Tuesday, January 01, 2013

Terminology Tuesday: Transcendence

Transcendence: That which is higher than or surpasses other things. What is transcendent is thus relative to what is transcended. God is conceived by traditional theologians as being transcendent with respect to the created universe, meaning that he is outside the universe and that no part of the universe is identical to him or part of him. To think of God as transcendent with respect to time is to conceive of him as timeless. Immanuel Kant believed that God was transcendent in the sense of being beyond the possibility of any human experience. Theologians have usually balanced an emphasis on God's transcendence with and emphasis on God's immanence within the created world as embodied in his knowledge of and action within the world.1

1. C.Stephen Evans, Pocket Dictionary of Apologetics & Philosophy of Religion (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2002), p. 117.

24 comments :

guitarstrummr said...

How can God be outside the universe if there is no ability to be "outside" of anything without the existence of spacial dimensions?

And if God does not conform to any sort of spatial dimensions, how can He be three in one? Without separation of space, there does not seem to be any possibility for numbers.

I suppose one could argue that God just "is" in His transcendence to space, without any definable characteristics: but that doesn't seem to be what the New Testament authors were implying from my reading.

Brian said...

How can God be outside the universe if there is no ability to be "outside" of anything without the existence of spacial dimensions?

For instance, the number 3 is a abstract object. It does not exist spatially, but we see that it somehow transcends spatial dimensions (because it would still exist if there were no physical realm). Yet we also see that it is part of the natural world - in a sense, it is both transcendent and immanent.

I am not saying that God is like a number. I am only saying that he is non-corporeal. But that does not limit his being "in" the world.

And if God does not conform to any sort of spatial dimensions, how can He be three in one? Without separation of space, there does not seem to be any possibility for numbers.

Perhaps thinking of God as spirit, or mind, would be helpful. Numbers, ideas, information, minds, and the like are non-physical, yet real. Spatial dimensions are not required their existence - in the somewhat similar way that I can have a thought without communicating it on paper.

I suppose one could argue that God just "is" in His transcendence to space, without any definable characteristics: but that doesn't seem to be what the New Testament authors were implying from my reading.

What do you think the NT authors were implying?

Have you looked into any books on this subject? I know Craig and Moreland's Philosophical Foundations for a Christian World View deals with some of these somewhat puzzling classic philosophical questions.

Joshua Jung said...

It does not exist spatially, but we see that it somehow transcends spatial dimensions

This honestly does not make any sense to me. I am incapable of imagining the number 3, in any sense, without dimensions.

Perhaps thinking of God as spirit, or mind, would be helpful.

That doesn't help me at all either, because when I think of a spirit, I think of a disembodied spirit of some sort 'floating' (for lack of a better word) internal to space.

Spatial dimensions are not required their existence

Can you please demonstrate this in some way? It's a nice assertion...

- in the somewhat similar way that I can have a thought without communicating it on paper.

But you need space and time to have a thought.

What do you think the NT authors were implying?

They seemed to imply characteristics of God - pre-existent to the universe - that were described by properties internal to the universe.

Have you looked into any books on this subject?

Sure, I was studying apologetics in Bible School. I confess my book-knowledge may be low, but my conceptual knowledge is rather high.

Thanks for your answers. Sorry, but they didn't help.

Brian said...

Sorry they didn't help you.

But then again, whole books have been written that explore these complex subjects and treat them full. Not something you're going to figure out in blog comments.

Joshua Jung said...

I don't understand why these complex subjects were not treated in full internal to the inspired Word of God, unless the Word of God is insufficient.

Maybe the simplest answer is the correct one.

Brian said...

And what sort of treatment of the philosophical definition of transcendence would you expect if it were the inspired Word of God, Joshua?

Joshua Jung said...

And what sort of treatment of the philosophical definition of transcendence would you expect if it were the inspired Word of God, Joshua?

One that can be understood by the spirit apart from the physical mind.

Joshua Jung said...

Perhaps I have not made myself very clear.

The naturalistic perspective would propose the following hypothesis:

"All supernatural concepts have their original in the natural world."

So, I guess I'm just wondering why every explanation I see of God fits that hypothesis.

Every transcendent explanation I have ever seen is simply taking natural concepts and tweaking them in some fashion ("immortality", "disembodied mind", "eternality", etc.)

However, if we have a spirit, I would expect to find some things which cannot be explained using natural language. If those things exist, I cannot comprehend why the Bible is necessary at all.

Furthermore, if only the spiritual man can understand the things of the Spirit, and I - being an atheist - am dead in my spirit, then there is absolutely nothing you can do using apologetics to get me to understand. So why bother at all?

You're very attempt to explain spiritual concepts using natural terms seems contradictory to what you are attempting to prove.

Your claim is that there is overlap between spiritual and physical concepts. Well, of course there is. But if the natural realm is nothing more than a subset of the spiritual realm, why does the natural realm exist at all? It seems rather pointless.

But if the spiritual realm 'preceded' the natural realm, I would hope to find some spiritual terms that could not be comprehended in the natural realm.

Ugh. An actually existing spiritual realm just doesn't make any sense.

However... this all fits the naturalistic assumption superbly. Once again, naturalism would propose that all supernatural believers of all stripes will end up explaining their supernatural concepts using only natural language. This is what you are doing. It also predicts than anything else would be nonsense.

So, if you can explain a spiritual concept without assuming the pre-existence of the 'natural' realm, my hat is off to you.

If you cannot, apologetics seems, quite frankly, pointless.

After all, all of your words are useless in quickening my dead spirit to the truth, right? To be blunt, why waste your breath logically defending your beliefs if the entire purpose of apologetics itself is logically impossible?

You could argue that by defending your faith, you are deepening the guilt of those who are rejecting Christ and therefore heading to hell. You, in a sense, solidify their rejectiong of Christ.

But if I don't have a spirit to understand in the first place - because it is dead to these things - then how, quite frankly, can anything you say increase my guilt? I mean, it is like you are yelling at a brick wall to convince a brick wall it is a brick wall and that it needs to be rebuilt in order to become a new brick wall but that you cannot do it so you are waiting for the Brick Wall Builder to come and turn it into a new brick wall, but the brick wall is at fault because it is not opening itself to the truth that it is a brick wall and needs to be rebuilt.

You look really silly to me.

I suppose that is okay, though, because Paul said that the natural man cannot understand the things of the spirit.

However... that would generally mean that using natural reason is just, well, pointless.

Ugh, Don't you see the fix I'm in with all this? Don't you see the fix you are in in all of this?

Brian said...

Perhaps I have not made myself very clear.

Not the clearest. This last comment didn't improve the situation. :-)

So, I guess I'm just wondering why every explanation I see of God fits that hypothesis.

Maybe you are assuming your conclusion before you start.

You're very attempt to explain spiritual concepts using natural terms seems contradictory to what you are attempting to prove.

Joshua, I really wonder why you are going off on this tangent. Concepts about transcendence are perfectly at home in philosophy of religion, and have been for a long time. These are not new, strange, and incoherent concepts.

You look really silly to me.

Thank you.

Ugh, Don't you see the fix I'm in with all this? Don't you see the fix you are in in all of this?

No, I don't see myself in a fix. I think there are good reasons to accept Christ. He bridged the gap between a transcendent God and natural man.

But I do see that you are in a fix: You say you used to be a Christian - then, for some reason, you rejected Christianity. Now you run a blog to make that fact very public and vocal. You don't seem to be here for answers; I think you are just throwing dust in the air.

However, if you admit that nothing can be said that will persuade you, that does make my job easier.

Joshua Jung said...

Maybe you are assuming your conclusion before you start.

Says the pot to the kettle.

Joshua, I really wonder why you are going off on this tangent.

Because I can't see how you cannot understand my point. It's so simple.

Concepts about transcendence are perfectly at home in philosophy of religion, and have been for a long time.

A concept "at home" in anything does not mean it is correct or contains any level of truth.

These are not new, strange, and incoherent concepts.

But don't you see? They *are* incoherent. That's my point. And saying something is "not new" does not reveal in the slightest that it has any truth to it.

You don't seem to be here for answers; I think you are just throwing dust in the air.

Well, I still wonder if I missed something. All worldviews have openness to doubt, at least I am willing to admit mine.

However, if you admit that nothing can be said that will persuade you, that does make my job easier.

I do not admit that at all. In fact, I have given a very clear way you can persuade me.

How could I persuade you?

Please do not throw judgments upon me for which you are guilty yourself.

Joshua Jung said...

"Not the clearest. This last comment didn't improve the situation. :-)"

Haha, okay. What did you not understand?

Joshua Jung said...

P.S. Btw, "So, if you can explain a spiritual concept without assuming the pre-existence of the 'natural' realm, my hat is off to you."

BTW, that's how you can convince me :)

Joshua Jung said...

Wait a minute... haha...

You don't seem to be here for answer

I get what is going on.

winteryknight said...

Great work, Brian. You're very good at this, and with a great attitude.

Ranger said...

Joshua,
Without separation of space, there does not seem to be any possibility for numbers.

Let's try to unpack this statement together, okay? Since discussing theological issues pertaining to metaphysics can bring all sorts of baggage to the table, so let's talk about something like numbers that don't bring (as much) baggage.

First, and foremost, does the concept or idea of "three" require a mind to access it? I don't see how this could be true. For instance, let's say you are the first person capable of assessing abstract ideals such as numbers. When the idea of "three" first comes to your mind, did you create the concept or did you discover it? Right now, let's imagine that there are three pencils on my desk. If some radically terrible event happened and every human was wiped out, would there still be "three" pencils on my desk? Unless you are a true materialist, the answer to the question must be yes. The idea or concept of "three" exists without anyone to think about it.

This is even more obvious when talking about an abstract such as the laws of logic. Obviously, the laws of logic are not material or physical. They neither require space nor time since both space and time presuppose, for instance, the law of identity. The universe requires the laws of logic to function regardless of whether or not a human ever discovers these laws at work. There are all types of abstracts that fit this mold of being outside of the material, but being "about" the material.

So when we talk about an abstract such as a number, we are talking about something that describes physical objects, but exists outside of the physical objects themselves. For instance, three pencils, three elephants and three doors are all sets of three, and thus have this concept in common, even though there is nothing physically, chemically, biologically, etc. in common between the three sets outside of the idea of "threeness."

Therefore, abstract ideas speak about the physical without actually having a material form themselves. As such, theological discussions will often require basic metaphysical knowledge since they deal with things that "transcend" the material.

Ranger said...

Joshua,
I probably won't have time to respond to this thread, but I want to mention that I perused through your "writings" and blog and find it both obvious that you have struggled and are attempting to find satisfying answers.

Seeking answers is a worthwhile pursuit, but in some topics your writings show only a cursory (or even second hand) knowledge of the topics you are discussing. Real answers about complex subjects do not come easy, and writing them off without understanding them clearly does not help further discussions (unfortunately you clearly come from a fundamentalist background and probably understand this method of response well, and for that I'm very sorry!). I was saddened by the number of times you would call something "silly" or say "there are so many problems," and then neither present the argument accurately or even deal with it.

For instance, your discussion of presuppositional apologetics shows little knowledge of what presuppositionalists are claiming or a coherent argument against those claims. I see no evidence of your having dealt with Van Til, Bahnsen, Oliphint, etc. Even if you have read them, there is no clear evidence that you have understood them. Their writings can defend what they are attempting to say, but I find it unfair to write someone off without attempting to understand their argument and respond accordingly in a coherent manner.

Obviously, you are in a much different place now compared to two years ago. It's obvious that you have struggled and are still struggling coming to terms with the worldview that you've chosen to follow. That's not surprising, but if you truly hold to what you claim to believe, then discussing things logically and rationally with an open mind, without resorting to insults will only help present your argument.

Thus, at sites like this one, debates are carried out between atheists/Christians/Muslims, etc. in a manner where we attempt to understand each other and then present our best arguments without resorting to ad hominem. I think the atheists that frequent this site would agree...let's treat each other with respect and attempt to think outside of our paradigm (if that's possible) to truly understand each other.

Joshua Jung said...

I do realize that my comments are being blocked without a warning, as it has been assessed I am just "stirring things up", but it is my hope that a few individuals still read them before discarding them.

It is my assessment that I have made it clear through my blog and personal life that I am indeed seeking truth and not simply trying to resist it out of some unmentioned bitterness against, say, a previous Christian's behavior toward me. I am aware that truth is independent of a person's personal life.

However, I am also smart enough to know that if a Holy Spirit actually exists internal to an individual, there should be some noticeable difference in that individual compared to those who do not possess said Holy Spirit. As such, it seems to me that the most effective method of apologetics would be the life of the individual, not anything related to their intelligence or ability to present an argument.

For ability to present an argument, I believe, would fall under the category the Apostle Paul described as "wisdom of men". After all Paul himself used his inability to communicate as an example of the Holy Spirit's work within him! Paul's entire point, if I am not mistaken, was that the truth of the gospel was beyond the wisdom of men, which is why the wise of this world rarely understand it.

In other words, the truth of the gospel "transcends" the access of the tools of wise men of this world (including logic). Why? For God's wisdom is foolishness to men. If that statement is actually true, I cannot see how a blog like this fits - in any way - Paul's conception of the gospel.

Brian said...

I do realize that my comments are being blocked without a warning,

Josh, exactly one "comment" of yours was not published - and that was on a different post, previous to this discussion. It was nothing but an external link to another site. If the site admin sees fit, he may block those sorts of links at his discretion.

I'll let our readers judge for themselves if your objections against presenting reasonable arguments in favor of Christianity carry any weight. They can also judge for themselves if they think your comments are being "censored."

Joshua Jung said...

Josh, exactly one "comment" of yours was not published - and that was on a different post, previous to this discussion.

Oh, my apologies. I remembered posting another comment to this thread in response to Ranger. At least, I remember writing out one and clicking post... perhaps it had an error I did not see and was rejected. That would be my mistake :)

I am curious, though, Brian... what your thoughts are about what I have said. When I first started entering apologetics, that was the argument used by some of my peers - including my Christian father - to try and insinuate that my study of anything philosophical was somehow unbiblical.

Now it seems somewhat ironic to me. After all, a religious leader who wants to keep his flock from thinking simply has to employ the tactic that the Apostle Paul did and say "God's ways are higher than ours and will not make sense given man's tools of thought" and voila! A perfect solution to keep the flock believing that which you present, regardless of any flaws encountered. For, as soon as someone begins noticing flaws in "God's ways", the speaker can simply trump it with the ultimate religious Ace: contradictions should be expected, since God's wisdom is higher than ours.

This is one quite simple - if I do say so myself - argument that lead me away from the faith. Sure, it is only inductive, and not deductive, but if it works for most of the world's religions, why can it not work for all?

"My religion is transcendent, therefore all unsolvable problems encountered are simply due to its transcendence. However, all solvable problems encountered are evidence that it is true. Therefore all data is explained by my religion!"

Beautiful, is it not? I could start a religion very simply with this knowledge.

I am sure that this argument against the Christian faith is not new, however. Perhaps I could be enlightened as to its source?

Joshua Jung said...

They can also judge for themselves if they think your comments are being "censored."

How the original-manuscripts would they know whether the comments are being censored or not? All they see is the evidence... evidence, which, if the accusation is true, is censored.

Similar to the Bible, no?

Joshua Jung said...

Regardless of the truthfulness of my current beliefs, I feel like I should win some sort of award for the wittiness of my last comment. Perhaps some humor is needed at this point. I'll back off.

The universe's (God's?) irony being that the "word verification" for this comment post is "hater", which would verify the accusation of Paul that I am secretly hating the truth of God and suppressing it in my unrighteousness.

I do hope that someone cracks a smile :)

Joshua Jung said...

It was nothing but an external link to another site.

If I remember correctly, it was not *only* a link. But in order to produce the evidence, you have to show the original manuscript. Until then, everyone just has to take the blog owner's word for it.

Thankfully, we now have the wisdom to keep original manuscripts around in backup databases, to avoid such accusations. The author(s) of the Bible, however, did not have such wisdom.

Alright, I'll stop. But I am having quite a bit of fun I confess.

Now, the blog owner's dilemma! Do I begin censoring the comments and therefore fulfill the accusation, or allow them to keep coming and suffer satirical ridicule?

The same dilemma, I might add, faced by modern Bible scholars.

Joshua Jung said...

I hope you realize the massive, sly smile spread across my face and the underlying congenial intentions of my heart.

Brian, don't feel like you have to match me beat for beat: I'm not persecuting you, though it may seem that way. Just trying to demonstrate that my knowledge of the subject matter is extensive enough to be able to turn a phrase, keep it in context of the post (transcendence), slyly use the present circumstances of the conversation to make slight red herring points that you cannot ever possibly defend in a single comment, and push some humor into the conversation - all at the same time.

If you want me to be serious, I can, although I must confess the temptation to continue the witty arguments against the faith is never lost on me. I have been accused of being a devilish good writer and quite capable of debate. That doesn't mean I'm right, of course.

To which, you will, of course, reply "that's obvious."

If you want to convince me you have the Holy Spirit, demonstrate a level of wisdom in your next comment to sufficiently shut me up. At which point you should quote Solomon. I'll give you the reference of the verse, if you wish. If you do quote it, you will have won my heart.

However, if you say nothing, I have a verse to quote as well... also by Solomon. Thankfully, it's purpose fits my witty banter to a 'T'.

Sigh, I'm having so much fun I must be sinning.

emmzee said...

The comments on this post are a few years old now, but since it was recently reposted, I figure ... better late than never? :)

Joshua Jung: "Your claim is that there is overlap between spiritual and physical concepts. Well, of course there is. But if the natural realm is nothing more than a subset of the spiritual realm, why does the natural realm exist at all? It seems rather pointless."

Overlap between the two realms does not mean that the natural realm is a "subset" of the spiritual realm.

"But if the spiritual realm 'preceded' the natural realm, I would hope to find some spiritual terms that could not be comprehended in the natural realm."

Why would this be the case? Why would the fact (is it a fact?) that the spiritual realm "preceded" (ontologically, not temporally, mind you) the natural realm mean that there would be some spiritual terms that could not be comprehended in the natural realm? (I think there may be other reasons to make that case, but this seems to me to me a non-sequitur.)

If what you want is an explanation that does not use natural language, you'll be left wanting. All language used when its object is God is necessarily analogical, ex when we say that God is merciful, we mean something like the natural meaning of mercy but not quite like it. That does not make it inaccurate, it only makes it not entirely sufficient. We don't understand everything about the natural world either, but we can still talk intelligibly about it.

You seem more concerned with being snidely witty than seriously tackling the issues. I would wager that you're a fan of Christopher Hitchens? He was a great rhetorician, but not a great philosopher.

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