All God’s Creatures

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Ernest Thompson Seton (1860-1946) loved nature and loved God — so in a 1907 book he tried to prove that animals follow the 10 commandments:

  • Thou shalt not steal: “A stick found in the woods is the property of the Rook that discovers it, and doubly his when he has labored to bring it to his nest. This is recognized law.”
  • Thou shalt not kill: “New born Rattlesnakes will strike instantly at a stranger of any other species, but never at one of their own.”
  • Honor thy father and mother: “A Hen sets out with her Chickens a-foraging; one loiters, does not hasten up at her ‘cluck cluck’ of invitation and command; consequently he gets lost and dies.”
  • Thou shalt not commit adultery: “The promiscuous animals to-day–the Northwestern Rabbit and the Voles–are high in the scale of fecundity, low in the scale of general development, and are periodically scourged by epidemic plagues.”
  • Thou shalt not bear false witness: “Oftentimes a very young Hound will jump at a conclusion, think, or hope, he has the trail, then allowing his enthusiasm to carry him away, give the first tongue, shouting in Hound language, ‘Trail!’ The other Hounds run to this, but if a careful examination shows that he was wrong, the announcer suffers in the opinion of the pack, and after a few such blunders, that individual is entirely discredited.”
  • Thou shalt not covet: “A Hen had made a nest in a certain place, and was already sitting. Later another Hen, desiring the same nest, took possession several times during the owner’s brief absence, adding some of her own eggs, and endeavoring to sit. The result was a state of war, and the eggs of both Hens were destroyed.”

Actually, he runs out of gas here — Seton was unable to convince even himself that animals avoid making graven images, swearing, or working on Sunday. So he concludes The Natural History of the Ten Commandments by deciding that “Man is concerned with all” the commandments, “the animals only with the last six.”

Misc

  • Douglas Adams claimed that the funniest three-digit number is 359.
  • Romeo has more lines than Juliet, Iago than Othello, and Portia than Shylock.
  • Friday the 13th occurs at least once a year.
  • “By nature, men love newfangledness.” — Chaucer
  • John was the only apostle to die a natural death.

The Paradox of Dives and Lazarus

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The Gospel of Luke contains a parable about a rich man and a beggar. Both men die, and the rich man is consigned to hell while the beggar is received into the bosom of Abraham. The rich man pleads for mercy, but Abraham tells him that in his lifetime he received good things and the beggar evil things: “now he is comforted and thou art tormented.” The rich man then begs that his brothers be warned of what lies in store for them, but Abraham rejects this plea as well, saying, “If they hear not Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded though one rose from the dead.”

Now, writes E.V. Milner:

Suppose … that this last request of Dives had been granted; suppose, in fact, that some means were found to convince the living, whether rich men or beggars, that ‘justice would be done’ in a future life, then, it seems to me, an interesting paradox would emerge. For if I knew that the unhappiness which I suffer in this world would be recompensed by eternal bliss in the next world, then I should be happy in this world. But being happy in this world I should fail to qualify, so to speak, for happiness in the next world. Therefore, if there were such a recompense awaiting me, its existence would seem to entail that I should at least be not wholly convinced of its existence.

“Put epigrammatically, it would appear that the proposition ‘Justice will be done’ can only be true for one who believes it to be false. For one who believes it to be true justice is being done already.”

Faith No More

Kurt Gödel composed an ontological proof of God’s existence:

Axiom 1. A property is positive if and only if its negation is negative.

Axiom 2. A property is positive if it necessarily contains a positive property.

Theorem 1. A positive property is logically consistent (that is,
possibly it has an existence).

Definition. Something is God-like if and only if it possesses all positive properties.

Axiom 3. Being God-like is a positive property.

Axiom 4. Being a positive property is logical and hence necessary.

Definition. A property P is the essence of x if and only if x has the property P and P is necessarily minimal.

Theorem 2. If x is God-like, then being God-like is the essence of x.

Definition. x necessarily exists if it has an essential property.

Axiom 5. Being necessarily existent is God-like.

Theorem 3. Necessarily there is some x such that x is God-like.

“I am convinced of the afterlife, independent of theology,” he once wrote. “If the world is rationally constructed, there must be an afterlife.”

Waterproof

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In The City of God, Augustine raises a curious question: How did Methuselah survive the flood? According to the Septuagint, the patriarch was 355 years old when Noah was born, and the deluge occurred 600 years later. Thus Methuselah was 955 at the flood–yet he lived to be 969. He was not aboard the ark, and the deluge destroyed the rest of humanity. How did Methuselah survive?

“This is a celebrated question,” wrote Jerome, “and one which has been publicly aired in argument by all the churches.” It’s largely obviated today: Most modern editions of Genesis are translated from the Masoretic text, which has Methuselah dying in the year of the flood.

Knee Service

In 1978, Baptist minister Hans Mullikin arrived at the White House after crawling 1,600 miles from Marshall, Texas.

An aide told him that President Carter was too busy to see him.

“I just wanted to show America that we need to get on our knees and repent,” Mullikin told reporters. “This is something I had in my heart and wanted to do for my country.”

He added, “A lot of people tell me I’m crazy.”

Cloudy

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All rational beings believe in their own existence, whether or not they actually exist. Sherlock Holmes believes that he exists, but he is wrong. God too believes in his own existence–and his omniscience makes it impossible that he is mistaken. Therefore God exists.

On the other hand: Perfection is essential to godhood, and a perfect God must be perfectly virtuous. But virtue implies overcoming pain, fear, and temptation, and a God who is subject to these ills is less perfect than one who is not. Thus perfection is impossible, and God cannot exist.

Asked what he would say to God on Judgment Day, Bertrand Russell said, “Not enough evidence, God! Not enough evidence!”

The Bodhisattva Paradox

The bodhisattva cannot pass over into Nirvana. He cannot because, were he to do so, he would exhibit a selfishness that a bodhisattva cannot have. If he has the selfishness, he is not a bodhisattva, and so cannot enter Nirvana. If he lacks the selfishness, again, he cannot enter Nirvana, for that would be a selfish act. So either way, the bodhisattva is impotent to enter Nirvana. … So no one can reach Nirvana; we cannot because we are not bodhisattvas and the bodhisattva cannot because he is a bodhisattva.

– Arthur Danto, Mysticism and Morality, 1972