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Random thoughts and views of Tim Young

Archive for March 2009

When is the Soul united with the Body?

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At what point does that organism we call a “human being” actually become a human person? A friend and I got into this discussion the other day. Specifically our conversation centered on the issue of when it is that the soul is united with the body and the human organism developing inside the mother can properly be called a person. Personally, I don’t believe that the soul is united with the body at some point after conception…to me that thesis just seems kind of odd. I do freely admit that that thesis is possible, but I’m not too sure it is plausible. It seems to me that the default view we should hold is that when a human being comes into existence, she comes into existence as a complete–albeit immature–human being, body and soul.

Well, what follows is a rough sketch of my very rough thinking on why I lean toward rejecting the ‘soul-body uniting’ thesis: (…and yes I just made that phrase up 🙂 )

Where do I start? I wonder what exactly my soul was doing before God united it with my body? Was it just a disembodied entity somewhere “out there”? If we suppose, for example, that God didn’t unite my soul with my body until three weeks after conception, then where exactly was my soul before God united it with my body, and what exactly was it doing? Well maybe that’s not that great of an objection. Perhaps what we’d want to say here is that my soul hadn’t yet been created. Once God created my soul He united it with my body. In fact, perhaps the concepts “created” and “united” are synonymous in this regard. In any case, maybe the process of life goes something like this: First the human organism developments for n-weeks inside the mother’s womb, then after that time has passed God creates a soul for that organism at which point it becomes an image bearer–a “complete” human being. But why should we suppose that? What would lead us to believe that God waits to make us into, as it were, complete humans? What reason do we have for believing that? It would seem to me that, all things being equal, the more plausible explanation would be that when a human being comes into existence she just is a complete human being—body and soul.

Let’s say that there are two states that a person can be in: He can either be associated with (or “united” to) a soul or he can exist in a state in which body and soul are disassociated ( or “separated”). Let’s call these two states S1 and S2 respectively.

S1 – The state where body and soul are associated or united with each other.
S2 – The state where body and soul are separated or disassociated from one another.

What do we know about S2? Well, I think we have good reason for believing that S2 occurs at death. When we suffer physical death our soul is separated from our body. Or to put it another way, our body dies and our soul continues to have life. Anyone who has died is presumably a disembodied soul that is no longer associated with a body. But here’s the interesting thing: Death is one of the most UNATURAL events that takes place! We were not created to die. Death entered the world as a consequence of sin, and because of sin the whole universe corrodes and decays. When we fell the universe fell with us, and in the end God will redeem us along with all of Creation. That is, in the end God will fix everything; He will put things back the way they are supposed to be. What’s interesting to me is that part of God’s plan to fix everything includes Him raising men bodily. Why do I find this interesting? Well because it means men are not supposed to exist as body and soul “separated.” We’re not meant to be disembodied souls while our bodies decay in the ground. When Christ rose from the dead, He rose bodily , and as He is, so shall we be. So, as human beings we are supposed to exist as a union of body and soul (or body, soul, and spirit if you’re a trichotomist).

Now, what this seems to suggest is that S2 is a completely unnatural state of existence. But what about S1? Well, what we know about S1 follows from what we know about S2. S2 is unnatural, and S1 is completely nature. S1 is how we were meant to exist. If this be the case, then it says a lot for the question, “When is the soul united with the body?” It seems to me that the question presupposes that men start off in S2 and proceed to S1. But as we’ve already seen, we have good reason for supposing that S2 is not the way we are supposed to exist. This being the case, it seems odd to say that we start off in a completely unnatural state and then proceed to our natural one.

Now I do realize that there is a glaring hole in my argument. Namely, it only shows that S2 is unnatural with respect to death. If my argument is successful then it only shows that it is unnatural for a body and soul to be torn apart in that event we called “death.” That is, it shows that only after a body and soul are united is it unnatural for them to be torn apart, but what it doesn’t show is that they didn’t start out that way. It still could be the case that God only unites body and soul after a certain amount of time has passed and that that is completely natural. It’s only when body and soul are united that it becomes unnatural for them to be separated. If this is the case, then we could say that at conception I was just an organism without a soul. However, after n-weeks (we’ll say 3 weeks) God decided to create me a soul, and at that point I became a ‘real’ human being in the image of God. And it is only at that point that it becomes unatural for the body and soul to be seperated.

Now this is true; my argument doesn’t stop that from being a distinct possibility. But my original question was if the thesis is plausible not if it were possible. In other words, the thesis still could be true, but what reason do we have for believing it is true? Why should we believe body and soul start off in a state of separation and are later united? What would prompt us to believe this? I’m really not sure other than to say that it is probably based in Platonic ideas of body and soul. What do you think?

Written by Tim

March 26, 2009 at 5:14 pm

The Flying Spaghetti Monster?

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spaghetti_monster

 

The Flying Spaghetti Monster (FSM) is meant as a parody of intelligent design. He makes his first appearance in a letter to the Kansas State Board of Education in protest to their decision to require that intelligent design be taught alongside evolution in public schools.We are told that the FSM created the world and even regularly intervenes in human affairs by use of his “noodly appendage.” He supposedly created the world to make it look as if evolution is true, and he frequently sabotages carbon dating test so that they give inaccurate readings, leaving us with the impression that the world is really very old when in fact it is only 10,000 years old. There is even a church for this deity called The Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster.

I say: Give it up! Please!!

First off this is nothing unique. We have the Invisible Pink Unicorn (IPU), Russell’s tea pot, supermanism, etc. All of these are really meant as parodies of theism (usually Christianity), and they are supposed to somehow show the absurdity of believing in God. Well, I’m beginning to get tired of hearing all of them (FSM seems to be the most popular at the moment). So atheists, before you’re tempted to use one of these as an objection to Christianity, please take note of the following:

By creating such superficial fairytales as the FSM or the IPU, you are really showing your superficial understanding of Christianity, and any reasonably reflective Christian will not take you seriously. Why? Well:

1. These cheesy, on the spot parodies do not at all take into consideration the historic development of Christianity given through the various works of great historic (and contemporary) figures. Everyone from St. Paul, St Augustian, Thomas Aquinas, and Anselm, to Calvin, Edwards, Plantinga, and Van Til… the list could go and on, but the important thing is that you’re failing to understand Christianity as a complex knowledge tradition, and this causes you to draw inadequate analogies between the God of the bible and, say, a flying spaghetti monster.

2. You’re mistakenly viewing the Christian God as a vacuous concept.. As if I could go from believing “God exist” to believing “God does not exist” without it having a catastrophic effect on my world view. More to the point, Christianity is a complete world view, and the Christian God is at the very center of that world view. He gives purpose to our existence, He gives purpose to the universe, He is the ground of knowledge and truth, ethics and aesthetics. I cannot answer the questions “what is right and wrong” or “what is beautiful” without making recourse to God.. The entire foundation of philosophy, science, history…in short, everything, is built upon God. To get rid of God is to get rid of an ENTIRE world view, thus one is forced to answer life’s ultimate questions by making recourse to other things, by other means. On the other hand, whether or not I choose to believe in a flying spaghetti monster, an invisible pink unicorn, a dragon in my garage, an invisible gardener, or a tea pot in orbit around the Sun between Earth and Mars, has no such effect.

So please, give it a rest!

…though I do have to admit the FSM pictures are pretty funny!

So is God Designed? (In Christian Perspective)

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Last post I pointed out that the “Who designed the designer?” objection to intelligent design is a red herring. Pointing out that the designer is complex and therefore in need of a designer itself doesn’t mean that the universe wasn’t designed. Maybe the designer is complex? So what? If ID is true, then the universe is designed regardless.

 

But still, might it be the case that God is designed? After all, wouldn’t God be more intricate and more complex than any feature of the universe? Sure cells, flagellums, humans, etc., are complex but wouldn’t God be even more complex than they? And if we’re arguing that the complex features of the universe are best explained by an intelligent designer, then how much more would this principle apply to God?

So, can this problem be escaped? I think so. The first question we’ve got to ask is this: Why should we believe God is designed? The argument for that goes something like this:

1. Complex things are best explained by an intelligent designer.

2. God is a complex thing.

3. Therefore God is best explained by an intelligent designer.

No doubt, the first premise will be accepted by ID proponents. Indeed some would argue that ID entails (1). After all, ID proponents like Michael Behe, for example, often appeal to the complexity of cells as evidence for them being designed by an intelligent designer. So for now we can accept the first premise. What about the second premise ? Why should we believe God is complex? As best I can tell the assumption for (2) goes something like this: Any being who could design all the complex features of the universe would in all likelihood be at least as complex as those things it designed. And naturally this seems like a reasonable assumption. There are many examples of manmade things in our world: machinery, computers, cars, architecture, art, data structures, etc., etc., and no matter how complex and amazing these things are, there is still something that’s even more complex than they are: their designer–in short, human beings. The same is true for other animals as well. Birds make intricate bird nests, and ants make intricate underground networks, but a bird and an ant are far more complex than those things they “design”. Thus–or so the argument goes–it is reasonable for us to assume that if God designed the universe, then in all likelihood He is at least as complex as the universe itself, and probably more so. Hence we get (2), and (3) follows logically.

Now it’s worth noting at this point that ID proponents typically view complexity in terms of the arrangement of material parts. Just reflect for a moment on what is commonly appealed to in intelligent design arguments. Cells, DNA, flagellums, eyes, etc. What should be fairly obvious is that these are all material things and they are “complex” in that they are constituted by an intricate arrangement of material parts unlikely to have arisen by chance. In fact, the probability of their parts being arranged as they are completely by chance is extremely low. Something like the probability of a tornado going through a junk yard and producing a 747 jet…and I don’t think that any of us would hold our breath waiting for that to happen.

So why is this important? Well because it would appear that according to ID a necessary condition for X to be complex is that X be a material object.  In other words, anything called “complex” (in the ID sense of the word) has got to be a material object or some sort. We don’t find, for example, ID proponents speaking of the irreducible complexity of “souls,” or minds, or abstract entities like numbers. They’re always talking about some physical object: cells, bacteria, etc.

So according to (2) God must be a material object of some sort.  But why should we suppose that God is a material object? After all, doesn’t the Bible make abundantly clear that God is spirit (e.g. John 4:24)? Furthermore, why should we believe that God is complex? Isn’t it, for example, a Christian tradition of ours that God is simple i.e. not a composite being? It’s quite clear that the Christian conception of God doesn’t fit (2).

So again, why is it that we should suppose that God is complex? Well the argument for (2) above was essentially that in all our experiences with design the designer is always more complex then its design, thus we have good reason to believe that in the case of God and the universe, God is more complex than the universe. But isn’t there something a bit odd about this claim? Suppose it is the case that the Christian God exists. If that be the case, then there are many designed things which are more complex than their designer. In fact, everything that God designed would be more complex then He is. The universe would be filled with such examples, and we’d come in contact with them on a daily basis. So the argument in support of (2) does nothing more then beg the question. What really needs to be shown is why God must be complex which, unfortunately, is an argument I’ve yet to find. Maybe someone reading this knows of one?

Written by Tim

March 17, 2009 at 5:47 pm

Wait a minute…so who designed the designer hmmm..?

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Smug Duck

 

 

 

 

Ever see the movie The Day the Earth Stood Still  (the original)?  <POSSIBLE SPOILER ALERT> In order to stop the destruction of Earth at the hands of an “omnipotent” robotic galactic law enforcement agent, a woman must utter the words “klaatu barada nikto” while in the presence of the robotic agent.  If she fails to do so, earth is doomed.  Fortunately she manages to blurt out the phrase just as the robot is about to kill her and begin its destructive rampage. <END SPOILER ALERT>  In the end, Earth is saved by the woman’s courage, steller memory, and most importantly by the words “klaatu barada nikto!”

It seems to me that some think there is equal power in the question “So who designed the designer?”  And I really shouldn’t call it a question because it’s more like an objection.  Kinda like a “Ha Ha, you just shot yourself in the foot” type of objection.  In any case, the whole Intelligent Design case is supposed to grind to a halt as soon as the objection leaves the lips of the questioner.  Every argument and every evidence is presumed to be overturned the very instant the final syllable of the objection whooshes past the vocal cords and strikes the ear drums of everyone listening.

 

But I say “So what?”  Who cares about the question/objection?  It’s not really relevant?  Suppose you and I are walking in a desert and you happen to stub your toe on a sharp object.  You look down and Lo! it’s an arrowhead!  You pick it up and filled with sheer delight exclaim “Will you look at this Tim.  It’s an arrowhead!  Just think Tim, this artifact I now hold in my hand was designed by someone many many years ago!  Wow!”  I, however, remain unconvinced. “Pfff…,” I say, “you really think someone designed that thing?  Obviously if that were designed then whoever designed it would have to be even more complex then that arrowhead..and if he were more complex he too would need a designer!  And so I ask you friend, who designed the designer of the arrowhead?”

 

Would you be persuaded by my argument?  Didn’t think so…  After you patted me on the head and gave me my medication, you’d probably place the arrowhead in your pocket and be on your merry little way.

 

Here’s the thing, when it comes to intelligent design, raising the question “who designed the designer?” is a red herring.  If we’re considering whether the cell was designed or the universe is fine-tuned it really makes little difference whatsoever whether we think the designer was designed or not.  Why? Because, that is not relevant to the inference that X, Y, or Z was designed.  That the designer of an arrowhead may have been designed himself is not really relevant to whether the arrowhead itself was designed.  So I say “So what?” Even if we are unable to answer the question of whether the designer was designed, we’ve still got to deal with the inference that the universe was designed.  That’s the real question at hand, and ID isn’t halted just because someone utters the magic words “So who designed the designer?” 

 

…And yes I do realize I haven’t answered the “question” directly.  I will, you’ll just have to wait till next time 🙂

Written by Tim

March 11, 2009 at 11:55 am

Plato the friend of Atheists?

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There’s been a few occasions now where I’ve asked an atheist how they explain things from their naturalistic world view and I’ve been told “We can just appeal to Plato’s Forms as an explanation.”  I’m not sure if this is an ongoing trend, or just a few isolated instances.   One of the atheist even appealed to Plato’s Forms as an explanation for the cause of the universe…I’m not sure how that would work exactly, and unfortunately I didn’t stick around long enough to find out.  In any case, if they are going to appeal to Plato’s theory of the Forms, I suppose they should deal with the problems surrounding it.

 

 

What follows is an excerpt from a paper I had to wrote on the criticisms of Plato’s theory of the Forms as presented in his dialogue Parmenides.  This was the place in the paper where I discussed the problem called the “Third Man Argument.”  Sorry I know it’s a bit techinal, I’m just to lazy to rewrite it for the blog right now 🙂  Also the references at the bottom are what I used for the entire paper, not the excerpt…once again I am too lazy to take out the ones that weren’t used in the excerpt (man I’m feeling lazy today!).  In anycase, this represents one of the problems these atheists would have to deal with if they are to make Plato a friend of atheists.

 

 

The Third Man Argument

     The third man argument is probably the greatest (or at least the most popular) problem for Plato’s theory of the Forms.  As mentioned above, the primary role of the Forms is to explain predication.  The statement the Statue of Liberty is large” is supposed to mean that the Statue of Liberty participates in largeness.  But what exactly is it supposed to mean for the Statue of Liberty to participate in largeness, or, for that matter, anything at all to participate in largeness (or in any other Form)?  Plato’s gives the following answer in Parmenides 132c12 – d4:

In my opinion, the ideas are, as it were, patterns fixed in nature, and other things are like them, and resemblances of them-what is meant by the participation of other things in the ideas, is really assimilation to them.

 

 Plato’s view (given through the mouth of Socrates) is that the Forms are patterns, and insofar that an object resembles a Form, it participates in that Form.  Forms, then, are like paradigms and participation just is resemblance, i.e. resemblance of an object to the Form(s) it participates in.  Judgments of the sort x is F mean precisely that x sufficiently resemblances F.  Hence, the judgment “the Statue of Liberty is large” means that the Statue of Liberty sufficiently resemblances the Form of the Large.  For a person to make the Judgment “the Statue of Liberty is Large,” it involves that person being acquainted with the Form Largeness and seeing that the Statue of Liberty sufficiently resembles that Form (Rickless, 2007).  In fact, according to Plato, not only does the statue of liberty resemble Largeness, but every single large object resembles that Form as well.   This is true not only of Largeness, but of every other Form as well.  Plato’s assumption is that anytime there is a group of things that share a common nature (largeness, beauty, goodness, etc) there exists one Form “over” all the like things. This assumption has been called “One Over Many” (OM):

OM   – For any collection of things (a, b, c, etc) that are F, there exist a single Form by virtue of which they are all F.  (Cohen, 2006)

     A second assumption made by Plato is that a Form can be predicated of itself.  In the case of largeness, not only are the Statue of Liberty, Jupiter, and Great Danes large, but Largeness itself is large.  The same holds true for all other Forms as well.  The Beautiful is itself Beautiful, The Good is Good, Equal is Equal, etc.  This assumption has been called “Self-Predication” (SP)

            SP        F-ness is itself F (Cohen, 2006)

     At this point Plato’s theory runs into a difficulty. If predication is supposed to be explained by participation in the Forms, how does one explain predication with regard to the Forms themselves? Must the Form of the Large participate in itself?  Or does it participate in a different Form of the Large?  Is The Beautiful, beautiful in virtue of itself or some other Form?  Is the Good, good by virtue of itself or another Form that it participates in? On this issue, Plato assumes that Forms cannot be what they are by virtue of participating in themselves.  This assumption has been called “Non-identity” (NI)

            NI        F-ness is not F by virtue of participating in itself (Cohen, 2006)

     With these three assumptions in place a major problem arises for Plato’s theory as illustrated in Parmenides 131e8 – 132b2:

—And what now? What do you think of this?

—Of what? —I presume you believe that in each case there is one form because of [ej k ] something like this: whenever you think several things to be large, perhaps you think, looking at them all, that there is some idea, one and the same; hence you suppose that the large is one.

—You speak the truth, he said. —And what about the large itself and the other large things?

Whenever you look at them, with your soul, in the same way, will there not appear again one large thing [e{ n ti au\ mevga], by which [w| / ] all these appear large?

—So it seems. —So, another form of largeness will turn up besides the largeness itself that has come to be and the things that participate in it; and over all these again another, by which [w| / ] all these will be large; and thus you will no longer have one of each form, but an indefinite plurality. (as cited in Scolnicov, 2003). 

 

     The problem can be put this way:  If one considers a collection of large things—say, the Statue of Liberty, Jupiter, and a Great Dane—according to OM, there must exists one Form “over” them by virtue of which they are all large.  Hence the Statue of Liberty, Jupiter, and Great Danes will all be large by virtue of participating in the single Form of the Large.  However, according to SP, Forms can be predicated of themselves.  Hence the Form of the Large itself is Large, and the collection of large things will now consist of the Statue of Liberty, Jupiter, Great Danes, and the Form of the Large.  Since OM demands that there exist a Form “over” any collection of things with a common nature (in this case largeness), then there must exist a single Form over the collection of large things, i.e., there must exist a single Form over the Statue, Jupiter, Great Danes, and the Form of the Large, by virtue of which they are all large.  Lastly, by NI a Form cannot participate in itself, hence the “new” Form of the Large that exists over the “new” collection of large things must be numerically distinct from the Form of the Large.  But then there will be a new collection of large things, viz., the Statue of Liberty, Jupiter, Great Danes, the Form of the Large1, and the Form of the Large2.  By OM, there must be a new Form that exists over the new collection, and the process repeats itself ad infinitum. (Rickless, 2007)

Cohen, S. (2006). Criticism of Theory of Forms. Retrieved 2008

Copleston, F. (1946). History of Philosophy: Greece and Rome. Paulist Press.

Graham, D. (2007, Feburary 8). Heraclitus. Retrieved November 2008, from The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy: http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/plato-parmenides/

Plato. (n.d.). Parmenides. Retrieved December 2008, from The Internet Classics Archive: http://classics.mit.edu/Plato/parmenides.html

Plato. (n.d.). Phaedo. Retrieved December 2008, from The Internet Classics Archive: http://classics.mit.edu/Plato/phaedo.html

Plato. (n.d.). Sophist. Retrieved December 2008, from The Internet Classics Archive: http://classics.mit.edu/Plato/sophist.html

Rickless, S. (2007, August 17). Plato’s Parmenides. Retrieved Decemer 2008, from The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy.

Russel, B. (1967). A History of Philosophy. Touchstone.

Scolnicov. (2003). Plato’s Parmenides. University of California Press.

 

 

 

Written by Tim

March 10, 2009 at 11:39 am