Archive for July, 2007

Romans 8, Part 3: Justification and Resurrection

July 31, 2007

The divine action of “justification” is frequently understood to refer to God causing an individual human person to be declared as righteous before God. Justification is an instantaneous one-time event in history that is a necessary precondition for the salvation of individuals. It absolves a person of their guilt by a transfer–grounded in Christ’s payment of the death penalty for the imputed human guilt of the elect on the cross–of the legal righteousness of Jesus earned through his meritorious obedience. Justification is thus a change in how God looks at an individual; or more technically, it is a change in the divine disposition toward an individual.

But is justification solely a change in God’s disposition toward a person? Or can justification refer to something else as well? Several verses indicate that in some contexts, a wider meaning can be operative:

Romans 4:25

…who was handed over to death for our trespasses but raised for our justification.

If justification just had to do with a change in God’s disposition, then clearly this would have nothing to do with the resurrection. It would solely be tied to the crucifixion, where (some say) Christ’s imputed righteousness made God’s attitude toward us change. Tying justification to the resurrection in a causal manner is strange. The verse seems to mean “When Jesus rose from the dead, He caused men to be justified”. Resurrection is not associated with the payment of a penalty or the transfer of a legal status by divine declaration. Rather it has to do with the reconstitution of a thing; it is re-ordering matter and re-uniting it with soul. What does the resurrection of Jesus cause, elsewhere in Scripture? In 1 Corinthians 15:22, it is the cause of mankind’s resurrection. Perhaps 1 Corinthians 15:22 and Romans 4:25 are referring to the same thing, such that justification just *is* resurrection.

Romans 6:7

For whoever has died is justified from sin.

The death referred to here is the mystical participation in Christ’s death through baptism. What is peculiar is that the sense in which a person is justified from sin is *being freed from sin’s domination*–not just a divine legal declaration about the status of a human being before God.

Romans 5:18-21

Therefore just as one man’s trespass led to condemnation for all, so one man’s act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all. For just as by the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, so by one man’s obedience the many will be made righteous. But law came in, with the result that the trespass multiplied; but where sin increased, graced abounded all the more, so that, just as sin exercised dominion in death, so grace might also exercise dominion through justification leading to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Paul is clear in his Adam/Christ parallel and in his use of the words “all” and “the many” that every human being is justified by what Christ did. If justification is always equivalent to “acquittal”, then it seems to imply that all human beings are saved. But this is clearly denied elsewhere in Scripture. Paul connects very closely here the idea of justification and eternal life, and freedom from death’s power. He also uses the phrase “made righteous”–which is distinct from a mere legal declaration. It appears that justification in some way reconstitutes or changes human beings.

1 Timothy 3:16

He was revealed in the flesh, justified in the spirit, seen by angels, proclaimed among Gentiles, believed in throughout the world, taken up in glory.

The justification/vindication of Jesus involved his resurrection by the power of the holy Spirit. Justification here is a synonym either for resurrection itself, or the direct effect of resurrection conferring on Jesus’ a cosmic vindication.

In these verses, justification has a number of peculiar features:

1. All men are justified.
2. The resurrection of Jesus causes justification.
3. Justification is associated with eternal life and freedom from death and the dominion of sin.
4. Justification involves a change in the inner constitution of a thing.

It does not seem like a stretch to say that the justification that is given to all men by Jesus’ resurrection is indeed the *same thing* as the resurrection of mankind caused by Jesus’ resurrection in 1 Corinthians 15:22. In order to understand, the distinction that needs to be made is between person and nature. Justification is given to human nature, as distinct from particular persons or selves in the resurrection of Jesus Christ. When Jesus rises from the dead, human nature rises with Him; consequently all human beings are justified. Now let’s substitute the allegedly equivalent words: when Jesus is justified/vindicated, all human nature is justified/vindicated; consequently, all human beings are justified/vindicated. This certainly fits. But this does not mean that all human persons are justified/vindicated as individuals. Hence universalism is not entailed.

How can justification, linguistically, possibly refer to resurrection? That is a question for another time. For now, it is interesting to note that justification may be equivalent in some sense to resurrection.

Divine Goodness, Divine Commands, and Deception

July 20, 2007

Brett ( and I have been discussing issues related to divine agency, divine goodness, and divine authority. Because I think a lot of the questions are complicated and related to all kinds of meta-ethical and epistemological issues, I will attempt to explicate some of them here (though I know little of meta-ethics or epistemology):

Regarding divine lying and the belief that God can do anything He wants to, we need to carefully qualify this with the following.

If God can do anything He wants to, we need to ask what God WOULD WANT to do. If God is perfectly good, He would never want to do anything bad. To be more specific, God COULD NEVER want to do anything bad. So whatever God in fact does is therefore good.

To say God isn’t bound by duties isn’t to say God could do just whatever, anything, randomly. Its to say that the moral laws God gives to human beings do not apply to Him in the same way. However, those laws are built off of more fundamental objective truths about morality. Those truths establish the range of which laws it is acceptable for God to mandate.

If God is necessarily good, (and if He is “the Good”) then whatever God does in his actions would be in harmony with the more fundamental moral principles upon which divine commands are based. Thus God would always choose to do what is good; He won’t choose to do “just anything”.

You have brought up the possibility of divine lying. Why think God is not lying to us? There are three responses I have. First, there are two possible reasons I could give for believing God does not lie to us. And in addition, there is a point that needs to be made about our definition of “lying”.

1. First is a deductive reason. I can claim (and I think this principle may be true) that a fundamental principle of morality is what I will call the “strong truth principle” (TP) which states:

(TP) goodness always entials the absence of falsity-conduciveness.

This principle is not a divine command, but rather a basic metaphysical/metaethical principle about what is always the case if some person or thing is called “good”. It follows logically from this that if God is good, then He will not willingly (as opposed to permissively–a distinction I will address in a future post) represent anything as contrary to how it actually is. If this is true, then it follows that God never lies. For lying always involves a willful mis-representation. In this case God would never will to misrepresent something.

2. Second is an abductive reason. Lets start with the assumption that there is a fundamental principle of morality which we will call the “weak truth principle” (pT). It can be stated as follows:

(pT) Goodness is co-extensive with the absence and negation of falsity-conduciveness.

All that basically means is that the better a thing is (whether morally or aesthetically) the more it tends to (1) not misrepresent truth, and (2) prevent misrepresentation of truth. Now, this doesn’t mean that it is never morally-good to lie; for instance, we could hold a graded-absolutist view of the hierarchy of moral goods with a “greater of two goods” view about moral dilemmas. Some moral goods are higher than others (graded absolutism); and in circumstances of moral dilemma, achieving a higher good is morally justified even if it involves doing things that under normal circumstances might be morally wrong. This kind of action would instead count as being morally good in such a dilemma. So lying may be morally good in some situations. It may be the greater of two goods, and hence it may be morally best to lie.

Now, if this principle (pT) holds true and applies to God, what seems to follow is that God will tend overwhelmingly to represent reality correctly to us. In normal circumstances, where God wants human beings to exercise their libertarian agency to grow in virtue and has no overriding reasons to lie, He will not lie and reality will tend to be properly-represented. If God has some kind of overriding reason to lie, then maybe He would; but these reasons would need to be very specific and strong to justify lying to a person about things.

Abductively then, the normality of circumstance and (pT) would make it very plausible that the best explanation for my awareness of certain things, that seem to be facts about God through religious experience or otherwise, is that I am actually aware of these facts and they are real. This doesn’t mean I’m certain, but it definately counts in favor of God being truthful in how the world is represented to me.

3. A final issue is our definition of lying. Is lying just any misrepresentation of the truth, or is it something more specific? If lying requires, for instance, malicious intentionality, then it seems that if God is by definition good, then He will never lie. What may be a possibility would be a misrepresentation of the truth for some higher good. So the dilemma becomes “how do I know God isn’t misrepresenting the truth to me?”

But then what becomes of the existential dilemma of “how do I know God isn’t misrepresenting the truth to me?”? The dilemma seems to disappear, because if God were misrepresenting the truth to me for the sake of some unknown higher good, then this would be morally unobjectionable. Of course I would be very confused and scared, but that doesn’t necessarily have anything to do with whether it was wrong or not.

I will address some issues related to God’s will and providence (and where certain biblical passages and concrete experiences fit in) at some other time, though of course if you could raise questions related to this that would be helpful. However, I think some of your inquiries would be more appropriate to discuss face-to-face.

Romans 8, Part 2: Calling and Resurrection

July 15, 2007

The divine action of “calling” is frequently understood to refer to God causing an individual human person to become regenerate or saved. This call is an event in history that is a necessary precondition for the salvation of individuals.

But is the call to salvation addressed solely to individuals in respect to their salvation from sin and hell and alignment with the Gospel, or can calling refer to something else as well? Several verses indicate that in some contexts, a wider meaning can be operative:

1 Thess 4:16

For the Lord himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trumpet call of God: and the dead in Christ shall rise first…

John 5:28-29

Marvel not at this: for the hour is coming, in which all that are in their graves shall hear his voice, and shall come forth; they that have done good, unto the resurrection of life; and they that have done evil, unto the resurrection of damnation…

Romans 4:17

As it is written, “I have made thee a father of many nations”. [Abraham] is our father in the sight of God, in whom he believed–the God who gives life to the dead, and calls those things which are not as though they were.

In these verses God’s call is a summoning of something ontologically dead to return back to life. Though the word “calling” is not explicitly used in John 5, it is clear that this kind of concept is operative, and Jesus is here doing something that can be legitimately labeled as “calling”.

Thus, calling can refer to God causing a thing that is dead to come back to life by his creative word.

Some quick notes on TGD

July 11, 2007

Over at they are having “the great debate” which is a discussion between naturalists and theists on a host of issues. Some of the biggest names are participating, so this is very exciting. I am especially looking forward to the Smith vs. Collins debate, which will probably be nuts.

Anyways, my friend Brett mentioned some things about the responses of Taliafero and Goetz to Melynk on the case for physicalism. I thought I would quickly post my reply to what Brett told me. So this is kind of an informal note. Part of my motivation for posting it on this blog is that it was originally part of a myspace comment that became WAY too long and not very audience-appropriate for the rest of Brett’s myspace friends, who would probably cringe at my phrases like “localized sensation” and “functional unity”. 🙂

The points you brought up are very interesting; there are some issues about the location of subjective experience that I have not read enough about. For instance, I haven’t read any in-depth dualist (OR physicalist) treatments of the issue of localized sensation (how to understand “pain in my arm” etc. if my mind is not located in space) and I don’t understand what to make of it entirely. I don’t know how our experiences of localized sensations would really square with the self not being located in a physical place (so I’m actually bringing up an issue that I see with this argument for dualism). But on the other hand I think that its clear that we can’t literally observe the felt-quality of certain experiences when we examine a person’s anatomy, which seems to call into question the adequacy of saying our experiences are physically located, or at least identical to physical states (even if they are mental states that are spatially located) which is required by materialism (in the forms I’m familiar with). And besides, even on materialism if we identify the self with the brain (which is how its always done…) the issue of localized sensation is still there. After all, why do I get the impression that my self (mind/brain) is the possessor of the experience of pain in my arm if the sensation is a physical state occurring in a different part of my body? So I think the spatial localization aspect is mysterious, but because I think sensations have an intrinsic, felt quality and they (including their felt quality) are not observable physical events, it seems that what we DO know about them favors a form of dualism (at least property-dualism, if not substance dualism).

Regarding the issue of the unity of consciousness, yes, that’s a big motive for dualism about the mind. I think the suggestion you made about neurons is not very plausible. After all, if the brain-events are spread out like that in separate locations, then what is the common entity which links and synthesizes them and experiences them simultaneously? This nexus of experience should be a physical object if physicalism is true, but I can’t think of what it could be. The brain as a whole?

But this raises problems. The brain seems to be unified mereologically (it is a bunch of connected parts that compose a whole). There is an enormous cluster of various particles united through chemical bonds (if you want to reduce it all the way down). The brain is also unified functionally, ie. it works as a whole. But both of these are true of almost any piece of matter. It seems dubious to say that functional unity is sufficient for a unified consciousness. It also seems dubious to say that mereological unity is adequate to ground a unified consciousness. After all, the kind of unity postulated has to be [a] without spatial extension (because our consciousness does not seem to have spatial extension when we introspect–even if it does have spatial location), [b] numerically the same through change (because otherwise we would not be enduring objects, and hence not able to even to consider arguments because the particles that compose our brain are constantly shifting and relocating, and cells are dying and being spawned, so that the brain is constantly replacing itself with new material, which means we would have a totally new self frequently). This seems to rule out the adequacy of the mereological unity of the brain as a grounding for consciousness. As for functional unity, because the brain is a physical object that changes and the particles that compose it are frequently replaced, and because functional unity seems to be dependent on the physical unity of the brain as an object, it is difficult to see why functional unity would be an adequate ground for psychological unity; it raises the same problem of “what is the enduring self that is the possessor of experiences, if the entity that is functionally unified is constantly having its basic parts replaced?”.

The Taliafferro/Goetz argument in their own section is very interesting, especially in respect to introspection and the implications it. I think they might have a decent argument for libertarian freewill that doesn’t assume the objectivity of morality and the fact of moral responsibility or anything like that. And the way that they argue that “dualism, if true, supports theism” is not adequately dealt with, I don’t think, by Melynk. His way of responding (there are laws of mental causation…) seems to be problemmatic because it is [a] an ad hoc revision to the naturalistic hypothesis; [b] it still doesn’t situate the origination of mind adequately in a materialistic framework; [c] a similar line of reasoning could be used to encompass anything that would otherwise require an explanation so that it doesn’t have to be explained and is simply accepted as some kind of “necessary truth”; and [d] Melynk’s suggestion would not work on many construals of the ontology of laws of nature (and I think the ones that it could work on are the less-reputable construals).

So thats just an initial reaction to (some parts of) the debate and to your statements. Hopefully that all made sense.