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Euclid, Spinoza, Science, the Bible, and ways of knowing things

The following was in response to a friend following a discussion about how I interpreted a particular verse from the New Testament - 2/28/2006 thru 3/6/2006.

Hi xxx,

    Just wanted to clarify a few points I was trying to express while we were out bicycle riding. As you said, you are used to arguing about things, as am I, and I believe it can be useful to challenge our thinking and, as is said, "think outside the box" which we happen to be in at some particular moment. So, imagine that your current thinking is safely locked away inside a box so that you can return to it after you consider the following which may be "outside" of your usual view. You don't have to give up your faith or religious beliefs to think about these things. I know that some people might say things like, "Oh, you don't believe in God so you might be trying to trick me into following the Devil and so I'm not going to listen to you" and they can perhaps support this thinking by referring to some statement or other in the Bible. That's fine, if you think that way you might want to stop here.

    If we think about the things that we know, we might observe that there are different types of ideas in our mind. For instance, we know that someone named George W. Bush is the president of the country we find ourselves living in because over the years we have read the newspaper, watched T.V., exchanged words with fellow humans, etc. and our body retains an association of images, built up over time, which we call memory. All of this is knowledge we've gained through our senses by experience, even the meaning of the words and the particular language we use have been acquired in this way and of course each individual has a different memory or association of sense impressions which means that we each experience and interpret the external world differently. When you think about G.W. Bush at this moment, the images and associations involved are your own, that is, your ideas involve a particular association of impressions or sense images from your past experience accumulated on your brain, regardless of what actually occurred with G. W. Bush himself. And of course, other people have their own ideas, either similar or different from yours, but which are not identical to yours, and in this way we all have our own private representation of the external world of our senses.

    You studied Euclidean Geometry and you may recall that it starts out with some very simple ideas which, although your mind tells you that they are true, you cannot think of an explanation as to why they must be true. In other words, these things are known to be true simply, and so you can't find anything simpler from which you can derive the truth of them. As I mentioned, for instance, you probably know that "two and three make five", although I suppose it is possible that you just remember this as a fact and accept it without being certain about the truth of it. The idea of "twoness" or "threeness", etc. must be grasped simply, and so, "twoness" can be thought of more simply as a collection or group of a certain number of "ones" but the "ones" can't be made any more simple. Also, if you think about it carefully you realize that you did not learn the truth of the concepts of "one", "two", etc. in school, what you did learn in school was only how to name these concepts, but your mind affirms them directly as true ideas regardless of the words and images. It might take some effort to begin to distinguish between the simple Ideas of "one", "two", etc. and the words or images which naturally present themselves when we try to imagine them, but the words and images impressed on our brain by experience are not these Ideas. So now, try to think again about "two and three make five". Can this ever be anything other than true? Can the fact that "two and three make five" be different for different individuals simply because their experiences of the external world through their senses are different? We can say in words that maybe God could change things so that "two and three make ten" but we cannot form any such idea and affirm it to be true. In that case all we have done is put together words with no clear and simple idea associated with them.

    Now, as you go through Book 1 in Euclid, where he is dealing with simple figures on a 2 dimensional flat plane, he starts with some definitions of terms, which just express how we should interpret them as we proceed, and then he states several simple axioms, which, like the idea of "oneness" and "twoness", he expects we will see as being true without requiring a proof. Again, we might say something like; "Well, if God wanted to he could make these axioms false" but just saying these words does not bring to our mind any clear idea that they are or could actually be false. With other ideas, for instance, if I tell you "Bill went to San Diego" or "Jesus ascended into heaven", you cannot know whether or not these are true statements even though you have some images associated with the terms involved. You might call up Bill and ask him but even if he says "Yes, I did go to San Diego" you cannot know that this is true (he may be lying). In the case of the latter statement you can only say that you believe or have faith that it is true, it's just the nature of the particular idea expressed that you cannot know the truth of it in the way that you can know that two and three make five (unless you want to try to convince someone that you were there and know this from your own experience :-)

    Starting with these definitions and simple ideas we can, if we are interested and if we follow each step carefully, follow along the various propositions and proofs and come to realize that, for instance:

"The sum of the three interior angles of any triangle is [and must be] equal to two right angles."

    Again, we can say in words that God might make this to be otherwise, but our mind, and anyone else's mind, if it follows the steps of the proofs, each of which are based either on the original definitions and axioms, or on previous propositions already proven by the use of them, does in fact affirm the truth of all of the propositions Euclid presented.

    We can, and in fact in ordinary life we constantly do, apply the rules of reasoning (logic) to nearly everything that our imagination presents to us, like the association of sense experience of our own idea of G. W. Bush and his actions, but doing so does not make our conclusions true. True conclusions only follow from premises which our mind itself affirms are true, and all of these must in turn rest on simple true ideas, etc. Life does not require us to think clearly about very many things, rather, ordinary life is made up of habit patterns which were impressed on our body through our senses and these became our particular memory patterns long before we ever began to question the "what" and "how", etc. of our existence.

    Both Euclidean Geometry and the Bible are written down and expressed in words but anyone who follows the steps of reasoning expressed in words in Euclid will know that the ideas expressed in the propositions are true and cannot be false and they will not be able to argue otherwise (except of course by just saying things like "well that might not be true.") But the Bible is expressed in the form of stories and does not involve reasoning from simple axioms. Of course, someone who goes straight to a particular proposition in Euclid, without starting at the beginning and following the reasoning, can still just accept on faith that it must be true and can then even use it as a rule (for instance to construct a building) but their mind does not affirm the actual truth of the idea involved. The things of "faith" are not such that we can understand them to be necessarily true by Reason and Intuition, but rather we can only imagine them and accept by faith that our imagination of them is true because that's what we were told, or that's what we have come to believe after maybe considering some other things in life.

    When I first encountered Spinoza's work titled "Ethics Demonstrated in Geometric Order" I was attracted to it because it followed a similar form to Euclid's Elements, being laid out as chains of reasoning, from simple definitions and axioms, through a series of propositions. However, the subject matter is not geometric figures or other abstractions. Rather, it is made up of five parts, each of which builds on the previous ones:

1. Concerning God.
2. Of the Nature and Origin of the Mind.
3. On the Origin and Nature of the Emotions.
4. Of Human Bondage, or the Strength of the Emotions.
5. Of the Power of the Understanding, or of Human Freedom.

    A major part of this work involves reasoning from simple ideas, as in Euclid's Elements, and if you follow it carefully it becomes apparent that much of what we believe in our own particular view of things is nothing more than a confused arrangement of words and images in our own particular Imagination none of which is based on simple, clear Ideas. There is no faith involved in this way of thinking [reasoning]. In fact, if you try to just skip along through the chain of reasoning to get to the end result, like searching through Euclid to find a proposition that might be useful for constructing a building, you will only have "faith" that what he writes is true, your mind will not affirm it as true.

    And what kinds of Ideas does Spinoza help us to reason toward and to see the truth of directly? Here is an example, which of course you cannot just read by itself and understand, any more than you can jump into the middle of Euclid and make sense out of what you find there. Still, after much effort on my part I am beginning, now and then, when I find myself alone and deeply within my own inner being, (or, expressed differently, having gone within my own closet and having shut the door to the outside world) to know directly the Truth of such things as:

======== E5: PROP. 30:
    Our mind, in so far as it knows itself and the body under the form of eternity, has to that extent necessarily a knowledge of God, and knows that it is in God, and is conceived through God.

Proof.-- Eternity is the very essence of God, in so far as this involves necessary existence (E1D8). Therefore to conceive things under the form of eternity, is to conceive things in so far as they are conceived through the essence of God as real entities, or in so far as they involve existence through the essence of God; wherefore our mind, in so far as it conceives itself and the body under the form of eternity, has to that extent necessarily a knowledge of God, and knows, etc. Q.E.D.

    The understanding that I have of this now, through Reason and Intuition (and of course that Understanding is an ever continuing path of growth), causes me to see the following in a whole new Eternal Light:

======== Luke 17:20-21:
    And when he was demanded of the Pharisees, when the kingdom of God should come, he answered them and said, The kingdom of God cometh not with observation: Neither shall they say, Lo here! or, lo there! for, behold, the kingdom of God is within you.

    I suspect that you might want to point out that there are other ways to interpret this particular verse, and that I am ignoring many other things in the Bible which you might say point toward a different meaning, but I do not seek to "believe" in any words, including Spinoza's words, rather, I seek to understand clear and simple ideas and the ideas which build upon and follow from these ideas, etc. And I do understand, to a degree, certain Ideas which Spinoza (and others) have expressed in words but these ideas are like the axioms of Euclid, I don't accept them on faith but I take them into my inner closet and close the door and here God reveals the Truth to my mind, and here I experience Eternal Joy because of them. In other words, this leads me to the Love of God which no words can express and which has nothing to do with the course of history and changes in the external world as my imagination presents it.

    The Kingdom of Heaven is Eternally at hand within my own Being even when I often stray back into the external world of my senses, memory, and imagination.

In Inner Friendship,

    As part of his response, my friend asked me to look at a particular web site which endeavours to prove that Faith and Science (as the term is used today) are compatible, but that site also makes statements to the effect that:

God has intervened miraculously in the history of the universe in various ways countless times to create each and every species of life on Earth....

...God created Adam miraculously and supernaturally...

Since it is a revelation created by the 'Breath of God', the Bible is totally without error (including historic, scientific, moral, and spiritual truth). God's written word is the absolute and final authority in all matters that it covers....

The following was my response (slightly modified and with a few added notes):

Hi xxx,


    What I am referring to is neither faith nor science. Science and faith are both based on sense experience and neither involve the kind of certainty that Euclidean Geometry and similar mathematical thinking involves because they both start from sense observation or experiment, not axioms involving certainty.

    Science is based on observation, either directly through our senses, or through instrumentation which transforms some external activity which is beyond the range of our senses into something that we can observe. From these observations hypotheses are developed and then tested. If they fail then they are either modified and tested again or discarded. Of course, many scientific theories use mathematics to construct abstract models, however, as I mentioned before, applying logic (mathematical or otherwise) to premises based on the world of our senses does not make our conclusions true. This should be apparent if you simply look at the history of scientific theories which are forever changing. Newton's ideas looked like they were solid until Einstein, and then QM showed that his ideas didn't explain everything either, and so it continues. Science has much practical use but it cannot provide certainty of the kind Spinoza and others are dealing with when it comes to God. [See the Note following the Corollary to Ethics Part 2, Proposition 10 for Spinoza's comments on "the order of knowledge and the order of nature" and "the objects of sensation", etc.]

    As I mentioned, faith simply looks to stories about what someone said or did or some other particular events which people observed through their senses. Even Jesus said of those around him "seeing they do not 'see', and hearing they do not 'hear' " although you will probably want to tell me that this means something else and that I'm isolating this from many other sayings, etc. But look, let's say that you take 1,000 Christians from various denominations around the world who don't know each other and put them together to discuss the New Testament. Do you believe that they will all agree on one interpretation of the stories they find there? And if they all disagree with you and with each other, would it matter to you at all?

    Now take 1,000 random people who have studied and understood Euclidean Geometry. Do you think there will be any debate over the truth of: "The sum of the three interior angles of any triangle is [and must be] equal to two right angles"? or the truth of any other Euclidean theorems? The most you will probably see is discussion over finding some simpler proof of one or another of those theorems but that does not change the truth of any of them. [Note that I am not here suggesting that there are no other, non-Euclidean Geometries, or that Euclidean Geometry is a true representation of the "universe", etc. Whether the "universe" is Euclidean or not is a separate issue.] Many people study Spinoza's Ethics, especially in academic circles, but it is much more difficult to grasp than Euclid because of the subject matter. He starts with the nature of God and shows, by careful reasoning from simple axioms and definitions that God is Infinite, Eternal, One, Unchanging, etc. and he goes on to show, although the road is very steep and few are able to follow it, that our mind is part of the Infinite Mind of God, and that to come to know our own particular nature from within is to know, to that extent, God directly. These things are of course foolishness to many academics and so they skip over such things themselves or merely do like many theologians tend to do and meddle into everyone else's thinking and actions since it's easier to point out where the other guy seems to be going astray (as many academics do with Spinoza) than it is to find their own particular path to the Love of God. Even Jesus' own students kept falling asleep (a metaphor for "the dream of the senses" or "confusion" to some of us, not ordinary sleep) as he tried to let the cup pass, before the confusion and fear of the others came to put him to death. So his own students sometimes did not understand him either.

    I looked at some of the FAQ sections at that site but I don't see much of anything that appeals to me. Science and Faith to me are two different sides of the same coin, but that coin is still just pocket change, having nothing to do with the Intuitive or direct Knowledge and Love of God.

    Best Regards,

    My friend instructed me that in my quote from Luke 17:20-21 above, the word is not "within" but rather: "...the greek is : 'in your midst' ". And he said that, in addition, "within" did not make any sense to him because Jesus elsewhere called the Pharasees "children of the devil" and "headed for damnation". I was aware that there are different English language translations of the Greek versions that we have of the New Testament and so I looked a bit into this and pointed out that I was able to find on the web 19 English language translations and summarized my findings for him as follows:

11 cases* where it is translated as "is within you" or "is in you" or "is inside you".

6 cases* where it is translated as "is among you" or "is already among you".

3 cases where it is translated as "in the midst of you" or "in your midst".

* there is one case (AMP) where both are used as it shows: "is within you [in your hearts] and among you [surrounding you]".

He then suggested that Strong's Concordance shows many other words related to "within" being used elsewhere but that the word used in Luke 17:21 only occurs once (in Luke). I guessed that he meant that this made that word suspect, and so I looked further, and here is my response [with minor editing]. I have tried to approach this question in a similar manner (as I see it) to that which has been used by Spinoza in the Theological-Political Treatise:

Hi xxx,

    Thanks for the message and your reference to Strong's. Since you are familiar with it, let's think a little more about the Greek "entos" question and then I'll offer my view on the Pharisees.


    You say that:

"My strongs numbers are 1722 for most of the NT renderings of 'within' and 1737 for the one in Luke 17."

    First, I think there may be a typo in what you wrote since I see "within" as 1787, not 1737 in Luke. Correct me if this is not the case. So, you have located all the places where a few different Greek terms such as "entos", "eso", "esothen", "esoteros" [his 1722 reference is actually to the Greek "en" meaning "in", "by", "with", etc. so I narrowed things down to what he had stated was "within"] have been translated, by some English language translators, as "within" or as some similar word or phrase. How did those translators decide what English term best fit? As with any language, ancient or modern, words acquire meaning only by usage (how did you learn the language that you speak and write?). So, we have dictionaries for different languages and these often show, in addition to one or another definition, how a particular word was used by some particular writer. Greek was the language of many of the learned in the Roman Empire and it had, of course, been used by the Greeks for a long time before the time of Jesus and Luke and so a dictionary of the Greek language of the times is compiled from the many Greek documents (fragments and otherwise), including, but not restricted to, many of the Greek NT fragments available today.

    Looking just at Luke we see that he (or, if the actual Luke wrote in some other language, then the translator of that document into the Greek which we have) used "esothen" at:

Luke 11:39: "And the Lord said unto him, Now do ye Pharisees make clean the outside of the cup and the platter; but your inward part is full of ravening and wickedness."

    But notice that the translator did not use "within", since that would not be grammatically correct. Similarly, the Greek term was "esothen", which they translated as "inward part" but in English "within" or the "inward part" both convey virtually the same meaning. Now, from the context it seems that Jesus is contrasting the "external", or "outer part" which everyone else sees and which is most important to the Pharisees (they want to appear to others to be special and above them, kind of like most people everywhere), with the "internal" or "inward part" or the "within".

    So, as you point out, "entos" is only used once by Luke. It is also used by Matthew in his version of the above story:

Matthew 23:26: "Thou blind Pharisee, cleanse first that which is within the cup and platter, that the outside of them may be clean also."

    I'm sure you are aware that the Septuagint is the Greek language translation of the Hebrew Bible, produced before the time of Jesus. In that translation, again, using the Greek language which was in use even before Jesus and Luke, the term "entos" is also used in many places which seem, in context, to unambiguously express the contrast between inside and outside or within and without. So, the term "entos" has almost always been used for what we express in English as, "within" or "inside". When I look up "within" in my Oxford English-Greek dictionary it refers me to "entos". When I look up "entos" in the Greek-English part it shows "within", "inside" and "inner" surface (as an example).

    Now, some people are unhappy with the use of this word in Luke 17 because it doesn't make sense to them, but they seem to accept that that is what was written in all the Greek copies that are known to us. So, in a similar manner as is done by some people who read Plato's works where some particular term is used, they try to say that the word really means something else like "among" or "in the midst" even though, as in English, there are other Greek terms for those ideas. So, since we're dealing with Luke, let's look at what words he used for "among" and "midst" to see if he just had an unorthodox way of using "entos" instead.

    There are many places where he uses the idea expressed by the Greek "en", translated as "among", such as:

Luke 9:48: "And said unto them, Whosoever shall receive this child in my name receiveth me: and whosoever shall receive me receiveth him that sent me: for he that is least among you all, the same shall be great."

    And other places where he uses the idea expressed by the Greek "mesos", translated as "midst", such as:

Luke 2:46: "And it came to pass, that after three days they found him in the temple, sitting in the midst of the doctors, both hearing them, and asking them questions."

    And here is a verse where "mesos" is used by itself and translated as "midst" and, when preceded by "en", as "among":

Luke 22:55: "And when they had kindled a fire in the midst of the hall, and were set down together, Peter sat down among them."

    So, it seems that Luke knew how to use the different Greek terms which are most often translated differently as "within", "among", and "midst" (again, not just here in the New Testament, but also in many other Greek documents from before and after Jesus' time).

    This brings me to your question:

"...how could the pharasies have the kingdom of God in them when Jesus called them : 'children of the devil' and headed for damnation in other NT passages."?

    And, indeed, it seems that this just gives some Christians fits. After all, just as we all "know" that the guys in the black hats are the bad guys, we also "know" that the guys in the white hats are, well, of course, they are "us", the good guys. I've seldom heard a Christian express anything except the view that they themselves are on the side of God, and that everyone else, who does not, for instance, affirm that "Jesus is God" or "Jesus physically ascended into 'heaven' (in this case apparently meaning the sky)", etc., are spawn of the Devil and are doomed to Hell and Damnation.

    But who are the Pharisees? They were certainly learned since they spent much of their time arguing over the minutia of the oral law and of the written Torah. And, as Jesus pointed out, they demonstrated their piety by showing up in all the "right places" and putting on just the "right appearance" and saying just the "right thing" to show everyone that they are worthy of being "God's Chosen" people. In other words, they were those who went around trying to show that they are "the good guys" and telling everyone else that those who did not think the way that they did are "the bad guys". Pretty much like people have always done except they have "proof" of all this because they know "the law of God" as written in the Torah. So, this is not much different from those Christians who say that they know and understand the New Testament (or those Muslims who say the same about the Quran) and therefore anyone who does not think like them are the "bad guys" and are clearly condemn to Hell.

    But who are they really? They were born to some woman and man as a child, born into their parents culture, just as their parents had been before them, as innocent as all children who have not yet picked up the habits and stories of those around them. So, is Jesus really saying that "they" are absolutely "children of the devil" by their very nature? If so, then why did he try to instruct them...:

Matthew 23:26: "Thou blind Pharisee, cleanse first that which is within the cup and platter, that the outside of them may be clean also."

...pointing out to them that they had not grasped the importance of their own inner being over their outward appearance. Do you actually suppose that if one of those Pharisees whom he berated in words had come to him privately (they would probably have had great difficulty saying something in front of their peers) and expressed an interest in what Jesus was teaching his students that Jesus would have said; "Nope, there is no chance for you! Go to Hell!"?

    So, when the Pharisees asked him basically the same question that his own students asked him as to "when" the kingdom of God would come he knew that they were expecting some kingdom on earth to show up which would free them from the Romans and restore them to the earthly power which their ancient stories seemed to relate to them. Even his own students continued to expect a similar kingdom on earth after Jesus was gone since they too could not quite grasp the idea of Eternity. So Jesus responds again to the Pharisees with something about the difference between that which is without, in the world of appearance, and that which is "within", which is not seen. Again, this is also expressed in his instruction to them about cleansing the inside of the cup. Imagine, for instance, a coffee cup sitting on the shelf which is never washed on the inside, and which has mold, etc. growing in that very part of it which serves its real purpose, but which is otherwise nice and clean on the outside. He is saying that it is the inside which is important, not how nice it looks to everyone else on the shelf. So, when they asked him "when" the kingdom (which they were expecting) would come, he answered:

"...The kingdom of God cometh not with observation: Neither shall they say, Lo here! or, lo there! for, behold, the kingdom of God is within you."

    But many Christians are just like the Pharisees and so they cannot understand what he is saying and figure that he must mean something else. And so we have this "among" or "in your midst" being substituted for the word "entos" when translated into English even though all the other usages of that Greek term so clearly mean "within" or "inside", etc. I'm sure that many Christians would be happy if all the other English language translations were wiped out so that they could more readily imagine that they themselves are God's Chosen, just like the Pharisees believe that they themselves are! Also, if Jesus meant that He represented the kingdom as being "in your midst" why would he not just say something like "It's right Here!"? Of course, this would then be contrary to his admonishing them that it cannot be observed as being "Here! or There!"

    Human nature has not changed one bit since the time of Jesus, and so, for nearly 2000 years, many "good" Christians have been saying to themselves; "Any day now Jesus will be returning to take away all the evil and wickedness that those 'others' do and then 'we' will have Heaven on Earth", even though the Kingdom of God Within is Eternal and Unchanging and is available to all.

    [snip] I discovered long ago the "pharisee" in me and this is where Parts 3 and 4 of Spinoza's Ethics continue to help me separate that thinking which is driven by the senses and external appearance, from that which Lives Eternally Within and which does not "taste death" with the body.

    Good Luck with your endeavours,

I welcome any thoughts on the above subject.
You may send email to:
tneff [at] earthlink [dot] net

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