Sophisticated Theology: Questions about Questions of Truth …

So, I said that I’d raise some of the things I thought about while reading Polkinghorne and Beale’s “Questions of Truth”, and so today I finally get around to doing it. And the first question relates to the problems they face when they reject dualism despite Grayling’s insistence that they are simple dualists.

Starting from question 2, they hold that a mind has to be embodied. Because of this, they run into major problems with life after death. Since a mind has to be embodied, that means that if we are going to have eternal life it’s going to have to be in a body. But it seems obvious that that isn’t our actual body, since that really does seem to decompose and turn to dust. So, then, when we die and move on to the next world a new body must be created for us, and our mind — one presumes — copied into it, or else it’s hard to see how “we” could be said to survive death at all. So what you’d be talking about is some sort of massive and complicated mind transfer into a clone body, essentially. And this seems awfully complicated just to allow them to preserve both life after death and their materialism. Moreover, it runs into the problem of why Jesus’ actual body was raised from the dead and ascended into heaven. If we have immaterial souls, we don’t need the mind transfer and don’t care about our bodies, but Jesus’ actual body being raised makes the Resurrection special. But what’s the point of raising Jesus’ actual body and not raising our bodies if we need a body of have a mind? Why can’t our bodies simply rise from the dead as well?

Thus, by rejecting dualism and rejecting the normal “immaterial soul” explanation for life after death, they walk themselves into a host of problems and complications. This is in part what makes Grayling’s blythe “They’re dualists” criticism so very, very galling.

They also talk a lot about God and how God can inhabit eternity, but in reading questions like that I am always puzzled about why that’s such a puzzle. For anyone who has ever watched Deep Space 9, we have a prime example of beings that really are outside of time — and, in fact, have no concept of it — and the consequences of that sort of perspective. I’m not going to say that the show has settled all of it, but it seems to provide a nice testbed for examples around this issue, because they are in no way posited to really be supernatural — Sisko even comments that if you look at them as they are scientifically you can see why the supposedly “supernatural” claims just simply make sense — and yet we can see how the issues would play out. I think that’s a far simpler explanation than the idea that God would limit his knowledge to preserve free will, since it at least isn’t certain that the Prophets in Deep Space 9 did anything to impact Sisko’s free will.

In 15, Nicholas Beale suggests that the Euthyphro Dilemma is not a problem for Christianity, but is a problem for abstract theism. I don’t see it as being a problem for abstract theism, mostly because you can always say that morality is knowable — if you take a moral realism stance — and so since God knows everything, God knows morality. There is an issue for more concrete versions where you actually try to judge whether the actions are moral or not by the standards God is supposedly setting out.

In 34, my answer about why evil people do evil things is that it isn’t morally praiseworthy to only do what you want. If someone was created who only ever desired as part of their nature to do the morally right thing, then all they’d be doing is following their desires and, basically, doing what they want to do. Doing what you want to do is trivially easy; everyone can do it. What’s hard is to do what you don’t want to do, or not do what you want to do. What’s hard is conditioning your wants to conform to the good. So it is those things that are morally praiseworthy. And thus, if we are to be moral agents God must make it so that we don’t simply naturally want to do the right, but that we quite often want to do the wrong but can resist it if we try. Evil people don’t even try to resist it, and just do what they want.

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