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God in relation to creation in cosmology and biology

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#1 Monk Herman

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Posted 07 September 2013 - 06:25 PM

Fathers, Mothers and friends
 

How would you respond to an atheist who asks: If God is
immaterial, how did He create a material universe?
 

My first response would be: I don’t
know -- but that doesn't seem like quite enough.
 

On second thought I might refer to the
mind/body problem that has stumped philosophers for millennia.

 

We all know, without having to be told, that mind and
matter interact. If you want to move a thought from your mind to the internet,
you have to get your fingers to the keyboard: you have to move your body. And
we do this effortlessly (assuming our minds and bodies are in working order -- see my PS).
 

My third thought (startling though it
may be) would be to point out that we don’t really know that there is such a thing as a material universe. We
have no way of experiencing it other than as part of the content of
consciousness. It's perfectly possible (and seems to me even likely) that
reality is spiritual at it's very core.

 

The problem for me here is that as far as I know
Orthodox theologians have always simply assumed that the physical nature of the
world is real. As far as I know, no one has ever questioned this.

 

So in terms of Orthodox theology, would I be going too
far out on a limb in suggesting that perhaps the distinction between mental and
physical is more apparent than real?

 

What theological consequences, if any, would arise as a
result of such a move? My intellectual ineptitude doesn’t see any practical
difference between an actually physical reality and a reality that we must
simply treat as if it were physical.

 

Is there a philosopher in the house?

 

H

 

PS – please pray for my friend Susan Valencia, who is
dying of ALS (Gehrig’s disease). She’s reached the point where she’s on a
respirator. Unfortunately, no nearby hospital is able to care for a patient who
needs a respirator 24 hours a day. So she’s in Phoenix, which is at least a
five-hour drive from here. Her husband and sons are willing to take on the
labor of caring for her at home.


thx
 



#2 Herman Blaydoe

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Posted 07 September 2013 - 07:33 PM

The distinction that is always drawn is not between the mental and the physical, but between that which is created and He who is uncreated. In mathematical terms, the superset that is the uncreated God contains the subset which is the created physical material world that we perceive with our five senses. It is our sixth sense, the nous, that perceives the uncreated God. Unfortunately, since the Fall, our sixth sense has atrophied. This is why the Church reaches out to us through all of our five senses to help redevelop the sixth.



#3 Lakis Papas

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Posted 07 September 2013 - 10:49 PM

I think these questions are answered within an eschatological perspective.

 

What is material and foreign to God, finally is introduced into His Life. Molecular and nuclear structure of the human body, while enveloping all material components, becomes a temple of the Son of God and being transformed participates in eternal Life of the Trinity. What initially was distinct from God, eventually becomes godlike.



#4 Owen Jones

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Posted 08 September 2013 - 01:01 PM

The Church's doctrine is absolutely, inextricably tied to the creation of matter.  The Incarnation is, if nothing else, a doctrine of real materiality, which is why any teaching that tended to minimize or reject the corporeality of of the Eternal Logos, or treated Christ as if he only appeared to be material and corporeal, was condemned as a heresy. 

 

Now, if the underlying issue is to overcome the atheist's objection to creation, I suppose it depends on the person and situation.  Orthodoxy really does not get into proofs for the "existence" of God, e.g. as in Aquinas.  But I have no experience of a thing that caused itself to exist.  Have you?  And I know of no thing that caused another thing to exist.  The real question is whether or not the Creator is Good. 



#5 Monk Herman

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Posted 19 September 2013 - 11:00 PM

Owen, you wrote:

 

The Church's doctrine is absolutely,
inextricably tied to the creation of matter. The Incarnation is, if nothing
else, a doctrine of real materiality, which is why any teaching that tended to
minimize or reject the corporeality of the Eternal Logos, or treated Christ as
if he only appeared to be material and corporeal, was condemned as a heresy.

 

This is correct. Christian theology simply assumes
the commonsense view of physical reality.


 

Owen: I have no experience of a thing that
caused itself to exist.

 

No one could. But you'll often hear atheists
assert that the universe “created itself.” Such an idea is simply too bizarre.
If the universe already existed it wouldn’t need to create itself. If it didn’t
already exist it wouldn’t be here to do the creating. It would have to exist
before it existed!

 

But then you say:


 

Owen: I know of no thing that caused another
thing to exist.

 

Actually, I don't see how you could know anything else. Nothing
exists without a cause. As ancient wisdom warns: “Don’t drink and park: accidents cause people.”

 

Causation is universal. There is no effect without
a cause. No one's ever seen a tarantula (or a tarantella) “just appear”
uncaused. Planets and planetariums come into existence by means that we can
know of or can speculate about. Everything that comes into existence has a
cause for its existence. This is the first premise of Dr William Craig’s Kalam Cosmological Argument.

 

So I don't know what you might mean here.

 

 

Owen: The real question is whether or not
the Creator is Good.

 

Since “good” is capitalized, I suppose it's a typo
and that you intended “The question is whether or not the Creator is God.”


The question for an atheist would be Is there an alternative? If we're
considering just the origin of life on earth it might be possible to imagine life
originating elsewhere and coming here by an accident of “panspermia.” Or one
might fantasize about space aliens who got an early start in the cosmos, acquired
a super-developed technology, and intentionally “seeded” the earth with human life,
as in the film Prometheus (seems more likely
they’d plant a colony.) In that film (if I recall correctly) it's specifically
human life that is introduced to a planet on which life already exists: in the
form of trees &c.


But Ockham’s famous razor eliminates both of these
options: neither one has any explanatory power since they just push the
question back a stage. As the female lead in Prometheus asks: Who designed
the designer?
The question makes sense in that case, since the planter of
human life is there conceived of as a race of physical beings. The question doesn’t
make sense if the Creator is God, because then you’d be asking Who created the Uncreated?


But that’s if we're talking about life. When it
comes to cosmology the buck stops dead. Neither panspermia nor space aliens can
possibly account for existence itself. As professors Stephen Hawking and Roger
Penrose pointed out in the 1970s,  the
“Big Bang” represents an absolute beginning to all “space, time, matter, and
energy.” So the cause of the universe must be something that transcends the
universe. And this is the conclusion to the Kalam
argument. The Creator of time and space must be timeless and spaceless—just
pure mentality. (In the divine services we sometimes find God described as the “Primal
Mind.”)


If “good” isn’t a typo you'll have to explain what
you mean and what you're responding to. “Maltheism,” perhaps? But maltheism is
too lame to inspire any response but laughter.


H



 



#6 Ryan

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Posted 27 September 2013 - 08:51 PM

My third thought (startling though it

may be) would be to point out that we don’t really know that there is such a thing as a material universe. We
have no way of experiencing it other than as part of the content of
consciousness. It's perfectly possible (and seems to me even likely) that
reality is spiritual at it's very core.

 

The problem for me here is that as far as I know
Orthodox theologians have always simply assumed that the physical nature of the
world is real. As far as I know, no one has ever questioned this.

 

From what I have read, the Orthodox view of the visible world is actually quite different from this. Reality is spiritual at its core- actually God is the only absolutely real being, all creatures being utterly dependent upon him. The visible and invisible worlds interpenetrate and the visible world is ultimately symbolic-  not in the sense of being false, but of its existence and purpose being inextricably bound to somethng beonyd it. So looking at the creation as "real" in the sense of self-existent is idolatrous- St. Nikolai of Zicha compares such an attitude to children who study the shapes of letters without understanding that they represent sounds. Any ultimate understanding of visible creation that does not pass to the spiritual realities that underpin it is a false understanding. On the other hand, the deified saints who have attained contemplation of God at the same time receive a full understanding of the creation. I don't have time to give my patristic references for this, but I recommend looking at St. Maximus' The Church's Mystagogy, as well as his other writings about the logoi of created things, and the dogmatic chapters of St. Gregory of Sinai and the three centuries of St. Niketas Stethatos found in the Philokalia vol. 4, and also St. Nikolai of Zicha's essay The Universe as Symbols and Signs.


Edited by Ryan, 27 September 2013 - 08:54 PM.





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