It's like Mardi Gras meets the bombing of Dresden...
Tuesday, November 29, 2005
Cogito Ergo Sum
Ok, I promised something interesting so hopefully this will count.

A number of recent posts among us (we should come up with some sort of cool name for our group) have dealt with either philosophy, religion, or evolution. I'm going to attempt to combine the three by posing a question I don't have a good answer for. First, I'm going to make a couple of assumptions and then ask my question.

#1) The evolutionary model is largely correct, i.e. at one point in time modern man existed as pre-modern (Neanderthal and the like).

#2) Language limits thinking in regards to the abstract, i.e. humanity as a whole cannot conceptualize something that cannot be expressed or experienced.

#3) God exists, it was not necessary for Man to invent him.

A little background on where this comes from and then the question. I've been reading Kant and the Platypus: Essays on Language and Cognition by Umberto Eco, CBA (certified bad-ass). The first essay, On Being, concerns itself with Eco's assorted thoughts on being. Section 1:4, How We Talk About Being starts off like this-
"Being is even before it is talked about. But we can take it from irrepressible evidence and transform it into a problem (which awaits an answer) only insofar as we can talk about it. The first opening to being is a sort of ecstatic experience, albeit in the most materialistic sense of the term, but as long as we remain in this initial, mute evidence, being is not a philosophical problem, and more than water is a philosophical problem for fish. The moment we talk about being, we are still not talking about it in its all-embracing form, because, as we have said, the problem of being (the most immediate and natural of experiences) is the least natural of our problem, the one that common sense never poses: we being to grope our way through being by carving entities out of it and gradually constructing ourselves a world."
Based on the assumptions stipulated above- it would seem to me that for most of history humanity has been fundamentally unable to reconcile itself with God. Man possessed neither the cognitive capacity to recognize revelation from God, nor the ability to question the purpose of existence or recognize the inherent weirdness of existence, which to me appears to be an elemental step on the path to discovering God.


Would this imply that there is a specific point in human history where God suddenly became accessible? Is there some kind of evolutionary "age of accountability" for mankind, where God extended a grace period until his redemption became necessary? Could this be heading towards an arbitrary when did humans become fully human defintion a la the abortion debate? I wish I could wrap this up neatly and succinctly but I can't- plus I'm willing to leave it deliberately open to see where it goes...

If you don't feel you have anything to say on the topic, you could go ahead and leave a sweet name for our group!

18 Comments:

Blogger Jackscolon said...

By the way, I suggest the Illuminati, which I think would be a totally sweet label for my blog links on the side.

9:55 PM  
Blogger Barnabas18 said...

Since I reject evolution (at least human evolution), I think that humans were always capable of being aware of God and His purpose.

Illuminati is a cool name.

4:01 PM  
Blogger Jackscolon said...

Alright then, you're exempted.

Charles, Redhurt, J. Morgan- nothing?

6:42 PM  
Blogger CharlesPeirce said...

I'm thinking.

7:01 AM  
Blogger StandingOutInTheCold said...

Maybe you know this, but a bunch of alien conspiracy theorists use the name Illuminati to reference some race of humans that are working with aliens to take over the world. Maybe they're supposed to be half-breeds or something. Just thought I'd throw that out there.

I do not accept the current evolutionary model. It may be correct, but there is at least as much evidence against it as for it. But I'll play along anyway.

In Genesis there is the idea that there was a distinct time at which God declared man to be created. In Genesis 2 we see that God had personal interaction with man from the time he was deemed created. So, if we take the evolutionary model, there was some point in evolution when man stopped being an animal and became human. God was intimately involved in the process, and once man was born he knew God in an intimate way. Furthermore, it is not far-fetched to believe that God may have been intimately involved in day-to-day life on earth before the creation of man. So, if evolution did occur then perhaps God was known to be present throughout the entire process. Man evolved with the presence of God a fact of life, just like the sun or tides or whatever. The more he became rational and capable of understanding, the more his relationship with God grew. And things remained that way until man was fully human and sinned and God left.

Of course, that's assuming that the Genesis account of God having intimate contact with man before sin is correct and not myth. Obviously we can't know how true that is at this point.

9:00 AM  
Blogger J. Morgan Caler said...

Thinking also.... Have a few preliminary ideas:

“Based on the assumptions stipulated above- it would seem to me that for most of history humanity has been fundamentally unable to reconcile itself with God. Man possessed neither the cognitive capacity to recognize revelation from God, nor the ability to question the purpose of existence or recognize the inherent weirdness of existence, which to me appears to be an elemental step on the path to discovering God.”

I have two (possibly oppositional) ways of responding to this:

a) It could be argued that, while for pre-linguistic humans “being is not a philosophical problem, any more than water is a philosophical problem for fish,” surely we don’t want to argue that the water is inaccessible or of no functional importance to the fish simply because the water doesn’t constitute a philosophical problem for it. We may want to say that for most of history, humanity has not been able to encounter God cerebrally or even with any awareness, but that doesn’t mean necessarily that humanity wouldn’t be able to encounter God in a taken-for-granted, prima facie way (like humans encountered the atmosphere for thousands of years before they ever did so with any awareness or understanding).

b) I want to go after your association of “humanity... reconcil[ing] itself with God” with “grope our way through being by carving entities out of it and gradually constructing ourselves a world." In other words, I am not sure humanity ever reconciles itself with God, which would render any preconditions moot. If the stream of reconciliation runs the other way (God ---> Man rather than Man ---> God) then we have no problem affirming that homo sapiens weren’t (and aren’t) always human without compromising a belief in omnipresent grace.

“Would this imply that there is a specific point in human history where God suddenly became accessible?”

Accessible? I don’t know. Knowable in the sense that Jews and Christians have historically understood it? Probably.

9:31 AM  
Blogger CharlesPeirce said...

I have no problems with current evolutionary models, as long as they are not put to too much work. They are open to revision, and I don't take them as seriously as I take other things, such as relativity, or that my parents love me, or that God exists.

With that said, let's hit your questions.

"It would seem to me that for most of history humanity has been fundamentally unable to reconcile itself with God. Man possessed neither the cognitive capacity to recognize revelation from God, nor the ability to question the purpose of existence or recognize the inherent weirdness of existence, which to me appears to be an elemental step on the path to discovering God."

I think you're conflating a number of issues and questions. For example, I would argue that humanity is still unable to reconcile itself to God; that's where Christ comes in. So, we'd have to say that for ALL of history, all mankind and all creation have been unable to reconcile themselves to God.

The cognitive capacity to receive revelation is also something that developed late in the game evolutionarily, but that's irrelevant to the fact that God was always aware of everything that he had created since the beginning of time. Which leads to your specific question...

"Would this imply that there is a specific point in human history where God suddenly became accessible? Is there some kind of evolutionary "age of accountability" for mankind, where God extended a grace period until his redemption became necessary?"

Was there a specific point in human history where we developed the capacity to believe in God, to be fully conscious of him? Perhaps, but it's a line we'll never find. Your questions seem to presuppose a deistic god who is sort of waiting in the clouds for us to take notice of him, whereas I see the whole history of creation and our development as part of God's story. We worshiped him before we knew what we were doing; before we even had the capacity for conscious worship.

By your "grace period" question, I can only assume that you're asking whether those creatures that were more advanced than primitive hominids but not as unbelievably sweet as redhurt were automatically saved. I believe that Paul tells us that all creation will be saved. That's the only answer I can give to that.

Science is one description or story among many that we use to approach the world. Religion, art, sociology, and psychology are others, and there is all sorts of overlap--I'm not drawing hard and fast lines. Science is broad and successful, but the important thing to remember is that it's not exhaustive--the reality of any given situation cannot be fully appropriated or described by science, both because of internal limitations (the limits of science, the uncertainty principle, etc.) and external limitations (like language). Religion is another valid description of the world, but I don't mean that in the sense that we should somehow try to reconcile the creation account in Genesis with modern evolutionary theory. I'll play my hand: Genesis chapters 1-11 is a myth; Genesis becomes historical with God's call of Abram after the tower of Babel. In this sense, religious descriptions are even broader than those of science, because they attempt to answer the huge and perplexing questions that we ask. I absolutely believe that God created the world; I don't find it necessary to say "God created the world by evolution," just as I don't find it necessary to say "God creates ATP in our bodies by the Krebs cycle." Mixing up contexts and descriptions is the source of all sorts of confusion.

9:35 AM  
Blogger RedHurt said...

I read this yesterday, and thought I'd responded. Apparently I was wrong, so here we go.

First, I think your question is great. It shows a strong tendancy to form associations between and mix knowledge from vastly different realms of learning, which takes a lot of critical thinking, and is the mark of an intelligent person. So good work.

I think j. morgan and charles may have taken your "reconcile themselves to God" phrase more literally than you'd meant it - am I wrong? There's certainly an extent to which scripture tells us that we should be aware of our sinfulness and God's difference in holiness and change our behavior in light of it to reflect more holiness and less sinfulness. How this is made possible - by God's action or our own - is irrelevant; we're still supposed to do something.

Given the evolutionary presupposition you stated (and Barney flat out ignored), I'd theorize that God's relationship with neanderthal man was different than his with us. Scripture contains strong evidence that God's relationship with people is very different from one person to the next; it's a fluid and personal thing that can't be constrained by more than very abstract guidelines. Similarly, I think God's relationship with humankind is fluid through evolution, meaning it was different with less capable humans as it was different with the Israelites and is different with mentally handicapped people etc.

As to your "grace period" question, it seems to presuppose that mankind currently possesses an ability to relate spiritually that does not exist in the apes we evolved from. This is a very vague quality to assert we have, so it's hard to understand how such an ability would "evolve"...in our distinguishing between animals and humans, it either exists or it does not; it cannot exist in stages. Thus, given the presuppositions you've outlined and that which I've listed above, until humanity suddenly developed this ability, the species in question was not actually human. The development of this characteristic marks the line between animal and human - they are suddenly not an advanced ape, and suddenly a rather primitave human being.

I think Illuminiati is a little cliche...too many nerds living in their parents basement call their small hoarde of intellectual elitists and counter strike hacks "illuminati" and things like that. Then again I've never read focault's pendulum, so some of the sweetness is probably lost on me.

10:41 AM  
Blogger RedHurt said...

since your blog is called poetry and scotch, maybe name the group some sweet brand or vintage of scotch? "The Single Malts" sounds a little homo, but you get the idea.

10:42 AM  
Blogger J. Morgan Caler said...

Like Balvenie 21 Portwood?

10:54 AM  
Blogger Jackscolon said...

I'll start at the end and work my way up, and for Charles' benefit, I'll use as many numbers and letters as possible for main points and subpoints...

1) Yeah, that's not a bad idea... but I was looking for something a little more universal and since I was one of the later additions to the group I think the naming should not be primarily concerned with me. I think I read a sweet book when I was little titled "The Illuminati" or something, but now that I think about it I'm very opposed to choosing a name that has an linkage to stupid Dan Brown and his mass-produced pop-culture crap.

If I had to choose something from Foucault's Pendulum I'd go with "The Scholars of Comparative Irrelevance", from the fictitious school of Comparative Irrelevance. A description from the book- "Useless or Impossible subjects are given. The school's aim is to turn out scholars capable of endlessly increasing the number of unnecessary subjects." A bit lengthy maybe- but incredibly sweet.

2) As of right now, I'm going to declare all religious terminology used by me to be suspect. I'll do the best I can, but I'm over my head- you'll have to deal with it. That said- some clarifications.

A) I was under the impression that God's reason for creating man was to have an agent capable of choosing whether or not to worship him. (This could get ugly here, watch out!) In essence, man's CHOICE is a key factor in the God/Man relationship. When I say "reconcile man to God" I mean that man recognizes the need/existence/appropriatewordgoeshere for God and makes a conscious decision to follow him. That said, now that I consider biblical context, I would assume that this CHOICE is no where near as important in the man/God relationship until the coming of Jesus. Am I correct in assuming that there was no "born-again" before the New Testament and that salvation was less determined by the choice of man before the New Testament? I feel I'm getting fragmented here, but I think that what I'm getting at could agree largely with the last few points of Redhurt's comment. You guys are smart, you decide what I mean.

B) Redness, thanks for the compliment- I'm just trying to keep up with you guys...

C) Charles- I like your last paragraph, I agree.

"I believe that Paul tells us that all creation will be saved. That's the only answer I can give to that." I'm interested in this, but I think it's a bigger issue that should be attacked in these comments, I'd like to see a post sometime?

D) J. Morgan and Charles- I think my clarification on reconciliation changes what you were getting after, right?

E) Standingout- My favorite halfbreeds are nephilim, but I don't think they are an appropriate namesake.

F,G,H, and I) There was almost frost this morning and I thought I was going to die. I've seriously never been so cold...

12:01 PM  
Blogger StandingOutInTheCold said...

I just reread my comment and realized that I said "And things remained that way until man was fully human and sinned and God left." Just to clairify I didn't really mean that God left at all. In fact what I meant to convey was that man's intimacy with God was broken. Which really has little to do with God's actions and everything to do with man's. Just for the record.

2:50 PM  
Blogger Hans-Georg Gadamer said...

Jacks - sweet post, although I think I missed the comment train as I have been away from the blog for a few days. I will throw in a few somewhat meaningless comments since I only have a minute:

1. Evolutionary model given the nod.

2. "All will be redeemed" is what Paul is getting at I think, Charles. Otherwise we have sweet universalism which is about as ridiculous as it gets.

3. To be honest, I don't really know why God created us. So I don't know whether the choice thing has any important ramifications to that. I mean, it could be that choice is important to us because we are so pathetic and power hungry, maybe just a Western thing that we read back on the whole universe. Considering how much of creation doesn't have choice, it might not be a big deal, although it gets us up in the morning. I don't know, we are sweeter than rocks though.

4. I think God can do whatever He wants with weird neandrathal men, I mean vessels for honour and destructions, right? So I don't really have a comment about the "grace period."

5. I think Umberto Eco is amazing and envy you for reading him while I have to spend hours and hours on the prophets. I mean fine and good, but you know. Seriously I think your theological stuff is fine. We all just make it up anyways, I think. I do at least.

Conclusion: keep up the good work and maybe next time I will catch this thing before it already hits full steam.

3:37 PM  
Blogger J. Morgan Caler said...

Jack, this is a sweet-ass conversation you have going on here. Thanks for the clarification. I want to respond to the points you made and then tweak my answer in light of that:

“I was under the impression that God's reason for creating man was to have an agent capable of choosing whether or not to worship him.”

I am with Hans, here. I don’t really know why God created us (or anything for that matter). I probably should think about it at some point, but I probably won’t.

“In essence, man's CHOICE is a key factor in the God/Man relationship. When I say "reconcile man to God" I mean that man recognizes the need / existence / appropriatewordgoeshere for God and makes a conscious decision to follow him. That said, now that I consider biblical context, I would assume that this CHOICE is no where near as important in the man/God relationship until the coming of Jesus.”

Well, I don’t know exactly how I would split the Divine Will / human will hair. I think something like choice, from the human side of it all, is involved in that recognition / appreciation, but I think it is something qualitatively different. I mean, we don’t choose to recognize our need for God like we choose socks in the morning, nor is the object of our affections a disinterested party as the socks would be.

“Am I correct in assuming that there was no "born-again" before the New Testament and that salvation was less determined by the choice of man before the New Testament?”

That is something I have given some thought to, but still don’t have an answer I am totally satisfied with. I am tempted to say temporality is unimportant in terms of Christ. For instance, in 1 Peter 3:18-20, the writer seems to imply that the Gospel has a retroactive quality to it; potentially that history is reconstituted in Jesus Christ. At the same time, I think Redhurt is right that God is known in different ways at different times by different people. I don’t know if I can do more than that right now.

That said, I take it that your point in this was to clarify that you were not talking about reconciliation in the atonement sense, but reconciliation as awareness of and devotion to God. Previously, I said:

“We may want to say that for most of history, humanity has not been able to encounter God cerebrally or even with any awareness, but that doesn’t mean necessarily that humanity wouldn’t be able to encounter God in a taken-for-granted, prima facie way (like humans encountered the atmosphere for thousands of years before they ever did so with any awareness or understanding).”

I still that is basically how I would contend with that, but I would refine it to say:

We may want to say that for most of history, humanity has not be able to encounter God cerebrally or with full awareness, but that doesn’t mean necessarily that humanity wouldn’t have encountered God in a taken-for-granted, prima facie way (like humans encountered the atmosphere for thousands of years before they understood what it was or why it was so vital to their existence).

So, I think I would agree that God was probably known is a qualitatively different way than He is now (presuming, as I do, that Eco’s model is basically right). That said, I don’t know if it was a less important encounter (although most likely a less thoughtful one). Is that more like what you wanted as a response?

9:05 AM  
Blogger CharlesPeirce said...

j. morgan: to roll with your sock analogy, perhaps we could answer the "choice" question with our theology of what it means to be created in the image of God (whatever we work this theology out to be.) We're not an accessory to God the way that socks are an accessory to us, so whatever it means to choose God is going to be impacted by what it means to be be created in his image. Unfortunately for clarity's sake, this becomes a somewhat recursive discussion, because I think part of what it means to be created in the image of God is to have choice. *head explodes* To be created in the image of God also means to be able to see God in other people.

As for jackscolon's question of whether salvation was less determined by the choice of man before the New Testament, I'd be very careful how I answered that (which is not to say that you weren't, j. morgan.) One thing I'm certain of is that salvation was still by and through Christ before he came to the earth clothed in flesh; but it was less conscious on the part of those saved, obviously. Were Jews saved by following the law? No, they were saved by Christ--but however God chose to grant them salvation before people could call on his name specifically was God's decision.

In the parable of the sheep and the goats the people who end up being saved are surprised when Christ tells them what they did--they say, when did we see you in prison? When did we give you food?

What should we do with that?

redhurt, I liked this a lot:

I think God's relationship with humankind is fluid through evolution, meaning it was different with less capable humans as it was different with the Israelites and is different with mentally handicapped people etc.

hans: saved, redeemed, new heaven, new earth, whatever. I wasn't intending to subtly advocate universalism; I just meant that God does NOT see a world full of meaningless objects and animals, and than a bunch of talking objects, some of whom will be saved and some of whom won't. (I don't know what God sees, but it's not that.)

9:58 AM  
Blogger Jackscolon said...

A couple of things-

First, scratch the whole grace period. I was just thinking out loud, and I also like redhurt's explanation on God's relationship with different levels of humans.

I like where this ended up, I'm not sure if I have a whole lot more to add, but I'll make one last attempt.

If I combine-

"I don’t really know why God created us (or anything for that matter). I probably should think about it at some point, but I probably won’t."

and

"All will be redeemed" / "Charles' sweet universalism"

then:

would this mean that-

1)Since we don't know why we're here, it is difficult to determine our purpose and what we are supposed to do/accomplish.
2) It really doesn't matter anyway, salvation will be extended to me regardless.

I really don't think this can be what you're getting at, since it seems incredibly nihilistic. If this is where religion discussion leads, then I'll retreat to my safe modernist haven and continue sacrificing myself to capitalism. Does Pier 21 sell altars?

2:17 PM  
Blogger RedHurt said...

I think I'm just going to call us the hurt machines, and name the link to everyone's blog with a different color. Pragmaticism will obviously be pink.

I think your summary of Man's purpose will serve just fine in a pinch, wot wot. I don't know if it's the same as why God made us, but it'll do.

...there's a lot going on on this post, but I don't really have anything else to say, so that's all you get. You hairy bastard.

5:14 PM  
Blogger Hans-Georg Gadamer said...

Jacks - I think your last point does hinge on the universalism bit. Since salvation does not come to everyone then it might be important, but I don't really think we have much say in the matter anyways. But off that for a minute. On to the purpose thing:

I want to suggest a situational purposeness. Just because we don't know our ultimate purpose on earth doesn't mean we don't know any any purpose. For instance if one of my friends is stuggling with a personal problem and needs someone to hear them out or listen or pray for them, than at that moment my purpose is to be there to support. To do something else would be to go against my call as a Christian. After I "finish" this task then another event might show forth my "purpose." Sounds trivial, but that is how life comes to us, right? I mean, the majority of us don't really plan that much ahead because of the constant flux of nature, feelings, relationships, etc. It would be absurd to do so, we live with a will focused on kingdom ethics and try as best to apply this to any situation that comes our way. If we do accept that God exists and created the universe, than we must accept that this world is a lot more complicated than we can understand. So I don't find it really discouraging that we don't know our "ultimate" purpose. That just tells me that I am not God.

Sounds kind of weak in some ways, but it is time we stopped trying to be God and just be fallen creatures that we are. Redeemed, but still fallen.

6:49 PM  

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