Nolan Whitaker

Anxiety as a Means to Flourish

Christians are committed to the idea that human beings are designed to flourish in certain environments. There is something like a blueprint or design plan for humanity which is ultimately aimed at human flourishing. When we are are functioning properly in the environment for which we were designed, we will flourish. When we are not functioning properly, we will not flourish. Presumably this includes our cognitive faculties. But being ordered toward flourishing does not entail being ordered toward truth. There is some possible circumstance where a human knower’s flourishing depends on his believing a falsehood. Plantinga (to whom I owe the above ideas) likes to give the example of a person with some terrible disease whose (perhaps irrational) belief that he will survive, via the placebo effect, increases the probability that he will in fact survive. So it’s possible that there is some reason that would justify our being designed to believe a falsehood in whatever circumstance, if our ultimate end is to flourish.

I think this is the case with anxiety. If humans do not have the capacity to be anxious on accident, then it must lead to human flourishing. But how can this be? Anxiety is usually thought to be a form of suffering, and as such incompatible with flourishing. Indeed, Jesus commands us to not to be anxious, but instead to seek the kingdom of God and his righteousness. I concur, we ought not be anxious, and the anxious person is not a flourishing person. But this does not mean anxiety cannot be a means to human flourishing. God designed us to work in such a way that, given unfavorable circumstances like anxiety or sin, if we will respond accordingly we will flourish. When a human finds himself in circumstances where he is anxious, the proper response to such circumstances will bring about flourishing. In one sense, humans were designed to be anxious.

As a cognitive malfunction, anxiety compels one to believe some awful proposition is true and hinders his ability to properly evaluate evidence for that proposition. What is of concern is that some terribly unfortunate proposition is true. If the anxious person knew the proposition were false, he would not be anxious. Thus, the obvious cure for anxiety is to believe the negation of the proposition in question. But this isn’t really an option to the anxious person, for they cannot properly evaluate the evidence in favor of whatever state of affairs they are anxious about. What’s so interesting about the Jesus’ command is that he seems to know this; his prescription for anxiety calls the anxious person to totally disregard the truth of the matter, and instead embrace the character of God and their relationship to him. Truly grasping the character of God entails all sorts of other beliefs that can mitigate anxiety, e.g. that God is good and wishes me no harm, that worry is fruitless, that God is provident and in control, etc. Now, suppose it’s true that if I were never anxious, I would not have reflected on the character of God and my relationship to him. And if I were to become anxious, I would be driven to so reflect on God. If this is the case, God has good reason to bring it about that I become anxious about something. It is in this way that anxiety is a means to human flourishing. For to flourish just is to know God.


Doubt Your Doubts

Peter Enns has a new book out titled The Sin of Certainty, which “models an acceptance of mystery and paradox that all believers can follow and why God prefers this path because it is only this way by which we can become mature disciples who truly trust God. It gives Christians who have known only the demand for certainty permission to view faith on their own flawed, uncertain, yet heartfelt, terms.”[1] Let’s call this (fairly popular, as of late) approach The New Fideism, or TNF for short. While I understand and endorse approaching the articles of faith with a healthy does of epistemic humility, I don’t think this theological attitude makes much sense.

First, a key term: let’s define fideism as the “exclusive or basic reliance upon faith alone, accompanied by a consequent disparagement of reason and utilized especially in the pursuit of philosophical or religious truth,”[2] as Alvin Plantinga does. This definition allows for the lauded paradox and mystery necessary for TNF and focuses the conversation appropriately; for TNF is, perhaps inconsistently, not skeptical about ordinary knowledge claims or true beliefs regarding non-theological propositions. Fideism itself is nothing new, but what’s new about The New Fideism is that it’s trendy – doubt and skepticism are treated as virtues or interesting character quirks, doubt is preferred to certainty or concrete knowledge of God. Also, doubt and skepticism are now pragmatically valuable: they supposedly allow for theological discovery and, more importantly, protect one from theological certainty; one’s faith is made richer by virtue of doubt and skepticism. But why think this is the case? Why would doubt, particularly doubt in the objects of faith, make faith any better than the absence of doubt?

I cannot imagine a scenario where faith without doubt is more valuable than faith with doubt – this is because faith and doubt are contraries, they cancel each other out. Although I do recognize that faith and doubt are not binary switches, they come in degrees. However, they are binary in a different sense: faith and doubt both affirm the truth of propositions, which are necessarily binary. For example, for any religious proposition p, faith (in whatever degree) affirms p and doubt (in whatever degree) affirms not-p. Suppose one affirms p in a far greater degree than one affirms not-p, then one will believe p. But, if these values are reversed, then it follows that one will believe not-p. Now, suppose p stands for the proposition “God exists.” If the cherished doubt of the new fideists has its own way, if doubt really is a virtue of some sort, it then leads to atheism. Interestingly, one does not have to be “certain” that God does not exist in order to affirm atheism, she just has to think it more probable than not, or let her degree of doubt overcome her degree of faith in the affirmation of the proposition God exists. The “certainty” card seems to bite both ways. Further, fideism as Plantinga understands it is an entirely different monster than TNF – for fideism is simply faith (or affirming religious propositions and denying their complements) “accompanied by a consequent disparagement of reason;” it says nothing about embracing doubt, which if taken to its logical conclusion possibly leads to atheism. Or, replace with any other religious proposition that you like (e.g. God raised Jesus from the dead, There is such person as Jesus of Nazareth), and you’ll see how unrestrained doubt concerning these propositions concludes.

But enough about doubt. I’m curious as to where this “demand for certainty” Enns mentions is coming from. Even in philosophical and apologetics circles, there simply is no demand for certainty. Those who are even superficially familiar with epistemology recognize that certainty is an ideal and nothing more. Interestingly, though, if we are to take TNF’s claims about certainty seriously and consistently, TNF turns out to be self-defeating. Plantinga’s critique of Kant and other philosophers (who suggest that God is so transcendent and other that our concepts do not apply to Him) could be reformulated against TNF. Plantinga points out that if one asserts that our concepts do not apply to God, then at least one of our concepts applies to God, i.e. the concept of our concepts not applying to him. Such thinking does not measure up to its own standards and thus shows itself to be false. TNF’s attitude toward certainty fails similarly by expressing a rather certain attitude that one ought not be certain about matters theological (see the exclusive terms Enns uses above). The same goes for TNF’s exaltation of mystery; by confidently predicating mysteriousness to God, God then has at least one non-mysterious property, (ironically) the property being mysterious. But if one is willing to predicate properties to God, why stop at mystery? Why not the property of having middle knowledge, or the property of aseity, or any other property that one has good reason to believe that God has? Why not take part in the incredibly rich theological conversation about the nature and attributes of God? Is this not what we were created for – to know God and make God known? Philosopher and theologian William Lane Craig, and I with him, suggest that immersing oneself in the study of God even inspires worship:

I have found that the more I reflect philosophically on the attributes of God the more overwhelmed I become at his greatness and the more excited I become about Bible doctrine. Whereas easy appeals to mystery prematurely shut off reflection about God, rigorous and earnest effort to understand him is richly rewarded with deeper appreciation of who he is, more confidence in his reality and care, and a more intelligent and profound worship of his person.[3]

So what should we do when we doubt? First, if I am right in suggesting that faith and doubt are in conflict when affirming whatever proposition, then one obviously ought not doubt the truth of essential Christian propositions like God exists, or God raised Jesus from the dead (a different set of religious propositions may well leave room for doubt, e.g. Mankind is totally depraved). So the less one doubts a given proposition, the more room one has to affirm it – the less doubt, the more faith, and vice-versa. Yet, doubt is not merely an intellectual issue, it’s also a spiritual issue. But this does not mean intellectual pursuits cannot solve spiritual problems (indeed they have for me). So one who doubts should recognize and isolate the object of their doubt and pursue it into the ground. Trust me, it’s vastly improbable that you are the first one to doubt whatever proposition in 2,000 years of Christendom – there are resources, good resources, available for any given concern you may have. Do you doubt God’s goodness? Read God, Freedom, and Evil by Alvin Plantinga or Good God by David Baggett and Jerry Walls. Do you doubt that God exists? Read Reasonable Faith by William Lane Craig. Do you doubt that faith and evolutionary science are compatible? Read The Language of God by evolutionary scientist Francis Collins. Do you think Paul was a misogynist? Read Paul, Women, and Wives by Craig Keener. I could go on. Finally, one should evaluate the state of their spiritual formation and make the appropriate adjustments (I’m no pastor, so I’ll leave whatever this may entail to the experts). All of that to say: don’t be a slave to your doubts, treat your doubt as an opportunity to reform your mind and let your faith grow; you’ll wish you had done so sooner – I’m certain of it.


[1] Emphasis mine. Enns, Peter. The Sin of Certainty.

[2] Reason and Belief in God, in The Analtyic Theist. 157.

[3] Craig, William Lane. The Only Wise God.

Don’t Seek God’s Will for Your Life

In his book titled, Decision Making and the Will of God, Garry Friesen presents the model of decision making that has infiltrated modern Christianity. He outlines the view in three propositions:

(1) Rather than asking “What is best for me?” or “What will bring me the greatest amount of happiness?” the Christian should always ask “What is God’s will for me in this decision?”

(2) Given God’s desire and ability to communicate, the believer can have confidence that God’s will can be known with certainty in any situation.

(3)Failure to discern and/or obey God’s leading results in anxiety, frustration, and discouragement that come from living outside the center of God’s will.[1]

The result of this mindset is a lot of vague instructions on how to make the “big” decisions in life, particularly when deliberating between two or more seemingly equal opportunities. One is told to “seek God’s will” or to “surrender your will to God” (which, by the way, one absolutely should do). The problem, however, is that these instructions are too vague and broad to be of any practical value; one ultimately ends up deferring to impressions or gut feelings which we sometimes attribute to the Holy Spirit. But is this a coherent decision making process?
Suppose Jones is making a significant life decision, deliberating between equal options A and B, and the Holy Spirit causes an impression in Jones ordered towards option A. Does it follow that God really does want him to choose option A? Not necessarily. Suppose God knows that Jones is particularly frustrated with impressions and often acts in spite of them. That is to say, he willingly acts to the contrary of whatever impression he holds. Now, suppose also that God actually wants Jones to choose option B – given that God knows what Jones would do in any given circumstance, God would give Jones an impression ordered towards option A in order for Jones to freely choose option B. Therefore, it does not follow that an impression ordered towards one option over against another is indicative of “God’s will for Jones in this decision.”

What then, are we to do? How are we supposed to know “God’s will” for us when we make decisions? Outside of decisions that are delimited by divine commands, this question is a nonstarter, it fails to take seriously the scope of God’s foreknowledge. Even prior to creating the world, God has already taken into account one’s free decisions. Thus, when making decisions one should merely make wise decisions and be confident in the fact that God has already taken his decision and future free actions into account. God is not going to be surprised or be forced to result to a “Plan B” in light of one’s decisions. Thus, while there is such thing as “God’s will for your life,” it is not your job to find it. Moreover, one ought not wonder “what would have happened” if he fails to follow “God’s will” in any given decision, for only God knows the relevant counterfactuals exhaustively. C.S. Lewis accurately captures the attitude one ought to take in response to counterfactual questions in a remarkable passage in Prince Caspian. Lucy, a young girl, asks Aslan what would have happened if she had not made a poor decision, to which Aslan coolly responds, “To know what would have happened, child? No. Nobody is ever told that.”[2]

[1] Friesen, Garry; Maxson, J. Robin, Decision Making and the Will of God: A Biblical Alternative to the Traditional View, 28.

[2] Lewis, Prince Caspian: The Return to Narnia, 153.


Why is Abortion a Partisan Issue?

It is easy to see why issues with obvious theological and practical implications, e.g. the nature of marriage and the extent of religious liberty, are partisan issues: the secular Left and religious Right own fundamentally incompatible assumptions about what exactly those things are and have a good deal to lose if their ideologies are not supported by the government. But the abortion issue doesn’t seem to meet this criterion. Generally speaking, the Right assumes that the unborn is a human being and the Left assumes it is not – needless to say, these are incompatible assumptions. Yet, they are trivially incompatible relative to those of other partisan issues. Trivially incompatible in the sense that, in order for one to change her position on the abortion issue, she doesn’t have to significantly modify her existing worldview. For example, take Dr. Francis Beckwith’s pro-life argument:

  1. The unborn entity, from the moment of conception, is a full-fledged member of the human community.
  2. It is prima facie morally wrong to kill any member of the human community.
  3. Every successful abortion kills an unborn entity, a full-fledged member of the human community.
  4. Therefore, every successful abortion is prima facie morally wrong.

At this point, I’m not concerned with the truth of this argument, although I am happy to have that discussion. Obviously, (1) is going to be the controversial premise that the argument stands or falls on. I merely want to show that the key premise of the argument, and its support, is by and large a neutral premise. The Christian Right has nothing to gain or lose concerning the truth of (1). The secular humanist Left has nothing to gain or lose concerning the truth of (1). Whether true or false, the premise seems to be entirely compatible and consistent with either perspective. So, why all the fuss? Why is there not a roughly even distribution of pro-life and abortion choice advocacy on both sides?

Broadly speaking, it seems to me that while both parties sincerely believe their positions to be true, their beliefs are not epistemically justified, even if they happen to be true. Bluntly, their convictions are irrational. Both sides of the discussion have confused emotion with knowledge, conviction with evidence, and argument with quarrel. The majority of people involved no longer give arguments, evidence, or good reasons that they are in the right, but merely try to drown out shouting with louder shouting. Because neither party seems to properly know why they hold such convictions, but only that they are thus convicted, they retreat to the extremes of their corresponding poles to gawk and mock their contraries. The Left paints the Right as willingly and knowingly misogynistic and the Right paints the Left as willingly and knowingly infanticidal – they fail to even argue about the same thing. Granted, there are many exceptions to this perhaps gross generalization, but I have yet to come across a “man on the street” that can support or justify their sincerely held conviction.

For example, most lay level arguments in support of the abortion choice position are almost always framed as arguments in favor of women’s rights: e.g. the argument that prohibiting abortions would force women to have “back-alley” and unsafe abortions, the argument that women need abortion to achieve social and political equality, etc. These arguments only work, however, if (1) is false – they assume that the unborn is not a human being. Once the pro-life advocate raises (1), the above arguments become simply irrelevant, for the question of the nature of the unborn and any rights they may have is logically prior to the “safety” of abortion (if the unborn is a human being, there is no such thing as a safe abortion), and the necessity of abortion for women’s social equality (if the unborn is a human being, why discriminate against women who have not yet been born?). These arguments implicitly smuggle in a dubious philosophical anthropology, failing to take seriously or even acknowledge the wealth of scientific and philosophical support for the truth of (1). For example, the French geneticist Jerome LeJune, while testifying before a Senate Subcommittee, confidently declared,

To accept the fact that after fertilization has taken place a new human has come into being is no longer a matter of taste or opinion. The human nature of the human being from conception to old age is not a metaphysical contention, it is plain experimental evidence.

LeJune makes it very clear that the ontological status of the unborn is not a matter of opinion – it is an objective feature of reality, a states of affairs that is not contingent upon what one feels or thinks about it. All of that to say, the abortion choice advocate who employs arguments that assume (1) is false without a defeater for (1) is unjustified or irrational in believing that the unborn is not a human being, the crucial premise of the pro-life argument.

On the other hand, the abortion choice advocates who are aware of the support for (1) are driven to radical positions in order to maintain the legitimacy of abortion choice. One of the most chilling examples of this is the position of Peter Singer, a well-respected ethicist and moral philosopher. Singer and Helga Kuhse authored a paper titled, “On Letting Handicapped Infants Die” (I know, right?), in which they astonishingly concede that the unborn are indeed human beings, yet maintain that it is permissible to abort them:

Pro-life groups are right about one thing: the location of the baby inside or outside the womb cannot make such a crucial moral difference…The solution, however, is not to accept the pro-life view that the fetus is a human being with the same moral status as yours or mine. The solution is the very opposite: to abandon the idea that all human life is of equal worth.

Moral philosopher David Boonin takes a similarly disturbing approach in his Cambridge University Press book A Defense of Abortion, using his own son as an example:

On the desk in my office where most of this book was written and revised, there are several pictures of my son, Eli. In one, he is gleefully dancing on the sand along the Gulf of Mexico, the cool ocean breeze wreaking havoc with his wispy hair…In the top drawer of my desk, I keep another picture of Eli. The picture was taken…24 weeks before he was born. The sonogram image is murky, but it reveals clearly enough a small head tilted back slightly, and an arm raised up and bent, with the hand pointing back toward the face and the thumb extended toward the mouth. There is no doubt in my mind that this picture, too, shows the same little boy at a very early stage in his physical development. And there is no question that the position I defend in this book entails that it would have been morally permissible to end his life at this point.

So Boonin and Singer both affirm (1), albeit in a limited sense, fixing a perhaps impassable chasm between the scholarly and popular arguments for abortion choice. They make the very concession that the popular arguments so vehemently deny. The ideological gap between the scholars and the lay people forces me to question the rationality of the latter, however unfair that may seem. I’m forced to ask, “if they knew what their scholars were saying, would they maintain their stance?” I think not.

So to answer the title question, abortion is a partisan issue because the average voter does not think about why they believe what they believe. Nor do they look to the authorities, to the arguments, to the evidence. They align themselves with what their political pole is “supposed to” think, rather than thinking for themselves. But this ought not be so! Real human lives could be at stake; this is no mere mental exercise in applied ethics. To the person reading this who is pro-life, why do you think (1) is true? To the abortion choice advocate, why do you think (1) is false? Or, with Singer and Boonin, are you willing to bite the bullet and concede that the unborn are humans, and still yet abort them? If so, why? To both sides: justify yourselves; it’s ok to be wrong – you have nothing to lose.


“…for the Bible Tells Me So”

The other day I was discussing the upcoming Supreme Court marriage ruling with a friend, when he made a rather scary remark: “When arguing for traditional marriage, Scripture is the only leg to stand on.” Mind you, this friend of mine is an intelligent person and a sincere Christian, so it was odd to hear him qualify that lone leg as the only leg, as if Scripture were insufficient in and of itself and needed some other, more acceptable external support. Second, and perhaps more importantly, he was completely unaware of the wealth of that “other” support which is available. There are arguments, good arguments, in favor of the traditional marriage position that have been developed and defended by some of intelligentsia’s finest. As such, my friend is stuck in a rather odd social position: he is committed to the truth of Scripture which seems to run contrary to current ethical tendencies, yet is unable to defend his position against any non-Christian criticisms because he simply has no argument to defend himself with.

Granted, he could argue that given his overwhelming personal experience with God, he is perfectly rational in holding his position despite the current moral trends and dearth of argument to support his religiously founded beliefs about marriage. In order to force my friend to give up his position on traditional marriage, then, the detractor will have to offer a defeater for his belief in God, not merely marriage. While such a strategy is surely available, it is utterly ineffective in gaining the intellectual and moral sympathies of non-Christian culture – it murders the cultural dialectic.  I mention my friend’s remark not in order to call him out or chastise him, but because I think it accurately reflects the attitude a large number of Christians adopt concerning contemporary social issues. Instead of responding to criticism with argument and evidence we shrug our shoulders and insouciantly concede, “for the Bible tells me so.”

What, then, should we do? In short, we should attempt to do what Alvin Plantinga did for Christian philosophy. Just 50 (relatively) short years ago, the philosophical climate was mercilessly hostile to any sort of theistic perspective on whatever issue, no matter how large or small. In fact, statements such as “there is such person as God” were taken not merely to be false, but to be literally meaningless. If one was a philosopher who happened to be a Christian, she dare not admit it to her colleagues and certainly did not let her faith “affect her work.” Fortunately, this is no longer the case. Today there exists a rich and respected Christian philosophical tradition both within and without of Christian academia, largely due to Plantinga’s brilliant work. However, Plantinga was certainly not the first brilliant Christian philosopher, but he was the first to approach this hostile environment properly, and I think if we emulate his approach in the social realm we will see social success.

Plantinga’s approach finds its roots in his theology: Plantinga is an ardent Calvinist. If you know any Calvinists or have been within shouting distance of a Calvinist, then you’re familiar with that particular brand of theological stubbornness that is unique to Calvinism (sorry, reformed brethren, I just call ‘em like I see ‘em). When Plantinga went to work, he didn’t leave this stubbornness at home, but instead was unapologetically dogmatic about his Christian philosophy – he brazenly presupposed theism to be true regardless of its unpopularity among his secular colleagues and took advantage of it. Via his dogmatic Christianity, there are certain philosophical options available to Plantinga (options that solve very large problems) that the naturalist simply cannot appeal to and consistently remain a naturalist. Plantinga will form an argument in support of his position which includes these theism-exclusive premises, leaving the rest to the naturalist. If he cannot escape the argument, the naturalist is stuck with whatever problem, all the while knowing that this problem would vanish in an instant if he were to give up his naturalism in favor of theism. This may seem trite, but this is just the sort of intellectual tension that causes people to give up beliefs in favor of others. Plantinga goes so far as to suggest that this quasi-dogmatic approach is a form of evangelism:

Despite the ravages of sin, we are all still in epistemic touch with the world for which he created us, still oriented towards the reality [God] has designed us for. It is therefore extremely difficult for any human being to give up such notions as truth and knowledge; it takes great energy and determination. Consequently there is a constant internal tension in unbelieving thought. It is at this very point that [Christian] contributions to the philosophical conversation can be attractive and useful to those who don’t share our commitments: attractive, because of these fundamental inclinations towards the notion of truth (and knowledge, and a host of other notions [the sanctity of human life, that every child deserves a mother and a father, etc.]), and useful, because such an account, insofar as it really does depend upon notions not available to the naturalist, can serve as a sort of implicit theistic argument perhaps creating the very sort of confusion and turmoil in which the Holy Spirit works.

With the above in mind, let us again ask the question, what should we do? First and foremost, we should shed this fideistic (and frankly, lazy) attitude and at least become aware of the arguments supporting the Christian position concerning whatever social issue – no shrugging allowed. I assure you, they exist – let’s not mistakenly assume that they don’t. Thus, instead of cutting off the trans-partisan dialogue and impeding progress, the Christian can at least refer the opposition to something to interact with. Second, if one feels capable, she should learn and defend the arguments.

I feel compelled to contend that the strategy Plantinga employed in academia will work well for Christians in the social realm. For fun, however, let’s suppose that I’m wrong and that this argumentative dogmatism fails – what do we lose? In a word, nothing. Rather, it seems to me that both sides will benefit from actually having a legitimate conversation. The thing about good arguments (whether they are sound or not) is that they force both sides to critically and closely examine themselves and the opposition, thereby granting an all-around better understanding of the situation. All of that to say, instead of telling others for the Bible tells you so, how about you discuss why the Bible tells you so, and perhaps they’ll end up on your side.

What Would Aslan Do? A Molinist Approach to C.S. Lewis

The alleged conflict between divine sovereignty, providence, foreknowledge, and human freedom is but one of a few of those classic ‘problems’ with theism which will not cease to be discussed so long as there are theists to discuss them. As an apologist, it is no surprise that Lewis partook in the discussion with a characteristically refreshing and original take. Post-reformation, this discussion among evangelical circles has been dominated by Calvinists and Armenians, but those left unsatisfied with either camp have explored other options. As of late, those who are philosophically inclined have turned to the little discussed Jesuit counter-reformer, Luis De Molina. Rather than heavily emphasizing divine sovereignty, per Calvinism, or conversely human freedom, per Arminianism, Molina attempted to reconcile both the sovereignty of God and the libertarian freedom he has endowed his creatures with without compromising either. Lewis was not aware of Molinism, and as such was not a conscious Molinist, yet he shared Molina’s general aim of the reconciliation and preservation of two seemingly paradoxical concepts. Indeed, Lewis’ thought as expressed in The Chronicles of Narnia, Perelandra, and his non-fiction work is, at the very least, consistent with Molinism.

In the introduction to his translation of part four of Molina’s Concordia, On Divine Foreknowledge, Alfred Freddoso rightly notes that at the root of the alleged paradox of sovereignty, foreknowledge, and freedom is the doctrine of divine providence, which “involves the thesis that God, the divine artisan, freely and knowingly plans, orders, and provides for all the effects that constitute His artifact, the created universe with its entire history, and executes His chosen plan by playing an active causal role sufficient to ensure its exact realization” (Freddoso 3). With Molina’s understanding of providence in view, it becomes clear that the doctrine of foreknowledge “derives its lofty theological status from its intimate connection with the absolutely central doctrine that God is perfectly provident” (Freddoso 2). That is to say, it “is because He is perfectly provident that God has comprehensive knowledge of what will occur in the created order” (Freddoso 4). As of yet, only two logical ‘moments’ of God’s omniscience have been discussed: his so-called natural knowledge of all necessary truths and possible worlds which God might create, and his free knowledge of every true proposition about the world which he has created. Molina shared these doctrines of foreknowledge and providence with his catholic brethren, but he differed in his notion of the logical priority of a third logical moment of God’s omniscience, counterfactual knowledge, relative to God’s creative decree. For the Catholic theologians, this knowledge is logically posterior to his creative decree and for Molinists said knowledge is logically prior to the creative decree (Craig 122). Thus, for Molina, this counterfactual knowledge is sandwiched between his natural and free knowledge, appropriately termed middle knowledge:

Therefore, before any free determination of His will, by virtue of the depth of His natural knowledge…He discerns what the free choice of any creature would do by its own innate freedom, given the hypothesis that He should create it in this or that order of things with these or those circumstances or aids. (Molina 119)

As such, Molina contended that placing God’s counterfactual knowledge prior to the creative decree preserves human freedom in such a manner that is not possible if God’s counterfactual knowledge is posterior to the creative decree. William Lane Craig, in Divine Foreknowledge: Four Views demonstrates this principle well:

For example, there is a possible world in which Peter affirms Christ in precisely the same circumstances in which he in fact denied him. But given the counterfactual truth that if Peter were in precisely those circumstances he would freely deny Christ, then the possible world in which Peter freely affirms Christ in those circumstances is not feasible for God. God could make Peter affirm Christ in those circumstances, but then his confession would not be free. (Craig 123)

By contrast, the catholic theologian is unable to discern which possible worlds within God’s natural knowledge are feasible for him to create, and is left with the unwanted supposition that God could have created any possible world, including the best possible world which God did not create. Merely asserting that God has complete counterfactual knowledge is insufficient to establish Molinism, one must place said knowledge prior to the divine creative decree in between his natural and free knowledge in order to be a proper Molinist. In sum, there are three essential tenets one must assent to if he is to subscribe to Molinism: the libertarian free will of human beings, a robust doctrine of divine providence (and thus exhaustive foreknowledge), and the placement of God’s counterfactual knowledge logically prior to his creative decree. A close reading of Lewis reveals that he subscribed to each of these three tenets.

In a collection of his essays on theology and ethics, God in the Dock, it is evident that Lewis affirms human freedom along with a strong doctrine of divine providence. The Trouble with ‘X’ is largely a pastoral essay, but here Lewis lets his theological principles guide his ministry. When asked why God won’t simply remove the difficulty in ‘difficult people,’ Lewis proposes that “God has made it a rule for Himself that He won’t alter people’s character by force. He can and will alter them – but only if the people will let Him” (Lewis 153). Further, Lewis argues that God “would rather have a world of free beings, with all its risks, than a world of people who did right like machines because they couldn’t do anything else” (Lewis 153). Thus, Lewis affirms human freedom on the basis of moral responsibility and the superiority of a world full of free creatures over-against a world of “machines.”

In an interesting essay titled The Laws of Nature, Lewis attempts to reconcile human freedom with the immutable physical laws of nature. After coming to the conclusion that “in the whole history of the universe the laws of Nature have never produced a single event,” Lewis notes that God or something like God is necessary for anything to happen at all: “any contrast between His acts and the laws of Nature is out of the question…The laws are an empty frame; it is He who fills that frame – not now and then on specially ‘providential’ occasions, but at every moment” (Lewis 79). For Lewis, then, every occasion is a ‘specially providential occasion,’ for God sustains the world in being.

Lastly, in The Problem of Pain, when discussing the need for humans to endure divinely ordained trials or tests of faith if God, through his counterfactual knowledge knows what would result without needing the actual event to take place, Lewis shows that such trials exist more for the sake of the test-subject than the test-giver. Taking God’s command to Abraham that he sacrifice Isaag as a point of departure, Lewis explains, “whatever God knew, Abraham at any rate did not know that his obedience would endure such a command until the event taught him: and the obedience which he did not know that he would choose, he cannot be said to have chosen” (Lewis 89). Further, Lewis exposes the false assumption underlying such an objection: “To say that God ‘need not have tried the experiment’ is to say that because God knows, the thing known by God need not to exist” (Lewis 90). It is important to note that in this instance Lewis presupposes that the existence of an event in the actual world is not a necessary condition of God knowing said event. As such, God’s knowledge of what Abraham would do is logically prior to Abraham’s actually doing so. A more explicit expression of the properly ordered logical priority can be found in The Laws of Nature, where Lewis discusses God taking prayers into account before ordaining which events are to take place: “And He, from His vantage point of Time, can, if He pleases, take all prayers into account in ordaining that vast complex event which is the history of the universe” (Lewis 79). Thus, the last of the three essential tenets of Molinism have been distinctly expressed in Lewis’ non-fiction work.

Lewis presupposes creaturely freedom throughout his fictional work, but his comments in Perelandra on what exactly freedom entails are interesting and well worth discussing. These comments appear during Ransom’s internal struggle with himself concerning his reluctant acceptance of the daunting task of killing the Un-Man (Perelandra’s Satan archetype) that Maleldil (God) has put before him. He begins this struggle by questioning the Maleldil’s choice of sending Ransom for this mission and not someone or something else: “Did Maleldil want to lose worlds? What was the sense of so arranging things that anything really important should finally and absolutely depend of such a man of straw as himself?” (Lewis 270). Taking this concept further, Ransom then contemplates why something of such importance would depend on something so fleeting as free will at all: “Thus, and not otherwise, the world was made. Either something or nothing must depend on individual choices. And if something, who could set bounds to it?” (Lewis 270). This false dichotomy sets up his climactic conclusion a few passages later, after a brief aside on the futility of contemplating “what would have happened”:

In vain did his mind hark back, time after time, to the Book of Genesis, asking, ‘What would have happened?’…Almost he felt that the words ‘what would have happened’ were meaningless – mere invitations to wander in what the Lady would have called an ‘alongside world’ which had no reality. Only the actual was real: and every actual situation was new. (Lewis 273)

Ransom’s assertion that the words ‘what would have happened’ are almost “meaningless” must not be misinterpreted. Ransom is not contending that subjunctive conditionals are literally meaningless – Lewis is already committed to the contrary – but rather that it is futile for anyone other than an omniscient being to contemplate them. “Thus, and not otherwise” did Maleldil create the world; to utter the words ‘what would have happened’ is also to question the wisdom of Maleldil. After embracing the actual world, Ransom returns to his former topic of freedom with a new and confident approach: “The whole distinction between things accidental and things designed, like the distinction between myth and fact, was purely terrestrial” (Lewis 275). The Narrator expounds Ransom’s paradox:

You might say, if you liked, that the power of choice had been simply set aside and an inflexible destiny substituted for it. On the other hand, you might say that he had been delivered from the rhetoric of his passions and had emerged into unassailable freedom. Ransom could not, for the life of him, see any difference between these two statements. Predestination and freedom were apparently identical. (Lewis 276-277)

Rather than approaching the freedom-predestination problem from a thesis-antithesis perspective in order to make an attempt at a compromise or victory, Lewis suggests that there is no argument to be had, that both concepts are reconcilable, that both concepts are about the same thing and so closely intertwined that to distinguish between the two is a moot point. The following sentence, however, suggests that Lewis is not literally denying the difference between predestination and human freedom: “He could not longer see any meaning in the arguments he had heard on this subject” (Lewis 277). Lewis is not critical of predestination or freedom themselves, but of the unwarranted polarization of competing theological circles. Again, Lewis is aiming for a synthesis, not a deconstructive compromise or subordination of one of the two. Perelandra, then, contains a rather robust view of creaturely freedom, completely consistent with Maleldil’s ordination and foreknowledge of the world. The fact of said freedom and ordination are even said to be logically prior to the creation of the world:

Before his Mother had borne him, before his ancestors had been called Ransoms, before ransom had been the name for a payment that delivers, before the world was made, all these things so stood together in eternity that the very significance of the pattern at this point lay in their coming together just in this fashion. (Lewis 275)

Consequently, in Perelandra Lewis affirms creaturely freedom, a robust doctrine of divine providence, exhaustive foreknowledge, and proper logical priority of divine counterfactual knowledge, all of which are indicative of Molinism.

Clearly, then, Lewis’ fiction and non-fiction share a common set of theological assumptions, which the Molinist can easily read and affirm without any scruple. This has been established without reference to The Chronicles of Narnia, however. Extracting Lewis’ theological principles from Narnia is difficult, and the exegete ought to be particularly wary of committing eisegesis. The key person of interest, Aslan, is particularly tricky as he is undefined yet explicitly analogous to Jesus Christ in some passages. Moreover, just as Jesus is God, so also Aslan seems to be God. In The Magician’s Nephew, Aslan has counterfactual knowledge, which Lewis typically reserves for God alone: when Digory asks ‘what would have happened’ if he so chose to eat the silver apple and heal his mother with it, Aslan answers affirmatively, “Understand, then, that it would have healed her, but not to your joy or hers. The day would have come when both you and she would have looked back and said it would have been better to die in that illness” (Lewis 191, emphasis added). In this context, it is unclear whether Aslan is expressing middle knowledge or logically posterior counterfactual knowledge, but nevertheless it is the same sort of counterfactual that Ransom, as a finite being, sees as “almost meaningless.” Likewise, in Prince Caspian Lucy asks Aslan for access to the truth of a counterfactual question, to which Aslan coolly responds, “To know what would have happened, child? No. Nobody is ever told that” (Lewis 153). As such, Aslan is not subject to Lewis’ futility objection and is instead placed in the same position of epistemic authority as Maleldil in Perelandra and the God of Abraham in The Problem of Pain.

Yet, there is a lingering uncertainty concerning what exactly Aslan is and how the reader is to interpret his character. In his essay C.S. Lewis and Christological Prefigurement, P.H. Brazier bluntly asks, “how much is Aslan an accurate intimation or echo of the divine truth of Jesus Christ crucified and resurrected for our redemption?” but carefully frames his question with the hesitant, non-committal qualifying terms “intimation” and “echo” (Brazier 756). While it is hard to say what Aslan exactly is, some are willing to confidently assert was Aslan is not. In The Chronicles of Narnia and Philosophy, James F. Sennett wrote an essay titled Worthy of a Better God: Religious Diversity and Salvation in The Chronicles of Narnia, where he boldly suggests, “the Narnian salvation story is not the Jesus story. There are intentional parallels, of course, in the story of Aslan’s death on the Stone Table…but they are by no means the same story” (Sennett 235). Later, Sennett more firmly asserts, “Aslan is not Jesus; Narnia is not Christendom” (Sennett 235). However, Sennett’s dismissive statements are far too broad in scope and require qualification. If Sennett means to say that Aslan is not a mere allegory of Christ, he is in agreement with Lewis himself. In a letter to a certain Mrs. Hook, Lewis wrote,

If Aslan represented the immaterial Deity he would be an allegorical figure. In reality however he is an invention giving an imaginary answer to the question, ‘What might Christ become like if there really were a world like Narnia and He chose to be incarnate and die and rise again in that world as He actually has done in ours?’ This is not allegory at all.

Sennett’s assertion that Aslan is not an allegorical Jesus holds true. However, one must remember that Jesus of Nazareth was a human and that Jesus Christ is God; Jesus is the incarnate λόγος of John 1. But the λόγος only becomes Jesus of Nazareth after “all things came into being through Him,” after he “became flesh” and by doing so took on an additional human nature. In a sense, then, Aslan is not Jesus Christ, but Aslan is Christ ὁ λόγος, albeit with an additional lion-nature. Brazier confirms: “Aslan is not meant to be a separate incarnation from Jesus Christ…they are rather one and the same. They differ only in form –the form of a man or the form of a lion, – in each case, a form appropriate to its created environment” (Brazier 765).

But if not an allegory, what is the Narnian story? Per Brazier, “Lewis decried the label ‘allegory’, concentrating on his term ‘supposal – a ‘what if’ supposition” (Brazier 764). That is to say, what if the λόγος decided to create Narnia, instead of the actual world? Recall the notion of God’s natural knowledge of all possible worlds – both the actual world and Narnia are present in there. Speaking on behalf of Lewis, Brazier asks, “What if Christ became incarnate in the flesh, the physical reality of another world…not another world within our universe but an entirely different universe, another reality?” (Brazier 765).

The notion that Narnia is not an allegorical world but rather a ‘fictional-actual world,’ coupled with the notion that Aslan is the incarnation of the eternal λόγος and not merely a referential character to Jesus of Nazareth, is pertinent to determining at which logical moment Lewis places God’s counterfactual knowledge. When writing The Chronicles of Narnia, Lewis must ask himself, “If God created that world, Narnia, and not our own, what would Aslan do?” Notice that this question is impossible to ask if God’s counterfactual knowledge is posterior to creation, for Lewis’ counterfactual question is not contrary to the fact of this world, but of Narnia. Therefore, the very concept of the eternal λόγος creating Narnia and entering it as Aslan, as opposed to creating Earth and entering as Jesus of Nazareth, demonstrates Lewis’ assumption that God has counterfactual knowledge logically prior to his creative decree – middle knowledge.

Surprisingly, the strongest evidence for Lewis’ subscription to middle knowledge comes from his meta-Narnian ‘supposal’, rather than one of his many theological treatises. This is critical because it reveals that Lewis merely presupposes that God works this way, as opposed to taking a definite theological stance within one of many ‘-isms.’ Ergo, it would be awkward and inappropriate to label Lewis a Molinist, although the essential tenets of creaturely libertarian free will, a robust doctrine of divine providence, exhaustive foreknowledge, and middle knowledge are all well established within Lewis’ thought. As such, Molinism can make easy sense of Lewis, while the other –isms will have to ask, “What would Aslan do?”

Works Cited

Brazier, P. H. “C. S. Lewis & Christological Prefigurement.” The Heythrop Journal 48.5 (2007): 742-75. Web. 4 May 2015.

Craig, William L. “The Middle Knowledge View.” Divine Foreknowledge: Four Views. Ed. James K. Beilby and Paul R. Eddy. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 2001. Print.

Lewis, C. S. God in the Dock: Essays on Theology. Ed. Walter Hooper. Grand Rapids: Erdmans, 1970. Print.

Lewis, C. S. The Magician’s Nephew. Ed. Pauline Baynes. New York: HarperCollins, 1994. Print.

Lewis, C. S. “Perelandra.” The Space Trilogy. New York, NY: HarperCollins, 2013. Print.

Lewis, C. S. Prince Caspian: The Return to Narnia. Ed. Pauline Baynes. New York, NY: HarperCollins, 1994. Print.

Lewis, C. S. The Problem of Pain. New York, NY: MacMillan, 1948. Print.

Molina, Luis De, and Alfred J. Freddoso. On Divine Foreknowledge: Part IV of the Concordia. Ed. Alfred J. Freddoso. Ithaca: Cornell UP, 1988. Print.

Sennett, James. “Worthy of a Better God: Religious Diversity and Salvation in The Chronicles of Narnia.” The Chronicles of Narnia and Philosophy: The Lion, the Witch, and the Worldview. Ed. Gregory Bassham and Jerry L. Walls. Chicago: Open Court, 2005. Print.

On the Heartbeat

Awareness is more often than not considered to be a virtue, and rightfully so, for to be unaware is to be ignorant, and none wish to be ignorant. Yet there are numerous things I do indeed want to remain ignorant of and therefore numerous things I wish to be unaware of. For example, there is a permanent retainer installed behind the bottom row of my front teeth that I never wish to be aware of, because once I become aware of its annoying existence I cannot help but pester it until another thought has replaced this awareness. Also, there are other sorts of facts that I wish to remain ignorant of due to their uselessness. The number of threads in any given shirt, for example. Moreover, awareness seems to be a state of consciousness rather than the mere possession of knowledge. If this is so, I am indeed ignorant of many things I know – most of them, in fact. This seems unintuitive, however, and we ought to make the distinction between ignorance and unawareness. The former being the complete lack of knowledge or perception of any relevant proposition and the latter being the lack of cognizance of whatever proposition, thus leaving room for one to be unaware of something he knows.

This sort of interplay between knowledge and awareness is interesting, to say the least. It seems to me that awareness of whatever proposition acts as a medium or access point to other relevant bits of knowledge. For example, with my retainer in view I am able to recall various unpleasant memories of my orthodontist’s office. Yet, with my retainer in view, I am unable to recall the premises of Plantinga’s evolutionary argument against naturalism because this knowledge does not share a relevant concept with said awareness. Therefore, one’s state of awareness and phenomenological context determines what knowledge is accessible at that particular point in time.

For instance, the awareness of my own mortality is brought about by the perception of my heart. By ‘heart,’ I in no way mean the spiritual locus or whatever is meant by ‘heart’ in the affectionate sense. Rather, I mean the beating, pumping, sustaining, muscle in the center of my chest. Much like the irksome retainer lodged in my mouth, I would much rather be unaware of my heart. For whatever reason, I can usually feel my heart beating. This is often unsettling and/or distracting, given that I also regularly have heart palpitations. It’s as if my heart tries to beat before its current beat is completed, resulting in a jarring and unexpected sensation. I should note that everyone has palpitations like these, but they are usually unaware of them and my experience is only abnormal due to my constant awareness and perception of my heart. Moreover, people of lanky stature not entirely unlike myself often have a genetic disorder known as Marfan’s syndrome, which affects all sorts of important connective tissues throughout the body. Most of these affected tissues are relatively harmless. For example, many Marfan’s syndrome patients are unusually flexible or near sighted due to a lack of structural integrity in the joints and eyes. Unfortunately, Marfan’s syndrome also can weaken the wall in a critically important area of the aorta, the body’s largest blood vessel. On rare occasions, this can cause an aortic dissection, meaning that the aorta has ruptured at its weak point, causing said person to internally bleed to death in a matter of minutes. I do not have Marfan’s syndrome, but I didn’t know this until a few years ago. Before I knew I was in the clear, the fear of this possibility coupled with my ceaseless perception of my heart has made me associate the heartbeat with death rather than life, leading to some unnecessary but fruitful thought experiments.

For example, if God has complete knowledge of the future, then He knows the exact time at which I will die. It need not be said that this time is a finite time from now, and as my heart cannot beat an infinite number of times in a finite amount of time, I only have a finite number of heartbeats left – and God knows this number. What this number is, I cannot know. Is it ten thousand? Ten million? Is it just ten? Whatever it is, it is only getting smaller. Further, the heartbeat is an involuntary action, meaning that I do not choose to beat my heart; it beats independent of any wish or will that I may have. My heart itself seems indifferent to its remaining number of beats, seeing as it will beat rapidly for unnecessary reasons: a nightmare, for instance. This is for the better, of course. I do not want to know what the world would look like if we were directly responsible for beating our hearts. Doubtless I would treat the heartbeat as a precious resource instead of a means to a fulfilling life. All of that to say, the awareness of my heartbeat brings with it the awareness of my own mortality and finitude, “the self-awareness of the finite self as finite.” An odd feeling accompanies the awareness of my finitude. It isn’t fear, for “fear relates itself to objects – for example, a danger, a pain, an enemy – for it is psychological and can be conquered.” This feeling is more akin to Kierkegaard’s concept of anxiety: “Anxiety cannot be conquered, for not finite being can conquer its finitude.” I should note that this anxiety is should not be confused with nervousness or skittishness; rather, this anxiety is a sort of morbid futility, more of a disappointed melancholy than anything else.

Yet, it seems to me that anxiety can be conquered. On Kierkegaard’s terms, one is only anxious when he is aware of his finitude. To conquer anxiety then, one must merely be un-aware of his finitude. However, by being willfully unaware, he has merely pushed back his being anxious, for no person believes himself to be infinite in the relevant sense. Thus, “anxiety is always present, although it may be latent.”

There is a second option in conquering anxiety, a much more appealing solution: hope. This is where the distinction between fear and anxiety is important. Each fear has a possibly defeasible proper object, and one is able to have hope by virtue of this perceived potential victory. Per contra, when one is anxious, he is aware of the utter futility of any attempt to redeem himself, there is no potential victory to be perceived. However, for the Christian whose potential victory over death lies not in the finite self, but in God, the indefeasible anxiety of mortality becomes a mere fear by virtue of the hope placed in an infinite God. The disturbing thing about hope, however, is that it can attach itself to a false object. Is there anything more unfortunate than a baseless hope? In Dante’s Inferno, insinuating an act of divine mercy upon the damned, this inscription is fixed upon the gates of hell: “Abandon all hope, ye who enter here.” In fact, when one comes across an individual who is deluded in their hope, it is natural to suggest that he ought to inform them of their ignorance in spite of any negative feelings which may follow. Because of this, one must exhaustively examine the ground on which their hope is based. Even Paul recognized the need for a substantiated and warrant hope, flatly asserting that “if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain…If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied.”

Fortunately for the Christian who hopes in the resurrection of Jesus, this hope is very well grounded in history. Scholars like William Lane Craig, N.T. Wright, Tim McGrew, Mike Licona, and many more have published an exhaustive amount of literature on this subject that will more than strengthen and ground this hope, enabling the Christian to “know that Christ being raised from the dead, will never die again…For the death he died he died to sin, once for all, but the life he lives he lives to God. So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus.”

Works Cited
Kierkegaard, Søren, Reidar Thomte, and Albert Anderson. The Concept of Anxiety: A Simple Psychologically Orienting Deliberation on the Dogmatic Issue of Hereditary Sin. Princeton, NJ: Princeton UP, 1980. Print

Aristotle and Impressions

I quite like my life to be predictable, consistent, understandable, etc. That is to say, I very much prefer things to be rational.  Unfortunately, an annoyingly irrational “thing” has marred the logical order of my life. I’m really not what sure to call it, as I find the commonly accepted terms for it inadequate. Essentially, what I’m referring to is a certain class of feelings. These feelings have many names – “intuition,” “gut-feelings,” or “impressions,” to name a few. They usually occur just before or just after making a decision, and would seem to want to sway me in favor of one decision over the other – sometimes against the very decision I have carefully reasoned myself into – which is frustrating and confusing. To be clear, these are not always major decisions, and in fact these feelings often occur when making prima facie insignificant decisions, e.g. when deciding to drink orange juice or Dr. Pepper.  The feelings seem to be akin to the feeling one has when he knows he is forgetting something, but can’t specify the exact thing he has forgotten. I’ve tried to brush these impressions (as they will be henceforth be known) off, to stifle them, but they are determined little things and refuse to go away. Their presence is significant enough to warrant reflection, and the philosopher in me has several questions: What are these things? Where do they come from? Are they meaningless or meaningful? How can I account for their being?

First, a clarification of what exactly these feelings are, as perceived, would be beneficial. If I had to place the impression under one of the five senses, it would most likely fall under the sense perception of touch – as I do feel them. However, these impressions are only “felt” in the same sense that you “hear” yourself thinking. When one hears himself think, his eardrums are not being affected by vibrations in the air, enabling his auditory perceptive faculty. Yet, he still “hears” his thoughts. At first glance, this would lead me to believe that the cause of these impressions would need to be subjective, in the same sense my thoughts are subjectively caused. However, given that the completely internal thoughts one has are more often than not about something external, and thus are in some sense caused by an external object,  it would seem natural to follow the same reasoning with impressions – that their content (if they do indeed have content) is most likely external in nature. But unlike thought, which is an active event, some would suggest that perception, and therefore perception of impressions, is a passive phenomenon and exists for the sake of one’s relation to the external world.

In the introduction to his Placing Aesthetics, Dr. Robert E. Wood lays out his model of human phenomenology. Included in this model is what he deems the “threefold structure of human experience,” the three folds being sensing, interpreting, and presence-to-Being. Our focus here is on the first two categories, seeing as I oft sense and interpret these impressions. Wood claims that when taken together, these first two modes of consciousness generate movement towards “the organically desirable and away from the undesirable” (5). It is in this sense that Aristotle deemed the “appetitive soul” the source of movement in animals; there is indeed an end for every intentional movement made by the animal, i.e. the satisfaction of whatever appetite via the “organically desirable.” Wood even suggests that our interpretive and sensing faculties are “filtered in terms of the functional needs…and thus shot through and brought to focus by desire” (4). Therefore, if literally all that is sensed is presented to one in terms of satisfying whatever appetite, all that is perceived is capable of making one move. That being said, given the fact that impressions are perceived indicates an end or appetite of the impression that is lacking in satisfaction.

While plausible, this assessment of impressions as perceptions with an end in tow assumes a number of things. Should these assumptions turn out to be implausible or false, we are free to reject this definition of an impression.

The first assumption being that the nature of perception is the same when dealing with the strictly physical perceptions of sense and the cognitive perceptions of sense. The latter being one’s awareness and experience of things like thought, dreams, imagination, etc. and the former being the classic five senses. There are good reasons why there are only five senses and attempts to classify a sixth have failed. The physical senses each have what Aristotle calls “a special object.” Sight’s special object being light, Hearing being sound, and so forth. If we were to classify the mind or soul as a sense faculty, what would be its special object? It is hard to say, but a clarification of the special objects of the classic senses will prove helpful: the special objects of sense are strictly physical. You might object that sound and light are not physical, but this objection is groundless. Sound is a mere fluctuation of air (which is indeed matter) and light, while not concretely material, is physical, that is to say it is “characterized or produced by the forces and operations of physics.”

So, if the physical senses have physical objects to sense, does it follow that the mind or soul, as a non-physical entity, perceives non-physical objects (propositions, numbers, value, impressions, etc.)? The answer is not a simple yes or no, due to the mind/soul’s physical relation to the body. I advocate the mind/body position known as interactive dualism. That is to say that the soul uses the body to account for change and action. Aristotle sums interactive dualism up quite nicely: “…to say that it is the soul which is angry is as inexact as it would be to say that it is the soul that weaves webs or builds houses. It is doubtless better to avoid saying that the soul pities or learns or thinks, and rather to say that it is the man who does this with his soul” (On the Soul 408b 10-15 emphasis added). Granted, Aristotle does flip the mind/body relationship, but even so, if this relationship between the mind and body is true, it follows that there is a physical event alongside every perceptive event – impressions included. Therefore, even if the mind or soul does “perceive” immaterial entities analogically to physical sense perception, the soul does not do so independent of the body –  there will indeed be a physical evidence of this so-called perception. For example, recalling a pleasant memory (a seemingly immaterial phenomenon, as one does not literally place herself in the actual context of the memory and therefore does not physically sense said context) will supposedly utilize the area of the brain known as the hippocampus.  Also, damage to this region of the brain could significantly hinder  new memory formation. This is not to say, however, that the soul of the brain damaged person is also damaged; rather, because the soul is immaterial, it cannot be “harmed” in the same sense that the body can. In this scenario, the person cannot form new memories because his soul does not have a working hippocampus to utilize. William Lane Craig often uses the following analogy to explain this type of circumstance: suppose Mozart is pressing the appropriate keys in the appropriate manner on a piano to play a beautiful piece of music. Now also suppose that, unbeknownst to Mozart, someone has maliciously tinkered with the innards of the piano, rendering it incapable of playing beautiful music. Mozart could press the keys in the exact same manner as before, but because the piano is damaged, the sounds that bellow form the piano are anything but beautiful. So also is the mind’s relationship to the body. All of that to say, there must be a material event corresponding to the perception of an impression. What is this event and what can it reveal to us about the nature of impressions?

As it turns out, the phrase “go with your gut” has a great deal of truth to it. Psychiatrist James Greenblatt, as pointed out in an article on, is known for his peculiar (and successful) treatment of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder patients. Alongside traditional medication and psychotherapy, Greenblatt prescribes probiotics. “The gut is really your second brain,” says Greenblatt. “There are more neurons in the GI tract than anywhere else except the brain.” The article doesn’t go into specific detail, but the insinuation is that an imbalance of digestive bacteria in the gastrointestinal tract could produce odd neural reactions resulting in abnormal behavior. Assuming that the patients Greenblatt treats experience impressions in the same sense I have proposed, (as I feel is justifiably inferred from the aforementioned article) perhaps this series of gut-neurons is the physical aspect of the “gut feelings” we are dealing with.

Could it be that I merely have a mild case of OCD? Yes – if and only if an imbalance of bacteria is the only cause of the impression. However, Aristotle would suggest that we have only explained one cause of the impression, and there are at least two, if not three, additional causes to be taken into account. Aristotle succinctly demonstrates these four causes when explaining the being of a house: “the moving [or efficient] cause of a house is the art or the builder, the final cause is the function it fulfills, the matter is earth and stones, and the form is the definition” (Metaphysics III 996b 6-8). With Aristotle’s causal theory in view, let us now try to comprehensively explain an impression. The material cause has already been established, i.e. the neurons along the GI tract, and the efficient cause is perhaps an imbalance of digestive bacteria, but is ultimately is the firing of the aforementioned neurons. This leaves us with two gaping holes for the formal and final causes. Admittedly, these two causes are hard to specify, as they are not physical and plainly observable as are the material and efficient causes. Moreover, both causes may not actually be present or distinguishable, “the form and the [final cause] often coincide, and they are formally the same as that which produces the change.” Notwithstanding I am of the opinion that both a formal and final cause may be established for impressions alongside their material and efficient causes.
The formal cause, or the “definition” as Aristotle would have it, is the most difficult to locate. I briefly mentioned above that these impressions seem to want me to not follow through with the decision I have made or plan to make. “Seem” is the best word I have to describe the alleged intent behind these impressions, because there is no analysis applicable to them. The impression seems to say, “Don’t do that!” But as soon I ask try to interpret and ask “Why not?” I find myself hopelessly trying to rationalize an irrational thing. It is as if the impression knows the consequences of the decision I am going to make, and these consequences are not in my best interest. At bottom, the question concerning the formal cause of the impression is this: do impressions carry content, and if so, what is it? But what exactly is content? Put quite simply, content is what is being communicated. For example, the word “house” carries the same content as the word “casa.” The meaning is the exact same in both words, although a wholly different set of symbols is used to communicate this content. We most often use language to communicate content, however, languages  are not comprised of content in and of themselves, but are vehicles for delivering content.  Language is not the vehicle for communicating content, it is a vehicle for communicating content.  In fact, a large share of content is inexpressible by language, e.g. facial expressions, certain “tones” of voice, and most importantly, impressions. Further, all that is perceived is not expressible by language. Colors, for example are classified as simple terms; that is to say one must perceive the color red in order to know what red really is. I suppose you could describe the color red by whatever frequency on the spectrum of light, but if a man blind from birth knew the exact frequency of the the wavelength of red, he still would not be able to identify a red object and therefore not really know what red is. Perhaps this is the case with impressions, that they are not describable in their entirety by language, but do carry content. It is important to note here that content itself is never accessible directly, it must be mediated in some form or another. Moreover, I always have a “feeling” (I really do wish I had better words to describe this sensation) as to what the impression is trying to communicate. Given this “feeling,” it would seem appropriate that impressions do carry content and therefore have a formal cause. If there is a formal cause, it is likely and probable that a final cause, or “the function [the impression] fulfills” as Aristotle says,  accompanying it, and that both find their origin in a mind.

It is worth reiterating that I myself do not want these impressions to exist, or at least I do not intentionally will them to exist, they just happen. Unless they are a result of my subconscious will (which would be impossible to observe), I myself am not the origin of the final cause. If the origin of the impression is not myself, I see only two options regarding the final cause: either there are no final and formal causes and I therefore suffer from a mild form of OCD, or the final cause is from another personal being and it intends me to fulfill whatever end it has in mind. If the latter, it is hard to imagine a  mind that is capable of causing a wholly internal state of affairs as a means to an end other than God himself. Given the Christian doctrine of the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, this option merits exploration.

But what does it mean to be “indwelt” by the Holy Spirit? A thorough and exhaustive explanation of this topic is not appropriate here, but a general discussion is important. William Lane Craig, University of Munich (Germany) (D.Theol. 1984), conducts a weekly philosophical/theological class which he then transcribes and makes available for public use on the internet. During his excursus on the the existence of God, he departs on a brief tangent covering the belief in God as a properly basic belief via the “inner testimony of the Holy Spirit.” For Craig, “when a person becomes a Christian, he is automatically regenerated by the Spirit of God and becomes indwelt with the Holy Spirit.” He then quotes Galatians 4:6, Paul’s explanation of what it means to be indwelt: “for in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith. . . . And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, ‘Abba! Father!’” Therefore, for Craig, “we are indwelt with the Spirit of God and by that Spirit we cry out to God, ‘Abba! Father!’” He then connects this passage with Paul’s epistle to the Romans, in which Paul explains that “when we cry, ‘Abba! Father!’ it is the Spirit himself bearing witness with our Spirit that we are children of God” (Rom 8:15). Discussion of this topic may seem out of place, but it is crucial to our present discussion in that the doctrine of the indwelling of the Holy Spirit explicitly shows that God regularly causes immediately perceptible subjective states of affairs within Christians, utilizing both final and formal causes. We have established that the formal cause will carry the content, and in this present case, the content is “Abba! Father!” among other things, and the final cause or function is that the person being called by God will in fact choose to “draw near to God.” Here, the final and formal causes coincide, that is to say they are essentially one and the same. But this is not always the case, and particularly with impressions, opposing final and formal causes are possible.

Suppose I was able to discern the content of any given divinely inspired impression, for instance, “attend the University of Dallas instead of Biola University for graduate school” while choosing between the two;  I still may not be able to know that God wants me to attend the University of Dallas for graduate school. You might object that He precisely told me which graduate school to attend, and there is no other reason to suggest that He wants me to attend Biola University instead. However, given the doctrine of divine middle knowledge, this may not be the case. According to Craig, middle knowledge is “God’s knowledge of what every possible free creature would do under any possible set of circumstances…” With middle knowledge in mind, also suppose that God, knowing that I am skeptical of impressions, also knows that I would choose the school which He does not give me the impression to choose, acting in spite of impressions in general. It is clear then that God would give me the impression that I ought to choose the University of Dallas if He in fact wanted me to attend Biola University. I ought to note that this hypothetical scenario is not indicative of God being deceptive, but rather of my stubbornness and refusal to listen to Him by the means of His choosing. Moreover, this scenario also relies on my ability to directly and without error know specifically what the alleged content of the impression is. I noted above that there are different “vehicles” which deliver/mediate content; I should add here that accessibility to the content depends upon the nature of the vehicle. For example, written language is a rather straightforward and reliable vehicle for communication, but facial expression is often hard to interpret or even misleading. Likewise, impressions, because they fall under “feeling” are equally if not more difficult to interpret.

Georg Hegel, in The Philosophy of Fine Art, has much to say about the relationship of emotions to their corresponding content. “Feeling is the undefined obscure region of spiritual life,” says Hegel. In the same passage, he goes on to describe various emotions and notes that some are “essentially complex,” as in the case of “ethical feeling[s]” and “sublime religious feeling[s].” For Hegel, these feelings are complex because of their content, “but despite the fact that a content of this kind is present in different modes of feeling, no light whatever is thereby thrown on such content which will disclose its essential and definite character.” Hegel’s remarks here are interesting and perhaps a bit self-contradictory. If there is no way to access the content of the feeling of justice, to use Hegel’s example, how do we know that we are experiencing the feeling justice in particular and not some other feeling? Hegel doesn’t explain this, but I suppose the context in which the feeling is felt plays a role. Concerning various complex emotions, e.g. justice,  it seems to me that one knows and recognizes the feeling of justice a priori. No critical examination of context or deep analysis of emotions is necessary to distinguish justice from fear. Similarly, one could argue that impressions, because they are experienced in the same sense emotions are experienced, one knows their content a priori. If impressions are formally caused, this explanation of their interpretation is the best I can offer.

But what of the final cause, or overall intent, behind the impression itself? I mentioned above that the impressions seem to say “Don’t do that!” as soon as I decide to do “that.” The final cause constitutes the purpose of the impression’s existence and is indicative of a state of affairs resulting from my decision to do “that” which is to be avoided.  Depending upon the nature of the effect which is to be avoided by my decisive action, the final cause could be observed. For example, the other day, a dear friend and I were looking for something to do and I suggested that we go to a bookstore that neither of us had been to before. Giving into our bibliophile nature, we set out for said bookstore; however, on the way one of those pestering impressions subjected itself to me. Why? I could foresee no negative circumstances stemming from this decision. Upon our arrival, the impression’s final cause was made known: the bookstore was closed. At 6 p.m., on a Friday. Who does that? Nevertheless, I then realized why the impression was there: to save valuable facetime. Circumstances such as these are the primary reason why I have not ignored impressions altogether: they tend to be reliable. You might object that saving a bit of time is a trivial thing for God to send an impression for, and I would agree with you if this were the only implication which followed from this particular impression. This is not the case, however. Perhaps this is an example of the above scenario where God sends an impression with a formal cause that is contrary to his final cause. Knowing that I would reject the impression and follow through with my initial decision, God also knew that I would later write this down and that you yourself would then read it, perhaps influencing your own view of impressions. Even if reading this in no way influences your view of impressions, it has influenced your behavior, given the fact that you are staring at a computer screen instead of doing something else. I should note that we cannot be absolutely certain of the nature of the final cause, but can only make an educated guess, seeing that these causes are not directly revealed by God.

We have now completed an Aristotelian causal analysis of impressions. To recap, the material and efficient causes are literally located in the gut, and the formal and final causes are perhaps of divine origin, if they exist at all. Based on the above discussion, what should the reader conclude about impressions? I can’t say for sure. I myself am still skeptical, given that there are many more questions to ask and presuppositions to challenge. Notwithstanding, I do feel more comfortable ascribing the formal and final causes to God, seeing that scripture makes it clear that He regularly causes subjective states of affairs within humans, bringing about a change in behavior of the indwelt individual. The question still remains – why would God do this anyways? If, via His middle knowledge, God shapes the world based on what I would freely do given X circumstance, why muddy the waters and confuse things with impressions? This is perhaps an unanswerable question, but I can contrive an answer or two just for the sake of doing so. Impressions could be used as a means to condition the Christian to trust God more than her own knowledge. The entire point of God using an impression is to inveigle the impressed Christian to act upon information that is not known by her, but is known by God. Acting in accordance with impressions over-against one’s own knowledge is by definition an act of faith and thus would place said individual in right standing with God.

Works Cited
Aristotle. “Metaphysics.” The Basic Works of Aristotle. N.p.: Random House, 1941. N. pag. Print.
Aristotle. “On the Soul.” The Basic Works of Aristotle. N.p.: Random House, 1941. N. pag. Print.
Arnold, Carrie. “Gut Feelings: The Future of Psychiatry May Be inside Your Stomach.” The Verge. Vox Media, n.d. Web. 11 June 2014.
Craig, William L. “Existence of God (part 27).” Reasonable Faith, n.d. Web. 11 June 2014.
Craig, William Lane. The Only Wise God: The Compatibility of Divine Foreknowledge and Human Freedom. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1987. Print.
Falcon, Andrea. “Aristotle on Causality.” Stanford University. Stanford University, 11 Jan. 2006. Web. 11 June 2014.
Hegel, Georg. “The Philosophy of Fine Art.” Philosophies of Art and Beauty. Ed. Albert Hofstadter. London: Chicago UP, 1976. 402-03. Print.
Wood, Robert E. Placing Aesthetics: Reflections on the Philosophic Tradition. Athens, OH: Ohio UP, 1999. Print.