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Tuesday, 21 June 2011

a) Explain the theodicy of Irenaeus (25).

This essay has been written because I feel that some text books lack a coherent account of what Irenaeus actually said. Please feel free to comment on any aspects of my work. Again, as always, everything written on here has be completed under timed conditions (30 minutes in this case).

A theodicy is the defence of God’s righteousness in the face of evil. For a theodicy to be successful we must expect a full explanation of natural and moral evil, as logically speaking no omnibenevolent and omnipotent God would allow evil to exist (inconsistent triad – Epicurus and Hume).

Irenaeus’ starting point comes from the time he was writing in. A small Christian sect known as the Gnostics believed, as Plato did, that all matter was inherently evil. This would mean that God would not have been able to create ‘matter’ as it would be totally evil so it would be a logical contradiction for an omnibenevolent God to create it; and that Jesus could not have had a physical body (as ‘matter’ is inherently evil) and this would make him imperfect. To solve this dilemma Irenaeus had to find an answer for why evil existed. He wanted to maintain that everything was from God and so had to explain the role of evil in the world.

He uses Genesis 1:26 ‘Let us make man in Our image, in Our likeness.’ to demonstrate that we are here to develop our own soul. Creation is not yet finished. We have been made in the image of God with the potential to be like God. Irenaeus said that God had given human beings free will. This free will entailed the potential for evil. This is his account of moral evil. Choosing to do the right thing implies a decision to avoid doing the immoral. He believed that God giving us free will was better than receiving ready-made goodness. To back up this point he uses the example of a mother not being able to give a child ‘substantial nourishment’ or solid food. In other words, just as a young infant cannot take solid foods and so is given milk as they are immature, humans could not receive fully formed goodness as they were spiritually immature and so are given free will to develop their own goodness. This is echoed in the notion that we are made in the image of God (with the potential for Good) and moving towards the likeness of God (becoming Good). Irenaeus believed that the gift of moral perfection would not have meant anything to human beings if they did not learn the value of it for themselves. We become like God or move towards the likeness of God by freely choosing the good. When we choose to do evil and sin then we are creating evil in the world. So for Irenaeus moral evil is caused by human’s misuse of free will. God allowed us to have this free will as it was seen as more beneficial than making ready-made perfection.

This idea is echoed in Irenaeus’ belief in the story of the fall of man (Adam and Eve). He saw Genesis 3 as literally true and that it demonstrated that we weren’t ready to accept God’s grace or goodness as we were spiritually and morally immature, as described above, but he does not see this as Original Sin in the same way that Augustine does. This is further evidence that humans were not capable of receiving God’s ready-made goodness and perfection. They were led astray by the devil. This was because they were distant from God spiritually. People are like Adam and Eve in that they go astray morally because they haven’t yet gained the wisdom to do what is right.

Irenaeus identifies the fact that humans cannot get to God by their own means. They need a helping hand. Irenaeus uses the example of a potter and clay to help explain this idea. He suggests in ‘Against Heresies Book 4:39-2’ that we should keep ourselves moist so that God can work us without becoming too rigid. God’s ‘hands’ help mould us through the existence of natural evil. It is the experience and contact with natural evil that ‘shapes’ us in the image of God from the likeness. It enables us to develop desirable moral qualities or virtues. If we are open to God’s ‘touch’ then we will move towards the ‘likeness’ of God. It is therefore necessary for God to help humans achieve moral and spiritual perfection. The term recapitulation is often used to describe this theodicy. It means to bring something back to the beginning or head. The notion is that humans are being brought back into a relationship with God (theory of recapitulation). For Irenaeus Jesus is the second Adam who makes this recapitulation possible. Jesus allows us to create a relationship with God that we were not ready to enter into to begin with (as symbolised with Adam with the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil) through obedience to God through dying on the cross (the second tree). Jesus links God and humans as He is both divine and human.

To explain the role of natural evil Irenaeus suggests that we need to live in a world where the potential for moving towards the likeness of God exists. He uses the example of Jonah and the whale.
He states that Jonah was able to respond to his responsibilities and essentially learn to accept God’s wishes through his experience of being swallowed by the whale. God didn’t intend on killing Jonah, He simply wanted Jonah to learn to accept His will. Natural evil, therefore, is a means to an end of soul making. It provides the environment needed for moving to the likeness of God. Suffering must be endured so that we can move closer to God and His likeness.

God is justified in continuing to allow moral and natural evil because we move to the likeness of God. Natural evil is seen as an instrument for God’s purpose. It is clear that Irenaeus believed that only those who accepted God would be saved and those who reject God will be damned. He believed in some form of a continuation of soul-making in the next life to complete their souls in the likeness of God. However, the damned will be sent to hell as they refused the ‘workmanship’ of God: ‘Your ingratitude, ignoring his goodness in creating you human, will mean you have lost his work on you, you will lose your life (Against Heresies 4:39-2)’.

Saturday, 11 June 2011

Consider the view that scripture is divinely inspired (35).

The notion of scripture being divinely inspired is riddled with philosophical problems. Some of the issues arising from it being divinely inspired are: how the text came to human beings?; Did God give it directly or was it human in origin?; moreover, what can we actually learn about God from this text via its inspiration? In attempting to address this question we shall look at a propositional approach to assess the validity of divinely inspired scripture and then a non-propositional approach.

For scripture to be divinely inspired in the traditional sense, a propositional approach is required. Evangelical fundamentalist believers wish to maintain that the text comes directly from God. That it reveals ‘truths’ or propositions (facts) about the divine. In this sense the ‘words’ are directly from God. Yet this assertion is unclear. We shall work through different understandings and assess whether they can be held philosophically. The most obvious is a literal revelation for example Moses is believed by some to have experienced a theophany (God revealing God’s self to Moses) and literally giving him a physical copy of the five books of the law and the two stone tablets with the ten commandments on. In this sense scripture is divinely inspired as it comes directly from God. It can contain no errors (inerrant). If this view were held then scripture would indeed be divinely inspired. However, the problem of interactionism causes issue here as it is difficult to see how a non-physical being, outside of the spacio-temporal universe, or transcendent in the traditional sense can act within the physical realm. Moreover, how can Moses be expected to maintain any notion of free will? If God reveals Himself then Moses has no choice but to do God’s bidding because of fear of reprisals and sure knowledge of God’s existence. The appearance of choice here is simply ‘Hobson’s Choice’ – no choice at all. Also how do we ‘see’ or ‘hear’ a non-physical being? These problems serve to demonstrate that a view of scripture as being physically ‘given’ by God is too problematic. A believer may suggest that it comes down to faith for them, faith that God can do all these things, which does not seem to solve the issues identified above.

Perhaps then the bible/scripture was dictated by God or the Holy Spirit. One view is that of amanuensis that humans have simply copied the text down through divine dictation. This idea is seen in Jeremiah 20:8 “whenever I speak I cry out” implying that God is speaking through the prophet in front of the king. This would mean that the scripture was inspired as the individual was simply told what to write. Someone like Henry Morris would hold that the Holy Spirit was with the writers (Adam at creation for his argument) to ensure inerrancy. This view holds that God inspired the scriptures. Yet it is difficult to maintain this view for the same reasons outlined above. This issue of interactionism hasn’t been resolved here, God (transcendent) is still interacting in a spacio-temporal way. Also here the writer’s free will is being directly compromised. They have no choice but to write these words, the scribe is simply the body which God takes over to use for his own purposes. William James might suggest that this is an example of mystical experience and hold that the nature of these religious experiences is passivity which has been demonstrated in numerous accounts of these experiences. But an issue with this is that James also states these experiences are ineffable (cannot be put into words). How can the religious experience of amanuensis be ineffable if the aim of it is to write the words of scripture? One way would be to maintain that the person has no knowledge of what they are writing. But we still face the challenge from the violation of free will which questions whether this view can be reasonably held.

Perhaps then the scriptures are divinely inspired because the believer/writer has had an experience of the divine and has been inspired to write because of this. In this view the writer would be like the child who is inspired by an excellent footballer or music artist to follow in their footsteps. God plays a more passive role in the writing of the scriptures in this way and partially overcomes the problems of free will and interactionism in the sense that the individual writes their own interpretation because they are inspired by their experience of God. If this view holds then they are inspired to write freely about God. In order to hold this view we must accept that the individual has had an actual experience of God. Swinburne and James suggest that testimony of individuals should count in some way for evidence of God’s existence in the world (Swinburne’s Principle of Testimony) and that people tend not to lie (Principle of Credulity). Even if we accept this then it can only ever be revelation for the individual as the biblical text will always be second hand truths for others who did not experience and were therefore not inspired by the event. Moreover we still must maintain that God has revealed himself to the believer before the writing of the text. This whole issue of whether religious experience can reasonably held to happen casts a vast shadow over this view of scripture’s nature. This issue is too vast to explore fully here save to say that the notion of the individual’s perception of events and the actual reality of these events do not necessarily tally, for example what is the difference between a dream where I experience the divine and a religious experience in a dream? Can I ever be sure that my experience comes through God rather than a phenomenological or material origin? This view seems to lack coherence for scripture being divinely inspired as the free will, interactionism debate is still unsolved as we need to rely on the philosophical soundness of an individual’s religious experience. Also it opens up new problems. How can we maintain a propositional approach that this scripture reveals ‘facts’ about God if it comes from a human source using human language; a language of past, present and future tenses as Dummett points out, a “tense of timelessness”. This could never be an absolutely literal revelation of God. Not to mention the limitations of a spacio-temporal language describing a timeless and spaceless God.

It appears then, at this point, that no view so far discussed would allow us to maintain that scripture is divinely inspired because of the problems surrounding free will, interactionism, the limits of language and the certainty of what it tells us of the divine. However, perhaps this is the wrong way of looking at the problem, maybe the ‘truth’ of God comes through a non-propositional approach to revelation in the sense that it is action that demonstrates inspiration.

If we accept that God revealing Himself is too problematic for scripture then we are holding that we cannot know whether it is divinely inspired yet the non-propositional approach can avoid the problems discussed above. If propositional revelation is ‘belief that…’ something is the case, ‘God is love’ for instance then non-propositional revelation is ‘belief in…’ scripture. In this view scripture reveals more about ourselves and it is our reaction which ‘reveals’ God. However this view cannot give any ‘knowledge’ about God’s nature directly but is still echoed through Bucky Minster-Fuller’s ideas of God being a verb; that when we are inspired by what we read, regardless of ‘fact’ or propositions our actions in some way echo God’s will. Take the parable of the sheep and the goats’ notion of giving practical help to the needy. If I read this and ‘believe in…’ its message I act in the world. This could be seen as the divine inspiration of the scriptures. However this view cuts both ways. It seems to resolve the problems of interactionism, free will and experience of God but only at the cost of not being able to tell us anything about God as scripture maybe removed from God’s word and left as a purely human document.

In conclusion it seems as though holding a propositional approach is too problematic for us to accept that scripture is divinely inspired in some of the more traditional ways and that the main revelation of God comes through human action and inspiration. But one final point needs addressing. It seems that we cannot accept a non-propositional approach, belief in the truth of the Bible, without holding that the Bible contains some form of propositional truth. Otherwise why would religious believers act on these ideas? Since the Bible is not self-authenticating then we must accept that we have to ‘believe in…’ the words in order for the words to have any meaning. It is here that we reach the impasse, without faith in the scriptures the notion of whether the Bible is divinely inspired becomes irrelevant but it is clear that even with faith the assertion that scripture is divinely inspired in the traditional sense is too philosophically problematic to accept.

Wednesday, 8 June 2011

a) Explain Aristotle’s understanding of the four causes (25).

As with the rest of the essays on this blog, this was written in timed conditions (30 minutes). This question was on an examination paper in May 2011 on the Philosophy of Religion (AS). It was written in the hope that students gain a fuller understanding of Aristotle.

Unlike his teacher, Plato, Aristotle believed that the world could be explained by physical observation. This approach of using the five senses, cataloguing and categorising, is the foundation of scientific enquiry and study. The approach is known as empiricism. Plato believed that we needed to look beyond the physical for a metaphysical explanation of the universe in the guise of the World of Forms. Aristotle refuted this.

Aristotle’s understanding of the four causes begins with the assumption that is present in all Greek philosophy, the notion of pre-existing matter. He observed the world around him and noticed that it was in a state of constant flux, a movement from potentiality to actuality. In Metaphysics book XII he uses the example of ‘Whiteness’. Something that is ‘not white’ has the potential to become ‘actually white’ (to actualise this potential), for example my laptop has the potential to run out of battery as I type but is currently in a state of actualised use of battery power. This movement from potentiality to actuality lead Aristotle to the conclusion that there are stages in causation. He called these the four causes: Material, Formal, Efficient and Final causes.

He understood that each of the four causes was necessary to explain the change from potentiality to actuality. His first cause, the material, explained what the object or thing being described was made from. Aristotle used the example of a bronze sculpture and a silver saucer. Bronze or silver in this case would be the material cause. However, objects can have more than one material cause. Take for example my laptop. It is made of wires, plastic, alloys and other materials. These things become the material cause of my laptop.

The second cause takes the formal shape of the object or the pattern which this class of object or thing takes; the definition of the essence as well as the parts included in this definition. It is what we recognise as the thing we are looking at, the statue of David or the laptop itself for example. We can categorise things that we see this way. For Aristotle this is where the ‘form’ that Plato wishes to speak of resides.

His third cause was the efficient cause. To continue Aristotle’s sculpture idea this was the way in which the marble was moved from its state of potentiality to becoming the actual marble statue. A chisel, hammer and sculptor primarily but also a cloth or water perhaps in order to change the material into the shape required. My laptop’s efficient cause may vary from machines and people to plastic moulds and screwdrivers. At this point in the change of causes we have reach an actualisation of the material cause through the efficient cause to arrive at the formal cause of the object.

Lastly in terms of his understanding of causation, the final cause of a thing or object was its purpose (telos). The purpose of the statue is aesthetic in that it is admired; the purpose of my laptop is to help me do my job well. Aristotle uses the example of health being the cause of walking, 'Why does one walk?' he asks, 'that one may be healthy'. This is perhaps the most important of all the causes. Yet his understanding does not end here. Once something has achieved a state of actuality it is also in a state of potentiality. Take ‘whiteness’ again. Once my shirt becomes clean and so ‘white’ it has the potential to become mucky and so ‘not white’ anymore. In this sense we can see that Aristotle saw that the universe was moving constantly between ‘potentiality’ to ‘actuality’ back to ‘potentiality’ once again. This idea required Aristotle to explain things further still because in order for this theory to work it must explain everything in the universe, including the universe itself.

In Metaphysics Book XII, Aristotle identifies three substance categories. Substance category one contains within it things or objects that are subject to decay, that die or change. These things are moved by the four causes from a state of potentiality to actuality. My laptop would be an example of something in category one as it hasn’t always existed in this form and will no doubt give up on me at some point. Substance category two involves things that are subject to the four causes and a change from potentiality to actuality but will never decay, die or cease to exist. Aristotle believed that the universe and time existed in this category because of the Greek notion of pre-existing matter. The question of where ‘matter’ in the universe comes from is a modern one that didn’t trouble him. The final category was ‘substance’ category three. In this category he placed eternal things that are not subject to the four causes, namely, mathematics (the Greeks believed that mathematics existed in a changeless state awaiting discovery) and what he called the Prime Mover. It is the Prime Mover that finishes Aristotle’s understanding of the four causes.

The Prime Mover becomes the efficient and final causes of the universe. Its ‘action’ in the universe is passive. It exists in a state of ‘pure actuality’ incapable of change (otherwise it would enter substance category two), only contemplating its own existence. This is Aristotle’s god. Things are attracted towards the perfection found within its ‘pure actuality’, as Gerry Hughes describes in his example of a cat being drawn to a saucer of milk (purr actuality?). The milk does not act in anyway but by very virtue of it ‘existing’ the cat is drawn to it. This is why the Prime Mover is known as the great attractor. Objects that move from potentiality to actuality fulfil their purpose because their change is brought about through the existence of the Prime Mover (a point later picked up on by Aquinas in his notion of the ‘unmoved mover’). This is how Aristotle explained the final cause of the universe as objects in the universe moved towards their actuality.

To conclude, Aristotle understood the four causes as a movement from potentiality to actuality within certain substance categories. This movement through material, formal, efficient and final causes was ultimately brought about by the Prime Mover.