Basic Ontological Objections to Conditionalism (Pt. 1)

anat1. Life and Death are not Essential Properties of Being Human

The predication of attributes to a logical subject implies a distinction between the subject itself and that which is predicated of it. This is evident when we are comparing two otherwise identical subjects, as in the case of identical twins. How a is differentiated from b, therefore, underscores the underlying essential identity[1] of a and b. This is true whether we are comparing two radically different genera or two species of the same genus.[2] In the case of humans, the predication of attributes to a and not to b indicates their genetic identity. Thus, the propositions “John is dead” and “James is alive” imply that death and life are not essential properties of being human. What it means to be human, in other words, is not changed by whether life is predicated of James or death is predicated of John. The living human and the dead human are, irrespective of their non-essential differences, one in their humanity. We should not pass over this point lightly as if it were some obscure point of metaphysics. This is a basic logical point to be insisted upon: If we can simultaneously predicate x and ~x of two genetically identical logical subjects, then neither x nor ~x are essential to the ontology of the logical subjects in question. John and James remain human, but the state in which they remain differs.

2. Man’s Essential Attribute is His Intellectual-Moral/Covenantal Relationship to God

If life and death are not essential properties of man, and they are not, then what property or properties are essential to man? Man’s creatureliness is essential to man, for all things other than God have been created by God. Man is other than God. Therefore, we must predicate creatureliness of man necessarily. Yet all living things other than God are creatures of God, thus man must be differentiated from every other non-God thing. And the unique relationship that man has to God among all of God’s creatures is this: Man is the image of God. For man to be, therefore, is for man to be the image of God. Living men and dead men stand in relation to God as living or dead, elect or reprobate, more faithful or less faithful to their vocation as believers or unbelievers invested with creaturely responsibilities and corresponding talents.

As the image of God, man is a thinking, willing, moral agent. Here we must note that man’s responsibilities can be either essential or accidental. Essentially, man must think, will, and act according to moral standards. Accidentally, man must do these things within given boundaries predetermined by God in his Sovereignty. By virtue of his being – as being-in-relation-to-God – man is responsible for his thoughts, choices, and actions. By virtue of his individual existence, man is responsible for his thoughts, choices, and actions under existential conditions unique to him (e.g. the constitution of his body, his intelligence, the time period into which he has been born).

To be a human is to stand in relation to God as his creaturely image bearer; to be the image of God is to be a thinking, willing, moral agent. Man is, essentially, one who stands in relation to God as a thinking, willing, moral agent. Consequently, while man may be either dead or alive, these states have no bearing on whether or not he exists, for they are accidental properties, whereas he is essentially a creature who stands in relation to God as a thinking, willing, moral agent. Now, in killing the wicked God is rendering them dead. Scripture is clear on this point: The wages of sin is death. Since death is merely an accidental property of human beings, and thinking, willing, and engaging in moral behavior is essential to being human, it follows that those whom God renders dead remain thinking, willing, moral agents, for they remain human.

3. God Alone is One in His Being and Attributes        

Theological orthodoxy affirms that God and his attributes are One. That is to say, God is essentially simple, independent in the fullest expression of the term. God is not composed of parts, and therefore he cannot cease to have life, for in not having life he would no longer possess an essential property of his being. Consequently, God would not be God but something else. This is, of course, impossible. Therefore, we rightly recognize that life is not a state of being which God participates in; rather, God is life itself. If God did not have life, he would cease to exist/be God.

However, this is not the case with humans or any other creature capable of living and/or dying. A non-existent thing has no states of being which may be predicated of it; however, if life or death are predicated of a creature, then that creature exists necessarily. What, then, is existence? Existence is the copula between a given logical subject and its attendant predicates. John and James do not correspond to actual humans, but it would self-contradictory to assert that they do not, therefore, exist. For if existence is the copula between a logical subject and its attendant predicates, and John and James are logical subjects, then they are the logical subjects of predication. The proposition “John does not exist” is self-contradictory, for John cannot be and not-be a logical subject of predication at the same time and in the same sense. Conversely, the proposition “John exists” is a tautology that merely states that John is a logical subject of predication.

Every logical subject, then, exists, for every thing exists.[3] The question facing us, however, is how these subjects exist. What properties are essential to their ontology? What properties are accidental to their ontology? John and James are not essentially spiritual creatures made in God’s image, but are essentially conceptual entities which serve as representatives of spiritual creatures made in God’s image. Likewise, John and James are not body-soul composites, but are immaterial-conceptual entities. John and James are real insofar as they are immaterial-conceptual entities; they are the logical subjects of which we are predicating, respectively, life and death. They exist.

3a. Kinds of Existence

The proposition “The wicked will cease to exist” is, on this account, true if and only if the wicked will no longer even be the merely logical (i.e. purely conceptual) subjects of predication. This, however, isn’t possible, for God is omniscient. The wicked, therefore, necessarily will continue to exist as purely logical subjects of predication in the mind of God, at the very least. This “weak” kind of existence (i.e pure conceptuality) demonstrates that the wicked cannot cease to exist, for if they did this would imply that God is not omniscient. Additionally, if God at one point has knowledge of the wicked and later does not have that knowledge of the wicked, then he is not immutable.

-h.


[1] Metaphysically, the essential identity between two subjects is what makes them members of the same ontological set/class.

[2] Metaphor, simile, and analogy are literary devices that seek to reveal otherwise hidden points of univocality, the difference between these devices being their expressive power. “Man is a beast” and “Man is like a beast” express, at root, the same propositional content “Man and beast have x in common.” The metaphor “Man is a beast,” however, seeks to directly identify man as a beast and, therefore, has a richer expressive content suggesting that the difference between man and beast, although real, is overshadowed by man’s beastly behaviors.

[3] For a more detailed philosophical analysis of “existence” as a non-predicate, see “The Relevance of Kant’s Objection to Anselm’s Ontological Argument,” in Religious Studies 47 (2011), 345-357.

A Brief Refutation of “Christian” Physicalism

The physicalist conception of the soul as being supervenient upon neurochemical processes in the brain entails certain logical consequences that place it in direct opposition to the Scriptural teaching regarding man’s salvation. What follows will be a brief enumeration of the logical consequences of a physicalist conception of the soul of man, and a demonstration of how they are in direct opposition to the Scriptural teaching regarding man’s salvation.

If the soul is a byproduct of the body, then changes to the body necessarily entail changes to the soul. Thus, for every positive or negative bodily change there is a corresponding positive or negative soul change. Bodily health, for instance, would correspond to soul health, whereas bodily illness would correspond to soul illness. Similarly, bodily simplicity or complexity would be correlative to the soul states produced by the body. The soul of an infant would correspond to the level of simplicity of the body which has produced it. Inversely, the soul of an elderly man would correspond to the level of complexity of the body which has produced it. For every bodily change, therefore, there is a necessary soul change corresponding to the body which has produced it.

Since the fall of man, humanity has been cursed with bodily weakness, illness, decay, and death. Man also, of course, is born spiritually corrupt, ill, decaying, dead. Thus far, the correlative states of body and soul seem to find corroboration in Scripture. This is not the case, however, for God regenerates sinners. Scripture teaches that man is given a new heart, i.e. a renewed soul that struggles against sin, moral corruption, and spiritual illness. That is not all that occurs in the heart of man, either; man’s mind is renewed by the Scriptures and the Holy Spirit. This all occurs in man’s heart/soul, moreover, in spite of the fact that man’s body is gradually failing. Bodily decay and death, according to the Scriptures, will not be eradicated until Christ returns.

Yet if the body and soul are necessarily qualitatively correlative to one another, Christian sanctification must correspond to changes in the body of the believer. Wouldn’t this imply that the believer would not die but perpetually exist in tension between life and death? If physicalism is true, to ask the question more forcefully, then why do any Christians even get sick? Wouldn’t Job’s friends be vindicated by such a doctrine, seeing as they attribute Job’s bodily suffering to his sin? The answer seems to be “Yes.”

Thus, if the soul is supervenient upon the body, and bodily states are qualitatively correlative to soul states, and soul states include (a.)being unregenerate, (b.)being regenerate, and (c.)being regenerate and undergoing the processes of sanctification, then (a.), (b.), and (c.) must each have qualitatively correlative bodily states. However, the unregenerate are  sometimes physically superior to the regenerate. Likewise, the regenerate are, many times, weaker than the unregenerate. Thus, physicalism cannot be true, for (a.), (b.), and (c.) do not have qualitatively correlative bodily states.

-h.

On the Subject of Bingewatching…

dos equisThe Already & The Not Yet

The form of a narrative is always significant. Whether the narrative in question is historical or fictional, its brevity, complexity, closure or lack of closure function suggestively. That this is the case can be demonstrated from our responses to overly complex slapstick comedies, slow-paced action films, shallow documentaries, and overly simplistic historical films. To put the matter simply: In poorly crafted stories, there is a resounding discord between the form of the narrative and its content. In well crafted stories, however, there is harmony between all of its parts, especially its matter and form.[1] This is as true for tv shows and films as it is for books.

In the “New Golden Age of Television”[2] we have been introduced to many well crafted shows that gather cult followings. Viewers eagerly await each new episode, becoming entangled in the lives of fictional characters who are knowable only over the course of some time. Characters in these shows are typically being revealed from episode to episode, leaving the viewer in suspense not only about the outcome of a particular event or series of events occurring in the show, but also about how the characters will develop, for better or for worse.[3] Viewers are given temporal closure to particular events, but the entirety of the story is not closed. To give one example, the tv show Lost – a blatantly postmodern celebration of discontinuity, fragmentation, misinformation, red herrings, and intertextuality – locks viewers’ attention by providing viewer closure for narratives within the overall narrative which, on the contrary, is never closed. There is an already, a present time in which various dilemmas are encountered and solved. There is a not-yet, an eschatological goal which the viewer hopes to achieve and which are prefigured by the solved & solvable dilemmas faced by the shows’ characters.

The Underlying Worldview

The viewer is caught between the closure of individual events and the closure of the entire show. Tv shows, in other words, exploit the human desire to find closure. They do this by providing low-level closure, all the while pushing high-level closure farther and farther away from the viewer. The only real closure that some of these shows, e.g. Lost, provide their viewers is the shows’ gradual demise or sudden death (i.e. cancellation). And this is significant for anyone who understands that stories, shows, art is never a neutral production of neutral human minds. Whatever is produced by man is produced either for the glory of God or the glory of the creature; one’s product will reflect the reason for which it was produced (i.e. for God or for an idol).

Contemporary tv shows are built within the confines of certain presuppositional commitments, not the least of which is the presupposition that there is no metanarrative, no unifying Story which gives all individual stories significance, purpose, and final closure. The narrative structure is one, in other words, which reflects a general disbelief in the sovereignty of God over the course of all of created history. Some tv shows begin and continue to develop until they die, leaving viewers with no hope of answering the questions they (the shows) raised, even as evolutionary theorists claim species evolve, adapting in order to survive and, eventually, dying, leaving in their wake questions that cannot be answered. The narratives in these shows are the product of an evolutionary process which is not overseen by God but the exigencies of immediate circumstances. This purely material & solely temporal worldview stands in stark contradiction to the biblical worldview which openly teaches that God is the Sovereign creator of all things, the Omniscient Logos who rationally upholds and guides the course of all things, the Author of Life whose Story cannot be edited or amended. In this Story, all other stories cohere – even those stories that are seemingly incoherent.

Binging: The Goal of TV Shows

With the advent of streaming media services like Netflix, Amazon Instant Video, Crackle, and Hulu has come the phenomenon known as binge-watching. Since entire series of tv shows are available to stream at any time, viewers often find themselves watching the totality of a show’s series in just a few days. There are many reasons for this, no doubt, but one that has already been discussed above is that tv shows are capitalizing off of man’s desire to find narratival closure, an end to the Story comprised of other stories which actually do find narratival closure. What these shows cannot do, however, is provide their viewers with closure – at least not yet. And in some instances, e.g. Lost and Heroes, the final episodes of the show’s last season purposefully raise more questions than they answer.

This kind of story-telling exploits our innate knowledge of our creaturehood, the problem of sin, and the need for a final solution to the pain, suffering, and death. What is not provided for us, however, is a Savior, one who ties together all of the loose ends of which are usually very aware. Binge-watching promises what it cannot provide, closure, finality, and the coherence of the parts and the whole. This exploitative story-telling, nevertheless, can be useful in demonstrating the innate knowledge of God and his law that is written upon all men’s hearts. It demonstrates that man is suppressing the truth in unrighteousness. It demonstrates that man is a hypocrite who longs for closure, looking for closure in films and tv shows that, as a basic rule it seems, refuse to ever provide true closure. It demonstrates, moreover, that man does these things all the while rejecting the one Metanarrative that actually makes sense of every event, every detail of every event: the Christian faith. Scripture teaches that the Author of Life has not only written every detail of every event, but that he is omnipotently upholding the meaning, focus, and closure of his Story.

Soli Deo Gloria

-h.


[1] By all of its parts, I am referring to the constituent elements of a narrative’s form and matter, respectively. The constituent elements of form are things like diction, phraseology, literary devices, etc. The constituent elements of matter are things like ideology, philosophical commitments, religion, etc.

[2] French scholar Alexis Prichard in his work Le Nouvel Age d’or Des Séries Américaine has coined the phrase.

[3] Breaking Bad is an example of a tv series in which characters gradually undergo a significant change over the course of the show’s lifespan.

Semiosphere: A New Album

semmyosphereA History of Redemption Set to Instrumentals

I recently published a new instrumental album titled Semiosphere. For those unfamiliar with the concept, the “semiosphere is the semiotic space, outside of which semiosis cannot exist.” (source) Semiosis is “the process of signification in language or literature.”

The title “Semiosphere” describes the album’s movement through the Biblical Story beginning with the flood, moving through the remainder of redemptive history, and ending with the age to come. The tracks are introduced by a soundscape meant to mimic movement through NYC, each corresponding to the stages in redemptive history.

Please consider supporting me and my family by purchasing the album. Below  you can listen to the whole album for free. Thanks!

Soli Deo Gloria

-h.