bookmark_borderSeptuagint Isaiah 53:4 and Matthew 8:17 (reflecting with Mako Nagasawa)

One of the topics I explore in my penal substitution essay is the question of Isaiah 53 influencing the New Testament writers. One topic I didn’t include in the Isaiah 53 section of the essay is Matthew and Isaiah 53:4 of the Septuagint (The Greek translation of the Hebrew scriptures the NT writers used)

Matthew, though appearing first in the bible, was written after Mark and incorporates a great deal of Mark into itself. It shows itself to be a Judaizing of the gentile gospel of Mark, so it is notoriously difficult to trace material back from Matthew’s narrative to the historical Jesus. It seems to incorporate early material, the hypothetical Q source, which is the material common to Matthew and Luke that didn’t come from Mark.

In my penal substitution essay, I try to show that Conservative Christians are wrong to think the NT writers used Isaiah 53 to suggest penal substitution, the idea Christ suffered/died in our place to pay our sin debt. Today I am going to look at Mako Nagasawa’s arguments why Matthew 8:17, which cites Septuagint Isaiah 53:4, does not align with penal substitution.

Nagasawa points out it is in his sinful nature that Jesus identifies with the rest of humanity. Consider how this relates to the question of the circumcised heart I talked about in my last Secular Frontier post:

  • But on the deepest level, Jesus suffered humanity’s internal condition which made the exile from Eden necessary in the first place.  That is, he shared in the corruption of sin within human nature, the common human condition since the fall.  Jesus really did struggle against the flesh, especially in the wilderness (Mt.4:1 – 11) and at Gethsemane (Mt.26:36 – 75).  Those two episodes bracket his public life and ministry... This parallel means that Jesus, throughout his life, and even at the Sermon on the Mount, was receiving the Father’s writing of His law on the tablet of his human heart, so that Jesus might be able to share his own heart by his Spirit with others.  He was condemning sin in his own sinful flesh (Rom.8:3), to put to death the old self (Rom.6:6), and produce the heart circumcised by the Spirit (Rom.2:28 – 29), making him out to be the true Israelite, the one restored from exile (Dt.30:6).  Paul understood this act to embody Israel’s true vocation under the law (Rom.7:14 – 8:4).  If Jesus embodied Israel in himself, he therefore embodied that very vocation:  to return his human nature back to God circumcised of heart.  This involved for Jesus an intense suffering which we can only existentially understand through the hardest moments of our own temptations and choices to faithfully grow in obedience with him, by his Spirit.  The author of Hebrews notes, ‘In the days of His flesh, He offered up both prayers and supplications with loud crying and tears to the One able to save Him from death, and He was heard because of His piety.  Although He was a Son, He learned obedience from the things which He suffered.’ (Heb.5:7 – 8)

Matthew quotes Isaiah 53:4 to parallel Jesus’ life with early Israel. Then regarding the heart and Jeremiah’s prophesy I talked about in my last Secular Frontier blog post, Nagasawa comments that:

  • Following the Sermon on the Mount, which are commandments directed towards the human heart in fulfillment of Jeremiah’s new covenant prophecy (Jer.31:31 – 34), Jesus gives ‘ten commandments’ in Matthew 8:1 – 9:38 by his word… Matthew is clearly grouping these miracles together to present a sustained reflection on the Sermon on the Mount.  The two sections in Matthew, 5:1 – 7:28 and 8:1 – 9:38, are mutually interpreting.  That is, the heart commandments and the verbal-healing commands are literary reflections on each other.

How is Jesus to be understood in connection to early Israel? In non-penal-substitution fashion, Nagasawa comments that:

  • Matthew begins his Gospel by speaking of Jesus saving ‘his people from their sins’ (Mt.1:21).  Not their punishment, which is already unfolding through the exile, but their sins.  Matthew is saying that Jesus shares in the diseased human nature of all humanity.  He shows this through Jesus’ baptism, in that Jesus confesses sin through his baptism:  not sins of action or thought that he had actually committed, but the sinfulness of his flesh (Mt.3:13 – 17).  His wilderness temptation and trial reflects his struggle against the sinfulness in his flesh (Mt.4:1 – 11), otherwise, there would be no temptation or struggle at all.  But whereas at Mount Sinai, God had discourse with Moses alone, when Jesus speaks from the top of a mountain, giving the Sermon on the Mount, he is opening up face to face contact with Israel, represented by his disciples.  And this is further portrayed as Matthew as a ‘ten commandments’ delivering people from diseases and demons… [In Matthew] Jesus, by stretching out his hand, is liberating people from disease, demons, and death.  These acts are outward pictures of Jesus liberating people from the even deeper problem of human sin, evil, and separation from God.  Jesus is restoring humanity to what God meant us to be.  The three lessons on discipleship woven into the ten miracles suggest that Jesus’ call for disciples to follow him should be understood as his way of healing us.

As I said in my previous post, this all has to do with circumcising the heart and the twofold play of disclosing the law written on our hearts and Jesus reshaping our hearts. Nagasaw concludes:

  • In effect, Matthew’s parallel extends to even before the Exodus and the Ten Commandments.  That is because the Ten Commandments and the ten plagues from Exodus were already referring to the ten declarations in the Genesis creation narrative (Gen.1:3, 6, 9, 11, 14, 20, 22, 24, 26, 28).  God was making Israel into his new humanity, who lived in a garden land like the original humanity.  Ten utterances from God bring forth new life; they inaugurate a covenant; they set free and liberate; they order and declare.  They demonstrate God’s power to do all these things.  Thus, when we listen to Jesus’ teaching on our hearts, we must receive his word with the understanding that his word contains his power to change us.  Jesus brings forth new life in us; he liberates us from our own sinfulness; his word orders and declares a new spiritual reality in human nature.  This is possible because Jesus himself is touching corrupted human nature in his own person.  His healing of the leper, the paralytic, etc. are external pictures of a singular, deeper, internal reality at work within the person of Jesus… It is puzzling for penal substitution advocates to claim that Isaiah 53 supports them, because Matthew himself does not understand Isaiah 53 that way when he explicitly quotes it.  He does not quote it in a legal-penal context, but in a healing-ontological context, and in a literary unit that asks us to situate Isaiah 53 itself in the framework of ontological substitution (the heart of Christus Victor), not penal substitution.


Atonement in Scripture: Isaiah 53, Part 2, Mako Nagasawa – blog post,

bookmark_borderI Get Interviewed On Freethinker Podcast About Mythicism, Atonement, and Gnosticism

Here is an abridged transcript of the interview:

Q1 – Why do you think that Luke goes against the standard model of the atonement (or penal substitutionary model)?

I tend to think Luke is actually the most conspicuous case of what is generally going on in Mark and Paul.  Ehrman writes:

It is easy to see Luke’s own distinctive view by considering what he has to say in the book of Acts, where the apostles give a number of speeches in order to convert others to the faith. What is striking is that in none of these instances (look, e.g., in chapters 3, 4, 13), do the apostles indicate that Jesus’ death brings atonement for sins. It is not that Jesus’ death is unimportant. It’s extremely important for Luke. But not as an atonement. Instead, Jesus death is what makes people realize their guilt before God (since he died even though he was innocent). Once people recognize their guilt, they turn to God in repentance, and then he forgives their sins. (Ehrman, 2017)

I think this is ultimately what we also see with Paul and Mark.  Just as Luke has the transformation with the soldier saying of the crucified Jesus “This was an innocent man,” Mark has the soldier say “truly, this was God’s son,” which according to my reading is the soldier giving Jesus respect for voluntarily being wrongly horribly tortured and executed to show us our inner corrupt nature and inspire repentance – the enraged crowd, corrupt religious elite, and indifferent to justice Pilate in all of us who killed God’s specially chosen son who God sent to restore the Davidic throne (though God’s real plan was the death and resurrection). 

Penal substitution makes no sense as an interpretation of the cross: how does it serve justice to punish an innocent child in Africa for the crimes of a felon in Chicago?  If something is obviously senseless to us, we should be wary about believing the original Christians ascribed to it.  This is also part of the reason I disagree with the mythicism of Price, Carrier, etc, because if Christ was crucified in outer space by demons and was never on earth, the central point of the transformative nature of the cross evaporates.  How does such a death inspire my self-realization and repentance?

Q2 –  Do you think that the real Jesus would have approved of The Council of Jerusalem’s decision to take circumcision’s off the ‘to do list’ in order to become a Christian (even Paul had to think about what the Judaisers were saying and later meet with the Apostles ?

Q3-  Do you think the Gnostic movement began in the 1st Century?

I’ll answer these together.  Paul felt he had a gospel that was appropriated from the Jerusalem bunch (Corinthian Creed), but also was uniquely his.  Paul writes:

25 Now to God who is able to strengthen you according to “my gospel” and the proclamation of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery that was kept secret for long ages 26 but is now disclosed and through the prophetic writings is made known to all the gentiles, according to the command of the eternal God, to bring about the obedience of faith— 27 to the only wise God, through Jesus Christ, to whom be the glory forever! Amen (Romans 16:25)

The “my gospel” of Paul seems to be that the Christ’s death awakened the law written on our hearts on our hearts, Jews and Gentiles (see Romans 2:14-15):

When gentiles, who do not possess the law, by nature do what the law requires, these, though not having the law, are a law to themselves. 15 They show that what the law requires is written on their hearts, as their own conscience also bears witness

To understand this, we need to go back to Jeremiah.  Jeremiah’s prophecy is to the Jews in exile.  This was a prophecy to the Jews, but Paul expanded it with the law written on the hearts of the gentiles:

31 The days are surely coming, says the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah. 32 It will not be like the covenant that I made with their ancestors when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt—a covenant that they broke, though I was their husband, says the Lord. 33 But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the Lord: I will put my law within them, and I will “write it on their hearts,” and I will be their God, and they shall be my people.  34 No longer shall they teach one another or say to each other, “Know the Lord,” for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, says the Lord, for I will forgive their iniquity and remember their sin no more.  (Jeremiah 31:33-34)

Notice how the last line isn’t about people being made to pay for their sins, but rather God forgiving.  So, Paul took this idea but expanded it saying it was not just a prophecy for the Jews, but a covenant with all people, so there was no need for the difficult transition for gentiles to become circumcised Jews to become Christians.  The death of Christ awoke the law written on our hearts because we wrongfully killed him, and so inspired repentance – what Paul called a circumcision of the heart.   This fits in nicely with the argument that Mark was using Paul (the idea of the transformation of the soldier in Mark and Luke / for Carrier on Marks use of Paul see 

For the other question, Gnosticism is the idea that besides other ways, salvation most properly comes through gnosis or secret knowledge.  This is what Paul taught, that what was at issue was a mystery hidden since the beginning of the world (1 Cor. 4:1, Rom. 16:25,26).  The mystery is that God wrote the law on the hearts of Jews and gentiles, and this was a true test of your heart because the crucifixion of God’s specially chosen one Jesus activated this inner divine spark, and so your response to Christ determined whether you had been crucified with Christ in that your heart was circumcised.  This notion of special knowledge is also conspicuous in Mark who has Jesus say even the disciples didn’t completely have it:

11 And he said to them, “To you has been given the secret of the kingdom of God, but for those outside everything comes in parables, 12 in order that

‘they may indeed look but not perceive,

    and may indeed hear but not understand;

so that they may not turn again and be forgiven.’ ”

13 And he said to them, “Do you not understand this parable? Then how will you understand all the parables? (Mark 4:11-12)

I think this is good evidence that the salvation through the cross and resurrection was not even on Jesus’ radar during his lifetime, as the disciples wouldn’t have gotten violent at the arrest of Jesus if the crucifixion/resurrection was ever part of the plan.  McGrath makes the point that the writers wouldn’t have invented the idea of the disciples being violent at the arrest.  You see the writers inserting ideas about Jesus predicting his death and resurrection, which is fun apologetics but hardly historical.

I don’t think the historical Jesus would have thought of himself as anything other than a failed messianic claimant.  The disciples wouldn’t have gotten violent at Jesus’ arrest if the plan was for Jesus to die.  The cross/resurrection theology was invented after Jesus died, and I think Jeremiah 31:33-34 I mentioned before is probably a pretty good window into what James, Peter, and the Jerusalem bunch were advocating, and where Paul appropriated from them, yet diverged.  Jesus fulfilled the Law by teaching it’s essence as love of God and neighbor, and redefined love to emphasize love of enemies and those who persecute you (Matt 5:43-48).  This reversed the Greek notion of love with Achilles and the love/eros of endlessly seeking honor and glory.  Love does not pursue so as to temporarily satisfy, but rather bestows value, so that even those some might find undesirable are loved: the ground of care for widow, orphan, stranger, and enemy.  This is a law written on the heart, a transformed heart.

Of course, the idea of awakening the divine spark within through Christ’s death certainly resonates with  Gnosticism.  Great Gnostic scholar Elaine Pagels  says:

Abandon the search for God and the creation and other matters of a similar sort. Look for him by taking yourself as the starting point. Learn who it is within you who makes everything his own and says, “My God, my mind, my thought, my soul, my body.” Learn the sources of sorrow:, joy, love, hate . . . If you carefully investigate these matters you will find him in yourself

Ecclesiastes 3:11 declares that God has “set eternity in the hearts of men.” In Luke 17:21, Jesus proclaims, depending on how you translate it, that “The kingdom of God is within you,” and “all flesh will see the salvation of God.”

Regarding the death of Socrates and thanking Asclepius for the poison because of the transformative effect Socrates’ death would have on society (we no longer execute people for being a nuisance/gadfly), this phenomenon had led some (e.g., St. Ambrose) to conclude that Plato had actually heard the prophet Jeremiah when in Egypt:  Conversely, Gmirkin argues for a late date for Jeremiah and that the Platonic/Socratic flavor of Jeremiah as the Deuteronomistic literary stereotype of the persecuted prophet in Jeremiah draws on Greek antecedents, notably the portrait of Socrates in Plato’s writings.

There is sometimes a dispute over what it means for Jesus to be a sacrifice.  If we look at the Leviticus 16 background for the sacrifice imagery in the Letter to the Hebrews, we see there are two animals involved.  The blood of the sacrificed animal doesn’t provide vicarious atonement, but rather sanctifies and allows God to dwell amongst a sinful people.  On the other hand, the sins of the people are put on the other animal, the scapegoat, and it is released into the wilderness.  Obviously, Jesus is the sacrificed animal, not the scapegoat.  The idea with the law in people’s hearts is Christ’s sacrifice provides the occasion to awaken the law written on your heart and inspire repentance.  Recall the passage from Jeremiah about the new covenant law being written on people’s hearts.  *** God is powerless to forgive unless the people repent.  Otherwise, it’s like a wife who is forever forgiving and giving second, third, etc chances to a cheating spouse who won’t stop cheating.

Similarly, James McGrath points out the gospel of John is interesting because when John says Jesus takes away the sin of the world, he doesn’t call him a scapegoat, but a lamb, specifically a Passover lamb.  There doesn’t seem to be a connection between atonement for someone’s sins and the Passover sacrifice, but if we see it as a collective with sin enslaving the Jews in Egypt Christ’s death points to transformation from being in bondage/enslaved by sin.  It has nothing to do with Christ dying in our place to pay God our sin debt – as though we had ever done anything (the vast majority of us) that warrants capital punishment!

For further analysis, see my two peer reviewed essays

The Justified Lie by the Johannine Jesus in its Greco-Roman-Jewish Context:


A Critique of the Penal Substitution Interpretation of the Cross of Christ:

bookmark_borderBlog Post 2 on “The Myth of an Afterlife”

Some Thoughts On Keith Augustine’s Introduction to “The Myth of an Afterlife”

Today I wanted to think a little about the difference between the kinds of lenses theological hypotheses provide in comparison with secular lenses in science and even literature.  In his introduction to the book, Augustine points out that regarding the secular framework for viewing death:

“Because we are built from the same flesh and blood and DNA that forms nonhuman animals, and share their evolutionary origins, their mortality implies our mortality.”

– Martin, Michael; Augustine, Keith. The Myth of an Afterlife . Rowman & Littlefield Publishers. Kindle Edition. 

Theistic explanations of reality are indifferent to the reality they are trying to color.  In response to horrific animal and human suffering, the theist responds “God promises justice in the next life, not this one.”  This means through the theist lens the world looks exactly as it would if there was no omnipotent, omnibenevolent God.  Similarly, in response to empirical scientific experiments that show the ineffectiveness of prayer, the theist responds “God always answers prayer, just sometimes the answer is no.”  Again, the theistic explanatory framework sees a world that would look exactly the same way if there was no God.  And with “miraculous healing,” while it may be unlikely that you would undergo a medically highly unlikely recovery of health, given a planet of billions it is to be expected some would unusually recover health: for the same reason that while it is ridiculously unlikely you would win the lottery, it is not unlikely at all that someone will win – and someone usually does.  Similarly, Carrier responds to the theist fine tuning argument of the cosmos that actually the universe is optimally configured to generate black holes and be hostile to life, which is exactly what you would predict if there was no God.  

Far from being a rigorous scientific level colored lens for viewing reality, the theistic colored lens certainly is not, and is not even at the level of a literary colored lens.  If I told a student who has never encountered Shakespeare that Romeo and Juliet is a tragic love story, they can use that lens to generally predict what they will find in the text and actively confirm by reading.  Making and confirming predictions is a good meaning making strategy.  The religious lens makes predictions only because it is so broad and vague that it is unfalsifiable.  

And really, as Heidegger points out, the issue of mind is not so much the question of consciousness as the question of awareness, because one can be unconscious and yet very aware and absorbed in an unfolding dream.  The key seems to be that conscious and unconscious awareness is grounded in the way the mind creates the experience of the stretching out of time as a foundation for allowing experience, since by contrast under general anesthetic the patient goes to sleep and wakes up an hour later in what feels like an instant.  When we chemically interrupt the mind creating time as a scaffold for experience we really experience the nothingness that will be death, specifically when even the nothing is not experienced. 

bookmark_border(Part 4) The Cosmological Argument; or, Blogging Through “Out of Time: A Philosophical Study of Timelessness (2022)”

I have the book now, and so will start formally blogging through it. I hope you’ll join me. It should be fun. In today’s short post, I would just like to share a brief passage from the book where the authors address what they will be arguing:

  • We show that there are, in fact, situations in which people will judge that time does not exist when presented with certain discoveries about the world. This begins to drive a wedge between time and agency… According to the general theory of relativity, spacetime is a basic constituent of reality. However, we argue that recent developments in physics present a serious challenge to the existence of spacetime in at least some sense. Next we argue that causation and the folk notion of time come apart. This sets the scene for our return to agency. Because the folk notion of time and causation come apart, it is possible to have agency in the absence of time in the folk sense. We can use causation in the absence of time as a new foundation for agency. In this way, we show that agency provides no reason to suppose that time, in the folk sense, must exist.” (Baron, Samuel; Miller, Kristie; Tallant, Jonathan. Out of Time (p. 8). OUP Oxford. Kindle Edition.)

So, we are going to be interrogating the concept of time in terms of agency, science, and causality as we progress through this book.

bookmark_border(Part 3) The Cosmological Argument; or, Blogging Through “Out of Time: A Philosophical Study of Timelessness (2022)”

“Out Of Time” is scheduled to be released May 14th, so while we wait I wanted to do one more background post that may be helpful as we try to think of fundamental cause and effect relationships without time. Kant is perhaps helpful here because he makes a distinction between a kind of temporal causality which pertains to the natural world, and a kind of causality of freedom that pertains to human beings. What did Kant mean? Causality is that which “makes possible,” so Kant draws a distinction (which is what philosopher’s do) between temporal causality that makes scientific causal judgments and experiences possible, and timeless causality of freedom that makes moral judgments and experiences possible.

For Kant, the temporal causality we experience in nature is going to be positive, comparative, or superlative in degrees of temporal irreversibility. So, positively, a ball hitting another ball is irreversible in the sense that the thrown ball hitting the other once causes the second ball to move forward – eg, shoot a pool ball onto another pool ball. The impact doesn’t cause the shot/thrown ball to be impacted and move backward to the same degree: there is positive irreversibility here. In a comparatively greater case of irreversibility we can see boiling water which results not in a physical change of place like with the balls, but a change of form from liquid to gas. By the third kind of temporal irreversibility, I mean that while taking away the heat results in the heated water reverting to liquid form, if I cook an egg the irreversibility is complete in the sense that I can’t uncook the egg afterward. These three different experiences of temporal irreversibility make scientific causal judgments and experiences possible. Kant had difficulty figuring out how to express this because from his starting point it’s unclear what time is. His solution is that time is not given in sense, but is the subjective form imposed on experience, since obviously, as Hume showed, experience simply gives this, then this, then this, not the three kinds of “temporal irreversibility.” Kant’s problem is that if time is the form of intuition unrelated to the individual-ness of any particular object, why would we experience irreversibility differently in the case of the bouncing balls and the cooking of the eg? Obviously, beings are contributing “something” to the temporal irreversibility. Aristotle is better than Kant here in the sense that Aristotle says time is everywhere, and in the soul, and without the counter there is no time. For instance, I may experience the stretching out of time of the boring book, but the next person need not experience the temporality of the book in this way. But really, if we look at time in this way we still confuse the issue of and underemphasized temporality as, in Heidegger’s language, the original unity of self-and world that makes being-in-the-world possible. Hence, Heidegger would say we should go even earlier than the technical Aristotle on time and see it more naturally, such as what we see in Aristophanes. Toohey describes the Greeks initially didn’t have a word for boredom (by which I am emphasizing the stretching out of time) that maps onto ours, and so expressed it outwardly. Aristophanes in the Archarnians has one character say of the stretching out of time of boredom that “I grown, I yawn, I stretch, I fart, I don’t know what to do. I write, I pull at my hair, I figure things out as I look to the country, longing for peace. (30-32).” He does not name that he is inwardly bored, but we would say describes the symptoms. Similarly, Euripides’ Medea describes men becoming fed up or bored, had enough of their families, and then acting unfairly (244-46), but again, boredom as an inner emotion is not experienced.

The kind of non-temporal causality Kant looks act is human freedom. By this he means the will unconsciously legislates a categorical rule that humans follow as a function of being human that I morally accompany all of my actions, which makes moral judgments and experiences possible, which is rational in the sense that we can contrast it with certain mentally challenged individuals and pets (etc) who, with the intellect of a 2 year old, are not responsible for their actions in the same way as “average” humans. Schelling extended this by saying Evil is our distinctive human freedom in that only humans can sink below beasts in terms of depravity (could your beagle ever be a Hitler?). So this is a non temporal causality of freedom, meaning not a “freedom-from (eg, freedom from an abusive husband),” but a “freedom for” that the Will unconsciously self-legislates a rule that makes moral judgments and experiences possibly.

So, Kant makes a fundamental distinction between causality and time because not all cause-effect relationships are temporal. Thought another way, Freud basically argued the causal nature of the unconscious was like natural physical causality: eg, going through a war caused an individual’s PTSD. Nietzsche anticipated this error and would say: “We can suppose triplets growing up in the same abusive household, with the result one grows up horribly emotionally traumatized, the second triplet found it uncomfortable growing up but was otherwise unaffected, and a third triplet who was actually “tested in fire by it (that which does not kill me makes me stronger!).”

So, the book “Out of Time” says it will argue against Time but still say there is causality as a fundamental structure of reality. This is going to have to do with the nature of personhood, they say. Once the book is released, I will blog about it, and so how they argue this is anyone’s guess, but it should be fun!

bookmark_border(Part 2) The Cosmological Argument; or, Blogging Through “Out of Time: A Philosophical Study of Timelessness (2022)”

So, I’ve been putting together some introductory thoughts in preparation for blogging through the new book on the philosophy of physics and time “Out of Time (2022).” Helpfully, one of the authors did a short article teasing the book here:

Here are some highlights from the article to whet your appetite:

  • In the 1980s and 1990s, many physicists became dissatisfied with string theory and came up with a range of new mathematical approaches to quantum gravity.
  • One of the most prominent of these is loop quantum gravity, which proposes that the fabric of space and time is made of a network of extremely small discrete chunks, or “loops”.
  • One of the remarkable aspects of loop quantum gravity is that it appears to eliminate time entirely.
  • Loop quantum gravity is not alone in abolishing time: a number of other approaches also seem to remove time as a fundamental aspect of reality.
  • We say that tables, for example, “emerge” from an underlying physics of particles whizzing around the universe.
  • But while we have a pretty good sense of how a table might be made out of fundamental particles, we have no idea how time might be “made out of” something more fundamental.
  • So unless we can come up with a good account of how time emerges, it is not clear we can simply assume time exists.
  • Time might not exist at any level.
  • While physics might eliminate time, it seems to leave causation intact: the sense in which one thing can bring about another.
  • Perhaps what physics is telling us, then, is that causation and not time is the basic feature of our universe.

Are you excited? Of course you are. “I see you shiver in anticipation (Frank Furter, from The Rocky Horror Picture Show).” So, next time I will begin blogging about the book itself, and perhaps this will provide us some new lenses through which to assess the cosmological argument.

bookmark_border(Part 1) The Cosmological Argument; or, Blogging Through “Out of Time: A Philosophical Study of Timelessness (2022)” by

Samuel Baron (Author), Kristie Miller (Author), Jonathan Tallant (Author)  Format: Kindle Edition

Out of Time: A Philosophical Study of Timelessness by [Samuel Baron, Kristie Miller, Jonathan Tallant]

I’m going to be blogging through this new book “Out Of Time” about whether time exists from the point of view of philosophy and physics, and what that can teach us about the cosmological argument.


One current popular argument by theists is the cosmological argument, and its reasoning is fairly straightforward. To explain it to a child, you might give the prompt: I am your parent, and my parents had parents, and their parents had parents, … so where does this lead us? Obviously, we keep going back in the chain of causes and effects to a first cause that did not itself, so to speak, have parents. It simply was. Now, this might be called Being, or God, or the eternal stomach vomiting up the universe into existence, but something along those lines is “obviously” the case. Now this may be obvious, but is it true? Derrida pointed out the history of philosophy has been the overturning of foundations once thought to be self-evident.

One thing that was interesting in the history of philosophy and physics in the last century is that fundamental concepts such as Time and Substance With Properties started becoming more problematic when applied to the most fundamental levels of reality: the extremely small.

In traditional Philosophy, a fundamental distinction in Being is made between “what” something is, its essentia, and “how” or the manner in which something appears to us, its existentia.  For example, a tv may be brown and hard in terms of “what” it is, and badly positioned or boring (in the sense of Langeweile: the stretching out of time) in terms of “how” or the manner in which it appears to us.  Initially and to begin with, time doesn’t seem to have to do with the “what” of things, since as Heidegger says, a lecture, for instance, has the same “what” or content regardless of whether it was given three days ago in our memory of it, is being given right now in our making-present of it, or will be given later next week as we anticipate it.  So, initially a being’s intra-temporality or being-in-time seems to do with “how” a being appears to us.

We certainly experience “something” with time, such as a subtle drawing/stretching out and flow, and in fact REALLY experience this in certain cases like a child’s fidgety Time-Out punishment facing the corner, or Cabin Fever in a rainy cottage.  The German word for Boredom conveys this: Langeweile, the stretching out of time.   Likewise, we can severely alter the nature of our experience of time, such as through psychedelic drugs.  This leaves unclear what we are experiencing when we encounter Time.  What do all these have in common?  As a starting point, let’s consider a general overview of some of the modern insights into time from contemporary Physics and physicist Carlo Rovelli, and then see how this approach may help as a framework/context to illumine the historical approach to the phenomenology of time (how time appears or shows itself) in Philosophers like Aristotle.

Perhaps one of the key discoveries of modern physics is that there is no “One Time Thing” that uniformly flows.  For instance, we can measure that time speeds up the higher you go on earth, and slows down the lower you are.  It reflects gravity.  This had to be taken into account when they were developing GPS satellite technology.  Analogously, for instance, the flow of time passes at a significantly slower rate close to the gravity pull near a black hole, as opposed to far away from it.  “Time” actually seems to relate gravity, not a being in itself or structure of reality.  Physicist Carlo Rovelli, in “The Order Of Time (2018)” further points out that all of the important equations describing reality in Physics before the 1960’s described how things change in time (velocity/acceleration, etc), but more recently some equations of quantum gravity (such as the Wheeler–DeWitt equation) can be written without any reference to time at all. 

Rovelli explains that when traditional physics begins by describing the motion of a swinging pendulum while comparing it to a clock, it is a misunderstanding to think the pendulum is really held up to “objective time,” but rather the movement of the pendulum is held up to the movement of the hands on a clock.  Similarly, saying I woke up at 8:00 am really means I woke up when the sun was at such and such a position.  We seem to hold onto the belief of time as an objective entity because we fail to clarify what we mean when we invoke time as an explanation.  And, at the level of the very small (the quantum level), our everyday descriptive category of time doesn’t work well any more to describe reality, because while at the macro level everything seems to move according to one time (though, as I said, it really doesn’t), at the micro level everything doesn’t.

 Rovelli says time isn’t an objective thing, or part of the structure of reality, but rather a useful model for organizing our daily experiences, analogous to the spatial categories of high and low.  And, just as the categories of high and low become meaningless in outer space, so too is time meaningless at the micro level.  Modern physics is beginning to really see the implications of  Einstein’s insight that the past and future are illusions, which makes good sense in light of Husserl’s point that we never can leave the Living Present:  The past is just a past present, and the future a future present, so they may only have “being” in memory and anticipation.  Physicist Rovelli argues that the hypothesis that time is a mind-independent thing, or even part of the structure of reality, will one day be abandoned as so many other concepts and hypotheses have as our philosophical and scientific knowledge has grown and progressed.

Given this basic framework of the phenomenology Time as a way beings show themselves rather than Time as a being-in-itself, or a structure of reality as many, including Einstein, thought, we will now use this as a framework  to phenomenalize Heidegger’s reading of the history of the phenomenology of time with Aristotle.

In his lecture course The Basic Problems of Phenomenology, Heidegger outlines Aristotle’s philosophy of time that time is somehow with things, although not the same as them: time is everywhere (pantachou), not in one definite place, and it is not in the moving thing itself but beside it, in some way close by it. Aristotle said Motion and Time differ in how they belong to the moving thing, to that which is in Time, things we call intra-temporal.  However, and importantly, Aristotle said Time is also in the soul.  Time is inherently countable, and counting takes place in the soul.  Heidegger explains the odd sounding point that for Aristotle without the counter to count time there is no time.  This means, for instance, without the person to experience/count the stretching out of time in Langeweile/boredom, there is no boredom/stretching out of time, and in enjoyment/absorption when time vanishes a [lack of] perceiving is required.  Analogously, from one point of view, I experience time as a “now” or “present” flowing forward (Monday, Then Tuesday, etc.), but paradoxically from another point of view I experience it flowing in the opposite direction, as backward flowing out of the future toward me and passing away behind me  (eg Christmas is coming; has arrived; has gone).

As modern thinkers, part of the difficulty in understanding Aristotle’s explanation of time is that we have been thrown into a Philosophical framework that was foreign to Aristotle with an artificial “Self-Other” distinction.  Specifically, there is Descartes’ fundamental distinction between Thinking Substance (res cogitans)  and Extended Substance (res extensa), combined with Heidegger’s teacher Husserl and Husserl’s Cartesian fundamental distinction between Perceiving (intentio) and Perceived (intentum). It was precisely on this issues of Descartes/Husserl’s distinctions here that Heidegger objected that Descartes/Husserl don’t provide us with an adequate framework for understanding what Heidegger called the topic of Attunement, which is what time is, and so Heidegger, to use Derrida’s translation, deconstructed the Self/Other distinction for the sake of what Heidegger called a more fundamental being-in the-world framework/distinction, with which as we shall see, Heidegger meant to bring out the lost ancient Greek context that Aristotle operated in.

 At the foundation of this Heideggerian/Greek approach is thinking more originally than the consciousness/lack of consciousness distinction (because, for instance, we can be asleep but still very aware and absorbed in a dream), with Heidegger’s distinction between Dasein (being-there = being caught-up-in-awareness) and Weg-Sein/ Nicht-Da-Sein (losing absorption and being away, eg., when one’s mind wanders).  This Heideggerian distinction is time-infused, because the relative experience of time changes depending on how caught up or bored we are in a particular awareness.  Heidegger tries to dissolve the rigid modern dichotomy of Self/Other with his concept of Attunement, the original Unity whereby the various poles of an awareness vibrate in tune with one another (so to speak). 

The ancient  Greek poet Homer illustrates and emphasizes this attunement context (which Aristotle assumed) when Homer says “the gods don’t appear to everyone enargeis,” in reference to Odysseus experiencing a woman as though she was an avatar for the presencing of Divine Beauty itself, even though the other person there beside Odysseus didn’t experience the woman in that way.  Experiencing some one or thing “as sexy” is similar, and so a homosexual man isn’t aroused by a gorgeous female movie star, or someone finding a bridge or tower arousing if they have a particular kind of Objectophilia.  I certainly experience/feel sexiness to be a quality of the movie star, even though it really isn’t, since there is no reason to suppose the next person will have a similar experience.  Experiencing something “as beautiful” is similar, like one person experiencing a mansion as “Now that’s a House,” though the next person may not experience the presencing of the category “House” in the same way.  They may experience the mansion “as” gawdy.  Of course, this all is pure will to power as imposing form.

This helps us to understand Aristotle/Heidegger’s point that time is everywhere, but also in the soul, and without the counter there is no counted.  We ”feel” real contact with time as Other, such as (i) in the felt stretching of time in boredom or (ii) the exciting anticipatory flow of time as Christmas approaches, or (iii) the monotonous flow as the work week inches/moves forward.  The usual modern everyday interpretation of time by the common person mis-takes this “felt-contact with something” to be contact with a mind independent objective reality, and so our everyday modern understanding naturally thingifies/reifies time so we see time as a “thing,” like a chair or mountain, or a general and absolute basic feature of reality, because moderns following Descartes and Husserl simply assume as fundamental the twofold Self/Other distinction and so don’t have the framework/concepts/language to interpret the phenomenon of time in all its richness or even accurately.

So, what makes the false usual modern interpretation of time as an objective thing of nature possible to conceive?  Time is experienced in many ways, and one common way is to interpret it spatially.  So, we (1) experience the flow of time as a living present that marches on into the future (Monday, then Tuesday, then Wednesday, etc), which is a spatial schematization often mis-taken to be an Objective-Time-Thing of nature.  But, time experienced as flowing in this way is not simply an objective feature of reality as most everyday moderns assume, but represents a way humans organize/schematize their experience, which is why (2) we can just as easily experience time from a contrary point of view flowing in the opposite direction from out of the future, to arriving in the present, to passing away into the past by (eg., Christmas is coming, has arrived, has gone).  In these two contrary cases, which would be incompossible if time was a single entity that flowed uniformly, the two experienced flows of time are actually ways in which the mind organizes/schematizes spatially, but in different ways: 

(1) For the first case above, we are implicitly assuming an organizing principle the likes of which I would find on a soccer field kicking a ball away from myself = consciously or unconsciously fixing the origination point of my kicking of the ball in memory, and mentally stretching from there with the ball as it rolls away from me, while

(2) in the second case above we are framing the flow like being a goaltender, with a ball being kicked at me from a distance by a friend, the ball arriving at me, and passing away through my legs and into the net. 

Time schematized spatially basically means consciously or unconsciously fixing a point and stretching from that point, spatially schematized temporality being the speed of that stretch.  Number 1 above is what is generally reified/thingified into being “real” or “objective” time by modern people, while in truth it is just a practical way to “calendar-ize” our life.   

To recapitulate, it is extremely problematic to try to argue time is an objective mind-independent reality when it does not flow uniformly but reflects changes in gravity, can be experienced as flowing forward or backward depending on your point of view, and seems to formally include human experiences like boredom and time flying when you are having fun.  Many are shocked when they go under general anesthetics and wake up an hour later in what feels like an instant. The vanishing of time in certain cases of dreamless sleep are common experiences, and the mind seamlessly creates the experience of time in dreaming.  

But do we not also experience objective time in science, such as with rule governed cause and effect in going from cause to effect either from change from one place to another or from one state to another?  This would lead into the question of Kant’s encounter with Hume that Kant said awoke him from his dogmatic slumbers and was the catalyst for his critical period.

NEXT TIME, CHAPTER 1 of “Out Of Time”

bookmark_borderBlogging Through Augustine/Martin’s Anthology “The Myth Of An Afterlife” Part 1

Blog Post 1 on The Myth of an Afterlife (ed Martin and Augustine)

This series of blog posts will look at the question of whether or not there is a afterlife by blogging through the Augustine/Martin anthology “The Myth of an Afterlife”

Steve Stewart-Williams (Foreword)

Stewart-Williams points to the difference between evidence consistent with an afterlife (eg., predicting one’s own death), and evidence of an afterlife.  Such evidences seem to pile upon one another across the world to apparently give credence to the afterlife hypothesis.  Stewart-Williams suggests supernatural interpretations are completely unnecessary given reasonable naturalistic ones, and we wouldn’t even have recourse to supernaturalistic explanation except that we have such traditions from our culture. 

I understand Stewart-Williams  here in the sense that we all know, for instance, it is possible to invoke an invisible, magical leprechaun to explain the mysteries in quantum gravity, but reasonable people prefer naturalistic explanations.  Even Religious Studies scholars, when they have their “historian” hats on, understand that divine explanation are bracketed in principle in historical inquiry, being articles of faith, not scholarship.  For example, liberal Christian scholar Dr. James McGrath explains the possible origin of Jesus resurrection belief in this way:

One can only speculate about what the first post-Easter experience of “seeing Jesus” may have been like. It is alluded to, but ultimately left undescribed, in 1 Corinthians 15:5, where Paul writes simply that he “appeared to Peter.” The challenge to the historian is to reconstruct a plausible scenario that could have given rise to the evidence available in later sources. Perhaps, as we have suggested above, Peter returned to Galilee and to fishing. He wrestled with the failure of his expectations, with his own failure in denying Jesus, and perhaps with questions about whether things might have turned out differently had no one drawn a sword and cut off the ear of the high priest’s servant that fateful night (Mk. 14:47). On one particular day he goes fishing, taking some of Jesus’ other closest followers with him. They catch nothing, and much of the time is spent in silence. Then, they see a figure on the shore. The figure asks if they have caught anything, and they say no. He tells them to try again, and suggests a spot. They lower their net – and catch a huge number of fish. Peter makes a connection. Isn’t this the spot where he first met Jesus, who did something similar on that occasion? He looks up. Perhaps the figure on the shore has already vanished. Perhaps he is still standing there, and they have breakfast without exchanging many words, as suggested in John 21. In either case, at some point after the figure has departed, Peter suddenly has a flash of insight: it was Jesus. He tells the others, but at least initially, they are skeptical, and for a time they remain unpersuaded. Peter spends much of the days that follow in prayer, seeking information and advice from rabbis and experts in the Law. What do the Scriptures in fact say about what the Messiah would be like? Could the Messiah suffer? Could the Messiah return from the dead? Could the Messiah enter the messianic age of the resurrection ahead of everyone else? Were there passages that left open such possibilities, texts that had been neglected but which might allow for such an unthinkable, paradoxical, surprising Messiah? After much reflection, exploration, and soul-searching, Peter contacts the rest of the Twelve, and they gather to hear what Peter has to say. They listen, and when he is done explaining to them what he has come to believe, he leads them in the prayer Jesus had taught them.  “Father…” they begin. When they reach the words “Your will be done,” they mean it as they had never truly meant it before. “Not our will, but yours.” A sense of peace washes over them. A sense of certainty that Peter is right, that Jesus has in fact been raised. And in their dreams, and in glimpses in crowds, in mysterious encounters with unknown individuals, and even in mystical visions, they too experience this phenomenon of “Jesus appearing.” Could this be the way events unfolded, and Christian faith in the resurrection of Jesus arose? What we have written in this section is admittedly speculative. There seems to be little hope of gaining access by means of the extant written sources to the actual experiences that early Christians had, the ones that convinced them Jesus was alive. Even Paul only alludes to his own direction-changing experience, and never describes it. Perhaps this is appropriate: religious experiences are regularly characterized by those who have them as ineffable, as “beyond words.” The Gospel of Mark suggested that Jesus would be seen, but doesn’t describe the experience, at least not in our earliest manuscripts. Our two earliest sources thus leave little for us to work with at this point.

– McGrath, James F. . The Burial of Jesus: What Does History Have to Do with Faith? . Patheos Press. Kindle Edition.

And so, we have a perfectly reasonable naturalistic explanation for the birth of the easter story.  It may be something supernatural happened, but more reasonably we might simply suppose Peter was just distraught and confused.

Stewart-Williams suggests belief in the afterlife can arise from a host of causes such as

Some claim that the belief in an afterlife is wishful thinking; others that it’s a way of promoting socially desirable behavior; and others still that it represents ancient people’s best effort to explain strange phenomena such as dreams. More recently, it has been suggested that religious beliefs, including afterlife beliefs, are the handiwork of evolution by natural selection, or byproducts of various evolved psychological capacities… [and] they might fit together within the overarching framework of a memetic approach.

– Martin, Michael; Augustine, Keith. The Myth of an Afterlife . Rowman & Littlefield Publishers. Kindle Edition.

Stewart-Williams suggests the wishful thinking explanation is best understood in the light of an addiction analogy, not so much that it comforts us, but it’s painful to try to give up.  And, fear of hell, though widely believed is hardly wishful thinking. 

Another explanation is the social glue theory whereby good behavior is rewarded by heaven, and bad behavior with hell.  A variant of this is the social control theory, which I have written an essay about here: .  Stewart-Williams says there is a grain of truth here, but religious beliefs have also torn societies apart, so the whole story isn’t here.

A further explanation for religious belief is honest attempts at explaining things like why you dream, hallucinate, or for the ancient Greeks why the sun goes across the sky.  However, Stewart-Williams reminds us that “it doesn’t explain why, if religious beliefs are primarily explanations for puzzling but commonplace experiences, so many religious beliefs are so completely disconnected from the evidence of human experience. Again, the approach may be a piece of the puzzle, but we must avoid mistaking it for the whole puzzle.”

Some point to evolution and natural selection to explain religious beliefs, but religious beliefs regarding the afterlife vary so drastically between cultures that the culture seems to be the deciding factor, not biology.

Another possibility for origin of belief in the afterlife relates to how we construe the world:

For instance, we construe physical objects, but not mental states, as possessing spatial dimensions. This makes it easy for us to imagine that minds are something distinct from bodies. It doesn’t force this conclusion, and it certainly doesn’t force the further conclusion that the mind could exist independently of the body or survive bodily death. But it does mean that these ideas come naturally to us. They’re easy for us to accept because they fit the natural contours of our minds. Thus, a curious byproduct of theory of mind is that we are prone to believe, falsely, that the mind (or soul) is something distinct from the activity of the brain, and that it could ascend to Heaven, or be reborn into another body, or merge back into some kind of collective consciousness. I’m

– Martin, Michael; Augustine, Keith. The Myth of an Afterlife . Rowman & Littlefield Publishers. Kindle Edition.

After going through the various traditional explanations, Stewart-Williams explains a theory that ties the others together:

With each of the earlier approaches, thinkers have identified a psychological or cultural “selection pressure” acting on religious memes. These are: (1) selection for beliefs that comfort us or comfort the people we care about; (2) selection for beliefs that foster social cohesion; (3) selection for beliefs that help us manipulate other people’s behavior; and (4) selection for beliefs that explain (or give the appearance of explaining) the world around us. No doubt there are others as well. As with biological evolution, these selection pressures can come into conflict with one another and pull in different directions. So, for instance, we may want to believe something because it is comforting (selection pressure #1), but be unable to do so because it would clash too violently with the evidence of our own eyes (selection pressure #4). This suggests that one kind of memetically successful religious belief would be a belief that promises to provide comfort and consolation, but which is also not too readily falsified in everyday life. The belief in life after death fits this description perfectly.

– Martin, Michael; Augustine, Keith. The Myth of an Afterlife . Rowman & Littlefield Publishers. Kindle Edition.

In our history, high intelligence was selected because of its usefulness, but had the side effect that we became aware of our own death, and so religious belief arose to allay that.  Afterlife beliefs may be tens of thousands of years old.

Societal cohesion tends to break down at numbers above 150 people, so societal institutions needed to be in place to fix that:

However, with the advent of agriculture, the selection pressure for memes useful for this purpose might have dramatically increased in strength. Afterlife beliefs (and religious beliefs in general) may have become progressively better adapted for fostering social cohesion in large-scale human societies.

– Martin, Michael; Augustine, Keith. The Myth of an Afterlife . Rowman & Littlefield Publishers. Kindle Edition.

Over history, we see an evolution of the concept of the afterlife from the tragedy of the Greeks to the bliss of the modern theist as attempts to attract and control became more and more sophisticated.

But this need not just be a decision of people, but a way the memes themselves evolved, and so:

There is no need to suppose that anyone sat down and thought up this tactic for retaining believers. Instead, it may just be that the afterlife beliefs that have survived in our culture are those that happened to get attached to such notions as that, without these beliefs, life would be bleak and unbearable.

– Martin, Michael; Augustine, Keith. The Myth of an Afterlife . Rowman & Littlefield Publishers. Kindle Edition.

bookmark_borderThe Problem of Easter

If we go back to the earliest statement of Jesus’ resurrection, in the letters of Paul, we find something very problematic. Paul quotes a creed or piece of poetry that says:

That Christ died for our sins

in accordance with the scriptures.

and that he was buried;

That he was raised on the third day

in accordance with the scriptures,

and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve.

Why is this a problem? The New Testament thinkers were in the habit of inventing material about Jesus copying Old Testament scriptures. So, for instance, Mark copies material from the story of Elijah to present John the Baptist as the new and greater Elijah. Likewise, Mathew’s story about Jesus recapitulates the story of Moses to present Jesus as the new and greater Moses. That is what the above “Corinthian Creed / poetry” that Paul is quoting seems to be doing with the Old Testament story of Jonah and the huge fish. In Matthew regarding the resurrection we read:

The Sign of Jonah

38 Then some of the scribes and Pharisees said to him, “Teacher, we wish to see a sign from you.” 39 But he answered them, “An evil and adulterous generation asks for a sign, but no sign will be given to it except the sign of the prophet Jonah. 40 For just as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the sea monster, so for three days and three nights the Son of Man will be in the heart of the earth. (Matthew 12:38-40)

So, far from being historical, the Easter resurrection claims are much more likely hallucinations or lies inspired by the story of Jonah.

bookmark_borderSome Good Friday Reflections

One thing I try to argue against is the sin debt/penal substitution interpretation of the cross.

When we think of the wooden cross in Mark, we think of the easily enraged crowd, corrupt religious elite, and indifferent to justice Pilate. When these people saw Jesus on the beams of the cross as a criminal, what they should have been seeing is their own deep rooted flaws for executing him. Matthew and Luke express this sentiment in the following way invoking the image of the wooden beam/plank/log, making us think of the cross:

  • Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when there is the log in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye. (Matthew 7:3-5)
  • 37 “Judge not, and you will not be judged; condemn not, and you will not be condemned; forgive, and you will be forgiven; 38 give, and it will be given to you. Good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap. For with the measure you use it will be measured back to you.” 39 He also told them a parable: “Can a blind man lead a blind man? Will they not both fall into a pit? 40 A disciple is not above his teacher, but everyone when he is fully trained will be like his teacher. 41 Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? 42 How can you say to your brother, ‘Brother, let me take out the speck that is in your eye,’ when you yourself do not see the log that is in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take out the speck that is in your brother’s eye. (Luke 6:37-42)

Perhaps the issue here is not in seeing the criminal Jesus hung on the beams of the cross, but the people seeing the beam in their own eyes. The one who attempts to regulate his brother often displays the greater blindness and hypocrisy.  A proverb of this sort was familiar to the Jews and appears in numerous other cultures too, such as the Latin proverb of later Roman days referenced by Athenagoras of Athens, meretrix pudicam: Generally translated “The harlot rebuketh the chaste.”