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Thursday, December 29, 2016

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As I recall, Socrates once said, “I can tell you what I’ve heard the ancients said, though they alone know the truth. However, if we could discover that ourselves, would we still care about the speculations of other people?”. Perhaps he was indicating that we need not appeal to authority if we can reason our way to the truth. Reasoning our way provides the added benefit, besides the acquisition of truth, of being able to support our conclusions rather than simply throw our hands in the air and rest on the ideas of others. That said, I find there are 'ancients' and contemporaries more skilled at reasoning than I. So how about appealing to an ‘ancient’ and adopting his reasoning: Aquinas, The Summa, Question 1, Article 9. Aquinas there is not dealing with the particulars of events in Eden. But he is concerned with the use of metaphor in scripture. With Aquinas, it seems to me, we have a commitment to truth, sacred scripture, sacred doctrine, and careful, internally consistent, coherent reasoning.

BTW: Love your blog and hope to enjoy your continued online work far into the future.

A few points. First, I found the Aquinas passage I was thinking of at Iª q. 102 a. 1 co, about paradise. Thomas says, my emphasis:

As Augustine says (De Civ. Dei xiii, 21): "Nothing prevents us from holding, within proper limits, a spiritual paradise; so long as we believe in the truth of the events narrated as having there occurred." For whatever Scripture tells us about paradise is set down as matter of history; and wherever Scripture makes use of this method, we must hold to the historical truth of the narrative as a foundation of whatever spiritual explanation we may offer.

Second, on the matter of feet, and shoe size, Sommers holds that the appearances of God in the Old Testament were avatars, i.e. corporeal beings of whom we could say ‘this is God’, but with the demonstrative referring to God, rather than the corporeal being.

Third, on the allegory of the Cave. Cornford translates the opening as ‘here is a parable’. The Greek is ἀπείκασον, meaning to express by a comparison. He goes on ‘Picture (ἰδὲ = visually imagine, see mentally, see in your mind’s eye) men dwelling in a sort of subterranean cavern’. Seems a clear signal that this is allegory, no? I come back to Sommers: ‘if the authors of the Hebrew Bible had intended their anthropomorphic language to be understood figuratively, why did they not say so?’.

>>Seems a clear signal that this is allegory, no? I come back to Sommers: ‘if the authors of the Hebrew Bible had intended their anthropomorphic language to be understood figuratively, why did they not say so?’.<<

Yes, the Allegory of the Cave is an allegory.

As for the Sommer (not Sommers) question, I answered it twice now and you ignore my answer. Once more:

And if one takes the Bible to be divine revelation, then it is natural to assume that God is using the authors to get his message across. For that to occur, the authors needn't be terribly bright or apprised of the variety of literary tropes. What does it matter what the authors intended? Suppose they intended talk of man being made in the divine image and likeness to be construed in some crassly materialistic way. Then they failed to grasp the profound spiritual truth that they, willy nilly (nolens volens), were conveying.

Thanks, Ryan, I'll re-read q 1 art 9.

Dear BV,

thanks for this post, I agree with your take here. I've never had trouble viewing the genesis account/garden of eaden as metaphorical or symbolic. If you think about it, the spiritual truths that this account is tryinng to get across are very deep and quite complex. I think the garden of eaden is really quite a remarkable and creative piece of work, it is a vehicle, we could say, for transporting certain theological/spiritual truths, themes, and ideas to its reader. What anyone who reads this account should ask themselves is, 'what is the main point this author is trying to get across?' not, 'where is this garden located?'

People might then say 'then we should apply this kind of thinking to the gospel accounts too!' etc. Which is just pure nonesense.

I agree with your thoughts here, BV, but let me introduce a slightly different angle. Suppose someone were outside of the Church looking into it as a potential spiritual home. Suppose one agrees with your interpretation above, but then reads the following in the CCC:

"The account of the fall in Genesis 3 uses figurative language, but affirms a primeval event, a deed that took place at the beginning of the history of man."

What is one then to conclude, given the apparent contradiction between your interpretation and the passage thus cited? Should one abandon one's pursuit of finding a spiritual home in the Church? For that matter, should one who is already formally a member of the Church seek to leave it? Why or why not?

Taking these in turn:
>>Yes, the Allegory of the Cave is an allegory.
My point was that Plato explicitly says it is an allegory, not that it is an allegory.

>>As for the Sommer (not Sommers) question, I answered it twice now
I answered this when we discussed a while ago. There are a number of possibilities

1. They invented the whole thing, and deceptively wrote it as though literally true.
2. They imagined it without divine influence, and wrote it as literally true, but in good faith.
3. They imagined it without divine influence, but wanted to convey a spiritual truth. This is open to Sommer’s objection. Why didn’t they say it was an allegory, just as Plato says the Cave is an allegory?
4. They received it through divine influence, and wrote it as it is, but God was lying.
5. They received it through divine influence, and wrote it as it is, and God telling it like it is.
6. They received it as a spiritual truth through divine influence, but wrote it as literal. This is also open to the charge of deception.

I am sure there are more possibilities. In fact there must be. The considerations are (i) whether the intended sense is true (ii) whether God was using them or not (iii) whether the intended sense was literal (iv) whether the authors were acting in good faith. Assuming all combinations are possible, that gives 16.

>> And if one takes the Bible to be divine revelation, then it is natural to assume that God is using the authors to get his message across. For that to occur, the authors needn't be terribly bright or apprised of the variety of literary tropes. What does it matter what the authors intended? Suppose they intended talk of man being made in the divine image and likeness to be construed in some crassly materialistic way. Then they failed to grasp the profound spiritual truth that they, willy nilly (nolens volens), were conveying.<<

I think the combination you have in mind is (i) false (ii) God was using them (iii) literal (iv) good faith. However this undermines the authority of God, who presumably wanted them to express a spiritual truth, whereas they succeeded only in communicating a literal falsehood. Perhaps they weren’t too bright, in which case why didn’t God choose smarter prophets?

What I write here is written in all humility – I’m neither accomplished writer, nor philosopher, nor theologian. For the purposes of this entry, I’m more student and occasional spit-baller.

After my brief comment pointing to the Summa yesterday, I thought on the matter a bit more through the evening.

It occurred to me that another of Plato’s dialogues, Halcyon, might provide more grist for the mill. The legend of a woman transforming into a bird is related, then briefly considered in terms of realities more familiar.

To wit: storms, people, and bees, among other things. Savage and powerful storms could convince a person the world is on the edge of destruction. In Halcyon, a storm terrible to behold gives way to a serene day at the beach. People experiencing only calm days at the beach might have difficulty believing in violent dark downpour, flashing lightning, and hurricane winds, had they not seen it for themselves. The contrast to calm sunny weather and the occasionally overwhelming force of inclement weather are a testament to the shockingly different states possible in the natural world. It’s a powerful transformation some must see to believe (one of the merits of Youtube, I suppose). Other examples of marvelous contrast in potency and act include that of human infant versus adult in terms of physical strength and intellect, as well as larva in contrast to mature honey bee. If the differences between infants and adults were not known, they would be difficult to imagine. The same holds for larvae and a colony of honey bees. Or, to use a scriptural analogy, seeds and grain (I Cor 15:35-37)

Now to the question of God’s power. If effects are proportionate to causes, and if the known universe came into being (i.e. is an effect), the cause must be, as Trump might say, yuge. It seems at least within the bounds of possibility that such a cause, if it possessed intelligent will, could in some way take on the form of a human and enjoy the company of sentient beings he created in a garden he made for them. In which case, his shoe size would be only a temporary and small concern. And shoe size should hardly be cause for alarm. It could also be the case that you have an immortal soul – and you have a shoe size, too.

Or perhaps God is simply communicating higher truths through symbols accessible even to young people. After all, even a hardened literalist would say Jesus isn’t literally a lion, because if he was, it would be harder to literally be a lamb.

JS,

>>Suppose one agrees with your interpretation above, but then reads the following in the CCC:

"The account of the fall in Genesis 3 uses figurative language, but affirms a primeval event, a deed that took place at the beginning of the history of man."<<

Please clarify what you take me to be saying that is in real or apparent contradiction to the CCC, and then I'll try to answer.

Sure. You make various claims, such as the following, which seem to conflict with the above passage:

"No reasonable person nowadays could take Genesis as reporting historical facts."

"The answer to these absurdities is the double-barreled denial that God is a physical being and that Genesis is an historical account"

"Genesis is simply incoherent if taken as presenting facts about history"

You seem to be saying that Genesis is not and cannot be historical without running into absurdities (I agree). The CCC says that Genesis is historical, despite the symbolic language it uses. In other words, something happened in human history we call the fall (which you would seem to dispute), even though this may not have involved talking snakes and so on.

Eleonore Stump on The God of the Bible and the God of the Philosophers (podcast) is worth a visit. There is also her book of the same, published this year.

JS,

I sketched an answer to your sort of question here: http://maverickphilosopher.typepad.com/maverick_philosopher/2011/08/modern-genetics-and-the-fall-science-and-religion-in-collision.html

I muddied the waters above by not distinguishing different senses of 'history.' I was referring to natural history. But history proper does not begin until the point at which man the animal (who of course has animal progenitors) becomes a spiritual being, as I sketch in the linked post.

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