Philosophy 80 was a great class. The weird thing about it was, you have to reach all these logical conclusions, I mean, you just have to reach them, there’s no other choice, logically. The thing is, it doesn’t matter if you reach this conclusion because it doesn’t really change anything.
Maybe I should give an example. Like free will. No matter how you cut it, I think philosophically you have to conclude that we really don’t have free will. (This free will debate is totally apart from the Christian free will debate, and is totally based on physicalism.) The reason for this is because I think most philosophers today (most, not necessarily all) have agreed that there is no soul. Meaning, a soul apart from the body. We do have some sort of soul in terms of personality, behavior, memory, and stuff like that, but it’s not separate from the body. At least philosophers say. If it were separate from the body, it’s hard to conceive of how it interfaces with the body. I mean, just think about that for a while. It’s been a while since I took the class so I’m forgetting a lot of stuff, but in the end, they don’t believe in a soul apart from the body.
Then the weird thing is, there can’t really be free will. Let’s say I do something, like move my arm. Why did I do that? Because the skeletal muscles in my arm moved. How? By an interaction of myofibrils and muscle tissue, caused by a nerve stimulation, and so forth. It keeps going down the line until you say it was caused by an electrical impulse in the brain. The question is, what caused that impulse. Or why did that impulse occur?
We gotta keep in mind that we don’t have a soul that caused it to fire (philosophically) so there are 2 options. One, it was genetically determined. This is a weird issue because the more and more we find out about it, the more and more we discover how potent genetic predisposition really is. That’s kind of scary then, because the extreme option is that our whole lives could theoretically be determined before we are born, that none of our behavior is random at all, but totally genetically predetermined. Then if you think about it, we don’t really have free will, right? I mean, in what sense can we be said that we are free?
On the other hand, it might be caused by some random firing in our brain. This is the only other option, right? Then here too, how can it be said that we have free will if what we do is caused by a random event? Where is our agency?
This has strange implications on moral justice. Because if our behavior is genetically determined, how is it that we can be held responsible for what we do? I mean, we had no choice in the matter, it was determined before we were born, so how can we be blamed for anything? But we can’t be blamed if it’s a random firing either, right? I mean, it was just random, and we didn’t choose to do it; it just happened. Weird. So then the logical implication is that we have no right really to reward/punish based on behavior; that if we do, it should be based on a criteria other than moral responsibility, because philosophically, we can’t say that the individual is responsible.
Another weird thing is moral luck. That is, morality is in large part based on luck. For example, I think few people doubt that at least some of our personal disposition is based on genetics. Some are prone to shyness, others loquaciousness, others meekness, others aggressiveness. And, some a tendency to break rules and harm people. Really, we don’t choose our genetics, it’s all a matter of luck, right? So that’s weird, because our society will tend to punish some people more than others for a disposition that really is luck; random. Yeah, you might say that they can overcome their disposition, but it’s all that much harder for a genetically aggressive person than one not so, and how is that fair?
Another example – let’s say a guy is driving a car, then momentarily gets distracted while looking at the passenger seat, say for 2 seconds, then refocuses his attention to the road. Let’s say nothing happens, that he wasn’t paying attention, then he refocuses, and everything is cool. Fine. He is morally responsible, really for very little, maybe carelessness, but it’s no big deal. But let’s say in a different situation, that in those 2 seconds, there’s a girl crossing the road, and in those 2 seconds of carelessness he hits her, and she dies. Then, surely, he is responsible for manslaughter morally and legally. I mean, you wouldn’t argue with that, right? He was careless and his carelessness resulted in the death of a girl. He is morally responsible.
But the weird thing is that in both situations, the man did the exact same thing; he was momentarily distracted for about 2 seconds. Yet in one situation, he is not really responsible for anything, and in another, he is responsible (morally) for the death of an individual. And the difference between the 2 situations is something that is totally out of his control – the presence of the girl on the road. In other words, luck. And we have to acknowledge that the moral responsibility we attributed to him in both situations is correct, or we get weird implications. Else we would have to say that he is responsible for a death even if nothing happened and no one was there, or that even though his carelessness caused her death, he isn’t really responsible. Neither of these makes sense. The only thing we can conclude is that there is a strong aspect of luck in moral responsibility, which doesn’t really seem fair, but that’s simply the way it is.
I could go on and on. For example, it’s hard to philosophically say how it is that we are the same person yesterday and today. Is it to say we have physical continuity? But we have a turnover of our physical matter every few years or so. Is that to say we are a different person? If we get a leg amputated, is that leg us, or is the rest of us us? Or is it just physical continuity of the brain? This seems to make sense but then what if somehow a way were found to switch my memories with the memories of someone else? Like in Double Trouble. I think we would say that the persons are actually switched, right? So the criterion of personal identity can’t be the physical brain. It must be memories, or something like that. But then what about amnesiacs? Are they different people before and after their amnesia? Surely not, but then what about them is the same? Only their physical continuity, but this is problematic as seen above. Then the logical conclusion (at least to me) is that they are different people, but then what happens if they regain their memory? Then was he/she a different person and then the same person again? Whatever happened to the different person? Weird.
But I’m digressing way too much. The point is, in Philosophy 80, we concluded a bunch of things. Like, we really have no free will, and so we don’t really know what to base moral responsibility (and by extension societal reward and punishment) on. The thing is, it doesn’t really matter what you logically conclude. It just makes no difference. Like, let’s say we conclude that we have no free will in section. Then what are we supposed to do? How do we act differently? How do we act more in line with not being free? I guess we can’t. I guess regardless of what we logically conclude, we have to act as free agents because there’s really no other way we can act.
The only thing we could be able to change is our societal system of reward and punishment. Logically, we can’t really hold people responsible, so we can’t really punish them for something that was either random or caused by our genes, would we? Let’s say a muscle spasm, totally uncontrollable and random, caused you to step on my foot. I would hurt and be upset, but I wouldn’t really deeply hold you responsible. You couldn’t control yourself, I would say. Similarly, if I knew that genetically you had to do what you did, I can’t really blame you any more than I can blame you for looking the way you do. But then, there’s no way we can have a society with no reward and punishment, even if philosophically, the basis of that reward and punishment is suspect. I mean, we just have to have it, regardless of philosophical soundness, right?
So it’s weird because philosophy in the end is just a game. You may conclude whatever you want, but in many areas, such as this one, it doesn’t really matter what you conclude; there’s no way it can or should really change the way you act; we must act like we have free will regardless of whether we philosophically do or not, and we must act as if others have free will regardless of whether they philosophically do or not. Right? Right. So that’s one thing that always bothered me about philosophy. In, say, Physics, if you make a theoretical conclusion, it can have real, pragmatic implications. Like Einstein’s theory of relativity changed things in science. But in philosophy, make a conclusion and ofttimes it doesn’t really matter. In the end, philosophy is just a game. I like philosophy only because I think I can recognize that. It’s just game, and I need to treat it as such. At least personally.
Honestly, the more I think about predestination and all that stuff with Calvinism the more I reach the same conclusion. What bothers me is that I hear with hard core Calvinists that “I just can’t believe that…” or that “It just doesn’t make sense that…” whatever. Like it just doesn’t make sense if God loves all people, not just the elect, or if man has any measure of free will. You know, maybe they are right. I’m sure it’s defendable from the Scripture. But my bold claim is that it doesn’t really matter. In the end, we have to act as if we have free will. I mean, we have to. In our sanctification, even though it is by grace, we must act as if we are responsible for it. Paul always says that God does everything, then he tells every church a big long list of what they should and shouldn’t do. Am I wrong about this? I mean, we have to act as if we are free, regardless of whether we are or not.
And with God loving the whole world, not just the elect… I mean, this might be strictly true, but how does that change anything? I mean, everyone agrees that the invisible church and the visible church are different, right? We can’t even be sure that God loves a fellow church goer, no matter how devout they may seem. Nor can we be sure that God doesn’t love some totally immoral, depraved streetpunk, no matter how heretical they might seem. I mean, we can’t be sure God has not chosen that person to be redeemed eventually, right? We just can’t know. So then we can’t really say that God loves or does not love anyone. I’m sorry, man, but I just can’t do that. It’s just too extreme for me. And I’m gonna go out on a limb, and sorry if it’s heretical, but I think we need to act as if God loves everyone. Maybe theologically, God only loves the elect, but we can’t know who that is, and that will only show itself on the day of judgment. For fellowship and evangelism purposes, I think we have to act as if God loves everyone, even if that might not be theologically true, just as we need to act as if we are free, at the very least in sanctification and in our daily life, even if theologically that might not be the case.
So that’s what I think. To me, all this theology is just a game, because I think if we really examine the Scripture, we need to have certain attitudes regardless of what we theologically believe. I mean, we can debate all we want about the deep stuff Paul says, but I think we all agree when he talks about real issues like pray constantly or love each other sacrificially and stuff like that.
I’ve also been thinking about hell and brimstone type sermons and stuff like that. A shepherd at our church kind of gave this type of message at an outreach event we had. There are many thoughts on this issue. One being that we need to be seeker friendly, and careful with the message we present to non-believers. Others say the truth is the truth, and it needs to be said regardless of the audience; that we should not water down the truth and that God alone moves hearts. I think that I have concluded that I pretty much hate those types of messages, “truth” or not. I was reading Romans, and Paul wrote something to them like, “You act like you’ve forgotten that it was His kindness that led you to repentance.” He says that in other places as well. It’s His kindness that leads us to repentance. And Jesus et al always say repent and you will be saved. It’s His kindness.
So my belief is that in outreach we need to convey His kindness, for this brings repentance. Yeah, all that stuff is strictly true, but c’mon, there’s a lot of stuff that is true that we’re not gonna throw out at any schmo. Like I probably wouldn’t throw out the predestination / free-will debate while witnessing to some random person, right? Or I wouldn’t go to someone and say, “Hey are you happily married? Well did you know that in heaven you’re not married anymore but like the angels who are single forever? Do you want to know about Jesus?” So just because it’s truth isn’t really a good enough reason. It’s His kindness, I think, that leads us to repentance, and the fire and brimstone type message will bring repentance out of fear, which is not good. Because that brings a relationship based on and motivated by fear, which is terrible. Paul tells us that God is love, and that in love there is no fear; that if we do fear, it shows that we don’t perfectly know that love. I think the most important thing to show believers is God’s love, that we can’t do enough to pound the message of God’s love into people. After all, how measureless is God’s love? How could we ever say enough about it?
Yeah, we should fear God to some extent, be afraid of hell, but that fear I think should be fear of being separated from that perfect love that we need and want so badly. Yeah, I’m afraid of the fire and stuff, whatever, not to take it lightly, but that’s all physical, and just like the physical things of this world can only satisfy superficially, not satiating the deep longing we have for that which can only be satisfied in Christ, so I think will the physical torment of hell be superficial, maybe even nothing in comparison to that deep torment we would have in knowing exactly the only thing that could ever satisfy the deepest constant longing we have and being forever separated from it. That’s hell.
Mark Moran, our Bible study leader for the summer said something I really liked. We study the Word, and it always says, you’re a sinner, repent, and believe the Good News. I always wondered, what’s the good news about knowing that I’m a sinner that needs to repent? And Mark said, it’s good news because it means you don’t have to be the way you are. Whoa. I really like that. You don’t have to be the way you are. Gosh, that is good news. I think the best lesson I’ve learned this past year is about the grace of God. I’ve been struggling so much this past year, and get so frustrated at my weakness. It’s worst when I feel I’m not even growing but rescinding. But our God is such a gracious God that He still loves us and holds us in His hands. He is such a gracious God that He will answer our prayers immediately even when we don’t deserve them. Even when we only pray when we need something, He is so gracious that He will answer our prayers. He’s so gracious that even when we sing praise songs and don’t really mean what we say, He will make that attitude come about it our lives. He is so gracious that even when the early churches were struggling with great sins and immorality, they were still His, and He used Paul to help them overcome it. He is so gracious that when it seems like in life He is taking away something or someone from You that is so dear He builds up His love in you so that you have even greater joy though you cannot understand why and feel almost guilty about, having so much joy. He is so gracious that He gives me the opportunity to lead others into true worship even though I am not worthy nor right with Him, so gracious that people actually are led into worship, and so gracious that I am encouraged by the power of God to work through weak man.
Sorry for writing so much in this stream of consciousness type deal. I doubt even Dave or Kevin made it all the way through this time without scanning and skipping through. But sometimes I just gotta write just for me, regardless of whether people can read through it or not. God loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life. Peace3.