Tuesday 20 August 2013

Is creation necessary? What are the intuitions? More on the faith of the heart


In the many decades in which I was an atheist, one of the things that most annoyed me about many Christians who argued for the reality of God what there assumption that there must be an explanation, a cause for what exists.

This especially applies to the question which is being answered by 'creation from nothing'. 

But I never saw then - and I don't see now - why there must be an explanation or cause for what exists; instead my baseline assumption is that what exists always existed.


That was my spontaneous intuition but I used to assume that this was idiosyncratic and most other people assumed that everything must have a cause, and therefore one was driven back to the inference that everything originally came from nothing.

In fact the opposite seems to be the statistically normal assumption among the inhabitants of most simple societies, and probably among children too that the bottom line is that some things were 'always' in existence.

Similarly, when anthropologists ask hunter gatherers how long they (as a people) have lived where they do, the answer is along the lines of always.

They have no record or memory of any time they lived anywhere else, and little curiosity about the matter - indeed rest on the assumption that what is now always was, and if this is challenged then this is interpreted as disputing that they belong where they are - preparatory to taking their land from them (or rather, taking them from their land, rather as someone might be taken from their parents).


I think this is how the human mind naturally works. Beyond a certain point, beyond just a couple of levels of explanation and an explanation of that explanation - a cause and a cause of that cause; people rest in the assumption that this was how things always were, how things always worked - and it is a minority of philosophically-minded modern people, with their abstract concepts of time and causality, who come to see a problem in this.


These inbuilt ways of thinking are difficult to overcome without creating confusion, alienation and disorientation - it is easier for philosophers to challenge and probe naive ways of thinking than to come up with better alternatives - it is easier to induce people to lose confidence in natural ways of thinking than it is to generate confidence in other ways of thinking.

Hence the history of philosophy.


The big problem is conviction. I might (for a while - an hour, a few days, months or years) subscribe to a philosophical explanation yet this explanation may never carry my heart.

This is not just the fickleness of the human will - it is a matter of depth.

Some things I can't deeply believe - and others I can't not believe!


This is relevant for Christian apologetics and evangelism - converting to Christianity from secular Leftism ought to bring (among other things!) a sense of moving onto solid ground, a grounding on realities which one can believe with the heart and not (as with so much of modern secular culture) believe only with the mind (easily manipulated by the establishment elite) or the body (easily manipulated by the mass media and fashions).

A belief of the heart carries both intellectual conviction and emotional warmth - but its intellectual convictions are resistant to mainstream academic manipulations, while its warmth is like the slow-smouldering heart of a fire, rather than the flickering flames that come and go. 


This - if successful - is a risky business, and it is hard to predict where exactly it will lead; which is why in practice most Christian denominations are reluctant to go down the path of the heart.

To go down this path would mean that Christians must test all propositions with their heart, and build their faith from that which is endorsed by their heart, and set aside (even if not reject) that which does not carry the heart or which quenches the heart.

A Christian faith is thus a work in progress; and an active thing - and for many Christians this will be seen as lacking in humility and obedience, and in a sense it is.

But these are desperate times. We need the heart to detach us from the pervasive and increasing evils of modern secular culture, and we need the heart to sustain us through the process and after the reality of detachment.


A strong, warm heart grants autonomy, and the heart also generates the strength required for autonomy - so that as we are restored to reality, we are also en-couraged (filled with courage).

Thus to be Christian is possible - despite the feebleness and incompleteness of the churches and the all-but-overwhelming hedonic evils of secular society.

IF a Christian faith can be built from the heart, all this may be possible.


Without the heart to sustain feeble spirits in such hostile environments, real Christianity may be so difficult, miserable, lonely - as to be both rare and weak.

So, by this argument, intuitions - metaphysical intuitions concerning reality - probably should be accepted the basis of a heart-felt Christianity since only they enable the faith to resist a hostile and invasive world.

And I cannot see how such a faith can avoid being metaphysically, philosophically heterodox - positively and negatively, in many instances - so I think that must be accepted too.

Yet heterodoxy must be combined with strong loyalty to The Church (that mystical reality of the actual corrupt institutions) - which seems like a difficult trick...


It is possible, I think, but there is no formula - and perhaps if heart-unity with The Church is actually achieved it will violate both head and body reasoning.

But the wonderful thing about the heart is that this is indeed possible; a faith in Christ that is grounded in the heart and fueled by the heart can reject any amount of negative evaluations and conclusions and be sustained through a maelstrom of bodily distractions.

Such a faith is in fact unstoppable and inevitable - if it is wanted: if it is asked for. 



Titus Didius Tacitus said...

It's hard because people nowadays take a bad philosophy for granted, in which insoluble contradictions like "the mind-body problem" are excused as "perennial issues of philosophy". (That means: "there doesn't have to be an answer, so stop thinking".) In this bad philosophy, there's no need for any sort of first mover or final cause.

Better philosophy, which you can get from Aristotle, Aquinas or nowadays Edward Feser, solves a lot of problems, but restores a need for a creator. It's a good trade-off.

But that way of thinking is so far from being respectable now that people would have to be educated differently from birth to feel that intellectual need simply and from the heart, and without being easy prey for skeptical intellectuals.


I put no stock in what hunter gatherers tell anthropologists. Our ancestors were different from them.

So were the other great civilized and civilizing people. They felt the need for a creator and a creation, and they came up with answers.

A great, creative, civilizing race is unlikely to fail to do this unless it is held in a degraded state of cultural stupidity such as we are living in or rather dying in.


I cannot take seriously the idea of a universe that just is, because: shut up. Stop asking questions. No matter how many people with PhDs insist in essence that that is what it is. I couldn't as a child either. And that child was the same as others thousands of years before Christ or any Biblical religion existed.

Serious questions involve things like: what is the nature of the god or the gods? If there is more than one god, or more than one person in God, how do they relate to each other? How does creation relate to other things that seem to be of a transcendent order? Do all virtues ultimately collapse to one, or are there different tugs on us, each undeniably valid, that pull us different ways? What does God, or the gods, want of us, and who is "us"? What is our fate, or what is the final thing or state to which our nature is leading us, and are we going where we should be or not? And if not, what do we do about it?

Do the stars blindly run their courses in a universe that is just physical (that is: non-mental) stuff that just is because shut up - that's not a serious question. That's not the kind of question fit to engage the collective minds of great races, of nations fit to do great things.


If the ancient Egyptians had been content with meaninglessness, like a race with no capacity to raise itself above being a collection of hunter-gatherers, or like mind-poisoned intellectuals, they would never have needed to create their religion, or everything they created on the basis of their religion, which is everything they created. We would never have heard of them.

I don't believe any external force kicked and compelled them to ask the great questions, the sorts of questions that the great European peoples also asked and answered differently, and that Semites asked, and answered differently again. I think the questions were always within them. Without that, there would not have been enough reason for them to create civilization, history, and the artifacts that still justly excite our wonder.

Titus Didius Tacitus said...

I think Christians are getting the blame or the credit for a lot of things that are just natural, because in a culturally poisoned environment where most other people are giving up on basic tendencies and perspectives that are likely to be inherent to any civilized race, the Christians give up later and more reluctantly than others, because they have built dogmas on top of these things, and they don't want the foundations dynamited. (Nor should they!)

Bruce Charlton said...

@TDT - Clearly you are a Monist by nature - I am a Pluralist.

And you make the standard assumption of Monists that Pluralists are not serious - are too stupid or lazy to see the necessity of Monism.

Well 'tain't so! It's just a different primary metaphysical assumption based on a different primary intuition (or acceptance of a different primary revelation).

But I realize that I could never convince a Monist of the fact, so I will not even try.

Titus Didius Tacitus said...

Sorry if I was rude to you. I didn't mean to be.

It's just a matter of a certain way of grasping things that I can't "let go of" because for me it's the hand, not the thing held.

Donald said...

You read the Old Testament and the uniqueness of G-ds revelation to Israel different than I. I think I live in the world of Eru Illuvatar.

Bruce Charlton said...

@Donald - No, I completely agree - as far as this world goes. And that is all that really matters.

The Crow said...

Some things simply don't matter.
The origin of things is one example.
Humans are afflicted with the need to understand, but what is this thing known as understanding?
A grappling-with-data, in an attempt to order it, in a way that is comfortable. Control, in fact.
This serves, for some things, sometimes.
It does not serve, for all things, all the time.

Bedarz Iliaci said...

"my baseline assumption is that what exists always existed."

Surely no subtle reasoning is necessary to contradict your assumption.
I exist but I have been told that once I did not exist. Is there any person that ever thought that he existed always?

Bruce Charlton said...

@BI -

"Surely no subtle reasoning is necessary to contradict your assumption."

Sorry, but (divine revelation aside) you are wrong to state that this is incoherent, and that is not a matter of opinion - because I am talking about *metaphysics*, which are structuring assumptions that cannot be established or influenced by any observation. Structuring assumptions cannot, in this sense, be contradicted.

"I exist but I have been told that once I did not exist. Is there any person that ever thought that he existed always?"

Yes, me - and many Mormons, and the idea of pre-mortal spiritual existence has been found throughout history, including Christian history (probably including St Augustine) - sometimes with eternal/ un-bounded pre-mortal existence - and animistic religions seem to regard essences as eternal (and recycling) and so do some forms of reincarnation... Indeed, many Christians believe that they existed in some partial sense (e.g. in the mind of God) from eternity - which probably amounts to exactly the same thing. The idea is not that uncommon.