GOD DOESN’T HAVE A CHOICE...
an interview with Richard Swinburne
07.04.04 // Orthodoxy
Could you introduce yourself shortly, in Russian perhaps, and then we could switch to English?
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[My name is Richard Swinburne and I was a professor in Philosophy of Religion in the Oxford University. I am retired, but this retirement is in fact nominal. That is to say, now I spend nearly a third of my time lecturing in foreign universities. For the greatest part of my time I am engaged in research, that is, I read and write books.]
Thank you. Would you then please tell us about your work, the basic opinions that you hold and how you came to them?
Well, when I was young I was a Christian, but I felt that Christianity was very inadequately defended intellectually. People did not seem to be very worried about the fact that they couldn’t give any reasons for being Christian, and I felt there were good reasons and that was one thing which led me to consider the philosophical basis of Christianity. But in any case I was interested in all philosophical problems, not especially those concerned with Philosophy of religion, and I became a professional philosopher.
But Philosophy is a very integrated subject: that is to say, you can’t write on one branch of Philosophy unless you’ve very well worked out views on other branches of Philosophy. To take an example different from the Philosophy of religion, you can’t really work on moral Philosophy, examine what is good and right and ought to be done, unless you have a view about what words mean. One can decide what ‘good’ means, and that is Philosophy of language, but you can’t put forward a view unless you have a view about how you could know these things, and that’s Epistemology: so different branches of Philosophy run into each other.
And certainly Philosophy of religion is something I could not have practiced without a view about most areas of Philosophy. There’s God, God is supposed to be good, goodness is the subject of moral Philosophy; then, philosophy of religion is concerned with knowledge of God, knowledge is the subject of Epistemology; on the other hand, perhaps you can only argue, as I do, that it is probable that there is a God, and that involves a view about the theory of probability, which tends to come under the heading of Philosophy of Science .God is supposed to be a substance, and that brings in metaphysics. All these other areas of philosophy are relevant.
I’ve written on various things in Philosophy, indeed at book-length, apart from the Philosophy of religion, but most of my work you can call Philosophy of religion. I wrote a trilogy, nearly 25 years ago, on the meaning and justification of the claim that there is a God: The Coherence of Theism, The Existence of God, and Faith and Reason. And then, after certain other philosophical writings, I wrote a tetralogy on philosophical issues arising in particularly Christian doctrine, that is: Responsibility and Atonement, that was, as its name implies, concerned with the doctrine of Christ’s atoning work; Revelation, which is concerned with how things can be revealed in metaphorical language and how we can know that the Christian revelation is a true one, The Christian God, which was concerned with the doctrines of the Trinity and the Incarnation; and Providence and The Problem of Evil; and my latest book is on the Resurrection. So that’s what I’ve done. And, as I say, there are other philosophical works that are not so closely connected with Philosophy of religion. There’s a book called The Evolution of the Soul, which is about mind and body, and a very recent book about epistemic justification, which is about what makes a belief justified or rational. That’s what I’ve done over many years.
What kind of audience do you address your work to?
Well, I’ve always tried, with one exception, to write for higher level professional philosophers, and these books are read mainly in Philosophy courses, and to some extent in Theology courses, in universities. But, I’m glad to say, quite a lot of people read some of them outside those groups, and I did write an elementary book called Is There a God?, which had quite a wide circulation beyond that rather narrow groupÃƒÆ’Ã‚Â¢ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â‚¬Å¡Ã‚Â¬Ãƒâ€šÃ‚Â¦ But ideas trickle downwards — if you succeed in persuading people at university level, well, other people hear about it eventually.
I DON’T THINK I CHANGED MY BELIEFS
Were you a Christian from the very beginning, or did you become Christian?
Yes, as far as I can remember, I always was. As you are writing for an Orthodox journal, I should add that I actually joined the Orthodox Church about eight years ago — I moved over from the Church of England — but I have always been a Christian in my beliefs.
Was this decision to become Orthodox intellectually based, on the doctrine of the Orthodox Church, or how did you come to it?
Well, I had negative reasons, primarily. That is to say, when I was young, you had to believe certain things in order to belong to the Church of England, or at least the priests had to believe certain things. But I think the Church of England has changed very much during my lifetime, people are allowed to and belong to that church and its priests are allowed to function, who do not believe that God became incarnate in Christ. And that’s the primary motivation for my moving over, I don’t think I changed my beliefs in any significant way. I always believed in the Apostolic succession: that the Church has to have its authority dating back to the Apostles, and the general teaching of the Orthodox Church on the saints and the prayers for the departed and so on, these things I have always believed.
So, what has your experience of the Orthodox Church been so far?
Oh, I have been well pleased, I’m glad I moved. I am very glad to belong to that part of the Church which believes and teaches the central doctrines of Christianity and derives its authority by a succession of bishops from the Apostles, and I have found that many Orthodox in UK take the practice of religion with deep seriousness.
But why was it Orthodoxy rather than, say, Catholicism?
If I had become a Catholic I would have had to change my beliefs. The Catholic Church is committed to three things that I do not believe: one is the infallibility of the Pope, obviously. But the others are two Marian doctrines, which are declared as infallible: the Immaculate Conception, Mary being born without Original Sin, and her Bodily Assumption. I mean, the Bodily Assumption of Mary may be true, but making it an article of faith seems to me quite unnecessary. Imposing a requirement on people to believe something as utterly non-Scriptural is quite unjustified. And it’s not, as you know, a requirement of the Orthodox Church that one does believe these things as a matter of doctrine, although Orthodox do, of course, believe this last doctrine.
I’m not quite sure, but I do think it is apocryphalÃƒÆ’Ã‚Â¢ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â‚¬Å¡Ã‚Â¬Ãƒâ€šÃ‚Â¦
Well, very apocryphal and very late.
Would you say the Orthodox Church is more rational than the Catholic Church? In that it does not expect such a standard of unquestioning belief?
There’s a great deal less that you are expected to believe. I mean, Catholicism is in problematic state these days, because in theory Catholics are meant to believe in an enormous number of things, even though in fact they don’t. But it is rather important to me that if I am required to believe something in order to belong to a Church I do believe it.
Since this is a Russian journal, you would perhaps like me to say just a little about the connection I’ve had with the Russian Church over the years. Actually, I learnt Russian many years ago, when I was young, and young men had to do two years of military service. I did my military service in the 1950s, but at that time it suddenly occurred to our government that no one can speak the enemy’s language. Therefore, one possibility that became open was to spend these two years learning Russian! I was fortunate to get on a course, so I was trained as an interpreter for two years.
But then I had no use for my knowledge of Russian for a very long time . Of course, in those days, one couldn’t visit Russia, and I had no interest in the Marxist philosophy that was coming out of Russia, so I almost forgot about Russian for many years. However with the end of the Cold War, I visited Russia two or three times, giving some lectures, but most recently I organised two conferences.
There is a body called the Society of Christian Philosophers, which is basically an American body: a large number of people, who teach Philosophy in the universities, mainly in America, and who are Christians. It’s a big body, and at the end of the Cold War it set up two committees, one called Outreach to China and the other called Outreach to Russia. They asked me to be chairman of the Outreach to Russia committee, and in the last three years, after some difficulty in setting it up, I have organised two conferences — with, on the one hand, people from my philosophical tradition, and, on the other hand, people appointed by the Theological Commission of the Moscow Patriarchate, who as you will know have a very different philosophical background. I don’t mean different beliefs but different philosophical ways of thinking. We had one conference in Moscow I think it was in 2001, on the Trinity, and one in America last year on Cosmology. They were conferences of moderate success, I think, and I’m very pleased that the Russian Church agreed to be involved in this, and very grateful in particular to the chairman of the Theological Commission, Metropolitan Philaret of Minsk, who took a considerable interest in interacting.
Did you find there were many differences between the Western tradition and the Russian one?
We weren’t particularly concerned about Catholicism as opposed to Protestantism as opposed to Orthodoxy. In the conference on the doctrine of the Trinity, different people were concerned with different issues. I myself was concerned with what does it mean to say God is three persons of one substance, and how do you know if it’s true. The Russian speakers tended to be interested either in historical matters, St Augustine’s or St Gregory of Nyssa’s doctrine of the Trinity, or with the spiritual value of this, and there were two or three papers on the the Rublev icon of the Trinity. Sure, the Russian approach was very different, and I knew it would be very different, but it was simply good that people came together and talked about the Trinity.
So, what is your position concerning the doctrine of the Trinity?
Oh, I’m much in favour of it, and the doctrine is important to me. The doctrine is that, in the end, God is love and, if there is an all-perfect being on His own, He wouldn’t be love. The Father inevitably is going to create — though this is not the right word — bring into existence Another, with Whom He can interact: just as childless marriage can be a selfish marriage, any love ought to be productive of more. The doctrine of the Trinity brings that out: that is to say, the Father will always bring into being another Whom to love, but a perfect love involves bringing about someone else whom your other can love and be loved by, and, that way, the love is not selfish.
It took Christianity quite a long time to see the reason for the Trinity, but what I’ve just said now is something Richard of St Victor said in the twelfth century. This is fully consistent with the Orthodox tradition, because the Orthodox tradition always stressed the separateness of the persons of the Trinity, whereas the Western tradition has always tended to amalgamate them. I mean, to spell out the doctrine of the Trinity, there are always two extremes that everybody tries to avoid: there is the danger of saying that really there is only one person and these are three aspects of Him, and the danger of saying there are three Gods. Now, every way of spelling out the Trinity is open to the accusation of having fallen either into this heresy or into that one. The Orthodox tradition has stressed more the separateness of the persons, and, therefore, of course, is open to the accusation of tritheism; and the Latin tradition has always stressed the unity of the persons, and is therefore open to the accusation of saying that really there is only one person. I feel that the Orthodox tradition has brought out the separateness of the persons and is right in that because love involves different beings.
Could you tell which of the three aspects of the Trinity you find closest to you?
(laughs) I think I pass on that one!
Generally speaking, what do you think about the differences in the attitudes of thought between the Western tradition and the Russian tradition?
I think, you can’t really talk of ‘the Western tradition’. There is one style of Philosophy practiced in the English-speaking world, and one style of Philosophy practised in France, Germany, Italy, Spain et cetera. And, philosophically, Russia has been formed a lot more by the continental tradition of philosophy, in the sense that, up to the Revolution, the influential people in Russian thought were above all Hegel, and Kierkegaard.. As you may know, Hegel, Kierkegaard, Nietzsche, Heidegger and so on are writers closer to literature than to science, whereas those in the Anglo-American tradition are philosophers who are closer to science than to literature, interested in hard rigorous argument. I like to think the Anglo-American tradition is the tradition of Western philosophy, in the sense that Plato and Aristotle were interested in doing the same job, and certainly St Thomas Aquinas was. So that’s philosophically the difference there, and, of course, in the hard years of the Communist rule, philosophy in Russian universities meant Marxism. As for the present situation -I don’t think there is very much of a settled philosphical tradition in Russia.. I don’t know, perhaps you have more experience of Russian Philosophy departments in the state universitiesÃƒÆ’Ã‚Â¢ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â‚¬Å¡Ã‚Â¬Ãƒâ€šÃ‚Â¦
Well, I think they are looking. They are not in a very good shape, and are looking for new ideas, so I wouldn’t say there is too much of tradition there.
Would you say that some of the difference lies in the distinction between philosophical thought and theological thought? As far as I understand, the Russian tradition is rather more based on the theological, and the Western, perhaps, on philosophicalÃƒÆ’Ã‚Â¢ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â‚¬Å¡Ã‚Â¬Ãƒâ€šÃ‚Â¦
Yes, I’m coming on to that. When you come to the theological, there again, you see, there are differences. In the whole history of Christianity, reason has been emphasised more at some times than at other times. I like to think that, in general, on the whole, most of Christian thinkers of the first seventeen hundred years of Christianity did strongly believe in natural theology. I’m not just talking about Aquinas, Descartes and so on. You get your bits of natural theology in Origen,Gregory of Nyssa, Maximus and above all in John of Damascus, that in theologians important to the Orthodox tradition. They didn’t write at great length on that, but they believed that the natural world was good evidence for the existence of God.
I think this great emphasis on faith as commitment — sure it is commitment, but it’s not the only thing — and religious experience is very much a product of post-Kantean thinking, which has influenced theology very much. Kant, above all, taught that these arguments for the existence of God didn’t work, and that religion was a matter of morals, of making sense of morality, and his later successors thought that, well, religious experience was the way to God, and that argument from the natural world was not. This is not as much the East-West divide, but a divide within the history of Christianity. I guess if you go back to the Russia of the 15th, 16th, 17th centuries, insofar as people did write theologically, but of course they didn’t very much, you will find the same beliefs about natural theology as in the West. When the Kantean influence comes in, it comes to Russia as much as it comes everywhere else, leading to the denial of natural theology and, therefore, to emphasising all sorts of other things.
Not that these other things were wrong, but I think that natural theology works. There are good arguments for the existence of God from the world, its orderliness, very general features of it, the existence of conscious beings and so on — I think these do provide very good grounds for believing that there is a God, and I think Christian thinkers have, up till 1700 anyway, generally recognised that. And we need to recover that because, otherwise, Christianity becomes an irrational occupation. And I don’t think it is. And I don’t think the Bible believes that it is, either. St Paul says that pagans are at fault for not recognising the existence of God, because the natural order shows it. And there are various other passages. And there are various other passages in the Bible which provide arguments from the natural world for the existence of God. I think Christianity is a rational religion and can be shown by rational argument. And I think there’s been a lack of confidence, really, which has resulted from Kant, and not just Kant, but Darwin as well and one or two other streams of influence, which has affected the West and also given encouragement to the non-rational elements in Russia as well, and in the Orthodox world generally. But I don’t see this as a particularly Eastern phenomenon.
GOD DOESN’T HAVE A CHOICEÃƒÆ’Ã‚Â¢ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â‚¬Å¡Ã‚Â¬Ãƒâ€šÃ‚Â¦
You mentioned natural theology: would you explain in more detail what is meant by this term and what is your position regarding it?
I think that there are good arguments: from the fact that there is a universe, from the fact that the universe is governed by the laws of nature, the fact that the laws of nature are such that, together with the initial conditions of the universe - the Big Bang - they lead to the evolution of human bodies, that the human bodies are connected to human souls (i.e. humans have a conscious life that is connected with their bodies).
These very general facets of the universe are things that would be totally unexpected if there were no God, but they are such that, if there is a God, then He has reason to bring them about. And, therefore, the fact that we find them is reason to suppose there is a God. And why does God have reason to bring them about? Well, because He has reason to bring us about. Why so? Well, it’s a good thing that there are rational beings capable of interacting with God, capable of loving Him, capable of loving each other, capable of understanding the world, capable of making big choices. Therefore, it is good that God should make more and more beings who can do that.
But there is a special reason why He should bring about other beings like us, because we are different from the way the angels are depicted, we are different from so many of the sorts of conscious being in that we have a choice between good and evil. God doesn’t have a choice between good and evil. He is necessarily good. And animals don’t have a choice between good and evil because they don’t have these concepts. But we are different: we have this choice, and, therefore, we are a kind of beings very different from anything else. God has good reason for bringing us about, because it is good that people shall work things out for themselves, and they should choose whether or not to enter into loving relationship with God. God wants to be loved not merely by those whom He has predetermined to love Him, but those who choose to love Him. And therefore there is very good reason for Him making beings like that.
But if there are to be beings like that, well, they need bodies, because it’s only if we have bodies that we have a place where other people can get hold of us, and, therefore, do us hurt or benefit. We can’t get hold of angels and decide to hurt them because they don’t have a body, they can’t be pinned down. And, in general, we can only be deeply responsible for each other, which is a very good thing for us to be, and it’s a way in which our choices for good and evil are made clearer. We can only do that if we have a situation where other people can give us things, or hurt us, or help us.
But if there are to be embodied beings who can affect each other for good or harm, then there has to be a regular world. I can’t do you good or harm unless there’s something I can do as a basic action, which would lead to good or harm to you. I can only feed you if I can grow plants, I can only grow plants if I can sow the seeds and water them, and doing that would lead to the emergence of food. Only in a regular universe can that happen. I can only hurt you by throwing something at you, if, when I throw something, it will get to you. We need things to behave in regular ways.
So, we need a physical universe, we need a universe, which behaves regularly, we need conscious lives, and conscious lives which have beliefs which can be formed by reason, and where we can make choices, which choices we can execute. For that purpose, we need four things,: we need a physical universe, a regular physical universe, a universe which will lead to the evolution of bodies; and we need conscious lives. So, this universe seems very much to be expected if there is a God, and very much not to be expected otherwise.
There is no a priori reason for there to be a universe at all. It’s immensely unlikely that there should be laws of nature in the sense that everything would behave in the same uniform way; immensely unlikely, even if it did, that the laws of nature would be such as to lead to the evolution of human bodies. You know, the recent work on fine tuning, that shows that only a very small proportion of possible initial states of the universe at the time of Big Bang, and only very small proportion of kinds of laws of nature would lead to evolution of human bodies. And there is not the slightest reason to suppose, even if there are human bodies, that they would in any way be connected with a conscious life, because the laws of physics don’t tell us anything about that. But the hypothesis that there is a God, I like to think, is a simple hypothesis. The hypothesis of a being to whom there are no limits of power, knowledge, freedom, is simple. We humans are complicated beings, we have partly true beliefs, limited powers and freedom. These qualities exist in a pure form in God. He is a simple postulate.
If you make this simple postulate, it would lead you to expect that the world would be as it is. If you don’t, there is not a slightest reason for supposing it would be as it is, and this is strong evidence supporting the existence of God. That is what I’ve argued for many years, but your readers, especially in Russia, might like to hear it again.
Would you say that religion is rational, that God is rational, or is it something of a device created for the sake of our own faith, to understand Him?
I think that religion is rational, and God is supremely rational, in the sense that He does what is good to do and He thinks eternally rational thoughts.
But isn’t He incomprehensible?
Surely, yes, in most respects. His reason is beyond ours, I think that, and we can understand fairly little about God. But we can understand what is necessary to know about God. And we do that because God has given us reason.
And then, one usually associates Philosophy of religion with the proofs for the existence of God, whereas there are a lot of other articles of faith that the Church believes that don’t really come into it, such as afterlife, or spirits, or saints.
I agree. Well, not all these matters are matters of immediate philosophical investigation, of course. But life after death is a crucial issue in Philosophy in the sense that it is a much-discussed matter in the Philosophy of mind, what the person consists of. If the person is just something bodily, and the body is burnt in the crematorium and turned into energy, then there isn’t anything lingering about after death. But I don’t go along with that view of human beings. I think human beings have two parts, body and soul, and the body may be destroyed, but the soul is there for God to do what He wishes with it. Now, of course, that does not entail that there is life after death, but it makes it possible.
A ground for believing in life after death is provided by revelation. But that raises the issue of what would show that this revelation, which is the Bible as interpreted by the Church, is the true revelation, rather than the Qu’ran or anything else. This is the question of considering what kind of evidence would show this, and that’s what my book Revelation was about.
In relation to the question of evidence, in your books you stress an idea of miracles as of something brought about by God as a basic action — would you explain that?
Well, a basic action is something one just does, not by doing anything else. In our own case, moving our hands is a basic action for us, whereas when I pick up a book I do it by doing something else — I do it by moving my hands. Now, God keeps the universe in being and keeps the laws of nature operative, and He does it as a basic action, that is not doing it by doing anything else. More correctly, I think, He conserves the power of each object in the universe to act in certain regular ways and interact with other things in certain regular ways, which is what we mean by laws of nature. For example, to say that Newton’s Law is a law of nature is just to say that each thing in the universe attracts each other thing, with forces proportional to m over r squared. God conserves in every atom this power to attract each other atom in this way, and of course normally things behave in totally regular predictable ways.
Yet, God can, if He so chooses, make something behave in quite unpredictable ways. And there are, of course, many reports of this sort of thing: of things happening contrary to the laws of nature. And not only that, but things of a kind that God would have a reason for bringing about. Obviously, most miracle reports are reports of healings. Someone prays for someone they love to get better from cancer, and, just occasionally, they do, in a quite striking way that, people say, is contrary to natural laws. But we are a bit uncertain about what are the natural laws and what are the circumstances, so we often don’t know whether a miracle has or has not occurred. But there are a large number of reports of this sort of thing, so the odds are that at least some of them are genuine.
Above all, I think, what is important is the miracle of the Resurrection, which falls into a different category of miracle. That is to say, most miracles are just things that God has reason to do to deal with an individual human’s particular needs in answer to prayer, and the healing miracles are obviously of that kind. But there is also the other category of miracle, when God may wish to do a miracle in order to show us something, some doctrine or something about His nature — and, above all, the miracle of the Resurrection is just that. It’s His signature, His way of authenticating the life of Jesus and showing that the sacrifice on the Cross was accepted by God.
And I think we have reason to believe that God would intervene in human history to show us something about Himself and to identify with our sufferings; and so we have reason to expect that someone will live the sort of life that Jesus did. And if that life ends in such a way that it is culminated with all sorts of reports of a super-miracle (the Resurrection), then that is good reason to suppose that that has occurred, and therefore God has done a different sort of miracle. And, clearly, bringing to life somebody who has been dead for thirty-six hours, if that has occurred, is a miracle.
THESE WORDS ‘MIND’ AND ‘SOUL’
I also wanted to ask about the concept of the soul in Christianity as opposed to everywhere else. How do you think it is different to, say, the Hindu mystical belief about the soul?
I can’t say I am an expert on Hinduism, but there are two concepts of the soul wandering about in Western thought. There is Plato’s view, which I basically endorse, that it is a separate substance connected with the body, and almost all or most of the Christian Fathers for the first thousand years used that model.
But there is the other model, Aristotle’s model, that the soul is what he called the form of the body, in other words, the way in the body behaves. To take a more easy example of form, this table here, on Aristotle’s view, consists of matter on which is imposed a form, that is a certain shape. Now, in the case of living things, the form is the way the thing behaves over time. So, on Aristotle’s model of human beings, human beings are a certain chunk of matter that is organised and behaves in a certain way. But a way of behaving is, in the Aristotelian terminology, universal: that is to say, all sorts of different people have the same way of behaving. But a form is a universal, for example the form of the table can be instantiated in many different chunks of matter; what makes a particular table that particular table is the matter in which the form is instantiated. So the Aristotelian view seems to have the consequence that all humans have the same soul. That implies that humans cannot exist without their bodies after death in an intermediate state before the General Resurrection as most Christians have believed, and it raises the problem of how humans can come to life again at all if their bodies are burnt and turned into energy.
But if you talk of “the evolution of the soul”, wouldn’t that imply that our souls start off basically the same and then become what they become?
I called my book that. It was a misleading title, I realised after the event, and I can explain why I called it that, but don’t worry about it. No, my view is that each individual soul is something that God creates and unites to a body, for each person, sometime between conception and birth, who knows exactly when. And I think there are good philosophical arguments for that, which we could go into if you want. But, as I say, that is, I think, the right view, and it was the view of the Christian Fathers for a thousand years. It was St Thomas Aquinas who attempted to knock the Christian doctrine of the soul into an Aristotelian shape. I don’t think he was very successful, but that’s what subsequent Catholic philosophy has rather honed in on and adopted.
What did you mean when you said that animals have souls?
Yes, I am happy with that in the sense that anything has a soul, which has a conscious life, because in that case there are two sorts of truths to be told about them — what happens to their body, and what their conscious experiences are. Certainly, the higher animals, dogs and cats and so on, have conscious lives, so, in my view, it is right to talk about them having souls. But it doesn’t follow from that that they have the same sort of souls as we do, and the medievals distinguished between the intellectual or rational soul which we have and the animal soul which animals have. The animal soul, insofar as we can gather, is simply a soul that feels and reacts, whereas we are capable of reasoning and having moral beliefs and making moral choices, and that’s what makes us different.
Wouldn’t the very fact of animals having souls suggest them having an afterlife?
No, I don’t think so, but I mean, who knows? It might, but I don’t see a reason for that. The word might be misleading, to say that it has a ‘soul’, but the truth about an animal — call it mind if you like — is that it has conscious events. If you want to tell everything there is to be told about the animal, you can’t just say what happens to its body, you have to say what feelings it has itself. This is a further and independent truth. Therefore, you’ve got to describe it in some way. And I am happy with the Western medieval way of describing it, saying that animals have animal souls and humans have human - rational - souls. But the reason why God might give to humans life after death is that they are capable of enjoying Him for eternity, capable of recognising that He is Goodness itself, and making the choices in favour of the good. Whereas a mere succession of sensations is a succession of sensations, it doesn’t suggest that there is anything particularly worth keeping alive for eternity, but I don’t see that ruled out, ifÃƒÆ’Ã‚Â¢ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â‚¬Å¡Ã‚Â¬Ãƒâ€šÃ‚Â¦
I guess, if the afterlife is determined by moral actions in this life and if animals aren’t capable of moralityÃƒÆ’Ã‚Â¢ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â‚¬Å¡Ã‚Â¬Ãƒâ€šÃ‚Â¦
Yes. But it is up to God to whom He gives an afterlife, although I would say, He has good reason, if we want an afterlife and if we want union with God, to give it to us. I can’t see that He has that sort of reason to give it to animals.
But then, the question of the soul becomes the question of the mind. Say, if tomorrow I go mad and become just like an animal, do I still have a soul?
Well, you’ve still got a soul. Remember that these words ‘mind’ and ‘soul’ are used in ordinary language in very vague ways. They need to be tidied up a bit in order to talk philosophically and theologically. I am using the word ‘soul’ as substance, a word to describe what it is that is doing the thinking, feeling and so on. You’ve still got something that’s doing the thinking and feeling and so on, even if the sort of thinking and feeling it’s doing is not very rational. The properties of being rational, or not fully rational, are properties that belong to the individual. Now, yes, we can go temporarily mad, of course, but if we went permanently mad, and were no longer capable of any sort of rational thought or moral choice, then there wouldn’t be any us worth keeping alive. It would still be different from death, since we would have feelings, but there would be no centre of moral choice any more.
I have heard it said about Buddhism that it aims for very high standard of rational Truth but that it lacks the emotional level of spirituality. Would you think that Christianity meets that standard?
Well, if I say anything about Eastern religion, I might be slipping up. I might have a rather caricature view of Buddhism, but I strongly think Buddhism has absolutely no rational arguments for its views. In the sense, I mean, that very central to Buddhist doctrine and to any Eastern religion is rebirth, and rebirth in a higher form or a lower form. Now, if you ask, well, why should we believe this to happen, the evidence is immensely slender.
So, one is led to ask what is in a religion the relationship between the intellectual and the emotional aspects?
Ideally, it would be nice if religion could give us everything, satisfy our intellect and our emotions. And, of course, if Christianity is intellectually well justified, it follows that it will satisfy our emotions, because it follows that there is the all-good God who will satisfy us.
But wouldn’t it be wrong to assume that the good God will do everything we want? Surely, suffering is supposed to help our development, so we can’t expect Him toÃƒÆ’Ã‚Â¢ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â‚¬Å¡Ã‚Â¬Ãƒâ€šÃ‚Â¦ It links to the Ireanean doctrine of life as a ‘soul-making’ factory that John Hick supports.
Oh, yes, sure. Yes indeed, I very much believe in that. I didn’t say that Christianity could satisfy all one’s today’s wants, but I did say that it can satisfy one’s emotional longings. One may, however, have to redirect them, direct them rightly. But we do have emotional longings for interaction and friendship with an all-perfect source of our being, who is loving and can lead us into ever-new truths and give us ever-new opportunities. Sure, Christianity can do that. That’s not to say that Christianity guarantees a good next meal.
But even apart from our bodily wants, it doesn’t follow that Christianity guarantees contentmentÃƒÆ’Ã‚Â¢ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â‚¬Å¡Ã‚Â¬Ãƒâ€šÃ‚Â¦
Not immediately, no, that is quite true. But, in theory, it does in the end, because contentment, happiness, is doing what you desire to do and having what you desire to have happen to you. You may not at the moment be doing what you desire to do, and that means you’ve either got to do what you don’t desire to do, or you’ve got to change your desires! And Christianity does mean that we have to change our desires, and to change our desires in the right direction, and that means that we should be happy, because we shall be doing what we desire to do.
IF THERE IS NO GOD, IT WOULD STILL BE WICKED TO TORTURE PEOPLE
Would you agree that there is a danger in approaching God with our measures of reason? Is it necessary to postulate that God is a completely reasonable being? You argue that God is essentially a person, and as a personal being, He can surely do things for no reason at all. He does not deny us that freedom and, indeed, how tedious life would be if we did everything for a reason! So, is God never impulsive?
Well, there are so many things, for which reason does not dictate what you have to do. God is perfectly good; He will therefore do the best act, if there is one. But normally there isn’t a best act, certainly not for God. For us, there is sometimes a best act to do in some situation, while sometimes two or three acts are equal best acts, but God is in a situation sometimes where there isn’t even an equal best act, when anything He did could be better. The obvious example of this: God creates human beings. That’s a good thing. But however many human being He creates, as human beings is a good thing, it would be better if He created another one. And even if He creates an infinite number of humans, he could still create more. There isn’t a best possible world and so it’s not logically possible for God to create one!
So, if there is a best, God will do it, but more often than not there isn’t a best. Therefore, reason does not dictate. So, yes, He is reasonable in the sense that He will do the best and take the best steps to achieve the best results, but that only applies in certain circumstances. So often before God there are equal best choices or no best choice.
And then, when God does something good for one person, He is most likely doing something bad for another.
Now, that is an important point, that is to say, God gives us choices as to helping or hurting people, and it is good that we should have these choices. But what you are pointing out is that while it may be good for me to have the choice to look after my children, it may be bad for my children to be entrusted to me. And that is surely so.
But there is one very important point to remember in this connection, that is, it’s a go