Is everything a reflection of God - the first Cause?

Discussions pertaining to scripture and theology from a philosophical approach.

Re: Is everything a reflection of God - the first Cause?

Postby Daniel (Da Pilgrim) » Thu Sep 25, 2014 8:03 pm

There are no external causes of a person's choices—only external influences


I realise that people aren't put in boxes as to what will cause them to do certain actions, that is why we talk about influences rather than causes. However, that is only a calculability issue. What it comes down to is that external influences mean that they influence or have a definite effect on the object. IMO an influence cannot logically have much of an effect in Freewill thought or else that would be manipulation towards a definite end, thus severely questioning our "free choices". This influence is demonstrated in the existence of culture and cyclic generational learnings as I mentioned prior. Can we really ultimately blame a lazy person involved in a "group think" mentality for choosing to succumb to the strong influences around them? Even if the minority do choose against this influence in the end, I wonder what effect the influence was REALLY having on them? What is the point of an influence having an effect on an object if it merely suggests an outcome, when it is so evident that influences really do determine (to a degree) what lifestyle one can have?
Can we really call people who are involved in cyclic generational family abuse responsible for carrying that abuse onto their children?
Can we really call people who are from positive families responsible for reflecting that positive environment onto their children?
I didn't "freely" choose a positive lifestyle for my family, I was taught it from the very effective influences around me (Thank God for that). From that, I can't then reach out and blame those in abusive families for not exercising their free wills to create positive environments "like I have", because I believe that influences actually manipulate our "free wills".
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Re: Is everything a reflection of God - the first Cause?

Postby Daniel (Da Pilgrim) » Thu Sep 25, 2014 8:07 pm

Blaming the victim mentality is often the result of Freewill thought.

Don't get me wrong, I don't think that any of you believe people are totally free. I just question whether people can really logically be held responsible (In a Freewill sense) for succumbing to influences around them. Because the fact is, the majority (if not all) of people do reflect their environments.
“I believe in Christianity as I believe that the sun has risen: not only because I see it, but because by it I see everything else.” - C.S. Lewis

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Re: Is everything a reflection of God - the first Cause?

Postby Paidion » Thu Sep 25, 2014 8:19 pm

I can't then reach out and blame those in abusive families for not exercising their free wills to create positive environments "like I have", because I believe that influences actually manipulate our "free wills".


I have known a significant number of people who chose to live their lives contrary to their home environment. I have known people from "bad" homes turn our "good", and people from "good" homes turn out bad.

But you are correct in that, if determinism is true, then no one can be held responsible for his actions.
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Re: Is everything a reflection of God - the first Cause?

Postby Daniel (Da Pilgrim) » Fri Sep 26, 2014 11:06 am

I have known a significant number of people who chose to live their lives contrary to their home environment. I have known people from "bad" homes turn our "good", and people from "good" homes turn out bad.

But you are correct in that, if determinism is true, then no one can be held responsible for his actions.


A bit of tongue and cheek really. I do think that people CAN be held "responsible" under determinism. My idea as mentioned before is a bit different to the general understanding of responsibility. I was merely pointing out that there is a heap of evidence that even under Freewill thought, there is sin that people commit that directly reflect their environments. These people are under pressure to sin in certain environments, in a way that others are not. They more often succumb to that sin due to the pressures around them, and others in different environments do not. According to Freewill thought, how can they be held "responsible" when those influences actually have a definite affect on what they will choose to do? Their choice was obviously not totally free, but rather manipulated.
“I believe in Christianity as I believe that the sun has risen: not only because I see it, but because by it I see everything else.” - C.S. Lewis

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Re: Is everything a reflection of God - the first Cause?

Postby DaveB » Fri Sep 26, 2014 3:28 pm

For those of you that don't mind reading some philosophy (well-written, succinct) on this subject and the Problem of Evil, I just posted a very good article by Bill Vallicella (MavPhi) in the studies - articles - section of the forum.
viewtopic.php?f=29&t=5872


Highly recommended imo.
I really have lived in books. Books are friends. They are some of the friends that make you who you are.
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Re: Is everything a reflection of God - the first Cause?

Postby Daniel (Da Pilgrim) » Sat Sep 27, 2014 10:33 am

Thanks Dave, will have read when I get a chance :)
“I believe in Christianity as I believe that the sun has risen: not only because I see it, but because by it I see everything else.” - C.S. Lewis

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Re: Is everything a reflection of God - the first Cause?

Postby Fe4rG0d » Sat Sep 27, 2014 11:56 pm

Wow there's been a lot of talk here lately!
I'm got a bunch of thoughts, which I've tried assembling in a logical order :)

FREE WILL IN GENERAL:
Why does the 'image of God' require us to have the same Free Will as God, since clearly not every aspect of God is recreated within us? Why do we think God has 'free will' to start with? What do we mean when we say God has 'free will' (e.g. can He ever act against His character? Could He, given his omnipotence and knowledge, have chosen anything other than what He has chosen?)
If all you mean by Free Will is the ability to 'choose', then we agree, but I suggest that this is not what is commonly defended as 'Free Will' by most people.
We actually function very much like 'programable people' in reality. Advertising companies risk billions of dollars on the assumption that we are programmable in a predictable way. Children from abusive homes are many times more likely to abuse their own children, for example. Yes their parents are responsible, but it doesn't take away their own need for change, or personal moral depravity.
Incidentally, these two aspects (the need for change, and the fact that the outcome says something meaningful about the character) are my definition of responsibility. 'Guilt' per-se features very little here, as I think it does in Scripture.

People have been talking as if 'Free Will' is a more basic understanding of things, and existentially evident, and that further speculation is unnecessary, risky, and creates difficult conclusions that are ONLY created by this speculation. I disagree with all of this! Free Will itself requires a lot of assumptions and uncomfortable conclusions, which I think are difficult to support Scripturally (unless of course you resort to Paradox or 'mystery' to avoid these conclusions). The fact that we experience 'freedom' from our perspective is meaningless - if what I'm saying about 'Free Agency' is true, you would have no way of distinguishing it from true 'Free Will'. Finally, speculation is ALREADY necessary (unless you want to resort to paradox of mystery) because there are EXISTING conclusions in Scripture, which are difficult to explain otherwise.

GOD AND FREE WILL:
Its not that, given my commitment to determinism, I can't see a way that God IS NOT responsible for 'evil'. I think the Bible actively teaches that God is gloriously ultimately and solely responsible for all things, including sin and what we call 'evil'. I think it teaches that God deliberately does all things precicsely because it is a necessary component of the greatest possible expression of Good (this includes specifically allowing sin and 'evil', when He has the power to do otherwise). I think it teaches there is no such thing as ultimate 'evil', only temporary incompleteness in our perception of the grand scheme of things, making us perceive it as 'less-than-perfectly-good' (but that this false perception will itself form part of the perfect good).
And I think it teaches that God is exactly the author of evil (if by author, we mean the person who first conceived of it, desired it (not necessarily for itself, but for its effects in integration with everything else in the story), brought it into existence (usually through secondary causes, e.g. characters or events in the story), and sustained its existence and ultimate glorious purpose throughout the story.
Stating that God has done 'evil' is to agree with Scripture (Isaiah 45:7, Romans 11:32). And to state that there is no such thing as 'ultimate evil' is to agree with Scripture. There are, indeed, temporary disturbances in our perception of God's goodness (which we term 'evil'), but for God to do these things in no way makes Him evil, for the reasons Dan stated. On the contrary, if God could see a better 'Good' outcome which involved more temporary clouding of this good (i.e. evil), would He not be ethically obligated to perform it? Or obligated by His Free Agency (given the fact that He is, fundamentally, Good).

Yes, determinism does make God desire multiple things at once in different ways. Is this so hard to imagine? We do this all the time (e.g. disciplining children is not comfortable, even when we think it is for their good). But anyway, God is not ultimately 'willing' two opposite things - He is willing one ultimate Good, which is reached through two separate methods. There is an an instruction to Godly people, and the actual acts of God which do NOT comply with this instruction, and which cause others to not comply. Murder is part of the ultimate Good because of what it leads to (think e.g. the murder of His Son), but the command to not murder is also part of this ultimate Good because of what it leads to. The command reveals God's ultimate aims (and help us define true 'good'), and encourages those who have the spirit to desire them also. It also encourages us to trust God and follow His instructions, while also trusting Him to specifically PLAN each deviation for Good. It also demonstrates our incompatibility with God's ultimate desire (i.e. we desire murder as an ultimate aim) or our lack of trust in God (i.e. we desire the greater good, but take it into our own hands to achieve it, with massive and unnecessary risk). There is definite purpose to the instruction, EVEN WHEN God sometimes deliberately creates deviation from it.
I know you say that God does not 'require' evil. Yet He allows it in your view. If this is for any reason other than absolute necessity, to me that makes God ACTUALLY evil (i.e. with sinful intentions, allowing true ultimate evil when it is not in fact a necessary part of the greatest good outcome).

OUR RESPONSE TO EVIL:
Of course there will be questions about how we should, then, react to evil. There were similar questions about sin when Paul argued for justification by faith alone. But the answer is similar - just because God deliberately creates / allows sin (and evil) for a purpose, does not mean we should pursue it. The very suggestion throws doubt on the desires of the person asking (not implying that your genuine concern is such a suggestion :) ).
Also, our concept of Good and Evil is still valid - we still judge God based on these concepts, but we have the judge the entire outcome of all His actions (which will be Good in a way we can understand). The fact that God a person's horrendous suffering is somehow designed by God as part of their ultimate Good, in a way which they will understand in the end, should give us cause for rejoicing and hope, but should not reduce our efforts to oppose this evil as God expects of us. We still apply the same morals to PEOPLE that we currently apply. Responsibility still applies as discussed above.

In heaven, we will be consciously aware of the suffering of Christ. We will be singing about it. If we admit this was evil, does this imply that the perfection of heaven is somehow lessened by this consciousness? I totally disagree with the statement that goodness should not require evil, based mainly on this. But even if I concede Free Will, we are still saying that this (along with the necessarily consequent 'evil' that God foreknew) is somehow required for 'Good'. Anyway, there are other ways I can think of that evil can enhance goodness. If goodness included an anti-evil aspect in any way, then conscious perception of that goodness must include an understanding of the evil it is opposed to. Evil also doesn't need to be consciously present to change our perception of evil, which is how (I think) our tears can be wiped away while still leaving a lasting beautiful mark on our soul. I would also argue, for a similar reason, that a truly redeemed and perfected adulterous relationship would outshine any 'good' relationship for whom there is no concept of forgiveness and redemption and this ultimate example of sacrificial love.
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Re: Is everything a reflection of God - the first Cause?

Postby Chrisguy90 » Sun Sep 28, 2014 1:14 pm

FearGod,

I appreciate your comments and thoughtful approach to this topic. As you may suspect - I unfortunately can't agree with you. This may be the result of an intuitive difference between us. You also seem to rely on Scripture to justify your conception of God and goodness, a process I don't subscribe to. For me, my understanding of goodness has more weight than Scripture. If I were to read or hear something about God which seems to me impossible to reconcile with my own notions of goodness as such, I would reject it, whether it's in the Bible or not. (I would take issue with you citing Romans 11:32 as proof of God causing evil, by the way.) And I cannot conceive that the rape and murder of young women, the destruction and dissolution of marriages, lies and broken promises in families, children dying of cancer or being stillborn, deteriorating mental diseases which prolong life for tens of years while at the same time destroying all semblance of the original person, drug overdoses and suicides, killed pets and wild animals burned to death in forest fires, famines, plagues, concentration camps, tortures, debilitating accidents, blindnesses, uglinesses, diseases, wars... I can't believe the universe would somehow be worse if these things had never existed. I can't imagine they are necessary for the "full" manifestation of goodness, except in a very sordid, tyrannical, impure way. Things would be much better, it seems to me, if they never had to exist. But they may indeed be necessary on the supposition that only in a universe with this much evil will all souls freely come to God. At least, that is the way I see it. I do indeed see a certain otherwise impossible "eucatastrophe" that occurs when one is delivered from evil, but that this is somehow better than never having to be delivered from evil is not evident to me. This is, rather, an example of the creative goodness and omnipotence of God, who can augment all evil into good. But again, I don't think he "needs" evil to glorify himself.

Thanks again for your thoughts. I'll be signing off of this convo for now.
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Re: Is everything a reflection of God - the first Cause?

Postby Chrisguy90 » Mon Sep 29, 2014 3:15 pm

People here may be interested to read this thread: viewtopic.php?f=50&t=5455&p=75388&hilit=undiscussable#p75388
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Re: Is everything a reflection of God - the first Cause?

Postby Fe4rG0d » Fri Oct 03, 2014 1:59 pm

Hi Chris,

I don't want to discourage anyone from using their intuitive sense of 'goodness'! I believe this sense is given to us by God (obviously in varying ways and degrees), precicesly so that we can recognise Him as good when He reveals Himself.
Since your understanding of my viewpoint (arguably quite different to my actual viewpoint, LOL) is quite NON-good, I would discourage you from accepting it (as you currently understand it). Instead I would aim to help you see my viewpoint as I see it, so you can appreciate with me the goodness I can see, a goodness that we can actually grasp. Likewise I hope to be open to revelations of hidden non-good within my view, so I can reject it if necessary, OR at least be honest with God and have faith in these gaps.

This is the preferred 'third option' between full acceptance / rejection - we accept the good that God HAS revealed (in ways that make sense to us, e.g. the sacrifice of His son, his commands to love each other, His promise of heaven, etc), and trust that God's definition of 'good' is something that will make sense to us. Therefore, when we start delving between the lines of Scripture and performing thought experiments that questions God's goodness, we can trust that it is our misunderstanding that makes His 'goodness' seem abstract in these settings, and not actual reality.
I want people to see that God has chosen to temporarily hide Himself, but to believe that everything He does will ultimately serve to maximise 'good' in a way we can understand. In other words, IF we could see all things as God does, we would (with our innate sense of goodness) approve of His choice to temporarily obscure Himself.
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Re: Is everything a reflection of God - the first Cause?

Postby Fe4rG0d » Mon Oct 13, 2014 11:04 am

This is a summary post, to help those just entering the conversation :)
Obviously it's going to be biased toward my understanding of things. But I'll try be fair to the other ideas presented.

THE ORIGINAL POST
- Dan's original post was proposing that everything (specifically including our various human natures and choices, sin, evil, etc) is ultimately designed to express God in a complete and full way.
- He argues this from a deterministic framework, where ALL events (including events within our souls) have a cause (or combination of causes), ultimately leading back to God. In this view, there are no events anywhere (specifically including events within any human or divine soul) which spontaneously arise without a basis (i.e. with a random component) - EVERYTHING has a basis. There is no such thing as any hint of randomness (although we can have incalculable complexity, from our perspective). The only thing without basis is God's own existence and character, from which everything else springs.
- Since God is the ultimate cause of all things, and foresaw the ultimate full end 'outcome' of all things (influenced by every other preceding event, including the 'negative' events in creation), this full end 'outcome' can ultimately be called a the ultimate active choice on God's part, which must therefore be the fullest ultimate reflection of Him.
- Dan also asks if Universalism (or any other aspect of this ultimate end 'outcome') can be reliably predicted, without accepting determinism.

- Initially people's comments were rather vague (I felt). I make some very broad statements early on to demonstrate the need to discuss specifics.
For example, its fairly difficult to argue against the idea that God HAS deliberately created / allowed this world with evil in it, and in some sense it MUST be the best possible expression of His Goodness (if there were one better, but God did not choose it, would that make God ultimately 'evil'?). But we CAN argue about what constraints God may have placed on the range of 'possible' expressions, and thus on the maximal possible expression of His goodness (i.e. God can only choose a world that preserves some degree of free-will, or God can't intervene with creation at all after the creation event, etc).
- Also, since God is the fundamental instigator of all events (through the act of creation, including the creation of our souls, and any subsequent interventions within creation), we must concede that God is knowingly the ultimate deterministic cause of all things. What we can argue about is whether He creates and supports / allows some other self-generating (but foreseen) influences to participate in this determinism.

FOREKNOWLEDGE AND DETERMINISM
- We discussed whether foreknowledge (specifically of the outcome of Universalism) requires determinism. Jason introduces his argument for Boethian omniscience / omnipresence / omnipotence (where God actively self-exists and self-generates apart from time, and also performs the self-abdicating task of eternally generating the space-time entity we call 'nature' or 'creation'). In this view, God is intimately connected with and supportive and knowledgeable of all points and events of this non-God 'space-time' at once - this includes anything that created agents with self-generating 'free will' cause within this nature of space-time.
- Paidion specifies that libertarian Free Will doesn't exclude the possibility that everyone (eventually, through eternally) succumbs to the love of an all-powerful God. God can thus foresee universalism even if one maintains libertarian Free Will.
- Dan and Chris both challenge isolated 'foreknowledge' as a satisfactory escape from determinism. Dan argues that truly 'foreseeing' something requires it to be somehow fixed and unchangeable, as much a part of the original creation as the processes leading up to / allowing it. Chris argues that God is intimately involved not only in the events themselves, but in their logical and/or temporal priority. He uses the example of prophecy to demonstrate that God's own 'foreknowledge' becomes an integral and causative component of what was foreseen, so that it cannot be simple / abstract / isolated foreknowledge apart from determinism.
- Chris then introduces an idea of determinism (in a temporal sense) while maintaining a non-God influence into this determinism that occurs outside the temporal stream of experience. In this view, it is not our soul's actions / choices that are self-generating and non-determined, but the fabric and nature of our souls (which God then engages in a deterministic way throughout our temporal existence and experience).
- Jason and I engage in a clarifying discussion about the nature of God's 'eternal process of creating, and sustaining, all points of space-time'. I argue that, given God's nature described in Scripture (his nature is one which is driven to express itself, and everything He does including creation is an expression of Himself), it would not be ontologically consistent for Him to exist WITHOUT creating the world we currently experience in a temporal way. Jason emphasises the distinction between God and creation, and between God's isolated self-existence and the process of creating non-God entities.

EVIL DOMINATES OUR THEOLOGY
- Dave points out that the problem of evil (and our answer to it) often determines the rest of our theology / philosophy. We discuss whether this is appropriate or not. On the one hand, God WANTS us to use our perception and judgement of Good and Evil as a means of recognising and delighting in Him, while rejecting Evil. Dave posted a link that nicely fleshes this out. On the other hand, our extremely fallible and biased perception of reality and the 'big picture' makes this difficult, especially considering the fact that God has allowed the confusing existence of apparently conflicting 'good' and 'evil'.
- Dave rightly points out that, because of our fallibility and the confusing existence of evil, we need to rely on God's revelation. I discuss how faith based on God's revelation is what is meant to sustain us in the midst of the vagueness/confusion/gaps/inconsistencies that God has allowed to exist via evil. We can also use this faith to sustain us when we approach difficult conclusions about God (like the idea that God designed evil).
- Dan specifically demonstrates how evil is often the catalyst for people accepting Free Will (as a means of absolving God's responsibility), and yet it is also the catalyst for others to reject Free Will (as a means to infuse hope and purpose into evil). He then explores why He doesn't think Free Will achieves its 'purpose' of solving the problem of evil (either by absolving God of responsibility, or by placing responsibility on us).

FREE AGENCY VS FREE WILL
- I bring up the concept of Free Agency. There are disagreements about its definition - some see it as an umbrella term describing ANY theory where the agent is able to express themselves, including Free Will. I argue for a much more limited definition whereby the choices say something meaningful about the soul because they are entirely based upon something, and are not diluted by self-generated factors that have no basis (what I consider 'random elements'). With this definition, pure Free Will is one extreme of the spectrum, and pure Free Agency is the other extreme (but of course you can have views that mix both). Free Agency emphasises how our choices reflect the things they are based upon (including the state of our soul and context), while Free Will emphasises how our choices can potentially violate any and all bases (and thus may not reflect our context or the state of our soul).
- Jason and Paidion argue for mixed views, stating that complex influences do not negate our ability (as rational free beings) to fallibly assess the situation, as it is understood by us in all its bias, and make free (but also biased) choices. Multiple 'causes' play into our decision, including our own self-generated causal influence. Dan argues that this 'self-generated' contribution is minimal (if it exists) and reduces our ability to meaningfully talk about responsibility (as it is understood by those attempting to protect Free Will).

WE DON'T LIKE GOD DETERMINING EVIL
- There are many comments demonstrating a visceral rejection to the idea of God determining evil. Sometimes this gut rejection was expressed in more detail. Chris presents an excellent list of reasons.
- First he suggests that God must be evil to determine evil. I argue against this.
- Second he suggests that human responsibility for evil disappears if we have no ability to resist God's determinism of evil. Dan and I argue for a different perspective on responsibility that IS preserved. Dan also argues that its fairly obvious our ability to resist influences toward evil is actually very limited (if it exists at all). I also argue that under Free Agency, God is limited to work with the nature of our souls, and so we have the 'ability' to resist God's influence - however He would foreknow this, and so would have determined this very resistance (for as long as it lasts).
- Third Chris suggests that God should be able to not will and command abstaining from evil, and yet also will that evil exists and that we sometimes resist Him. I argue that desiring multiple conflicting things is normal for living souls, but that ultimately it boils down to one will of Gods (i.e. which expresses itself in reality - i.e. that evil and good coexist for the time being). I argue for other purposes for the Command to abstain from evil, which persist even when God then determines Evil.
- Fourth Chris states that God's goodness should not be metaphysically dependent on evil for its existence and expression - I didn't grasp a precise reason for this from his comments, except a general sense that evil and good are so utterly opposed to each other as to make this impossible. I argue that such a definition of 'evil' runs against the Scriptural definition of evil, where it is clearly NOT ultimately utterly opposed to Good (as it ends up working for good). Therefore a more thorough argument is required, if we want to insist that God's goodness cannot depend upon evil.
- However, I think this last point is the strongest argument against determinism, because it appeals to our gut instincts about good and evil. We WANT to believe that good is fundamentally and utterly opposed to the bad things we conceive of or experience (what we call 'evil'), in such a specifically profound way that 'good' could NEVER require or deliberately utilise these things.

Hope that was fair. Feel free to explain yourselves a bit more below. If I can edit my comment to improve it, I'll try.
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