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Survival of the Godliest: Does strong religious belief provide an evolutionary advantage?

Over at MercatorNet, Phillip Longman, a former senior writer and deputy assistant managing editor at U.S. News & World Report, has written a thought-provoking post on what might be described as a battle between genes and memes – the genes being those of very religious people (who are much more likely to procreate), and the memes being atheism, agnosticism and other varieties of secular belief, as well as the version of evolution put forward by Darwin, who is supposed to have “made it possible to be an intellectually fulfilled atheist” (Dawkins, The Blind Watchmaker, 1986, p. 6). And the genes are winning. Here are some key findings highlighted by Longman:

  • “[I]n countries rich and poor, under all forms of government, birth rates are declining across the globe. But they are declining least among those adhering to strict religious codes and literal belief in the Bible, the Torah, or the Koran.”
  • “Indeed, the pattern of human fertility now fits this pattern: the least likely to procreate are those who profess no belief in God; those who describe themselves as agnostic or simply spiritual are only somewhat slightly less likely to be childless. Moving up the spectrum, family size increases among practicing Unitarians, Reform Jews, mainline Protestants and ‘cafeteria’ Catholics, but the birthrates found in these populations are still far below replacement levels. Only as we approach the realm of religious belief and practice marked by an intensity we might call, for lack of a better word, ‘fundamentalism,’ do we find pockets of high fertility and consequent rapid population growth.”
  • “When confronted with the fact that they are being outbred, secularists often respond that many if not most children born into highly religious families will grow up to reject the faith of their fathers,” but “[a]mong fundamentalist families, it turns out, the apple does not fall far from the tree. And the more demanding the faith, the more this rule applies. Only five percent of children born to the most conservative Amish, for example, move on to other faiths or lifestyles.”


In presenting these findings, Longman draws upon the work of American academic Eric Kaufmann, currently a reader in politics at Birkbeck College, University of London, and formerly a fellow at the Belfer Center, Harvard University, whose new book, Shall the Religious Inherit the Earth?: Demography and Politics in the Twenty-First Century, has been released in the United Kingdom, and is due to come out in the United States next spring.

Here’s a quote from the Product Description:

“Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens have convinced many western intellectuals that secularism is the way forward, but most people don’t read their books before deciding whether to be religious. Instead, they inherit their faith from their parents, who often inoculate them against the elegant arguments of secularists. And what no one has noticed is that far from declining, the religious are expanding their share of the population; in fact, the more religious people are, the more children they have. The cumulative effect of immigration from religious countries and religious fertility will be to reverse the secularization process in the West. Not only will the religious eventually triumph over the non-religious, but it is those who are the most extreme in their beliefs who have the largest families.”

What I found most fascinating about Longman’s analysis is that he is able to explain why he thinks religion will eventually triumph over secularism in purely Darwinian terms. Having a baby is, for most couples in the modern world, a choice, which reflects their personal values. “And so,” writes Longman, “by Darwinian process, those who adhere to traditions that preserve and celebrate the ancient injunction to ‘go forth and multiply’ wind up putting more of their genes and ideas into the future than those who don’t.”

I imagine that well-read atheists are already aware of these social trends, and I’m sure they are quite worried about them. On the one hand, atheists naturally want the percentage of people espousing their secular world-view to increase; on the other hand, most of them believe that the world already has too many people for the Earth to support – which is a natural consequence of an atheistic world-view, as I pointed out in a recent post. Now put yourselves in the atheists’ shoes: how do you think they would attempt to fight these trends? The only way they can achieve the dual objectives of keeping the world’s population down and boosting the percentage of atheists worldwide is to target the fertility of highly religious people. I can think of a few fairly obvious ways in which they might attempt to do that, and because these measures are, in my opinion, politically feasible, I don’t share Longman’s certainty that religion will inevitably triumph over secularism. Some of these measures are either currently being implemented or are already well in place in many countries; other measures are a decade or two down the track. Well, here’s my list. Recognize any of these in your country of residence?

  • Conduct censuses as zealously as possible, in order to keep tabs on locations in one’s country where religious ideas are being actively propagated. Prosecute “census resisters” to the full extent of the law, as many of these people are religiously motivated. In cases where evidence emerges that the resisters are vocally religious, remove the children from the custody of their parents. In subsequent public statements made to the press, cite fears that the children may be subjected to psychological abuse if left in the care of their parents, who will already be stigmatized as “outlaws” in the public eye, after being “named and shamed” on television.
  • Outlaw home schooling. Home-schooled children are virtually impervious to government indoctrination. As many of them come from a religious background at home, they also tend to have larger families when they get married. In order to drum up public and political support for a total ban on home schooling, orchestrate a campaign in the press and on television, featuring politicians, concerned parents and recognized “experts” on child welfare who argue strongly that home schooling stunts children’s social development and therefore constitutes a form of child abuse. Support this argument with an appeal to examples of “enlightened” countries in Europe which have already banned home-schooling. Finally, belittle or discredit any studies (see here, here and here) purporting to demonstrate that in fact, home-schooled children are in fact better adjusted socially than children who attend school, and that their parents tend to be more affluent and better-educated (see here) than the general population.
  • Extend the number of hours that children are required to spend at school, in order to maximize their exposure to values other than those they receive in the home, and minimize the amount of time parents have to inculcate religious beliefs into their children. For example: introduce free after-school care, or broaden the school curriculum to include after-school activities, or strongly encourage students to join after-school clubs.
  • Introduce compulsory “values” classes into public schools, and inculcate children with the notion that any kind of judgmentalism regarding other people’s chosen lifestyles is totally unacceptable. At a later stage, school principals would be instructed to refuse to allow students to graduate, unless they publicly pledge not to promote bigotry of any kind, and further pledge their belief that all lifestyles in which the parties involved freely consent, are of equal moral value. This pledge could be implemented as a graduation pledge which each student would be required to sign and recite aloud. Highly religious students who refused to take the pledge would thereby be rendered unable to obtain a steady job, reducing their chances of finding a spouse and having children.
  • Introduce compulsory classes on “religious tolerance” into public schools, in which religions are compared and contrasted in a manner which allows teachers to highlight the atrocities practiced by religions in the past, leaving students with the unmistakable impression that religions represent a fossilized way of thinking, and that science is the way of the future.
  • Deny government funding to religious schools that teach any kind of “bigotry.” Leave the term “bigotry” as vague as possible in legal judgments, in the beginning. As time progresses, issue a series of legal decisions, enlarging the list of ideas that can be classified as bigotry, so that in effect, religious schools receiving government funding end up teaching a form of “secular lite,” which is always about 15 years behind current social trends, and therefore relatively innocuous from a secular perspective, while at the same time retaining limited appeal for parents who want their children brought up with “old-fashioned” values.
  • Enact laws guaranteeing free access to birth control (including abortion) at school as a fundamental human right for all students over the age of 12, who attend public schools. Gradually extend the scope of these laws to religious schools receiving any form of government funding. (I’d predict that most of these schools will probably comply, so long as the medical professional who is legally responsible for providing abortifacient pills – such as RU-486 – to students on request is someone who is not employed by the school.) Finally, extend the laws to cover independent schools as well. (Offer them an “out”: if parents object to abortifacient pills being doled out on school grounds, the school will be required to put up notices telling students that they are legally entitled to these services, and also to allow a government-appointed medical counselor to work at the school, who can arrange for students to get free transport to a nearby school providing these services, if they request them.)
  • Encourage the passage of laws which make the possession of a college degree essential for getting almost any kind of job. College is an ideal time to weaken religious belief, as many young people give up their religion permanently during their college years. College also people to be exposed to a milieu where Darwinism is widely accepted, and where publicly expressed doubts can be “ironed out.”
  • Enact legislative measures disallowing childless couples from adopting a child if they intend to bring that child up in a faith which encourages any kind of “bigotry” or “intolerance” (see here for a recent example). Leave these terms undefined in the original legislation, but in subsequent legal cases, render “clarifying” decisions, to the effect that any kind of religious exclusivism or moral judgmentalism which is expressed in a couple’s home (e.g. recitation of a religious creed during family prayers, or pro-life wall posters, or even condemnation of abortion at the family dinner table) can be regarded as legitimate grounds for denying that couple the right to adopt a child.
  • At a later stage, enact laws extending the same “protection” to all children, regardless of whether they are adopted or not. (After all, if adoptive children have the right to be brought up in a bigotry-free household, don’t all children?)
  • At a still later stage, enact laws allowing social workers to take children away by force from their parents (natural or adopted), if there is sufficient evidence that they are being raised in a household that encourages any form of “bigotry.” By this stage, parents will be too frightened to inculcate their children with religious or moral beliefs that run counter to secular practice – e.g. the highly judgmental moral belief that killing a fetus is tantamount to homicide, or the religious belief that God commanded people to be fruitful and multiply.
  • Citing concerns about children’s welfare following a string of highly publicized cases of child neglect reported in the press, introduce laws requiring all expecting mothers to submit to a home inspection by a suitably qualified social worker, with a follow-up interview, in order to ascertain that they can offer their child a home that meets government health and safety requirements. The real intent of these laws would be to make it as difficult as possible for parents to have four or more children. For example, if the laws stipulated that every child has the right to his/her own bedroom and PC, parents who lacked the financial resources to buy or rent a 5-bedroom house would feel pressured into terminating their fourth pregnancy, especially if threatened with legal action if they did not comply with government requirements.
  • Reduce the flow of immigration from highly religious countries to a trickle. If immigration becomes economically necessary at some future stage, when the proportion of elderly people becomes too high for a shrinking population of workers to support, give preference to immigrants from countries which score low on a “religiosity scale,” as their children will be easier to indoctrinate with secular humanist ideas, including Darwinism.
  • Offer an incentive to desperate families in Third World countries wishing to migrate to Western countries: give preference to families in which the parents are willing to allow their children to spend large amounts of time in extra-curricular activities at public schools (e.g. summer camps). This will reduce their exposure to home influences, such as religion, and increase their exposure to secular humanist ideas. Alternatively, give preference to families where the parents are willing to let their children have a PC (provided gratis by the State) in their bedrooms, with Internet access.
  • Strive to eliminate pro-life laws in Third World countries by showering them with economic aid, and then threatening to cut off said aid if the government does not enact more “liberal” laws. Ditto for other laws that go against the secular social agenda. Another good tactic: wait for an unforeseen economic disaster to hit each of these countries (as such a disaster will inevitably hit any country, if one is patient enough), and then offer a “rescue package” with strings attached: namely, the passage of socially “progressive” laws which make abortion legally available.

  • If the geopolitical demise of the secular West as the dominant political power bloc becomes imminent (as it will in the next thirty years), encourage the transfer of economic, military, scientific and technological assistance to the upcoming world power whose values most closely approximate the secular agenda, thereby enabling the “meme” of secular humanism to retain global hegemony.

I would like to emphasize that I’m not talking about any crazy conspiracy theories here. I believe that all of the measures I’ve outlined above have a good chance of becoming “mainstream” and widely accepted in Western countries within the next 20 or 30 years, if they are not already. The “revolution” will happen right under our nose. However, I imagine I’ve probably overlooked a few more techniques that could be used to propagate secular humanism and its “enabler,” Darwinism, and at the same time inhibit the fertility of religious people. Perhaps readers would care to add some of their “proposed measures” to my list?

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108 Responses to Survival of the Godliest: Does strong religious belief provide an evolutionary advantage?

  1. I like Richard Dawkins’ idea myself. He suggests that teaching children religion should be legally considered as child abuse.

    http://richarddawkins.net/arti.....hild-abuse

  2. In the article Dawkins claims to not actually be advocating a legal approach. Of course not, it’s just a hypothetical.

    http://petitions.number10.gov.uk/freethinking/

  3. Introduce compulsory classes on “religious tolerance” into public schools, in which religions are compared and contrasted in a manner which allows teachers to highlight the atrocities practiced by religions in the past

    How about compulsory classes concerning explicitly atheistic Marxism which was responsible for the deaths of more than 100,000,000 people under Stalin, Lenin, and Mao?

    Introduce compulsory “values” classes into public schools, and inculcate children with the notion that any kind of judgmentalism regarding other people’s chosen lifestyles is totally unacceptable.

    Of course, there is one exception: Judgmentalism regarding conservative Christian values is perfectly acceptable and encouraged. In the newspeak of the secular left, intolerance becomes tolerance, and inclusivity means excluding those with whom they do not agree.

    This is poison. As many UD readers know, I am a former secular-humanist, militant atheist. I mention this to emphasize that for 43 years I lived under the curse of this hideously destructive lie. I don’t want anyone else to go through what I went through.

    If the atheistic secular humanists have their way, it will mean the collapse of Western Judeo-Christian civilization, and the suffering and misery that will ensue will be indescribable.

  4. This seems relevant.

    In the above link, Susan Blackmore concedes that religion is not a “virus of the mind” either in a moral sense or an evolutionary sense. Nevermind that this is all going according to a model I think is flawed and silly (the ‘meme’ thing), but it’s pretty noteworthy considering she was one of the main boosters of the idea.

    Also noteworthy is her failing to realize that, given the data, atheism should be considered a ‘virus of the mind’ under her own view.

  5. Ban religious from teaching.

    And if it still doesn’t work, organise a genocide in order to restore peace and security (after all, the religious people are responsible for all the wars). Pol Pot will probably become a great leader in the future, a great visionary who wasn’t understood in his time.

  6. I would like to emphasize that I’m not talking about any crazy conspiracy theories here. I believe that all of the measures I’ve outlined above have a good chance of becoming “mainstream” and widely accepted in Western countries within the next 20 or 30 years, if they are not already

    I’m sorry to say that this does look paranoid: at the very least I would expect links to examples where these activities are taking pace, for the reasons you’re stating.

    You seem to be against encouraging activities that would result in children being better educated (after-school clubs, access to a computer). Having some oversight over home schooling makes sense to me as well, to check that children are being educated (I wouldn’t support a ban, but ensuring that children are educated up to state standards seems reasonable).

    I thought it was well established that rate of childbirth and regiliosity are both inversely correlated with education (and hence with wealth), so if education is improved, families will have less children. Are you really prepared to deny people an education in order to keep them religious?

  7. Well, well, it isn’t really the command to go forth and multiply that accounts for the fertility of the religious. It’s hope.

    Atheists inhabit a hopeless world. Since they believe in nothing, they are afraid of everything. God does not exist. No one is in control. “The center cannot hold.”

    It is not love of the environment that stops them from procreating. Nor in most cases is it simple materialism or self-centeredness. It is the fear of bringing children into a world that seems doomed for destruction.

    Contraception, hailed in its day as a means of liberation, has unintended consequences. Given the power to choose, atheists choose not to procreate. The glorification of sex leads to a new kind of slavery and to death.

  8. tragic mishap

    Thanks for the links. Richard Dawkins is right to highlight the psychological scarring caused by a religious upbringing in which the child is led to believe that he/she (or a childhood friend) is likely to end up in Hell. But the cure for bad religion isn’t no religion; it’s true religion.

    I find it difficult to imagine a worse kind of child abuse than telling a child that he/she is a machine, with no free will.

    Much as I detest atheism, however, I believe it is a parent’s natural right to instruct their child about right, wrong and the meaning of life, as they see it, even if their vision is fundamentally wrong. Children love and trust their parents more than anyone else in the world, so they are the ones who should be entrusted with the task of answering the child’s ultimate questions about life.

    Dawkins’ petition is not likely to be codified into law in the next 20 years, but it may become the law of the land within the next 50 years, if present trends continue.

    I think everyone realizes that for young children, religion is a matter of habit before it becomes a consciously articulated belief. Children copy what their parents do in a house of worship, and they learn the reason for it later. Banning the inculcation of habit-forming religious behavior would cause religion to wither on the vine. That’s why Dawkins is so keen on such a van.

  9. Gil Dodgen

    Thank you for your kind remarks on my post. You hit the nail on the head with your comment on anti-judgmentalism: it’s a self-refuting position.

    Few indeed are the atheists who acknowledge the essential intolerance of their world-view. Most of them try to wiggle out of Marxist atrocities.

  10. nullasalus

    Thanks very much for the link to the Susan Blackmore interview. She’s certainly an intellectually honest woman, and I admire her for that, even if I disagree with her stance on religion and the after-life.

    The “virus” analogy for religion was never a good one, but it’s now apparent that the analogy is totally inept.

  11. allanius

    Reading your remark, “Atheists live in a hopeless world,” I was reminded by what one recently converted ex-atheist, Jennifer Fulwiler, wrote about hope in her blog post, Finding Rest. The post is a real eye-opener, as it vividly describes the mental universe inhabited by those with no religious belief.

  12. Few indeed are the atheists who acknowledge the essential intolerance of their world-view. Most of them try to wiggle out of Marxist atrocities.

    That might be because very few atheists are Marxists (well, unless it’s the Marx Brothers we’re meant to be following).

  13. vjtorley,

    She’s certainly an intellectually honest woman, and I admire her for that, even if I disagree with her stance on religion and the after-life.

    On this, I have to disagree at least in part. Notice that she abandoned her ‘religion is a virus of the mind’ claim due to comparative data – religious people performed better according to the data in an evolutionary sense, and in a social sense. So she still thinks her model is true in the sense that this or that type of belief can be a ‘virus of the mind’.

    The problem is, again… this was comparative data. And she was comparing the religious to the irreligious. In this case, it would mean that not only is religion not a mind-virus – but secularism, atheism, and general irreligiosity *is*, according to her own model.

    So she only goes half-way. It’s as if it never occurred to her that it’s even possible for atheism to be a virus.

  14. Banning the inculcation of habit-forming religious behavior would cause religion to wither on the vine. That’s why Dawkins is so keen on such a van.

    Of course. Dawkins doesn’t care about child abuse. He believes it’s unfair that religious people outnumber atheists when his point of view is obviously the rational one that everyone would choose if they weren’t conditioned against it. He wants to level the playing field so his side can win. The funny thing is, even if he gets his wish, I sincerely doubt the world would end up rejecting religion.

    I find it difficult to imagine a worse kind of child abuse than telling a child that he/she is a machine, with no free will.

    How do you mean this? I’m in a discussion right now with an atheist who is telling me that Christianity doesn’t allow for free will. I assume you mean the opposite.

  15. GilDodgen this may interest you,

    Personal Testimony of ‘recovering’ atheists at William Lane Craig’s defenders class:
    http://www.hieropraxis.com/201.....r-atheist/

  16. tragic mishap

    Thank you for your post. Regarding free will: there are a few religious people who deny it on theological grounds, and who say that God determines what we do (e.g. Calvinists, on the Christian side, and some fatalists within Islam), but the overwhelming majority of religious people around the world affirm libertarian free will. All Jews believe in libertarian free will; so do all Buddhists (and as far as I am aware, all Hindus). Among Christians, the vast majority of Catholics believe in libertarian free will (although a handful of Dominicans believe in a funny version of predestination whereby God determines our choices, but they are somehow still free); Orthodox Christians all believe in libertarian free will; so do Anglicans and most Protestants. I’m not sure how Muslims stack up on the issue.

    Just because God made you doesn’t mean He controls you. Most Christians believe free will is a gift from God.

    Free will does not contradict the omniscience of God. One might believe, for instance, that God is (timelessly) made aware of our choices. Or one might believe that God knows our choices simply because it is His nature to know all truths, simply because they are true.

  17. vjtorley

    Even Calvinists don’t deny free will, from what I know they believe in a tension between the sovereignty of God and the free will of humanity. Only very extreme Calvinists would throw away free will full in favor of complete and utter determinism.

  18. vjtorley:

    Thank you for you heartwarming reminder about the widespread belief in libertarian free will among religious people of all kinds. I would add that probably even many atheists believe in libertarian free will.

    Believing in libertarian free will has become for many “intellectuals” something out of fashion. And yet, it is one of the most natural, reassuring, fundamental intuitions of the soul, without which almost nothing makes true sense.

    I do believe in libertarian free will, the old good type, not the one where we are wholly independent or arrogant creators of our own destiny, but the humble variety, the one in which, although influenced by so many things greater than ourselves, we can still simply choose between good and evil, right and wrong, love and hate, in each moment of our life, and in the small things and in the simple contexts of our individual existence. And that can really make the difference.

  19. I don’t understand why we should be in favor of “religion” in general when false religions are included in the mix.

  20. Hi Manable,

    Thanks for the correction.

  21. vjtorley,
    Isn’t rather odd to use Darwinian principles to explain the propagation of faith? I mean, this suggests that faith is something you inherit, yet Dawkins & Co. claim that atheism is a free choice of a rational mind. So which is it? Could Dawkins be merely conditioned to be an atheist by his government that despised his genes? If we have “selfish genes” can we also have “selfish governments”?

  22. Manable and Dr. Torley,

    Are you serious? So-called “free will” was denied in one of the greatest works of the Reformation, The Bondage of the Will by Martin Luther. From which:

    THIS, therefore, is also essentially necessary and wholesome for Christians to know: That God foreknows nothing by contingency, but that He foresees, purposes, and does all things according to His immutable, eternal, and infallible will. By this thunderbolt, “Free-will” is thrown prostrate, and utterly dashed to pieces. Those, therefore, who would assert “Free-will,” must either deny this thunderbolt, or pretend not to see it, or push it from them.

  23. bornagain77:

    Thanks for the link about recovering atheists. I can relate, like no other.

    Matthew 7:15/16: “Beware of the false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly are ravenous wolves… You will know them by their fruits.”

    This is one of the most important passages in all of Christian Scripture in my opinion. What are the fruits of atheistic materialism, and its demonstrably anti-scientific Darwinian mythology which attempts to defy all that has been learned through modern science about the the transparent design of the universe and living systems?

    These fruits are: Despair. Moral relativism. Meaninglessness.

    How can this not be obvious?

  24. Robert Sheldon,

    Thank you for your query. You ask:

    Isn’t rather odd to use Darwinian principles to explain the propagation of faith? I mean, this suggests that faith is something you inherit, yet Dawkins & Co. claim that atheism is a free choice of a rational mind. So which is it?

    I’ll quote the relevent passage from Longman’s article:

    In a world in which childbearing is rarely accidental and almost never rewarding economically, birthrates increasingly reflect values choices. And so, by Darwinian process, those who adhere to traditions that preserve and celebrate the ancient injunction to “go forth and multiply” wind up putting more of their genes and ideas into the future than those who don’t. As Kaufmann shows, fertility, over time, plays out like compound interest. That is, even if religiously fundamentalist families only have a few more children than secular or religiously moderate counterparts, and they can keep those children holding on to fundamentalist faith and values (especially related to child-bearing), the passage of generations will greatly magnify their numbers and influence. Similarly, secularists and others who choose to have only one or two children, and who pass those values on to their children, will, over time, see their population decline precipitously. (Emphases mine – VJT.)

    I take it that the point Longman wished to convey was that the decision to embrace a particular religion is indeed a free choice; but that choices, once made, have certain inexorable consequences. In this case, the mathematics of the choice to have one child versus the choice to have lots of children dictates that people who make the latter choice will outbreed those who make the former. That process can be described in Darwinian terms.

    I hope that answers your question. Thank you again for asking.

  25. QuiteID:

    I’ve actually read Luther’s The Bondage of the Will. The question I would ask you is: how many Lutherans today deny free will? A handful, I’ll wager.

  26. Dr. Torley,

    Both the Lutheran Church (Missouri Synod) and the Presbyterian Church in America confess a limited free will but no free will with regard to things pertaining to our salvation.

  27. Thanks Dr. Torley.

    I was a bit more interested in atheist views of free will. I’ve heard that most atheists retain a belief in free will, but many of the more seriously committed atheists realize that materialism leaves no room for it. Then there are the atheists who say that consciousness, and along with it free will, are emergent properties of the brain. I was curious about free will within the atheist worldview.

  28. vjt RE 23

    I too have read Luthers Bondage of the Will as well as Edwards “Freedom of the Will”

    Although I am not a Lutheran I do not think there is such a thing as free will. I do think we all have free choice which I define as the ability to choose whatever we most desire and want given the options available to us at the time the choice is made.

    Vivid

  29. tragic mishap (#25)

    Thanks for your clarification. You are quite right to say that materialism leaves no room for free will. One may be an atheist and accept free will: many Buddhists would fall into this category, for instance, although axiarchy would perhaps be a better characterization of their position than atheism. Disciples of Ayn Rand (Objectivists) are another example of atheists who believe in free will.

    But if one is a materialistic atheist, then there is no room for free will. Emergent properties won’t help, either, as materialism is tied to a belief in (1) the fundamentality of lower-level properties, and (2) supervenience.

    (1) By “the fundamentality of lower-level properties” I mean the view that all higher-level properties arise from lower-level properties, even if, having arisen, they are then capable of interacting with these lower-level properties. In other words, top-down causation, to the extent that it occurs, presupposes bottom-up causation.

    (2) I shall quote from the Wikipedia article on Supervenience :

    [I]f psychological properties supervene on physical properties, then any two persons who are physically indistinguishable must also be psychologically indistinguishable; or equivalently, any two persons who are psychologically different (e.g., having different thoughts), must be physically different as well.

    If one believes this, and if one also believes that mental states are produced by lower-level physical states, then any differences in the decisions that two people make at time t must be explicable in terms of their physical properties at that time. That’s not libertarian free will.

  30. vividbleau (#26)

    It seems to me that the account of free will you propose would apply equally to sentient animals. They, too, choose what they most desire at the time.

    The account of free will I am proposing is quite different. In the words of Dr. Thomas Pink, author of Free Will: A Very Short Introduction (OUP, 2004, p. 102):

    The capacity for free action involves, in particular, a conceptual grasp or understanding of various possible goals – an understanding that, again, is a passive given, and that is not the free agent’s own doing. It is only once this understanding of possible goals is in place that an agent’s free action can then begin. This freedom consists, at least immediately, in control over which of these possible goals the agent then aims at and intends – for example, over whether he decides to go on with a walk or, alternatively, to stay where he is. (Emphases mine – VJT.)

    Pink also argues (ibid., p. 103) against the view that one’s actions are necessarily caused by something – e.g. one’s dominant desire:

    Often, as when I spontaneously decide to continue my walk, the only ground we have for supposing that we are motivated to do something is that we have actually decided to do it. There need be no empirical evidence whatsoever that even before that decision there existed in us some prior desire that was already pushing or moving us towards doing that thing. That, nonetheless, we must have been moved into action by some such desire – this is an article of mere faith. And this is a faith that we need not adopt. (Emphasis mine – VJT.)

  31. So Christians can come up with whatever convoluted theory they want to have an all knowing god compatible with free will but materialist atheists cannot do the same to get free will into their world view. Good to know.

  32. RE 28

    “There need be no empirical evidence whatsoever that even before that decision there existed in us some prior desire that was already pushing or moving us towards doing that thing.”

    If my choices are not a result of what I most desire to choose then I am choosing that which I dont most desire?

    Vivid

  33. QuiteID:

    Thanks for the update on the Lutheran faith. I’ve just been having a look at the Augsburg Confession, Article XVIII. It seems to rest on a big misunderstanding: it condemns the view that “without the Holy Ghost, by the power of nature alone, we are able to love God above all things; also to do the commandments of God as touching ‘the substance of the act.’” It also affirms that the will “has no power, without the Holy Ghost, to work the righteousness of God.” Fine; but I think virtually all Christians (Catholics included) would agree with that. Luther is not really denying the freedom of the will, so much as its self-sufficiency.

    However, supposing a person to be under the influence of the Holy Ghost, most Christians would say that, at least in the “standard” case, that person is free to say yes or no to God’s grace.

  34. vividbleau (#30)

    You ask:

    If my choices are not a result of what I most desire to choose then I am choosing that which I don’t most desire?

    No. All that follows is that when you choose, you do not always choose that which you most desire, either because (i) in some situations, the goods in question are equally desirable, or (ii) in some situations, the goods in question are incommensurable.

    This is a frequent occurrence. Consider a very talented young person, with a passion for mental endeavors of all kinds, deciding what to major in at college. This person could decide to major in either science or the arts. In either case, this person would do very well and be assured of a successful career. In the end, the person chooses the arts. Was it necessarily because he/she wanted to study the arts more than science? I think not; to claim as much is begging the question.

    Precisely because the “basic human goods” (e.g. procreation, the pursuit of knowledge, artistic endeavor, and friendship) are incommensurable, it is inappropriate to speak of wanting one good “more” than the other, as if they could be ranked on a single scale. All of these goods are desirable for their own sake.

  35. TempHut

    What’s convoluted about the theory that God knows our choices as a result of us making them, and that God is not bound by time, as we are? It follows from these two assumptions that God’s knowledge of our choices is not bound by time, either.

    Alternatively, what’s convoluted about the theory that God knows our choices simply because it is His nature to know everything which is true?

    Finally, can you propose a theory whereby a materialistic atheist could affirm free will?

  36. vjtorley,

    Here are two premises to which I presume many (perhaps most) Christians would assent:

    1. Everything that occurs in the universe is a manifestation of divine providence. Nothing can occur that is contrary to God’s will.

    2. God’s will does not depend on the decisions made by mortals.

    If you accept these two premises then I do not see how you can plausibly maintain that God’s knowledge of our choices is a result of us making them.

    If your theory is correct, then either:
    (a) the consilience of our choices with God’s plan is a cosmic coincidence,
    (b) God’s providential plan is not perfectly sovereign, and we can act to thwart God’s will, or
    (c) God’s plan is explanatorily posterior to our choices, i.e. the accordance of our actions with His will is due to the fact that His will depends on our actions.

    Do any of these seems attractive to you?

  37. As per 1), it seems to be God’s will that human beings make their choices. As per 2), God’s gift of free will to humanity does not depend on a mortal choice.

  38. tragic mishap,

    Neither of those claims address the problem. Put it this way: is there anything I can do to thwart God’s plan? If yes, then God’s sovereignty over the universe is incomplete. If no, how do you explain this in a way that is consistent with my freedom?

  39. vjtorley,

    “supposing a person to be under the influence of the Holy Ghost, most Christians would say that, at least in the “standard” case, that person is free to say yes or no to God’s grace.”

    No. Grace is irresistible, and humans are “altogether passive,” as the Westminster Confession (the language of The Presbyterian Church in America) puts it. As Chapter IX of that confession puts it:

    3. Man, by his fall into a state of sin, hath wholly lost all ability of will to any spiritual good accompanying salvation: so as, a natural man, being altogether averse from that good, and dead in sin, is not able, by his own strength, to convert himself, or to prepare himself thereunto.

    4. When God converts a sinner, and translates him into the state of grace, He freeth him from his natural bondage under sin; and, by His grace alone, enables him freely to will and to do that which is spiritually good; yet so, that by reason of his remaining corruption, he doth not perfectly, nor only, will that which is good, but doth also will that which is evil.

    5. The will of man is made perfectly and immutably free to do good alone in the state of glory only.

    If it’s our choice to accept grace, then it’s our doing, and it’s not grace. To repeat, those outside a state of grace have no free will to do good, including the will to choose salvation. God does the choosing.

  40. There’s a difference between not having sovereignty and choosing not to use it.

  41. Erm… If people are going to debate predestination, Gods sovereignty etc, in Christianity, wouldn’t it be better to quote the Bible rather than other peoples interpretations of it (though they’re helpful).

    QuiteID, but this (God doing the choosing), as far as I can tell, is to do with the salvation of the individual, not the living of the rest of his (or her) life.

    Also, it is not ‘no free will to do good’, it’s more an inability to do anything pleasing to God (which is good) due to our relationship with him, which is one who is under Gods judgment.

  42. Sotto voce

    Thank you for your posts. You ask: “is there anything I can do to thwart God’s plan?”

    If you mean God’s ultimate plan for the cosmos as a whole (i.e. the New Heavens and the New Earth of Revelation 21), the answer is No.

    If you mean God’s plan for my soul (which God wants to save, according to 1 Timothy 2:4), the answer is Yes. I can resist God’s grace to the very end, and thereby damn myself.

    If you mean God’s plan for the here-and-now, the answer is once again Yes. I take it that murdering someone, committing adultery, and robbing a bank, are all acts which are contrary to God’s plan. If they weren’t, it would be irrational to condemn someone for doing these things. I would add, however, that God in His Wisdom has designed the universe in such a way that even if we make bad choices, God will triumph in the end.

    QuiteID

    Perhaps it might help if you think of free will as “free won’t.” If I do good, it is God’s grace that enables me to do so. I do not add any extra “push,” as it were; I just go with the flow. When I sin, I block the flow, and refuse to do God’s bidding. Those who sin say to God, “I will not serve you!” (Jeremiah 2:20).

    I hope this answers your objection that “If it’s our choice to accept grace, then it’s our doing, and it’s not grace.”

  43. Dr. Torley,

    I still object. Grace, when offered, is irresistible, as Romans 8:29-30 makes clear:

    For those whom He foreknew, He also predestined to become conformed to the image of His Son, so that He would be the firstborn among many brethren; and these whom He predestined, He also called; and these whom He called, He also justified; and these whom He justified, He also glorified.

    With all due respect, I don’t need your “help” because I understand the issues quite well. The grace of God is absolute: nobody chooses it because God does the choosing, and nobody, chosen by God, refuses.

  44. QuiteID

    Thank you for your post. I am of course familiar with the verse you cite. You might like to read how the Catholic Church understands it, in the article Predestination in The Catholic Encyclopedia.

    I think it addresses all the questions you have raised on the subject, as well as the relevant Scriptural passages.

  45. If God is outside of time, what meaning can “fore” and “pre” have for Him?

  46. vjt RE 34

    “Was it necessarily because he/she wanted to study the arts more than science? I think not; to claim as much is begging the question.”

    Since I never made this claim you must be referring to someone else :)

    Someone indeed may desire to study science over the arts and still choose the arts but this does not invalidate that the choosing of the arts was their strongest desire at the moment the choice was made given the options available to them. Their strongest desire might be anything from “I think I can get more dates in the school of arts” to “I am so conflicted that I am going to flip a coin and let that be the deciding factor”

    “Precisely because the “basic human goods” (e.g. procreation, the pursuit of knowledge, artistic endeavor, and friendship) are incommensurable, it is inappropriate to speak of wanting one good “more” than the other, as if they could be ranked on a single scale. All of these goods are desirable for their own sake.”

    Why is it inappropriate to speak of wanting one good more than another? It is not the ranking of the goods that is at issue it is the strongest desire of the chooser. Just because one good is commensurable to the other objectively does not mean that the subject ( the chooser)might find one good more desirable.

    Vivid

  47. On the subject of free will, my brother (who is an atheist) once commented to me that if it cannot be predicted what a person will do, we have the functional equivalent of free will, and this is all that matters. This seems perfectly reasonable to me.

    In addition, free will is an ongoing manifestation of our daily human experience. The denial of the existence of human will on the part of Darwinian materialists is yet another example of their inability to admit the obvious in defense of an absurd worldview, which also compels them to deny the existence of design even when evidence of design smacks them over the head with a baseball bat.

  48. That surprises me, Gil. What does your brother make of your transformation?

  49. vj

    I just noticed this discussion.

    Note that Unitarians, Reform Jews, mainline Protestants and ‘cafeteria’ Catholics are also below replacement rate. It is “fundamentalism” that is replacing both secularism and mainline religion (and of course, of the major religions it is Islamic fundamentalism that is growing fastest). So to the extent that this is a problem this not a problem for atheists alone – it is a problem any one who is not a fundamentalist.

    The idea of promoting religious tolerance in schools might seem a lot more appealing if you were under Sharia law.

  50. Fools rush in where angels fear to tread, but Catholic doctrine on predestination, while self-described as a “golden mean” of Pelagianism and extreme Augustinianism, and while expressed with the utmost care and caution and even some sweetness, still does not address the key issues raised by Paul in Romans and elsewhere. In fact to some degree it can be said to exacerbate them.

    “Grace,” for Paul, is not a doctrine, a term of art, but an attribute of God. It is not as if God were constructing being in his mind and in this corner created a golden ballroom called “grace.” It is not reason with its dividing power that determines the value of grace. No, in Paul’s mind, God is simply gracious. The happiness of salvation is not reserved for the Jews only, for those who claim a special relationship to God through blood or observance of the ceremonial law, but is also freely offered to the Gentiles who are not circumcised and cannot trace their lineage to Abraham.

    Paul’s conception of “grace” is supremely gracious. All are welcome in the church if they believe in their hearts and confess with their mouths that Jesus Christ is Lord. Why was this important to Paul? Not because he was in love with reason or doctrinal argument. Paul had a shining vision of a church filled with the love of Christ and the unity of the Spirit. The only way to make this vision a reality was for the church to embrace grace and give up the boastful love of judgment—for Jews to give up the supposed righteousness they enjoyed under the ceremonial law and for the Gentiles to give up the supposed spirituality and freedom from the law they enjoyed under “grace.”

    All boasting undermines the unity of the Spirit. This is the backdrop of Paul’s use of the notion of predestination. No one has a right to boast of having a special relationship with God—neither Jew nor Gentile—because it is only through God’s grace and God’s will that anyone at all can be saved. No one can save himself from death. If God is not willing to save us, we are doomed. Therefore no one has a right to boast. All are equally condemned under the law; all are equally saved by grace. Boasting is nothing but vanity and in fact was the cause of the very first sin.

    This teaching mirrors the ancient teaching that “all men are like the grass.” The deep wisdom of the Bible begins with the acknowledgment that we are mortal and do not have the right to boast, as Adam desired, of being “like God” and somehow better than our fellow beings. The way to find happiness is to embrace gentleness and lowliness and give up our love of judging others, just as Christ did not consider equality with God as something to be grasped but took on the form of mortal man and submitted to death on the cross. In sum, the Old Testament and the New both indicate that the way to find happiness is to “walk humbly with your God.”

    The irony of the debate over free will, then, is it leads to the very boasting Paul was eager to condemn. Free will continues to divide the church to this very day between “Catholics” who tend to gravitate to Thomas and his synthetic doctrine and “Protestants” who feel more comfortable with Augustine and his analytic doctrine. The attempt to obtain a rational “golden mean” or synthetic judgment seen in Cathoiic doctrine in fact has the effect of excluding pure judgment, while the love of pure judgment seen in Calvin and others self-consciously divides itself from the mean.

    The divide seen in the church over “free will” reflects the divided nature of intellect itself. Doctrine is the attempt to obtain knowledge of God and man through intellect and its force of judgment, but intellect is a dividing power, and every judgment intellect renders on being is divided between sense and intellect, synthesis and pure analysis, being and nothingness, existence and resistance. As physical beings who think, we are capable of seeing two kinds of “good.” One is the goodness of present existence and the universe God created. The other is the goodness of intellect and its ability to produce pure judgments through its resistance to sense.

    This is precisely the divide seen in all philosophy that attempts to identify the good of happiness. Plato was in love with pure judgment and discounted present being as if it had no value of all, but this love led to the concept of “the good” as pure negation and a force of absolute resistance to the compromises between sense and intellect that presently exist. Aristotle was in love with synthetic judgments. He tried to overcome the negative force of Idealism by claiming that God is immanent in existence; that “the good” is a synthesis of material and intellectual causes.

    To keep things as simple as possible, Plato’s concept of “the good” eliminates free will by eliminating choice. Only intellect and its qualitative force of resistance has any value in his view; the value of sense and material existence has been negated. Aristotle, on the other hand, reinvests present being with value through his description of “the good” as a purely active ratio of material and intellectual causes, but still offers the philosopher a choice between the goodness of present existence and the true happiness of “pure contemplation of the good.” This description of happiness preserves free will.

    The same exact divide is seen between Catholic and Protestant theologians—for the simple reason that the Catholic church embraced Aristotle in the Middle Ages through Thomas and the Protestants revolted in the Renaissance, an age strongly influenced by Plato. Synthetic concepts of value inform Thomas’s description (defense) of free will. Reason, restored by grace, is still capable of making choices that are contrary to right reason. The Protestants counter that free will is an affront to God’s sovereignty. Like Plato, they negate existence as a “massa damnata.” Only God has any goodness in him at all.

    This age-old divide between pure judgment and synthetic judgments is not found in the Bible, in which there is no indication of Greek concepts of value whatsoever, or of the philosopher’s worshipful attitude toward intellect. The divide is certainly not in the spirit of Paul’s discussion of predestination, which was intended to unite the church. But intellect itself is a dividing power because of the difference between itself and sense. As long as we cling to intellect for knowledge of God, we will continue to be divided over “disputable matters” like free will.

  51. Or maybe Protestant theologians were fed up with the authoritarian bent of the Catholic Church hierarchy during the Reformation and chose to reemphasize God’s sovereignty over man as a counter. Probably went too far, but so do most reactions like that. Now we have open theism reacting too far the other way. *sigh*

    Also when Paul talks about boasting, he’s quoting Jeremiah 9:24:

    “Let not the wise boast of their wisdom
    or the strong boast of their strength
    or the rich boast of their riches, but let the one who boasts boast about this:
    that they have the understanding to know me,
    that I am the LORD, who exercises kindness,
    justice and righteousness on earth,
    for in these I delight,”
    declares the LORD

    So I mean boasting is not right out.

  52. Free will is such an interesting topic and the argument always seems to circle around whether it exists. I am going to propose a test. I will ask people to make a simple statement, just a series of words. Everyone of us can say those words, the only thing preventing us is if we do not want to. I predict that we will have a variety of responses. Some will say in effect, “No problem” and others will have any variety of reasons why they can’t do it.

    Here goes:

    I challenge everyone who reads this to say:

    “Maybe Jesus is the Son of God, whatever that means.”

    Happy December to all.

  53. 53

    Let the caveats begin.

    :)

  54. markf

    Thank you for your post. I don’t see Longman’s article as lending support to sharia law. It may interest you to know that the fertility rate in Iran is only 1.8, while that in Saudi Arabia has fallen from 6.15 in 2003 to 2.35 in 2010.

    Longman makes it quite clear in his article that he is not happy with the word “fundamentalism” and that he uses it to denote intensity of religious belief. However, intensity does not translate into intolerance. The example of America’s history proves that. Here’s the relevant passage from Longman:

    Only as we approach the realm of religious belief and practice marked by an intensity we might call, for lack of a better word, “fundamentalism,” do we find pockets of high fertility and consequent rapid population growth.

    According to a study published in the American Journal of Sociology, three quarters of the growth of conservative Protestantism in the United States is explained by the compounding effect of this population’s higher birth rates over the last century as compared with mainline Protestants. Moreover, the correlation between fundamentalist faith and high fertility continues as we travel still further along the spectrum of religious belief and practice. So, for example, the “Andy Weaver” Amish, who are perhaps the strictest of all in their rejection of modernity, have higher fertility (average 6.2 children per family) than the do the New Order Amish, (4.8 children) who starting in the 1960s made such concessions to progress as allowing electricity into their homes.

    Similarly within Israel, ultra-Orthodox Jews, or Haredim, with an average of nearly seven children per family, are far outbreeding merely Orthodox Jews, to say nothing of more secular Israelis. Accordingly, we now find a profound generational difference in Israeli society that reverses the pattern of history that even many religious people once supposed would inevitably lead to the decline of ancient beliefs and customs. Today, just 2.3 percent of Israelis over age 80 are Haredi. But such is the demographic momentum of this sect that 16 percent of all Israeli children under 10 are within its fold.

    I can’t speak about the situation in Israel (having never been there), but the laws being advocated by most conservative Protestants and Jews in America today are hardly extreme. The major difference between conservatives and liberals is on the issue of abortion. I might add that America became pro-choice only in 1973.

    I hope that answers your question.

  55. Hi everyone,

    Got to run now, but on free will, here are some comments and links to interesting articles. You might like to have a look at the ones by Misialowski.

    http://www.angelfire.com/linux.....mniscience

    Back in a few hours.

  56. Berceuse: What does your brother make of your transformation?

    When I apostatized from the family religion of atheism and became a Christian (and especially when I started to question Darwinism) they all thought I had totally lost my mind.

  57. Wow, so it’s your whole family, Gil? I hope there aren’t too many arguments over the holidays…it’s also a little ironic if you all celebrated Christmas together.

  58. #54 vj

    I guess my key point is that your article sounds fine if you assume that the religion and values that are being attacked is one you to subscribe to. However, it may not sound so good if it is not.

    Are you happy for Islamic fundamentalism schools to have public funding and teach whatever judgemental opinions they wish on other religions?

    I am also amused by the power that you think Atheists have. Looking Most of your example seem to apply to the USA where less than 10% of the population is atheist, the article itself claims this proportion will drop, and the religious vote is key to winning elections. As far as I know only one or two members of Congress admits to being non-theist. How are these few athiests going to implement all those initiatives against the will of the people and the majority of government?

  59. Extend the number of hours that children are required to spend at school …

    Or, simply arrange things so as to effectively require that children spend three or more hours per day waiting for and sitting in buses riding to and from the school house.

  60. People!

    It’s not that we *have* free will, it’s that we *are* free wills.

  61. … to speak of “free will” is simply to speak of mind(s) using different terms (and focusing on a specific aspect of intellect/mind) — the human individual does not *have* a mind, he *is* a mind.

  62. … to deny the reality of “free will” is to deny the reality of minds.

  63. VJTorley:One may be an atheist and accept free will: many Buddhists would fall into this category, for instance, although axiarchy would perhaps be a better characterization of their position than atheism. Disciples of Ayn Rand (Objectivists) are another example of atheists who believe in free will.

    One is, of course, free to believe or assert all manner of propositions which are mutually logically inconsistent. But, the pertinent question is not about whatever inconsistent mish-mash this or that individual ‘atheist’ chooses to believe or assert; the pertinent question has to do with the logical entailments of God-denial.

    God-denial can resolve in one of only two ways:
    1) “Eastern” atheism, such as Buddhism – that is, the assertion that *nothing at all* exists;
    2) “Western” atheism, which is explicitly a repudiation of Judeo-Christianity – that is, the assertion that *only matter* exists.

    When one acknowledges the reality that minds do exist and that minds exist in some way “beyond” or independently of matter, then one is has taken the fatal step toward acknowledging the reality of God. That is, one has taken the first step in abandoning one’s profession of atheism.

  64. VJTorley @ 42:Perhaps it might help if you think of free will as “free won’t.” …

    An analogy that may be helpful –

    If one is drowning, then one is utterly helpless to save oneself from drowning — this is definitional, for if one *had* the power or ability to save oneself from drowning, then one simply wouldn’t be drowning in the first place.

    So, one is drowning; and one can do nothing in the least to effect, or affect, one’s salvation from drowning.

    Along comes another who does have the power and ability to save one from drowning, and who does, indeed, begin the work of saving one’s life.

    Now, one may *choose* to cooperate with one’s rescuer — that is, one may choose to stop fighting/struggling, for one’s struggling makes the rescuer’s attempt to save one’s live impossible — or, one may *choose* to not cooperate with one’s rescuer — that is, one choose to continue fighting/struggling, interfering with the attempted rescue, such that the rescuer ultimately leave you to drown, left you also drown him, or he keeps trying to save you and your actions cause you both to drown. Admittedly, if one is drowning, then the panic reflex has engaged and thus making the right choice to stop fighting is very difficult, but not impossible.

    In similar wise –

    We all are dying, and there is nothing at all any of us can do to rescue ourselves from this looming death. Yet, Christ has the power and ability and will to save us all from this death — but only if we stop fighting him can our salvation be effected.

    Christ desires to rescue all of us, but only some of us choose to stop fighting the rescue.

    Contrary to Calvinistic determinism, we do each have a say in whether we will live or die: it is our choice to surrender — to allow ourselves be rescued — or to fight the rescue with our last breath.

  65. GilDodgen:On the subject of free will, my brother (who is an atheist) once commented to me that if it cannot be predicted what a person will do, we have the functional equivalent of free will, and this is all that matters. This seems perfectly reasonable to me.

    It may seem reasonable — when one doesn’t think about it. But, it is most unreasonable; for it is the denial of the reality of one’s agency. And, I dare say, it is a dodge your brother is using to avoid seeing the implications of his assertion that God is not.

    There are two (and only two) ways this “functional equivalent of free will” can be said to work:
    1) ingorance of the mechanistic causes of one’s “choices,” such that, as a practical matter, due to this ignorance, no one is competent to predict one’s actions or behaviors;
    2) randomness, that is, lack of any causes at all for one’s “choices,” such that it is logically impossible for anyone, no matter how much knowledge he possesses, to predict one’s actions or behaviors.

    Both of these options deny the reality of human freedom. Both assert that slavery is the sole and utter truth of the human condition.

    The first option asserts a universal mechanistic determinism, such that all actions and behaviors of all persons are caused by pre-existing states of the world, which states are themselves caused pre-existing states of the world. That is, it denies that we *choose* to do or not to do.

    The second option asserts a sui generis mechanistic determinism for some or all actions and behaviors (the others falling under option (1) ), such that there is no cause at all for the “choice” one makes; that is, that one does not really make a choice, but is rather acted upon by an event that happens to one, randomly, without cause.

    ===
    There are only two metaphysics available:
    1) affirmation of the reality of God — which allows for human freedom;
    2) denial of the reality of God — which allows for no freedom, anywhere, at all.

  66. Allanius:Fools rush in where angels fear to tread, but Catholic doctrine on predestination, while self-described as a “golden mean” of Pelagianism and extreme Augustinianism, and while expressed with the utmost care and caution and even some sweetness, still does not address the key issues raised by Paul in Romans and elsewhere. In fact to some degree it can be said to exacerbate them.

    Catholicism takes a muddled stance on predestination due to the strange doctrine of the Immaculate Conception.

  67. Ilion

    Thank you for your recent posts. I’ll just make a few quick comments.

    (1) You assert that each of us is a mind. With respect, I don’t think that’s correct. I know that Plato and Augustine would have accepted that formulation. I suggest you read From Augustine’s Mind to Aquinas’ Soul by Fr. John O’Callaghan.

    Fr. O’Callaghan demonstrates that belief in a soul does not imply substance dualism – the belief that soul and body are two things. On the contrary, every human being is a unity. Each of us is one being. This is the truth that Aquinas correctly grasped. It is I who eat, run, see, desire, know and decide. One and the same being does all these things. An organism’s soul is simply its underlying principle of unity. The human soul, with its ability to reason, does not distinguish us from animals; it distinguishes us as animals. The unity of a human being’s actions is actually deeper and stronger than that underlying the acts of a non-rational animal: rationality allows us to bring together our past, present and future acts, when we formulate plans. When Aquinas argues that the act of intellect is not the act of a bodily organ, he is not showing that there is a non-animal act engaged in by human beings. He is showing, rather, that not every act of an animal is a bodily act.

    If I am a mind, then it would not be really true that I breathe, for instance, or that I eat. That’s the price you have to pay for being a dualist: it separates you from most of your actions.

  68. Ilion (continued):

    (2) You assert that “Catholicism takes a muddled stance on predestination due to the strange doctrine of the Immaculate Conception.”

    I prefer not to get into sectarian disputes on this thread. Although I’m Catholic, I grew up with Protestants in my family background. My grandfather (on my mother’s side) was a Scottish Presbyterian, and at one stage he used to be a minister. He was something of an independent thinker, though, which didn’t endear him to his superiors. He died when I was six, but I have very fond memories of him. In our Catholic household, we kept my grandfather’s Scofield Reference Bible, which I often used to read, and we usually had half a dozen Bibles floating around too – everything from a Jerusalem Bible to a New English Bible to a Living Bible. It was, incidentally, my grandfather’s books, The Story of Philosophy and The Mansions of Philosophy by Will Durant that got me interested in philosophy, so I owe a lot to him.

    On the subject of predestination, let me just say this: the Catholic doctrine of predestination can be found in the writings of the Council of Trent (1545-1563). The Immaculate Conception was not defined as Catholic doctrine until 1854. To say that the former is responsible for the latter strikes me as anachronistic.

  69. Ilion (continued):

    (3) I agree with your assertion that ignorance of the causes of an action does not make it free. It could be totally random, for instance. Unpredictability per se does not automatically entail freedom, although it certainly demolishes one argument against freedom (determinism).

    Here’s what I think happens when we make a choice.

    Reasoning and choosing are indeed immaterial processes: they are actions that involve abstract, formal concepts. (By the way, computers don’t perform formal operations; they are simply man-made material devices that are designed to mimic these operations. A computer is no more capable of addition than a cash register, an abacus or a Rube Goldberg machine.)

    Reasoning is an immaterial activity. This means that reasoning doesn’t happen anywhere – certainly not in some spooky soul hovering 10 centimeters above my head. It has no location. Ditto for choice. However, choices have to be somehow realized on a physical level, otherwise they would have no impact on the world. I would say that the soul doesn’t push neurons, as the Nobel prize-winning Neurologist Sir John Eccles appeared to think; instead, it selects from one of a large number of quantum possibilities thrown up at some micro level of the brain. This doesn’t violate quantum randomness, because a selection can be non-random at the macro level but random at the micro level.

    1 0 0 0 1 1 1 1 0 0 0 1 0 1 0 0 1 1
    0 0 1 0 0 0 0 1 1 0 1 1 0 1 1 1 0 1

    The above two rows were created by a random number generator. Now suppose I impose the macro requirement: keep the columns whose sum equals 1, and discard the rest. I now have:

    1 0 1 1 1 0 0 0 0 0 1
    0 1 0 0 0 1 1 0 1 1 0

    Each row is still random, but I have imposed a non-random macro-level constraint. That’s how my will works when I make a choice.

    For Thomists, a human being is not two things – a soul and a body – but one being, capable of two radically different kinds of acts – material acts (which other animals are also capable of) and formal, immaterial actions, such as acts of choice and deliberation. In practical situations, immaterial acts of choice are realized as a selection from one of a large number of randomly generated possible pathways.

    On a neural level, what probably happens when an agent decides to raise his/her arm is this: the arm goes through a large number of micro-level muscular movements (tiny twitches) which are randomly generated at the quantum level. The agent tries these out over a very short interval of time (a fraction of a second) before selecting the one which feels right – namely, the one which matches the agent’s desire to raise his/her arm. This selection continues during the time interval over which the agent raises his/her arm. The wrong (randomly generated quantum-level) micro-movements are continually filtered out by the agent.

    The agent’s selection may indeed reflect his/her character, values and desires – but then again, it may not. We can and do act out of character, and we sometimes act irrationally. Our free will is not bound to act according to reason, and sometimes we act contrary to it (akrasia, or weakness of will, being a case in point).

  70. Ilíon:Catholicism takes a muddled stance on predestination due to the strange doctrine of the Immaculate Conception.

    VJTorley:I prefer not to get into sectarian disputes on this thread.

    Then we’re agree. Nevertheless, what I said is accurate; that it is unwelcome to you is a different matter.

    VJTorley:Although I’m Catholic, I grew up with Protestants in my family background. …

    And my pseudo-Grandmother — an old woman who lived her last years with my family — was Catholic. Though, as she was divorced, she wasn’t really welcome in Catholic parishes in those days.

    VJTorley:On the subject of predestination, let me just say this: the Catholic doctrine of predestination can be found in the writings of the Council of Trent (1545-1563). The Immaculate Conception was not defined as Catholic doctrine until 1854. To say that the former is responsible for the latter strikes me as anachronistic.

    Come now!

    1) You surely know as well as I do that the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception was widely believed — and popularly asserted — long before the dogma was officially promulgated. For instance, the Catholic Encyclopedia says: “Since the time of Alexander VII, long before the final definition, there was no doubt on the part of theologians that the privilege was amongst the truths revealed by God.” That’s just a century after Trent … and the belief, and its popularity, surely was wide-spread long before “… there was no doubt on the part of theologians …

    And (ahem) Wikipedia says: “… In various places the feast of the Immaculate Conception had been celebrated for centuries on 8 December , when, on 28 February 1476, Pope Sixtus IV extended it to the entire Latin Church. He did not define the doctrine as a dogma, … ” Clearly, the doctrine, if not the dogma. long predates Trent.

    2) That Catholicism has a muddled stance on certain Calvinistic signature doctrines *today* does not imply that it did in 1563.

    WHAT is rationale for the dogma of the Immaculate Conception? Why does the Roman Church hold that it is necessary to believe that Mary “was preserved exempt from all stain of original sin“? There are (at least) two main points of the rationale:

    1) “There is an incongruity in the supposition that the flesh, from which the flesh of the Son of God was to be formed, should ever have belonged to one who was the slave of that arch-enemy, whose power He came on earth to destroy. …” — Catholic Encyclopedia, on ‘Immaculate Conception’

    2) That had Mary not been free of original sin then she’d not have been able freely to assent to God’s Will that she be the Mother of God — I wish I could supply you a precise quote (and a link), but I do not recall just where in the C.E. I read this rationale.

    At the same time (which is surely better than quoting the C.E.), the Catechism says: “490… In fact, in order for Mary to be able to give the free assent of her faith to the announcement of her vocation, it was necessary that she be wholly borne by God’s grace.

    So, on this last, we see that Catholicism — even as it agrees with the rest of us that the Calvinistic stance on free will is false — asserts the Calvinistic stance on free will to defend the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception.

    Muddled!

    And, concerning Mary’s Predestination, the Catechism says: “488 “God sent forth his Son”, but to prepare a body for him, he wanted the free co-operation of a creature. For this, from all eternity God chose for the mother of his Son a daughter of Israel, a young Jewish woman of Nazareth in Galilee, “a virgin betrothed to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David; and the virgin’s name was Mary”:

    The Father of mercies willed that the Incarnation should be preceded by assent on the part of the predestined mother, so that just as a woman had a share in the coming of death, so also should a woman contribute to the coming of life.

    Apparently, God both predestined Mary to be The Mother Of God and did not predestine her to that role, as her freely given assent was necessary for her to assume the role.

    At the same time, going by the Catholic Encyclopedia, it seems that “predestination” simply refers to the fact that those who chose to accept God’s salvation shall be saved: “… so that the term predestination is reserved for the Divine decree of the happiness of the elect.

    Muddled!

    At least the Calvinists *mean* something by the term!

    Can we put this to bed?

  71. VJTorley:(1) You assert that each of us is a mind. With respect, I don’t think that’s correct. … Fr. O’Callaghan demonstrates that belief in a soul does not imply substance dualism – the belief that soul and body are two things. On the contrary, every human being is a unity. Each of us is one being. …

    How odd! I’d have thought that you’d have found “I have a mind” to be more objectionable than “I am a mind.”

    In the Resurrection, will our glorified bodies be numerically (metaphysically?) identical to our present bodies? Of course not! Shoot, our bodies aren’t even the same bodies, comprised of the same matter, from one instant to the next in the here and now.

    It’s not just that the matter of our bodies now as adults is greater (in quantity) and different (in terms of specific atoms and molecules) from when we were a single-celled embryo; it’s that instant-by-instant the specific atoms and molecules which comprise our bodies are in constant flux. It’s the problem of Theseus’ Ship … all the way down, not just the the tissues and cells which comprise our bodies, but the the very atoms.

    VJTorley:When Aquinas argues that the act of intellect is not the act of a bodily organ, he is not showing that there is a non-animal act engaged in by human beings. He is showing, rather, that not every act of an animal is a bodily act.

    The body is in constant flux: it has no inherent identity — the life of the body is a constant dance between disintegration and (partial) reintegration — it is the (immaterial) self in which identity is to be found. Then the body dies, and it disintegrates finally.

    Yet, according to Christianity, the human person, the self, is immortal. Or, at any rate, the person is not utterly annihilated in the death on his body. How can that be, unless the self, that which makes me me and you you, is in some wise separate from the atoms and molecules which comprise the body?

    VJTorley:If I am a mind, then it would not be really true that I breathe, for instance, or that I eat. That’s the price you have to pay for being a dualist: it separates you from most of your actions.

    Really? Are you sure about that?

    Also, so far as I’m aware, I’m still agnostic on dualism and monism. Though, at the same time, an insistence upon monism seems quite silly. So, perhaps I’m merely agnostic on specific dualisms.

  72. @tragic mishap

    -”I like Richard Dawkins’ idea myself. He suggests that teaching children religion should be legally considered as child abuse.”

    No problem so long as you include his own religion of atheism / materialism / nihilism as well.

    Otherwise you’re committing a special pleading fallacy.

  73. Free will is an absolute myth. Those who believe in free will do not believe in the God of the Bible who is the Sovereign Creator and Controller of the universe. Calvinists like to put Arminians down because of Arminian free-willism, but the Calvinists have their own damnable version. For more on this, see “Unconditional Reprobation.”

  74. @vjtorley

    I really enjoyed your post #69. Thanks.

    However, if I were you I would have replaced the word ‘random’ (in regards to quantum events) with either ‘probabilities’ or potentialities (which is also a better fit for your Thomistic inclinations if I am reading you right).

    I think the word ‘randomness’ invokes all sorts of materialistic ghosts.

  75. Berceuse: Wow, so it’s your whole family, Gil? I hope there aren’t too many arguments over the holidays…it’s also a little ironic if you all celebrated Christmas together.

    In answer to the question, yes. I come from a multi-generation-long heritage of a rather aggressive and even militant religious commitment to materialistic atheism.

    The only other apostate in the extended family I know of is my cousin Stuart Harris (son of my dad’s sister) who has posted at UD*. He is a brilliant software engineer and converted from atheism to Eastern Orthodox Christianity.

    Apparently there are some nefarious God genes floating around in the Dodgen lineage, which occasionally rear their ugly heads. :-)

    In my UD post here:

    http://www.uncommondescent.com.....selection/

    *Stuart replied with:

    http://www.uncommondescent.com.....ment-43102

    My best guess is that those with expertise in software and other engineering disciplines can recognize the obvious design in living systems (assuming that they have not been indoctrinated by the Darwinian establishment), while those who wander around in the smoke-filled, nebulous world of Darwinism make up stories and try to convince others that they are engaged in “science,” which it is transparently not.

    Darwinism is the greatest hoax in the history of pseudoscience, and its destructive, soul-polluting effects cannot be overstated.

    P.S.: There are no arguments over the holidays. The subject of my conversion is understood to be banned as a topic of discussion.

  76. Ilion (#70)

    On the subject of free will, the common Christian teaching (held by most but not all Christians, down the ages) is that:

    (1) Nobody is predestined to Hell. (St. Augustine seems to have taught that people are predestined to Hell; he’s an exception to the rule.)

    (2) A very few people are infallibly predestined to Heaven. Catholics often cite the example of the Virgin Mary, but there are also people who, during the course of their earthly lives, were confirmed in grace, so that thereafter they could not fall away. Examples would include the Apostles, after meeting the risen Christ; St. Paul, after his conversion at Damascus; and St. Mary Magdalene. The idea that St. Paul, for example, after encountering Christ, might have gone to Hell is preposterous. These individuals still possessed a kind of freedom, as they were still able to choose between performing two different good deeds; but they could not have damned themselves. God’s grace preserved them from that.

    (3) The vast majority of human beings have unrestricted libertarian free will, which means we can go to Heaven or Hell. If we get to Heaven, we can still say that God directed us there, but not infallibly, and thus we were predestined in a weaker sense.

    (4) There’s nothing unfair about God endowing most of us with libertarian free will, but infallibly predestining a few individuals.

  77. above (#74)

    Good point. There is no such thing as total randomness in a universe made by God.

  78. VJTorley @ 77,

    I haven’t yet read your post @ #69, except for the first paragraph. Which paragraph (and also Above’s post @ #74) causes me to realize that I ought to have spoken about another false assumption or preconception lurking in what Gil Dodgen’s brother had said:

    On the subject of free will, my brother (who is an atheist) once commented to me that if it cannot be predicted what a person will do, we have the functional equivalent of free will, and this is all that matters.

    It is not true that freedom, of the sort we’re taking about when we speak of “free will,” is the opposite of predictability. It is not true that if a purported agent’s choices and actions can be predicted, even infallibly predicted, then the purported agent is not free (and is not actually an agent).

    This false conception is behind all the quite silly arguments which claim that God’s perfect “foreknowledge” of all of history is incompatible with the existence of human free-will as history is being created (*).

    Foreknowledge, even perfect and infallible foreknowledge, of an event does not cause the event. When people attempt such arguments, or fall for such arguments, they betray their radical misunderstanding of causality.

    When a computer programmer desires to simulate “free will” in his program(s), he must turn to arithmetic randomness as the basis for his simulation; for he is working in a fully deterministic and arithmetic medium — he can simulate, but never emulate, “free will.” People (including many programmers, every one of whom ought to know better) then frequently mistake the simulation for an emulation, and then go on to attempt to equate freedom with unpredictability and/or randomness.

    Freedom is not even on the same axis as mechanistic cause-and-effect (i.e. mechanistic determinism). But, naturalists/materialists/atheists *must* see all of reality as being fully captured in this one dimension — else they risk seeing that their God-denial is irrational — and so they generally try to equate non-predictability and/or randomness with freedom, as Mr Dodgen’s brother does in the quote.

    —-
    (*) There is no such thing as “the future.” Potentially, there are any number of futures, a myriad of potential futures — all of which God knows, as he also knows which potential future our choices work together to make actual.

  79. VJTorley:Good point. There is no such thing as total randomness in a universe made by God.

    There is no such thing as cause-and-effect randomness in any universe worthy of the name … that would be a Chaos, not a Cosmos.

    Even were this universe (which is the only one we know, after all) not an effect of a Creator, it can contain no cause-and-effect randomness at all. For, had even one “effect” a “random cause” — which is to say, no cause at all — then *all* “effects” would be causless: randomness destroys causality.

  80. For, had even one “effect” a “random cause” — which is to say, no cause at all — then *all* “effects” would be causless: randomness destroys causality.

    You seem to be using a very tight definition of causality: one which would say that smoking doesn’t cause cancer. The notion of a stochastic component to causality is recognised by almost everyone (otherwise “smoking causes cancer” wouldn’t make sense).

    More formally, a stochastic causality can defined by saying that A (stochastically) causes B if Pr(A|B)!=Pr(A|not B). There need to be a few assumptions about everything else being equal, but I hope you can see the idea at least, and that this conforms to the way causality is usually perceived.

  81. Ilion (#78)

    Thanks for your post. I believe Gil’s brother was perfectly correct in his assumption that predictability is incompatible with free will. Here’s why.

    As the philosopher Elizabeth Anscombe argued in “Causality and Determination” (1971), most of our actions are bodily movements. If our bodily movements are determined by circumstances over which we have no control, then so are our actions. And if our actions are determined by circumstances beyond our control, then they are not free.

    You say that God’s foreknowledge refutes the claim that freedom and predictability are incompatible. But foreknowledge is not the same thing as prediction. Foreknowledge is knowing something before it happens. Prediction is knowing something independently of its happening.

    There are many examples of prophecy in the Bible. These demonstrate God’s foreknowledge. But even if God possesses infallible foreknowledge of an event, that knowledge could still be (timelessly) derived from that event’s occurring.

    The idea which I am proposing here is an old one, going back to Boethius: God stands outside time and surveys the whole sweep of human history. Using this metaphor, God’s knowledge of future events is still derived from those events themselves – God has to “see” or be made (timelessly) aware of them.

    If you want to claim that God knows our choices by prediction, then there are two theological avenues open to you: either theological determinism, a.k.a. universal predestination, or Molinism (according to which God knows what I will do because He knows what I would do in all possible situations). Both of these proposals are, I believe, incompatible with libertarian freedom, for reasons I’ve discussed here .

  82. allanius (#50)

    Sorry for not getting back to you earlier, but the past couple of days have been rather busy for me.

    I have to say that your post contains some very profound insights. You are clearly much better versed in Plato than I am.

    I was a little puzzled, however, by your final sentence:

    As long as we cling to intellect for knowledge of God, we will continue to be divided over “disputable matters” like free will.

    My question is: how else can we know God, other than through our intellects? Even when placing our faith in God’s revelation, we are still using our intellects to judge that the revelation is at least credible; and also to articulate whatever it is that we are supposed to assent to (e.g. as a creed), before we make the free decision to believe.

  83. VJTorley:On the subject of free will, the common Christian teaching (held by most but not all Christians, down the ages) is that: (1) Nobody is predestined to Hell. (St. Augustine seems to have taught that people are predestined to Hell; he’s an exception to the rule.)

    Considering how the Catholic Encyclopedia defines ‘predestination,’ then we all — even Mary (for the “Immaculate Conception” is false) — are born “predestined” to Hell. For, we are all born as sinners — that is, we are not called “sinners” because we commit sins, rather we commit sins because we *are* sinners. Every one of us is born already on the road to Hell, and unless God rescues us, that is our destination.

    And, in fact, the C.E. states right up front that some are “predestined” to Heaven and some to Hell. It goes on to say that for the purposes of the article, the latter state of non-Grace is better called “reprobation.”

    But, of course, the C.E. is offering what seems a really strange definition of ‘predestination,’ one which quite empties the term of the “destiny” aspect. And, once we’ve reduced “predestination” to “pre,” there doesn’t seem to me to be much point in arguing about it.

    VJTorley:(2) A very few people are infallibly predestined to Heaven. Catholics often cite the example of the Virgin Mary, but there are also people who, during the course of their earthly lives, were confirmed in grace, so that thereafter they could not fall away. Examples would include the Apostles, after meeting the risen Christ; St. Paul, after his conversion at Damascus; and St. Mary Magdalene. The idea that St. Paul, for example, after encountering Christ, might have gone to Hell is preposterous. These individuals still possessed a kind of freedom, as they were still able to choose between performing two different good deeds; but they could not have damned themselves. God’s grace preserved them from that.

    Now, of course, to say that we are all born on the road to Hell is to speak from our own time-bound perspective. But, from God’s timeless perspective, “the Elect” are never on the road to Hell, and “the damned” are never other than damned.

    All these disagreements about (and misunderstandings of) “predestination” and/or “Election” and/or “perseverance of the saints” are rooted in overlooking the very important fact that God is “outside” time, that he “knows the end from the beginning.” They are rooted in falsely trying to treat our time-bound perspective as though it were the operative perspective.

    Peter fell into error even after his encounter(s) with the Risen Christ. Peter *might have* turned his back on Christ, for he had that freedom, just as we have; but he ultimately did not. God’s Grace is always resistible, by all of us (including Peter), at all times in this life, for we are both free and inveterate sinners.

    God knows/knew, from the foundation of the world, the choices Peter would make and the ultimate destiny he would choose. Peter, however, did not know that he would remain faithful to the end. Peter knew that Christ had called him to be a Disciple … and also Judas Iscariot.

    VJTorley:(3) The vast majority of human beings have unrestricted libertarian free will, which means we can go to Heaven or Hell. If we get to Heaven, we can still say that God directed us there, but not infallibly, and thus we were predestined in a weaker sense.

    ALL human beings “have … libertarian free will” — keeping in mind that to speak of “having” “a free will” is really to say something quite silly; it’s on a par with saying that we “have” a mind — as though we might not.

    We do not “have” free wills, we *are* free wills.

    What we “have” is freedom, and that freedom is libertarian (definitionally), but it is not necessarily “unrestricted libertarian [freedom].” For, it is true that for various reasons — ranging from congenital restraints or weaknesses to the metaphorical chains which we may have forged by our prior decisions and actions — not all of us are able to exercise our freedom as fully nor as effectively as others may; but this is a different issue from freedom itself.

    VJTorley:(4) There’s nothing unfair about God endowing most of us with libertarian free will, but infallibly predestining a few individuals.

    You appear to speaking as a Calvinist in this particular usage of ‘predestination’ — which distinctive doctrines Catholicism officially rejects. How is this different, in essence, from the Calvinistic claim that neither one’s salvation nor damnation has anything in the least to do with the choice or choices one makes to seek or reject righteousness?

    As I said at the start of this digression (to which you objected, which is why we’re having the disgression in the first place), this is a muddled position — both rejecting and affirming a Calvinistic understanding of ‘predestination’ or ‘election.’ This muddled thinking isn’t so much *yours* as it is inherent in certain committments of Catholicism … and it goes back to the strange, centuries-old, insistence that Mary simply *must* be essentially different from the rest of Adam’s offspring.

    Let’s focus on Mary’s “predestination.” As I’ve already brought forward, one of the points of the rationale for the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception is that had Mary carried the stain of original sin (as all the rest of us do), then she’d not have been free to assent to and obey God’s will that she bear the Christ. Is this not essentially the Calvinistic position? — that none of us are free, due to original sin, to assent to God’s will, and especially with respect to our own salvation? that only when/if God overpowers our wills are we “free” to “choose” properly and in accordance with his will?

    So (according to Catholicism), Mary was “predestined” to be the mother of the Christ. At the same time, had God not removed from her the stain of original sin, she’d not have been free to *agree* to be the mother of the Christ, she’d not have been free to fulfill her God-determined destiny. Yet, also at the same time, with the stain of original sin removed from her essence (for it never touched her) she was not free to *disagree* to be the mother of the Christ — for that was her God-determined destiny — but only to agree to it.

    Can you not see how muddled this is? Can you not see that it is saying that God made Mary free by destroying her freedom. If the only “choice” Mary was *able* to make was “Yes,” then in what sense was she free?

    Now, it’s true that liberty does not (and cannot) exist without some defining bounds, much as a kite cannot fly unless it is tethered; but, these doctrines about Mary (and the Apostles and some or all canonized saints) are asserting something very different from defining some bounds of liberty.

    Can you not see that these doctrines effectively steal, or make a mockery of, the crowns of those saints; that these doctrines strip them of even the small honor of having freely chosen to seek righteousness, which is the only honor, and the only righteousness, however small it is, that any of us can ever have or deserve of our own?

  84. VJTorley:You say that God’s foreknowledge refutes the claim that freedom and predictability are incompatible.

    I certainly did not!

    I said that most, if not all, these arguments are predicated upon a misunderstanding (by at least one party) of causality, coupled with the continuous forgetting of the fact that God is “outside” time.

    I said that the commonly made claim (which sometimes even rises to the level of argument) that the Christian doctrine of God’s perfect foreknowledge is incompatible with the Christian doctrine of human free-will is false (and silly). I said that the claim, and some-time argument, seems pursuasive mostly because most people — including, apparently, you — incorrectly imagine that prediction has causal power over that-which-is-predicted.

  85. —Ilion: “We do not “have” free wills, we *are* free wills.”

    Strictly speaking, we are not synonymous with our intellectual and volitional capacities. Both the mind and the will are faculties of the soul, each of which aims toward a different object. The mind was made for knowing; the will was made for choosing and loving. With respect to moral choices, the former provides the target, the latter shoots the arrow.

    —”What we “have” is freedom, and that freedom is libertarian (definitionally), but it is not necessarily “unrestricted libertarian [freedom].”

    Exactly right. Free will does not mean unrestricted free will. We do have some power to direct our lives, manage our circumstances, and choose our ultimate fate, but we have little or nothing to say about those circumstances that we are being asked to manage.

    —”You [vjtorley] appear to speaking as a Calvinist in this particular usage of ‘predestination’ — which distinctive doctrines Catholicism officially rejects. How is this different, in essence, from the Calvinistic claim that neither one’s salvation nor damnation has anything in the least to do with the choice or choices one makes to seek or reject righteousness?”

    The Catholic position, the Biblical position, VJTorley’s position, your position, and the only reasonable position is that no one can be damned except through voluntary fault [bad choices]. No one is predestined to be damned. The loss of a soul is always the result of a refusal to love God, as you are obviously aware.

    —”So (according to Catholicism), Mary was “predestined” to be the mother of the Christ. At the same time, had God not removed from her the stain of original sin, she’d not have been free to *agree* to be the mother of the Christ, she’d not have been free to fulfill her God-determined destiny. Yet, also at the same time, with the stain of original sin removed from her essence (for it never touched her) she was not free to *disagree* to be the mother of the Christ — for that was her God-determined destiny — but only to agree to it.”

    According to #488 in the Universal Catechism, “God sent forth his Son”, but to prepare a body for him, he wanted the free co-operation of a creature.” So, from a Catholic perspective, Mary was free to cooperate or not cooperate. Thus, she could have said no.

    God’s purpose for creating Mary without sin was not to get a “yes” but rather to fashion a fit spouse for the Third person of the Blessed Trinity and a fit mother for the Second person of the Blessed Trinity.

  86. —Ilion: “I said that the commonly made claim (which sometimes even rises to the level of argument) that the Christian doctrine of God’s perfect foreknowledge is incompatible with the Christian doctrine of human free-will is false (and silly).”

    You are right, of course. Just because God knows whether or not the stock market will crash doesn’t mean that he caused it to happen. I believe that this would also be VJT’s position.

  87. -StephenB: “God’s purpose for creating Mary without sin was not to get a “yes” but rather to fashion a fit spouse for the Third person of the Blessed Trinity and a fit mother for the Second person of the Blessed Trinity.”

    Can you back up this assertion from the Gospels or anywhere else in scripture?

  88. When I was seven years old I figured out by pure logic that if what I had been taught (that I am the product of materialistic processes that did not have me in mind, i.e., Darwinism), my life had no ultimate purpose or meaning. This was a trivial, logical insight, even for a seven-year-old, and I remember the exact moment this became obvious to me while I was standing on the patio behind our house.

    Of course, I assumed that all those atheistic “scientists,” whom I was nurtured to adore and trust, could not possibly be wrong.

    But they were wrong. Dead wrong. And my soul was tormented for 43 years as a result.

  89. Ilion

    I’d like to get to the heart of our disagreement, so I’ll get the less important differences between us out of the way as swiftly as possible.

    When I said that God doesn’t predestine anyone to Hell, I meant “predestine” as the term is defined in popular parlance: an unconditional decree by God. If some people want to say that God predestines people to Hell on account of sins they freely commit, I can’t see the point of using the word “predestine.” “Punish” would be a better word – or as I should say, God leaves them to their self-inflicted fate, after they have chosen to cut themselves off perpetually from Him.

    If you want to say that I am a will, rather than that I have a will, it doesn’t really bother me. Who knows? You might be right. I’ve frequently defended the Aristotelian-Thomist position on the relation between soul and body, because I think it accounts well for the unity of the human person and because it is robust enough to withstand adverse findings in neurology, showing that the brain is intimately connected with our ability to think and even with our cognitive limitations (something which I don’t think the dualistic “tuner” hypothesis does very well). On the other hand, the evidence from NDEs tends to support a more Platonist position (people who can see what’s happening on the operating table, without using their eyes). So I don’t rule out dualism. It might be right. And I do think that Aquinas’ position that a person does not, strictly speaking, survive death (only his/her form does) is rather odd. It seems a very tenuous kind of survival.

    I was surprised to read that you thought St. Peter might have been damned, even after meeting the risen Christ. Presumably you think the same for St. Paul. So I guess you’re an ultra-libertarian.

    Now, that’s fine with me. Jews, for instance, would (I imagine) adopt a similar position. But no matter what you think about the Blessed Virgin Mary (and I don’t want to turn her into a theological debating issue), there’s an insuperable obstacle to ultra-libertarianism for any Christian: the human will of Christ, which according to Christian doctrine was impeccable (incapable of sinning) although free.

    Why did Christ’s human will have to be impeccable? According to Christian teaching, Jesus didn’t possess a human personality. He had no human “ego.” He couldn’t have had one, because if he had, there would have EITHER been two persons – one Divine, and one human – living in Jesus’ body, OR a hybrid divine-human person. Both of these ideas are mistaken notions which the Christian Church condemned a long time ago. First, the Ecumenical Council of Ephesus (431 AD) taught that Jesus was one person, not two. Second, the Ecumenical Council of Chalcedon (451 AD) taught that He had two natures – one divine, one human. Finally, the Second Ecumenical Council of Constantinople (553 AD) taught that the person of Christ was a divine person: God the Son – not a human person, or a divine-human person.

    Thus although Jesus had a human nature, he had no human ego. In this one respect, He was different from other human beings. He had a human intellect, a human will, a human heart with human feelings, and a human body that could suffer and die. But he had no human ego at all. What took its place? God did – or more precisely, the person of God the Son. Christians believe that God the Son assumed Jesus’ human nature. That means He took it over, without in any way destroying its integrity. One consequence of this teaching is that Jesus’ human will was completely free, and yet incapable of going against God’s will (the doctrine of the impeccability of Christ). Jesus’ human freedom allowed him to choose between different goods; but because He was a Divine Person, His human will could never choose evil.

    In my opinion, the best treatment of the impeccability of Christ comes not from a Catholic but from a Baptist source: Dr. John McCormick. His online article, The Impeccability of Christ, is well worth reading. This is a belief shared by most Christians: all Catholics, all Orthodox believers, and many Protestants as well.

    Now: if you insist that being free entails being able to sin, then how do you account for Christ?

    Finally, you write:

    Can you not see that these doctrines effectively steal, or make a mockery of, the crowns of those saints; that these doctrines strip them of even the small honor of having freely chosen to seek righteousness, which is the only honor, and the only righteousness, however small it is, that any of us can ever have or deserve of our own?

    We do not and cannot deserve Heaven. You seem to think that the saints in Heaven have to earn their crowns, and that they can do this only by sweating for them – doing the hard yards, as it were. I say it doesn’t have to be like that. If God wants to convert someone’s will, then who are we to say He can’t?

  90. GilDodgen:But they were wrong. Dead wrong. And my soul was tormented for 43 years as a result.

    From a human, limited, point of view, that was a terrible thing and a terrible way to live. But, what if that was the only way you could, indeed, come to have a saving love and knowledge of Christ? What if those 43 years of torment give you a unique insight, such as persons like myself cannot have (*), into the psyches of materialists, so that you can speak to them in ways that we cannot?

    Looking around me in the wider society, and looking at my own relatives, it’s clear that most people who “believe in God” are so utterly indifferent to God and to righteousness that I cannot but believe that they are lost.

    You lived 43 years of psychic torture, but now are found; most people go through their lives fat, dumb, and happy (by which I mean happy enough that they make no serious enquirey into the causes and potential cures of their unhappiness), and seem to be lost. Which is the better life?

    (*) I don’t recall how old I was (I’m pretty sure I was pre-pubescent), but at some point in my childhood I realized that if this life is all there is, then everything is pointless and absurd. As I was raised in a Christian home, and as I had already decided that I wanted to follow Christ, for me this realization wasn’t so traumatic as what you describe. But, it did dramatize that I have a choice between two options: Christ or nothing.

  91. Ilion,

    I’ve often thought about what you point out. Romans 8:28 declares that all things work together for good for those who love Him have been called according to His purpose. Since God transcends time, I’ve often thought that this promise must even work retroactively. After all, God always knew that I would one day abandon atheism and accept Christ.

    In addition to what you point out (that this might have been the only way I could come to a saving love and knowledge of Christ, and have that unique insight you mention), I have been permanently inoculated against ever going back. I couldn’t even if I wanted to (and why would I ever want to?) because there is no way I could now muster up enough faith to be an atheist.

    It is something of an irony that the science I always thought put God out of a job is now one of the cornerstones of my faith in God.

  92. Ilíon:We do not “have” free wills, we *are* free wills.

    StephenB:Strictly speaking, we are not synonymous with our intellectual and volitional capacities. Both the mind and the will are faculties of the soul, each of which aims toward a different object. The mind was made for knowing; the will was made for choosing and loving. With respect to moral choices, the former provides the target, the latter shoots the arrow.

    Is the statement, “God is love,” true or not true?

    Are the following statements — and, more importantly, the meaning and implications — true or not true (quoting Mr Torley): “Fr. O’Callaghan demonstrates that belief in a soul does not imply substance dualism – the belief that soul and body are two things. On the contrary, every human being is a unity. Each of us is one being. This is the truth that Aquinas correctly grasped. …

    Specifically, is it true that “.. every human being is a unity“?

    Were I to lop off your foot — were I to destroy the unity and integrity of your body — would you, the you to whom I am speaking, cease to exist? Would a different human person come into being at that instant? Of course not. Theoretically, with the right technology to serve as a life-support system, I could lop of all the members of your body, save only the brain, and you would still exist, you would still be alive (in the biological sense); you would still be you.

    But, suppose I could lop off your will? I don’t mean merely to suppress your ability function or to act as you will, as with certain psychotropic drugs; I don’t mean a “brainwashing” in which, over time, you progressively surrender to my will. I mean what I said: what if it were possible that I could completely excise your will from your being. Would “you” still be you? Would “you” still be a human person?

    I think the answer is clear that you would no longer be among the living. Sure, there would still exist a human body, presumaby still exhibiting biological functions; but would it be you or would it be an animated corpse?

    So, if it is true that “.. every human being is a unity” and if it is true that that unity is not *in* the body or *in* the matter of which the body is comprised (see my earlier post), then the unity must be *in* the mind. Thus, just as we may speak of God’s love (or will, or wisdom, or justice, or mercy, etc) as though it were distinct from his self, from his personhood, even though it is not in fact distinct, so too with ourselves: we may speak of our intellect, or our will, or other mental capacities as though they were distinct from our selves; but that is just a way of speaking, it is not the truth.

    God is simple. And so are we — our bodies are “habitations” (you can look it up), but they are not our selves; we shall put off these bodies, and in the Resurrection take up new bodies, much as we do the clothing in which we presently “house” our bodies.

    Christianity is true, or it is not true; and, specifically, the promise of the Resurrection is true, or it is not true. If the Resurrection is true, then the resurrected me, the re-embodied me, is the same me who presently dwells in this ever-changing (and disintegrating) body. If the Resurrection is true, then the glorified me is not in any way dependent upon the matter, nor on the ever-changing configurations of that matter, which comprise this body.

  93. Ilíon:You [vjtorley] appear to speaking as a Calvinist in this particular usage of ‘predestination’ – which distinctive doctrines Catholicism officially rejects. How is this different, in essence, from the Calvinistic claim that neither one’s salvation nor damnation has anything in the least to do with the choice or choices one makes to seek or reject righteousness?

    StephenB:The Catholic position, the Biblical position, VJTorley’s position, your position, and the only reasonable position is that no one can be damned except through voluntary fault [bad choices]. No one is predestined to be damned. The loss of a soul is always the result of a refusal to love God, as you are obviously aware.

    Context!

    Mr Torley sought to chide me for saying that “Catholicism takes a muddled stance on predestination due to the strange doctrine of the Immaculate Conception.

    Mr Torley directed me to read the proceedings of the Council of Trent — which seems to me suspiciously like a cross between “literature bluffing” and “document dumping.” Instead, I turned to the on-line version of the 1907 Catholic Encyclopedia, whci defines ‘predestination’ in such a way that it seems to me to mean not much of anything distinct; that is, it makes the term ‘predestination’ seem but another term for “God’s infallible foreknowledge.”

    BUT, in the post to which I was responding, Mr Torley appears to be using ‘predestination’ as the Calvinists do.

    As the whole genesis of this (now lengthy) digression is Mr Torley’s objection to my claim that “Catholicism takes a muddled stance on predestination …” it seems to me quite fitting to point out that in the course of the digression Mr Torley appears to be using the term in a muddled, or equivocal, way.

    ====
    StephenB:… and the only reasonable position is that no one can be damned except through voluntary fault [bad choices]. No one is predestined to be damned. The loss of a soul is always the result of a refusal to love God, as you are obviously aware.

    I think this is too easily misunderstood in an age and culture in which nearly everyone is an incipient Pelagian. (The Calvinists are not wrong about everything.) We are all born “predestined” (in exactly the sense that the C.E. uses the term) to Hell; that is our fate, that is our destiny unless God rescues us from the damnation that is already in us. Sure, whether we live or die depends upon our response to his redeeming work, but the point is that we *respond* (or not) to that which preceeds the response.

  94. Ilíon:So (according to Catholicism), Mary was “predestined” to be the mother of the Christ. At the same time, had God not removed from her the stain of original sin, she’d not have been free to *agree* to be the mother of the Christ, she’d not have been free to fulfill her God-determined destiny. Yet, also at the same time, with the stain of original sin removed from her essence (for it never touched her) she was not free to *disagree* to be the mother of the Christ – for that was her God-determined destiny – but only to agree to it.

    StephenB:According to #488 in the Universal Catechism, “God sent forth his Son”, but to prepare a body for him, he wanted the free co-operation of a creature.” So, from a Catholic perspective, Mary was free to cooperate or not cooperate. Thus, she could have said no.

    I’ve already shown why the Catholic doctrines on these matters don’t make sense in toto. I see no point in rehashing it.

    StephenB:God’s purpose for creating Mary without sin was not to get a “yes” but rather to fashion a fit spouse for the Third person of the Blessed Trinity and a fit mother for the Second person of the Blessed Trinity.

    Though, going further than I did before, the whole idea that it would not have been “fitting” for the Second Person of the Godhead to be born of a woman “infected” by original sin is yet another level of falsity — of gnosticism, in fact. Why not go the whole route and claim that the Second Person of the Godhead only *appeared* to be in the flesh? — after all, how “fitting” is it that God required sustenance, and so ate, and subsequently shat?

    Who are we to say what is “fitting” for God to do? Is it “fitting” for The Creator empty himself (as the NT puts it) so as to enter his creation as a mere man, and a very humble one, at that? Is it “fitting” that God should be born in a stable, among animal dung, rather than in a palace? Is it “fitting” that God should be mocked and tortured and murdered?

    What would it even mean (for the creation) for God to enter the creation without “emptying himself”? Can the creation “hold” the fullness of the Godhead, or would a direct encounter with the full glory of God utterly destroy the creation?

    ===
    Hmmm. So, the First Eve comes from the First Adam (via divine creation), but the Second Adam comes from the Second Eve (via birth). And, the Second Eve is not married to the Second Adam, but rather to the Third Person of the Godhead; however, the First Person of the Godhead is the Father to whom the Second Person of the Godhead is the Son.

  95. —“Ilion: “I’ve already shown why the Catholic doctrines on these matters don’t make sense in toto. I see no point in rehashing it.”

    I was responding to your claim that, according to Catholicism, Mary was predestined to follow the will of God to the point of having no choice in the matter. Such is not the case as my quote from the Universal Catechism makes evident. A fact is a fact. I am not clear on what Catholic doctrines you have shown to be nonsensical.

    —“Though, going further than I did before, the whole idea that it would not have been “fitting” for the Second Person of the Godhead to be born of a woman “infected” by original sin is yet another level of falsity — of gnosticism,”

    It seems evident to me that Jesus Christ, as God, could not be born of sin, or into sin. Gnosticism, which produced the Arian heresy, proposes the opposite view, namely that Jesus Christ was not God. According to the Christian world view, God the father did not “create” the Son. That would make Jesus inferior to his Creator and, therefore, less than God. Jesus Christ is the only “begotten” son, a fact that is irrelevant to time and indicative of the equality between the Father and the Son, both of which are fully God. It is analogous to the reality that humans beget and do not create their children [except in the sense that they are co-creators with God]. Begetting parents are not greater than their children, but a creator is always greater than his creation.

    —“Who are we to say what is “fitting” for God to do? Is it “fitting” for The Creator empty himself (as the NT puts it) so as to enter his creation as a mere man, and a very humble one, at that? Is it “fitting” that God should be born in a stable, among animal dung, rather than in a palace? Is it “fitting” that God should be mocked and tortured and murdered?”

    By “fitting” I mean that which can be made to fit, not necessarily that which might always seem to be appropriate. God cannot sin or be a part of sin because it is alien to his nature. It is something that cannot be made to fit. Thus, the Second person of the Blessed Trinity cannot be born of sin or a sinful creature. If, on the other hand, we define the word “fitting” to mean appropriate, another dimension comes into play. Is it appropriate for God to empty himself, be born in a stable, and endure humble circumstances? Yes, of course. It was the Father’s will. It is appropriate that God should be mocked, tortured, and murdered. [A] It is NOT fitting for man to commit Deicide since those who murdered their creator were obviously sinning against Him. [B] It IS fitting for Christ to have endured these outrages since they proved his infinite love for us and provided us with a powerful motive to love him in return. As Jesus Christ himself put it, “Ought not Christ to have suffered these things and entered into his glory.”

    —“ in fact. Why not go the whole route and claim that the Second Person of the Godhead only *appeared* to be in the flesh? — after all, how “fitting” is it that God required sustenance, and so ate, and subsequently shat?”

    But I am not going that route, I am going the other route. Obviously, Jesus Christ lived as a flesh and blood human being even as he maintained his Divine identity. Jesus Christ was a Divine person with two natures, Divine and human. He was not a human person although he did have a human nature. Mary was the mother of a Divine person. One cannot be the mother of a “nature.” Gnosticism, on the other hand, is pure anti-Christian propaganda of the worst kind and is just as dangerous as atheism. Indeed, false spirituality can sometimes be even more dangerous than no spirituality at all.

    —“Hmmm. So, the First Eve comes from the First Adam (via divine creation), but the Second Adam comes from the Second Eve (via birth). And, the Second Eve is not married to the Second Adam, but rather to the Third Person of the Godhead; however, the First Person of the Godhead is the Father to whom the Second Person of the Godhead is the Son.”’

    As a serious thinker and Christian, you already know that the Second Person of the blessed Trinity did not “come from” Mary or, for that matter, the Holy Sprit, inasmuch as He has always existed and could not, therefore, begin to exist. On the contrary, He entered into time and into his own creation. [“Through him all things (including Mary) were made”]

  96. Ilion

    I am awaiting your response to my post #87. That, I think, gets to the nub of the matter: the impeccability of Christ’s human will.

    I have to say that your hypothetical thought experiment regarding someone robbed of his will, who nevertheless continues to live, would be rejected as absurd by any Thomist. The human life-principle or soul, also includes the immaterial faculties of intellect and will. Thus a Thomist would simply deny the very possibility of what you suppose – i.e. that a body could go on living as a single, biologically unified organism, even after a person’s will was taken away.

    I don’t think you have discredited the Catholic doctrine of the Immaculate Conception. All you have shown is that there are no compelling arguments for it. This I grant. Whoever said theological arguments had to be compelling, anyway? For my part, I find the arguments plausible, but I can quite understand why Protestants are not won over by them.

    I do, however, take umbrage at your repeated assertion that I don’t know what the Catholic Church actually teaches on the subject of predestination. When I claimed,

    There’s nothing unfair about God endowing most of us with libertarian free will, but infallibly predestining a few individuals.

    you responded,

    You appear to speaking as a Calvinist in this particular usage of ‘predestination’ — which distinctive doctrines Catholicism officially rejects.

    In other words, you accused me of not knowing what my own Church teaches. Careful. Here’s what the Catechism of the Catholic Church has to say on the subject of the Fall. Please read paragraph 412, in particular:

    410 After his fall, man was not abandoned by God. On the contrary, God calls him and in a mysterious way heralds the coming victory over evil and his restoration from his fall.(304) This passage in Genesis is called the Protoevangelium (“first gospel”): the first announcement of the Messiah and Redeemer, of a battle between the serpent and the Woman, and of the final victory of a descendant of hers.

    411 The Christian tradition sees in this passage an announcement of the “New Adam” who, because he “became obedient unto death, even death on a cross”, makes amends superabundantly for the disobedience, of Adam.(305) Furthermore many Fathers and Doctors of the Church have seen the woman announced in the Protoevangelium as Mary, the mother of Christ, the “new Eve”. Mary benefited first of all and uniquely from Christ’s victory over sin: she was preserved from all stain of original sin and by a special grace of God committed no sin of any kind during her whole earthly life.(306)

    412 But why did God not prevent the first man from sinning? St. Leo the Great responds, “Christ’s inexpressible grace gave us blessings better than those the demon’s envy had taken away.”(307) And St. Thomas Aquinas wrote, “There is nothing to prevent human nature’s being raised up to something greater, even after sin; God permits evil in order to draw forth some greater good. Thus St. Paul says, ‘Where sin increased, grace abounded all the more’; and the Exsultet sings, ‘O happy fault,. . . which gained for us so great a Redeemer!’”(308)

    Footnotes

    304 Cf. Gen 3:9,15.

    305 Cf. 1 Cor 15:21-22,45; Phil 2:8; Rom 5:19-20.

    306 Cf. Pius IX, Ineffabilis Deus: DS 2803; Council of Trent: DS 1573.

    307 St. Leo the Great, Sermo 73,4: PL 54,396.

    308 St. Thomas Aquinas, STh III,1,3, ad 3; cf. Rom 5:20.

    In other words, the Catechism is asserting that God could have prevented Adam from sinning, just as He prevented the Virgin Mary, according to Catholic teaching, while not violating her free will. God could have prevented Adam from sinning, but He chose otherwise. He chose to give Adam libertarian free will. Something good came of this choice (the Redemption) which would not have happened otherwise.

    And here’s a quote from the article in the Catholic Encyclopedia on Predestination, regarding St. Peter and Judas:

    Why is it that Peter the Apostle rose again after his fall and persevered till his death, while Judas Iscariot, his fellow-Apostle, hanged himself and thus frustrated his salvation? Though correct, the answer that Judas went to perdition of his own free will, while Peter faithfully co-operated with the grace of conversion offered him, does not clear up the enigma. For the question recurs: Why did not God give to Judas the same efficacious, infallibly successful grace of conversion as to St. Peter, whose blasphemous denial of the Lord was a sin no less grievous than that of the traitor Judas? To all these and similar questions the only reasonable reply is the word of St. Augustine (loc. cit., 21): “Inscrutabilia sunt judicia Dei” (the judgments of God are inscrutable).

    So according to the Catholic Encyclopedia, the grace given to St. Peter was “infallibly successful.” It isn’t just the Virgin Mary who received this kind of grace; St. Peter got it too, and Adam could have received it, according to the Catechism of the Catholic Church.

    Still, the charge of inequity sticks in the throat, and I am not altogether happy with Augustine’s statement that the will of God is inscrutable. There has to be a better answer than that. I’d like to make a proposal of my own. I would suggest that the very identity of the rare human individual who is “marked for Heaven,” so to speak, and who receives an “infallibly successful” grace while on Earth, ensuring his/her salvation, is so bound up with that grace which takes him/her to Heaven, that he/she would not be the same individual if God had not from all eternity decided to give him/her that “infallibly successful” grace.

    In other words, the grace of conversion which God gave to St. Peter is part and parcel of his very identity, as a human individual. St. Peter wasn’t just the first son of Jonah and his spouse. He was the-first-son-of-Jonah-and-his-spouse-who-also-received-infallibly-successful-grace-at-a-certain-point-in-his-life. That’s what his individual identity consists in. For most of us, our individual identity is defined like this: “first-son-of-John-and-Mary” – and that’s it. Now if Peter had had unrestricted libertarian free will throughout his life, then his identity would have been correspondingly simple to specify. But he didn’t, and it wasn’t.

    What I’m trying to say is: if Peter had been an ordinary guy who never received “infallibly successful” grace, thereby ensuring that he would go to Heaven, then he would have been a different guy. He wouldn’t have been Peter. He would have been someone else – a numerically different individual.

    This is important, because it means that it makes no sense for Judas to wish that he had received an infallibly successful grace, like St. Peter. For if he had, then he wouldn’t have been Judas; he would have been someone else.

    It makes no sense for me to wish to be someone other than who I am. I can wish for someone else’s money, or power, or brains, or good looks, but I cannot wish for his/her identity, for then I wouldn’t be “me.” Hence it makes no sense for any of us to feel jealous of st. Peter or the Blessed Virgin Mary. They are who they are, and we are who we are. If we were like them, we wouldn’t be who we are.

    Well, that’s my solution anyway.

    Finally, regarding your contention that each of us is born predestined for Hell: I know what you’re getting at, but that strikes me as a clumsy way of saying it, and one which atheists are bound to misunderstand. I’d prefer to say simply that none of us can do anything good without God’s grace, and that none of us are born into God’s grace. I’d also add, though, that although it is God’s will that each of us should get baptized in order to enter into His kingdom, He also has His own ways of reaching those who, through no fault of their own, are not baptized. Thus we should never despair of the salvation of a pagan who dies unbaptized.

    Well, that’s it. I look forward to your response to #87, Ilion.

  97. According to the common teaching of the Church, Mary’s will was made so free that she had no inclination or desire to sin and, therefore, could not have sinned.

    With respect to Eve, it would seem that her free will, though in tact, was not so free as to be immune from temptation.

    To be perfectly free is to enjoy the capacity to always choose to do God’s will in the most perfect way.

    Does this mean that Mary could not have refused God’s request to be His mother? That would seem to be the case unless she was not sure that it was, indeed, God’s will. According to the record, she hesitated until she was sure that was the case.

  98. Ilíon @ 83 (paraphrased):[Catholic doctrine states ... means ... that Mary was not free to say "No" to God's Will that she bear the Christ.] Can you not see how muddled this is? Can you not see that it is saying that God made Mary free by destroying her freedom. If the only “choice” Mary was *able* to make was “Yes,” then in what sense was she free?”

    StephenB @ 85 (paraphrased):[That isn't right!]

    StephenB @ 97 (paraphrased):[Oh! Never mind!]

    Look, I don’t claim to always be right … but I am usually right. I don’t just say things; there is thought and consideration behind what I say.

    ===
    StephenB @ 95:As a serious thinker and Christian, you already know that the Second Person of the blessed Trinity did not “come from” Mary or, for that matter, the Holy Sprit, inasmuch as He has always existed and could not, therefore, begin to exist. On the contrary, He entered into time and into his own creation. [“Through him all things (including Mary) were made”]

    It is not I who call Mary “the Second Eve.” It is not I who call Mary “the Mother of God.” It is not I who called Mary, by virtue of the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception, “a fit spouse for the Third person of the Blessed Trinity and a fit mother for the Second person of the Blessed Trinity.”

    It is one thing to say that the Church is the Bride of Christ, it is quite another thing to say that Mary, or any individual *as* individual, is the Bride of God.

    And, if one wants to go further in this, It is not *I* who claim that both Father and Son bow to the will of The Mother (as at least some Catholics do). It is not *I* who seek to elevate a mere daughter of Eve to a position of “Co-Redemptrix.”

  99. VJTorley @ 96:Well, that’s it. I look forward to your response to #87, Ilion.

    I haven’t even got to your post @ 69, nor fully to your post @ 81, much less to your post at @ 87 or this new one @ 96. But, from just the few sentences of those posts which did enter my conscious awareness, I expect I may shock you in some of the things I may say. Whether you’ll critically examamine those (potentially) shocking statements is a different matter.

  100. —Ilion: “It is not I who called Mary, by virtue of the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception, “a fit spouse for the Third person of the Blessed Trinity and a fit mother for the Second person of the Blessed Trinity.”

    If not that, then how would you characterize the relationship between Mary and the Holy Spirit through which Jesus Christ entered into the world by being born of a woman?

    To be more precise, how do you interpret the intimacy expressed in the words, “come upon you” and “overshadow you?” –an intimacy of such magnitude that it formed within her the sacred Body of Jesus.

    ["The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Highest will overshadow you; therefore, also, that Holy One who is to be born will be called the Son of God."]

  101. —Ilion: “StephenB @ 85 (paraphrased): “[That isn't right!]”

    —StephenB @ 97 (paraphrased): “[Oh! Never mind!]”

    It is possible for a person to be so loving a creature that her free will decision about whether to love or not to love is inevitable.

  102. Ilíon @ 100:It is not I who called Mary, by virtue of the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception, “a fit spouse for the Third person of the Blessed Trinity and a fit mother for the Second person of the Blessed Trinity.

    StephenB @ 100:If not that, then how would you characterize the relationship between Mary and the Holy Spirit through which Jesus Christ entered into the world by being born of a woman?

    Can you not see that you are engaging in the very sort of faulty reasoning for which we all rightly castigate the Darwinists? (and the Marxists, and the Freudians) Can you not see that you are saying, “Unless you give me an explanation (or a belief) I will accept, then you are obligated to believe what I believe“?

    StephenB @ 100:To be more precise, how do you interpret the intimacy expressed in the words, “come upon you” and “overshadow you?” -an intimacy of such magnitude that it formed within her the sacred Body of Jesus.

    And yet, you objected to the implications I made explicit @94: “Hmmm. So, the First Eve comes from the First Adam (via divine creation), but the Second Adam comes from the Second Eve (via birth). And, the Second Eve is not married to the Second Adam, but rather to the Third Person of the Godhead; however, the First Person of the Godhead is the Father to whom the Second Person of the Godhead is the Son.

    Do I — or you — have an obligation to “interpret the intimacy expressed in [those] words“? By what rationale must I (or you) reify the Spirit?

    Is not the obligation to avoid incorrect belief more important, or basic, than an (assumed) obligation to have a correct belief about *every conceivable thing*?

    ===
    StephenB @ 101:It is possible for a person to be so loving a creature that her free will decision about whether to love or not to love is inevitable.

    The sin of drunkenness is absolutely no temptation to me. Even the mere consumption of alcohol holds no particular appeal to me (I’ve probably consumed less alcohol in my entire life than many normal people, including faithful Christians, consume in an average week). I neither bless nor condemn the non-drunken consumption of alcohol.

    It is no feather in my cap to boast, “I have never in my life been drunk!” for it is no temptation to me to drink much less to drink to excess.

    On the other hand, my late uncle, who was an alcoholic for most of his life, and who thereby made a ruins of his own life and the lives of his children and wives, may boast, if I may be excused for that word, and God granting that he is among the Redeemed: “By God’s Grace (and the death of my mother, who “enabled” me in my drunkenness), I have overcome my enslavement to alcohol.”

    Of what can Mary and Peter and Paul and the other Apostles “boast” — what jewels are in their crowns? what did they overcome? — according to the view of them you seek to advance? “I always did the Father’s will because the Father made it impossible for me to so much as desire a result which might lie outside his will?” — for that matter, what of Jesus himself? Can you not see that this view makes a mockery of him and what he did and overcame?

  103. —Ilion: “Can you not see that you are engaging in the very sort of faulty reasoning for which we all rightly castigate the Darwinists? (and the Marxists, and the Freudians) Can you not see that you are saying, “Unless you give me an explanation (or a belief) I will accept, then you are obligated to believe what I believe“?

    I am arguing, with the Church, that the intimacy between Mary and the Holy Spirit brought forth the Sacred body of Jesus. Since you insist that such a characterization is wrong, I don’t think it is unfair to ask you to provide your own explanation.

    –“Is not the obligation to avoid incorrect belief more important, or basic, than an (assumed) obligation to have a correct belief about *every conceivable thing*?

    Absolutely. On the other hand, we can’t dismiss certain details as irrelevant on the grounds that they not congenial with our inclinations.

    StephenB @ 101: “It is possible for a person to be so loving a creature that her free will decision about whether to love or not to love is inevitable.”

    —“The sin of drunkenness is absolutely no temptation to me. Even the mere consumption of alcohol holds no particular appeal to me (I’ve probably consumed less alcohol in my entire life than many normal people, including faithful Christians, consume in an average week). I neither bless nor condemn the non-drunken consumption of alcohol.” It is no feather in my cap to boast, “I have never in my life been drunk!” for it is no temptation to me to drink much less to drink to excess.

    Boast or not, you have acquired [or perhaps inherited] a virtue. Though you have free will with respect to the choice of getting drunk or not getting drunk, it is almost inevitable that you will never overindulge. None of that compromises your free will. You could, if you chose, get drunk. You are free to do the wrong thing, but your virtue of continence will not allow it. Mary was free to say no to God, but her virtues of charity and obedience would not, could not, allow it. Is a loving mother “free” to murder her three-month -old child? Yes. Can a loving mother [who is sane] murder her three-month-old child? No. Love will not permit it.

    —“On the other hand, my late uncle, who was an alcoholic for most of his life, and who thereby made a ruins of his own life and the lives of his children and wives, may boast, if I may be excused for that word, and God granting that he is among the Redeemed: “By God’s Grace (and the death of my mother, who “enabled” me in my drunkenness), I have overcome my enslavement to alcohol.”

    I agree. For him, it was a greater achievement to acquire that virtue. On the other hand, he may well have a natural disposition to practice other virtues that you and I struggle with. Is it unfair that God provided you with some strengths and your uncle with other strengths? I would say no.

    —“Of what can Mary and Peter and Paul and the other Apostles “boast” — what jewels are in their crowns? what did they overcome? — according to the view of them you seek to advance? “I always did the Father’s will because the Father made it impossible for me to so much as desire a result which might lie outside his will?” — for that matter, what of Jesus himself? Can you not see that this view makes a mockery of him and what he did and overcame?”

    Several issues are in play, here. First, you will notice that almost everyone who was given special favors from God had to pay dearly for them with great suffering. Mary, for example, had to watch her Divine Son being tortured to death. It doesn’t get much worse than that. With the possible exception of John, all the apostles met with a violent and repugnant death at the hands of their enemies.

    For whatever reason, God decided to grant these special favors to a few people so that his plan of salvation would work exactly the way he wanted it to work. Mary was granted the special favor about which we have been discussing. John the Baptist was obviously special from the outset, leaping in his mother’s womb at the prospect of meeting Jesus’ mother. Here we have a pre-born infant who recognizes that the plan of salvation is unfolding. What is that but a special favor of the first magnitude? He paid a price for that special favor by being beheaded. St. Paul, who wanted nothing to do with any of it, was knocked off a horse and dragged in kicking and screaming. Why him and not some other Pharisee? Was he not highly favored? Did he not also meet with a violent death? There is no free lunch. Salvation has a price, and that price is the cross.

    At the transfiguration, three apostles witnessed Christ’s Divinity [another special favor], not to mention the many miracles that they had already observed. Even at that, they had not yet arrived at such a state of virtue as to be exempt from falling. In many if not most cases, their profound growth in virtue would come later, after being visited by, guess who, the Holy Spirit. Peter made the transition from cowardice to heroic virtue. Some overcame discouragement and acquired the virtue of hope. Others were confirmed in their faith. In any case, they all overcame significant weaknesses and turned them into strengths. Without grace, they could not have done it. That same Holy Spirit that formed Jesus in the womb of Mary also formed the likeness of Jesus in the apostles. So it will be with us if we allow it to happen.

  104. Question.

    I see no Biblical warrant for the doctrine of the immacualte concepion nor do I presently think there is any need of such a doctrine. I also respect my Catholic brothers and sisters in Christ and know they must feel a compelling reason for it. My question is “what is the compelling reason for the doctrine of the immacualate conception’?

    Vivid

  105. I’d actually covered that, Vivid. At any rae, covered it as best I can tell.

    As best I can tell, the “compelling reason” for the doctrine seems to have to legs:

    1) that it wouldn’t be “fitting” for the Christ to be born of a woman “infected” by original sin;

    2) that were Mary “infected” by original sin, she’d not have been free to assent, of her own free will, to do God’s will and bear the Christ.

    The first rationale is pointless, and even false, from the Biblical world-view — God doesn’t give a fig about our sociological concerns about what is or is not “fitting” for him to do; he does not bow to our conceptions of honor. The second is simply the core distinctive doctrine of Calvinism, which doctrine Catholicism officially rejects.

  106. Is there a worrisome shortage of people on the planet?

  107. VJTorley @ 96:Well, that’s it. I look forward to your response to #87, Ilion.

    I have lost interest (see post 79) — I have next to no interest in trying to discuss anything with “even-handed” persons.

  108. —ilion, you ask, “Of what can Mary and Peter and Paul and the other Apostles “boast” — what jewels are in their crowns? what did they overcome? — according to the view of them you seek to advance? “I always did the Father’s will because the Father made it impossible for me to so much as desire a result which might lie outside his will?” — for that matter, what of Jesus himself? Can you not see that this view makes a mockery of him and what he did and overcame?”

    I agree. Perhaps other Catholics may take that view, but I know of know official teaching which holds that Mary was determined to say yes to God. On the contrary. For my part, she could have used her free will to say no. We can say the same thing about the apostles. As Fulton J. Sheen once wrote, “there is no charm in a yes unless a no is possible.”

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