iSoul In the beginning is reality

Category Archives: Being

ontology, metaphysics, logic

Classical knowledge

As with a previous post here, this post looks at George Lakoff and Mark Johnson’s Philosophy in the Flesh (1999). This time the focus is on what they call “folk theories” but I’m calling classical knowledge since these have become so ingrained in Western thought. Starting with chapter 16 they look principles that came out of ancient Greek philosophy. Though they don’t mention it, these were influenced by the other source of Western thought, Christianity.

The Intelligibility of the World: The world makes systematic sense, and we can gain knowledge of it.

General Kinds: Every particular thing is a kind of thing.

Essences:
Every entity has an “essence” or “nature,” that is, a collection of properties that makes it the kind of thing it is and that is the causal source of its natural behavior.

Every kind of thing has an essence that makes it the kind of thing it is.
The way each thing naturally behaves is a consequence of its essence.

Substances:
A substance is that which exists in itself and does not depend for its existence on any other thing.
Each substance has one and only one primary attribute that defines what its essence is.

Metaphysics: Kinds exist and are defined by essences.

The All-Inclusive Category: There is a category of all things that exist.

The Elements: Things in nature are made up of some combination of the basic elements: [which in ancient times were considered to be] Earth, Air, Fire, and Water.

What was considered the essence of being? There were several answers:

Thales: Water; Anaximander: Intermediate Material, Air; Heraclitus: Change; Pythagoras: Number

For Plato: Essences are Ideas (and Ideals)

For Aristotle: Ideas are Essences

Basic Gospel Message

Vic Scaravilli is a Catholic who put the following on his website here. I’m reposting it (with permission) and note that Evangelicals would agree that this is the gospel, with some nuances about baptism.

The Basic Gospel Message

By Vic Scaravilli

God loves each one of us. He loves me and He loves you with an unconditional love. You are precious in His eyes.

There is something that has kept us separated from God, something that has kept us from experiencing His love in our lives. That something is called sin. The result of sin is spiritual death. We have all sinned and never can be perfect.

Does that mean we can never know and experience God’s love? No, because God loved us so much He sent His only Son to die for each one of us. Jesus is the only bridge that takes us from our sin to the love of God. By His death and resurrection, Jesus opened the gates of heaven for everyone.

This is called salvation. It is the free gift of eternal life that is completely given to us by God’s grace. Salvation is the life in Jesus that begins now and will be for all eternity.

The free gift of salvation must be accepted in order for it to be our own. We must experience an internal conversion experience that changes our hearts. Once we accept Jesus into our hearts and allow Him to come into our lives, we begin to experience His love.

In order to become children of God, we must be born again. The sacrament of Baptism forgives your sins, gives the gift of the Holy Spirit, restores the grace lost by Adam, and makes you a member of His family.

This is the gift of salvation. We have the opportunity of eternal life because of what Jesus did for you and me. All we have to do is personally accept it by faith and be obedient to Him. Baptism and conversion are required to begin this process.

Jesus paid a debt He did not owe because we owed a debt we couldn’t pay.

Branches of Christianity

Christians accept the four gospels as four different perspectives on the gospel. In fact, each is properly titled, “The Gospel According to …” That is, there is one gospel but four perspectives on it. While it is an interesting exercise to compare the gospels with each other, they are best thought of as parallel accounts of the gospel of Jesus Christ.

There are four branches of Christianity, corresponding to the four Gospels. The parallels between each gospel and each branch of Christianity show this. The four branches are the Orthodox, Catholic, Evangelical, and Pentecostal churches. Like the one gospel, there is only one church, but there are four perspectives on the one church.

The gospel of Matthew shows Jesus as the Messianic King. The gospel of Mark shows Jesus as the Suffering Servant. The gospel of Luke-Acts shows Jesus as the Son of Man. The gospel of John shows Jesus as the Son of God. From considerations like this, one can see the Orthodox, Catholic, Evangelical, and Pentecostal branches, correspond to the gospel according to John, Matthew, Mark, and Luke-Acts, respectively.

Christians have learned to accept the four versions of the one gospel, and their different perspectives. It is past time that Christians learn to accept the four branches of the one church, and their different perspectives.

Christianization of the world

In Mt 13:33 reports of Jesus: He told them another parable. “The kingdom of heaven is like leaven that a woman took and hid in three measures of flour, till it was all leavened.” Christianity is the leaven of the world. Put it into the world and gradually the whole world is leavened. This is the Christianization of the world.

Note that leaven works from the inside out, not the outside in. Christianization does not mean the world is given a coating of Christianity in hopes that it will penetrate further down. Rather, it means that the leaven of Christianity is put into the middle of the world and gradually works its way throughout.

When this is done, the outside at first may look as if nothing much has changed. But if the inside has changed, then sooner or later the outside and everything in between will change. That is what genuine Christianization means.

Christianity is a meta-religion: it “comes after” religion because it takes a religion and transforms it. The first religion Christianity was applied to was Judaism, as recorded in the New Testament. After that, the pagan religion of the gentiles in Europe was Christianized. Many of the customs associated with Christianity today come from Christianized Judaism and paganism. For example, Easter is a Christianized spring festival (the name comes from the Teutonic goddess of spring) and Christmas is a Christianized winter solstice festival.

Other religions have not been Christianized as much, but they could be. Music is one aspect which has been Christianized. There are Christian songs in every music tradition. Converts from any religion should be able to retain parts of their culture with a new focus and interpretation. Christianity is not about replacing the cultures of the world but about redeeming them.

The kingdom of God is the Christianization of the world. Where the kingship of Christ is, there is the kingdom of God. The world in all its diversity can be redeemed — and preserved — through Christ.

 

Repentance and faith

Acts 20:21 speaks of “repentance toward God and faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ.” This first step of the Christian life is God’s doing. God grants repentance and faith. So while people say, “I repented” and “I believed,” it is only by God’s grace that they did.

This can be compared with an alarm clock going off while we’re sleeping. We woke up on account of the alarm clock. We could have resisted the alarm. But it was the alarm that woke us up. We didn’t wake ourselves up.

Repentance and faith is conversion (Latin conversio, Greek metanoia) and it is God’s work, not ours. Jesus said, (Mt 22.14) “Many are called, but few are chosen.” This may indicate that everyone receives a “wake-up call” at some point in their lives but not everyone responds to it.

So listen to the Gospel and when you perceive God calling you or tugging at your heart, respond as Samuel did, (1 Sam 3:10) “Speak, for your servant is listening.” And wake up!

Evangelical varieties

The word evangelical means simply “of or according to the teaching of the gospel (the good news)”. Evangelical was used by Martin Luther to characterize the Reformation so that in Europe it is often a synonym for Protestant. In America the term (often capitalized) has come to have a particular meaning, characterized by historian David Bebbington with the following four distinctives:

  • Conversionism: the belief that lives need to be transformed through a “born-again” experience and a life long process of following Jesus.
  • Activism: the expression and demonstration of the gospel in missionary and social reform efforts
  • Biblicism: a high regard for and obedience to the Bible as the ultimate authority
  • Crucicentrism: a stress on the sacrifice of Jesus Christ on the cross as making possible the redemption of humanity

To avoid confusion those who follow the theological tradition that runs closer to Martin Luther could be called Lutheran Evangelicals, though they are often called simply Lutherans. Similarly, those who follow the theological tradition that runs closer to Jean (John) Calvin could be called Reformed Evangelicals, though they are often called simply Calvinists.

These latter two groups would not insist on a conversion experience, being satisfied with Baptism and Confirmation. Other than that, they (or at least the more theologically conservative among them) would fit in with those called simply Evangelicals. Accordingly, to be more precise about which variety of evangelical is referenced, Evangelicals in America could be called Conversionist Evangelicals.

There are other qualifiers that could be used, too: Wesleyan Evangelicals, Holiness Evangelicals, Pentecostal Evangelicals, Charismatic Evangelicals, Fundamentalist Evangelicals, etc.

Philosophical realism

Philosophical realism, or simply realism, is a philosophy that begins where we all begin: with our common sense, our common everyday experience. When Samuel Johnson famously dismissed Berkeley’s idealist philosophy with his “I refute Berkeley thus” and then kicked a rock, he was asserting realism in contrast with idealism.

There are basically two kinds of anti-realist philosophy: idealism (or ideology) and materialism (or naturalism). Idealism begins with an idea that is asserted to be the principle of reality. Materialism begins with physical matter and everything is asserted to be reducible to this matter (or nature).

Realism as a philosophy began with Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle, the three leading lights of classical thought. Plato’s realism of Forms was rather extreme but his student Aristotle taught a moderate realism with a duality of form and matter. Plato’s realism motivated Neo-Platonism in later ancient and early medieval times. When Aristotle was rediscovered, his realism motivated Scholasticism in the Middle Ages.

The Scholastics were limited in their understanding of Aristotle and ended up giving him a bad name so that the early moderns opposed all things associated with Aristotle. Ironically, people such as Francis Bacon who assailed Aristotle also incorporated key elements of Aristotle in their own philosophy.

Modern realists include the American philosophers C. S. Peirce, W. V. O. Quine, M. J. Adler, and Thomas Nagel. While they mostly lack a religious faith, they are not inimical to true religion. Their realism puts them at odds with many of their contemporaries and closer to true religion than might appear at first.

Realism is an open philosophy, contrary to the anti-realist philosophies which have decided what reality is from the start. Realism is open to reality, however that may turn out to be. Realism is consistent with the common sense that people in general have and so is a way of engaging people in a common pursuit of the true, the good, and the beautiful.

What before how

One way to express realism is that it insists on knowing what before knowing how. Why is that? Because for a realist ontology precedes epistemology, which means being precedes knowing. Something is, whether we know it or not.

A question students are asked is, If a tree fell in the forest and no one knew it, would it still have fallen? The realist answers Yes. So if we come upon a tree on the ground in the forest, what happened? We are entitled to investigate how the tree got on the ground after we have ascertained that the tree is on the ground.

This is not obvious to anti-realists, who want to know how something got there before they will agree that it is there. Appearances after all can be deceiving. If we can trace a chain of events that leads from the tree growing up, dying, and then falling on the ground, then we can be sure that there is a tree on the ground. Otherwise, maybe not.

One reason anti-realists are attracted to evolutionary theories is that they (purportedly) tell us how things got here. Now exactly what it is that got here may still be fuzzy. After all, evolutionists haven’t figured out exactly what a species is, but they are certain that whatever a species is, it got here by evolution.

Realists on the other hand want to be confident that something called a species really exists before investigating how a species came to be. Before the 19th century it was widely understood that species were created and so had exactly the properties with which they were endowed by their Creator (to use the phrase of the Declaration of Independence, 1776). This is what motivated early modern science to explore the world the Creator had made.

After Darwin, the certainty about what things really are decreased even as the confidence about how things came to be increased. The identity crisis is an invention of the evolutionary mindset. Meanwhile realists are waiting for anti-realists to figure out who they are so a real dialogue is possible.

Being and becoming

Evolutionism is a philosophy that looks to science to fill in the details.  It is based on putting becoming before being, contrary to the classical and Christian assertion that being precedes becoming.  We have to know what or who something is before we can understand how it got that way, or what we’re even talking about.  But evolutionists reverse that and say that knowing how something came to be tells us what it is.

So evolutionists do not begin with a taxonomy except to criticize its shortcomings.  Taxonomy for evolution means populations over time, not something with being that is trans-temporal.  Louis Agassiz saw this immediately and completely rejected evolution in the 19th century.

Many who are not evolutionists are following their lead in emphasizing how life and the universe as it is today came to be rather than focusing on what life and the universe are from beginning to end.  We are trying to understand creation as becoming rather than as being as created by God.

How God created life and the universe are less important than that God created them and that what they are is what God created them to be.  We should emphasize questions of what and who rather than how and when.  If we do this, we will find ourselves in a philosophical debate more than a scientific debate.  I know that makes some people uncomfortable but that is where we should be.

January 2015

Means and Extremes

Means and extremes in classical mathematics have to do with proportions.

If A is to B as C is to D, we write A : B :: C : D.  This is ordered so that A is greater than or equal to B and C is greater than or equal to D.  A and D are called the extremes; B and C are called the means.

By elementary arithmetic the product of the extremes equals the product of the means:

A x D = B x C.

If B = C, then B is the mean proportional or geometric mean of A and D.  In that case B is the positive square root of A x D.

This provides a basic principle for centrism: the means are between the extremes in a principles manner.