Saturday, July 3, 2021

Intuitions, Language, and Identity

 I know I haven’t posted in a very long time. But here’s something interesting to think about:


Much is made of our intuitions in the personal identity game of bodies and souls. We can think of scenarios where we could exist outside of our bodies, or in a different body, and on that basis (and through some modal reasoning) arrive at the conclusion that we are souls that have bodies. Or we might think that, for example, when you strike my hand, you have hit me, thus revealing that I have an intuition that I am my body. What to do with these competing intuitions?


One possibility is to think of our language use. Suppose my son Rowan approaches me and says, “Who are you?” I may look at him and say simply, “I am Daddy.” Did I make a predicate statement? While I could have said, “I am adaddy,” that is not what I meant. Did I make an identity claim? Sort of. For while I am identical to the person my sons call “Daddy,” this isn’t quite what I meant, either.[1]

Instead, I mean something like “I am your father, the person you call your father—your Daddy.” What’s the upshot? When I say, “Ow, you hit me!” as your hand strikes mine, I do not intend to communicate that I have an intuition that I am my hand. Nor am I even trying to say that you hit part of me, and hence communicate that I have an intuition that I am my body (I know this since I find being identical to my body quite counterintuitive). Instead, I am trying to say something like “Ow, you hit my hand, which belongs to me.” Indeed, if asked to explain, I would further elaborate: “This hand is deeply connected to me.” I find all this far more plausible for my own thinking than thinking that I intended to communicate, “Ow, you hit my personal self!”


Finally, lest the reader find all this terribly unlikely, note we have a serious parallel in language about emotional states: “When she said that, it really hurt me.” As far as I know no one means something like “When she said that, particular neurons fired such that particular brain states came about such that my body, which is identified with me, was emotionally hurt” or anything like that. Instead she simply means “When she said that, it really hurt my feelings.” And no one should thereby think that the person saying this is identical with her feelings.


Just a fun return to philosophizing, finally writing down things that come to mind while I’m doing something else (instead of forgetting later in the day, as has happened countless times since COVID). Feel free to comment below!


[1] A related but separate issue could arise in the fact that I could simply argue I existed as the person I was prior to ever having sons, or even prior to becoming mature through puberty, and thus identity may not be what I should go for, anyway.

Thursday, January 16, 2020

Brokenness and Our Response

In our culture there seems to be about four ways to respond to the idea of brokenness in our lives. They are, in no exact order:

1. Deny brokenness.
2. Celebrate brokenness.
3. Wallow in brokenness.
4. Acknowledge and Repent of brokenness.

Only (4) is the proper response. While much of the world, especially here in America, has used (1) as a tactic, it's become very "in" to take on (2). We celebrate it as "authentic" and demand others do also. (3) is an admission of brokenness, but it's not a godly sorrow--it's a sorrow that leads to death (cf. 2 Cor. 7:10). I have engaged in (1-3) all too often in my life, and I go through periods even today of (2) and (3) (how silly--to celebrate my deficiencies in character only then to be defeated by them!).

The proper response is to become more like Jesus, and to die to myself each and every day. The italicized portion is vital to the Christian walk, because I'm a box-checker. It feels good to get something off the list and never worry about it again. But in life, with spiritual things, if you check it off not to think of it again, you'll quickly find you've been losing the battle for some time. But rather than deny you have any problems, wallow in sorrow, or celebrate yourself for your failures, instead simply repent and ask God to help you. Every single day. We're all getting there--care to tell part of your story?

Friday, June 21, 2019

What are the 'Works of God' in John 9?

In the story of the man born blind in John 9, the disciples asked Jesus whether he had sinned or his parents to cause him to be born blind. If you ask the average evangelical Christian to read the first few verses of John 9 and then ask them the question, “Why was the man born blind?,” in many, if not most, cases they will respond, “For God’s glory.” Indeed, if you had asked, “According to this passage of Scripture, why was this man born blind?” they would have the same answer.

Now I have no doubt God’s glory is involved in the lives of those afflicted with various things, and in the life of this man born blind. However, the words “God’s glory” (or any directly relevant variant) just isn’t in the text. In fact, John 9:3 states in part, “that the works of God should be made manifest in him,” (KJV) “that the works of God might be displayed in him” (NIV, ESV, NASB).

So a relevant question for understanding what’s going on in this text is “what are the works of God in the book of John?” I will suggest the works of God, for John, can be found in the theme of John and in a passage (really, more than one) of John. The theme of the Gospel of John is “believe.” John basically tells us this near the very end of his work, when he says he has written these things so that his audience might believe on the name of Jesus (a theme he repeats in his epistles, specifically 1 John). With this in mind, check out John 6:28-29: “… ‘What shall we do, so that we may work the works of God?’ Jesus answered and said to them, ‘This is the work of God, that you believe in Him whom He has sent.’”

These are obviously non-meritorious works (that is, it’s not a belief that earns you salvation), but rather the belief (faith and trust) in the Son of God for eternal life. Following Christ is what John is all about. So what are the works of God in John 9 that this blind man was meant to display? Faith in Jesus Christ, the Lord, the Savior, the Son of God and God the Son (see John 9:38 for the resolution).

What difference does it make? The main difference is one’s theology of suffering. While belief in Jesus obviously redounds to God’s glory, if you think God has people endure pain and suffering merely for his glory, God simply uses people to attain ends. This devalues God’s creation and, ironically, God himself. Instead, we ought to recognize God does things for his glory, and for our good—and not just instrumentally. Jesus’ purpose in this story is to show his mission—to seek and save that which was lost.

Saturday, June 15, 2019

Do We Really Want All to be Saved?

Evangelical Christians sometimes claim that we are “hopeful universalists.” This term can have a couple of different meanings. One is that we aren’t sure whether or not universalism is true, but we hope for the best. Another is that while we think universalism is not true, we wished it were. This is more or less not “hopeful” universalism as “wishful” universalists, but more people are familiar with the former term, so I’m co-opting it. I have said that I fall into this camp of people who think universalism is false, but wishes it were true. I began wondering, though, if I really didwish it to be true.

On the surface, this seems like a crazy question. Of course I want everyone to go to Heaven! But wanting everyone to go to Heaven as a collective group isn’t the same thing as wanting each individual person to go to Heaven. For one, I don’t know each individual person on Earth. But for another, there may be times where, though saddened, it’s appropriate to be satisfied with the result of eternal separation from God (indeed, I’ll argue briefly there are some cases where it would be inappropriate not to). I used the term “satisfied” in the previous sentence, and while it’s not quite right, I hope to explain where I am coming from.

Suppose someone engages in Hitler-like eugenics and genocide. Suppose they further do not repent, growing even stronger in their evil the more they are challenged. Suppose finally this person explicitly wants nothing to do with God and Jesus, and openly mocks them, claiming they hate God. While I am convinced God is—and we should be—grieved that one of his creations has made that choice, I think we intuitively perceive that this is just, and even a rightresult. It’s not the way things were meant to be, but it’s the right result: a defeat of evil, cast away from God and his redeemed creation.

If this is right, then universalists must maintain that there is a conversion for every such person; otherwise we have a situation which is fundamentally wrong. This is something, no doubt, most Christian universalists are happy to do. But it’s worth pointing out that even for those of us who wished universalism were true, there are some times where the only appropriate response is eternal separation from God. What do you think? Let me know in the comments!

Tuesday, January 15, 2019

Video on Resurrection with Mike Licona

Hey all, yesterday I posted a video of me and William James Herath (and his awesome ministry to seekers, Ready...Set...Question!) talking about the problem of divine hiddenness. Today, I'm posting a video of a few of us at a Red Robin in Denver from the same event--only this time, Mike Licona (New Testament scholar at Houston Baptist University) is sketching out (literally) a case for the Resurrection. Check it out!