the problem of pain

Thoughts on Intelligence and the Material World

Posted on

I was reading in Signs of Intelligence yesterday and was struck by the meaning of “intelligence”, as derived from its Latin roots. It comes from intellegere, to discern or comprehend, but literally from the preposition inter, meaning between, and the verb lego, meaning to choose or select. Thus, intelligence consists of choosing between, choosing from a range of competing possibilities.

Dembski, in his essay, was relating this to Intelligent Design, but I was brought back to what I have been reading in The Problem of Pain by C.S. Lewis. In chapter two, Lewis is describing the rationale for a neutral material world for people to live in. He writes first about God’s omnipotence, describing it as the power to do the intrinsically possible, not the intrinsically impossible (such as the argument that asks God to make a rock so big He can’t lift it; this is a non-entity and nonsense). Lewis then builds on this with the need for a material world (Nature):

“I am going to submit that not even Omnipotence could create a society of free souls without at the same time creating a relatively independent and ‘inexorable’ Nature.

There is no reason to suppose that self-consciousness, the recognition of a creature by itself as a ‘self’, can exist except in contrast with an ‘other’, a something which is not the self. It is against an environment and preferably a social environment, an environment of other selves, that the awareness of Myself stands out.”

He is saying that without a society, we would not be able to self-actualize.  There must be a fixed space and time environment available in order for co-existence, and there must be a material world that is neutral. We must be able to act on it and manipulate it in order to exercise choice and free will. This means that if I cut down a tree and use it to build a house, another ‘self’ cannot keep that tree for shade. But if God were to pop in and prevent me from cutting down the tree, I then cease to have free will. If He popped in to stop every act of self-will against other people (i.e. violence, oppression), free will would cease to exist.

In order to have intelligence, for choosing between, we must be allowed to make the choice. This must also allow for evil. So it seems, we either have free will with good and evil, or give up our freedom and cease to be self-conscious. There is no in between.

Later in chapter three, some ideas Lewis talks about, with regard to the material world, struck me. We were made not primarily to love God, but that He may love us, “that we may become objects in which the Divine love may rest ‘well pleased’. An argument can be made that God is selfish or possessive, caring only for His satisfaction in molding us and caring little for our contentment.

Lewis first asks which of us would value the love of a friend that cared for our happiness but did not object to our becoming dishonest. To the question ‘Is God an egoist or altruistic?’, he brings a point I have never really considered. Lewis specifically isolates our language and definitions to our own material world.

“The truth is that this antithesis between egoistic and altruistic love cannot be unambiguously applied to the love of God for His creatures. Clashes of interest, and therefore opportunities either of selfishness or unselfishness, occur only between beings inhabiting a common world; God can no more be in competition with a creature than Shakespeare can be n competition with Viola. [a character from Twelfth Night; I had to look it up as I don’t know much Shakespeare…don’t judge me.]”

So words like selfish and possessive and even jealous are words linked to situations we observe in our material world, our world of choice and free will. Yet we really are in the interesting position of a fictional character observing owns writer. That is a very interesting concept to consider and ponder.

Lewis then brings the illustration of the material world to full dimension for me by using the Incarnation.

A modern pantheistic philosopher has said, ‘When the Absolute falls into the sea it becomes a fish’; in the same way, we Christians can point to the Incarnation and say that when God empties Himself of His glory and submits to those conditions under which alone egoism and altruism have a clear meaning, He is seen to be wholly altruistic.”

This is so amazing to me and makes the Incarnation clearer in my mind. In the place where we have exact meaning of words, we see Jesus selflessly acting out the Father’s will. The son of Man came to serve, to wash our feet, to teach and challenge us. All this must influence our concept of God the Father, existing outside of the material world.

Friday Quote from The Problem of Pain

Posted on Updated on

Beyond all doubt, His idea of ‘goodness’ differs from ours; but you need have no fear that, as you approach it, you will be asked simply to reverse your moral standards. When the relevant difference between the Divine ethics and your own appears to you, you will not, in fact be in any doubt that the change demanded of you is in the direction you already call ‘better’. The Divine ‘goodness’ differs from ours, but it is not sheerly different: it differs from ours not as white from black but as a perfect circle from a child’s first attempt to draw a wheel. But when the child has learned to draw, it will know that the circle it then makes is what it was trying to make from the very beginning…..

…..We are, not metaphorically but in very truth, a Divine work of art, something that God is making, and therefore something with which He will not be satisfied until it has a certain character. Here again we come up against what I have called the ‘intolerable compliment’. Over a sketch made idly to amuse a child, an artist may not take much trouble: he may be content to let it go even though it is not exactly as he meant it to be. But over the great picture of his life—the work which he loves, though in a different fashion, as intensely as a man loves a woman or a mother a child—he will take endless trouble—and would, doubtless, thereby give endless trouble to the picture if it were sentient. One can imagine a sentient picture, after being rubbed and scraped and recommenced for the tenth time, wishing that it were only a thumbnail sketch whose making was over in a minute. In the same way, it is natural for us to wish that God had designed for us a less glorious and less arduous destiny; but then we are wishing not for more love but for less.

From The Problem of Pain by C.S. Lewis, Chapter 3