Or, a worthy follow-up to my recent Math & Souls post.
From the biblical perspective human beings do not have souls, i.e. they are not made of two irreconcilable bits, spirit and matter. This is the pagan view. Human beings are souls. God breathed into Adam the breath of life and he, i.e. the physical creation, became a living soul. I do not have a soul, I am a soul. When we die the breath of life leaves us and we cease to be living souls.
What makes us human is not the possession of souls, since the animals also have the breath of life, but rather our creation in the image of God. Until the Church gets rid of this last vestige of animism from her anthropology she will fail to eradicate the spirit of Gnosticism, the Alexandria world-view, from her life, and this pagan religious perspective will continue to hamstring her efforts to disciple the nations because the basic idea underpinning this veiw of salvation is escape from the world, not transformation of the world into the kingdom of God.
The Bible does not teach a doctrine of spiritual deliverance from matter. It teaches deliverance from sin, which is the transgression of God’s law, and the resurrection of the body. Until that resurrection of the body our job is to disciple the nations and therefore transform the world. The kingdom of God must grow until it displaces and replaces the secular and idolatrous social orders that dominate the nations.Gnosticism or the Kingdom of God by Stephen C. Perks
We might as well get this right, especially as atheistic materialism becomes flat-out discredited.
If we keep on getting it wrong, we will keep on exalting our “divine spark” over God… and keep on falling flat on our face.
At best, assuming we repent swiftly.
The Wages of Nominalism
Just touching on a related aspect of gnosticism: nominalism.
Ockham did not say that complex metaphysical realities don’t exist. He said that we should trim our understanding of reality to the use of as few concepts as possible for reasons of efficiency, even at the cost of absolute precision. Ockham may thus be said to be a methodological minimalist, not a philosophical minimalist. He acknowledged that reality was likely a very complex matter indeed. But he insisted that we can best understand reality by paring it down to essentials and never going beyond these essentials.
In effect, he said that Christians should not use the most rigorous logic to support Christian doctrine and faith. They must instead choose the most parsimonious logic. This was in contrast to his contemporary Thomas Aquinas (1225–1274). Aquinas would undoubtedly agree with Ockham that we should not multiply explanations unnecessarily but he would also insist that we follow logic and evidence wherever it takes us, even beyond parsimony.
Ockham was a nominalist. Nominalism is the view that universals exist only as concepts in the mind, but not in reality. A universal is a category of being — for example, “mankind” is a universal, and “Donald Trump” is a particular. Donald Trump is a real tangible specific person, whereas mankind is a concept, of which Donald Trump is an example.
The opposite of nominalism is realism. The ancient Greek philosopher Plato (429?–347 B.C.E.) was the archetypal realist. Plato believed that abstract categories such as “mankind” are real. They really exist in the realm of Forms. In fact, Plato believed that the Forms were the ultimate reality, of which particulars merely participate in a shadowy way.
One noteworthy kind of Platonic realism was that of Augustine (354-430 C.E., left), who proposed that Platonic Forms are Ideas in the mind of God. Aristotle (384-322 B.C.E.) held to another form of realism, called semi-realism; he held that universals are real but that they exist in nature and in things, not independently in a separate realm.
Nominalists deny all of this. They propose that universals are mere categories created in the human mind, without any extra-mental reality of their own. “Mankind” is, in the nominalist view, just a way that we organize ideas in our minds.
You can see how Ockham’s passion for parsimony (and his Franciscan love of simplicity!) led him to this view: Reality is a much simpler place if we don’t bother ourselves with the realm of Forms and philosophical discourse on the Ideas in God’s Mind. And Ockham had logical reasons to deny the reality of universals. That is not to say that Ockham didn’t believe that God exists and that He held ideas comparable to universals in His Mind. But Ockham believed that metaphysics is most efficiently done without such complicating distractions as universals.
This difficulty with Ockham’s nominalism — and he was the first and most important scholastic philosopher to advocate nominalism — is that it cuts us off from any kind of reality except the reality of the senses. Over time, even that reality is in danger. Particular things — individual men and trees and rocks—can be perceived directly and Ockham was fine with that. But denying the reality of universals denies our access to knowledge and truth about things, except for knowledge about the particulars we can sense.
Ockham would say that we can create our own categories by which we understand reality, but as a nominalist he implicitly denies that our knowledge of categories has any link whatsoever to the external real world. And if we can’t know universals (because they don’t exist outside of our minds), then it’s not a big leap to doubt even our knowledge of particulars too.
Nominalism leads inexorably to Kant’s distinction between phenomena and noumena — things as they appear to our senses and things as they are in themselves. That distinction locks us into a mental theatre in which we can observe and know only projections of the world, and not anything about reality itself. This distinction between what is real and what we perceive and know is an insidious problem for us moderns, and it has its roots in Ockham’s nominalism. Nominalism also leads, inexorably, to a problem with what we can know about God.
Ockham’s razor, like his nominalism, was a destabilizing intellectual force. Parsimony is fine but truth is better. Often the move to deeper truth is the move away from parsimony. Consider the scientific advance from parsimonious Newtonian mechanics to the enormously more complex quantum mechanics and relativity, which are closer to the truth.
Ockham’s nominalism, which is of a piece with his principle of parsimony, was a virus that infected philosophy in the ensuing centuries and today is the primordial problem of modern philosophy and of modernity itself.
I’ll have more to say in due course on nominalism, and on why it is an error, why realism is true, and on how (I think) universals ought to be understood.Nominalism: The Stubble Left by Ockham’s Razor by Michael Egnor
So there we have it, “My mind makes it real”, from Ockham to Kant.
What a crock of lies.
First: God’s Word makes things real.
Second: the claim “My mind makes it real” has a certain serpentine assurance about it, the pleasure of the neurotoxin as it destroys your connection to the outside world, and to life itself.
Death At The Roots
Snakes prefer to lurk where they’re not expected. At the root of things, where a single well-timed, venomous bite can do more damage than a major war could at another time.
And not just at the very start of epistemological logic chains, either. (You know the story: “Frame the debate, win the debate.”)
- How few wars there are now.
- And how few births.
And all the me-focused, now-focused, pleasure-focused, child-free, future-free, responsibility-free sex you could ever want, in all the flavours you could imagine.
Somewhere, a snake is smiling.