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9 comments | Saturday, January 28, 2006

After recently having some discussion about R.W. Emerson with some fellow Christians, it became evident that there were some questions about his philosophy that went undetected. I pointed out some transcendental ideas of Emerson, but just got the “you’re from Mars” look. I remember Emerson’s writings well from high school, but have not come across transcendental philosophy in a while. In light of my recent conversations, I have decided to spew out some thoughts about Emerson’s philosophy and how it diverges from Christian Theology in the nature of God, man, scripture and morality:

To many, Ralph Waldo Emerson’s writings are cherished. Among those who admire and take pleasure in Emerson’s writings are committed and faithful Christians. To those who enjoy his writings, Emerson serves as an inspiration and a release to the confinement of rationalism, empiricism, and the social conformities of our day. Given the steadfast attraction to Emerson’s writings in the Christian community, how should Christians approach Emerson?

Christians must approach Emerson with extreme caution. Many elements of Emerson’s writings are not only contrary to traditional Christian theology, they are anti-Christian and polluted with heresy.

The Unitarian

Ralph Waldo Emerson began his roots as a heretic in the Unitarian Church. Soon after his pastoral beginnings, Emerson turned on organized religion. However, his new transcendental philosophy was a radical divergence from any Christian teachings.

Before I actually address some of Emerson’s more popular teachings, I want to first say a couple things about Unitarianism.

Unitarianism denies that the God of Christianity can be identified as the three-person Trinity (the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit). Unitarians believe Christ to be of immense significance, but not divine as traditional Christians hold. Rather, Unitarians believe that Christ had a “divine mission” to make people more aware of God’s righteousness and of our responsibility to care for each other. Thus, they are not Trinitarian, but Unitarian (God is one being/person).

As it can be seen, Emerson had already been subject and exposed to unbiblical and heretical teachings. Thus, with the Unitarian setting, it can be seen why Emerson could diverge from Christianity so easily and so intensely. Emerson’s Unitarian history sets the preface for what I want to pos about—specifically, Emerson’s anti-Christian transcendental philosophy.

The Transcendental Deity

In his essay The Over-Soul, Emerson described the transcendental deity: “We see the world piece by piece, as the sun, the moon, the animal, the tree; but the whole, of which these are shining parts, is the Soul.” Instead of a Christian deity, Emerson believed in the Over-Soul, a pervasive, pantheistic energy source rousing all things. For Emerson, the Over-Soul is the definitive reality of our world.

In comparison with Christianity, there are several irreconcilable discrepancies with Emerson’s Over-soul. First, God possesses the characteristics of being a personal spirit being. The personal attributes of God are infiltrated throughout scripture. For example: He lives (John 5:26), He loves (John 3:16; Rom. 5:6-11), He speaks (Matt. 3:17), He works (John 5:17, 20), He knows (Matt. 6:8, 32), He wills (Matt. 7:21), and He sees (Matt. 6:4, 6, 18). Thus, the Christian God is a personal being rather than an impersonal energy force.

The Nature of Man

Emerson’s view of man is also contrary to the tradition teachings of scripture. In fact, Emerson articulated an essential oneness of man with the divine in his essay The Over-Soul:

We know that all spiritual being is in man. . . [A]s there is no screen or ceiling between our heads and the infinite heavens, so there is no bar or wall in the soul, where man, the effect, ceases, and God, the cause, begins. The walls are taken away. We lie open on one side to the deeps of spiritual nature, to the attributes of God.
The elevation of man in this passage is precarious. How Emerson makes this connection is unknown. However, it seems that he claims to be a part of God; making himself divine.

Additionally, in his essay Nature, Emerson again clearly attributes divinity to man:

In the woods, we return to reason and faith. There I feel that nothing can befall me in life,—no disgrace, no calamity (leaving me my eyes), which nature cannot repair. Standing on the bare ground,—my head bathed by the blithe air and uplifted into infinite space,—all mean egotism vanishes. I become a transparent eyeball; I am nothing; I see all; the currents of the Universal Being circulate through me; I am part or parcel of God.
There are many things that can be said about this statement, but the last sentence is daunting. It’s as though Emerson is not only claiming to become united with nature, but become a part (in nature) of God. Nevertheless, Christian theology does speak differently on the nature of man. In fact, the only sense of divineness in man is in the image man was created—Gods image (Gen. 1:26; 5:1; 9:6; James 3:9; 1 Cor. 11:7).

Dismissing All Authority

Emerson also had issues with authority. He relied more upon the self for knowledge and wisdom. Emerson rejected the authority of scripture and Jesus all together in the Over-Soul when he stated:

Faith that stands on authority is not faith. The reliance on authority measures the decline of religion, the withdrawal of the soul. The position men have given to Jesus, now for many centuries of history, is a position of authority.
According to Emerson, Jesus must not be an authority, because if we trust Jesus as an authority, we begin to withdraw from the soul. In effect—Emerson’s scripture IS his soul. Moreover, with the soul being a pervasive, pantheistic energy source rousing all things; that too becomes his scripture and authority.

In the Christian world view, Scripture is not taken unconscientiously as just another book. The sixty six books collected and preserved as the bible is considered The Word of God to Christians. However, it is not the word of God merely because Christians call it that. The authority of scripture is derived from its unique and intrinsic nature of God communicating to man. In addition, the writers of the NT make clear that scripture is intended to be identified as inspired:

From childhood you have known the sacred writings which are able to give you the wisdom that leads to salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work Timothy (3:15-17)
In addition to the Bible claiming authority, Christianity is often referred to as the religion of the book. Without giving a complete treatise on the authority and inspiration on the bible, let it be stated that Christianity bases all doctrines, believes and values based on what the scriptures say. The word of God gives Christians the revelation needed to fulfill Gods will; thus, all other sources of revelation (i.e. nature) are incomplete.


Emerson also deviated from Christianity by theorizing that one learns about truth and morality not from outer sources, but from the Soul inside oneself. In Emerson’s system, a man could instinctively perceive nearly everything he needed to know by trusting the divinity within. Thus, Emerson makes morality and truth completely subjective and arbitrary; morality springs from the Over-Soul. In his essay Nature, Emerson says, “All things are moral; and in their boundless changes have an unceasing reference to spiritual nature.” This over emphasis on the souls connect with nature, is what determines morality. Yet as all people know—nature can also be cruel. In Christianity, morality is absolute; not because God says what is good; but goodness emanates from Gods character. Emerson’s system of morality leaves no room for Gods goodness or man’s sin nature. With his keenness on purity, Emerson saw only the high, noble nature of man.

If one is to accept Emerson’s Over-Soul as ultimate reality, one discards absolute truth, thus, falls into the trap of moral relativism. With no absolute standard outside of Emerson (or oneself), people are free to contrive whatever the “intuition” may inform; questions of morality become issues of personal preference, just like choosing ice cream. Providentially, many Christians recognize that right and wrong are rooted in the unchanging character and nature of God. God is eternally unchanged and so are the absolutes of right and wrong. However, God has given general revelation in nature (Ps. 19:1-6; Rom. 1:19-20), as well as special revelation in Scripture (Rom. 2:18; 3:2; 2 Tim. 3:16-17), but since he is the author of both, there is complete harmony between the two.

In a sense, however, Emerson’s appeal to intuition cannot be totally discounted by the Christian, For "when Gentiles, who do not have the law [of Moses], do by nature things required by the law, they are a law for themselves, even though they do not have the law, since they show the requirements of the law written in their hearts..." (Rom. 2:14-15). Thus, Christians ought to apply accuracy in their analysis of Emerson’s moral philosophy.

It is clear that Emerson’s writings are heresy. Emerson’s philosophical divergences from Christian Theology has been exemplified in the nature of God, man, scripture and morality; the very essence of Christianity.

As the question was presented earlier, how should Christians approach Emerson? As Christians, God commands us in Scripture to “test all things; hold fast what is good” (1 Thessalonians 5:21). There are many well intended Christians with a desire to be spiritual; and Emerson’s writings have a strong spiritual flavor. Unfortunately, many of these Christians, like the ones I have been speaking with find Emerson and trust him. Whatever he says becomes not just inquiry, but dependent upon for spiritual truth.

Before one gets discouraged, Christians are permitted to read and enjoy the writings of Emerson and any other writer—lest we deprive our minds in an impenetrable bubble of isolation. Yet, we must be as those in Berea, who searched the Scriptures daily, to see if what they were hearing was true to God's Word (Acts 17:11).

As for Emerson, we were warned by both John and Peter of false teachers; even Jesus said they [false teachers] may come to us in sheep's clothing (Matt. 7:15; 1 Jn. 4:1; 2 Pet. 2:1). For the Christian, there is one body of truthful instruction that governs all that is believed, taught and practiced. That is, the Word of God. To live according to Gods word, nothing should be accepted as true; nothing should be practiced or recommended – unless it is tested in the light of scripture. Each individual Christian must take this obligation seriously when indulging in the philosophies of man.

Emerson is, and will always be, a celebrated heretic. His transcendental philosophy and Christianity are mutually exclusive and should be read with caution, lest one falls pray to his heresies.

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0 comments | Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Over at The Evangelical Atheist, I AM has posted an argument against TAG. I have never really been a strong proponent of TAG, simply because I have read about it, but never thoroughly used it. I have heard some criticisms of TAG by well known Christian philosophers such as Geisler and Habermass. However, I don’t think I have given enough study of the critics to totally discount the TAG argument.

With that said, I think I AM failed to give an adequate rebuttal of TAG. Additionally, through the comment section, there is some obvious confusion about TAG. I suspect that TAG has not been given its fair shake because I AM gave a “nutshell” synopsis of TAG consisting of only a few lines (though he did link to wikipedia).

I AM gives the following argument against TAG:

The transcendental theist apologist claims that we only have logic on which to rely because it was provided for us by god. In laying out this case, the apologist is accepting the validity of logic by trying to construct an argument. However, in stating that logic is the creation of god, it is implied that god would not be bound by logic. In other words, logic is contained within god instead of the other way around. Therefore, based on this assumption, it is impossible to prove the existence of god through logic. If god is bound by logic, and was preceded by it, then there is no need for him to explain its presence and necessity.

In my response to I AM’s refutation to TAG, I made the following claim:

Logic is neither higher than God nor arbitrarily commanded by God. Logic is grounded in God’s eternal nature. God is necessarily a rational God.

This statement shows that attributing logic as either superior of arbitrary of God will not refute TAG because it is neither.

I AM’s second line of argument against TAG is the following:

Similarly, in studying the universe, we must accept that there are laws of nature. Without that assumption, it is pointless to try to understand anything at all from a scientific perspective. […] First of all, this “reducibility” is based on our scientific observations of nature. So, as with the logical argument, if we take the laws of nature as creations of god, then we can’t use them to make any kind of statements about him because he would not be bound thereby. However, if the laws of nature are bigger than god or bind him, then we have no need for him to explain them.

Furthermore, if we use laws of nature in any kind of argument about god, we accept that said laws exist. Scientific laws are laws. If there is an exception, then we have the laws wrong. So, if there are laws, then nothing can occur outside them. This precludes miracles. It takes god’s omnipotence and makes him no more powerful than any other particle in the universe. As with any given electron, he must follow the rules, and he is therefore impotent if he exists at all. Does that sound like a god to you?

There is a lot packed in here, but clarification is needed. I asked I AM:
Are you arguing for an *absolute* uniformity of nature? It’s
not clear in your post.
I never did get an answer, but I ask this question because I don’t think that his second objection necessarily follows. Furthermore, I don’t think anyone has give an adequate account of it (epistemologically) within the Atheist worldview. For example, take what Greg Bahnsen has to say about giving and adequate account of our presuppositions:

Because all autonomous perspectives take man's interpretation of the world to be "original" - to be the primary ordering of particulars or "rationalizing" (making systematic sense out of) the brute facts, it puts man at the center of the knowing process - and pays the price for doing so by slipping in subjectivism and skepticism ultimately (when consistent and driven to the logical outcome of his presuppositions). The only alternative - the Christian worldview - places the creative and providential activity of the Triune God "back of" all of man's experiences and intellectual efforts, thereby solving the fundamental problems of epistemology which leave the unbelieving critic nowhere to stand. Only Christianity can account for or make sense of the intellectual accomplishments of the unbeliever. The critic of the faith has been secretly presupposing the truth of the faith even as he argues against it; his own arguments would be, upon analysis, meaningless unless they were wrong and Christian theism were true.

It appears that given the Atheist worldview, one cannot satisfactorily account for our presuppositions (reason, certainty, universals, cause, substance, being, or purpose, counting, coherence, unity, or system in experience or in a conception of a "universe," logic, uniformity, etc). Atheism cannot account for them because in their world view, there is nothing *higher* than man. Thus, if there is nothing higher than man, then there is no justification for our presuppositions— there aren’t any better than ones subjective opinion. Furthermore, once one posits a universe that has contingency at its very root (i.e. the big bang lottery), how can a universally valid law fit at all?

Following, my comments to I AM, a commenter attempted to refute my objection. He states:

Either we look at what god does, and see that it is rational, by some independent criteria - in which case we have an independent criteria of rationality that cannot be explained through resort to god. Or else we say that since god is doing it, it’s necessarily rational - in which case we have no way of knowing what’s rational or not, and it is indeed at god’s whim.

The statement that ‘god is necessarily a rational god’, like ‘god’s commands are necessarily good’, is not actually a third option in the dilemma. It is simply the starting point which the dilemma makes untenable, restated.

In response, I stated the following:

God could not do anything irrational because it would violate his nature. For example, he cannot make a square circle. This is why I said God is necessarily rational because we can not possibly picture a universe with logical contradictions.

If you want to call “Euthyphro shenanigans” on my objection, then you will have to demonstrate that logic cannot be an essential part of Gods character […] Perhaps you should try and turn the dilemma on yourself and see what happens…

What the commenter will find out is that he cannot justify his presuppositions.

The commenter continues with additional objections; however, his argument does not demonstrate that logic cannot have its source in God, but rather the argument itself precludes any notion of God from the outset. Whatever the case, It seems the commenter wants to maintain that logic cannot be contingent or in any way dependent on anything. I assume that this leads to the notion that if logic is dependent, then it is possible that it be changed. And if it is possible that logic be changed, then, God could make the law of non-contradiction false! But again, this is why I say God is *necessarily* rational.

As for the rest of the comments that posted after my departure, their conclusion(s) only states explicitly what has been implicit all along. It provides no rationale for the position attempted. That’s all I want to hear: a justification to these presuppositions with the exclusion of God.

I have never actually used the transcendental argument myself, simply because I have never had the opportunity. However, the post by I AM and the interaction in his comments have helped me to better appreciate TAG. Nevertheless, I don’t think I am ready to die on a hill over it just yet or at least until I have studied it more.

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0 comments | Wednesday, January 04, 2006

It is often stated that Christianity is divisive; not only divisive to the secular public and other religions, but to its own body. To some extent, this is true. However, those who raise this objection fail to see the obvious. Though there are many divisions, variants, or “brands” of Christianity; there is a common denominator that unites us all. The common denominator is the basics doctrines (or Mere Christianity) that all Christians share.

The objection is immaterial. Unity does not have to be uniformity. No matter what position is held in any area of knowledge, there will always be disagreement. I know of no one who has ever found another person in which they completely agreed on every idea, issue, or matter there ever was 100%; all one needs to do is ask any married couple. Because we are rational, independent free moral agents, we will always have our own views. Besides, if everyone completely agreed on everything, there would be no need for discussion—or any interaction for that matter.

Given the inevitability of disagreement, the manner in which differences are articulated is the key issue. I can discuss controversial issues with someone from any denomination courteously and respectfully. Though we may disagree on peripheral issues (that are not basic doctrines), we are still joined in Christ. I think that what matters the most is how we disagree, not that we disagree.

Division can have its benefits. Any time there is disagreement it creates the ability to dividing truth from error. If everyone was in conformity in all issues, there would be no motivation to examine our own thought and ideas—to test knowledge.

Division can also have dangers. On many occasions, people can become hostile to one another; peripheral issues become main issues and cause antagonistic divergence rather than respectful divergence. In addition, the complete ability and autonomy of the mind allows for foolish and mistaken beliefs, which develop cults and additional heresies.

Do best sum things up a church father once said:

In the Essentials—Unity; In the Non-Essentials—Liberty; In all things—Charity

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