Thursday, May 31, 2012

The Natural Moral Law

Some good news, however small: Amazon has come out with a kindle version of "The Natural Moral Law," and my book has remained on the top 100 list for natural law books for its first month in print.  In fact, it has usually been in the top 10 for natural law, and has also spent most of the month in the top 100 for the jurisprudent and philosophy of law categories.

I only share this because I'm excited and not to brag.  David Hume said of his "Treatise" that it fell stillborn from the press, and I'm simply glad to have perhaps avoided that outcome.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Modern Art and Beauty


In my recent post about Mozart I talked about art as related to arranging sound, color, shape, or other physical properties in ways that display appropriate relations and order.  Mozart seems to have been born knowing how to do this with sound.  Others display this excellence with color, shape, or motion.

Those of us who do not have this talent might respond that the idea of "appropriateness" and "order" are actually just matters of personal taste.  However, I believe that consensus can be reached to show that this is not so.  It is not true that just anything goes and can be called "beauty."

An objection might be raised about modern art.  In the paintings above, Picasso and Gauguin seem to purposely avoid order and symmetry.  The objection says that modern artists have shown that beauty is all in the eye of the beholder and there is no objective standard for what is appropriate.

I don't believe this is what modern art has demonstrated.  In fact, I believe that modern artists agree with the standards of order and appropriateness, but that they believed these were naive and simple and did not accurately represent the world.  The world as depicted by Gauguin is not ordered and is not beautiful.  The world is full of evil and misery.  It is bent on human suffering.  The neo-classicists of a previous generation did not capture this, but instead idealized a lost time which never actually existed.

Modern artists in various mediums have worked to give us the opposite of order and symmetry, thus showing that they know what these are and purposely avoid them.

However, if previous generations were influenced by naive classicism, then so too are modern artists influenced by a philosophy.  I suspect we would find naturalism, or materialism, behind this kind of art.  What exists is simply the material world, composed of impersonal atoms in apparently random motion.  There is no grand purpose to human life beyond individual satisfaction.  There is no meaning to be found, and what is hideous and troubling is equal to what is beautiful and sublime; all is one in the end.

In this sense, modern art is working out of its own answer to the questions "where did we come from, what are we, and where are we going."  These questions are found at the beginning of the Catholic Catechism, and are the title of the above painting by Gauguin.


Monday, May 28, 2012

Jainism

Chapter 5 of the Hopfe/Woodward text discusses Jainism.  This is a religion that arose in India about the same time as Buddhism, in the 6th century B.C.  As with the other religions I'm discussing on this blog, I rely on the text to provide historical details, discussion of rituals, texts, and notable leaders.  My goal is to help bring these into focus in relation to the basic beliefs of the religion.

In the case of Jainism the text is very helpful in this regard.  On page 119 of the 12th ed., the authors say "The philosophical worldview of Jainism is dualistic.  According to Jainism, the world is comprised of essentially two substances--soul (jiva) and matter (ajiva).  Soul is life; it is eternal and valuable.  Matter is lifeless, material, and evil. . . . Jains have no need for a creator god because they believe that matter is eternal.  Thus there never was a creation of world.  It has been here forever and will continue to exist forever."

This kind of dualism is not unique to Jainism, and the idea that matter is evil or lesser while spirit is good and somehow higher has been very influential in the West.  I'd like to suggest that this view of release from the material world is not essentially different than the popular belief that the goal of life is to be good in order to go to heaven which is a spiritual realm.  Indeed, perhaps Jainism is preferable in that in this worldview one is given many attempts to attain release from the material world, whereas the standard story taught here in the West is that there is only one chance.

Furthermore, can someone who holds to this view of matter and spirit claim to also believe in God?  On this point Jainism also seems more consistent than much of what is taught in the West.  God is said to be the creator, and yet is distant and has little power in the world.  One must obey God's rules or else one does not get into heaven.  In Jainism, the system is inpersonal in the sense that if one does what is needed to be released from reincarnation then one will be released, but if not one continues in reincarnation until such a time as release is attained.

So we have a comparison of the popular forms of theism taught here in the West with Jainism, but we also have the comparison of the basic beliefs of theism (only God is eternal) with Jainism (matter and spirit are both eternal).  The final question is: if spirit is eternal and the individual has been striving for eternity to attain release from reincarnation, why hasn't this goal been attained?  If, after eternity, the goal has not been attained then it can never be attain and continued suffering is unjust.  On the other hand, if there is a chance for release then the implication is that the soul has not been striving for this from eternity.  Either the soul is not eternal or the system is not just like it claims to be.

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Hinduism

Continuing my series for summer Religions of the World class, this post is about chapter 4 from the Hopfe/Woodward text on Hinduism.  The book takes a geographical approach to categorizing religion and so this is part of the section on religions from India.  The text points out that this is perhaps the oldest religion in the world, and is certainly one of the most diverse.  Indeed, there is a tendency today for scholars to speak about Hinduisms, rather than Hinduism.  The argument is that Hinduism as a kind was developed for cataloging purposes by the British.  A person in India was either British, Muslim, or other which was called Hindu.  This approach would also have been true during Islamic control of India in that one was either Muslim or an idol worshiper.

Nevertheless, there are two ways I'd suggest we can understand how Hinduism as a concept holds together: one is in terms of historical development of basic beliefs, and the other is in terms of a worldview with concepts developed from basic beliefs.

In terms of the first, the text gives the history of Hinduism from classical, to post-classical, to modern and post-modern times.  I'd like to suggest that there is a development from the worship of gods, to the work of the priests, to the focus on consciousness.  This is a movement from explanation to explanation as each step is challenged.  For instance, the worship of gods does not bring about the desired end and therefore greater purity must be required.  This requires a priestly class that can be set aside in ritual purity at all times.  However, when the desired ends are still elusive, there is a shift in focus to the consciousness and desires.  The Hindu Vedas follow this path in their path from teachings about gods, to the priests, to the Upanishads at the end which are philosophical reflections on the nature of consciousness.

The philosophical development of Hinduism relies on this last past of the Vedas, and so is called Vedanta, or the end of the Vedas.  These teach non-dualism, that all is one, and different schools look to explain how all is one in the face of appearance difference.

Indeed, as I shift to the second part of how to understand Hinduism it centers on this idea that "all is one." Beginning with the assumption that the self is eternal and that the self (consciousness) is the highest reality, the rest of Hindu teachings follow.  If the self is eternal, then death is not the end of existence and some form of reincarnation must be posited (samsara).  The cycle of reincarnation is guided toward the end of enlightenment and therefore a kind of justice governs the system (karma), which is influenced by doing one's duty (dharma).  Since all is one and all is eternal, any appearance of change is simply that, appearance and not reality.  Therefore, this world of change is not real and the highest end of existence is coming to understand this.  Such awareness or enlightenment means release from the power of the world of change and the end of the reincarnation cycle (moksha).  The failure to understand this is due to ignorance (avidya).

In each case, the history of the development of Hinduism or Hinduism as a worldview, the basic belief that all is one and this is consciousness is key to understanding.  The text considers materialistic and theistic forms of Hinduism, yet in each case there is the background belief that all is one at the basic level. As we compare Hinduism with other religions developed in India I'd like us to compare them at this level: do they teach different basic beliefs or are they variations of this same basic belief?  If the latter, in what ways are they variations and how do they develop differently.  Then as we begin to consider and compare other religions I'd like us to also ask how they are the same or different with respect to their basic beliefs.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Wordpress

I've started a mirror blog on Wordpress at thehighestend.wordpress.com . I'm not sure whether I like blogger or Wordpress better and I'd like my readers to give me input. Please look at both and comment on what you think.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

African Religions

Continuing my posts for World Religion class, chapter 3 of the Hopfe/Woodward texts discusses African Religions.  After noting their diversity (given that they cover a large continent) and obvious mistakes made in evaluating these religions (either as savage or as idealized), the book looks at some specific examples.  There are two points I'd like to focus on.

First, the book notes that it is common for these religions (as it is for most polytheists according to the book) to claim that there is a High God who is the creator or co-creator but who is now disinterested and not involved in the world.  The book gives examples of such stories.  In each case, this "creator" seems to fashion the world out of pre-existing stuff and is therefore a "maker" rather than the creator that gives being to what did not exist before.  Second, it is notable that this maker is not infinite (all powerful, all good, all knowing), but is limited in power, can be tricked or fooled and so is limited in knowledge, and does not care anymore so is limited in goodness.  Consequently, it can be confusing to liken this High God to any theistic religions (Judaism, Christianity, or Islam).

Three examples from the book are from Mozambique, the Yoruba, and the Nuer.  The first two have the belief that the High God is now distant and uninterested.  The latter believes that the High God is actively involved in life and is the focus of their religion.  My question: is it possible to resolve these two different views of the High God, and if so how?

The second point I wanted to focus on concerns the rituals that address the lesser spirits, ancestors, and life stages (such as coming of age).  Why is this "religion?"  In what way is it different from "science."  It seems to me as I read about these practices that the participants are trying to understand the cause and effect of the world.  However, because they do not believe that the world is limited to the material it is necessary for them also to incorporate the other aspect of reality, the spiritual.  Now, someone might argue that these rituals are not efficacious, but isn't that just an issue of trying to understand cause and effect more fully rather than religion?

I'm not suggesting these are equivalent to modern science, but I am wanting us to explore the claim by some modern scientists that all of existence can be reduced to the material causes seen in nature.  Are religions such as those discussed in this chapter also trying to understand causes, and in what ways might these causes come under question?

These two focal points come together in this way: If God is the creator, what does the creation reveal about God?  Are we merely involved in the creation in order to get what we want out of it, such as beneficial results, or is the creation an object of study because it reveals something about its creator?  And what can it reveal about the creator?

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Native American Religion

As chapter 2 of the Hopfe/Woodward "Religions of the World" text points out, Native American religion is diverse and difficult to identify as either polytheistic, animistic, or pantheistic.  Indeed, it may be a feature of these religions to set aside clarification and speculation about such differences and instead focus on practical concerns related to overcoming suffering and natural evil.

This is a theme that runs through the kinds of categories discussed in the chapter, such as animism, ritual dances, sacrifice, taboos, vision quests, the spirit world, and life after death.  The underlying idea appears to be that there is a harmony to nature, and that when this harmony is disrupted bad things happen.  Humans contribute to this disruption by harming nature or ignoring the natural cycles, but can also repair the harmony through observing the correct rituals and understanding that they are but part of the natural order.  This identification of humans as part of nature, even a lesser part that is ruled by the spirits forces and guided by animal totems, is a distinct feature of these religions.

Nevertheless, interactions between European missionaries and Native Americans show that the latter grasped the challenge posed by European religious beliefs.  Since there was some sense of a supreme creator in many Native American religions (although he was distant and unapproachable and sometimes inpersonal), missionaries often made an appeal to this as the same God believed in by Europeans.  I'd like to give some quotes from notable chiefs who raised questions about this idea of God, and about why they should accept the religious beliefs being offered by Europeans:

From Chief Red Jacket:


There was a time when our forefathers owned this great island. [The Seneca, like many other tribes, refer to this continent as a “great island.”] . . . The Great Spirit had made it for the use of Indians. . . All this He had done for His red children because He loved them.  If we had any disputes about hunting grounds, they were generally settled without the shedding of much blood.  But an evil day came upon us.  Your forefathers crossed the great waters and landed upon this land.  Their numbers were small.  They found friends not enemies.   They told us they had fled from their own country for fear of wicked men, and had come here to enjoy their religion . . . You say that you are right, and we are lost.  How do we know this to be true?  We understand that your religion is written in a book.  If it was intended for us as well, why has not the Great Spirit given it to us; and not only to us, but why did He not give to our forefathers the knowledge of that book, with the means of understanding it rightly?  We know only what you tell us about it.  How shall we know when to believe, being so often deceived by the white people?  Brother, you say there is but one way to worship and serve the Great Spirit.  If there is but one religion, why do you white people differ so much about it.  Why not all agree, as you can all read the book? . . . We are told that your religion was given to your forefathers and has been handed down, father to son.  We also have a religion which was given to our forefathers, and has been handed down to us, their children.  We worship in that way.  It teaches us to be thankful for all the favors we receive, to love each other, and to be united.  We never quarrel about religion.  Brother, the Great Spirit has made us all.  But He has made a great difference between His white and red children.  . . . Brother, we do not wish to destroy your religion, or to take it from you.  We only want to enjoy our own.

From Tecumseh:

Sell a country?! Why not sell the air, the great sea, as well as the earth? Did not the Great Spirit make them all for the use of his children?  How can we have confidence in the white people? We have good and just reasons to believe we have ample grounds to accuse the Americans of injustice, especially when such great acts of injustice have been committed by them upon our race, of which they seem to have no manner of regard, or even to reflect. When Jesus Christ came upon the earth you killed him and nailed him to the cross. You thought he was dead, and you were mistaken. You have the Shakers among you, and you laugh and make light of their worship. Everything I have told you is the truth. The Great Spirit has inspired me.

From Chief Seattle:

Your God is not our God.  Your God loves your people and hates mine.  He folds His strong protecting arms lovingly about the white man and leads him by the hand as a father leads his infant son.  But He has forsaken His red children—if they are really His.  Our God, the Great Spirit, seems also to have forsaken us.  Your God makes your people wax strong every day.  Soon they will fill all the land.  Our people are ebbing away like a rapidly receding tide that will never return.  The white man’s God cannot love our people or He would protect them. . . Our religion is the traditions of our ancestors—the dreams of our old men, given them in the solemn hours of night by the Great Spirit, and in the visions of our sachems—and is written in the hearts of our people . . . Your dead cease to love you and the land of their nativity as soon as they pass the portals of the tomb and wander away beyond the stars.  They are soon forgotten and never return.  Our dead never forget the beautiful world that gave them being. . . . Every part of this soil is sacred in the estimation of my people.

These quotes show sophisticated responses to the European message.  They raise questions about how we know God and God's will, how we understand the problem of evil and suffering, and how we explain the relationship between different groups of people.  They ask questions about salvation and redemptive revelation.  I believe these are the kinds of questions that must be asked and discussed if there is to be progress made between discordant groups.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Basic Religions

Chapter 1 of "Religions of the World" (Hopfe/Woodward 12th ed) discusses what the authors call "basic religions."  These are religions that are passed along through oral tradition.  The belief put forward by the chapter is that these are the closest examples of how religions began.  Since they are not recorded in written texts, archeologists rely on cave paintings, statues and other objects, and monuments to piece together the beliefs of these religions.

There are contemporary groups that the chapter says practice these same kind of basic religions, with features such as animism (the world is inhabited by spirits), magic (post-hoc reasoning-after this therefore because of this), divination, taboo (set aside objects considered too holy for ordinary people), totems (identification of clan or person with animal), sacrifice, myth, rituals, rights of passage, and ancestor veneration.

It may be true that this form of religion is very ancient.  It may also be true that it generally persists in groups that are isolated in various ways from the kind of interaction with other humans that creates dialogue and critically questions assumptions.

And yet I'm not sure we can conclude that it is the original religion.  The book argues that we do not know when humans invented religion.  In my last post on the origin of religion I argued that religion is co-extensive with human history in that humans are thinkers who interpret their experiences in light of basic beliefs.  The question is not whether a person is religious, the question is what religion that person holds.

It is noteworthy that many of the groups that the book considers are focused on overcoming natural evil through integration into the natural cycles.  This is one way of affirming that the earth, or nature, or the material system, is eternal and the good is to be in harmony with this eternal cycle.  These almost inevitably worship the mother goddess or the mother earth.

There are other groups that affirm the existence of the creator God, although they also argue that God is distant and uninterested in humans (even asleep).  Both groups seem to affirm that the current system is somehow broken and needs to be fixed.

As a philosopher here is my question: the chapter seems to imply that persons in these basic religions are doing the best they can with the material at hand.  Is this true?  Is it consistent to believe that God who created all things is uninterested and asleep?  Or that the material system is involved in an eternal cycle which at some point (after an eternity of existence) got broken and human efforts can fix it?  Or while there is a "high God," he is so distant that he leaves humans to be tormented by lesser gods and spirits who must be placated by rituals and sacrifices?

The claim that the book seems to hold is that persons in these religions aren't critical thinkers or haven't been exposed to advanced philosophy classes.  I'm arguing that one doesn't need to have had an advanced philosophy class, indeed I've known people who go through such classes and still can't recognize the contradictions in the above.  As thinkers, any human can ask questions about the beliefs they are being asked to accept, and any human who accepts a belief that involves a contradiction is responsible for this failure.

To conclude, I'd argue that as humans it is our basic responsibility to critically examine our most basic beliefs for meaning and coherence.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Jonathan Edwards

In my book "Reason and Worldviews," in the chapter on the necessity of natural theology, I give a list of questions Jonathan Edwards expected his students to answer.  These began with showing that something has existed from eternity, that it is not material and it is not the human soul, and continue to show that what is eternal is God.  The first five questions are:

1.  How does it appear that something has existed from eternity?
2.  How does it appear that this earth and the visible system are not from eternity?
3.  How does it appear that the existence of man is derived and dependent?
4.  How do you prove the natural perfections of God, viz. his intelligence, infinite power, foreknowledge,   and immutability?
5.  How do you prove his moral perfection, that he is a friend of virtue, or absolutely holy, true, just and good?

I post about him now because I came across a helpful quote of his work in William Baird's "History of New Testament Research" which I am reading for my current project.  Baird says:

"Edwards developed a version of the ontological argument.  He argued that there is either being or nothing.  To say that nothing exists is an absurdity.  Therefore, being exists, [and at least some being has existed from eternity]."

This form of the ontological argument does not get us to God.  It gets us to eternal being.  Additional arguments are required to get to theism.  However, I believe it is a sound argument.  There cannot have ever only been nothing because the implication is that being came from non-being.  Being does not come from non-being.  Therefore, there has always been some being.

This is developed in Edwards' thinking to argue that what has existed from eternity is God, not the material world or the human soul (candidates suggested by other religions such as naturalism, Hinduism, and Platonism).

The Origin of Religion

One of my graduate professors, Mark Woodward, is the co-author of a widely used textbook titled "Religions of the World."  It is now in its 12th edition.  The publisher of this textbook added a page explaining why we need this new addition.  The first point it lists is that there is a revised section on the prehistorical basic religions emphasizing that it is impossible to know much about the earliest forms of religion.  As I will argue below, this presupposes the worldview of "naturalism" which interprets the world in terms of material causes alone and therefore relies on archaeology to explain human origins.  By way of contrast, I'll be arguing that religion is part of thinking and interpreting, and therefore has been present with humans from the beginning.  Furthermore, naturalism cannot explain the origin of thought because thought does not arise in degrees (one is either a thinker or a non-thinker) and it cannot be reduced to material causes.  For a helpful presentation on this you can view Professor Alvin Plantinga's "An Evolutionary Argument Against Naturalism" lectures.

The introduction to this text asks why we study religion, and then works to define religion and give some explanation of the origin of religion.

Although religion is of interest in itself as a subject of study, the text suggests there are also practical reasons for studying religion.  Specifically, by doing so we can come to understand how other people think about the world and do our best to avoid conflict.  However, there is no suggestion that humans can come to agreement on the answers to religious questions.  This is typical of pragmatism, which sets aside questions of truth for "what works" where the latter is defined as people getting what they want.

This pragmatic approach is also found when the text relies upon William James to define religion.  James argued that there is not one definition, but a family resemblance of various kinds.  These particularly involve the unseen, such as beliefs in God, gods, demons, souls, the afterlife, heaven, as well as the texts, rituals, and morals that support these.  Therefore, a dichotomy is establish in the definition of religion between religion and naturalism where the latter is understood to be neutral and therefore able to study religion without bias.

The privileged postion of naturalism is also seen in the theories of the origin of religion that are considered.  These are mainly taken from anthropologists influenced by 19th century theories of human development such as Darwinism (humans evolved from no religion, to basic religion, to complex religion), Feuerbach (belief is God is a project of human wish fulfillment), Marx (human society develops through economic tensions and religion is one tool of controlling the ignorance masses), and Freud (religion is infantile illusion).

Others included anthropologists who believed that "primitive" societies were the remnant of past human evolution and therefore could be studied to understand what human society looked like in the past.  Of course, another possibility is that these groups were isolated from the rest of human development and so this explains their stage of development.

From here, the chapter categorized religions by geography.  Of course there is something to this in that ideas spread from person to person.  Francis Schaeffer said that most people get their religion the way children get the measles, by being around others that have it.  Most people simply seek to explain and defend what they already believe, rather than going through the process of critical analysis.  However, focusing primarily on geography is another aspect of naturalism and pragmatism in that it downplays the role of ideas.

I'd like to suggest that religion involves a set of answers to basic questions which are then used to interpret one's experiences.  I believe this unites all of the kinds that the textbook studies.  However, it also allows us to include naturalism as one of the religions.  Naturalism is not neutral, but instead it also gives answer to basic questions and it cannot be given a privileged status but must defend those answers.  The persons mentioned above (Darwin, Feuerback, Marx, Freud) are the "priests" of naturalism who give the naturalistic "myths" or "stories" of origins, authority, and value that then shape how their follows interpret the world.

I appreciated Mark Woodward as a professor because he often spoke about how postmodernism is unhelpful, not everything is a matter of interpretation.  He would tell us that no matter how hard we tried to believe it, a dragon is not responsible for turning on the lights in the room; there is a real world and we can know about it and distinguish between fantasy and fact.

And yet this otherwise helpful point can be misused by the naturalist to say that their set of answers is fact, and all others are pure fantasy.  This is what the naturalist must prove rather than merely assert.

Monday, May 14, 2012

Promotion: When I Was a Lad

As a fan of Gilbert and Sullivan I can't help but wonder if they got it right as far as promotions go in "When I Was A Lad."  This also relates to things I hear about intellectuals being out of touch and unhelpful.  I believe part of this is due to persons overextending in their claims to knowledge.  Having been trained in subject X to a high degree, they then feel able to talk about subjects A-Z.  The other side of it is that intellectuals generally do not identify or answer the most basic questions that can be asked.


Sir Joseph below is a humorous illustration of how persons can be promoted with no knowledge at all:


Sir Joseph.
When I was a lad I served a term
As office boy to an Attorney's firm.
I cleaned the windows and I swept the floor,
And I polished up the handle of the big front door.

Chorus.
He polished up the handle of the big front door.

Sir Joseph.
I polished up that handle so carefullee
That now I am the Ruler of the Queen's Navee!

Chorus.
He polished up that handle so carefullee,
That now he is the ruler of the Queen's Navee!

Sir Joseph.
As office boy I made such a mark
That they gave me the post of a junior clerk.
I served the writs with a smile so bland,
And I copied all the letters in a big round hand.


Chorus.
He copied all the letters in a big round hand.

Sir Joseph.
I copied all the letters in a hand so free,
That now I am the Ruler of the Queen's Navee!

Chorus.
He copied all the letters in a hand so free,
That now he is the Ruler of the Queen's Navee!

Sir Joseph.
In serving writs I made such a name
That an articled clerk I soon became;
I wore clean collars and a brand-new suit
For the pass examination at the Institute.

Chorus.
For the pass examination at the Institute.

Sir Joseph.
That pass examination did so well for me,
That now I am the Ruler of the Queen's Navee!

Chorus.
That pass examination did so well for he,
That now he is the Ruler of the Queen's Navee!

Sir Joseph.
Of legal knowledge I acquired such a grip
That they took me into the partnership.
And that junior partnership, I ween,
Was the only ship that I ever had seen.

Chorus.
Was the only ship that he ever had seen.

Sir Joseph.
But that kind of ship so suited me,
That now I am the ruler of the Queen's Navee!

Chorus.
But that kind of ship so suited he,
That now he is the ruler of the Queen's Navee!

Sir Joseph.
I grew so rich that I was sent
By a pocket borough into Parliament.
I always voted at my party's call,
And I never thought of thinking for myself at all.

Chorus.
He never thought of thinking for himself at all.

Sir Joseph.
I thought so little, they rewarded me
By making me the Ruler of the Queen's Navee!

Chorus.
He thought so little, they rewarded he
By making him the Ruler of the Queen's Navee!

Sir Joseph.
Now landsmen all, whoever you may be,
If you want to rise to the top of the tree,
If your soul isn't fettered to an office stool,
Be careful to be guided by this golden rule.

Chorus.
Be careful to be guided by this golden rule.

Sir Joseph.
Stick close to your desks and never go to sea,
And you all may be rulers of the Queen's Navee!

Chorus.
Stick close to your desks and never go to sea,
And you all may be rulers of the Queen's Navee!

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Francis Beckwith, Stephen Webb and Materialism

Two friends of mine have recently published an interesting dialogue.  In this link Francis Beckwith and Stephen Webb discuss Webb's new book that suggest's the eternal Son of God might have always had a body.  Webb correlates this with Mormonism, and suggests that there might be a kind of refined matter not currently visible to our senses.

This debate is worth reading, but I'd like to add something to it.  When we speak about "being" we are speaking not about qualities, like red, hard, quick, but about the substance in which these qualities adhere.  So when we speak of matter, we are speaking about extended substance in which such qualities adhere, and this substance includes related words like space and energy (as defined by physics) in that these are either extended or the relation of extended things.

Here's the problem.  There seems to be another kind of being, spirit, which is non-extended and conscious.  We are aware of this substance in two ways: we are directly aware of our own consciousness, and we can reason that no combination of extended being gives consciousness.  Thought is not a property of matter.  The implication is that there are two kinds of being, the material and the conscious.

Beckwith covers many arguments about why God is not material.  Here I'd argue that the fundamental one is that matter is not self-maintaining and not conscious, whereas the nature of God is self-maintaining and conscious.  God is an eternal spirit.  We can argue from the nature of matter as not self-maintaining to its not having existed from eternity, and this menas that if God has a body he did not exist from eternity but was created.  Indeed, this is what the Mormons have taught and Webb discusses this in the article I cited in another post.

Before we get into argument about what the Bible teaches about God we should already know the eternal power and divine nature of God from general revelation.  The Bible assumes we know God, it simply begins by asserting that God is the creator.  Part of what we can know from general revelation is that God is an eternal spirit, and that all of the material world had a beginning (matter has not existed from eternity)

A good deal of the discussion between Beckwith and Webb centers around what the church has taught (since they are both Roman Catholics).  In another post I'd like to consider what it means to be part of "historic Christianity."