do not disagree that adding new kinds of things increases the complexity of any theory it is added to. There is a balance to be had, and weighing these is probably not a straightforward task.

What we are dealing with in this task is a cost-benefit-analysis-type situation. Some of these costs are the cost of adding a new kind of thing, or a new principle of how things work. We also have to deal with benefits that a theory brings if it is successful. There are also costs in the realm of everyday life, although these rarely come up. An example is that, with quantum mechanics, we needed to find a way of talking about quantum effects that left us able to retain such presuppositions as the principle of non-contradiction. Leaving the world in a state where we can live in it according to our theories is an additional desideratum for any theory, then. The cost associated with losing our ability to integrate our scientific outlook with our everyday outlook without contradiction, so that scientists believe themselves to be contradicting their scientific beliefs by walking across the street, for example, is, I believe, an insuperable cost. Any account of consciousness and choice must recon with these, whether it is scientific in the usual sense, or philosophical.

The scientific outlook is premised on the idea that we can live in the world, and that we can live better in the world by better understanding the world we live in. If a theory throws that presupposition out the window, then we find ourselves in fundamental conflict with the world around us. From a Christian perspective, this is not permissible because we believe in a good creator God. From any other perspective, however, it is prima facie possible that our pre-scientific awareness of the world, and our pre-scientific lived assumptions about the world, are in conflict with how things actually are in such a manner that our default, instinctive, basic manner of dealing with the world may be irrational according to how the world is. It may, for example, actually be irrational to talk of moral oughts, rationality, choice, beauty, or altruism. Without a presupposition in place that says that this is unacceptable, we cannot rule out the possibility that our discoveries are all totally false, that the external world is an illusion, or that our scientific program will lead to Lovecraftian physics textbooks, the reading of which would drive people insane.

Saturday, September 12, 2015


"I'm a Christian but I'm not..." so goes most of my generation that claims Christianity.

Most recently, this has appeared in Buzzfeed's video. Read this, it addresses a lot of good commentary, which I do not intend to repeat. It also has a transcript.

This phrase, this meme--it is that viral--serves to distinguish the one saying it from the Church. "I'm a Christian, but don't bundle me with all those other Christians." Are we so content to separate from our brothers and sisters? Are we not supposed to seek unity in the body of Christ?

Is this what Paul meant by "stir one another up to love and good works"? Is this what it is to love the body of Christ? Can we respond to 1 John 4: 20 "If anyone says, 'I love God,' and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen." by honestly saying that we have loved our brothers?

There is a virus in our culture. We love to hate. Everyone hates Americans, even Americans ("I'm an American, but I'm not culturally insensitive"), and this is the same language, the same attitude, but it is Christians hating Christians. We try to make ourselves look cool by mocking our own group with those we want to look cool to. It is ugly. These are the schismatics of our day, who would divide the body of Christ for the sake of human glory, who refuse the hard work of "...discern[ing] what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect." (Romans 12:2). Let us rather by transformed as a holy people.

I've written articles on most of the issues being raised (if flippantly) in these "I'm a Christian, but I'm not..."s, and I haven't seen anything to suggest my arguments are wrong. I've seen arguments that go contrary to my own, but been unconvinced by them. "To go against conscience is neither right nor safe," (Luther) particularly conscience informed by Scripture and observed by reason in submission to Scripture.

They will know we are Christians by our love (John 13:35), but "I'm a Christian but I'm not like the stereotypical Christian" does not sound like love. Even if it were right to not be those things that people are saying they are not, we are not saved by what we are not. We are not saved by being educated, pro-gay-(")marriage("), feminist, or any of the other things the recent video. Neither are we saved by being the opposite. We are saved by the grace of God for us when we were sinners, and we have been justified by his grace, so that we are no longer merely "not perfect" but also perfect before God because we are clothed with the perfection of Christ. We may not end with "I'm not perfect" but must also recognize that this is a problem we cannot handle, and which must be handled.

Our love is a transformational love, for Christ's love has transformed us. It is a sacrificial love, for Christ suffered and died for us. It is an offensive love, for Christ did not die for being inoffensive.

"For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. For it is written,
'I will destroy the wisdom of the wise,
and the discernment of the discerning I will thwart.'
Where is the one who is wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, it pleased God through the folly of what we preach to save those who believe. For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men." 1 Corinthians 1:18-25

This text follows the part where Paul appeals to the Corinthians to be united. We must be content with this, which appears as foolishness to the world, or we will be divided, and we will dilute the gospel. We must present the gospel in all of the offensiveness which it has, "...lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power" 1 Corinthians 1:17