Archive for the ‘Sharings’ Category


a new creation

July 4, 2007

“Already the new men are dotted here and there all over the earth. Some, as I have admitted, are still hardly recognisable: but others can be recognised. Every now and then one meets them. Their very voices and faces are different from ours: stronger, quieter, happier, more radiant. They begin where most of us leave off. They are, I say, recognisable; but you must know what to look for. They will not be very like the idea of ‘religious people’ which you have formed from your general reading. They do not draw attention to themselves. You tend to think you are being kind to them when they are really being kind to you. They love you more than other men do, but they need you less. (We must get over wanting to be needed: in some goodish people, specially women, that is the hardest of all temptations to resist.) They will usually seem to have a lot of time: you will wonder where it comes from. When you have recognised one of them, you will recognise the next one much more easily. And I strongly suspect (but how should I know?) that they recognise one another immediately and infallibly, across every barrier of colour, sex, class, age, and even of creeds.”

CS Lewis, Mere Christianity, p. 223.

“So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new!”

2 Cor 5:17


Jon Kvanvig

July 3, 2007

here’s a link to the webpage of Baylor philosopher Jon Kvanvig. He’s a prominent christian philosopher and there’re chapters of a very interesting book on philo of religion available there, including ‘Autonomy, Finality and the Choice Model of Hell’, ‘Losing Your Soul’, and ‘Universalism and the Problem of Hell’.


Heavenly Problems

July 3, 2007

“‘The Hunt,’ a provocative episode of the award-winning television series The Twilight Zone. An old hillbilly named Simpson and his hound Rip appear to drown in abckwoods pond but awake the next morning near the water, walk toward the local graveyard, come to an unfamiliar fence, follow it, and arrive at a gate. The gatekeeper explains to Simpson that he is at the entrance to heaven. He is welcome, but Rip is not; no dogs are allowed.Simpson becomes infuriated, declaring that he would rather stay with Rip than go to heaven, and man and dog walk away together. Soon they meet an angel sent to accompany them to heaven. Simpson protests that he won’t go without Rip, and the angel tells Simpson that Rip is welcome in heaven. The angel explains that if Simpson had left Rip and gone through the gate, he would made a terrible mistake, for the gate-keeper had lied: the gate was the entrance to hell. Why had Rip been excluded? He would have smelled the brimstone and warned Simpson away. As the angel says, ‘You see, Mr Simpson, a man, well he’ll walk right into hell with both eyes open- but even the devil cant fool a dog!’…

Heaven… defies description. What events take place there? How do individuals relate to each other? What activities occupy them? A familiar supposition is that harps are played, but how long can harp music suffice for felicity? We understand the happiness that Rip brings Simpson. But how does it compare to the joys Simpson would experience in heaven? Not knowing, we are comfortable with Simpson rejecting heaven and staying with Rip.

To see addition difficulties involved in grasping the concept of heaven, comsider the case of Willie Mays, the spectacular baseball player whose greatest joy was to play the game he loved. What does heaven offer him? presumably bats, balls, and gloves are not found there. So what does Willie May do? Assuming he is the same person who made that spectacular catch in the 1954 World Series, how can the delights that supposedly await him in heaven match those he knew on earth?

Furthermore, some of May’s fans found their greatest delight in watching him play baseball. Wont they delight this joy in heaven? Whatever heaven may offer them, they will miss Willie in action.

The problem mounts. Consider two individuals, peters and peterson, and suppose that peters looks forward to the joy of spending eternity with peterson, whereas peterson looks forward to the joy of being forever free of peters. Assuming they retain their distinctive personalities, including their fundamental likes and dislikes, how can they both attain heavenly bliss? 

More questions arise in attempting to understand the supposition that our bodies will be resurrected. Will they appear as they did when we were ten, forty, or eighty years old? …”

Steven M Cahn. “Heaven and Hell” God, Reason and Religion, 65-68 


Creating your own character

July 3, 2007

People often think of Christian morality as a kind of bargain in which God says, ‘If you keep a lot of rules I’ll reward you, and if you don’t I’ll do the other thing.’ I do not think that is the best way of looking at it. I would much rather say that every time you make a choice you are turning the central part of you, the part of you that chooses, into something a little different from what it was before. And taking your life as a whole, with all your innumerable choices, all your life long you are slowly turning this central thing into either a creature that is in harmony with God, and with other creatures, and with itself, or else into one that is in a state of war and hatred with God, and with its fellow-creatures, and with itself. To be the one kind of creature is heaven: that is joy and peace and knowledge and power. To be the other means madness, horror, idiocy, rage, impotence, and eternal loneliness. Each of us at each moment is progressing to one state of the other.

CS Lewis, Mere Christianity


Is there a problem with the Ten Commandments?

July 2, 2007

‘The Ten Commandments, accepted by adherents of a variety of religions, also have their limitations. Consider the Second Commandment, which, after prohibiting the making or serving of sculptured images, goes on to say, “For I the LORD you God am an impassioned God, visiting the guilt of the parents upon the children, upon the third and upon the fourth generations of those who reject Me, but showing kindness to the thousandth generation of those who love Me and keep my commandments.” But to punish one person for the moral lapses of another isn unethical, as is rewarding a person for the good deeds done by another. This point is made emphatically by the prophet Ezekiel, who declared: “A child shall not share the burden of a parent’s guilt, nor shall a parent the burden of a parent’s guilt, the righteousness of the righteous shall be accounted to him alone.” Incidentally, Ezekiel’s principles rule out the possibility that anyone, including God, could act in such a way as to absolve us of responsibility for our failings. Only we as individuals can atone for our errors.

The Fifth Commandment instructs individuals to honor their father and mother. Suppose, however, parents break the Second Commandment by making and worshipping sculptured image. Or perhaps they break some of the remaining commmandments by coveting a neighbour’s property, bearing false witness, stealing, engaging inadultery, or even commiting murder. Although they might still merit their child’s concern, parents who acted in such ways would not deserve to be honored.

 Two of the commandments take slavery for granted. The Fourth, which requires individuals to remember the Sabbath day and keep it holy, prohibits work at that time by “you, your son and daughter, your male or female slave.” The Tenth prohibits coveting anything that belongs to aneighbor, including his “wife, or his male or female slave.” Slavery we all now agree is immoral, yet the Ten Commandments treat it as an acceptable practice.

A further problem is that the commandments are stated as if they allowed no exceptions. Yet under certain circumstances, not to break a commandment would be widely regarded as unethical. For example, if a young girl’s life depended on her mother’s stealing a small amount of money from a wealthy, immoral person, most of us would view the theft favorably.

Not only do certain circumstances call for making exceptions to the commandments, but situatins can develop in which fulfilling one commandment would amount to breaking another. If, for instance, a man had to work on the Sabbath in order to take his critically ill father to the hospital, the commandment to honor one’s father and mother would take precedence over the commandment not to work on the Sabbath. The commandments have exceptions, but do not themselves provide any guidance for when or how to make such exceptions. Thus regardless of claims of their divine origin and despite their moral worth, the Ten Commandments fall short as an ultimate guide to morality.’

Steven M. Cahn, “Life without God,” God, Reason and Religion,  72-73


Science of the Soul? ‘I Think, Therefore I Am’ Is Losing Force

June 30, 2007


Published: June 26, 2007

In 1950, in a letter to bishops, Pope Pius XII took up the issue of evolution. The Roman Catholic Church does not necessarily object to the study of evolution as far as it relates to physical traits, he wrote in the encyclical, Humani Generis. But he added, “Catholic faith obliges us to hold that souls are immediately created by God.”

Pope John Paul II made much the same point in 1996, in a message to the Pontifical Academy of Sciences, an advisory group to the Vatican. Although he noted that in the intervening years evolution had become “more than a hypothesis,” he added that considering the mind as emerging merely from physical phenomena was “incompatible with the truth about man.”

But as evolutionary biologists and cognitive neuroscientists peer ever deeper into the brain, they are discovering more and more genes, brain structures and other physical correlates to feelings like empathy, disgust and joy. That is, they are discovering physical bases for the feelings from which moral sense emerges — not just in people but in other animals as well.

The result is perhaps the strongest challenge yet to the worldview summed up by Descartes, the 17th-century philosopher who divided the creatures of the world between humanity and everything else. As biologists turn up evidence that animals can exhibit emotions and patterns of cognition once thought of as strictly human, Descartes’s dictum, “I think, therefore I am,” loses its force.

For many scientists, the evidence that moral reasoning is a result of physical traits that evolve along with everything else is just more evidence against the existence of the soul, or of a God to imbue humans with souls. For many believers, particularly in the United States, the findings show the error, even wickedness, of viewing the world in strictly material terms. And they provide for theologians a growing impetus to reconcile the existence of the soul with the growing evidence that humans are not, physically or even mentally, in a class by themselves.

The idea that human minds are the product of evolution is “unassailable fact,” the journal Nature said this month in an editorial on new findings on the physical basis of moral thought. A headline on the editorial drove the point home: “With all deference to the sensibilities of religious people, the idea that man was created in the image of God can surely be put aside.”

Or as V. S. Ramachandran, a brain scientist at the University of California, San Diego, put it in an interview, there may be soul in the sense of “the universal spirit of the cosmos,” but the soul as it is usually spoken of, “an immaterial spirit that occupies individual brains and that only evolved in humans — all that is complete nonsense.” Belief in that kind of soul “is basically superstition,” he said.

For people like the evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins, talk of the soul is of a piece with the rest of the palaver of religious faith, which he has likened to a disease. And among evolutionary psychologists, religious faith is nothing but an evolutionary artifact, a predilection that evolved because shared belief increased group solidarity and other traits that contribute to survival and reproduction.

Nevertheless, the idea of a divinely inspired soul will not be put aside. To cite just one example, when 10 Republican presidential candidates were asked at a debate last month if there was anyone among them who did not believe in evolution, 3 raised their hands. One of them, Senator Sam Brownback of Kansas, explained later in an op-ed article in this newspaper that he did not reject all evolutionary theory. But he added, “Man was not an accident and reflects an image and likeness unique in the created order.”

That is the nub of the issue, according to Nancey Murphy, a philosopher at Fuller Theological Seminary who has written widely on science, religion and the soul. Challenges to the uniqueness of humanity in creation are just as alarming as the Copernican assertion that Earth is not the center of the universe, she writes in her book “Bodies and Souls or Spirited Bodies?” (Cambridge, 2006). Just as Copernicus knocked Earth off its celestial pedestal, she said, the new findings on cognition have displaced people from their “strategic location” in creation.

Another theologian who has written widely on the issue, John F. Haught of Georgetown University, said in an interview that “for many Americans the only way to preserve the discontinuity that’s implied in the notion of a soul, a distinct soul, is to deny evolution,” which he said was “unfortunate.”

There is no credible scientific challenge to the theory of evolution as an explanation for the diversity and complexity of life on earth.

For Dr. Murphy and Dr. Haught, though, people make a mistake when they assume that people can be “ensouled” only if other creatures are soulless.

“Evolutionary biology shows the transition from animal to human to be too gradual to make sense of the idea that we humans have souls while animals do not,” wrote Dr. Murphy, an ordained minister in the Church of the Brethren. “All the human capacities once attributed to the mind or soul are now being fruitfully studied as brain processes — or, more accurately, I should say, processes involving the brain, the rest of the nervous system and other bodily systems, all interacting with the socio-cultural world.”

Therefore, she writes, it is “faulty” reasoning to want to distinguish people from the rest of creation. She and Dr. Haught cite the ideas of Thomas Aquinas, the 13th-century philosopher and theologian who, Dr. Haught said, “spoke of a vegetative and animal soul along with the human soul.”

Dr. Haught, who testified for the American Civil Liberties Union when it successfully challenged the teaching of intelligent design, an ideological cousin of creationism, in the science classrooms of Dover, Pa., said, “The way I look at it, instead of eliminating the notion of a human soul in order to make us humans fit seamlessly into the rest of nature, it’s wiser to recognize that there is something analogous to soul in all living beings.”

Does this mean, say, that Australopithecus afarensis, the proto-human famously exemplified by the fossil skeleton known as Lucy, had a soul? He paused and then said: “I think so, yes. I think all of our hominid ancestors were ensouled in some way, but that does not rule out the possibility that as evolution continues, the shape of the soul can vary just as it does from individual to individual.”Will this idea catch on? “It’s not something you hear in the suburban pulpit,” said Dr. Haught, a Roman Catholic whose book “God After Darwin” (Westview Press, 2000) is being reissued this year. “This is out of vogue in the modern world because the philosopher Descartes made such a distinction between mind and matter. He placed the whole animal world on the side of matter, which is essentially mindless.”

Dr. Haught said it could be difficult to discuss the soul and evolution because it was one of many issues in which philosophical thinking was not keeping up with fast-moving science. “The theology itself is still in process,” he said.

For scientists who are people of faith, like Kenneth R. Miller, a biologist at Brown University, asking about the science of the soul is pointless, in a way, because it is not a subject science can address. “It is not physical and investigateable in the world of science,” he said.

“Everything we know about the biological sciences says that life is a phenomenon of physics and chemistry, and therefore the notion of some sort of spirit to animate it and give the flesh a life really doesn’t fit with modern science,” said Dr. Miller, a Roman Catholic whose book, “Finding Darwin’s God” (Harper, 1999) explains his reconciliation of the theory of evolution with religious faith. “However, if you regard the soul as something else, as you might, say, the spiritual reflection of your individuality as a human being, then the theology of the soul it seems to me is on firm ground.”

Dr. Miller, who also testified in the Dover case, said he spoke often at college campuses and elsewhere and was regularly asked, “What do you say as a scientist about the soul?” His answer, he said, is always the same: “As a scientist, I have nothing to say about the soul. It’s not a scientific idea.”


Correction: June 29, 2007

An article in Science Times on Tuesday about evolution and the soul misstated the views that Nancey Murphy, a philosopher at Fuller Theological Seminary, expresses in her book “Bodies and Souls, or Spirited Bodies?” Dr. Murphy argues that neither humans nor animals have souls, not that both have souls. She cited the ideas of Thomas Aquinas on animal and human souls to contrast with her view, not to support it.




June 29, 2007

“It’s a bad thing not to be able to stand solitude,” he said. “Are you really a grown-up young lady?” 

“Of course I am,” I replied, laughingly. 

“Well, it’s a poor sort of young lady who’s only alive when people are admiring her but soon as she’s alone lets herself go and takes no interest in anything: all for show and nothing for its own sake.”