People, Places, and Things (1)

I was recently reading a theology blog (Parchment and Pen) when I stumbled across an entry about how Romans 9 proves humans are predestined. In the strictest sense, this means humans have no free will; you cannot choose to follow Christ, God decided, long before you were born, whether or not you would. The relevant passage is:

Yet, before the twins were born or had done anything good or bad—in order that God’s purpose in election might stand: not by works but by him who calls—she was told, “The older will serve the younger.” Just as it is written: “Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated.” Romans 9:11-13

If God chose who He would love and who He would hate before they were born, then obviously God has your life all mapped out for you before you are born. In reality, there a perfectly reasonable alternative reading here that doesn’t support the “total predestination” view, but I don’t want to dive into that here; I’ll save it for another post. The main thing I want you to notice about this entire concept of strict predestination is the impact is has on the idea of what a person is. You remember the old saw, right? A noun is a person, place, or thing. Great. Now how can you tell what is a person, a place, or a thing? Places are simple, I think, because they are an abstraction we use to make the world around us more understandable. But what about people and things? What makes you a person, and your dog a thing?

Is it intelligence? Well, a lot of scientists think so, and they are calling for dolphins to be proclaimed “persons,” rather than “things.”

Is it self awareness? If a “thing” is “self aware,” then it must be a “person,” rather than a “thing.” Based on this definition, some people are looking into the future and stating that a singularity is coming specifically in this area.

They call it “the Singularity”. Ray Kurzweil, a legend in the IT world, a pioneer in optical character recognition, speech recognition and text-to-speech, has become the apostle of “the Singularity”. A documentary about him will be released later this year, Transcendent Man. In summary, the visionary Kurzweil argues that artificial intelligence is improving exponentially, and eventually ““ the latest ETA is 2045 ““ it will become self-conscious and “alive” -MercatorNet

Is it moral agency? A thing does not make moral choices, while a person does. A dog is a thing because a dog doesn’t make any moral choices. They do what they are taught to do, or they fulfill their desires.

Is it because humans have souls? You can’t measure a soul, and no-one can explain what “having a soul” means, really. So, generally speaking, arguing that a person is a person, rather than a thing, because they have a soul, is a dead end. Whether or not it is correct isn’t the point, it’s that you can’t prove it in any meaningful way.

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