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It Was Pointed Out To Me Recently…
December 9, 2008, 1:18 pm
Filed under: Atheism, Christian Doctrine, Philosophical Anthropology

…that, according to the Aristotelian conception of the soul, it makes more sense to say that we have bodies in our souls than to say we have souls in our bodies.  With this distinction in view, we can see how silly it is when folks deny the soul because they don’t find it when they peek around inside the body.  

That we even bother to  search for the soul in this way betrays our utter confusion regarding what the soul is.  (For example, it is perfectly right  to say that we are pointing to the soul when we point to the body in certain ways.  We look from the body to the soul when we do this.  That this probably sounds like crazy talk is a sign that we need to relearn how to think rightly about the soul.  It is as if we expect the soul to be special-effects style “ghost-stuff” hiding out in a tiny hole somewhere in our body.  I suppose there is a tradition which holds something akin to this.  But there is a major tradition which denies it.  It is just as traditional.)


…that the so-called “argument from design”, i.e. the Paley-style teleological argument to God, is only 300 years old.  It only makes sense if you think of the natural order as a kind of dead machine.  Clearly, if nature is a kind of dead machine, it must have been designed in the manor in which  engineers design cars.  God must have grabbed onto the various pieces and arranged them in the right way.  He also must push around the pieces from time to time or at least have given the initial push to get the contraption going.  

But the early Christian and Medieval view of the natural world was that it is alive with its own distinct life; even as it depends for its continual existence upon God.  This dependence is best thought of organically—just as plants need sunlight or they will wither and die, so the natural world needs the light of God’s life graciously given to it, or it will wither and drop out of existence.  God’s more like a gardener than a engineer.

Anyway, in view of this, the fact that Paley-style teleological arguments to God probably don’t work is utterly inconsequential.  That Dawkins (et al.) believes the failure of this kind of argument is earth-shattering betrays his ignorance of theology.  (Though he is in good company.)


…that in Aristotle’s view it was utterly natural for new life to organically arise from non-life.  (The whole natural order was alive, in a sense.)  This would have been obvious to the ancients.  Think about mold and pond scum.  

Before Louis Pasteur we all thought this way, from what I gather.  It was only after germ theory and such that we came to believe that life only comes out of life and that the natural world was dead.  

Since the advent of evolutionary theory we are now told that life did arise from non-life,  but only the one time.  This is a kind of puzzle that wouldn’t have troubled the folks who saw the natural order in the more traditional way.  Again, for them the whole natural order was imbued with a kind of life given to it by God.  That life would “grow” out from this makes perfect sense.  Life might need a gardener and a giver of light (and such), but it doesn’t need an engineer to mechanically assemble the pieces.

Think of the language of Genesis:

And God said, “Let the earth bring forth living creatures according to their kinds—livestock and creeping things and beasts of the earth according to their kinds.” And it was so.

Here we find God is a gardener of sorts, not an engineer, right?  Though, unlike we created gardeners, God is the source of the soil and the sun (in both the literal and metaphorical senses).  Interestingly, it seems that we gardeners can now participate in God’s continual creation of the world, right?


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