Monday, August 29, 2016

Methodological atheism is viciously circular

Imagine the following conversation between a theist (T) and a metaphysical naturalist (MN) who justifies metaphysical naturalism on the basis of the evidential form of the problem of evil and who then attempts to justify methodological naturalism on the basis of metaphysical naturalism.

MN: If one is a metaphysical naturalist then one should be a methodological naturalist, i.e., refuse ever to postulate nonphysical entities as the cause of physical events. One should not believe in nonnatural entities without good evidence. There is no good evidence for nonnatural entities. Indeed, in the case of God, the chief candidate for a nonnatural entity, the existence of evil constitutes positive evidence against His existence. Therefore one should accept metaphysical
naturalism and, by logical extension, methodological naturalism.

T: I disagree that there is no good evidence for nonnatural entities. I propose to show you that there is evidence that God causes some physical events and that this positive evidence for God outweighs any presumed negative evidence based on the existence of evil.

MN: Such positive evidence cannot exist.

T: Why not?

MN: Because any investigation of the causes of physical events must employ methodological naturalism, i.e., must assume that it is never, even in principle, legitimate to posit a nonnatural cause for a physical event.

T: Why should one accept methodological naturalism?

MN: Because there is good reason to think metaphysical naturalism is true, and methodological naturalism follows logically from the truth of metaphysical naturalism.

T: Remind me once more of your good reason for thinking metaphysical naturalism is true.

MN: The good reason for thinking that metaphysical naturalism is true is that there is no good evidence that nonnatural entities exist. Further, given that evil constitutes evidence against the existence of God, the primary candidate for a nonnatural entity, it seems clear that metaphysical naturalism is justified.

T: Would methodological naturalism ever permit one to posit a nonnatural entity as the cause of a physical event.

MN: No. I have already made that clear.

T: Let me get this right. Your acceptance of metaphysical naturalism is based on the fact that there exists no evidence that nonnatural entities ever cause physical events?

MN: Yes. That along with the evidence provided by the existence of evil.

T: And your endorsement of methodological naturalism follows from your acceptance of metaphysical naturalism?

MN: Yes.

T: This seems question-begging. You endorse metaphysical naturalism on the basis that there exists no evidence that nonnatural entities ever cause physical events, yet adopt a methodology which rules out the possibility of ever recognizing evidence of nonnatural causes. You are using your metaphysic to justify your acceptance of methodological naturalism, but your acceptance of methodological naturalism serves to guarantee that even if evidence for the existence of nonphysical causes exists it can never be recognized as such.

MN: Are you not forgetting that evil constitutes positive evidence against God’s existence?

T: Assuming that evil does in fact constitute evidence against God’s existence, it only makes God’s existence improbable if there is not a body of positive evidence that outweighs the body of negative evidence. By adopting methodological naturalism you guarantee that such a body of positive evidence will not be recognized, even if it exists. You use your metaphysical naturalism to justify methodological naturalism and you use methodological naturalism to justify your metaphysical naturalism. Your metaphysical naturalism supposedly justifies your methodological naturalism, but your methodological naturalism serves to insulate your metaphysical naturalism from any possible challenge. This is viciously circular. It begs the important question of whether there exists sufficient evidence to justify belief in nonnatural entities and thus disbelief in metaphysical naturalism.

Return of the God Hypothesis - Stephen C. Meyer, PhD

A Response To Annette Merz On The Infancy Narratives (Part 2)

(Part 1 can be read here.)

She writes:

As a general rule, we encounter more legendary material in ancient biographical texts in those parts of the narrative that are devoted to the hero's nativity and youth….

When Jesus was born - far more probably in Nazareth than in Bethlehem, though his place of birth ultimately remains uncertain - no one among his family or fellow villagers expected anything special from him, and thus nobody paid any special attention to him. No historically reliable traditions of Jesus' childhood have survived, nor would one expect that an ordinary craftsman's family in a collectivist society (even if it claimed Davidic provenance, which is doubtful) would engage in collecting memories of a family member's individual development….We must not confuse the world of high-ranking persons who documented their important lives with the world of nobodies from which Jesus originated. Of course, things changed when Jesus' career as a prophet of the kingdom of God and a successful healer unfolded….In the first decades after the resurrection, several concepts coexisted in the Christ-believing communities. Memories were refracted, and where no memory was extant - as was probably the case with the birth of the one who was now believed to be the Messiah and thus the Son of David - traditions were invented to meet the requirements of the beliefs that had developed. (466, 491-2)

Dreaming and dual consciousness

It's interesting to consider illustrations for the Incarnation. Let me say at the outset that I don't use "mystery" and "paradox" as synonyms. A paradox is a particular kind of relation: an apparent contradiction. I often mention things that are paradoxical at first glance, but consistent if you think about it more deeply. 

Although a paradox may be mysterious, a mystery needn't be paradoxical. Something can be mysterious without seeming to be contradictory. I think the Trinity and the Incarnation are mysterious, but not paradoxical. 

Unitarians scoff at "mystery". And from their standpoint, that makes sense. For instance, the unitarian gosling of Dale Tuggy is basically a human being with superhero powers. A very anthropomorphic god like Zeus. A god of finite knowledge. A god who exists in time. Naturally there's nothing mysterious about a god like that! It's all too human. A difference of degree rather than kind. 

By contrast, the God of Christian theism has a mind of infinite complexity. By the same token, his intentions are nearly infinite, when you consider the number of intended events, and how one event is coordinated with another. 

Any God worthy of the name is going to be mysterious. The average adult can understand a math problem that the average child cannot. A math teacher can understand a math problem that the average adult cannot. A math genius can understand a math problem that the average math teacher cannot. Yet even those are finite differences. 

Because the Incarnation is unique, there are no direct parallels in human experience. But we can explore analogies. Here's one I thought about recently. Consider a lucid dream. Dreams are the product of the subconscious. When dreaming, the dreamer is normally unaware of the fact that it's a dream. But on rare occasions, the dreamer becomes lucid. 

At that point the same person has two different, interrelated, and simultaneous mental states. The dreamer becomes conscious, or self-conscious, of the fact that the setting is just a dream. At the same time, his subconscious is still producing the dreamscape.

Once he becomes lucid, it's possible for him to take charge of the dream. To consciously direct the dream. But lucid dreams are unstable because the dreamer is on the cusp of wakefulness. It's hard for him to both be lucid and remain asleep.

But I'm concentrating on the initial moment of lucidity. The sudden realization that it's a dream. That's one mental state, yet that takes place in tandem with another mental state: the ongoing subliminal production of the dreamscape. Both mental states belong to the same person at the same time. The dreamer becomes the conscious observer of his unconscious imagination. The conscious mind knows far less than the subconscious mind. Conversely, the subconscious mind is unaware of what it knows. 

If even a finite human thinker can have two different, interrelated, and simultaneous mental states, what justification is there to rule out dual psychology in the greater case of Christ?

Sunday, August 28, 2016

Gender dysphoria and practical application

Loving evil people

On Facebook (early June), Jerry Walls said:

Does everyone realize that if Calvinists would just forthrightly, consistently affirm that God loves EVERYONE, (which I think most know in their hearts), that He does not need eternal hell to be fully glorified (if any are lost forever, it because they have freely, persistently rejected God's love), that it could save us all a lot of arguments?

For Jerry, it's just inconceivable that Calvinists don't really believe God loves everyone. In their hearts, they know that God must love everyone, but their theological overlay forces them to deny what deep down know to be true.

It's unclear to me why he treats that claim as indubitable. One reason he gives is that God is that love is an essential divine attribute. And Calvinists agree.

But Jerry acts as though that makes God a love machine. If love is essential to God, then God automatically loves everyone.

But surely that inference is too strong. By that logic, God must love evil.  

According to Walls, God would not be good unless he loved Josef Mengele. Why does Jerry think that's self-evidently true? 

(To be clear, that's my example, not Jerry's. But it follows from his belief that God loves absolutely everyone.)

Notice, I'm not necessarily saying God can't love Josef Mengele. But why does Jerry insist that God must love Josef Mengele? What makes it antithetical to divine goodness if God didn't love Josef Mengele? 

That's not a universal moral intuition, is it? Is it intuitively obvious to most folks that God wouldn't be good unless he loved Josef Mengele? Is it intuitively obvious to most theists that God wouldn't be good unless he loved Josef Mengele? Supposed you were to poll orthodox Jews? 

I'm not discussing garden-variety sinners, but moral monsters. Psychopaths. People with no conscience. 

One argument might be that, according to the Bible, no one is too evil for God to save. Let's consider that. 

First of all, if God doesn't intend to save somebody, he may let them become more evil that if he intended to save them. The reason some people are so evil is because God had no intention of saving them. So he allows them to sink into depths of depravity. 

From a Calvinist perspective, God's love is transformative. If God loves a deeply evil person, his love is a means of transforming an evil person into a good person. It's not just a divine attitude, but a divine action: irresistible grace. 

Freewill theists might also wish to say that God's love is transformative, but that's qualified. For them, God loves people who will never be transformed by his love. 

There is a difference between saying I will love an evil person in order to redeem him, and saying I will love an evil person despite his evil, irrespective of whether he will ever change. Those are not morally equivalent. 

Is it intuitively obvious that a good person will love an evil person? Even if we think it's commendable to love an evil person in case we know that by loving them them will be transformed into a good person, is it self-evident that a good person will love an evil person for love's sake, even though he knows that his love will have no effect on the evil person?

Isn't there a prima facie tension between goodness and loving someone who embodies evil? If anything, doesn't our reflexive moral intuition find it wrong to love someone who embodies evil, absent some overriding consideration? Isn't there something evil about empathizing with evil people? Take women who become pen pals with convicted serial killers. They fall in love with them and marry them. Or take Charles Manson's groupies. Isn't there something morally twisted about that? 

Let's take another example: A feature of friendship is that to be one person's friend sometimes means you can't be a another person's friend. You can't be friends to both of them. You have to choose. There's an element of loyalty in friendship. Sometimes you have to take sides.

Suppose you befriended Sharon Tate's mother. Suppose, at a later date, you tell her that you befriended Charles Manson. Surely she'd find that intolerable. If you love the man who murdered her daughter, then you can't be friends with her mother. From her perspective, for you to even be sympathetic to Manson would be unconscionable.

Now, Jerry might counter that my objections are subchristian. The Gospel teaches us to love our enemies. We must overcome our instinctive revulsion to certain people. 

That, however, wreaks havoc with Jerry's overall position. That's not morally intuitive, but morally counterintuitive. Yet in the book he coauthored with David Baggett (Good God: The Theistic Foundations or Morality), Jerry says divine goodness must be analogous to human goodness to be recognizably good. Otherwise, "good" is equivocal, if it has one sense for God, and a divergent sense for man. That's essential to their case against Calvinism. 

If, however, Jerry is going to say that we ought to love everyone because God loves everyone; if he's going to say that we must learn to emulate God's universal love, despite our natural inclination to be discriminatory, despite our natural inclination to hate someone like Charles Manson or Josef Mengele, then Jerry is conceding that divine goodness is unrecognizable. Divine goodness is radically disanalogous to our moral intuitions. God's universal love violates our intuitions. We must suppress our moral intuitions in order to bring our sensibilities in line with God. 

Saturday, August 27, 2016

Framing the argument from miracles

How problematic is the problem of unanswered prayer?

The so-called problem of unanswered prayer is a familiar issue in Christian apologetics. It's not just a philosophical or theological issue, but a practical issue–inasmuch as many believers find unanswered prayer aggravating. In some cases that leads to loss of faith.

I'd simply point out that the "problem of unanswered prayer" isn't distinctive to prayer. It's not a special problem that's confined to prayer. Rather, it's a subdivision of a general issue regarding the mystery of divine providence. Why is it so often the case that the righteous suffer while the wicked prosper? Why does the distribution of weal and woe so often seem to be random? 

Insofar as Christian theodicy has a general explanation for the mystery of providence, that's applicable to the "problem of unanswered prayer" in particular. Put another way, the experience of unanswered prayer isn't surprising. Rather, that's to be expected given the mystery of providence. However frustrating unanswered prayer may be, that's not unique to prayer. If you think about it, there's no specific "problem of unanswered prayer". Unanswered prayer doesn't raise any new issues. Unanswered prayer doesn't create a problem that's not already on the table in reference to the broader question of divine providence. Same pattern on a lower scale.

The God of the gaps narrative

An extremely popular argument in atheism is the God of the gaps narrative. According to the narrative, prescientific people used to attribute every event, or at least every mysterious event, to supernatural agency. Indeed, that's a primary source for religious belief in the first place. Ancient people were superstitious because they were ignorant of how nature works. So they postulated supernatural agency as a stopgap.

But due to the stately march of science, we are steadily filling in the gaps. Indeed, the very success of modern science and methodological atheism go to show that invoking supernatural agency never had any genuine explanatory power. Thanks to modern science, we can propose naturalistic alternative explanations. Indeed, religious sophisticates concede scientific explanations for most events. And even when we can't currently offer a naturalistic alternative explanation, the success of secular science creates a tremendous presumption in favor of naturalistic explanations. As Richard Feynman put it,

God was invented to explain mystery. God is always invented to explain those things that you do not understand. Now, when you finally discover how something works, you get some laws which you're taking away from God; you don't need him anymore. But you need him for the other mysteries. So therefore you leave him to create the universe because we haven't figured that out yet; you need him for understanding those things which you don't believe the laws will explain, such as consciousness, or why you only live to a certain length of time -- life and death -- stuff like that. God is always associated with those things that you do not understand. Therefore I don't think that the laws can be considered to be like God because they have been figured out. P. C. W. Davies & J. Brown, eds. Superstrings: A Theory of Everything (Cambridge, 1993), 208-209. 

i) The claim is a half-truth. For instance, paganism often personifies natural forces. Likewise, paganism may treat mental illness as the result of one person hexing another. 

ii) It's also true that some Biblical miracles might employ natural mechanisms. For instance, Ananias and Sapphira might have died from a brain aneurism or stroke or heart attack or pulmonary embolism. The destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah might have been a natural disaster. The Crucifixion darkness might have had a natural cause. In cases like that, we'd be dealing with a coincidence miracle: a miracle of timing rather than a miracle of nature. 

iii) There are, however, many Biblical miracles that resist scientific explanation, viz. regenerating the severed ear of Malchus, replicating fish, raising Lazarus from the dead, fireproofing humans (Dan 3), contact with a skeleton reviving the dead (2 Kgs 13:21), the metamorphosis of a stick into a snake and vice versa, walking on water, virgin birth.

For instance, even if it's scientifically possible to walk on water, that wasn't scientifically feasible back in the 1C. The technology didn't exist. 

iv) In many cases, the God of the gaps narrative has the situation exactly backwards. The progress of science has made these miracles even less, or ever less naturally explicable rather than more naturally explicable. Take the virgin birth. About the only thing ancient people were in a position to observe was the normal correlation between sexual intercourse and pregnancy. They had no deeper understanding of the cause and effect. By contrast, we have a detailed scientific understanding of sexual reproduction. In principle, an ancient skeptic might appeal to an unknown law to explain away the virgin birth, but we now know that's naturally impossible. 

v) Apropos (iv), if the God of the gaps narrative were generally true, then we'd find secular scientists offering naturalistic explanations for Biblical miracles. There is the occasional attempt to explain a Biblical miracle scientifically, viz. the ten plagues, Star of Bethlehem, Crucifixion darkness. 

However, many Biblical miracles defy naturalistic explanations. When is the last time you read a secular scientist like Carl Sagan, Isaac Asimov, Richard Dawkins, Jerry Coyne, Sean Carroll, Lawrence Krauss, Victor Stenger, Stephen Hawking, PZ Myers, Steven Weinberg, or Neil deGrasse Tyson present alternative naturalistic explanations for all the miracles of Scripture? If the God of the gaps narrative is true, then they should be able to posit natural mechanisms to account for them. But what they do instead is to deny that these event ever took place. 

For instance, they don't say, "Yes, Jesus was dead for about 48 hours, but here's a natural process to explain the reversal of his condition". They don't say, "Yes, Jesus was restored to life after 48 hours, but not because God raised him from the dead. Here's how it really happened!" 

What they do is not to explain the event naturalistically, but deny the reported event and propose a different event to account for the "legend", viz. the body was stolen; Jesus fainted on the cross, then revived in the tomb; the disciples went to the wrong tomb, &c. 

In general, they dismiss Biblical miracles as pious fiction. Yet that's the polar opposite of their God of the gaps narrative. To be consistent with the narrative, they should grant the historicity of the Biblical events, but then explain them naturalistically. It should be a question, not regarding the occurrence of the event, but the interpretation of the event. 

The upshot is that "skeptics" don't really believe the God of the gaps narrative. In practice, their response to Biblical miracles is diametrically at odds with that narrative. They don't think science has any explanatory power to account for most of these events.  

Friday, August 26, 2016

Inerrancy and evangelism

Increasingly, there seems to be a sentiment in some "evangelical" circles that we should downplay inerrancy because that drives people away from the faith. But if you unpack it, what does that mean?

It means we shouldn't insist that people need to believe the Bible to be Christians. Insisting that they have a duty to believe the Bible deters them from becoming Christian.

Okay, but since they already disbelieve the Bible, if you tell them it's okay to disbelieve the Bible, then they're in exactly the same situation they'd be if you "drove them away" by telling them it's not okay to disbelieve the Bible. What are you keeping them from by telling them it's wrong to believe the Bible? You're not driving them away from Christian belief, since they already lack Christian belief. That's where they're at. And if you tell them it's okay not to believe the Bible, then they can just stay put. That's where they're at already. They no longer need to become anything different, because you told it's okay not to believe the Bible, and guess what?–they don't believe the Bible! 

If anything, it's the person who tells them that inerrancy is optional who's driving them away or keeping them away, since in that event, there's no reason for them to change. 

The only way to change the status quo is by telling them they have a duty to change–as in…believing the Bible! 

Trapped in the Matrix

I wonder what makes video games, social media, texting, &c. so compulsive for so many people. It's ominous to see how quickly it's taking over. 

Of course, once people become addicted to something, that takes on a life of its own. So at that stage there's no point asking why they do it. But the question is how they get hooked in the first place. What makes it so addictive? 

Here's my armchair theory: I'm guessing people have already been conditioned by so much artificial stimuli that they were predisposed to develop a psychological dependence on nonstop artificial stimuli. 

By that I mean, even before the advent of smart phones or Facebook or the Internet, you had TV, movies, and recorded music. That was readily available and very prevalent. People get accustomed to having so much artificial stimuli that smart phones just tip the balance. 

Problem is when people have an incessant need for constant external stimuli. They can't stand silence. They can't use their own imagination to occupy their minds. It has to come from the outside. 

Even natural stimuli like mountain views, seascapes, or the sound of surf, is no longer strong enough. They've become so restless. So fidgety. 

I also think there's an element of self-importance. What if someone can't reach me at any time? What might happen? 

In times past, when people left the house, they were incommunicado. They might be incommunicado for hours. If you wanted to contact them, you had to wait until they got home. But we've become so impatient. 

I don't object to having a cellphone on your person in case of family emergency. But the idea that you have to be available the instant someone wants to talk to you is narcissistic. The world won't fall apart if you can't be reached for a few hours. Humans survived without cellphones for millennia. Heck, humans survived without landlines for millennia. 

Unfortunately, some people now have jobs that require them to be just a phone call away all the time. So they don't have a choice.  

BTW, one benefit of intramural sports is that when boys are playing a sport, they have to put the cellphone down and give the game their undivided attention. Having to give anything your undivided attention is increasingly rare. But when you play football, basketball, hockey, soccer, &c., your total focus has to be on the state of play. 

Evading Genesis

I recently got into an impromptu Facebook debate about Noah's ark:

Steve Hays 

"Christopher May: If your belief about Genesis helps you live a more Christ-centered, Christ-like life then go on believing whatever you wish."

So we shouldn't believe something because it matches reality. 

"A belief is considered 'Christian' if it produces a Christ-centered Christ-like Christian."

What about considering a belief to be Christian if it corresponds to how the NT defines the Christian faith?

Steve Hays Actually, what's modern is denying the historicity of the text under the guise of hermeneutics. A deceptive conflation. It's a face-saving way of saying you don't believe the Bible without having to forthrightly admit you don't believe the Bible.

Steve Hays 

"Sharad Yadav: It is quintessentially modern to deny that one is already engaged in philosophical hermeneutics on your own view while characterizing it as transparent, default and obvious."

You're stereotyping people who disagree with you. I never said anything to suggest that we can engage in presuppositionless exegesis. 

There are lots of readers, including some professing Christians, who reject the historicity of Gen 6-9 because they don't think Noah's ark and Noah's flood are scientifically possible. That's a "quintessentially modern" viewpoint since the ancient narrator and the ancient audience didn't share that outlook. 

Indeed, some professing Christians will outright say Gen 6-9 is unscientific because primitive people didn't know any better. Not their fault, but unlike them, we're in a position to know better.

However, some professing Christians don't want to say the Bible was wrong. So they try to recast this as an issue of interpretation rather than historicity. Moreover, they try to put "literalists" on the defensive by alleging that "literalists" are superimposing modern assumptions on the text. 

But keep in mind that what motivates their denial of the narrative's historicity is their belief that it's scientifically false or even scientifically impossible. Yet that means their reinterpretation is, by definition, anachronistic. It is they, and not the "literalists", who are using modernity as their controlling frame of reference. They, and not the "literalists", who are construing the text in a way that wouldn't occur to the ancient audience. 

Now, there's no doubt that Ham's reconstruction of the ark, especially the interior, involves a lot of conjecture. You also have scholars who think the text describes a local flood. Those are worthwhile debates.

What is dishonest is to pretend that denying the historicity of the account is just a hermeneutical issue. There's no reason to suppose the narrator didn't think he was giving a factual description of a real event. Modern skepticism reflects distinctively modern scientific objections.

Steve Hays 

"Sharad Yadav: Steve - I fail to see how your view was 'stereotyped' - the point about hermeneutics being a 'guise' fails to recognize the assumptions about history and its relationship to theology…"

Well, in the Bible, the relationship between history and theology is that true theology is grounded in the one true God's revelations and redemptive deeds. That distinguishes Biblical faith from pagan falsehood. 

"The point is that your assumption that in order for the Scripture to function as revelation the ancient writers had to have been incapable of being wrong about incidentals of science, history, geography or other such matters is an unwarranted modern hermeneutical premise not present in the text or borne out by the history of Christian interpretation."

i) Well, the immediate topic under consideration is the narrator's claim that God destroyed the whole human race, due to the extent and intensity of evil, but saved a godly remnant. Is an event of that magnitude just an "incidental" of history?

ii) In the prologue to his Gospel, Luke stresses the factual accuracy of his account. 

Likewise, in the Gospel of John and 1 John, the author repeatedly emphasizes different kinds of testimonial evidence that attest the divine mission of Christ. 

So their concern with narrative veracity is not a "modern hermeneutical premise," but an ancient biblical hermeneutical premise (to use your own categories). By contrast, the way you demote the veracity of the Biblical record reflects your unwarranted modern hermeneutical premise, in the teeth of the text.

"Scripture was written by ancient writers using the language and notions available to them in their own cultural currency in a way that was appropriated by the Spirit of God for divine discourse."

What's your evidence for that claim? Certainly the Bible never says the Spirit of God appropriated the notions available to them in their own cultural currency for divine discourse. Since you didn't get that from Scripture, what's your source of information about the Spirit's intentions? I know that I didn't get the memo.

"it won't allow one to drive a wedge between the original authors and the word of God"

So the "word of God" is errant. Does that mean God is errant?

"it won't allow us to baptize the entire body of cultural assumptions of the original authors as infallible."

Because you'd rather jettison the historicity of various biblical narratives to make room for baptizing your own 21C, ethnocentric assumptions.

Steve Hays 

"To say that an author's invocation of historical reportage guarantees that anything and everything said in that text, even the content of each individual speaker in the text, must be construed as historical reportage is a bizarre and demonstrably absurd assumption"

Actually, I was responding to your dichotomy that concerns about historicity are "modern" concerns rather than ancient concerns. So I gave some counterexamples–which could easily be extended.

"Moreover, it's my understanding that this is the ordinary and uncontroversial understanding of inspiration - am I mistaken there? For those who don't take a dictation theory of inspiration, it is commonly described as the Holy Spirit utilizing the ordinary abilities and capabilities of the authors."

You went beyond that. You implied that the Bible writers were confined to the culturebound notions available to them. That's not inspiration at all.

According to the organic theory of inspiration, God does, indeed, makes of use of the experience and personalities of prophets and Bible writers. However, God providentially gave them their particular experience and personalities to prepare and equip them for the task. It's not as if God was stuck with the material at hand. 

Moreover, Scripture is often counter-cultural. Bible writers aren't limited to their social conditioning.

Furthermore, there's the phenomenon of direct revelation, which transcends their natural abilities. That's a supernatural disclosure. 

"I doubt very much whether you would like to take every cultural assumption of the authors of Scripture as revelation from God."

The question at issue isn't the cultural assumptions of the prophets, apostles, and Bible writers, but their communications. What they assert to be the case.

Steve Hays 

"Bobby Grow: I didn't realize bib interp was so simple ... sweet!"

Bobby, is your comment directed at anyone in particular? On this thread, who is guilty of this?

Bobby Grow: Steve Hays as if historicity isn't a hermeneutic itself.

Steve Hays Well, Bobby, I think you need to expand on your claim. On the face of it, conflating historicity with a hermeneutic itself subverts the distinction between truth and interpretation. 

For instance, do you think the role of the reader is to assign meaning to the text, or is his role–indeed, his duty–to listen to the text? Does the text constrain the range of legitimate interpretations?

Steve Hays 

"Bobby Grow: Steve Hays no I'm saying that historicity itself is funded by a hermeneutic; whether that be realist or not."

i) Shouldn't our hermeneutic be funded by historicity?

ii) How can an antirealist hermeneutic fund historicity?

"I'm also saying that the history in the Bible, is not a naked history for Christians…"

i) What does that mean? A rejection of positivism? The affirmation that Bible history is interpreted history? 

ii) I think there's an equivocation of usage. What do you mean by "history". Do you mean the past? What happened? Or do you mean historical accounts? How to represent the past? 

"but instead it flows from a confessional commitment that God has spoken in His Son…"

According to Heb 1, God has also spoken through the prophets. 

"So along with Matthew Levering I am rejecting the simplistic notion of linear history (which owes more to history of religions and higher criticism)…"

What do you mean by "linear history"? There's an obvious sense in which time's arrow is unilinear. So you must mean something else.

"and saying that a proper understanding of historicity in the Bible is participatory understanding that history is God's history."

What do you mean by "God's history"? Do you mean something like God is the cosmic novelist and main character in his own story?

"It is within that frame that facticity etc ought to be read"

So we can't affirm a past event (e.g. "It rained in Albuquerque last night") without filtering that through a whole Barthian hermeneutic? Isn't that awfully Baroque? 

Or is your hermeneutic confined to Bible history. If so, that bifurcates Bible history from world history. 

"(i.e. without apologetic or naturalist concerns)."

What's wrong with having apologetic concerns?

A Response To Annette Merz On The Infancy Narratives (Part 1)

As I mentioned in my Amazon review of The Star Of Bethlehem And The Magi (Leiden, The Netherlands: Brill, 2015), I want to respond to one of the chapters here at Triablogue. The second-to-last chapter in the book was written by Annette Merz, a prominent New Testament scholar. Some of you may recognize her as the co-author, with Gerd Theissen, of an influential book, The Historical Jesus (Minneapolis, Minnesota: Fortress Press, 1998). Merz's chapter in the star of Bethlehem book provides an overview of the historicity of the infancy narratives. Her conclusions aren't just skeptical. They're radically skeptical, to the point of claiming that the infancy narratives have "totally different stories" that are "impossible" to reconcile (478), with "huge discrepancies" (492), that Nazareth is "far more" probable than Bethlehem as Jesus' birthplace, that "no one among his family or fellow villagers expected anything special from him", that we have "no historically reliable traditions of Jesus' childhood" (491), etc.

I don't know how many posts I'll be writing in response to Merz or when I'll finish them. But once they're completed, I'll put up a post linking all of them in one place.

Do miracles violate the laws of nature?

Happy-talk Arminians

I recently got into an impromptu debate with Jerry Walls on Facebook. He and I rarely interact directly:

Jerry Walls Next thing you know you are going to be telling us God loves all the little children...

Steve Hays Well, Jerry, there are countless children around the world who don't have loving parents. So you can't very well extrapolate from happy families to neglected or abused children.

Jerry Walls Yeah, I don't think God's love is contingent on whether or not parents are loving. I think he desires and will enable their ultimate well being and happiness whether they have warm hearted parents or not.

Steve Hays In which case you can't analogize from one example.

It's my impression that Jerry has led a pretty charmed life. So it seems self-evident to him that God loves everyone. He acts as though no one can really doubt God's universal love. If they deny it, they must be faking.

That reflects a profound lack of empathy on Jerry's part. There are countless people whose lives have been devastated by horrendous tragedy. It's not intuitively obvious to them that there's an all-loving God.

Now, I'm not suggesting that that settles the issue. But it certainly figures in one's plausibility structure.

Jerry Walls Not so on several accounts. I can easily see why some people's experience would make it hard to believe God loves all persons. But what I cannot see if Christ reveals the heart of God, and if God is love in his essential nature, and is perfectly good, how he could not love all the little children, and everyone else for that matter. As John Wesley frankly acknowledged, (and I agree) it is hard to believe that God is perfectly loving to all, based on empirical observation of the suffering in the world. See opening paragraphs of "The General Deliverance."

Steve Hays But you always coast along with the same glib happy-talk message, like a motivational speaker. Never once have I seen you seriously attempt to put yourself in the shoes of someone's whose experience is radically different from your own. You presume to speak on behalf of everyone. That deep down, everyone sees things the same way you do ("In your heart you know he's right"). 

So are you now admitting that your ubiquitous appeals to intuition are bogus? That your real position isn't based on intuition, but your interpretation of the Gospel?

Jerry Walls And I very much realize Calvinists do NOT see things like I do.

Steve Hays Jerry, I'm not just talking about Calvinists.

"But what I cannot see if Christ reveals the heart of God…"

Well, when Christ was here on earth he did a whole lot more for some people than others, so that appeal is a two-edged sword. 

BTW, love is not God's only essential attribute. 

"how he could not love all the little children."

Stalin used to be a cute little kid. Mao used to be a cute little kid. Attila the Hun used to be a cute little kid. Genghis Khan used to be a cute little kid. Idi Amin used to be a cute little kid. Pol Pot used to be a cute little kid. Ted Bundy used to be a cute little kid. And so on and so forth.

Jerry Walls And God could have given them all irresistible grace and determined them to have been persons we would celebrate as heroes of the faith..but instead he determined them to be the sort of persons you cite in a litany of humanity at its worst...

Steve Hays Jerry, the God of freewill theism could have determined them not to become mass murderers. According to freewill theism, it's not that God is unable to do so, but that he refuses to do so. 

So how does the God of freewill theism love everyone when he fails to protect innocent people (including children) from humanity at its worst? If you knew that a psychopath had designs on one of your granddaughters, would you stand by and do nothing to protect her?

Steve Hays 

"And God could have given them all irresistible grace and determined them to have been persons we would celebrate as heroes of the faith..but instead he determined them to be the sort of persons you cite in a litany of humanity at its worst..."

Jerry, for a philosopher, that's a very shortsighted criticism of Calvinism. If God gave everyone irresistible grace, you'd have a very different kind of world with a different set of people. Your proposal creates an alternate timeline. Suppose, in 5000 BC (to pick a figure out of the hat), God gives everyone irresistible grace. That has a snowball effect. Different people will be born as a result. 

All the people who were born as a consequence of living in a world where God doesn't give everyone irresistible grace will be denied existence on your alternate timeline. So there are billions of losers in your alternative. Billions of men and women who miss out because they can only exist in a world where God doesn't give everyone irresistible grace. How would that be loving to the billions of people who never got a shot at existing in the first place?

Jerry Walls Only actual people can be wronged. A world where everyone loves and honors God would be a good thing.

Steve Hays I didn't say that God was wronging them. But unless you're an Epicurean, there's a sense in which deprivation of existence is harm.

Take antinatalists who refuse to have children. That deprives people of the opportunity to exist in the first place. That's the most radical deprivation there can be. 

Yes, a world in which everyone is virtuous is a good thing. What you're overlooking is competing goods. A world in which everyone is virtuous comes at the expense of billions of people who don't get to share in the good of existence. It's a tradeoff between one set of goods and another set of goods. Your alternative eliminates some goods to make room for other goods. The winners win at the expense of the losers.

Steve Hays I also notice you dodge my point that in Calvinism and freewill theism alike, God could determine humanity at its worst not to commit atrocities. There's no difference between Calvinism and freewill theism in that respect. In both cases, God is able, but unwilling. What's different is the reasons or priorities that God has for refraining to exercise his omnipotence in that regard.

Jerry Walls Bottom line: on the Calvinist view, God could determine all persons "freely" to love him; on the Arminian view, he could not. Yet God prefers many people "freely" to sin and do treacherous things rather than "freely" to love him and each other according to the Calvinist view. We have fundamentally different views of the love and goodness of God, and it is clear that neither one of us are likely to change our views. So l will leave it at that. 

Steve Hays Jerry, you're ignoring the fact that it isn't possible to be equally loving to everybody if one person is harming another person. How can the God of freewill theism be equally loving to the murderer and the murder victim? The more he loves the murderer, the less he loves the victim–by failing to protect her. Isn't protecting her from murder the loving thing to do? There are disguised tensions in your position.

Jerry Walls P.S. No one can refuse to have children on the Calvinist view unless God determines them. On the Calvinist view, God can determine anyone he wants "freely" to have as many children as he wants. And as for the murderer and murder victim: on my view he can give them both optimal grace and every opportunity for final salvation and perfect happiness. On the Calvinist view, he can determine things so that no one ever murders anyone. Rather, all "freely" love and respect each other. But again, we have gone over this all before, and we just have radically different views of love and goodness.

Steve Hays 

"P.S. No one can refuse to have children on the Calvinist view unless God determines them. On the Calvinist view, God can determine anyone he wants 'freely' to have as many children as he wants."

True, but a red herring.

"And as for the murderer and murder victim: on my view he can give them both optimal grace and every opportunity for final salvation and perfect happiness."

God allowing the murderer to kill her is hardly the most loving option for her. That's not acting in her best interests.

To say we have "radically" or "fundamentally" different views of the love and goodness of God is another dodge. It's also a question of consistency.

Jerry, you're smart enough to realize that your responses are evasive. I find that ironic since you routinely accuse Calvinists of lowballing the unattractive consequences of Calvinism, yet you camouflage the unattractive consequences of freewill theism by staying safely vague.

Steve Hays There are several problems with Jerry's postmortem saving grace postulate:

i) It has no basis in revelation

ii) It bears a startling resemblance to Hick's eschatological verification, which makes it conveniently unfalsifiable in this life. If Jerry's wrong, the lost won't find out until it's too late to do anything about it.

iii) It's like seeing a woman in a burning building. I could rescue her, but I don't. She survives, but suffers excruciating chronic pain from third-degree burns. I pay her medical bills, including years of painful skin grafts. At the end of that process she's finally restored to what she was like before the fire. But surely it would be better not to put her through that agonizing ordeal in the first place.

Steve Hays 

"Only actual people can be wronged."

I'd like to revisit that claim:

i) Suppose I'm privy to the counterfactual knowledge that if my parents go on vacation at a romantic resort, they will conceive another son. Suppose I'm also privy to the fact that he'd have a happy childhood and a wonderful life.

However, I resent the prospect of having a kid brother. I like being the only child. I like having my parents undivided affection and attention. I don't want to share my bedroom with someone else. I don't want a kid brother making demands on me and co-opting my time. Therefore, I dissuade my parents from taking that vacation, as a result of which that brother is never conceived. 

Isn't there something deeply wrong with that? Not just my selfish attitude, but the fact that I denied my would-be kid brother the opportunity to exist and have a wonderful life. 

ii) Furthermore, in Jerry's "Pharaoh’s Magicians Foiled Again: Reply to Cowan and Welty," he takes the position that would-be hellbound persons shouldn't be in a position to prevent other would-be persons from going to heaven. So Walls does seem to think that would-be saints have a big stake in this issue.

Thursday, August 25, 2016

The Only One

Some heretics quote Jn 17:3 as a unitarian prooftext. That raises an interesting exegetical question: Why does Jesus call the Father the "only true God"? Monos means "only one". Cf. Louw/Nida, Greek-English Lexicon of the NT, 58.50. 

I'd say that serves as a divine title. For the NT (or Jesus) to say God is the "only one" harkens back to the Shema (Deut 6:4). On that view, the Only One is a synonym for Yahweh–the one true God.

That would also explain why, on the most likely construction, John calls Jesus the "one true God" in 1 Jn 5:20. As a divine title and synonym for Yahweh, it's equally applicable to the Father and the Son.

And in that connection, Jn 17:3 is a flashback to Jn 10:30. Arguably, Jn 10:30 is an allusion to the Shema. In the context of a debate over the identity of Jesus in relation to the identity of God, "one" would inevitably evoke the central Jewish confession (Deut 6:4). It functions as a synecdoche for Yahweh.

Finally, it's not coincidental that Jn 17:3 is stated in the context of Christ's comparison and contrast between the unity of Christians and the unity of the Father and Son. That picks up on Jn 10:30 and develops an analogy. However, it's carefully compartmentalized. Christians aren't one with the Father. Rather, Christians are one with each other, analogous to how the Father and Son are one with each other (17:11,22).

There's a mediated sense in which Christians are one with God. If the Son is directly one with the Father, while Christians are directly one with the Son, then Christians are indirectly one with the Father (or God). 

But that's because the incarnate Son is a bridge between God and man. Christians aren't one with the Son in the same sense that the Son is one with the Father.