II.A: The Interior Consequences of Original Sin

In continuation of our latest topic started last week on Free Will and Original Sin, there are two major consequences of original sin – the fall of our first parents:

  1. Interior consequences – decreased awareness of God and concupiscence.
  2. Exterior consequences – increased antipathy between each person and God and between each person and others – as well as loss of the exemption from death.

This particular post will focus on the first of the two: The Interior Consequences of Original Sin.

When our first parents committed the first sin, and a partial separation from God occurred, they lost the self-control that came from their strong sense of God’s presence, sacredness, and goodness. The weakening of their awareness of God led to an increased sensitivity to their sensual desires and passions. These sensual desires combined with egocentric desires, leading to a strong interest in power, material possessions, sexual indulgence, and self-assertion (concupiscence).

This increased interest in sensual and egotistical desires did not eliminate free will – or lead to a complete fall (corruption) of human nature. Human beings remain free to choose between sensual-ego desires and sacred-moral-empathetic desires. Though the beauty, holiness, and lovability of God’s strong presence had diminished (allowing sensual and egotistical desires to grow more prominent to consciousness), God did not completely withdraw His presence from human beings. His numinous and sacred presence were still influential – and His influence through conscience and empathy could still be felt. Indeed these influences still had more prominence than sensual and egotistical desires – though they were significantly weakened. So, one might roughly say, human nature was still at least “51% good – and free will was still oriented at least 51% toward God and the good.”

The outcome of the fall did not pertain to the first parents alone. The consequences of their sin continued to affect their progeny – generation after generation. This had two additional effects:

  1. Our interior life was more subject to influence by the evil spirit – who, after the first sin, was able to deceive and tempt us more easily.
  2. The interior state of human beings became like that of a battleground – where we had to exert effort and concentration – and even fight to resist temptation and stay on the pathway to God and virtue.

Prior to the time of Jesus, the influence of the evil spirit had become so prominent that the vast majority of humanity was pressed into servitude and slavery, and the vision of the goodness of every human being was almost completely eclipsed. There was a callous disregard for the sacredness and goodness of human life, and the mentality of the Roman Coliseum – where people delighted in the shedding of innocent blood – became commonplace. As Jesus put it, “Satan had become the prince of this world.”

Jesus saw his mission as driving out Satan from his place of prominence. He had a plan to do this – to give His life of unconditionally loving self-sacrifice, to give his teaching about his Father and the primacy of love, and to give His Holy Spirit to influence and encourage us interiorly and exteriorly:

Now is the time for judgment on this world; now the prince of this world will be driven out. And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself (Jn. 12: 31-32).

The sacrament of baptism – Christian initiation — would have two incredible effects. First, it would incorporate us into the Church – the very mystical body of Christ – which would not only guide us through its teaching authority and the example of its saints, but would allow the salvific intention and virtue of all of its members to course through the spiritual veins of one another. Secondly, it would give us the Holy Spirit with all of His gifts to inspire, guide and protect us – and to strengthen us interiorly to resist the temptation and deceit of the evil spirit and to help us contend with the effects of original sin.

Our next post will be on II.B: The Exterior Consequences of Sin.

June 19th, 2017|Categories: Free Will and Original Sin|Comments Off on II.A: The Interior Consequences of Original Sin

I: The Fall and Original Sin

In our last post, we read a comprehensive introduction of our new topic, “Free Will and Original Sin”.

The biblical account of original sin in Genesis 3 indicates three important points about free will and the human condition that help us understand ourselves and the need for redemption by Jesus Christ:

  1. The first sin of the original parents of humanity.
  2. The effects of this first sin upon human nature and free will.
  3. The effects of this first sin upon our relationship with God, others, and the world.

Let us now proceed to the fall and the first sin. The story of Adam and Eve is so psychologically deep and theologically insightful, it is difficult to imagine that it could have been written in 500 B.C. without the direct inspiration of the biblical author by God Himself. The context of the story is that God has created human beings in His own image and likeness, and has withheld nothing from them.  As noted above, God created humanity with free will, but made the attraction to Him (and His goodness and sacredness) significantly stronger than the attraction to self. He gave human beings a commandment – presumably through a strong sense of conscience – not to seek for themselves the wisdom and power that belongs to Him alone. At first, the couple seems to effortlessly comply with this commandment, allowing themselves to be subordinated to and dependent on Him.

Genesis 3 begins with the serpent – representing the evil spirit  who appears on the scene and makes several suggestions that both tempt and deceive the couple. The dialogue between the serpent and the couple is worth considering in detail:

Now the serpent was more crafty than any other wild animal that the LORD God had made. He said to the woman, “Did God say, ‘You shall not eat from any tree in the garden’?” The woman said to the serpent, “We may eat of the fruit of the trees in the garden; but God said, ‘You shall not eat of the fruit of the tree that is in the middle of the garden, nor shall you touch it, or you shall die.'” But the serpent said to the woman, “You will not die; for God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate; and she also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate. Then the eyes of both were opened, and they knew that they were naked; and they sewed fig leaves together and made loincloths for themselves. They heard the sound of the LORD God walking in the garden at the time of the evening breeze, and the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the LORD God among the trees of the garden (Gen3: 1-11).

Notice the tactics of the evil spirit. First, he suggests to the couple that God has withheld something from them – something that would be good for them, and to which they are entitled. This is a lie – because God has made them in His very image and likeness with the twelve capacities mentioned above. In addition to this, He has satisfied their desires for everything. The only thing they lack – is that they cannot satisfy their desires by themselves – they are dependent on Him.

The evil spirit is aware that the couple has free will, and is also aware that the couple must be dependent on God, because they cannot become God themselves – for as explained above, there can be only one unrestricted uncaused reality which is absolutely simple – and therefore only one reality that can be perfect truth, love, justice/goodness, beauty and home. The couple does not know this, and so they do not recognize the serpent’s lie. They believe that if they disobey Him, they could get the wisdom and power that God had withheld from them – to which they were entitled.

From a contemporary standpoint, we might say that the first couple would have known through their conscience and sense of the sacred that they were not gods and that self-worship is not only a denial of their creature-hood, but a rejection of the Creator. Everything inside them – from their conscience and their sense of the holy – would have been shouting “danger!” They would have felt a deep sense of alienation, emptiness, and darkness from the mere consideration of this suggestion from the evil spirit; yet the suggestion seemed right – God really was withholding something from them to which they were entitled – to be precisely like Him. The sin of the couple was to grow envious of their Creator – to resent their subordination to Him – and reject the need to depend on Him and give praise to Him – and so they entered – through the suggestion of the evil spirit – into the world of darkness – through a gateway of envy, presumption, anger, and resentment. They refused to give praise to the Sacred One – so that they might have His authority and praiseworthiness for themselves.

Is it conceivable that the first human beings (living perhaps 200 thousand years ago – see below Section III) could have had a special awareness of the beauty, lovability and sacredness of the transcendent – and could have wanted this for themselves – to prioritize themselves above the Sacred One – to be envious of and resent the Sacred One? Could primitive human beings – veritable cave dwellers – have felt something like this? If they had the above 12 capacities – even in a completely undeveloped state – then they could have acted against their conscience and their awareness of the Sacred “Wholly Other.”

Was the evil spirit interested in deceiving a primitive couple 200 thousand years ago? Absolutely, the moment God gave the first human beings a transphysical soul with the above twelve capacities – including free will – the evil spirit was interested in fomenting their envy, anger, presumption, and rebellion. The evil spirit wanted to be their master – and so he convinces them that they can be their own master – and after they cut themselves off from God, he readily accepted his new position. God does not abandon the couple to him, but He does give the couple some of what they want – a partial separation from Him. If He had given them everything they wanted – a full separation from Him – they would have been subjugated to the evil spirit immediately. Nevertheless, when the couple chose to separate themselves from God, they weakened the influence of God upon them – their awareness of His beauty, goodness, and sacredness – and so allowed themselves to come under greater sway from the evil one. Though God’s influence was still stronger than that of the evil one, it was diminished because of the first couple’s choice to separate themselves from Him (and His goodness and love). This had a myriad of consequences.


June 15th, 2017|Categories: Free Will and Original Sin|Comments Off on I: The Fall and Original Sin


Our transphysical soul — and God’s presence to it – allows for twelve capacities that are inaccessible to artificial and animal consciousness. It also gives us the capacity to survive bodily death and experience continued existence in a transphysical domain. We have already discussed eleven of these capacities above, and will discuss the twelfth – free will – in this topic area. A quick review may prove helpful:

  1. The capacity for self-consciousness – inwardness – allowing us to experience and apprehend ourselves, and to create a private inner world.
  2. The capacity for conceptual ideas allowing us to have abstract thoughts, syntactical control, and conceptual language.
  3. The desire for perfect truth – enabling us to recognize all imperfections in our knowledge – causing us to ask questions indefinitely until we reach perfect truth (the knowledge of everything about everything – complete intelligibility).
  4. The recognition of the spiritual-sacred-numinous-transcendent reality (God), causing fascination, worship, awe, and obedience – which draws us to enter into a deeper relationship with Him — bringing us to His transcendent, eternal, and sacred essence.
  5. The desire for perfect home – enabling us to recognize the imperfections of our worldly existence – causing us to pursue the sacred and Its source until we have reached our perfect home.
  6. The capacity for empathy – which recognizes the unique goodness and lovability of the other – creating the desire to care about and care for the other even to the point of self-sacrificial love.
  7. The desire for perfect love – enabling us to recognize all imperfections in love — causing us to pursue deeper and more authentic love until we have reached perfect love.
  8. The capacity for moral reflection, originating from conscience – which is God’s moral presence to our self-consciousness.
  9. The desire for perfect justice/goodness, enabling us to recognize all imperfections in justice/goodness (in groups, organizations, and community) causing us to pursue more perfect forms of justice and the common good until we have reached perfect justice/goodness.
  10. The capacity to appreciate and be filled by the beautiful in nature, music, art, architecture, literature, intellectual ideas, love, and goodness – causing us to seek ever greater forms of beauty until we reach perfect beauty-majesty-splendor itself.
  11. The desire for perfect beauty – enabling us to recognize all imperfections in beauty – causing us to pursue ever greater beauty until we reach perfect beauty itself.
  12. The capacity for free will – self-consciousness’ orientation toward either itself or toward others and God (in goodness and love) – explained below.

When these capacities are understood properly in light of the evidence presented above in the first through fourth topic areas, there can be little doubt about the truth of the proclamation in genesis that God has made us in His own image and likeness (Gen 1:27).

So how does free will operate? It arises out of a combination of several of the capacities of our transphysical soul (and God’s presence to it). At the center of free will is our capacity for self-consciousness enabling us to create our own inner world – indeed to create our own moral essence. When God gave a transphysical soul to the first human beings – and to all subsequent human beings – He not only bestowed on them the capacity for self-awareness and self-definition, He also gave them the other capacities mentioned above. Key among these are empathy, conscience, and the awareness of Him (the spiritual-sacred-numinous-transcendent reality). This gave a fundamental option to human beings – to orient their thoughts and actions toward themselves — toward their inner world (self-centeredness or egocentricity) – or toward Him (in worship and prayer), others (through empathy and care), and the good (through conscience). Both options have a fundamental attraction, but in many respects, they are opposed to one another. One might say that the first human beings felt a call to aggrandize and enrich themselves (to turn inward) – and a call to reverence God, respect and help their fellow human beings, and obey their conscience (to turn and contribute outwardly). The following illustration may prove helpful (insert picture box here).

As will be discussed below, the call to God, others, and virtue was much stronger than the call to serve and aggrandize ourselves. One might say that God gave a substantial advantage to the call to holiness, love, and goodness. How? By manifesting the immense beauty and lovability of His own essence – as well as His goodness and love. It was almost irresistible, but not completely irresistible; for God wanted human beings to choose Him and His way over-against the possibility of choosing ourselves as our primary orientation. Let’s call this “the original state of human beings.” In this state human beings were free to choose God and others as a primary orientation or to choose themselves – but the beauty and lovability of the first option was much stronger than that of the egocentric option.

With this brief introduction, we may now discuss the following three topics:

  1. The fall and original sin (Section I)
  2. What happened to human nature and free will after the fall? (Section II)
  3. The science and the biblical account of original sin. (Section III)

Check back later this week for a continuation of the topic.

June 13th, 2017|Categories: Free Will and Original Sin|Comments Off on Introduction

Human Intelligence vs. Artificial and Animal Intelligence – II. Human Intelligence vs. Animal Intelligence

There has been considerable speculation about higher primates having similar intellectual and linguistic capabilities to humans. Some have conjectured that the difference between humans and higher primates is only a matter of degree, but the essential cognitional activity is the same. If these thinkers are correct, it would mean that higher primates have a tacit awareness of the supreme heuristic notion of being, and are therefore, transcendent in the same way as humans. Is there any way of determining whether this is the case? As a matter of fact, there is.

The critical distinction between perceptual ideas (picture images of individuals) and conceptional ideas (relational ideas which can abstract from individuality and space-time particularity) dovetails felicitously with a behavioral test developed by the well-known philosopher of language, Noam Chomsky. This test can be applied to the socio-linguistic behavior of higher primates. A quick explanation of this reveals that human beings are categorically different from primates, not only in their linguistic capabilities, but also in their capacity to formulate conceptual ideas in language, logic, mathematics, natural science, social science, and philosophy. There is nothing in the socio-linguistic behavior of higher primates – even the best trained ones – that indicates the presence of conceptual ideas, heuristic notions, or a supreme heuristic notion. Primates appear to be limited to the domain of perceptual ideas – and linguistic signs that refer to those perceptual ideas. We shall now consider each of these points in more depth.

With respect to perceptual and conceptual ideas, consider the following. Look at the previous paragraphs in this chapter.  What percentage of the words in those paragraphs have individuated referents—referents that are susceptible to pictorial imaging? I would wager they are less than three percent.  So what are the referents for the other ninety-seven percent of our words? They refer to relationships—relationships among pictorial images, relationships among relationships, and the ways in which things and ideas are related. Perceptual ideas are pictorial images—individuated images coming from direct experience or images derived from direct experience. In contrast, conceptual ideas have relational referents—which are not derived from direct experience, but from relating direct experiences and other conceptual ideas to one another.

Throughout our educational process we learn how to complexify these relationships among things and ideas.  First, we relate perceptual ideas to one another—ideas that have pictorial referents – such as “cat” or “tree” or “man.” Then we relate conceptual ideas to one another (such as “noun,” “verb,” “too,” and “add”). We can move to higher levels of abstraction – relationships among relationships among relationships, etc. This can be done in the domain of grammar, logic, mathematics, the natural sciences, etc.

How do we create these relationships among perceptual and conceptual ideas?  There must be some context through which to organize them – something like a map or a clock or a table of genus and species – which could provide a background or superstructure through which ideas can be related in an organized way.  Each of these superstructures has high-level ideas intrinsic to them which determine the way in which ideas are organized – for example, “here-there-right – left-center” stand behind the question “Where?” “Earlier-later-past-present-future” stand behind the question “When?” “Similarity-difference” stand behind the question “What?” “Causation-possibility-necessity-contingency-actuality” for the question stand behind the question “Why?”

As implied above, the heuristic notions and high level concepts standing behind each kind of question derives its meaning from the supreme heuristic notion of “the complete intelligibility of reality.” Why? Because the supreme heuristic notion of complete intelligibility is what enables us to see the deficiencies and imperfections in our current knowledge, causing us to inquire about the next step beyond it. Recall that this supreme heuristic notion is the “tacit awareness of everything to be known”—and the notional anticipation of achieving it. When we contrast this universal anticipation with our current knowledge—we become aware that there are blanks to be filled in —and we desire and seek to do so. This universal anticipation stands behind every question, and every question stands behind the heuristic notions and high level conceptual ideas used to relate all other ideas and images to one another.

We are now in a position to make a judgment about animal intelligence (specifically the intelligence of higher primates). Do higher primates form conceptual ideas? Do they transform perceptual ideas into conceptual ideas through interrelationships within superstructures organized by heuristic notions? Noam Chomsky gave the first linguistic test to answer these questions, and on the basis of it, held fast to the belief that they do not. Chomsky realized that certain words in a sentence could have direct pictorial referents, but was certain that the syntax of a sentence could not be grasped pictorially. It can only be grasped by understanding relationships among ideas. A simple test of this would be to grasp the meaning of subject and object in the word order of a sentence – for example “dog bites man” versus “man bites dog.”  Even though one could grasp “dog,” “bites,” and “man” through perceptual ideas, one cannot grasp the difference between subject and object in a sentence’s word order without some conceptual (relational) ideas.  Do higher primates grasp the syntactical difference between subject and object as small children do who laugh at the curious thought of a man biting a dog? Contemporary research indicates that they do not.

There is considerable evidence that vertebrates generate perceptual ideas, manifesting perceptual intelligence. For example, animals can relate perceptual images, such as a rabbit and a tree, to one another spatially (as well as to themselves). Notice that what the animal perceives is an individual object or image – it is a picture in the animal’s consciousness. So does the animal go beyond relating perceptual ideas in space and time? Do they implicitly understand the most rudimentary implications of grammar communicated by word order?  If they do not, then we can be sure that they do not grasp elementary conceptual (relational) ideas – and that they are restricted to the domain of perceptual ones.

Is perceptual intelligence sufficient for elementary language? Researchers have shown that it is. For example, primates have the ability to associate signs (such as those from American Sign Language) with their perceptual (picture) thoughts. However, these associations appear to have no other purpose than to name or identify specific things (such as Joe the trainer, or a banana, or a perceptual action like running or biting) to satisfy biological opportunities (such as obtaining food or shelter) or to communicate biological dangers (such as the approach of a predator). For example, a chimpanzee can be taught to use sign language to communicate a need for food or even a warning about danger, but cannot be trained to use language to say something about something (which would require syntactical control – the intelligible use of predicates and objects).

One of the more controlled experiments in this regard was carried out by Allen and Beatrix Gardner in 1967 (Project Washoe) in which a female chimpanzee named Washoe was raised in a very familial human environment with affection and other human bonding qualities.  According to the Gardners, Washoe was able to learn 350 words of American Sign Language (which exceeds the capacity of virtually every other chimpanzee subjected to this kind of training – operative behavioral conditioning). The Gardners seemed to have achieved other successes – Washoe seemed to be able to adapt some of the learned signs for other uses, and also taught other chimpanzees some of the signs she had learned.

The Gardner’s results were challenged by Herbert Terrace who indicated that the Gardners did not have a rigorous methodology to assess Washoe’s use of language beyond codes or naming associated with biological opportunities and dangers. Furthermore, there was no real attempt to carry out Chomsky’s syntactical control test in a rigorous way.

Terrace decided to conduct a more controlled test of the Gardner’s claims at Columbia University in 1974, because he believed that many of their claims were based on misinformation from the chimp. So Terrace designed experiments that would test specifically for syntactical control and understanding within a chimp’s use of sign language.  Terrace used a famous chimpanzee named Nim Chimpsky (playing off the name of Noam Chomsky) in a much more controlled behavioral environment, which yielded more modest results than the Gardners. Though Nim was able to master 125 signs (significantly less than the Gardners’ claims about Washoe), and could be trained to use those signs precisely as his trainer indicated, there was no evidence that Nim had any syntactical awareness, understanding, or control over the use of his signs. Terrace, et al, summarized their results as follows:

…[U]nless alternative explanations of an ape’s combinations of signs are eliminated, in particular the habit of partially imitating teachers’ recent utterances, there is no reason to regard an ape’s multisign utterance as a sentence. … For the moment, our detailed investigation suggests that an ape’s language learning is severely restricted. Apes can learn many isolated symbols (as can dogs, horses, and other nonhuman species), but they show no unequivocal evidence of mastering the conversational, semantic, or syntactic organization of language.

Though the Gardners claimed that Nim could have learned more signs had he been brought up in a more familial environment, no subsequent experiment with higher primate language has been able to pass Chomsky’s syntactical test. And so it seems that Chomsky’s claims about exclusively human syntactical control over language remains unrefuted.

Inasmuch as syntactical understanding and control is foundational for all higher uses of language (such as using subjects, predicates, and objects to say something about something, as well as to formulate mathematical, scientific, or other theoretical expressions), it seems that human beings are the only species of animals having the creative use of language (to create and understand expressions that they have not been trained specifically to use or understand). This further implies that human beings are the only species capable of higher order conceptual ideas and language (going beyond perceptual ideas and language).

Several other philosophers have developed tests to assess intelligence in animals (particularly higher primates and dolphins). The most famous of these were formulated by Donald Davidson in the 1980s and 90s – the intentionality test,  the argument from holism,  and what might be termed the “belief test.”  Though these arguments are contested – including Davidson’s final and main argument (the belief test) – his analysis of the link between thought and language is quite instructive, and can be used to provide a deeper insight into the differences between human and animal intelligence (beyond Chomsky’s syntactical test).

There are other approaches to the absence of conceptual intelligence in animals, the most important of which are forwarded by Paul Moser,  Jonathan Bennett,  John Searle,  and José Bermúdez.  These confirm and extend the findings of Chomsky, Terrace, and Davidson, implying a categorical difference between human and animal intelligence. In view of this, humans seem to be the only species capable of generating conceptual ideas and therefore of having pre-experiential awareness of heuristic notions and structures.  This implies that humans are the only transcendental species tacitly aware of a horizon of complete and unrestricted intelligibility. As such, they are the only species capable of genuine creativity of new ideas, of surpassing the “Gödel limit to machine intelligence,” and communication through complex syntax and semantics.

June 8th, 2017|Categories: Human vs Artificial & Animal Intelligence|Comments Off on Human Intelligence vs. Artificial and Animal Intelligence – II. Human Intelligence vs. Animal Intelligence

Human Intelligence vs. Artificial and Animal Intelligence – I. Human Intelligence vs. Artificial Intelligence

There are four major differences between human and artificial intelligence and it is highly unlikely that we will be able to bridge this gap on any of the four levels into the indefinite future.  What are they?

  1. The five transcendental desires manifesting our awareness of perfect truth, love, justice/goodness, beauty and hope.
  2. The formulation of conceptual ideas (abstract interrelational ideas that can be used as predicates and objects).
  3. Self-consciousness, experiencing of experiencing, presence to self, and the experience of inwardness (David Chalmers’ hard problem of consciousness).
  4. Transalgorithmic mathematical thinking (manifest by Gödel’s theorem).
  5. Each will be discussed in turn.

We have already discussed one obvious difference between human and artificial intelligence—the presence of the five transcendental desires manifesting our awareness of perfect truth, love, justice/goodness, beauty and home. As we showed, the source of these five kinds of transcendental awareness must be God (perfect truth, perfect love, perfect justice/goodness, perfect beauty and perfect being themselves). For a proof of this, see above—Second Topic as well as Chapter I –Third Topic. Since we do not have the capacity to give artificial intelligence these five kinds of transcendental awareness and desire (because only God can do this) we can assume that computers will never be enlightened in this way.

There’s a second difference between human and artificial intelligence—the capacity to formulate conceptual ideas. In Section II below (Human Intelligence versus Animal Intelligence), we will discuss the need for heuristic notions in formulating conceptual ideas (abstract ideas which are interrelational and can be used as predicates and objects).  We will there show that animals do not have conceptual ideas (because they cannot pass Chomsky’s syntax test), showing that they do not have the heuristic notions needed to ask questions and formulate these conceptual ideas.  It is unlikely that artificial intelligence will ever have the capacity to formulate conceptual ideas, because we will not be able to give heuristic notions to them. Why? If Bernard Lonergan is correct in asserting that the origin of all heuristic notions is what he calls “the notion of being” (the notion of complete intelligibility), and the origin of that notion must be “being through itself” or “complete intelligibility itself,” then God alone (who is the only reality that exists through itself and is an unrestricted act of thinking) can cause this notion. Since this notion is the origin of all other heuristic notions, then only God can be their ultimate source. For an explanation of this see Section II. below on this topic.

There is a third difference between artificial  and human intelligence—self-consciousness.  The recent work of David Chalmers, called “the hard problem of consciousness” brings this to the fore. He notices that there are various dimensions to the inwardness of subjective experience that cannot be replicated and therefore cannot be produced by physical processes alone. Phenomena such as delight, appreciation, enjoyment, awe, and wonder, manifest not only an experience of the outward world, but an experience of inwardness—an experience of experiencing.

Chalmers works backwards from what he calls “the easy problems of consciousness” (i.e. any phenomenon that can be explained by an aggregation of physical processes) to the “hard problem of consciousness” (i.e. any phenomenon – such as the above experiences of delight, appreciation and awe which are not able to be explained by an aggregation of physical processes).

The problem with describing inner experiences by means of physical processes is that physical processes have no “inner sense” – that is, no “presence to self” – “no awareness of self.” Physical realities have no “inwardness” – no “interior depth” – but only “outwardness” which can interact or be aggregated with other physical (“outward”) realities.

Thomas Nagel looks at it the other way around – from the vantage point of physical processes. He notes that physical processes are “objective” – they can be shared in a consistent way with anyone who has the means to observe them, but subjective “experiences” – “inner appreciation and enjoyment” – cannot be shared with anyone. They are un-shareable because the “inwardness” of subjective experience cannot be objectified – “made outward.”

If Chalmers and Nagel are correct then self-consciousness, “experiencing of experiencing,” “experiencing of inwardness,” and the experience of owning feelings and states of appreciation, delight, awe, etc. will not be replicatable by artificial intelligence—which by definition can be reduced to physical and outward processes.

There is a fourth significant difference between artificial and human intelligence manifest in Gödel’s theorem. The famous German mathematician Kurt Gödel first formulated the proof of the non-rule based, non-algorithmic, transcendent nature of human intelligence in 1931.  It was revised on several occasions by John R. Lucas  and by the eminent physicist Roger Penrose.  In brief, Gödel showed that there will always be unprovable propositions within any set of axiomatic statements in arithmetic. Human beings are able not only to show that consistent, unprovable statements exist, but also to prove that they are consistent by making recourse to axioms beyond those used to generate these statements. This reveals that human thinking is not based on a set of prescribed axioms, rules, or programs, and is, by nature, beyond any program. Stephen Barr, summing up the Lucas version of Gödel’s argument, notes:

First, imagine that someone shows me a computer program, P, that has built into it the ability to do simple arithmetic and logic. And imagine that I know this program to be consistent in its operations, and that I know all the rules by which it operates. Then, as proven by Gödel, I can find a statement in arithmetic that the program P cannot prove (or disprove) but which I, following Gödel’s reasoning, can show to be a true statement of arithmetic. Call this statement G(P). This means that I have done something that that computer program cannot do. I can show that G(P) is a true statement, whereas the program P cannot do so using the rules built into it.  Now, so far, this is no big deal. A programmer could easily add a few things to the program – more axioms or more rules of inference – so that in its modified form it can prove G(P). (The easiest thing to do would be simply to add G(P) itself to the program as a new axiom.)  Let us call the new and improved program P΄. Now P΄ is able to prove the statement G(P), just as I can. At this point, however, we are dealing with a new and different program, P΄, and not the old P. Consequently, assuming I know that P΄ is still a consistent program, I can find a Gödel proposition for it. That is, I can find a statement, which we may call G(P΄), that the program P΄ can neither prove nor disprove, but which I can show to be a true statement of arithmetic. So, I am again ahead of the game. …This race could be continued forever.

Since human beings can indefinitely prove propositions which are not provable through the axioms from which they were derived, it would seem that human intelligence is indefinitely beyond any axiomatic or program-induced intellection.

Gödel’s proof shows that human thinking is not only always beyond axioms, rules, and programs (to which artificial intelligence is limited), but also capable of genuinely originative creativity (that is, capable of thinking without deriving from or making recourse to any prior axioms, rules, or programs).

How is this possible? We must have some kind of  tacit awareness of mathematical intelligibility as a whole– a sense of how all the parts relate to each other as a whole.  With this remarkable general sense of mathematical intelligibility we can develop mathematics beyond the total implications of all past algorithms—we can be genuinely creative. This is precisely what has occurred throughout the history of mathematics—from the time of Euclid, Pythagoras and Archimedes to the present.

Where did our general notion of mathematical intelligibility come from?  It does not come from the world of concrete space-time particularity (because the general notion of mathematical intelligibility is beyond all space-time particularity). Similarly, it does not come from physical processes in our brain (because these processes, too are restricted to space-time particularity).  It seems that we have only one option left— it must be an integral part of our innate transcendental horizon of complete intelligibility which allows us to have a tacit awareness of perfect truth (see above–Second Topic—Perfect Truth).  Recall that this transcendental horizon of complete intelligibility presents us with a tacit awareness of everything about everything—and the general ways in which everything can be related to everything.  It is the source of all heuristic notions—what Lonergan calls the “notion of being.” He describes it as follows:

[T]he notion of being penetrates all cognitional contents. It is the supreme heuristic notion. Prior to every content, it is the notion of the to-be-known through that content. As each content emerges, the ‘to-be-known through that content’ passes without residue into the ‘known through that content.’ Some blank in universal anticipation is filled in, not merely to end that element of anticipation, but also to make the filler a part of the anticipated. Hence, prior to all answers, the notion of being is the notion of the totality to be known through all answers.

All forms of artificial intelligence are based on prescribed rules, algorithms, axioms, and programs.  If Lonergan’s implicit solution to Gödel’s Theorem is correct, then no artificial (machine) intelligence will ever be able to replicate human questioning and creativity – let alone our quest for complete and unrestricted intelligibility. Artificial intelligence has no consciousness of a horizon of greater intelligibility – let alone a horizon of complete and unrestricted intelligibility, and human beings will not be able to create such a horizon for it because any such horizon is beyond the domain of individuation and space-time particularity which means it is beyond the domain of macroscopic and quantum physics. Furthermore, human beings will never be capable of creating a horizon of complete and unrestricted intelligibility because such a horizon can only be created by “complete and unrestricted intelligibility Itself” (and unrestricted act of thinking—God).  We will never be able to create artificial replicas of our own free and creative inquiry because we are mere restricted beneficiaries of a capacity given to us by a truly unrestricted intelligence.

June 5th, 2017|Categories: Human vs Artificial & Animal Intelligence|Comments Off on Human Intelligence vs. Artificial and Animal Intelligence – I. Human Intelligence vs. Artificial Intelligence

God’s Presence to Our Consciousness IV: Conclusion – An Initial Conclusion about “the Soul”

In this post, we now we bring our third topic of “God’s Presence to Our Consciousness” to a close.

We have seen three ways in which the transcendent reality touches us:

  1. The numinous experience – in which the numen presents itself as mysterious, daunting, uncontrollable, fascinating, good, and empathetic, and invites us into itself by inciting our interest and desire.
  2. The religious intuition — in which we sense that the sacred transcendent reality has broken into the world, which invites us to draw closer to the sacred reality through sacred place, ritual, and myth.
  3. Conscience – through which an omniscient, invisible, searcher of hearts bids us to do good and avoid evil.

These three dimensions of contact with transcendent reality invite us and bring us into the sacred and spiritual domain.

These three connections with the Sacred-Transcendent Reality are not static; they are interrelational and dialogical. Otto’s numinous experience includes a dimension of empathy and invitation within the feeling-contents of fascination, desire, goodness, care, and comfort. Eliade’s religious intuition includes a dimension of sanctification by the Transcendent Reality within the desire for the sacred, and Newman’s conscience includes an experience of an omniscient invisible searcher of hearts within the feelings of guilt, hope or fear, misgiving of the future, being hurt, tender sorrow, sunny self-satisfaction, and lightness of heart. When the Transcendent Reality makes itself present to us, it manifests concern and care for us, calls us into a deeper relationship with itself, and offers us guidance and sanctification in our life’s journey. Those who open themselves to the “transcendent presence within” will find not only the mysterious and sacred “wholly Other,” but also a personal, empathetic, and loving being passionately interested in bringing us to the fullness of life through itself.

June 1st, 2017|Categories: Our Immortal Soul and Weakened Nature|Comments Off on God’s Presence to Our Consciousness IV: Conclusion – An Initial Conclusion about “the Soul”

God’s Presence to Our Consciousness III.B: Newman and the Divine Origin of Conscience – Part 2

We may now summarize Newman’s thought on this matter. First, he claims that he does not believe in conscience any more than he believes in his consciousness; he is directly aware of them, for consciousness is intrinsic to his awareness of everything – including his own existence, and conscience is intrinsic to his consciousness, presenting him with an awareness of interpersonal relationship and authority. He then describes in five steps how conscience is an immediate awareness or experience of a personal God:

  1. He observes that conscience commands him, and that this command includes praise, blame, promise, a future, and the unseen (and is in immediate relationship with his consciousness when it does so).
  2. He then observes that intrinsic to this “praise, blame, promise, etc.” is a concomitant awareness of an external source (“Its very existence throws us out of ourselves and beyond ourselves, to go and seek for Him in the height and depth, whose voice it is”).
  3. He then shows that these feelings are not reducible to other kinds of feelings within human consciousness (such as aesthetic feelings): “[The feeling of beauty or ugliness] is attended by no sanction; no hope or fear, no misgiving of the future, no feeling of being hurt, no tender sorrow, no sunny self-satisfaction, no lightness of heart.”
  4. He then shows that there is a personal dimension intrinsic to these special qualities of the feelings of conscience: “[T]he feeling is one analogous or similar to that which we feel in human matters towards a person whom we have offended; there is a tenderness almost tearful on going wrong, and a grateful cheerfulness when we go right which is just what we feel in pleasing or displeasing a father.”
  5. He then reveals that this personal dimension is not completely similar to those experienced with human beings, but has a divine dimension which is implicit in its supreme authority (“an authoritative voice, bidding him do certain things and avoid others…The man himself has no power over it, or only with extreme difficulty; he did not make it, he cannot destroy it”). When this supreme authority is considered within the context of “the voice of a father,” it manifests divine attributes (“So that contemplating and revolving on this feeling the mind will reasonably conclude that it is an unseen father who is the object of the feeling. And this father has necessarily the notion of God.  He is invisible – He is the searcher of hearts – He is omniscient…”).

The more we recognize, listen to, and follow the urgings of conscience, the more clear and evident both the dictates of conscience and its personal, external, divine source become.

Newman has not formulated an inferential argument here; rather, he has rationally unfolded the fivefold dimension of his immediate experience of God in his conscience. He reveals, as it were, a dimension within a dimension within a dimension within the feelings and experience of conscience. What are these dimensions? A divine dimension (invisible, searcher of hearts, omniscient…) within a personal dimension (a tenderness almost tearful on going wrong, and a grateful cheerfulness when we go right) within special qualities (sanction, hope, fear, misgiving of the future, feelings of being hurt, tender sorrow) within the feelings and experience of conscience (praise, blame, promise, etc.). This total experience of conscience (“the divine dimension within the personal dimension within the special qualities within the feelings and experience of conscience”) is intrinsic to his consciousness, and therefore, he is immediately aware of it.

Thus, Newman is not making an inferential argument; he is unfolding his own immediate experience of God through his conscience. Newman assures us that the more we listen to and follow our conscience, the more deeply and clearly we will experience the God who both guides and invites us to His life of transcendent and perfect goodness. Once again, we find God present to human consciousness – not only in the numinous experience and our religious intuition of the Sacred, but also in the omniscient, invisible, searcher of hearts who bids us to do good and avoid evil.

This ends the III installment of God’s Presence to Our Consciousness — to read the beginning of part IV on the same topic, check back on Thursday!

May 29th, 2017|Categories: Our Immortal Soul and Weakened Nature|Comments Off on God’s Presence to Our Consciousness III.B: Newman and the Divine Origin of Conscience – Part 2

God’s Presence to Our Consciousness III.B: Newman and the Divine Origin of Conscience – Part 1

John Henry Newman brought this line of thought to a new level about eighty years later. Though he borrows the general structure of “existential inference” from Kant, he shifts the emphasis from an “obligation-imposing Subject outside ourselves” to an “interpersonal, caring, fatherly authority who is the source of goodness and law.” Unlike Kant, who moves from the good to God through two existential inferences, Newman uses five inferences (detailed below) – careful to distinguish his sense of conscience from other natural phenomena.

Unfortunately, Newman did not leave us with a formal rendition of his existential inference to God, but he did leave an unpublished manuscript with a set of organized passages from his sermons and additional notes. Adrian J. Boekraad and Henry Tristram have published an edition of this unfinished work entitled Proof of Theism.  Since Newman presents his points quite systematically, I will here present only the main movements of the argument with a brief interpretation of his texts. His general argument proceeds as follows.  He begins with an overview of his main contention:

Ward thinks I hold that moral obligation is, because there is a God. But I hold just the reverse, viz. there is a God, because there is a moral obligation. I have a certain feeling on my mind, which I call conscience.  When I analyse this, I feel it involves the idea of a Father and a Judge, — of one who sees my heart, etc.

Newman then proceeds to an assessment of the unity of his consciousness and his existence, which shows that his consciousness is as undeniable as his existence (since one cannot be aware of the latter without being aware of the former). He further shows that he has an immediate awareness of his consciousness, and therefore he does not have to deduce it or believe in it.  Belief occurs when one is not certain, but Newman is as aware of his consciousness as he is of his existence. He intends to show later that if conscience is intrinsic to his consciousness, then he can be just as immediately aware of his conscience as he is of his consciousness and existence.  He then proceeds to a definition of conscience:

Man has within his breast a certain commanding dictate, not a mere sentiment, not a mere opinion, or impression, or view of things, but a law, an authoritative voice, bidding him do certain things and avoid others.  I do not say that its particular injunctions are always clear, or that they are always consistent with each other; but what I am insisting on here is this, that it commands, that it praises, it blames, it promises, it threatens, it implies a future, and it witnesses the unseen. It is more than a man’s own self. The man himself has no power over it, or only with extreme difficulty; he did not make it, he cannot destroy it.

For Newman, conscience “commands” (just as for Kant, the categorical imperative imposes duty). He is not so much concerned with whether the specific dictates of the command are always consistent from person to person or from culture to culture, but is impressed by the seeming universality of what is ingredient to conscience’s dictates, namely, “command, praise, blame, promise, a future, and the unseen.” These characteristics intrinsic to conscience’s dictates imply something more than a mere standard or authority. They seem to have an origin outside the self; an origin which is not a matter of human learning (controlled by an inquiring subject), but rather one which is uncontrolled by the self. The more we recognize, listen to, and obey this uncontrollable authority, the clearer it and its dictates become:

Conscience implies a relation between the soul and something exterior, and moreover, superior to itself; a relation to an excellence which it does not possess, and to a tribunal over which it has no power. And since the more closely this inward monitor is respected and followed, the clearer, the more exalted, and the more varied its dictates become, and the standard of excellence is ever outstripping, while it guides, our obedience. A moral conviction is thus at length obtained of the unapproachable nature as well as the supreme authority of that, whatever it is, which is the object of the mind’s contemplation.

It seems that the dictates of conscience and the presence of its authority are somewhat dim in the unpracticed moral agent; but as one listens to and follows these dictates, the dictates themselves and the presence of their source become clearer and clearer to the point of being virtually undeniable. The presence of this authority is so strong that Newman is impelled to make his first inference:

This is Conscience, and, from the nature of the case, its very existence carries on our minds to a Being exterior to ourselves; or else, whence did it come? And to a being superior to ourselves; else whence its strange, troublesome peremptoriness?…Its very existence throws us out of ourselves and beyond ourselves, to go and seek for Him in the height and depth, whose voice it is.

Newman is relating a dimension of his experience of conscience, namely, a presence which not only invites us out of ourselves, but draws us and even throws us out of ourselves. It is a presence which calls us to itself – sets us seeking “for Him in the height and depth, whose voice it is.” If we respond to this invitation; if we follow the call of the “voice,” then its personal presence will become apparent. In an 1855 novel entitled Callista, Newman uses the voice of his protagonist to make this point:

[God] says to me, Do this, don’t do that. You may tell me that this dictate is a mere law of my nature, as is to joy or to grieve. I cannot understand this. No, it is the echo of a person speaking to me. Nothing shall persuade me that it does not ultimately proceed from a person external to us. It carries with it its proof of its divine origin. My nature feels towards it as towards a person. When I obey it, I feel a satisfaction; when I disobey a soreness, — just like that which I feel in pleasing or offending some revered friend…The echo implies a voice; a voice a speaker. That speaker I love and I fear.

In order to clarify and validate this experience, Newman contrasts the experience of conscience to the experience of what he calls “taste” (aesthetic experience), and shows that aesthetic experiences do not call me out of myself in an interpersonal way as does the experience of conscience. If conscience were only intrapersonal (private), it would resemble aesthetic experience, but it is so much more:

Now I can best explain what I mean by this peculiarity of feeling [intrinsic to conscience], by contrasting it with the rules of taste. As we have a notion of wrong and right, so we have of beautiful and ugly; but the latter set of notions is attended by no sanction.  No hope or fear, no misgiving of the future, no feeling of being hurt, no tender sorrow, no sunny self-satisfaction, no lightness of heart attends on the acting with beauty or deformity. It is these feelings, which carry the mind out of itself and beyond itself, which imply a tribunal in future, and reward and punishment which are so special.

He then focuses on these special feelings to distill the interpersonal nature of them, revealing that these feelings could not be experienced were it not through a relationship with another person – a person like a father:

[T]he feeling is one analogous or similar to that which we feel in human matters towards a person whom we have offended; there is a tenderness almost tearful on going wrong, and a grateful cheerfulness when we go right which is just what we feel in pleasing or displeasing a father or revered superior. So that contemplating and revolving on this feeling the mind will reasonably conclude that it is an unseen father who is the object of the feeling. And this father has necessarily some of those special attributes which belong to the notion of God. He is invisible – He is the searcher of hearts – He is omniscient as far as man is concerned – He is (to our notions) omnipotent….

This concludes “God’s Presence to Our Consciousness III.B: Newman and the Divine Origin of Conscience – Part 1″; check back next week to read Part 2.

May 25th, 2017|Categories: Our Immortal Soul and Weakened Nature|Comments Off on God’s Presence to Our Consciousness III.B: Newman and the Divine Origin of Conscience – Part 1

God’s Presence to Our Consciousness III.A: Kant and the Divine Origin of Conscience

The thinkers from our last post presume the existence of God, and attempt to show that the good we know in our conscience comes from God. In the 18th Century, Immanuel Kant looked at the reverse contention. Instead of assuming the existence of God and inferring his presence in our conscience, Kant begins with the moral obligation imposed by conscience and moves to the existence of God. He believed that the way in which the good was known through human consciousness entailed its divine origin:

Through the idea of the supreme good as object and final end of the pure practical reason the moral law leads to religion, that is, to the recognition of all duties as divine commands, not as sanctions, that is, as arbitrary commands of an alien will which are contingent in themselves, but as essential laws of every free will in itself, which, however, must be looked on as commands of the supreme Being, because it is only from a morally perfect (holy and good) and at the same time all-powerful will, and consequently only through harmony with this will, that we can hope to attain the highest good, which the moral law makes it our duty to take as the object of our endeavour.

The essence of Kant’s thought here may be summarized in two statements in his Opus Postumum: “In the moral-practical reason lies the categorical imperative to regard all human duties as divine commands;”  which causes him to view God as follows: “the concept of God is the concept of an obligation-imposing subject outside myself.”  Kant moves from an intrinsic awareness of an absolute moral duty (categorical imperative) to an awareness of a morally perfect will which is the source of that absolute duty, and then to an awareness of the Supreme Being who is an “obligation-imposing subject outside [himself].” Notice that this transition of awareness is not a formal set of inferences, but rather an unfolding of the meaning of the absolute duty which is central to Kant’s consciousness.

For Kant, the good (within our consciousness) is embedded within an absolute duty to do that good, which in its turn, is embedded within a divine source of that absolute duty. He cannot conceive of the good without the duty to do it (for what makes the good recognizable is the duty or imperative to do it), and he cannot conceive of an absolute duty to do the good without an absolute obligation-imposing Subject outside himself. Goods cannot be recognized without the duty to do them, and the absolute duty to do them cannot be recognized without an absolute obligation-imposing Subject outside ourselves.

This line of thought may seem unsatisfying to a skeptic, but Kant is not trying to prove anything to a skeptic. He is trying to shed light on the implications of the good within our consciousness. For anyone who cares to probe the distinctive quality of the good within himself, God is an inescapable reality. Anyone who probes the qualities of that good will sense the presence of the “obligation-imposing Subject” within it. If we allow the good to reveal itself within us, we will not only know of its divine origin, we will know that the Divine is present to us – at once outside of us and embedded in the absolute duty of the good within us. This presence of the Divine within us makes us transcendental.

Notice that Kant has not constructed a formal proof of God here, but rather has given an existential inference to God. He makes no use of deduction or logic, but rather is interested in the existential (concretely experienced) content of his interior recognition of the good. The recognition of the good leads to the absolute duty that makes the good to be recognizable as good, and the absolute duty leads to the Supreme Subject who imposes that absolute duty.

May 22nd, 2017|Categories: Our Immortal Soul and Weakened Nature|Comments Off on God’s Presence to Our Consciousness III.A: Kant and the Divine Origin of Conscience

God’s Presence to Our Consciousness III: Kant and Newman on the Divine Origin of Conscience

The transcendent reality has frequently been identified as the source of the good – the good in itself and the good in human consciousness. Otto’s research indicates that the numinous is perceived to be good while Eliade’s research indicates that hierophanies concern not only the breakthrough of the sacred into the world, but also the revelation of paradigmatic models for human behavior. The identification of the transcendent reality with the good is not only a part of religious intuition, but also philosophical reflection since the time of the ancient Greeks.

Plato believed that the highest reality was the good itself,  and that the good itself was present to human beings, and that we could know it through questioning and dialectic. St. Paul brought these considerations to a whole new level by showing that all human beings could know the good (as well as evil) through their consciences. In the Letter to the Romans, he reflects on the Gentile’s ability to know God’s law without having the benefit of Judeo-Christian revelation:

Indeed, when Gentiles, who do not have the law, do by nature things required by the law, they are a law for themselves, even though they do not have the law. They show that the requirements of the law are written on their hearts, their consciences [συνειδησις] also bearing witness, and their thoughts sometimes accusing them and at other times even defending them (Rom 2:14-15).

For St. Paul, “the law” is God’s law, and he asserts that God writes this law on the hearts of all people so distinctly that it accuses and defends them.

St. Thomas Aquinas concurred with St. Paul, and formulated a general explanation of conscience which has become a cornerstone of philosophy up to the present time.  Conscience has two components:

1. What Aquinas called “synderesis” (an attraction to and love of the good and a fear of and repulsion toward evil), and

2. Awareness of certain general precepts of the good.

With respect to synderesis, our attraction to and love of the good leads to feelings of nobility and fulfillment when we do good (or contemplate doing it). Conversely, our fear of and repulsion toward evil leads to feelings of guilt and alienation when we do evil (or contemplate doing it).

Conscience not only has the above emotional and personal component, it also has an intellectual one. We have a sense of what is good or evil (in a general way). These precepts might include do good, avoid evil, do not kill an innocent person, do not unnecessarily injure another, steal from another, or otherwise unnecessarily harm another; give a person their just desserts, and be truthful to yourself and others.

Aquinas associated these precepts of conscience with the natural law, holding that the natural law is part of God’s eternal law:

Now among all others, the rational creature is subject to Divine providence in the most excellent way, in so far as it partakes of a share of providence, by being provident both for itself and for others. Wherefore it has a share of the Eternal Reason, whereby it has a natural inclination to its proper act and end: and this participation of the eternal law in the rational creature is called the natural law.

In our next blog post, we will post “III.A: Kant and the Divine Origin of Conscience”; be sure to check back for another interesting and informative read!

May 18th, 2017|Categories: Our Immortal Soul and Weakened Nature|Comments Off on God’s Presence to Our Consciousness III: Kant and Newman on the Divine Origin of Conscience