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Animalism Critique

Last year I wrote a paper for my philosophy class on personal identity (well, I wrote 3 total, but this was my favourite one out of the bunch).  As always, copyright is mine so please don’t steal or plagiarize, since I know this class is still being taught and a quick google search may bring my paper to the surface.  It was entered into TurnItIn, so plagiarism will be obvious.

 

With that out of the way….

 


 

Eric T.  Olson examines the theory of personal identity in his article, “An Argument for Animalism.” Olson’s article is a response to John Locke’s work, An Essay Concerning Human Understanding, and to the various neo-Lockean philosophers who were attempting to answer the main question surrounding diachronic identity.  That question being, why do we consider a person at Time 1 to be the same person at Time 2.  With this in mind, I will be examining personal identity theory through the viewpoint of Locke and Parfit, a Neo-Lockean, and how, according to Animalism, personal identity theory has been pushed into an erroneous direction.  I will also investigate what Olson, a proponent of Animalism, recommends personal identity theorists should commit to in order to correct this mistaken direction.  I will then discuss a few criticisms of Animalism as a means of determining whether this view is successful in its purpose.

Given the fact that Olson is responding to Locke and Neo-Lockean philosophers, it is crucial to give an overview of these opposing views.  Locke suggests a person is the same person over time so long as that person can remember life events through self-consciousness (Locke, sec. 9).  Moreover, the conditions for personal identity do not depend on identity conditions for substance, since the substance is the vessel in which consciousness inheres (Locke, sec. 12).  Given this understanding, consciousness can maintain its identity conditions even when jumping from substance to substance (Locke, sec. 13).  Locke suggests a separation exists between person and man (or animal) illustrated through the prince and cobbler example (Locke, sec. 8).  In this story, the prince’s consciousness is transferred into the cobbler, and the cobbler becomes the prince because of the consciousness transfer (Locke, sec. 8).  Therefore, consciousness is separable from the body, since there are no material conditions for personal identity, so the substance in which consciousness inheres does not matter for personal identity.  Since one can conceive of situations where consciousness comes apart from the animal, such as Locke’s prince and cobbler example, this separation seems logically possible.

In a similar vein, Neo-Lockeans suggest personal identity is also separable from the body (Behrendt, Lecture).  Since the separation of mind and animal seems logically possible, whereby consciousness is distinct from the animal body, the question is whether one should privilege psychology over the body.  According to Parfit, we are persons so long as our psychology persists with a certain degree of strength, but we are distinct from our animal body (293-298).  Parfit broadened the conception of personal identity from Locke’s initial idea of consciousness, so that personal identity is grounded in psychological continuity (297).  Parfit suggests persons are constituted by a living body, but their identity is not tied to a particular body since the psychology could migrate to a different body via a brain zap (Behrendt, Lecture).  Interestingly, Olsen agrees with certain aspects of Parfit’s philosophy, such that if a person’s psychological life was transferred to another body, both philosophers suggest what matters to us, such as our psychological life, has gone elsewhere, but it is not us (Parfit, 118, 311; Behrendt, Lecture).

Olson responds to Locke and Neo-Lockeans by suggesting that treating persons as distinct from the bodies that constitute them is a mistake because persons are not distinct from animals (320-321).  Furthermore, Locke and the Neo-Lockean philosophers were answering the wrong question (Olson, 331).  While questions about personal identity are metaphysical questions, one must first answer an important ontological question.  That is, what kind of thing are we? (Olson, 320).  According to Olson, only after answering this fundamental question can we then attempt to answer metaphysical questions about identity (323-324, 331).

Before summarizing Olson’s Animalism argument, it is important to lay the groundwork for his view.  Olson suggests human beings are biological entities of the species homo-sapiens (319).  Human animals can be persons, but not all human animals are persons.  Olson suggests embryos or coma victims may be human animals without being persons, but all humans that are persons are also animals (320).  It is important to note that Olson is not defining personal identity in terms of animal identity, so he is not suggesting persons are animals.  Moreover, Olson is not answering questions about diachronic personal identity, rather, he is asking about the kind of thing we are (Behrendt, Lecture).  Olson’s answer to this question is that we are human animals, but this does not mean we are not also persons, since we can be both (319-320).

When Olson says human animals are persons, he is not talking about a kind of thing.  Rather, he is specifying how a thing is for a phase of its existence.  For example, a substance can undergo numerous changes in properties, but none of these changes affect the identity of the animal (Behrendt, Lecture).  Personhood is also a phase, since it is not a thing or a substance.  This view is opposed to Locke and Neo-Lockean philosophers who suggest personhood is not a phase, since personhood is distinct from the body (Behrendt, Lecture).  According to the Animalist, it is a mistake to think of persons as distinct from animals, so an animal may go through a person phase, but you do not become a different animal, and the animal that you are does not become a person (Behrendt, Lecture).  Furthermore, you do not cease to exist if you cease to be a person so long as your biological entity endures.  In other words, your identity is tied to the animal that you are.  Nothing you can say about human-animals, including the fact that they are persons can violate the fundamental claim that they are animals (Behrendt, Lecture).  Locke violated this claim by suggesting that persons and animal bodies are distinct (Olson, 322).

Olson’s argument for Animalism is as follows: Premise 1: There is a human animal sitting in your chair.  Premise 2: The human animal is thinking.  Premise 3: You are the thinking being sitting in your chair.  Conclusion: You are an animal (325-326).  In order to oppose Animalism, a person must reject at least one of these premises (Olson, 326).   Consequently, some philosophers reject Premise 2 by positing the Constitutive view.

On the Constitutive view, persons are not identical with animals, but the person, which is the thinking thing, shares its matter with the animal, the non-thinking thing (Behrendt, Lecture).  As an analogy, a statue made out of bronze shares its matter with the block of bronze, but the statue is not identical to the block of bronze.  They are not identical because the statue and lump of bronze have different identity conditions (Behrendt, Lecture).  Consequently, the bronze could survive being melted in a pot, but the statue would not survive (Behrendt, Lecture).  Similarly, a person might survive while the animal-body does not, or the animal might survive while the person does not, like in the case of brain death.  Even though the person is built out of the same material that constitutes the animal, the person and the animal have different truth conditions, akin to the statue and lump of bronze that have different truth conditions (Behrendt, Lecture).  In order to reject Premise 2, those who hold the Constitutive view suggest that the animal is not thinking.  Although the person is constituted by the animal, personal identity is distinct from the animal, so it is the person who does the thinking, and not the animal (Olson, 322).

While Locke is not an Animalist because he thinks persons and animals can come apart, he is certain, at least early in his essay, that consciousness inheres in substance, yet he is unsure about the kind of substance that might be (Locke, sec. 12-13).  Locke admits animals exist and being a human animal does not require the existence of intelligence or rationality, but he does not outright suggest anything that happens has to happen inside of an animal body (Locke, sec. 3-4).  Interestingly, in the final section of Locke’s essay, it seems as if Locke is suggesting if we knew more about the substance in which consciousness inheres, we might come to understand that consciousness is not separable from substance (Locke, sec. 27).  In other words, if Locke came to understand more about the body, such that psychology does not depend on the body, this suggests Locke might have agreed with a variation of Animalism, whereby the human animal thinks, but the existence of the human animal does not require it to think (Locke, sec. 27).  Olson claims Locke should have answered the substance question first.  Had Locke been able to answer what kind of substance we are, that may have stopped him from suggesting consciousness is the kind of thing that can leave one body and go into a different body (Olson, 321-322).

A further view aims to find a balance between Animalism and Neo-Lockean philosophies.  This view, which is the hybrid view, suggests we are animals, but the animal can be stripped down to the most essential part, specifically the brain that sustains psychological life and cognitive functions (Behrendt, Lecture).  Most Animalists counter the hybrid view by suggesting the brain is not the most essential bodily part, but in doing so, it is difficult to explain certain brain in a vat thought experiments (Behrendt, Lecture).  For example, a person would have to say the brain in the vat is a non-animal thing, since the brain can still function, but there would now be an empty headed animal (Behrendt, Lecture).  Perhaps a more difficult question is what would happen if one were to put the functioning brain, which is the non-animal thing, back into an animal body.  Does the non-animal thing simply vanish from existence? Interestingly, this compromise may not be viable for Neo-Lockeans, either.  For example, Parfit suggests only psychological continuity is important for personal identity, which means the brain provides little importance (Parfit, 128).  The hybrid view says the brain is important for satisfying the matter requirement for Animalism, but this compromise goes against what matters to Neo-Lockeans.

In terms of my critique of Animalism, I have a few concerns.  It seems as if Olson is suggesting a person could survive a complete loss of his or her psychology, since the animal body determines identity.  Additionally, Olson suggests there was a time when you were not conscious but your animal-body still existed (319).  I am concerned that by endorsing this view, one faces the unfortunate consequence that psychological continuity does not really matter (323-324).  It goes against my intuitions to suggest psychological or mental continuity is unnecessary for us to persist.  Indeed, could it be possible that we do not treat a coma patient like a coffee table because we hope his or her psychological life will return to us in exactly the same way it was prior to the coma occurring? In other words, I may think the person lying in the hospital bed is my mother, but the fact that it is her body lying in that bed is not the reason I think of her as my mother; I think of her as my mother precisely in the hopes that her psychological life will one day return, since I know once I bury her body that she is dead and she will never return to me.  Her body is only important for informing me on whether or not she is alive or dead, because when she has died, I know for a fact that her psychological life is gone forever.

I propose that psychological continuity is the most important aspect for personal identity, which is precisely the reason we bury a body once we realize the person’s psychological life has perished.   Certainly, we keep coma victims on ventilators precisely because of the fact that we hope their psychological life will return.   Do we not hope for miracles, such that a loved one recovers from a vegetative state, simply because we desire that his or her psychological life will return to us?  Is not this the reason that dissociative identity disorder is so jarring to us?  When someone switches personalities, yet exists within the same animal-body, we do not always consider that person to be the same person we once knew.  I suppose Olson could suggest that each change in personality is a new person-phase, but this seems rather incoherent to me.  While I accept that Olson allows us to privilege certain psychological states over others, and I appreciate the ability to do so, I still cannot accept his claim that mental continuity is unnecessary.

On a related note, Animalism seems to have difficulty explaining what happens to animals once death has occurred.  Generally, people think the animal ceases to exist once the body dies, and at the moment of death nothing new springs into existence.  The Animalist must explain whether or not the animal’s corpse is the same thing as the living animal.  If the corpse is not the same as the living animal, then the corpse seems to magically come into existence at the moment of death (Behrendt, Lecture).  If the corpse is the same as the animal, then it seems to suggest that you are two things at the same time: you are your animal and the corpse you will eventually become (Behrendt, Lecture).  This is a problem since Olson insists there can only be one thinking thing sitting in the chair, and not two (329-330).

The Animalists’ difficulty with the hybrid view brings up a further contention.  Olson admits he would permit an animal to lose some body parts, like the loss of a thumb, but he is unwilling to allow the animal to be shrunk down to a brain (Behrendt, Lecture).  Yet at the same time, Olson is not clear about the limits of the identity conditions for the animal body (Olson, 320).  While he admits the occasional limb may be removed without harming the animal identity, he refuses to reduce the animal to any basic components (Behrendt, Lecture).  I find it difficult to agree to these terms, since I am not being fully informed of the potential consequences of this view.  For example, would the animal identity be maintained if only 50% of the organic material was replaced with technological components? Would I still be considered a human-animal if 99% of my organic material was replaced? It seems unreasonable to suggest such a radical view without clarifying many of these important details, especially since Animalism is attempting to change long-standing philosophical opinions.  The onus should be on Olson to provide a thorough account of Animalism in order to be persuasive, but at this point he has not done so, since he clearly states he has no good answers for these types of questions (Olson, 321).

Certainly, the largest issue is whether the transplant intuition, which is a descendant of Locke’s prince and cobbler story, is a legitimate intuition.  Many philosophers from Locke to Parfit believed this was a compelling intuition.  Olson thinks it is a mistake to believe this intuition, and we have been misguided because philosophers sided with Locke’s view of personal identity.  If a person is going to accept this basic transplant intuition, he or she must reject at least one of Olson’s 3 premises.  If this is not possible, then the transplant intuition must be incorrect.  Therefore, I agree with the Constitutive view, which attacks Olson’s second premise.  I agree with the Neo-Lockeans that persons are not identical with animals, and the person is the thinking thing.  Many object to the Constitutive view because it suggests we must sanction all thinking and cognitive activity to the person and not the animal.  However, I posit that animals are simply not capable of such cognitive activity.  Some have suggested that apes have higher cognitive functions because apes are capable of communicating with humans via sign language, so they must also be able to think.  Yet, even if one assumes such apes are not simply repeating learned behaviors, various researchers suggest the cognitive function of these apes is at the level of a human toddler.  If one assumes that animals simply obey habitual learned behaviors, I do not think it is a stretch to suggest the person is indeed the thinking thing distinct from the animal.

In summary, Olson was writing in response to Locke and Neo-Lockean philosophers who suggested that persons and animals are distinct from each other.  Olson contends this is a mistake because persons are not distinct from animals.  Instead, a human-animal simply goes through a person phase, but the human is fundamentally an animal.  Given my criticisms of the Animalism view, I do not think Olson is successful in his approach.  If Olson is correct, it is difficult to reconcile the fact that philosophers have been misguided for at least three hundred years.  Additionally, I find it rather aggravating that Olson does not realize the onus is on him to demonstrate why he is correct and the non-Animalist philosophers are incorrect.  In order to prove that a particular view, in this case Animalism, is better than an opposing view, it is paramount that all the important details are worked out, only then can you reasonably expect a person to be willing to commit to such a radically different view.  If important details are unknowable or hidden from plain sight, then the view itself seems suspect and possibly insidious, even if that is not the philosopher’s intention.

 

Works Cited

Locke, John.  “Of Identity and Diversity.” An Essay Concerning Human Understanding.  Ed.  P H.  Nidditch.  Clarendon Press.  Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1979.  328-348.  Print.

Olson, Eric T.  An Argument for Animalism.  Eds.  Raymond Martin and John Barresi.  UK: Blackwell Publishing, 2003.  Print.

Parfit, Derek.  Why Our Identity Is Not What Matters.  Eds.  Raymond Martin and John Barresi.  UK: Blackwell Publishing, 2003.  Print.

Parfit, Derek.  The Unimportance of Identity.  Eds.  Raymond Martin and John Barresi.  UK: Blackwell Publishing, 2003.  Print.

 

 

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Camus and Absurdity

I wrote this short essay as part of a final exam requirement in my Existentialism course in Winter 2015. I never titled it. I found it again today, after not thinking about it since submitting it to my professor. Anyway, maybe someone else will enjoy reading it for its… succinctness.

In The Myth of Sisyphus, Camus contends that life is absurd.  That is, that life is meaningless, and so the only true philosophical problem is the question of suicide and whether life is worth living within this context of the absurd.  As such, Camus extends his discussion of the absurd to the Greek myth of Sisyphus, thereby illustrating why suicide is not the answer to the absurdity of life, and why one must imagine Sisyphus happy.

Consequently, the absurd exists in the confrontation between human beings’ desire for unity and meaning, and the complete silence of the universe in response to that desire.  Absurdity exists when man lives his life as if he has some higher purpose, but he realizes life is purposeless, for it is lived out of habit, and this realization is what leads to suicide.  Yet, Camus ultimately rejects suicide because life does not require meaning in order to be lived, and so human beings must learn to live without some higher purpose (Camus, 12).

Camus discusses his conception of the absurd via Sisyphus, the mythological king condemned by the Greek gods to roll a boulder up a hill only for it to roll back down, thereby forcing Sisyphus to repeat the process for all of eternity.  Camus illustrates the absurd through Sisyphus’ recognition that rolling the boulder up the hill is a futile act with no purpose.  Yet, despite this, despair is not the answer to the question of the absurd.  Rather, Sisyphus must rebel in the face of meaninglessness in a defiant act against the absurdity of life.

Similarly, the absurd man realizes he cannot reconcile with nature or the universe; he realizes that the world is not reasonable.  None of the attempts at reconciliation via religion, romanticism, or other philosophical ventures can explain his existence (Camus, 13).  Instead, these attempts at making sense of the world only categorize things in the world, for there is no real understanding (Camus, 24-26).

To live in spite of the absurdity of life is to live while accepting this absurdity fully; an acceptance that the universe has no meaning, and by living in this way, man ultimately revolts against the absurd.  Sisyphus is the absurd hero because he revolts against his meaningless existence.   Indeed, Sisyphus is the absurd hero because man’s passions amount to an equal fate.  That is, man’s struggle for meaning is ultimately purposeless because the universe is silent, akin to Sisyphus’ boulder inevitably rolling back down the hill.

The Myth of Sisyphus is tragic because Sisyphus’s existence is purposeless, yet he desires purpose (Camus, 109).  In other words, consciousness predisposes tragedy.  That is, when man is conscious of the drudgery of life, he recognizes a desire for meaning, but life is without purpose.  Life is tragic because the struggle for purpose comes with no acquittal.  Therefore, man must act defiantly against his purposeless life by rejecting suicide, just as Sisyphus acts in defiance to the gods by choosing to roll the boulder up the hill once again.

It is important to note the distinction between happiness and purpose, for it is possible to have one without the other.  As such, one must imagine Sisyphus happy in spite of his purposeless existence.  One must imagine Sisyphus happy since, by rolling the boulder up the hill, Sisyphus revolts against the gods; he revolts against his absurd, purposeless, existence.  One must imagine Sisyphus happy even without a higher purpose, for he is conscious of the absurdity of existence.

When one discovers life is absurd and there is no ultimate meaning, a different happiness ushers in.  Since the universe is silent in response to one’s desire for purpose, human beings must discover their own project, just as Sisyphus’ project was his boulder.  One must not see the world as “sterile and futile.”  Rather, we should see things as they are, not as we have come to see them through our various constructions; we must see life in all of its absurdity.  Sisyphus is the absurd hero because he sees his situation as lucidity; he is consciously aware that rolling the boulder serves no ultimate purpose, yet he rolls it anyway.  In this way, Sisyphus finds genuine happiness because he has accepted his fate.

 

References

Camus, Albert (1975). The Myth of Sisyphus. Translated by Justin O’Brien. London: Penguin Books Ltd.

 

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Philosophy of Mind- Opinion Paper

I haven’t posted anything here in awhile… partly because my post-secondary education has required 3 essays in the last 1.5 years.  That’s madness.  Anyway, I just finished a philosophy class this term (Philosophy of Mind) that I really enjoyed.  We were required to write an opinion paper detailing a specific issue in the realm of Philosophy of Mind.  I got an 85 for this one.  It probably won’t make a lot of sense unless you have some background in the topic, but I enjoyed writing it.

As always, copyright is mine.

John Searle’s Chinese Room Argument is not a successful criticism of functionalist theories of mind, insofar that Searle’s argument is unable to address the rebuttals presented by Strong Artificial Intelligence (Strong AI) and functionalist theories of mind. Therefore, I will discuss Token Mind Brain Identity Theory as the historical antecedent of Functionalism; explain what Functionalism and Strong AI entails; outline the Turing Test; elucidate Searle’s Chinese Room Argument; clarify the various criticisms surrounding the Chinese Room Argument including the Systems Reply and the Robot Reply; and lastly, present my opinion on which stance is the most legitimate given the details at hand.

One antecedent of Functionalist theories of mind is the Token Mind Brain Identity Theory, which postulates that similar mental states among persons – or entities – can have dissimilar physical brain state constituents.[1] In other words, the same or similar mental states can be physically represented in different ways, depending on the brain – or in some bizarre cases, a lack of a brain, of the entity in question. This is important because if similar mental states could not be physically represented in different ways, there would be a problem with Multiple Realizability. A simple definition of Multiple Realizability comes from Neil Campbell where he states: “the same type or kind of mental state, such as the sensation of pain, can exist in a variety of different complex physical systems”.[2] Multiple Realizability allows different beings, including human or otherwise, to have the potential to undergo the same mental experiences, such as beliefs, pains, or desires because physical brain states are not required to be identical.

According to Token Mind Brain Identity, so long as particular brain states lead to particular behaviors, then one can logically justify that those behaviors are the same belief. To illustrate: suppose there are two individuals that say they have Belief A, and in this case, Belief A involves putting a jacket on in order to venture outside. So long as both individuals behave in a similar way to what is required for Belief A, then one can assume they both do indeed have that same belief. In other words, if both individuals want to venture outside they put on a jacket in order to do so, and this belief is reflected in how they behave, so one can conclude they are both experiencing Belief A. Likewise, if both individuals did not behave in similar ways, such as one individual put on a jacket and the other put on a pair of slippers, then one must assume they are not both in Belief A, and instead one is in Belief A and the other is in some other Belief altogether. As such, Functionalism embraces the Token Mind Brain Identity Theory by utilizing Token-Identities and allowing for Multiple Realizability.[3]

Functionalism supplements Token Mind Brain Identity Theory by including the assumption that mental states are brain states given functional descriptions. In other words, functional equivalence is mental equivalence; the physical features no longer matter for both Functionalism and Token Mind Brain Identity Theory to be valid. For example, the functional description of my being a pianist means I play the piano and I have the ability to move my fingers along the piano keys at a quick pace. So long as all pianists can accomplish these tasks then they are functionally equivalent to me, since physical characters are superfluous and all pianists fulfill the same functional role, that is, of playing the piano and having the ability to move fingers across the piano keys at a quick pace.

Functionalism’s imperative is to show that functional equivalence must always equal cognitive equivalence, so if one could show functional equivalence did not equal cognitive equivalence then Functionalism would be invalid. Additionally, if a computer or some other system could imitate intelligence without retaining understanding, then strong AI would be invalid as well.[4] To that end, Searle devises the Chinese Room Argument. However, to clarify the argument appropriately I must first define a couple terms: Strong AI and the Turing Test.

Strong AI assumes if a machine can imitate human intelligence in such a way that it becomes functionally and cognitively equivalent to a mind, then the computer is actually a mind.[5] This is important because, according to Functionalism and Strong AI, the mind itself does not have to be a physical human brain; rather, functional and cognitive equivalence is sufficient to prove the machine is a mind. In a similar vein, the Turing Test was developed by Alan Turing to judge that if a computer can successfully mimic human intelligence then the computer is intelligent.[6] The test itself is a blind test, so Person A asks questions to a computer and the responses to those questions come from another person (Person B) or from another computer with no human component, but Person A is unaware of which it is. Person A via asking questions and receiving answers must determine if the entity on other end is a computer or a person, and if Person A is unable to determine the difference between them, then the computer has successfully mimicked human intelligence and so the computer is a mind because it is functionally and cognitively equivalent to a mind. Likewise, the computer has successfully passed the Turing Test and is now assumed to be intelligent.[7]

Searle’s Chinese Room Argument is designed to demonstrate that functional equivalence does not always lead to cognitive equivalence, and a system such as the Chinese Room is able to imitate intelligence without retaining any understanding. If this were the case, then both Functionalism and Strong AI would be invalid. To that end, the Chinese Room Argument itself is fairly straightforward: Searle presupposes he is placed inside of a room with baskets of Chinese symbols and a rulebook that outlines how to arrange the Chinese symbols appropriately in order to form legitimate Chinese sentences. It is important to note that Searle does not speak, and does not understand Chinese in any sense, thus the necessity of the rulebook.[8] Additionally, there is a slot in the door between Searle and the outside where native Chinese speakers write down questions and insert them through the slot in the door. Searle’s task is to compare the questions he receives through the slot in the door to his rulebook and he must arrange his own symbols in such a way that they answer the questions presented to him. Searle postulates that while being inside the Chinese Room he is functionally equivalent to the native Chinese speakers outside since him and the native speakers outside can both answer questions in Chinese symbols, as Searle need only use the rulebook for guidance. However, because Searle inside the Chinese Room does not actually understand Chinese, Searle claims the Chinese Room cannot be cognitively equivalent to the native Chinese speakers, and if this were the case, the Chinese Room would be functionally but not cognitively equivalent to the native Chinese speakers. Moreover, if the Chinese Room can mimic understanding without actually containing it, then both Strong AI and Functionalism would have to be invalid.[9]

Nevertheless, Strong AI responds to Searle’s claims by implementing the Systems Reply, which states even if Searle while being inside the Chinese Room does not understand Chinese, the Chinese Room as a whole does understand Chinese.[10] Just because Searle, who is a small part of the whole system, does not understand Chinese it does not follow that the entire system must also not understand. In other words, the sum of the parts matter far more than just the individual pieces of the whole. To illustrate, most people would assert the brain is more than just the physical mass inside the skull, since for the body to function as it was intended to function the brain must be connected to the spinal cord, and the brain must have the ability to create synapses and other neurological events. This does not mean every person with a functioning brain has to intellectually understand each synapse that is occurring, since it is the system as a whole that understands, and the neurological events occur regardless of whether or not the person with the functioning mind understands those neurological events are indeed occurring. This illustration is akin to the Systems Reply assertion.

Interestingly enough, Searle has his own response to the Systems Reply. Searle reasons if he were to work diligently with the Chinese symbols, to the extent that he memorizes the entire rulebook so everything inside the Chinese Room is internalized inside his own mind, he claims the system as a whole would still lack understanding, thereby lacking cognitive equivalence.[11] Instead of an individual piece lacking understanding as Searle originally proposed, in order to respond to the System’s Reply Searle internalizes the entire system into his mind so he can now declare the entire system lacks understanding, and if the entire system lacks understanding while still maintaining functional equivalence to native Chinese Speakers, then functional equivalence cannot equal cognitive equivalence and so Strong AI and Functionalism must be invalid.

Even so, Strong AI has an additional quibble Searle must confront. That is, the assertion that the Turing Test itself is an invalid measure of functional and cognitive equivalence. Strong AI declares that the Turing Test is an insufficient test for determining functional and cognitive equivalence because passing the Turing Test is an inadequate test for understanding Chinese. As such, Strong AI claims even if Searle was capable of internalizing all the aspects of the Chinese Room to the extent that he could speak the sounds of the language and native Chinese speakers were unable to distinguish him from other native Chinese speakers, the fact Searle does not understand Chinese does not mean he is not functionally and cognitively equivalent because the Turing Test, which tests for this equivalence, is an invalid test for understanding Chinese. The Turing Test is invalid because language is more than just passing symbols back and forth, which is all Searle is capable of doing, whether it be with symbols on the pages he puts through the slot or symbols via his speech. If Searle memorized the entire rulebook and a native Chinese speaker asked him for an object he was carrying, all Searle could do is answer the question, and not give the object requested since Searle can only reference the rulebook in order to answer the question, but he cannot interact with his environment. Since a full understanding of language must include interaction with the environment, even though the Chinese Room passes the Turing Test, the Turing Test is a poor test for understanding language, so Searle’s conclusion is unsatisfactory.

Strong AI suggests an alternative to the Turing Test, termed the Robot Reply. This alternative proposes a more legitimate test for understanding language would involve the exchange of symbols and actions in the environment in response to symbols, since language is more than just an exchange of symbols. To that end, Strong AI proposes a better test for functional and cognitive equivalence would have to include a robot with sense organs that could interact with the environment.[12] In this case, the robot would have to understand the symbols of language and interact with the environment based on that understanding. This is a much better test for understanding language, and by extension, functional and cognitive equivalence.

The Robot Reply is an interesting response since it brings to light a very important issue, that is, the issue of validity. Within scientific pursuits, a valid measure is defined as something that measures what it was designed to measure. Interestingly, Strong AI agrees with Searle that the Chinese Room passes the Turing Test but lacks understanding while doing so. However, in order to maintain functional and cognitive equivalence strong AI asserts the Turing Test is an invalid test for understanding language since it lacks symbol exchange in the environment, so it should be abandoned. Unfortunately, robotics have not matured quite enough to determine if the Robot Reply is a satisfactory test for understanding language, but it is a test that appears far more valid than the Turing Test at this point, so it must be pursued as a more viable option, since it is absurd to continue assuming the Turing Test is a valid test for understanding language.

A potential concern is whether knowledge of syntax or knowledge of semantics is sufficient for functional and cognitive equivalence. If only semantics is required for a full understanding of language it assumes the person inside the Chinese Room does not have cognitive equivalence since he does not understand the semantics involved with the Chinese language, as he is just following the rulebook.[13] Searle agrees with this sentiment, yet I assert that the Chinese Room Argument is still inadequate because, as the Robot Reply points out, language is more than just semantics; to understand language one must interact with the environment and the Chinese Room Argument does not allow for this possibility.

In addition, Searle claims that without knowledge of semantics there can be no understanding, regardless of there being knowledge of syntax.[14] I disagree, for if knowledge of semantics is not required, Searle in the Chinese Room could learn knowledge of syntax, so in that sense he would be functionally and cognitively equivalent to a native Chinese speaker’s syntax abilities. Indeed, with practice Searle could memorize and understand certain grammatical rules without requiring knowledge of semantics to do so, since over time he would learn that certain combinations of squiggles result in other kinds of squiggles, without necessarily needing to know the meanings behind such squiggles. So, in either case, the Chinese Room Argument is a lackluster argument.

Given the details at hand, I assert Searle’s Chinese Room Argument is an unsuccessful criticism of functionalist theories of mind, and by extension, of Strong AI. I agree with Strong AI that in many cases the sum of the parts is more important than the individual pieces, as illustrated through my previous Systems Theory example. Since Searle’s argument is based on the Turing Test, and the Turing Test is an invalid test for understanding language, that test must also be abandoned. Similarly, since language is more than just an exchange of symbols, the Robot Reply is a far more advantageous test for understanding language, since the robot must have the ability to interact with the world, so I must agree with Strong AI on this point as well. In the end, Functionalism is able to address the criticisms against it in a very effective manner, so Searle’s Chinese Room Argument is unsatisfactory in its attempts to dissuade.

[1] Neil Campbell, A Brief Introduction to the Philosophy of Mind (Broadview Press Ltd, 2005), 76-77.

[2] Ibid., 75.

[3] Ibid., 81-86.

[4] Ibid., 89.

[5] Ibid., 87.

[6] Ibid., 87-88.

[7] John Searle, “Is the Brain’s Mind a Computer Program?” in Scientific American, Vol. 262, No. 1, (Munn & Co, 1990), 25.

[8] Neil Campbell, A Brief Introduction to the Philosophy of Mind (Broadview Press Ltd, 2005), 88-89.

[9] Ibid., 89-90.

[10] Ibid., 91; John Searle, “Is the Brain’s Mind a Computer Program?” in Scientific American, Vol. 262, No. 1, (Munn & Co, 1990), 29.

[11] John Searle, “Is the Brain’s Mind a Computer Program?” in Scientific American, Vol. 262, No. 1, (Munn & Co, 1990), 29.

[12] John Searle, “Is the Brain’s Mind a Computer Program?” in Scientific American, Vol. 262, No. 1, (Munn & Co, 1990), 29.

[13] Neil Campbell, A Brief Introduction to the Philosophy of Mind (Broadview Press Ltd, 2005), 90.

[14] Ibid., 90.

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The Paradox of Christ

I wrote this paper for bible college 3 or so years ago.  I really enjoyed the topic, and it’s probably my most favourite essay (theological essay that is) I’ve ever written.  I like to post my papers on the internet so that if I ever have a hard drive crash or some such thing, I’ll still have a digital copy hidden somewhere.  Enjoy, but please don’t steal.

 

            The personhood of Jesus Christ – thus the Incarnation of God into human form – consisted of and encompassed both deity and human flesh.  As such, the union and reconciliation of Christ’s humanity with Christ’s deity is not a contradiction, it is but a paradox.  The belief in the Incarnation of God into human flesh is essential for a belief in Christianity’s promises and convictions, for the very foundation of Christianity rests upon the belief that Jesus was a man – both fully divine and fully human – and that God came into the world in the flesh.  The paradox then, is how one reconciles the existence of a man who was and is both fully divine – thus fully God – and fully man.  Nonetheless, before attempting to clarify the paradox of Christ’s deity and humanity, one must first provide a thorough history of this particular controversy.  

            The controversy of Christ’s humanity and deity majorly influenced theologians throughout the late fourth and early fifth centuries, though some discourses were in existence within the late first century or early second century in the form of Docetism.[1]  As such, the following major belief systems and councils will be discussed: Docetism, Apollinarianism, the school of Antioch, Nestorius, the Council of Ephesus, the school of Alexandria, Eutyches, the Council of Chalcedon, the Monophysite controversy, and the Monothelete controversy.  To be sure, while the Council of Nicea in A.D. 325 instituted the deity of Christ against claims of Arianism,[2] [3] – in particular the belief that although the Logos could not be God, the Logos was indeed superior to all other beings[4] – the controversy of Christ’s deity had only just begun. 

            This particular controversy first presented itself in the form of Docetism.[5]  It appears that most Gnostics taught Docetism – the belief that Christ was only a spirit being and nothing more[6] [7] and that, conceivably, flesh – within the existence of the Incarnation – was an evil God could not permit.[8]  This teaching, of course, is divergent from the beliefs held by the early Church Fathers, for if indeed Christ were not fully man – thus the Incarnation being made of flesh alone – atonement for humanity’s sin simply could not exist.[9]

            Apollinarianism, which was taught by Apollinaris in the fourth century, is the belief that Christ “had an incomplete human nature.”[10]  This, in essence, implies that Christ possessed the divine Logos, but this Logos replaced Christ’s human mind.[11]  As such, Christ would no longer possess a human mind nor a human soul; He would simply have been God inside a human body.[12]  According to the Apollinarianism belief, the Logos became “embodied and thus shared the structural constitution of a human being,”[13] thus becoming a man, albeit without a human soul.  This, of course, is contrary to many biblical passages that state Christ – and thus the Logos – possessed a human body as well as a human mind and a human spirit (Matthew 26:38; Luke 22:42; Luke 23:46).  Similar to the objections raised with Docetism, atonement depends entirely upon both Christ’s deity and Christ’s humanity; if He were not fully man and fully God, Christ’s death as humanity’s substitute and as humanity’s case for retribution, would have been inevitably pointless.

            Within the fifth century, the school of Antioch endorsed a fully literal interpretation of Scripture, which caused the Antiochenes to strongly oppose and reject the teachings of Docetism and Apollinarianism.  As such, the Antiochenes alleged that although Christ was one person in exterior, humanity and deity were indeed separate yet both cooperated within Him.[14]  Even so, a major conflict with the Antiochene belief would soon present itself by means of Nestorianism.

            While Nestorius contended that he too held to the Antiochene view, his teachings, beginning in A.D. 428, seemed to imply that Christ was in actuality two persons rather than one.[15] [16]  Nonetheless, Nestorius’ main desire was to present a more direct division between the humanity and deity of Christ.  To illustrate this point, Nestorius lamented that although Christ died, he was unwilling to declare that God, as Spirit, also died.[17]  Even so, under the power of Cyril, the bishop of Alexandria, the Council of Ephesus formally denounced Nestorianism as heresy.[18]  They, through the affirmation of Christ as one person, charged Nestorius of dividing Christ into two separate persons.[19]  Interestingly enough, some contemporary scholars have held sympathetic views regarding Nestorius, and some have even stated that Nestorius did not divide the humanity and deity of Christ to the extent that his adversaries once claimed; one such scholar, Martin Luther, even construed that Nestorius was not a heretic nor did he teach that Christ was two persons.[20]

            The school of Alexandria, in particular the teachings of Athanasius, taught that both natures – the divine and the human – were full contributors within the works of Christ, including the anguish that was felt upon the cross.[21]  Some members even taught that Christ’s humanity was combined with Christ’s deity, and human nature could indeed become divine, which evidently, was the circumstance surrounding Christ.[22]  Even so, Eutyches, a Constantinople monk, radicalized the beliefs of the Alexandrians.  Eutyches stated that after the Incarnation Christ’s human nature was dissolved and sanctified by the Logos, even to the extent that Christ’s human body was also divine.[23]  It appears then, that Eutychianism constitutes the belief that Christ was neither fully human nor fully divine.[24]  This view, however, would eventually be denounced and publicly condemned by a local Constantinople council in A.D. 448.[25]

            The council of Chalcedon in A.D. 451, seconded only to the council of Nicea in terms of significance, taught that Christ has two natures but is one person.[26]  The council implemented a creed that states Christ is “perfect in Godhead and perfect in manhood, truly God and truly man, that he has a rational soul and a body.  He is of one substance with the Father as God, he is also of one substance with us as man.”[27]  In other words, while Christ has two natures – human and divine – He is still one person.  It is important to state that this entire controversy operated within a Trinitarian framework,[28] as it appears a Trinitarian may be “more susceptible to believing that Christ has only one nature, because he can explain the prayers of Christ […] as one divine person praying to another.”[29]  Nonetheless, the position of the council – and thus the position of classical Catholicism, Orthodoxy, and Protestantism – remains the same: that Christ is two natures united in one person. 

            While the creed from the aftermath of the Chalcedon Council became the official Christology statement,[30] controversy did not diminish.  Certain opponents of the Chalcedon council were labeled as Monophysites, as they insisted that Christ had only one nature, not two, and that after the Incarnation the divine nature became dominant.[31]  In A.D. 553, the fifth ecumenical council, the second one held at Constantinople, denounced the Monophysites’ oneness belief.  Even so, the Monophysites’ belief still exists within some facets of Eastern Orthodoxy.[32] 

            Interestingly enough, even after the Second Council of Constantinople made their denouncements against the Monophysites, a separate belief system still emerged in the form of the Monotheletes.  Monotheletes believed that Christ had one will, a will that was divine-human.[33]  This belief, however, is difficult to accept, as Christ’s human will most certainly surrendered to the divine will within the Garden of Gethsemane (Luke 22:42).  As such, in A.D. 680, the sixth ecumenical council, the third at Constantinople, reproached the Monotheletes, insisting that Christ encompasses two wills – the human will and the divine will – and that the human will was always subject to the divine will.[34] 

            Evidently, the debate of the fullness – or lack thereof – of both Christ’s humanity and His deity has been in existence since the early centuries.  It is a vital and important endeavor, for if Christ “were a mere man, he [would not] be able to redeem because of inherent sin; and if all of Christ was God without a human nature, He [would not] have been able to die.”[35]  The query then, is not what is the importance of this theological issue, but rather, how does one explain the supposed contradiction of two natures existing within one body.  The answer is relatively simple: it is not a contradiction; it is a paradox.

            The function of a paradox, according to Ian Ramsey, is to force the mind “beyond the natural to the supernatural.”[36] [37]  However, assuming one does not believe in the supernatural, another definition may be applicable, that of the Encyclopedia Britannica.  As such, according to the Encyclopedia Britannica, a paradox is defined as:

            1: a tenet contrary to received opinion

            2 a: a statement that is seemingly contradictory or opposed to common sense and yet is perhaps true. b: a self-contradictory statement that at first seems true. c: an argument that apparently derives self-contradictory conclusions by valid deduction from acceptable premises

            3: one (as a person, situation, or action) having seemingly contradictory qualities or phases.[38]

            In accordance with the above definition, more particularly with section 2 a, it appears that two natures existing within one body should not be defined as a contradiction simply because the human mind cannot comprehend the significance and scope of such an idea.  For even Paul emphasizes that the mystery of God is revealed through Jesus Christ (1 Timothy 3:16).  This would then imply that although the existence of two natures within one person is difficult to understand – and in itself is the ultimate mystery – this does not prove a contradiction, it simply proves a paradox, and paradoxes, as previously indicated, are not inherently wrong. 

            The necessity of this theological paradox can be seen inherently within the Christian faith and within Christology itself.  However, it is important to state that in attempting to elucidate the theological paradox of the Incarnation, there is no attempt to fully comprehend it.  The scholar, D. M. Baillie, affirms this concept quite well: “Our theological task is to try to make sure that we know what we mean by it, [the Incarnation] what it means and what it does not mean; to try to make sure that, while it remains the mysterium Christi, it is not sheer meaningless mystery, but becomes a truly Christian paradox to us.”[39]  In other words, while the mystery of the Incarnation will inevitably remain a mystery, it is the Christian’s duty to know of and about it, for it is the very foundation that Christianity – and thus atonement and salvation – rests upon.

            Since it is the Christian’s duty to be made aware of the foundational beliefs of Christianity, the evidence of Christ’s two natures – thus the Incarnation – must be found within Scripture.  As such, in regards to the Old Testament, the deity of Christ is found within the following passages: Ps. 2:6-12; 45:6-7; 110:1; Isa. 9:6; Jer. 23:6; Dan. 7:13; Mic. 5:2; Zech. 13:7; Mal. 3:1.  The deity of Christ is also seen within the New Testament, particularly within the writings of John (John 1:1-3, 14, 18; 2:24-25; 3:16-18, 35-36; 4:14-15; 5:18, 20 21, 22, 25-27; 11:41-44; 20:28; 1 John 1:3; 2:33; 4:14-15; 5:5, 10-13, 20), Paul (Rom. 1:7; 9:5; I Cor. 1:1-3; 2:8; II Cor. 5:10; Gal. 2:20; 4:4; Phil. 2:6; Col. 2:9; I Tim. 3:16), the Synoptic Gospels (Matt. 5:17; 9:6; 11:1-6, 27; 14:33; 16:16-17; 28:18; 25:31; Mark. 8:38; among others), and even within the self-consciousness of Jesus Himself (Matt. 11:27; 21:37-38; 22:41-46; 24:36; 28:19; Mark 12:6; 13:35-37; 13:32; Luke 10:22; 20:13; 20:41-44).[40] 

            Likewise, there is evidence of Christ’s humanity found within the following passages: John 8:40; Acts 2:22; Rom. 5:15; I Cor. 15:21.  Also, there are passages that state Christ had a human body and a cogent soul; He was influenced by human development, human wants, and human sufferings: John 1:14; I Tim. 3:16; I John 4:2; Matt. 26:26, 28, 38; Luke. 23:46; 24:39; John 11:33; Heb. 2:14, Luke 2:40, 52; Heb. 2:10, 18; 5:8.  Similarly, Christ’s sinlessness combined within Christ’s humanity is seen within the following passages: Luke 1:34; John 8:46; 14:30; II Cor. 5:21; Heb. 4:15; 9:14; I Pet. 2:22; I John 3:5.[41]

            Even so, the very essence of the Incarnation resides within the act of atonement.  Without the presence of the Logos, being both divine and human, humanity would not – and could not – be redeemed.  He came as the Mediator, the “one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all” (1 Tim. 2:5).[42]  An ultimate sacrifice was needed, the sacrifice of Christ (Heb. 9:26; 10:5-10).  For He was the One who paid sin’s penalty (Romans 3:25-26; 6:23; Gal. 3:13), He redeemed believers and non-believers alike (Eph. 1:7), and He created a new covenant with the Father (Heb. 9:15).  In Him, righteousness is imputed into believers to replace the presence of Adam’s original sin. 

            If Christ were not God incarnate – thus only man – both His sacrifice and His atonement would have been limited only to Himself.  It was required that Christ enter into human nature and yet remain a sinless man, “for a man who was himself a sinner and who had forfeited his own life, certainly could not atone for others.”[43]  Not to mention, “the one who saves [humanity] from sin must be no less than God Himself.”[44]  If Christ as God did not take sins of the world upon Himself, forgiveness, redemption, and even salvation would be impossible, for “only one who is eternally God can save.”[45] 

            Similarly, if Christ were only God and not man, how could He have permitted Himself to reside among unholy sinners?  Had He done so, being only God and nothing more, His character – the epitome of holiness – would have changed, but God is sovereign and unchanging, so this cannot be so.  Likewise, it appears that redemption was possible only because Christ as God and Christ as man became the Mediator between the Holy Father and the corrupt world.  The value of Christ’s sacrifice was that of perfect obedience to the law of God, and in that redemptive state, the curse of the law was dropped, and within that, humanity need only accept Him by faith.[46]  The necessity of this paradox then, is incredibly immense, for without it the very essence and purpose of Christ – atonement, retribution, and salvation – would have remained fractured and incomplete.

            While the necessity for this theological paradox is clearly apparent, a subsequent difficulty is how to elucidate the paradox.  Although the mystery of the Incarnation will remain, most assuredly, a mystery – as even Paul explicitly names it the great mystery of godliness (1 Timothy 3:16) – there are indeed means in which to illuminate the meaning behind, and perhaps to even explain, the paradox, but not to necessarily explain the mystery in and of itself.  Even so, there appears to be two contrasting opinions regarding the paradox.

            One opinion in particular appears to reconcile the two natures of Christ in this way:  “The assumption of human nature involved no change as to the Person of the eternal Son, it added nothing to it: the difference is that the second Person in the Godhead who always possessed divinity took also into Himself humanity.”[47]  In other words, Christ simply supplemented His already existing divine nature with a human nature, and in turn became the God-Man, both natures being fully God and fully man continuously.  Therefore, every true Christian has the potential to be divine-human as well, during which the Christian becomes a partaker of the divine nature (2 Peter 1:4).[48]  The mystery then, is how both the divine and human consciousnesses of Christ, as well as both the human and divine wills, are to be reconciled.  Even so, most interestingly, wherever the divine nature is revealed, the human nature is also present.  For example, Christ as man wept for Lazarus, yet Christ as God breathed into him new life.[49]  The explanation then, is that while the complexities of the two natures will remain a mystery, the essence of the natures, at the very least, may be visualized within Scripture.

            Another explanation of this paradox is D. M. Baillie’s concept of the ‘Paradox of Grace’.[50]  Fundamentally speaking, the Paradox of Grace is “the conviction which a Christian man possesses, that every good thing in him, every good thing he does, is somehow not wrought by himself, but by God.”[51]  In essence, the paradox of grace illuminates itself in which, when a poor choice is made, the human conscience suffers; yet, when the correct choice is made, the human conscience does not applaud.  In other words, “while there is a human side to every good action, so that it is genuinely the free choice of a person with a will, yet somehow the Christian feels that the other side of it, the divine side, is logically prior. […]  The good was His before it was ours.”[52]  All good things originate from God, as such, while the human has a sense of free choice in regards to his decisions, rather than taking the glory upon himself when the correct choice has been made, the divine side takes logical priority to the human side.  His conscience does not wish to be glorified; it wishes to give all praise to God.

            This paradox of grace, in its essence, is exemplified through the presence of the Incarnation.  Jesus was an authentic man, thrown in the midst of all of life’s choices and temptations; as such, some may regard His goodness as being mere human achievement.  However, any form of goodness, even in miniscule quantities, is never simply a human achievement.  All goodness finds its origination and production by and through God, this then becomes “the other side, and somehow that side comes first, without destroying the human.”[53]  The implication is that the “goodness of Jesus can ultimately be described only as the human side of a divine reality, which, so to say, was divine before it was human.”[54]  Therefore, in either case, whether in the Incarnation of Christ or in the lives of mere human beings, the divine side takes logical priority to, but does not diminish, the human side; as the two sides are continually balanced in extremities of paradox between one another.  Certainly, Christ is and was the ultimate completion of the paradox of the Incarnation, however, perhaps within the conception of the paradox of grace, the Christian is also able to, albeit insufficiently, comprehend what it truly means to be both divine and human in a way that prohibits any blemishing of the great mysterium Christi.

            Nevertheless, while the existence of two natures within the personhood of Christ may indeed be difficult to grasp, it is not in and of itself a contradiction.  No matter one’s definition of paradox, insofar as it’s residing within the limits of either definition, be it the natural to the supernatural or simply the paralleled existence of two seemingly contradictory statements, the end result should ultimately remain the same.  The function of a paradox then, is to force the mind into a place where it must continually balance two seemingly contradictory statements in varying degrees.  As such, the Incarnation of Christ is not a contradiction; it is an essential piece within the puzzle of redemption. 

            Even if one chooses to be at peace, albeit intellectually, with the idea that the Incarnation is the ultimate mystery and cannot be explained, it is vital to remember that the early Church Fathers demonstrated the necessity for, at the very least, an understanding of the purpose and requirement of the Incarnation for the Christian life.  For if Christ was God alone, He could not remain in the presence of sinners, and if Christ was man alone, He could not redeem nor atone for all the sins of the world.  Whether one chooses to ponder the paradox of the Incarnation or disregard it entirely is not the point; rather, the point is to be aware of the theological implications of the creed, especially within the 21st century, and to remember all that the Incarnation stands for, even if in the end the paradox inevitably remains a mystery.  Most of all, one must remember that the paradox, insofar as it being the bridge between the sin of humanity and the holiness of God, became the means to an ultimate end, an end that was redemption and salvation through the God-Man, Jesus Christ.

 

Bibliography

Author Unknown, “Encyclopedia Britannica” Retrieved November 2010,

            http://www.britannica.com/facts/102/1442/definition-of-paradox

Baillie, D.M. God Was in Christ. Great Britain: Latimer Trend & Co Ltd. Plymouth, 1963.

Berkhof, L. The History of Christian Doctrines. Carlisle Pennsylvania: The Banner of Truth Trust, 1978.

Berkhof, L. Systematic Theology. Grand Rapids Michigan: WM. B. Eerdman’s Publishing Co., 1982.

Bernard, David K.  A History of Christian Doctrine: Volume One. Hazelwood Missouri: Word Aflame Press, 1995.

Erickson, Millard. Christian Theology. Grand Rapids Michigan: Baker Books, 2007.

Dr. Lockyer, Herbert All The Doctrines of The Bible. Grand Rapids Michigan: Zondervan Publishing House, 1964.

Mortensen, Alan. Christology. Eston Saskatchewan: FGBI Publications, 1992.

Ramsey, Ian. Paradox in Religion. “Christian Empiricism.” Grand Rapids Michigan: Eerdmans, 1974.

Williams, J. Rodman. Renewal Theology. Grand Rapids Michigan: Zondervan Publishing House, 1988.


[1] David K. Bernard, A history of Christian Doctrine, Volume One (Hazelwood Missouri: Word Aflame Pr, 1995), 142.

[2] Alan Mortensen, Christology (Eston Saskatchewan: FGBI Publications, 1992), 30.

[3] David K. Bernard, A history of Christian Doctrine, Volume One (Hazelwood Missouri: Word Aflame Pr, 1995), 158

[4] Richard A. Norris, Jr., editor, Sources of early Christian Thought: The Christological Controversy (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1980), 17-18.

[5] Alan Mortensen, Christology (Eston Saskatchewan: FGBI Publications, 1992), 30.

[6] David K. Bernard, A history of Christian Doctrine, Volume One (Hazelwood Missouri: Word Aflame Pr, 1995), 142.

[7] Alan Mortensen, Christology (Eston Saskatchewan: FGBI Publications, 1992), 30.

[8] Sources of Early Christian Thought – The Christological Controversy – 9

[9] H David K. Bernard, A history of Christian Doctrine, Volume One (Hazelwood Missouri: Word Aflame Pr, 1995), 142.

[10] Ibid., 142.

[11] Ibid., 143.

[12] Alan Mortensen, Christology (Eston Saskatchewan: FGBI Publications, 1992), 30.

[13] Richard A. Norris, Jr., editor, Sources of early Christian Thought: The Christological Controversy (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1980), 22.

[14] David K. Bernard, A history of Christian Doctrine, Volume One (Hazelwood Missouri: Word Aflame Pr, 1995), 144-145.

[15] Ibid., 145.

[16] Alan Mortensen, Christology (Eston Saskatchewan: FGBI Publications, 1992), 30.

[17] David K. Bernard, A history of Christian Doctrine, Volume One (Hazelwood Missouri: Word Aflame Pr, 1995), 146.

[18] Richard A. Norris, Jr., editor, Sources of early Christian Thought: The Christological Controversy (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1980), 28.

[19] David K. Bernard, A history of Christian Doctrine, Volume One (Hazelwood Missouri: Word Aflame Pr, 1995), 146.

[20] David K. Bernard, A history of Christian Doctrine, Volume One (Hazelwood Missouri: Word Aflame Pr, 1995), 147.

[21] Ibid., 147.

[22] Ibid., 148.

[23] Ibid., 149.

[24] Alan Mortensen, Christology (Eston Saskatchewan: FGBI Publications, 1992), 30.

[25] Richard A. Norris, Jr., editor, Sources of early Christian Thought: The Christological Controversy (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1980), 29.

[26] Ibid., 30.

[27] David K. Bernard, A history of Christian Doctrine, Volume One (Hazelwood Missouri: Word Aflame Pr, 1995), 150.

[28] David K. Bernard, A history of Christian Doctrine, Volume One (Hazelwood Missouri: Word Aflame Pr, 1995), 151.

[29] Ibid., 152.

[30] Richard A. Norris, Jr., editor, Sources of early Christian Thought: The Christological Controversy (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1980), 30.

[31] David K. Bernard, A history of Christian Doctrine, Volume One (Hazelwood Missouri: Word Aflame Pr, 1995), 154.

[32] Ibid., 155.

[33] Ibid., 155.

[34] David K. Bernard, A history of Christian Doctrine, Volume One (Hazelwood Missouri: Word Aflame Pr, 1995), 156.

[35] Alan Mortensen, Christology (Eston Saskatchewan: FGBI Publications, 1992), 39.

[36] Ian Ramsey, Paradox in Religion, Christian Empiricism (Grand Rapids Michigan: Eerdmans, 1974), 107.

[37] Millard Erickson, Christian Theology (Grand Rapids Michigan: Baker Books, 2007), 697.

[38] Author Unknown, “Encyclopedia Britannica” Retrieved November 2010, http://www.britannica.com/facts/102/1442/definition-of-paradox

[39] D.M. Baillie, God Was in Christ (Great Britain: Latimer Trend & Co Ltd. Plymouth, 1963), 124.

[40] L. Berkhof, Systematic Theology (Grand Rapids Michigan: WM. B. Eerdman’s Publishing Co. 1982), 317.

[41] Ibid., 318.

[42] J. Rodman Williams, Renewal Theology (Grand Rapids Michigan: Zondervan Publishing House, 1988), 305.

[43] L. Berkhof, Systematic Theology (Grand Rapids Michigan: WM. B. Eerdman’s Publishing Co. 1982), 319.

[44] J. Rodman Williams, Renewal Theology (Grand Rapids Michigan: Zondervan Publishing House, 1988), 326.

[45] Ibid., 326.

[46] L. Berkhof, Systematic Theology (Grand Rapids Michigan: WM. B. Eerdman’s Publishing Co. 1982), 319.

[47] Dr. Herbert Lockyer, All the Doctrines of the Bible (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan Publishing House, 1964), 45.

[48] Ibid., 45.

[49] Ibid., 45.

[50] D.M. Baillie, God Was in Christ (Great Britain: Latimer Trend & Co Ltd. Plymouth, 1963), 114-132.

[51] Ibid., 114.

[52] D.M. Baillie, God Was in Christ (Great Britain: Latimer Trend & Co Ltd. Plymouth, 1963), 124.

[53] Ibid., 130.

[54] Ibid., 130.

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I’m Back! (Kind of)

I’m resurrecting this blog because I’ve stopped writing, and quite frankly, I find that upsetting.  Also, I’m (hopefully) going to University in September, which means I’ll have more reasons to write and possibly post the fruits of my labours.  I’m excited.

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Philosophy and Christianity

“If man, as the existentialist conceives him, is indefinable, it is because at first he is nothing. Only afterward will he be something, and he himself will have made what he will be.”  – Sartre

Recently I’ve been enamoured with philosophy, though mostly the existential/objectivist kinds.  When I was younger, I desperately wanted to believe in the merits of Objectivism.  I wanted the world to be such a place that I could do with it what I wanted, and I would have no restrictions (minus the law, of course).  A loose definition of it: “…the proper moral purpose of one’s life is the pursuit of one’s own happiness or ‘rational self interest.'”  Objectivism felt so… freeing and tough.  I wouldn’t have to be vulnerable to the unknown, I wouldn’t have to wait for events to occur, I wouldn’t have to be unsure of myself.  Objectivism would allow me the room to grow and search for everything that I wanted to achieve without the stigma of religion or patience or virtue.  I could be all that I wanted to be, and the only person in the world who could stop me, was me.  Or so I thought.

I also wanted to be an Existenialist.  Although similar to Objectivism (search for meaning/truth/desires), it’s different in the fact that it is “…the suffering individual [who] must create meaning in an unknowable, chaotic, and seemingly empty universe.””  In my mind, the Existenialist is the man who suffers and achieves the unachievable in times of distress and panic.  When the world seems lost and unknowable, the Existentialist takes hold of it.  I suppose the main difference between the two streams of thought is that Objectivism is a moral purpose of pursuit for one’s own happiness, and the Existentialist searches for meaning (not necessarily happiness) through the sorrow of life.

It’s been quite a few years since I’ve extrapolated on any philosophy (other than the theological philosophies required in bible college).  But through various events, I’m now reconsidering my philosophical stance.  I want to believe in the freedom that Objectivism creates; I want to believe in the achievable meaning Existentialism requires.  I want to know that I have the freedom to choose, and to accept the consequences therein.  Objectivism is selfish and heartless and cold and futile.  Objectivism strips the grace away from Christ.  Objectivism is about me, rather than Him.  Objectivism uses my concept of morality and incorporates it as ultimate truth.  But ultimate truth is not and can never be relative truth.  And that is the problem with Objectivism.

I’ve clung to Existentialism even tighter.  The concept of Existentialism kept me sane when nothing else mattered.  Because suffering was expected, I could cope with it.  Both Existentialism and Objectivism require personal responsibility, and I think that is the reason both philosophies brought me so much joy.  I was responsible for myself, my choices, my surroundings, my joys and my sorrows.

I want to combine the truths from both philosophies into my personal theological beliefs, but I’m not  sure if that’s possible.  My beliefs require Christ to be the giver of meaning and fulfillment.  As it says, He will give us the desires of our heart.  Is that all of the meaning I can find within Christianity?  Or am I still allowed to search elsewhere for a time?  That is the ultimate question, I think.  Is there room for personal growth (and meaning and desire and achievement and hope and sorrow and pain) outside of the general Christian spew.  I honestly don’t know.  I wonder sometimes if my pure desire for meaning is in itself the “desire of my heart” promised to me.  And if that’s the case, why shouldn’t I be allowed to pursue it?

I know inherently Objectivism is selfish (as Rand once said, it is the “Virtue of Selfishness”), but is it possible to be an Objectivist without being selfish.  Christianity tells us to be kind and true, to give and not to take, objectivism tells us to take what’s morally ours to take.  If we stay within the moral agenda, can Objectivism be… Christianized?

Existentialism may not be selfish, but it is certainly depressing and chaotic.  I know the world is chaotic because of the fall of man, I know we cannot expect perfection, but I wonder if Existentialism goes too far in one direction.  I wonder if it is too chaotic.  If there’s still room for Grace in the midst of the chaos.

I wish I could create a hybrid philosophy.  One that would allow me the feeling of chaos and sorrow, one that would give me the freedom to be (whatever it is I desire to be), as well as the freedom to choose, all the while letting me stay within the boundaries of my own religious conscience.

My conscience means much to me.  As it should, considering all of the things I’ve given up for it, but this is one particular issue where I feel no sway whatsoever.  And perhaps because of that, I am at a difficult road, deciding whether to follow or to flee.

1

Immutability of God

I’m posting this mostly for my own reasons, but feel free to read it.  I’m handing it in this Tuesday.  Comments/critiques always appreciated.

Within the arena of Christian thought, there are few non-negotiable doctrines.  One non-negotiable in particular is that of the necessity for – and the existence of – the attributes of God.  The divine attributes cannot be negotiated or disputed, for if such a thing were to occur, God would cease to be God.  Without divine attributes, such a God would be finite and unworthy of worship.  Consequently, while many attributes do exist, the immutability of God is perhaps one of the most important, for only a God who is unchanging in His entire being can truly be infinite.  Thus, for a God to be worthy of worship He must also be an unchanging God.

Nevertheless, it is important to first answer the question of who God is, for “a god begotten in the shadows of a fallen heart will quite naturally be no true likeness of the true God.”[1] In other words, the nature of God must be seen and evaluated through the presence of His divine attributes and not through the ideals of a sinful human heart.  Consequently, because the Christian is unable to fully know God through his own efforts, he must resort to believing in the rightness of the attributes and nature of God, for they are the basis to what the Christian believes.  If God’s attributes were unworthy or unholy, or if His nature were no longer upright, He would cease to be God, and such a god would be unworthy of worship.

As such, the evaluation of the attributes of God is vital for a sufficient understanding of Him.  However, due to the extreme broadness of such an ideal, only attributes that in some way affect the immutability of God will be thoroughly discussed.  Even so, at the very least it is important to clarify most of the agreed upon attributes of God before venturing into the necessity of immutability.  As such, the nature of God is usually defined by the following attributes: incomprehensibility, self-sufficiency, self-existence, eternality, infinitude, immutability, omniscience, omnipotence, omnipresence, goodness, justice, mercy, grace, love, holiness, and sovereignty.  Certainly, attributes may be further defined as being either communicable or non-communicable, meaning, humanity as a whole may be able to incorporate some aspects of mercy, justice, and love, but no human can be fully self-sufficient or omnipotent.  In other words: God shares with His creation aspects of Himself through His communicable traits; yet, God does not share some aspects of Himself with His creation because of the fact that those traits are simply non-communicable.

Regarding the attribute of immutability, the basic definition is that “God is One who does not change.”[2] God is unchanging and there is no transition from one area to another.  Even the New Testament states “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and for ever” (Hebrews 13:8).  The obvious implication being, whichever divine Person is present, the nature of God remains as One who does not change.  Even so, one must not forget “I am the Lord, I change not” (Malachi 3:6).  In addition other passages indicate such immutability: Exodus 3:14; Numbers 23:19; 1 Samuel 15:29; Psalm 102:26-28; Isaiah 41:4; 48:12; Romans 1:23; Hebrews 1:11-12; Hebrews 6:17-18; and James 1:17.[3] [4] This concept of changelessness can be stated quite delicately: “All things else are tottering; God sees all other things in continual motion under His feet, like water passing away and no more seen; while He remains fixed and immovable; His wisdom and power, His knowledge and will, are always the same.” [5]

It should be stated that both immutability and eternality must be linked together, for one attribute cannot exist without the other, as “true eternity is true immutability; whence eternity is defined the possession of an immutable life.” [6] Even so, a differentiation must be made: immutability refers to the essence of a thing, whereas eternity refers to the duration of a being in the state of immutability. [7] In other words, eternity is the measure of the state of immutability; one cannot be changeless without also being eternal.

Regarding the concept of change, Stephen Charnock defines change as such: “A thing is said to be changed, when it is otherwise now in regard of nature, state, will, or any quality than it was before; when either something is added to it, or taken from it; when it either loses or acquires.” [8] Consequently, this definition must be applied to the very nature of God.  For God “wants nothing; He loses nothing; but doth uniformly exist by Himself, without any new nature, new thoughts, new will, new purpose, or new place.” [9] In essence, every attribute of God flows out of the fact that He is unchanging, for He neither requires nor loses anything within His nature.

Charnock defines three aspects of immutability.  Firstly, that the immutability of God is a perfection.[10] Certainly, immutability in and of itself is not perfection, for even evil angels are immutable in their hatred against goodness.  Yet, since God is “infinite in essence, infinitely good, wise, holy; so it is a perfection necessary to His nature, that He should be immutably all this, all excellency, goodness, wisdom, immutably all that He is; without this He would be an imperfect Being.”[11]

Secondly, immutability belongs to all of the attributes of God.[12] [13] Consequently, in order for God to be all knowing, all-powerful, and outside of time and space, it is imperative for Him to be unchanging in His knowledge, unchanging in His power, and unchanging in His state of eternality.  Similarly, “mercy and justice have their distinct objects and distinct acts; mercy is conversant about a penitent, justice conversant about an obstinate sinner.  […]  The wisdom of God is not His power, nor His power His holiness, but immutability is the centre wherein they all unite.” [14] If God’s wisdom had the potential to change, this evolvement would inevitably create an opportunity for obscured wisdom.  Likewise, if God were given the opportunity to grow more powerful, He must also be given the opportunity to shrink in His power.  Yet this is obviously not the case, as “all that we consider in God is unchangeable; for his essence and his properties are the same, and, therefore, what is necessarily belonging to the essence of God, belongs also to every perfection of the nature of God; none of them can receive any addition or diminution.”[15] In other words, for God to be infinite in all of His attributes, the very nature of God must be unchanging.

Lastly, unchangeableness pertains to the nature of God.[16] Charnock states, “God is a necessary Being; He is necessarily what He is, and, therefore, is unchangeably what He is.  […]  If any perfection of His nature could be separated from Him, He would cease to be God.”[17] God is unable to be unrighteous and unholy because of the fact that His nature is pure and holy.  Similarly, God cannot change because of the fact that His very nature is unchangeable and to change would imply contingency and a sense of augmentation or diminution.  In the end, “necessity of being, and, therefore, immutability of being, belongs by nature only to God; otherwise, if there were any change in God, He would be sometimes what He was not, and would cease to be what He was, which is against the nature, and, indeed, against the natural notion of a Deity.” [18]

While it is certain that God is immutable, in what respects is He actually unchangeable?  To answer, God is unchangeable in His essence.[19] “He who hath not being from another, cannot but be always what he is: God is the first being, an independent Being; He was not produced of Himself, or of any other, but by nature always hath been, and, therefore, cannot by Himself, or by any other, be changed from what He is in His own nature.” [20] Similarly, if God’s nature was not immutable and the possibility for change did exist, He would no longer be able to state, “I Am that I Am” (Exodus 3:14) for “though He would not cease utterly to be, yet He would cease to be what He was before.” [21] Certainly, God’s essence cannot be changed, for “the Divine nature cannot be increased; for whatsoever receives anything than what it had in itself before, must necessarily receive it from another, because nothing can give to itself that which it hath not.” [22] Yet, God cannot give to Himself what He lacks, because all things are derived from Him.

In addition to being immutable in essence, God must also be immutable in His knowledge, for it has been stated that “all things are open and laid bare to the eyes of Him with whom we have to do” (Hebrews 4:13).  As such, God knows all things, for “that which He knows now He always knows.”[23] A man is said to change in terms of his knowledge “when he knows that now which he did not know before, or knows that to be false now which he thought true before, or has something for the object of his understanding now, which he had not before.”[24] Obviously then, God’s knowledge must be unchanging, for “if God understood a thing at one time which He did not at another, He would be changed from ignorance to knowledge.”[25] Not to mention, a God with changing knowledge would be unfit to inflict judgment, for “a changeable mind and understanding cannot make a due and right judgment of things to be done, and things to be avoided.”[26]

In addition, God knows all things by His essence.  As such, “from the infiniteness of His essence we conclude the infiniteness of His understanding, so from the unchangeableness of His essence, we may justly conclude the unchangeableness of His knowledge.”[27] If God’s knowledge and essence were somehow different, and if His being were somehow not simple, God would be split into varying parts, yet if He were to exist in parts, He would not be an independent and simple Being and thus could not be God.  However, God is a simple Being, and as a simple Being, His essence “eminently contains all perfections in itself, so His understanding comprehends all things past, present, and future, in itself.”[28]

Consequently, God must also be outside of time, for “God hath no original; He hath no defect, because He was not made of nothing: He hath no increase, because He had no beginning.  He was before all things, and, therefore, depends upon no other thing which, by its own change, can bring any change upon him.”[29] In other words, in order to be immutable, God must also be outside of time, having no beginning and no end, an uncreated Being that can neither increase nor decrease in essence or in attribute.

God must also be changeless in regards to His will and purpose.  For, “whatsoever God hath decreed, is immutable; whatsoever God hath promised, shall be accomplished.”[30] Since God’s will is immutable, humanity was required to satisfy the Law whereby a Mediator was given to humanity, for it was the “unalterable will of God”[31] that death be the wages of sin.

Akin to that of God’s knowledge, God’s will is identical to God’s essence.  For, if God’s will varied from His essence, He would no longer be simple.  Even the “existence of anything supposeth an act of His will.”[32] Interestingly, there is no plausible reason for mutability within the will of God, as humanity desires foresight to alter both the past and the future, yet God already possesses full and complete knowledge in all things in and of Himself.  Or, to state it in better terms, “if God did change His purpose, it must be either for the better, – then the counsel of God was bad before; or for the worse, – then He was not wise and good before.”[33] Yet, because God is omniscient and omnipotent, God cannot – and will not – revise or change His will, for even the Psalms state, “The counsel of the Lord standeth forever, the thoughts of His heart to all generations” (Psalm 78:65).[34]

Consequently, one concern must be addressed.  That is, while God’s will is immutable, this immutability does not imply that whatever is willed will also be immutable, for what was once willed into existence may be willed out of existence.  For “He decreed that Christ should suffer, but He did not decree that Christ should always suffer; so He willed the Mosaical rites for a time, but He did not will that they should always continue; He willed that they should endure only for a time; and when the time came for their ceasing, God had been mutable if He had not put an end to them, because His will had fixed such a period.”[35] Consequently, though God willed the world into existence, the world was not given immutability.  While the decree that willed the world into existence is immutable, an end to the world was still predetermined.  As such, “the decree is immutable if the world perish at that time, and would not be immutable if the world did endure beyond that time that God hath fixed for the duration of it.”[36]

Certainly, there are various reasons that prove the immutability of God.  For example, the name Jehovah appears to imply the attribute of immutability.  For, “the very name Jehovah bears, according to the grammatical order, a mark of God’s unchangeableness; it never hath anything added to it, nor anything taken from it; it hath no plural number, no affixes – a custom peculiar to the eastern languages; it never changes its letters as other words do.”[37] Not to mention, Exodus 3:14, “I Am who I Am” signifies eternality, immutability, purpose, knowledge, and consistency.

Similarly, because God is perfect, He cannot change.  Change occurs in only two ways: in either greater or lesser amounts.  If God were to be less perfect, the implication is that He is not completely perfect, and thus cannot be God.  Likewise, if God were to become more perfect, the logical conclusion is that He was not perfect enough to begin with, and a God who is not always perfect cannot be God.  Additionally, because God is the most simple being, “if God could be changed by anything within Himself, all in God would not be God;  […] if one part were able to change or destroy another, that which doth change would be God, that which is changed would not be God.”[38] Obviously then, mutability is contrary to both God’s independency and His simplicity.

Consequently, God could not be eternal if He were mutable.  As such, if God “were sometimes this and sometimes that, sometimes know this and sometimes know that, sometimes purpose this and afterwards hath a new purpose; He would be partly temporary and partly eternal, not truly and universally eternal.”[39] God of course cannot be partly eternal, so He must be immutable in His purposes and in His knowledge in order to be wholly and completely eternal.

Some may question the affections assigned to God, contending a change in God must have occurred.  Such as when God repented of the good He promised (Jeremiah 18:10) and His repentance of the evil He threatened (Exodus 32:14; John 3:10).  However, repentance is not necessarily in God, for God is pure Spirit and is unable to experience passions that are a sign of weakness and impotence.[40] For “where there is a proper repentance there is a want of foresight, an ignorance of what would succeed, or a defect in the examination of the occurrences which might fall within consideration.”[41]

The answer to this difficulty lies in the fact that God must accommodate Himself to the weaknesses of humanity.  For God often describes Himself as having body parts or as waking, yet God is a spirit and He does not sleep.[42] Nor does He fly when He describes Himself as riding upon the wings of the wind .[43] Since humanity cannot “fully comprehend [God] as He is, He clothes Himself with our nature in His expressions that we may apprehend Him as we are able, and by an inspection into ourselves, learn something of the nature of God; yet those human ways of speaking […] are only designed to mark out something in God which hath a resemblance with something in us, as we cannot speak to God as gods, but as men, so we cannot understand Him speaking to us as a God, unless He condescend to speak to us like a man.”[44] As such, God’s nature must remain unchanged, for when “He institutes a change in His dealings with men, He describes His course of conduct as repenting.”[45] Similarly, if God is seen as “repenting, changing His intention, and altering His relation to sinners when they repent”, these events must be viewed as being anthropopathic in nature.[46] All perceived changes in God are due to changes in His creation; God’s purposes and promises do not change, even if His actions must differ according to the behaviour of His creation.[47] [48]

A stark contrast exists between God and humanity whereby humans must rely completely on the grace and will of God, for “by nature we tend toward nothingness, since we came from nothing.  Nothing stays our annihilation but the will and sustaining power of God.”[49] Even Acts 17:28 implies the glory and power of God, for in Him “we live, and move, and have our being.”  Yet, as fallen creatures everything within the unsaved human will is opposed to God.[50] All humans are inconsistent and undependable; “Put not your trust in princes, in the son of man, in whom is no help” (Psalm 146:3).  However, the immutability of God provides much needed comfort, for God’s will is stable, He is the same forever, and He is likened to an immovable rock (Deuteronomy 32:4).  God is eternal; He has always existed and will exist forever.[51] He is self-existent and self-sufficient, the only unique Being in existence, and “one who can suffer any slightest degree of change is neither self-existent, self-sufficient, nor eternal, and so is not God.”[52] As such, because God’s will cannot be compromised, He need not be persuaded into loving His children, for He is love.  God’s immutability entails Him “always doing the right and in adapting the treatment of His creatures to the variations in their character and conduct.”[53]

Consequently, if God were mutable, prayer would serve to be ultimately purposeless, for God’s purposes and all of His attributes would be fleeting and illogical.  Yet, because God’s will cannot be changed, what is the point of “praying to One whose will is already fixed?”[54] The most logical answer is simply: because He requires it.  Since God has willed all things that are for the good of His children, “to ask anything contrary to His will is not prayer, but rank rebellion.”[55] Likewise, so long as Christians “meet His clearly stated terms, bring our lives into accord with His revealed will, and His infinite power will become instantly operative toward us in the manner set forth through the gospel in the Scriptures of truth.”[56]

Similarly, immutability does not presuppose immobility.  For God is a working and functioning God and He “enters into relationships with changing men.”[57] God is akin to a rock in His unchanging will and purposes, yet all of His divine attributes must flow out of His immutability.  Since humanity is finite and limited in mind and body, and as paradoxical as it may first seem, it is “necessary for an unchangeable God to change in his dealings with changing men in order to remain unchangeable in his character and purposes.”[58] Or, in other words: there is no change in God’s Being, His attributes, His motives, His promises, or His purpose, rather there is only change in the relations of men to Him.[59] This concept is illustrated through the threat of judgment found in Jonah.  In particular, lack of judgment does not imply mutability; rather, God simply adapted His actions towards the ever-changing human situation.[60] In other words, “God remained the same in character, infinitely hating sin, and in His purpose to visit sin with judgment; but as Nineveh changed in its attitude toward sin, God necessarily changed in His attitude towards Nineveh.  His character remains the same; but His dealings with men change, as they change from a position that is hateful to His unchangeable hatred of sin, to one that is pleasing to His unchangeable love of righteousness.”[61]

There is an interesting development regarding the human’s response to the concept of eternity.  That is, because God is the great I Am, the One who exists outside of time, there is much difficulty in comprehending the vastness of eternity.  One theologian, Gerald Bray, asserts that only two concepts of time truly exist: that is, the past and the future, for the present cannot truly exist.  This is in part because “no matter how carefully we pinpoint the moment in time which we call ‘now’, as soon as we have uttered the word, that moment has become past.”[62] The present is simply a concept used to differentiate between time that has occurred, and time that has yet to occur.  If this premise is accepted, one may perhaps state that the present is intimately connected to the eternal, for in a sense, “the present is really the end of time – the point which time has now reached.”[63] The main point being, because of the indefinable present, “God has implanted in us the ability to know the eternal as a dimension outside the flow of time […] and God can reveal Himself to us as present without violating His nature, because the present is the vehicle by which we can apprehend the eternal.”[64] This concept is relevant to the immutability of God because God cannot be immutable unless He is also eternal.  Regarding the abilities within the human mind, perhaps this new understanding of time and eternity may bring forth a refreshing view of God that is immanent and transcendent as well as personal and almighty.

Nonetheless, for God to be God it is imperative that He possess immutability.  Likewise, in order to be immutable God must also exist outside of time and space, be completely eternal, all knowing, and all powerful.  Any “changeableness implies a corruptibility” yet God’s will and purpose cannot be corrupted, thus He must be changeless.[65] Since God’s will is changeless, His moral law must also be changeless.  The result is that humans are left completely responsible for their own behaviour.

Perhaps a final consequence of the doctrine of immutability is that while humans are undependable and fallen creatures, when Christians reside in Christ, His immutability may be used for their good.  In other words, “the nearer we come to Him, the more stability we shall have in ourselves; the further from Him, the more liable to change.”[66] Children of God must take consolation in the fact that while the world is chaotic and fallen, their Father is the great I Am and He will never thwart His plans or purposes because He is a changeless God.

References

Bancroft, Emery H. Elemental Theology. Grand Rapids Michigan: Zondervan Publishing House, 1977.

Berkhof, L. Systematic Theology. Grand Rapids Michigan: WM. B. Eerdman’s Publishing Co., 1982.

Bray, Gerald. The Doctrine of God. Illinois: InterVarsity Press, 1993.

Chaffer, Lewis Sperry. Systematic Theology: Volume One. Wheaton Illinois: Victor Books, 1988.

Charnock, Stephen. Discourses Upon the Existence and Attributes of God: Volume One. Grand Rapids Michigan: Baker Book House, 1988.

Hodge, Charles. Systematic Theology: Volume One. Grand Rapids Michigan: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing, 1982.

Lockyer, Herbert. All the Doctrines of the Bible. Grand Rapids Michigan: Zondervan Publishing, 1964.

Pink, Arthur W. The Attributes of God. Grand Rapids Michigan: Baker Book House, 1977.

Pinnock, Rice, Sanders, Hasker, & Basinger. The Openness of God: A Biblical Challenge to the Traditional Understanding of God. Illinois: InterVarsity Press, 1994.

Thiessen, Henry Clarence. Lectures in Systematic Theology. Grand Rapids Michigan: W.B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1983.

Tozer, A. W. The Knowledge of the Holy – The Attributes of God: Their Meaning in the Christian Life. New York: Harper & Brothers Publishers, 1961.

Williams, J. Rodman. Renewal Theology. Grand Rapids Michigan: Zondervan Publishing House, 1988.


[1] A. W. Tozer, The Knowledge of the Holy – The Attributes of God: Their Meaning in the Christian Life (New York: Harper & Brothers Publishers, 1961), 11.

[2] J. Rodman Williams, Renewal Theology (Grand Rapids Michigan: Zondervan Publishing House, 1988,) 58.

[3] L. Berkhof, Systematic Theology (Grand Rapids Michigan: WM. B. Eerdman’s Publishing Co., 1982), 59.

[4] Emery H. Bancroft, Elemental Theology (Grand Rapids Michigan: Zondervan Publishing House, 1977), 77.

[5] Stephen Charnock, Discourses Upon the Existence and Attributes of God, Volume One (Grand Rapids Michigan: Baker Book House, 1988), 316.

[6] Stephen Charnock, Discourses Upon the Existence and Attributes of God, Volume One (Grand Rapids Michigan: Baker Book House, 1988), 317.

[7] Ibid., 317.

[8] Ibid., 317.

[9] Ibid., 317.

[10] Ibid., 317.

[11] Ibid., 318.

[12] Stephen Charnock, Discourses Upon the Existence and Attributes of God, Volume One (Grand Rapids Michigan: Baker Book House, 1988), 318.

[13] Arthur W. Pink, The Attributes of God (Grand Rapids Michigan: Baker Book House, 1977), 37.

[14] Stephen Charnock, Discourses Upon the Existence and Attributes of God, Volume One (Grand Rapids Michigan: Baker Book House, 1988), 318.

[15] Ibid., 318.

[16] Ibid., 318.

[17] Ibid., 319.

[18] Stephen Charnock, Discourses Upon the Existence and Attributes of God, Volume One (Grand Rapids Michigan: Baker Book House, 1988), 319.

[19] Arthur W. Pink, The Attributes of God (Grand Rapids Michigan: Baker Book House, 1977), 37.

[20] Stephen Charnock, Discourses Upon the Existence and Attributes of God, Volume One (Grand Rapids Michigan: Baker Book House, 1988), 319.

[21] Ibid., 320.

[22] Ibid., 321.

[23] Stephen Charnock, Discourses Upon the Existence and Attributes of God, Volume One (Grand Rapids Michigan: Baker Book House, 1988), 322.

[24] Ibid., 322.

[25] Ibid., 322.

[26] Ibid., 322.

[27] Ibid., 323.

[28] Ibid., 323.

[29] Ibid., 321.

[30] Ibid., 325.

[31] Ibid., 325.

[32] Ibid., 326.

[33] Ibid., 327.

[34] Arthur W. Pink, The Attributes of God (Grand Rapids Michigan: Baker Book House, 1977), 38.

[35] Stephen Charnock, Discourses Upon the Existence and Attributes of God, Volume One (Grand Rapids Michigan: Baker Book House, 1988), 327.

[36] Ibid., 328.

[37] Ibid., 330.

[38] Stephen Charnock, Discourses Upon the Existence and Attributes of God, Volume One (Grand Rapids Michigan: Baker Book House, 1988), 322.

[39] Ibid., 333.

[40] Ibid., 340.

[41] Ibid., 341.

[42] Arthur W. Pink, The Attributes of God (Grand Rapids Michigan: Baker Book House, 1977), 38.

[43] Charles Hodge, Systematic Theology, Volume One (Grand Rapids Michigan: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing, 1982), 391.

[44] Stephen Charnock, Discourses Upon the Existence and Attributes of God, Volume One (Grand Rapids Michigan: Baker Book House, 1988), 341.

[45] Arthur W. Pink, The Attributes of God (Grand Rapids Michigan: Baker Book House, 1977), 38.

[46] L. Berkhof, Systematic Theology (Grand Rapids Michigan: WM. B. Eerdman’s Publishing Co., 1982), 59.

[47] Herbert Lockyer, All the Doctrines of the Bible (Grand Rapids Michigan: Zondervan Publishing, 1964), 28.

[48] Emery H. Bancroft, Elemental Theology (Grand Rapids Michigan: Zondervan Publishing House, 1977), 75.

[49] Arthur W. Pink, the Attributes of God (Grand Rapids Michigan: Baker Book House, 1977), 39.

[50] Ibid., 39.

[51] Clarck Pinnock, Richard Rice, John Sanders, William Hasker, & David Basinger, The Openness of God: A Biblical Challenge to the Traditional Understanding of God (Illinois: InterVarsity Press, 1994), 13.

[52] A. W. Tozer, The Knowledge of the Holy – The Attributes of God: Their Meaning in the Christian Life (New York: Harper & Brothers Publishers, 1961), 56.

[53] Henry Clarence Thiessen, Lectures in Systematic Theology (Grand Rapids Michigan: W.B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1983), 83.

[54] Arthur W. Pink, The Attributes of God (Grand Rapids Michigan: Baker Book House, 1977), 40.

[55] Ibid., 40.

[56] A. W. Tozer, The Knowledge of the Holy – The Attributes of God: Their Meaning in the Christian Life (New York: Harper & Brothers Publishers, 1961), 60.

[57] Henry Clarence Thiessen, Lectures in Systematic Theology (Grand Rapids Michigan: W.B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1983), 83.

[58] Ibid., 83

[59] L. Berkhof, Systematic Theology (Grand Rapids Michigan: WM. B. Eerdman’s Publishing Co., 1982), 59.

[60] Lewis Sperry Chaffer, Systematic Theology, Volume One (Wheaton Illinois: Victor Books, 1988,) 151.

[61] Emery H. Bancroft, Elemental Theology (Grand Rapids Michigan: Zondervan Publishing House, 1977), 77.

[62] Gerald Bray, The Doctrine of God (Illinois: InterVarsity Press, 1993), 84.

[63] Ibid., 84.

[64] Ibid., 84.

[65] Stephen Charnock, Discourses Upon the Existence and Attributes of God, Volume One (Grand Rapids Michigan: Baker Book House, 1988), 333.

[66] Ibid., 362.