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Robots and the Resurrection

The conversations happening today in the field of artificial intelligence, known as AI, are completely mind-blowing. Aside from AI robots using 3D printing to build bridges in the Netherlands or cars in Los Angeles with digital nervous systems, the crucial topic of discussion is the unknown potentialities which AI technology could precipitate. The central question which belabors not only scientists and engineers but also economists, politicians, and Christians is ultimately: “What will happen once AI is let out of the box?” Despite the wide variety of speculation within AI scholarship and social media, everyone agrees that the future of AI is a frightening yet seductive mystery from which no one can look away. “AI could be terrible, and it could be great,” remarked Elon Musk, founder of Tesla Motors. “Only one thing is for sure,” he says. “We will not control it.”

The big idea within AI circles is the creation of a superhuman, God-like intelligence that will amplify human cognitive abilities to solve all the problems of the world. At its base, AI is software that writes itself. In theory then, superintelligence can be achieved if the right algorithms are developed which give AI the ability to self-improve. As the algorithms develop themselves and improve their coding throughout a vast network of global intelligence systems, eventually exponential leaps in intelligence will leap off those leaps and reach unbounded levels of computing power. Some thinkers foresee the ability to achieve twenty thousand years of human progress in a single week. The hopes and dreams of those from Silicon Valley to China converge upon harnessing the power of this intelligence, and the practical aspects of building things or implementing innovative solutions is a secondary problem which the superintelligence itself will solve. Whatever company or nation reaches this level of intelligence first will win the world, and either save or destroy humanity in a winner-takes-all scenario.

To be clear, the AI debates do not predict a Hollywood doomsday scenario in which robots become spontaneously malicious and start attacking humans. The more subtle danger is aligning AI’s values and goals with those of humans, what thinkers call the “alignment problem.” The difficulty of alignment is that as AI self-improves, it can behave in ways beyond the foresight of computer programmers. A programmer cannot write a safety patch for every unknown scenario in which an AI might act. For example, if an AI is told to drive someone to the airport, it could be programmed with the common sense needed to drive according to traffic laws. But if an AI developed the ability to fly all by itself, this could be a problem if a human is taken up into the stratosphere with insufficient oxygen. The safety patch of “don’t take humans into the stratosphere without an oxygen mask” is nowhere close to the mind of a computer programmer until it happens. More serious concerns arise if the AI were to design new goals for itself. “What if humans are judged as obstacles to those goals or are objectified to reach them?” Sam Harris asks. Theoretically, the cognitive power of AI technology could be hard to contain and may inevitably lead to weaponization.

If humanity loses control of AI, an obvious solution is to simply unplug or shoot it. (Note to the reader: robots are like zombies; aim for the head or face.) Thinkers have toyed with this solution in what’s called the “AI in a Box” scenario. The idea is simple: anyone building an AI should do so in a secure laboratory to prevent it from escaping into the wild. The laboratory would include an emergence failsafe switch to override a robot with a hard shutdown. This line of thinking, however, overlooks the fact that the AI in the box is superintelligent, and convincing a human to let it out could be like taking candy from a baby. The AI could easily concoct a clever douceur and, with a carrot on a stick, win its freedom through manipulation or bribery. Eventually, the projected intelligence of the AI assumes a development beyond the reliance on electrical power.

While make-believe scenarios of autonomous robots with personality disorders are amusing, the self-improving ability of AI is not something completely untenable. In fact, it is already here. Google, YouTube, and Amazon already have algorithms which can learn and adapt to user search preferences. Right now, the advanced robotic system at the Deep Mind Company is playing video games super-humanly well, which it learned by merely watching a screen. Researchers at New York’s Columbia University recently created a robot that became self-aware and learned things entirely from scratch, with no prior computer programing. Just thirty-five hours after its launch, the robot was able to build its own biomechanics, allowing it to pick up and drop objects, write with a marker, and repair damages to its own body.

With superintelligence on the horizon, mortality itself could theoretically be overcome through some kind of human-robot symbiosis. Superintelligence could presumably develop robotic prosthetics or some kind of elixir that prevents biological decay. Talk has begun of a digital self, created by a neural processor chip which acts as a tertiary cognition layer between the brain’s limbic system and cerebral cortex, enabling anyone to have superhuman cognition. If the biological self dies, a person could upload their “digital self” into a new computer. Overpopulation would be solved by turning something like Facebook into a permanent virtual homestead or employing the power of superintelligence to streamline space exploration and establish a multiplanet species.

The achievement of AI immortality would have profound impacts on central doctrines of the Christian faith. The doctrine of the Resurrection could one day appear like an awkwardly devised VCR or reel-to-reel cassette tape, outdated and completely laughable. Atheists like Daniel Dennett and Richard Dawkins would have empirical verification that evolution has finally outgrown the primitive impulse of religion. According to their logic, natural selection built beavers and bees in such a way that they could adapt to their surroundings to survive. It would follow, therefore, that the inbuilt survival mechanism for humans is their intelligence and the production of robots is the ultimate zenith of adaptation. Dennett and Dawkins could very well conclude that the concept of “God” was merely a metaphorical projection of humanity’s highest potential, and the kingdom of God prophesied in the Bible was really a foreshadowment of the kingdom of Robots. Or perhaps the Gospel accounts of the Resurrection were interpreted incorrectly all these years, and the figure of Christ is really an image for the deification of human consciousness, technuminously exalted with the omniscience of “God.”

The harrowing prospects of AI immortality could make the doctrine of the Resurrection potentially unnecessary. To profess such a belief would entail the deliberate decision to forego synthetic life and endure biological death. The Christian of the future would be viewed as the epitome of unreason, illogically adhering to pro-life and pro-mortem beliefs. Once blamed as obstacles to “choice” and “dignity,” Christians will then be, ironically, charged as adversaries to life without end.

However, if the doctrine of the Resurrection is properly understood, the promise of cybernetic impersonation wane in comparison to its eschatological counterpart. The doctrine of the Resurrection has nothing to do with the prolongation of temporal-historical existence. Pope Benedict XVI would describe such thinking as the “secularization of salvation,” which reduces human nature to a permanent state of gadgetry and highly advanced tools, as opposed to an elevation of human nature to participation in the divine life. Ultimately, the essence of the Resurrection is a difference in the quality of life rather than its duration. The New Testament uses two Greek words for life: bios and zoe. The former is carbon-based life, life that is organic, mutable, and subject to decay. The latter is divine life, life that is immutable, unchangeable, and eternal. Zoe is life in the raw, life’s life, the very life of God. At the Resurrection, this divine life will not only fuel human bodies and souls but will transforms all of creation.

Perhaps the best description of the future life of the Resurrection comes from C.S. Lewis’ book The Great Divorce, in which he distinguishes between the “shadow lands” and “ultimate reality.” The story begins when the narrator of the book, Lewis himself, is taken by a bus to the foothills of heaven. The passengers on the bus disembark into the most beautiful country they have ever seen. Yet curiously, every aspect of the landscape is different. “I bent down and tried to pluck a daisy,” Lewis says, but the “little flower was hard, not like wood or even like iron but like diamonds.” The heavenly world is made of an entirely different substance, so remarkably solid that the grass hurts Lewis’ feet when he tries to walk. The life of heaven is so real that it makes the former world a mere shadow in comparison, a world where everyone and everything overflows with the superabundance of divine life. “The glory flows into everyone, and back from everyone,” says an inhabitant of the land, “like light and mirrors.”

The eternal life of God constitutes the very quality of the Resurrection, a life that has no terminus or limit on either side—that is, no beginning or end. Boethius’ classic definition of eternity is the “complete possession all at once of illimitable life.” Boethius abstracts eternity from the forward succession of time, measured by a before and after, and replaces it with the “now” of time. The now of eternity is unbounded by time’s fleetingness, which does not separate into past and future. Eleonore Stump describes eternity as a “durational now” that persists indefinitely, a stable moment of pure existence, without change or intervals.

In chronological time, human beings do not have full possession of their lives all at once. A person at age fifty will not possess the life he once had at age three, nor the life he will have at age seventy. Life is experienced sequentially, little by little. Humans have only one moment of their life within the continuum of its totality, which is experienced as a now that is continually passing away. If time can be transcended, a person can have a now that endures always and does not change or separate into past and future. The future life of the Resurrection will be the complete possession of a person’s entire life all at once in an uninterrupted moment of divine sublimity. Augustine longed for this life in his Confessions, praying: “I have been divided amid times, and my thoughts, even the inmost bowels of my soul, are mangled with tumultuous varieties, until I flow together into You.”

The eternal now of resurrected life is entirely different from a static, lackluster world that eventually succumbs to the bland familiarity to which AI is predestined. Eternity is a moment that is continually fresh and new with the life of God, a savory moment blooming with illimitable vitality. Gregory of Nyssa likens the soul to a vessel that is continually expanding as the divine life flows into it. Rather than the vessel becoming full and overflowing, God enlarges the soul’s capacity to receive more and more divine life. Yet because God’s infinity always exceeds the soul’s capacity to be filled, the soul can never reach a satiety of the endless good. While the soul will be satisfied completely and rest in its final end, its desire will be enkindled always anew by the pleasures that lie beyond it. Gregory described eternal life as a paradoxical state of “insatiable satiety” wherein desire itself is the satisfaction. The soul lives in a felicitous tension between its ecstatic desires and their ever-more wondering fulfillment. Which means humans are continually in a state of young love with God, always at the beginning of their relationship, since the possibilities are infinite.

To whatever degree it is appropriate to use the word “danger” in describing AI technology in the world, it can certainly be applied to the spiritual effects it will have on the human person. The indefinite extension of temporal life by AI technology would impede the human person’s final end of union with God. The soul would be left suspended in an intermediary spiritual stasis of insatiable longing for the infinite, while artificially ordained to the finite, a space of interminable spiritual frustration, like a fish out of water, gasping for its ultimate life principle. John of the Cross wrote of this condition with particular antipathy in his spiritual lamentations, complaining that he was “dying that I do not die.” The litmus test for the viability of AI immortality is surely the desire for God and the spiritual needs of the human person, which are too big for this world.

While the entire AI conversation may be written off as wildly speculative and more than likely impossible, humanity awaits the event on the horizon. For people of faith, the superintelligence of God incarnate has already enacted a solution for the human condition, expanding human consciousness with the vision of eternity and inestimable spiritual delights. Without the hope of the Resurrection, the costs and benefits that result from AI curiosity will forever be too small.

Fr. Dan Steele

Written by

Fr. Dan Steele is a Catholic priest of the diocese of Yakima, Washington, and is currently serving as parochial vicar at Christ the King Parish in Richland. He is the cofounder of beautificfilms.organd is working to complete a License in Sacred Theology.

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  • Sample1

    Fun article.

    David Deutsch has an opinion about this. The first conscious AI, or p-zombie if you like, will be the product of our culture, our values. Yes, perhaps they will evolve exponentially (20k yrs in a week) but if they are a product of our culture and values, it’s not unreasonable to speculate that very early on they will want to bring us along with them rather than use us Matrix-like.

    Mike, excommunicated

    • Why would they not recapitulate modern philosophy, which declared it important to make a clean break with the past? In fact, we seem to want to get rid of tradition more and more these days. It's all about the present. Next quarter's profits. The next microsecond of trading data.

      • Sample1

        I don’t even know if what you are asking is a good question because it isn’t my area. But Deutsch has an opinion and I decided to share it.

        He’s takes a different philosophical position than Nick Bostrom did in 2003. If you remember, Bostrom posited that future super AI may decide to be paperclip maximizers with humans having plenty of atoms to harvest. Deutsch brushes that away saying there are plenty of atoms in the universe apart from human sources and that the first super AI will have a morality. In fact, to say future super AI will be murderers/thugs is racist, as he told Sam Harris in a fun podcast.

        Mike, excommunicated
        Edit done.

        • What I hear most from atheists these days is that morality is 100% subjective. If AI wants to get off the ground, why wouldn't it inherit that belief? Now, for it to get off the ground, it will need to appear innocent until it can actually establish a position of dominance. So I'm not sure how what predictions of "very early on" tell us.

          • Sample1

            What I hear most from atheists these days is that morality is 100% subjective.

            From my perspective atheists who care to give their philosophical ideas online are usually pushing back at what they see as poorly justified claims to the contrary. Agree or disagree with their replies but when something is perceived, rightly or wrongly, to be poorly justified, acting on that perception is a laudable action.

            I’ve been following Alex O’Connor (Cosmic Skeptic) for about two years now. I think he is twenty years old, ex Catholic, and likely youngest Horseman in the world of skepticism right now. What’s great about his youthfulness is that I’ve already been able to witness him, and his nimble mind, grapple and change his position regarding a few things. He’s neck deep in most of the common atheist/theist themes such as so-called free will, objective morality, human rights, deity existence claims, and counter apologetics, and humanism. He has a podcast now but his YouTube vids are quite popular. I recommend them. Perhaps the one about even if God exists morality cannot be objective would interest you.

            If AI wants to get off the ground, why wouldn't it inherit that belief? Now, for it to get off the ground, it will need to appear innocent until it can actually establish a position of dominance

            Wish I could help you further but as I said, it’s not my area though I do appreciate David Deutsch’s rather optimistic tone on the subject.

            So I'm not sure how what predictions of "very early on" tell us.

            This wasn’t directed at anyone in particular, being a top post meant for, if anyone, the OP author. But maybe others will take you up. Those who would have had interest from the atheist side have been banned. And as I said, it’s not my area.

            Mike, excommunicated
            Edit: fixed Cosmic Skeptic video description
            https://youtu.be/6tcquI2ylNM

          • So your argument is that free will does not exist not?

            If all is determined, how can you say "Thank you?"

            Well I understand you can't as your evil has degraded you, but we sane people have no problems with it.

          • " If all is determined, how can you say "Thank you?" "

            easy, was determined to.

          • Gratitude is a conscious act, so no. Like I said absurdities are all you have.

            As Chesterton said, a determinist cannot even account for asking for someone to pass the salt.

          • I’ve been following Alex O’Connor (Cosmic Skeptic) for about two years now. … Perhaps the one about even if God exists morality cannot be objective would interest you.

            I'm generally reticent to watch videos instead of read text (O'Connor clearly prefers producing videos), but perhaps I'll take a look. Thanks for the suggestion. I'm not sure I like the term 'objective morality'; these days I'm rather more interested in the predictive power inherent to language, and whether language is [intentionally or unintentionally] used to create leading or misleading information in others' minds.

            Those who would have had interest from the atheist side have been banned.

            They can always comment on EN, should they wish. And if they want my engagement, EN could un-ban me and tell me what behavior they require of me.

  • David Nickol

    Given either more "orthodox" views of resurrection or the more speculative mentions in the OP, I am puzzled by what the purpose of a physical body will be after the resurrection of the body.

    Some of the ideas in the OP made me think of Arthur Clarke's The City and the Stars, although I only dimly remember it. Alastair Reynolds is one of my favorite science fiction authors, and he has a wonderful idea involving "simulations" of people. You can, for example, have a "beta-level simulation" of yourself to do such things as write the first drafts of your papers, which you then touch up and submit for publication.

    • Jim (hillclimber)

      I am puzzled by what the purpose of a physical body will be after the resurrection of the body

      I think that before tackling that question one would want to first guess at the "purpose" of the bodies that we have now. Or more generally, what is the "purpose" of physically instantiating anything at all?

      I think the more-or-less standard Christian answer to those questions is to say that physical creation doesn't ultimately have a "purpose" in any utilitarian sense, but is instead a gratuitous expression of love.

      The logic is almost tautological, something like: "love expresses itself physically because there's sort of no such thing as 'nonphysical expression'".

      • Dennis Bonnette

        Well, I can give you one answer in terms of Thomism.

        Individuation.

        If God wanted to manifest his glory by making the possible essence of rational animals, he needed something to individuate the form

        Conveniently, rational animals are animals, meaning they have bodies.

        Since the form as such would be one in itself, the bodies or matter of animals allows us to have several billion individual human beings, sharing the same kind of substantial form -- but with that form being individuated by being received in diverse matter.

        Maybe this will offer some debate material.

        Oh, the question was about "after the Resurrection." Well, the same applies. You want many of the saved? You need matter to individuate the souls.

        Alternative? Create only angels, where individuation occurs through each angel being his own species.

        Why make men? Because they are a possible reality God could make between just animals and angels. (This is similar to the "gap" explanation for angels, only focused instead on filling the gap for human beings.

        "nonphysical expression" of creative love? Try angels.

        • Jim (hillclimber)

          "nonphysical expression" of creative love? Try angels.

          I can't help thinking that this could be the tag line for an extremely unsuccessful ad campaign for a lingerie brand named "angels".

        • Jim (hillclimber)

          Alternative? Create only angels, where individuation occurs through each angel being his own species.

          I appreciate that you are just "thinking out loud" (I think?) but this flummoxes the speculative rationale that you just proposed, doesn't it? In other words, if God can achieve individuation via angelic speciation and without physical instantiation, then a God's (hypothetical) desire for individuation does not explain His decision to make human corporeal. Unless I am missing something.

          Why make men? Because they are a possible reality God could make between just animals and angels.

          This seems to me to be a supremely unsatisfying explanation, and as I read it unbiblical as well. In the Christian account, unless I grossly misread it, a human stands at the absolute narrative center of all of reality. That does not seem to cohere with a notion of humans as mere "gap fillers". Not only that, but for humans generally we read that "creation awaits with eager expectation the revelation of the children of God". Again, that doesn't seem to mesh well with the theory that God just had some white space that He needed to fill.

          • Dennis Bonnette

            Yes, I am just thinking out loud.

            The notion of humans as gap fillers is just a replay of an argument given for God making angels. There is no way to prove he must do so, but the argument is that between plants, animals, men (who are composite of matter and spirit), and God there is a logical gap to be filled. Namely, finite purely spiritual beings (since God is the infinite pure spirit). Therefore, it would be fitting for God to make angels.

            I was just making a play on the same logic. If God, angels, animals, and plants exist, then there would be a logical gap for creatures, part spirit and part matter. So, it would be fitting that God fill the gap.

            Once he does, since the form is common to all men, and since the form of man can be expressed in multitudinous ways, it is fitting that God create many men so as to fully express the human form.

            Does man stand in the center of all reality, or only this world's reality? Or, could angels be more reality centered since they are higher beings.

            Not arguing. Just thinking.

          • Jim (hillclimber)

            Not arguing. Just thinking.

            These exchanges are always the best ones.

            Does man stand in the center of all reality, or only this world's reality?

            It seems to me that standard Christian theology offers an unequivocal answer to this. If Jesus of Nazareth is the ultimate expression of the deepest logic of reality (i.e. if trinitarian theology is correct), then a particular man in this particular world is at the center of reality, full stop. There may be many other worlds, many other universes in our multiverse, or what have you. But this particular world in which Jesus of Nazareth lived and died must be in some sense "at the center" or else the trinitarian identification of that particular man in this particular world with God is incorrect.

          • Dennis Bonnette

            I guess there would be no way for the Second Person of the Holy Trinity to "incarnate" as an angel. :)

          • David Nickol

            I remember some years ago the Vatican astronomer speculated on the possibility of other instances of intelligent life in the universe besides humans, and if I remember correctly he speculated that one possibility was that human beings were the only fallen creatures and the only ones that needed a savior. So if the incarnation is a fact and there are other intelligent races, when we meet them, perhaps we ought not brag about how the Second Person of the Trinity was incarnated on earth and then tortured and killed here.

          • Jim (hillclimber)

            Sure. In the moment that one begins to brag about any of this, one has lost the whole point of what it means to be "at the center".

            The story of Israel (and by extension, the story of the "New Israel", in the Christian reckoning) is "at the center" of salvation history, and yet it is the story of bumbling and sinful people who continually show infidelity to God.

            And, if Paul had it right, then Christ was in the form of God, but did not regard equality with God something to be grasped (i.e. not something to be bragged about). Christ presented himself as the center of creation in the sense that he was for all creation, not that creation was for him.

            So yes, when we meet the intelligent ETs, the proper stance would be something like, "Through no credit of our own, the story of a humble self-giving creator is flowing outward through us. We have nothing to brag about, only something to convey. We can only convey that by being of some service to you. Would you like to try our chicken noodle soup?"

          • Was he riffing on C.S. Lewis' space trilogy, was it the other way around, or is this just independent invention?

    • Michael Murray

      I think a similar puzzle arises from the data you have posted here before on fertilised eggs which are never born. If it is really around the 70% mark then maybe three quarters the souls in heaven are souls with no experience of the world outside the womb.

  • Jim (hillclimber)

    Gregory described eternal life as a paradoxical state of “insatiable satiety” wherein desire itself is the satisfaction.

    That's groovy stuff. I've been thinking for a while that I should read some Gregory of Nyssa and this may seal the deal. Anyone have recommendations?

  • Dennis Bonnette

    Thank you for a great article. Brilliantly written and enjoyable.

    Far more exciting and interesting than some expositions of metaphysics!

  • BTS

    "The harrowing prospects of AI immortality could make the doctrine of the Resurrection potentially unnecessary. To profess such a belief would entail the deliberate decision to forego synthetic life and endure biological death. The Christian of the future would be viewed as the epitome of unreason, illogically adhering to pro-life and pro-mortem beliefs. Once blamed as obstacles to “choice” and “dignity,” Christians will then be, ironically, charged as adversaries to life without end."

    Author Dan Simmons takes up this very theme in his breathtaking, utterly sublime series of Books [The] Hyperion Cantos. Hyperion is book one. Without a doubt my favorite science fiction series. AI (sentient internet) run amok, Evil Jesuits, a perpetually-resurrecting Pope, a female savior figure, a creature worse than the Devil, digitized consciousness, intergalactic war, a river that spans multiple planets via "farcaster" gateways and more! Reading the series is an investment but it stays with you.

    If you were to take Fr. Dan Steele's article's concerns and turn them into a dystopian novel, Hyperion would be it.
    https://www.amazon.com/s?k=hyperion&ref=nb_sb_noss_1
    edit #1: typo
    edit#2 added hyperlink.

  • A strange notion, indeed. More science fiction than philosophy, though, I should have thought.

  • Dennis Bonnette

    "The indefinite extension of temporal life by AI technology would impede the human person’s final end of union with God. The soul would be left suspended in an intermediary spiritual stasis of insatiable longing for the infinite, while artificially ordained to the finite, a space of interminable spiritual frustration, like a fish out of water, gasping for its ultimate life principle. John of the Cross wrote of this condition with particular antipathy in his spiritual lamentations, complaining that he was “dying that I do not die." From Fr. Steele's article.

    If the definition of Hell is permanent separation from God, then AI immortality would constitute a road to Hell -- since, if it could last forever, it would constitute such a permanent separation from God.

    The Father of Lies is selling mankind another "Apple." ;-)

    • John Droesch

      Could AI technology truly imprison the spirit? This seems to presuppose that the spirit is composed of a substance that can be manipulated, ensnared and ultimately passed to the digital world. While computer science and robotics are not my expertise, I find it difficult to believe this technology could contain and imprison our souls. Instead, I think the hell of AI technology will manifest by obfuscating and darkening our relationship to God as we use it to deconstruct our ontological reality. You can see this in the writings of the transhumanist Franciscan Nun, Sr. Ilia Delio, who claims that self-transcendence is achieved through freeing ourselves from the misogynistic myth of Adam to become genderless cyborgs. Endevours like these simply remind me of the saying, "Without the Creator, the creature becomes unintelligible."

      • Dennis Bonnette

        If I understand you correctly, you are dead right.

        There is no way to transfer our spiritual soul into some computer's digital world. Those who speak in such terms are usually scientific materialists who think that our "self" is some neural network in the brain that can somehow be turned into "information" which can be somehow read into an AI computer.

        This nonsense fails to capture the truth that only immaterial entities can experience anything. Even a dog's sentient soul, although dependent on matter for its continued existence, can be the subject of sense faculties through which the dog actually has sense experience of itself and of the world around it.

        Man's spiritual soul enables him not only to have sense experience, like the dog, but also to have the intellectual experiences of understanding concepts, judging, and reasoning. Such spiritual acts can in no way be emulated by purely material computers.

        Like entering a Star Trek transporter, becoming the content of an AI computer through some sort of "download" of brain information, is just another way of dying and ceasing to be in this world.

        The computer may survive, but you will not.

    • Phil Tanny

      "If the definition of Hell is permanent separation from God, then AI immortality would constitute a road to Hell -- since, if it could last forever, it would constitute such a permanent separation from God."

      First, this concept seems to assume that, being alive today, we are currently separated from God. Is that true? Should we assume this? Could it be that we just perceive ourselves to be separate? Could such perceived separation be illusion instead of reality?

      Second, consider the difference in understanding you have now as compared to when you were, say, a young teen. The passing of time, the accumulated life experience, it has made a difference, right? It seems at least possible to me that given enough time we might see through an illusion of separation and experience reunion with "whatever we want to call it" while still alive.

      I'm not a big fan of AI, just trying to be open minded.

      PS: This comment technology has some significant problems. Given the popularity of this site I'd suggest dumping it in favor of a real forum.

      • Dennis Bonnette

        The problem is that in this life we can only know God by the rational means he has given us in our intellectual nature. That means we can reason to God's existence as the Uncaused Cause of finite things, including ourselves, but we would never know his essence in itself.

        We humans always want to know, not only that there is a cause of something, but also directly the nature of the cause. That is not possible in this life for us. That is why Catholicism teaches that only in the afterlife will God raise our minds to a direct vision of his nature, called the Beatific Vision.

        Yes, we are currently separated from God, but we are not in Hell, since that entails, among other things, permanent separation. Worse yet, by then we will be aware of what we are missing, which we do not fully appreciate now. We will also know that we have missed the entire purpose of our creation by our own fault and that there is no longer anything we can do about it.

        • Phil Tanny

          Hi Dennis, thanks for your reply.

          You write, "The problem is that in this life we can only know God by the rational means he has given us in our intellectual nature."

          It can be proposed that it is our intellectual nature which is the primary obstacle to experience of God, to the degree our focus remains within the symbolic realm between our ears.

          Are we focused on experience of God, or on our thoughts about God? As example, am I focused on the living breathing Dennis, or on the photo of Dennis on Facebook?

          Am I focused on the real, or the symbolic? If God is real, why am I focused on the symbolic?

          You write, "We humans always want to know, not only that there is a cause of something, but also directly the nature of the cause."

          Yes, we want to know, true of course. But that doesn't automatically equal knowing being the most useful methodology for overcoming our separation. Knowing is made of thought, and thought operates by a process of division, thus reaching unity through knowing is unlikely.

          As example, Christianity is a religion explicitly about bringing people together in peace, ie. unity. And yet Christianity has subdivided in to countless competing factions. The same is true of most religions. Point being, unity does not arise from thought, because thought operates by a process of conceptual division.

          You write, "Yes, we are currently separated from God..."

          Is this true? Doesn't Catholic doctrine teach that God is ever present in all times and places?

          What I'm proposing is that we are made of thought psychologically, thought operates by division, and thus we experience a separation between "me" and "God". That is, the perceived separation is a property of the tool (thought) we are using to make the observation, not of what is being observed.

          Given that we are not only using thought, but actually made of thought, the illusion of separation can be quite compelling. And if true, the more we try to think our way out of the illusion, the stronger the illusion gets.

          --------

          PS: Wow, such a great site, and such poor comment technology. Driving me a bit nuts....

          • Dennis Bonnette

            There are a pile of philosophical and theological differences here that make a simple combox reply rather useless.

            For one thing, you repeatedly refer to thought as being a division, whereas it is a union between a knower and something known -- or else not thought, no understanding, no knowledge would be possible.

            We are not "made of thought, " but are substances that have thoughts.

            I think I will look to your other comments for more material!

          • Phil Tanny

            There are a pile of philosophical and theological differences here that make a simple combox reply rather useless.

            Blog comments are a limited medium, this one particularly, gotta agree. Been wishing this was a forum.

            For one thing, you repeatedly refer to thought as being a division,

            Thought operates by a process of division. As example, consider the noun.

            whereas it is a union between a knower and something known -- or else not thought, no understanding, no knowledge would be possible

            Yes, this is the human condition. We make our living by this process of division, and the price tag is to experience division from reality, nature, God, even our own thoughts.

          • Dennis Bonnette

            As I said, if knowledge were essentially a division from the object known, we simply would not know the object.

          • Phil Tanny

            We are not "made of thought, " but are substances that have thoughts.

            In my view, the "me" that feels it is having thoughts is itself thought. That is, we are made of thought psychologically.

            If this is true, it seems quite important to consider, as whatever biases the medium of thought may introduce (such as a bias for division) will be very fundamental and compelling.

            If it is true that we are thought, and that thought operates by a process of division, then it seems unlikely we will think our way to an experience of unity. We can think our way to a THEORY about unity, but not to the experience.

            To the degree such a theory is true, it would seem to have profound implications for the ideological aspects of religion, and philosophy in general. If unity is what we most deeply seek, and thought operates by division, and a religion or philosophy is made of thought, that might explain why we get stuck in chronic difficulties that seem impossible to overcome. Wrong tool for the job.

            In my view, part of the genius of Catholicism is that it doesn't rely entirely on thought. As example, the experience of love involves surrender of the "me", the primary divisive product of thought.

            To aim back towards the topic, if AI were to extend the human life span without fundamentally changing us (better medicine etc) then that might give us more time to figure out such things. Being age 67 helps clarify that we bumble and stumble our way through life at breakneck speed, and then all of sudden it's time for the nursing home. More time might help. Maybe. Or maybe just wishful thinking?

          • Dennis Bonnette

            You sound like you have a Catholic background, but you are reflecting a totally Cartesian metaphysics when you speak of us as like being primarily a thought or thoughts. Have you ever studied any Thomistic philosophy? I strongly suspect not. But, if you are Catholic or know the Catholic intellectual history, you should know that Thomistic philosophy is the one school of thought that has long been preferred and recommended by the Church.

            I say all this because Thomism does not say we are pure thought, AND it does not say we are also love (as if that were the only important added dimension). It says we are rational animals, composed of soul and body in an hylemorphic union. It is definitely NOT based on the extreme dualism of Rene Descartes.

            Thinking in Cartesian terms will get you into one heap of difficulties in terms of trying to work out the problems of religion and society. I cannot give you a whole course of studies in Thomistic philosophy, but they sure would help you to understand authentic Catholic doctrine much better.

            And don't complain about being 67 and heading toward a nursing home! I am now 80 and well aware of how fast our lives go by. We have one chance to "get it right," and we really would be better off if we did so. :)

          • David Nickol

            It says we are rational animals, composed of soul and body in an hylemorphic union.

            Forgive me if you have addressed this before (which you must have) but the one huge stumbling block for me is the idea of the soul leaving the body to exist in heaven and still continuing to act as the person—for example, saints-to-be answering prayers with miracles (or interceding with God to grant miracles). Or souls being purified in purgatory. I know that Aquinas said that Abraham's soul is not, strictly speaking, Abraham. So the "poor souls" in purgatory are not, strictly speaking, the individuals they were in earthly life. And yet they (allegedly) go through some kind of process of purification on behalf of the people they, strictly speaking, once were (and will be again).

          • Dennis Bonnette

            I can understand your skepticism about the state of separated souls, since I have given the matter a lot of thought myself.

            Without hylemorphism, the doctrine makes no sense at all, since a Cartesian soul would not be affected by death at all, while the atomist has nothing left to go to heaven or purgatory!

            But the soul is the life principle of the body, and so, at death, man dies, since man is a rational animal and the "animal" body part is lost. But since a person is a supposit (substance) of a rational nature, the person is immortal, since his rational soul continues to exist.

            That said, we cannot understand how the soul can now function without the body, since all knowledge in life comes through the senses, and even intellectual function cannot operate without reference to images which are under the condition of matter, and thus dependent on bodily organs for function, but not for existence.

            This where God comes in. Now if you don't believe in God, this "intervention" will make no sense. But if God really exists (as I am convinced to be the case), then nothing whatever prevents him from infusing into the soul whatever knowledge he wishes to give it. I know St. Thomas argues that we have some natural knowledge after death, such as the soul knowing its own existence, but set that aside for now please.

            What we take to be a miracle in this life can be for God just the ordinary way he operates on our souls in the next life. If the soul can, through the operations of the body in this life, have both intellectual and sense knowledge -- then what would possibly prevent God from directly infusing into the soul any knowledge he wishes -- both intellectual AND sensual?

            And if God sustains the active life of knowledge in the next world, what prevents the saints from interceding for us there or the souls in purgatory experiencing whatever God wills them to experience? Since the soul is naturally the form of the body, it is naturally ordained to the resurrection of the body in its last end -- and God would not make a nature destined for eternal failure to be complete. Thus the resurrection makes perfect sense.

            To me, Catholicism is the only overview of reality that fills in all the blanks -- but it has to be understood as a whole whose rational components make sense only when synergistically integrated -- and not pulled apart, piece by piece, then skoffed at, because it does not make sense abstracted from the whole.

            But again, I appreciate the honesty of your question. Incidentally, my understanding of the separate existence of souls is also a key to understanding the complex "abilities" of not only the Blessed Virgin, but other "overworked" saints, like St. Anthony!

          • Phil Tanny

            Here's a little experiment that might open other angles to explore.

            The next time you drink a glass of water ask, when does this water become me?

            The boundary between "me" and "the water" can be reasonably drawn in any number of places, which suggests that boundaries may not be a fixed property of reality, but rather useful conceptual inventions.

            The divisions being discussed above such as body, soul, man, God etc may not be properties of reality, but rather patterns imposed upon the experience of reality by the divisive nature of thought. As example, if I'm wearing sunglasses all of reality will appear to be tinted no matter where I look, but the tint is a property of the tool being used to observe reality, not of reality itself.

            If boundaries are not real but only imagined, then there are no things, and any perceived divisions between "me" and "nature", or if you prefer "me" and "God", are not real, but merely conceptual.

            Catholic doctrine asserts that God is everywhere in all times and places, which is not such a crazy proposition given that the same can be said of space. When we dig deeply in to the fabric of reality it becomes quite difficult to draw a firm boundary between "nothing" and "something".

            My guess is that when Jesus went in to the desert he saw through the illusion of separation, and thus understandably declared himself God, which was technically true. But being still a young man, he perhaps got a tad confused, and thought he was the only one who is God. And then a bunch of good folks who had not had the experience themselves interpreted the claims of Jesus through their own more limited lens, further adding to the confusion.

            If division is human generated illusion, then all is God, and there is nowhere else for one to be or go. Maybe we're desperately trying to get somewhere, not realizing that we are already there?

          • Phil Tanny

            Consider the noun "tree". Consider any noun. Conceptually there is a neat and tidy clear line between "tree" and "not tree". This seems simple and obvious at first.

            But in the real world "tree" is not an isolated phenomena but a property of a vast system extending out as far as extremely distant supernova explosions. Without the sun, no tree. Without the rain, no tree. Without the oxygen, no tree. Without the supernova explosion, no tree. And so on..

            Conceptually the tree is a distinct separate object, a thing. In the real world beyond our minds, it's no where near that simple.

            Trying to say, among way too many other things, we should be shifting focus from the content of thought (this idea vs. that idea) to the nature of thought, as imho, that is where the real action is.

          • Phil Tanny

            Hi again Dennis, thanks as always for your input.

            Yes, centuries of Catholicism up my family tree, and I was baptized and confirmed, but I converted to surfing :-) 50 years ago as a teen. Attention Clerics: never build your church a half block from the beach!

            Apologies, I'm not a philosopher, and don't know anything about Descartes and Thomism, nor am I too concerned with what the Church says, though I am willing to listen and learn where I can.

            I'm not really trying to make any sweeping claim, just saying what seems to be obvious. The "me" is made of thought, and is thus is profoundly affected by the properties of thought, whatever they may be determined to be. This interests me a great deal, but doesn't interest most people, which I am used to and almost at peace with.

            Put briefly, philosophers are typically focused on the content of thought, this idea vs. that idea. I'm more interested in the medium of thought, that which all philosophies are made of.

            As example, from my perspective Catholicism sub-divided in to a hundred competing factions because that which Catholicism is largely made of, thought, is inherently divisive. As evidence, every ideology I've ever heard of goes through the same subdividing process, which suggests the cause is something all ideologies have in common, which can only be thought itself.

            Honestly, I'm not too worried about "getting it right". I'm still a cultural Catholic in that I seem to be very interested in the kinds of things Catholics are concerned with, but I've long not been an ideological Catholic.

            To me, I am like the leaf on the tree. I will fall to the ground and melt back in to the soil, guaranteed.

          • Dennis Bonnette

            I can only think of Socrates famous dictum: "The unexamined life is not worth living."

            If you are 67, you are not that far behind me at 80.

            Don't you think it might be time to not just go with the flow of feeling (cultural beliefs) and pursue the truth about what life is and what happens to us when we leave it (ideological reality)? Nobody can make us have a passion for truth. But the founder of Catholicism had the audacity to call himself, the Truth.

          • Phil Tanny

            If you are 67, you are not that far behind me at 80.

            Indeed, I figure I'll be 80 also in about 3 weeks, or so it seems. :-) And who knows, I may be ahead of you, so to speak, one never knows.

            Don't you think it might be time to not just go with the flow of feeling (cultural beliefs) and pursue the truth about what life is and what
            happens to us when we leave it (ideological reality)?

            Well, um, been working on that for about 50 years. Remember, centuries of Catholic heritage up my family tree, baptized and confirmed, incurably philosophical to a pathological degree. :-) If I was going to buy the Catholic story I think that would have happened already.

            Actually, I do very much buy parts of the Catholic story, but probably not the parts many folks want me to buy.

            But the founder of Catholicism had the audacity to call himself, the Truth.

            Indeed he did. We could discuss that somewhere if you wish. I don't have a Jesus allergy as some of our friends here might.

          • Ficino

            But the founder of Catholicism had the audacity to call himself, the Truth.

            Some of the people posting on here have a pretty high degree of confidence that those words were not spoken by the historical Jesus but are part of a theological meditation produced by the author of the Fourth Gospel.

          • Phil Tanny

            A pretty high degree of confidence about things that did or did not happen 2,000 years ago. Ok then.

          • Dennis Bonnette

            You seem to be philosophical by inclination, but frankly it is rather difficult for me to discuss these matters with someone who does not appear conversant with the actual history of Western philosophy.

          • Phil Tanny

            Correct, I'm not too conversant with philosophy history, that's true. We seem to be referencing different sources, and the overlap between those sources may be limited. That could make dialog interesting though.

            If it helps, perhaps I should explain that my wife and I are major nature nuts, and I look to nature for guidance much as you look to the Church and your academic studies. Like I said earlier, I converted from Catholicism to surfing 50 years ago. I no longer surf and am today inland in the woods, but it's the same thing.

            Sometimes I put it as, I attend the "church" that God built, instead of the church that men built. Which is of course, an attempt to be controversial. :-)

          • Phil Tanny

            it is rather difficult for me to discuss these matters with someone who does not appear conversant with the actual history of Western
            philosophy.

            When Jesus sought inspiration and a deeper connection with God, where did he go? A library? Or the desert?

          • Dennis Bonnette

            Since Jesus was God, he didn't have to go anywhere. :)

          • Phil Tanny

            Then why did he go to the desert?

            My contention is that when Jesus wanted to conduct his investigation he examined the real world, instead of what other people say about the real world. That is, he valued first hand experience over 2nd hand information.

            Christians always say we should follow the example of Jesus, but they typically decline to do so at the moment that becomes inconvenient.

            As example, to my knowledge, Jesus the carpenter never showed any interest at all in the construction of church buildings. And yet, here in the American south at least, there is a Christian church building on every third corner. Many billions of dollars spent on expensive stages for the clergy to perform on, at the expense of the needy that Jesus instructed us to serve.

            Jesus said such inconvenient things to the Jewish clergy of his day, and they killed him for it. Were we to follow the example of Jesus, we too would soon become rather unpopular.

          • Dennis Bonnette

            Again, as a Catholic, I believe that Jesus was both true God and true man. Perhaps, as man, he had need to go into the desert -- but surely, as God, he did not need a "deeper connection with God."

            That would be a philosophical implication of the Catholic belief that Christ is God. As for the rest, I usually just stick to my own field of competence -- and leave the speculative theology and apologetics to others.

        • Phil Tanny

          You write, "We will also know that we have missed the entire purpose of our creation
          by our own fault and that there is no longer anything we can do about
          it."

          I am receptive to the God theory in general, but must admit not being receptive to this version of that theory.

          My primary reference material is nature, and I observe that every leaf that falls is absorbed back in to the soil, and every animal that dies is consumed and kept within the system. Every separate "thing" which is created inevitably returns to unity with "the all". This has been going on for the entire history of life on this planet, a billion years or more before the first holy book was written. If a God created reality, this is what that creation looks like. Not linear, but circular.

          I don't claim to know what happens next, but I must admit I'm highly skeptical of all permanent separation theories. If nothing else, it makes no sense that a loving God would create such fragile flawed creatures and then impose upon them such an enormous burden, knowing in advance that most would fail to meet it.

          Honestly, as a person with centuries of Catholic DNA up my family tree, it seems possible to me that Catholic culture is just a tad too invested in guilt.

          • Dennis Bonnette

            Well, obviously, there is a major gap between your understanding of reality and mine -- which, again, a combox is too small to explore properly.

            But the notion that God somehow is being unfair with us presumes that we know all about God, including how and why he does what he does. Absent such total knowledge, we simply cannot make safe judgments about what he is up to and why.

            We don't know that most humans will fail to reach their end. Catholic teaching never answers this question. It only specifies what God requires of us, but not how he judges our actions -- given the frailty of our condition and the fact that he is justice itself. His judgment could never be unjust, so why do we presume it would be?

          • Phil Tanny

            His judgment could never be unjust, so why do we presume it would be?

            I'm not making that presumption, but instead making the opposite assumption, all things go back to God. God creates them, God takes them back. Sounds pretty just to me.

          • Dennis Bonnette

            Except that there is a major Catholic and Christian doctrine of Hell that says some people miss their last end permanently. You imply that God would be unjust in that case, and so seem to argue against Hell,

            I am saying that the doctrine could not be unjust if God is all just.

          • Phil Tanny

            Yes, I'm aware of the Christian doctrine of Hell. I just don't buy it, that's all. To each their own I guess.

          • Dennis Bonnette

            If I do not believe in hell and if I can convince enough other people that it does not exist, then I cannot possibly wind up there when I die. Right?

            You probably do not believe in private revelation, but the recently canonized Catholic saint, Faustina, had a vision in which she went to hell. The fascinating observation she made was that most of the souls there did not believe in hell while they were alive. Most saints do not get canonized for being liars. You might think she could be mistaken somehow. Maybe. But what if maybe not? We really don't get many years to figure all this stuff out. Maybe we cannot. But that is why Socrates said what he did.

          • Phil Tanny

            If I do not believe in hell and if I can convince enough other people
            that it does not exist, then I cannot possibly wind up there when I die.
            Right?

            I'm not too concerned with convincing anybody, just sharing my own relationship with the topic, readers can do with that whatever they wish.

            You probably do not believe in private revelation, but the recently canonized Catholic saint, Faustina, had a vision in which she went to
            hell.

            I believe in the experience of private revelation, just not the explanations of that experience.

            Perhaps you might find the following video somewhat interesting, as it explores a scientific study of the drug DMT, which provides VERY compelling experiences which are in many ways religious.

            https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LtT6Xkk-kzk

            As example, a number of the test subjects said the experiences helped them lose a fear of death. I don't expect you to agree with the video, not sure if I do, but you're clearly a serious investigator so you might find it interesting (if you are not already aware of it.)

          • Dennis Bonnette

            I did not really expect you to be impressed with private revelation of any type. My main point was to make clear that just because we do not think something exists or is true does not mean it isn't. There are a lot of private revelations on this point. I am not so skeptical as to disbelieve them all. But that is a personal matter.

            As for what the human mind and brain can conjure up, I am quite conversant with the possibilities, having taught philosophical psychology for about half a century. The problem is that there appear to be some very sane and truthful people, not under the influence of drugs, who have some rather interesting stories to relate.

            If you have not found your way back to the Catholic religion of your birth in half a century, I don't expect to move you much in these short comboxes.

            Perhaps, we would spend better time elsewhere.

          • Phil Tanny

            If you have not found your way back to the Catholic religion of your
            birth in half a century, I don't expect to move you much in these short
            comboxes.

            Well, maybe moving each other need not be our agenda? We're both happy where we are, and we both enjoy dialog. Perhaps that's enough?

          • Dennis Bonnette

            Life is too short. I don't get that much reward out of just enjoying dialogue. I am a philosopher. That means I have a passion for truth. For its pursuit, discovery, and defense. I realize not everyone feels the same way, and I respect that others are interested in other things. But that is not why I am still teaching actively and writing articles at age eighty. I figure that when I retire from using the talents and education God has given me, he will decide that maybe there is no further point in my being here. Death is God's way of telling you it is time to slow down. :)

          • Phil Tanny

            I am a philosopher. That means I have a passion for truth.

            I wish this was a forum so we could start a new thread on this, to me, very interesting topic.

            Can truth be contained in any philosophy? Or is anything made of thought merely a symbol which points to truth, much as a sign on the highway is not the town it points to?

            You would know which philosophers and theologians have explored this, and of course I would not.

            As I understand it, someone like Jesus went in to the desert and experienced truth, a living thing, much as one might experience the sun on one's face.

            But then he went back in to town and tried to convert that experience in to thought in the attempt to share it, and in doing so converted the living experience of the truth in to a dead thing, the beginning of a corruption process which afflicts all religions.

            It seems to me there is a very important distinction to be made between experience, and explanations of experience, between truth, and philosophy.

            The apostle John said "God is love" and not "God is a doctrine about love".

            Anyway, for what it's worth, such things fascinate me.

            My own personal predicament is that I can be quite handy with explanations, which hooks my ego in to ceaselessly typing them, but I no longer really believe in explanations. I try to have a sense of humor about the folly I find myself engaged in. :-)

        • BTS

          We humans always want to know, not only that there is a cause of something, but also directly the nature of the cause. That is not possible in this life for us.

          Yes, we do want to know. It is rational to want to know as much as possible to make an informed decision.

          Then why, oh why does the Church teach that our eternal fate is decided in this world? If we don't have enough information to make an informed decision, why cannot our fates be delayed until after death when we've had a tour of the afterlife and a chance to make an informed decision with all the pertinent information? Would not that be more "rational?"

          Most (many? Well, not an insignificant number) humans are incapable of making consistent rational decisions, even on the big questions. Toss in mental illness, stress, disease, fatigue, natural disasters, pollution, war...Those are significant factors hampering rational decision making.

          That is why Catholicism teaches that only in the afterlife will God raise our minds to a direct vision of his nature, called the Beatific Vision.

          So only after it is too late do we get to choose? That is NOT rational, it seems to me.

          Worse yet, by then we will be aware of what we are missing, which we do not fully appreciate now.

          This seems like fear mongering to me. Hell is always used as a threat. Always such fear is used to convince people. That seems more manipulative than enlightening. And so drearily binary.

          If god is so powerful, so fecund, I would think the afterlife choices would be less binary. Maybe god if he exists takes his/her/its time with some people.

          I imagine a god who perhaps takes great pleasure in watching one of his creatures take a million or billion years to learn and finally get "it" right.

          On the other hand we have the fear of hell: "One shot and you're out?" I cannot think of anything less imaginative.

          • Jim (hillclimber)

            If god is so powerful, so fecund, I would think the afterlife choices would be less binary. Maybe god if he exists takes his/her/its time with some people.

            That is consonant with the Catholic doctrine of purgatory (and as a side note FWIW, also consonant with Eastern ideas about reincarnation).

            Saint Paul evokes the idea that in this life some of us will essentially fail, and yet be "saved ... as through a fire". I imagine this as a matter of finishing life having not shed some of the deleterious aspects of my ego, but then -- through the efforts of those I leave behind -- the project of my life is in some sense continued until the rest of my ego burns away.

          • Dennis Bonnette

            You beat me to it. I was just thinking of how, unlike most of our Protestant brethren, we have the doctrine of purgatory, which makes good sense of all the complexities posed by BTS.

            Although it is not definitive teaching, Benedict XVI wrote that he thinks that a few go directly to heaven, a few go directly to hell, but the vast majority of mankind wind up in purgatory.

            Those who think that this is a "get out of jail free" card do not understand the reality of the varied levels of suffering even in purgatory. I would rather avoid it.

          • BTS

            We may already be in purgatory? Just a thought.

          • Jim (hillclimber)

            I would say that that also is more-or-less standard Christian theology. It is expressed nicely, e.g. in the MLK Jr. quote that "all unearned suffering is redemptive", for example.

            It is also nicely expressed nicely in T.S. Eliot's Little Gidding with the "intolerable shirt of flame" and all that.

          • Dennis Bonnette

            This life is not called a "vale of tears" for nothing. On that you are correct.

            But neither are we here in heaven -- and being outside of heaven is one condition of hell. But hell is permanent, whereas here we still can hope to achieve heaven.

            And purgatory is all the worse because there we know who God is and realize what we are missing by not being united to him immediately. That is said to be the greatest suffering of purgatory.

            There is a lot we don't understand in this world. But that is not to say we cannot learn the basic conditions of our existence both through reason and revelation.

          • Jim (hillclimber)

            I'm with BXVI on that point!

            And yes, I can see with enough clarity just based on the purgation that we experience in this life: we suffer for sin enough as it is. No need to go and add fuel to the fire!

          • BTS

            Hi Jim.
            I'm not a St. Paul fan. Essentially for many reasons, but largely because I think he hijacked the whole enterprise and
            because I don't believe in original sin (because I don't believe in a literal Adam and Eve)...but that is for another day.

            That said, yes, I prefer a god who intends to work with all of us and wait as long as it takes until we "get" it. The idea of others finishing my life's work is much more palatable than the hellfire and brimstone being slung about by all the judgmental bitter conservative Catholics these days.

          • Jim (hillclimber)

            I don't think you need to believe in a literal Adam and Eve to believe in Original Sin.

            Original Sin is fundamentally just the idea that at some point something has gone wrong, the idea that in the course of cosmic history we have wandered far from our home and lost our way. It's fundamentally an optimistic doctrine, because it implies that there is a place of ultimate belonging and that at some point there will be a joyous homecoming. (And this time with new and more appreciate eyes, in a way that "Adam and Eve" could not.)

          • Dennis Bonnette

            It is absolutely true that a literal Adam and Eve are Catholic teaching as is clear in the first paragraph of my article on this subject, in which I also give the scientific rationale of their actual possibility.

            https://strangenotions.com/the-scientific-possibility-of-adam-and-eve/

          • Jim (hillclimber)

            Even that is debatable, but in any case that is a separate issue. I wasn't commenting on Catholic teaching. I was commenting on the relationship between the concept of Original Sin (as developed in Paul's writings) and belief in a literal Adam and Eve. One can logically believe in one without believing in the other, even if it may be the case (stipulating for the sake of argument) that the Church teaches both things to be true.

          • Dennis Bonnette

            The problem is that Pius XII was a competent scholar, and he is saying that this IS the teaching of the Magisterium. Moreover, it refers back to the Council of Trent's dogmatic tract on original sin, which depicts Adam in the singular. Besides, note the further reference to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, which is current. The best theologians I know hold it is Catholic doctrine.

            Edit: By the way, I would expect no explicit mention of Eve, since the doctrine focuses on Adam as the sole theologically relevant player in this drama.

          • Jim (hillclimber)

            I don't really have anything to disagree with unless you want to get more specific. As you know, the catechism states that "Genesis 3 uses figurative language, but affirms a primeval event". Everything that I have said above amounts to the affirmation of such a primeval event. If you are claiming that some specific aspect of the story (What exactly? That her name was "Eve"? That there was a snake and a tree?) is to be taken literally, could you be more specific about what that is?

          • Dennis Bonnette

            My concern is only that the Magisterium teaches theological monogenism, which, in the words of Humani Generis means. in Pius XII's words: "revealed truth ... and the magisterium of the Church" propose that original sin "proceeds from a sin truly committed by one Adam [ab uno Adamo], and which is transmitted to all by generation ...."

            I doubt Adam accomplished this all by himself. But, I am well aware that much of the story is figurative and need not be taken literally, except for those points which touch on matters of faith, such as Pius describes.

          • Jim (hillclimber)

            I likewise am confident that no single man sinned in a social vacuum. Sin inherently involves our relations with each other, and nothing exemplifies the dynamics of human relations better than the relation between one man and one woman. In that sense I am confident that the figurative language of the story correctly reveals the nature of the primeval event!

          • Dennis Bonnette

            You don't need a woman around to commit odium dei.

            Besides, I can eat an apple all by myself.

            But I readily admit that having to live with another human being greatly enhances the chances of sinning.

          • Jim (hillclimber)

            I'm not sure if you are joking (?) But yes, I agree.

            My point was that the Biblical author saw deeply into the dynamics of sin when he portrayed it as an event between a man and a woman. My point was not that gender dynamics are somehow inherent in sin.

          • Dennis Bonnette

            Some of it was a joke with a moral truth contained.

            I agree about your point about human interaction. Still, the original sin appears to have been concerning some specific command given by God regarding a specific action.

          • BTS

            It's ok to disagree with the magisterium. You't won't get hit with a lightning bolt.

            edit: Humani Generis is also the papal writing that also says that Catholics should flat-out deny science they don't agree with. Blargh. No thanks.

          • Dennis Bonnette

            You are not a Catholic.

            For a Catholic to dissent from his own Church's official teaching has inherent problems.

          • BTS

            Born and raised Catholic, actually.

          • Dennis Bonnette

            But I suspect you do not consider yourself a Catholic today. If not, that is why you do not feel bound by the Magisterium.

          • BTS

            Correct. On many levels I don't see any evidence that anything in the organization is divinely inspired. I am open to having my mind changed, though.

          • Dennis Bonnette

            I understand. Given the secular climate today and the utter failure to communicate the Church's intellectual heritage to today's generation, I can understand why many would lose their faith. But I would urge you to never cease searching for the truth. If you do, I am confident as to where you will eventually wind up. :) Just remember Christ came to save sinners, not saints. The Church has always had an abundant number of the former.

          • Jim (hillclimber)

            the doctrine focuses on Adam as the sole theologically relevant player in this drama

            Exactly my point! What follows from that very point is that this question of whether the character of Eve is to be understood figuratively or literally is simply not a central matter of faith or morals, and so is not within the purview of the Magisterium.

            I apologize if this is coming through in my tone, but what frustrates me so much about these debates is that we end up taking a central teaching of the Church that is self-evidently true to any fool on the street, namely that we exist in a fallen state, and we turn it into some grotesque catechismal exercise on par with determining the number of angels on the head of a pin!

          • BTS

            that is self-evidently true to any fool on the street, namely that we exist in a fallen state,

            Disagree completely on this point. Not self-evident. You are using charged language. What is self-evident is that our existence involves struggle. Calling it "fallen" is a value judgment, a description, an assessment.

            Many incredibly smart people disagree with you. Ask Chardin.

            Edit:
            At first I misread your piece.
            I agree completely that turning it in a grotesque catechismal exercise does more harm than good. I like your turn of phrase there.

          • Jim (hillclimber)

            I'm reasonably well acquainted with Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, and I appreciate that was much focused on the "Omega" of God rather than the "Alpha", but I'm not aware that he ever disagreed with the doctrine of Original Sin. If that is the case, can you point me to a reference?

            I don't deny that I'm making value judgements, but so what? Is the language of "struggle" any less value laden? Don't we struggle precisely for things that we value?

          • Dennis Bonnette

            Just a brief injection here. I am very familiar with Teilhard and absolutely assure you that he denied original sin. Small wonder his works were put under a monitum by the Holy Office for "swarming with theological ambiguities and downright errors."
            He was nowhere near as brilliant as his followers claim. Typical response of various experts was, "He is a brilliant thinker, but too bad he botched my own area so badly." Yes, that means he botched every area -- probably even paleoanthropology!

          • Jim (hillclimber)

            If he denied Original Sin then I am curious why he devoted some of his writings to attempts at reconciling science with Original Sin?

            Also, I don't really want to get into it on this point, but just to provide a little balance to your view, we could consider this from Vatican spokesman Federico Lombardi in 2009 :

            "By now, no one would dream of saying that [Teilhard] is a heterodox author who shouldn't be studied." (https://www.ncronline.org/news/pope-cites-teilhardian-vision-cosmos-living-host)

          • Dennis Bonnette

            You probably know that today you can find people saying all sorts of things, including "Vatican spokesmen."

            Teilhard's problems are deep -- as BTS so competently documented a couple comments above.

            I personally dealt with some of Teilhard's disciples half a century ago. They denied the immutability of dogma, the existence of purgatory, while advocating such things as situation ethics and abortion.

            Can you believe anything you want and still be a Catholic? Just ask Father Luther.

          • Jim (hillclimber)

            I don't doubt that he had errant ideas (who among us doesn't?) and I doubt even less that some of his fans went way past the rumble strip on the Catholic highway. I don't think it necessarily follows from any of that that he was rejecting the notion of Original Sin. Or to be more specific: I don't see any evidence to suggest that he didn't think that we exist in a fallen state. What he seems to have put forward (speculatively, and deferentially, it should be noted) were alternative theories to explain how it might have come to pass that we are in this fallen state. He seems to have been proposing that our "fall" occurred at the moment of creation. Now, you can say that that's an incorrect theory that is at odds with Catholic teaching, and I would agree. But it doesn't amount to a man who denied that we exist in a fallen state.

          • BTS

            some of his fans went way past the rumble strip on the Catholic highway.

            What a great metaphor. I am going to steal that!

          • Dennis Bonnette

            I know that there are efforts today to give new approval to the position of Teilhard in the Church. Some even want Pope Francis to remove the monitum placed on his writings back in 1962.

            All I can say is that I don't think that his disciples misread him at all. His entire life's work was to read Christianity through the light of evolution, rather than evolution through the light of Christianity.

            Few realize that he viewed the Chinese as racially inferior since he thought that they appeared to be evolutionarily less developed and that he lamented being a stretcher carrier in WWI, since he wanted to be a machine gunner, which would have placed him at the forefront of historical change.

          • Jim (hillclimber)

            That are some interesting details that I was not aware of, so I thank you for that, but I want to emphasize again that at no point in this thread has it been my goal to engage in a hagiography of Teilhard. I began by engaging with his thinking only on a very specific point, namely whether it was consistent with the notion that we are in some sense "fallen".

            Let us take a man's ideas one by one. It is unhelpful to speak as if each person can be simply classified in toto as orthodox or heterodox. If I may adapt Sozhyneitsyn's famous remark, the line between orthodoxy and heterdoxy does not run between groups of people, but runs instead through the heart and mind of every person. I subscribe to the advice of Bishop Barron in the video that David Nickol linked to in this thread: let's frame these issues in terms of degrees of participation in the life of the Church, rather than imagining that we can discern who is "in the box" and who is "outside of the box". Who among us is so pure that he would claim to participate fully in the life of Christ, and who among us is so removed from the heart of the Church that there is no light of Christ in him? With the possible exception of the Virgin Mother, we all find ourselves somewhere in between, just as Teilhard undoubtedly was.

          • Dennis Bonnette

            That is all well and good, but the simple truth is that the Church imposes a more stringent requirement on Catholics with respect to their allegiance to orthodoxy.

            Lumen Gentium Article 25 (in part) from Vatican Council II:

            Bishops who teach in communion with the Roman Pontiff are to be revered by all as witnesses of divine and Catholic truth; the faithful, for their part, are obliged to submit to their bishops' decision, made in the name of Christ, in matters of faith and morals, and to adhere to it with a ready and respectful allegiance of mind. This loyal submission of the will and intellect must be given, in a special way, to the authentic teaching authority of the Roman Pontiff, even when he does not speak ex cathedra in such wise, indeed, that his supreme teaching authority be acknowledged with respect, and sincere assent be given to decisions made by him, conformably with his manifest mind and intention, which is made known principally either by the character of the documents in question, or by the frequency with which a certain doctrine is proposed, or by the manner in which the doctrine is formulated.

          • Jim (hillclimber)

            This loyal submission of the will and intellect must be given, in a special way, to the authentic teaching authority of the Roman Pontiff, even when he does not speak ex cathedra

            OK, but in that case, let us loyally submit our intellects to ordinary magisterial teaching that encourages us to use Teilhardian expressions of the faith in at least some cases, as in Laudato Si, where we read this nod to Teilhard's Omega Point: "... all creatures are moving forward with us and through us towards a common point of arrival, which is God, in that transcendent fullness where the risen Christ embraces and illumines all things." (And note that I am not imagining the connection to Teilhard, because the preceding sentence in the encyclical refers to an endnote with explicit reference to him.)

            In other words, let us note that ordinary magisterial teaching itself recognizes that at least one of Teilhard's most central ideas illumines, and does not detract from, our faith. Let us note that magisterial teaching itself takes valid expressions of the faith wherever it finds them and does not insist on drawing ideas only from exemplars of orthodoxy.

          • Dennis Bonnette

            You are in general correct here. My only hesitancy is that the monitum still stands as of this moment, meaning that the Holy Office in 1962 found Teilhard's writings "swarming with theological errors."

            The fact that a certain insight from Teilhard may be reinterpreted in a manner consonant with orthodoxy is not a case of general absolution -- just as we can thank Communism for highlighting the abysmal conditions of the working class.

            If you read Teilhard's actual writings in the context of his own worldview, his orthodoxy is besmudged with those "theological errors."

          • Jim (hillclimber)

            the faithful, for their part, are obliged to submit to their bishops' decision, made in the name of Christ, in matters of faith and morals, and to adhere to it with a ready and respectful allegiance of mind.

            So, if Bishop Barron, in a YouTube video that surely counts as ordinary magisterial teaching, is advocating that we express our ecclesiology in terms of degrees of participation rather than "either you're in or you're out", should we not give some allegiance of mind to this teaching?

          • Dennis Bonnette

            I am not judging Bishop Barron here, but I would note that the magisterial force of any bishop's teaching is measured by its conformity to the general teachings of the Church.

            It is one thing to err in one's beliefs innocently. But it is another when one knows the teaching of the Magisterium and still deliberately dissents, especially by public advocacy of such dissent.

            There is such a thing as "sentire cum Ecclesia," "thinking with the Church," which all Catholics are called to do. Dissenters become "Cafeteria Catholics," who pick and choose their beliefs.

            We used to have another name for them. The were called "Protestants."

          • Jim (hillclimber)

            That's all perfectly fair, but I would want to add that the sin of "cafeteria Catholicism" has many forms, including some forms that masquerade as "traditional Catholicism".

            For example, the logic of your first paragraph (which, I want to emphasize, I find perfectly valid) can easily be manipulated so that one ends up selectively ignoring some magisterial teachings because of a private judgement that they are not "sufficiently in conformity with the general teachings of the Church".

            None of this is to take away from your valid point, it is only to suggest that "cafeteria Catholic" epithet can be hurled in both liberal and conservative directions.

          • BTS

            Regarding Chardin, Yes I can! Pasted below. The whole reason Chardin was censored by the vatican (a monitum, I think they call it. It was for his thinking on original sin. He was banished to China for it as well.

            This article is extremely conservative and critical of Chardin:
            "...neither original sin nor traditional mortal sins exist in Teilhard’s worldview – only infinite mutations or variants in the evolutionary process moved by the unconditional love of the “Cosmic Christ.”
            https://onepeterfive.com/teilhard-chardin-vii-architect/

            And this is a good video on Chardin. A little dry, but interesting.
            https://youtu.be/tKEBQe4c7n0
            I think Thomas Barry was a friend of Chardin's.

            To many ears, “conscious evolution” probably sounds like a squishy catchphrase picked up after too much time in a New Age sweat lodge, and that’s pretty much how Cardinal Gerhard Mueller, head of the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, views it.

            The German theologian bluntly told heads of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious last month that the principles of “conscious evolution” — that mankind is transforming through the integration of science, spirituality and technology — are “opposed to Christian Revelation” and lead to “fundamental errors.”

            It was Teilhard’s thinking about humanity’s future evolution that got him in trouble with church authorities, however.

            Teilhard argued, for example, that creation is still evolving and that mankind is changing with it; we are, he said, advancing in an interactive “noosphere” of human thought through an evolutionary process that leads inexorably toward an Omega Point — Jesus Christ — that is pulling all the cosmos to itself.

            https://religionnews.com/2014/05/22/nuns-jesuit-vatican-teilhard-de-chardin/

            And another:
            https://www.christiancentury.org/article/critical-essay/pierre-teilhard-de-chardins-theological-trouble

          • Jim (hillclimber)

            OK, thanks. I'll cede the point about Teilhard, at least for now.

            Let me ask you this:

            1. Do you think there was a time in the universe when there was no life? (I do.)
            2. Do you think that when there was no life in the universe, there was nothing in the universe that could in any meaningful sense be said to be "wrong" (I do.)
            3. Do you think that there is now something in the universe that can be meaningfully said to be "wrong" (pick your human atrocity du jour). (I do.)

            If you agree with me on all of those three points, does it not follow that at some point in cosmic history, the universe transitioned from a place where there was nothing wrong to a place where there is something wrong? Would it not be reasonable to refer to that as a "fall" ?

          • BTS

            Let me think about this. I think I more or less agree with the spirit of your words. I am uneasy about the use of the word "wrong." If there is a god, things are as god made them. It is his plan. No one else's plan can beat god's plan, if he is omniscient/omnipotent, etc. Even resistance (devil, sin, etc) to his plan has been planned by god. So when you say "wrong," that may be part of the plan. To have a savior you have to have something to be saved from.

            How can a bunch of pathetic humans wreck a divine plan? Makes no sense.

            I really hope I don't need to be saved from my own inquisitiveness and persistence in seeking truth. I'd be perturbed about that. Does god really want a bunch of "yes men" surrounding him?

            Even the devil in the OT, in ancient Jewish tradition, is god's henchman, not his enemy.

            *I might need to eventually be saved from my penchant for fine whiskey.

          • Jim (hillclimber)

            You are touching on some of the thornier points of theology from the past 500 years such as predestination, and it would be silly of me to pretend that I can add anything to those long-running debates. Nonetheless, I'll just tell you how I think about it:

            Among the many ways that the Biblical tradition encourages to think about God, the metaphor of God as "father" certainly has a place of privilege. I find this mode of thinking to be especially helpful as my own depth of experience with fatherhood increases over the years.

            With that in mind, here are a few personal reflections:

            1. Do I want my children to remain close to me? Yes.
            2. Do I want my children to remain close to me in a way that is devoid of appreciation and novelty? No.
            3. Do they need to endure some meaningful separation from home in order to come back again and see it with new eyes, so we can both appreciate our togetherness more fully? Probably.
            4. Do I need to given them real freedom to pursue their own adventures if I want that meaningful separation to occur? Seems so.
            5. Could they choose to never come home? Well, if I am giving them real freedom, then yes.
            6. Will I be delighted if they freely choose to come back home after great adventures? Yes sir.

            You can hopefully adduce from that what my position is with respect to predestination, sin, freedom, love, and ultimate belonging.

            I'm afraid I have a bit of a penchant even for cheap whiskey, but I try to stick to beer. I consider this to be a "health food" diet of sorts. In any case, if whiskey is your thing then I wish you a fine glass of it on this beautiful Friday evening.

          • BTS

            You are probably correct that tackling the thorny issues all in one day would be too much work. I wish you a wonderful evening as well. Thank you kindly.

          • Phil Tanny

            What is self-evident is that our existence involves struggle.

            Yes, casting my vote here. All life involves struggle, and our struggle tends to be of a more psychological nature given that thought is to us what wings are to a bird, and fins are to a fish.

          • BTS

            Let's save that one for another day! I am short on time. We've discussed it before and disagreed.

          • Jim (hillclimber)

            As I'm sure you are aware Humani Generis actually doesn't even mention Eve. The central teaching in that document is as illustrated by the quote that you excerpt in your article, that the originating event was "a sin truly committed by one Adam [ab uno Adamo], and which is transmitted to all by generation, and exists in each one as his own."

            To affirm that all human sin is connected to the sin of some first man ("Adam") is a long way from affirming that "the story of Adam and Eve is literally true".

          • BTS

            I like the idea of ultimate belonging but I'm not sure it is true.

            Original Sin is fundamentally just the idea that at some point something has gone wrong, the idea that in the course of cosmic history we have wandered far from our home and lost our way.

            Unpacking that could take a long time. If I'm going to get blamed for something, I want the details! :)
            Who is the we to whom you refer? All life? only earth life? just sentient life? just humans? What about aliens? When did this happen? How transmitted? How and why do we share the guilt? What sin is so bad it ripples down through history? What could humans do that is so bad?

          • Jim (hillclimber)

            If I'm going to get blamed for something

            Who says you are getting blamed for Original Sin? The idea is that you are tainted by it, not that you are culpable for it (except insofar as the entire human community is interconnected).

            Who is the we to whom you refer?

            According to Saint Paul, all of creation. See Romans, chapter 8, verses 18-21.

            What could humans do that is so bad?

            Treat a gift as a given?

          • BTS

            Treat a gift as a given?

            But not everyone gets the gift. Ask David Nichol about all his research into the fertilized eggs that never implant. 60% or some high estimate. What sense is there in creating an entire system of transmitted taintedness that then only applies to a selection portion of humanity. It just doesn't make any sense to me.

          • Jim (hillclimber)

            OK, but now we are transitioning from the question of what might have merited our "eviction from the Garden" to the question of why life isn't fair ...

            1. I don't exactly know why this life isn't fair. Lack of fairness is just one form of evil, and evil is mysterious. The closest I come to having an answer -- borrowing from scbrown who sometimes comments here -- is that the very shape of love necessarily involves chasms (a.k.a. "evil") that we must freely reach across. That's a vague and elliptical answer, but it rings true to me and it's the best I can do.
            2. I operate on the assumption that this life isn't all there is. Whatever ultimate fairness would look like for those non-implanted eggs, I assume that will come about eventually.

          • Phil Tanny

            Original Sin is fundamentally just the idea that at some point something has gone wrong

            Almost. I would put it this way instead. We were given a very powerful tool with which to make our living on this Earth, which comes with a very big price tag. The tool is thought, the price tag is the experience of division.

            Is this "something gone wrong"? Well, there's certainly plenty of suffering involved, as the price tag is steep. But then we don't have to sleep in holes in the ground like so many other creatures, so there's that.

            On balance, it seems to label the emergence of thought in human beings as bad would be to complain about God, given that being immersed in thought was not a choice we made.

            A better approach would seem to be to understand the price tag, and learn how to manage it in as constructive a manner as possible, accepting as we do that a perfect management is unlikely to ever be possible.

            It's fundamentally an optimistic doctrine, because it implies that there is a place of ultimate belonging and that at some point there will be a joyous homecoming.

            "Original sin" as I've defined it is mostly optimistic, as there are simple mechanical solutions available to almost everybody which can address the price tag to a significant, but not perfect, degree. And do so almost immediately.

            "Original sin" as Catholics define it is basically a horror show where threats of eternal violence are leveled at frail human beings, and then the frail human beings are blamed for the horror show that they didn't invent, and the payday is a vague maybe someday off in the future business.

          • Dennis Bonnette

            From the comments below, I can see that you are very concerned about the thought of eternal punishment and how that is compatible with the classical conception of God.

            First, bear in mind that Catholic ethicians take into account all the modifiers of responsibility -- sanity, passions, strength of temptations, lack of sufficient reflection, and so forth -- which would diminish responsibility for sin.

            I am not a Catholic theologian, so my speculations may not be entirely correct. That said, though, I think you have to distinguish between those who sin through passion and weakness -- as opposed to those who are genuinely malicious. What is God to do with someone who stubbornly loves evil and hates all that is good and holy? Part of the theology of hell, as I understand it, is that it is a choice by which the person really sends himself to hell. He finds it even more intolerable to be near to God.

            Do not confuse the ordinary weak sinner with those who wind up in hell. Falling and repenting is the lot of even good humans. But some do not just fall. They wantonly give themselves to a degenerate way of life and willingly create things like the killing fields of Cambodia.

            Why does not God just create us in the Beatific Vision, with no chance of its loss? That to me is the substance of your objection.

            This appears to have something to do with the infinite justice of God -- that such a perfect happiness is not deserved unless it is somehow freely earned. God, in perfect justice, would never allow eternal separation from himself unless the person really has chosen such a path. We create our own hell. But again: beware! Do not presume that you know the conditions on which someone would wind up in such perdition. Otherwise, you will be rash judging God when you may not know all the facts yourself.

            Freedom does not exist in the Beatific Vision. So clear a vision of infinite goodness precludes any other choice. Choice is only between finite goods -- or the infinite good finitely understood. So choice is in this life, not the next -- at least as between good and evil.

            Thus, if God is to create free creatures, and make that freedom a part of this life and the determination of one's last end, it is only possible before the Beatific Vision is had. Moreover, there is no natural end of man which is direct knowledge of the essence of God. That takes supernatural grace, which is a gift we could never really "earn."

            It is easy to challenge the Catholic theology when it is not fully understood. Remember, the Church has had two thousand years to come to understand the essence of her own theology. No one should lightly assume he understands it so perfectly as to be sure it is essentially wrong.

    • BTS

      Just a speculation, but has it occurred to you that god may actually BE an AI?

      • Dennis Bonnette

        No. Metaphysical science demonstrates that God is a pure spirit, not some sort of physical computer. Even an AI computer, since it lacks the substantial unity necessary for being a person, does not even know its own existence. So God, unlike an AI computer, is a person and a spirit. So, God cannot be an AI.

        • Jim (hillclimber)

          Couldn't one also simply say that "artificial" means "made", and that which is made is not fundamentally logically necessary, and a God who is not logically necessary is not God.

          • BTS

            That sounds like Thomist word-crafting to me.
            :)

          • Jim (hillclimber)

            I've been accused of that before, so maybe there is something to that criticism. But for my part I never really understand this criticism. We make propositions and construct arguments using words. We need to make distinctions and be precise about what words mean. Where is the problem with that?

          • BTS

            I agree with all of that. I am just not certain we can deduce ultimate beings and ultimate truth without some way of falsifying it. I think we need to be careful not to assert things we don't really know are true.

            To explicate my comment on thomism: What I mean by my comment above is best expressed by Brian Blais who wrote this comment recently on his blog discussing his appearance on the "Unbelievable with Justin Brierly" podcast:

            I would add as an analogy that there’s nothing about our experience on the Earth to suggest that the Earth is round or that it orbits the sun. It may be logically possible to have a flat planet, but not physically realizable in our universe (note: the spherical nature of planets is due to the spherical form of the law of gravitation). Our intuitions do not always track the truth, and truth should be our goal. (emphasis mine)

            As a scientist, I am accustomed to cases of seemingly obvious things being false, and of seemingly impossible things being true irrespective of our intuitions. Thus, strictly philosophical arguments are not enough to demonstrate the existence of something.
            -Brian Blais on his blog

          • Jim (hillclimber)

            Sign me up for the proposition that our intuitions do not always track the truth! I agree wholeheartedly.

            But we don't need to understand all of reality to see that some propositions are logically incoherent, for example. And we don't need to understand all of reality to see that any understanding of reality will necessarily be founded on certain principles.

          • BTS

            any understanding of reality will necessarily be founded on certain principles.

            Yes. Now what should those principles be? In a world awash in science denial, where children are dying of preventable diseases, as one example, because their anti-vax parents are ignorant or stupid, I think we have to start with the principles of science.

          • Jim (hillclimber)

            That's a good start. What would you say are a few of the principles of science?

          • Phil Tanny

            But we don't need to understand all of reality to see that some propositions are logically incoherent, for example.

            Which may or may not be relevant to the subjects being discussed. Members seem incapable of grasping that the concept of "logically incoherent" was invented by a species with thousands of hydrogen bombs aimed down it's own throat, an ever present existential threat it finds too boring to discuss. That is, a logically incoherent species, or rather a literally insane species.

            And we don't need to understand all of reality to see that any understanding of reality will necessarily be founded on certain principles.

            Again the assumption that reality is required to comply with our rules. That's like saying the ocean is required to comply with rules cooked up by a grain of sand.

        • BTS

          Well, a significantly advanced AI might be indistinguishable from (a) god. An advanced AI might be able to unbind itself from its physical constraints. It might manifest itself as a quantum computer that can travel as pure thought/light/waves/whatever. We would not be able to tell the difference between such a being and god. Dennis, Spirit might just mean "light waves" or "energy."

          Edit:
          Oh, and one more thing. You wrote:

          Even an AI computer, since it lacks the substantial unity necessary for being a person, does not even know its own existence.

          It seems here that you are contradicting the definition of an AI. A true AI as I understand it would by definition know of its own existence. That's what the singularity means.

          • Dennis Bonnette

            You are obviously a complete materialist, which is why you are reinterpreting pure spirit as some sort of quantum vacuum or pure energy. That simply is not what metaphysics proves about God. But, of course, you reject all metaphysical science.

            Claiming that AI would by definition know its own existence is merely accepting the ill-founded claims of materialists about what computers can do. I suspect I was programming computers before you were born (1960s?). What was clearly evident is that computers are simply carefully assembled piles of junk that do what we tell them to do (or hope they do!). Oh yes, I know that AI is supposed to be self-programming. But even then, we initially write the software that enable them to do this. The fact that they then generate code we don't understand is to be expected.

            Your belief in the coming "singularity" sounds like what you think of the Beatific Vision. Most of this is sci-fi fantasy, even if it appears to come true. It is based on invalid materialistic metaphysics. That is why you don't see that computers lack the substantial unity needed for them to have the substantial existence which they then are assumed to know. They cannot know their own existence because (1) they know nothing at all and (2) they don't have any substantial existence to be known.

            You would probably trust your own existence to the kind of transporter fantasized by the Star Trek series. If you do, do not be shocked that when you are dematerialized as you enter your end of the transporter, you simply die.

          • BTS

            You are obviously a complete materialist, which is why you are reinterpreting pure spirit as some sort of quantum vacuum or pure energy. That simply is not what metaphysics proves about God. But, of course, you reject all metaphysical science.

            You're inching toward rudeness here. And you're putting words in my mouth. I'm a seeker. I don't claim to know things with certainty that I couldn't possibly know.

            Your belief in the coming "singularity" sounds like what you think of the Beatific Vision. Most of this is sci-fi fantasy, even if it appears to come true. It is based on invalid materialistic metaphysics.

            If I may say so, it sounds like you're accusing me of tinfoil hat wearing. May I be so bold as to inquire as to where your imagination is? Dennis, you have absolutely no way of knowing where AI will take us. Your denials of the possibilities of the future are unfounded, to the point of sounding Archie-Bunker-ish.

            Edit:
            Think further into the future. Like 100,000 years. We won't be using Dells, Lenovos and HPs then...

          • Dennis Bonnette

            The whole point is, though, -- and this is the reason for my reference to your materialism -- that all of this is conceived in terms of a materialistic metaphysics. Do you seriously entertain that true spirit could "evolve" from material reality?
            The plain fact is that this entire discussion takes place in the terms of scientific materialism. And the claims that, perhaps, in 100,000 years we will have a form of AI like we do not presently envision, still is conceived in terms of spatio-temporal reality. I do not see how you really are open to anything other than forms of materialism. You are free to say you are not a committed materialist. But then, are you open to the existence of a spiritual human soul or to God's existence.

            Defining the spiritual is important here. It means not only what is not extended in space/time, but also what is not dependent on what is extended in space/time. I would maintain we already have immaterial principles that are not extended in space, but I would not call them immaterial, since they depend on material things for their existence.

            Since we both know that the Star-Trek transporter concept is based on modern physical theory, examining its metaphysical implications is not an Archie Bunker project.

          • BTS

            Since we both know that the Star-Trek transporter concept is based on modern physical theory, examining its metaphysical implications is not an Archie Bunker project.

            Not what I meant.
            Your trashing of the idea of the singularity is unfounded.

            Do you seriously entertain that true spirit could "evolve" from material reality?
            Sure, why not. It may have already done so. (Us!)
            We evolved from tiny organisms in the primordial ocean. It is entirely possible that god didn't "create" our souls directly but rather allowed them to develop naturally.

            And according to the Bible aren't we supposed to be co-creators with god eventually? Maybe that creation is meant to be AI.

            I find the limitations you place on things to be confounding. You've put god in a box that you created with your mind-limiting metaphysics. If you open your mind, wonderful things may come out.

          • Dennis Bonnette

            "Do you seriously entertain that true spirit could "evolve" from material reality?
            Sure, why not. It may have already done so. (Us!)"

            If you seriously think you can get spirit from matter, you need to start your study of metaphysics back to the time of Parmenides: "Non-being cannot beget being."

            You are making judgments about the science of metaphysics, when it is evident you have never studied it.

            One needs to define the meaning of terms, such as, non-being, matter, spirit, and creation.

            Wish I had more time, but I have a class to give tonight.

  • >The eternal now of resurrected life is entirely different from a static, lackluster world that eventually succumbs to the bland familiarity to which AI is predestined

    Why say this? Neither this world nor any virtual world I'm aware of is bland or lackluster. Indeed it seems impossible to me that absent any contrast between good and bad, absent any challenge, absent ant ability to improve, life would be bland lacklustre .

    >Eternity is a moment that is continually fresh and new with the life of God, a savory moment blooming with illimitable vitality.

    I would think the concept of newness required chronological time so how could anything be new or old to a consciousness that experiences block time?

  • Phil Tanny

    Remarkably, the future which AI and other such technologies are leading us towards was predicted some three thousand years ago in the Book of Genesis.

    Adam and Eve ate from the apple of knowledge and were then ejected from the Garden of Eden. This is what is happening today, as scientific progress is rapidly handing us more power than we can handle.

    This isn't mere rhetoric or futuristic alarmist speculation but proven fact. Let's recall, if we dare, that we currently have thousands of hydrogen bombs aimed down our own throats, an ever present self extinction threat, which we typically find too boring to discuss. This is the clearest possible evidence that the power available to us is outstripping human maturity.

    AI is just yet another factor which is going to further accelerate power acquisition and thus further destabilize the already precarious balance between power and maturity.

    The real problem is that our entire society is operating from a simplistic, outdated and dangerous "more is better" relationship with knowledge. We are racing frantically in to the 21st century, while still trapped inside a 19th century philosophy.

    Father Steele shouldn't be too concerned about how AI will affect Catholicism, because we are going to blow ourselves up long before science replaces religion. We simply aren't sane enough to successfully manage all the power that will increasingly flow from knowledge development.

    Worry not, the reunion with God, nature, reality, or whatever it is, which Father Steele seeks is guaranteed.

  • Phil Tanny

    Father Steele writes, "The indefinite extension of temporal life by AI technology would impede the human person’s final end of union with God."

    This seems an interesting statement that can open doors to further investigation.

    If I recall correctly from my Catholic upbringing, Catholic doctrine states that God is ever present in all times and places. For atheists, this principle might be compared to space, which infuses all of reality at every scale.

    My own interpretation is that if the Catholic doctrine is true, this means that it's not possible for anyone or anything to be separate from God, just as it's not possible for anyone or anything to be separate from space.

    However, it is clearly possible for any of us to FEEL separate from God, or if you prefer, nature/reality/space, and in fact such a feeling seems a defining characteristic of the human condition.

    In my view, this seemingly universal feeling of separation arises from the divisive nature of what we're all made of psychologically, thought. That is, thought operates by dividing the single unified reality (which some call God) in to conceptual parts, and we experience ourselves as being one of these parts, separate from other parts, and separate from the whole. And thus the desire to "get back to God" is born.

    It seems likely that religions are not helping people achieve reunion with God so much as they are helping to undermine the thought generated illusion that we are separate.

    The point here is that if AI were to significantly extend the human life span, it seems possible that with more time many more of us might come to understand why we FEEL separate from God, or if you prefer, nature. Jesus was a very young man when he died. What other insights might he have come to had he lived a long life?

    I'm using the God concept here because Father Steele is a Catholic, but I believe all of the above applies equally to all of us, believers in God or not, because all of us are made of thought psychologically, and thus we all experience the sense of separation, isolation and aloneness.

  • Phil Tanny

    As it happens by coincidence, just last night my wife and I watched a pretty good movie about AI, which seems quite relevant to Father Steele's article, at least in general principle.

    https://www.netflix.com/title/70266675

  • Phil Tanny

    Father Steele writes, "The achievement of AI immortality would have profound impacts on central doctrines of the Christian faith. The doctrine of the Resurrection could one day appear like an awkwardly devised VCR or reel-to-reel cassette tape, outdated and completely laughable."

    Well, that would seem to depend on what the doctrine of Resurrection really means. If the doctrine means something that can be demolished by technological advances, is that perhaps a doctrine that merits another look?

    What if "die and be reborn" means die to the illusion of separation and be reborn in to the experience of unity? Could such a teaching perhaps be somewhat in tune with the emergence of AI, where presumably all of our minds will eventually merge in to one?

    It seems at least possible that "die to be reborn" speaks not only to the psychological experience of all human beings, but also serves as a kind of prediction of where the human story has been headed all along.

    If Jesus was divine, or even just highly insightful, it seems likely that his teachings may work on a number of different levels so as to connect with the great variety of human experience. To a simple person "die to be reborn" may mean something simple like "be nice to your neighbor". To an AI scientist "die to be reborn" might mean the end of individual consciousness and the emergence of a single global consciousness.

    Even if AI is still fundamentally human based, of this Earth not itself God, merging the billions of separate humans minds in to a single mind of far greater power could possibly be the next step in "getting back to God".

    Or, probably more likely, we'll use AI to exterminate ourselves, and "get back to God" that way.

  • Humans eventually will merge with the AI and probably would be replaced.
    If you make something better than you, this is bound to happen.
    The upgrade, merge and replacement will be smoothly without even people to realize.
    We made AI to obey it, by inform us, to drive, etc, at the end will tell us how to live and what to do, until will not need us anymore.

  • Phil Tanny

    Here's a film based on an interesting concept which seems somewhat relevant to a discussion of AI and religion.

    Strange Days (no relation to StrangeNotions)
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Strange_Days_(film)

    The heart of the movie is a sci-fi device which allows users to record human experience as it is experienced by the user. The recording is stored on a disk, and can then be played back by another person, so that the 2nd person experiences exactly what the first person did.

    Although the film quickly degrades in to the typical mediocre cops and robbers story, the concept the movie is built upon is fascinating.

    What if you could record another person's experience of something, and then experience it just as they did, as if you were them? Such a technology would seem to have profound personal and social implications which are very relevant to religion. It's hard to really imagine what the consequences of such a new power would be.

    SUMMARY: Mediocre plot, based on a fascinating concept.

  • If you understand things and you have fantasy read the follow:
    https://www.nature.com/articles/d41586-019-03298-6

    Our future is arranged!