Archive for December, 2007

God's Glory (1): Visibility

December 29, 2007

The experience of God in the Torah and the New Testament is sometimes marked by episodes where God reveals his “glory”. I want to reflect on some examples of the manifestation of God’s glory and argue that various texts indicate that the glory of God is visible in the spatio-temporal universe. In later posts I will further argue that the glory of God is (2) a feature of God that can be communicated to created entities and (3) is in some sense identical to God himself. Lastly, I will argue that this aspect of biblical revelation poses intractable problems for any theology that denies that God and his attributes can be actually manifested in the created world and communicated to it.

Some Examples of the Divine Glory’s Visibility

The first texts come from Exodus, where the glory of God appears among the Israelites.

Exodus 16:7
“…and in the morning you will see the glory of the LORD, for He hears your grumblings against the LORD; and what are we, that you grumble against us?”

Moses and Aaron here speak of “the glory of the LORD” using a verb for sight or vision to describe the encounter that the Israelites will have. When the experience actually occurs, we read as follows:

Exodus 16:9-10
Then Moses said to Aaron, “Say to all the congregation of the sons of Israel, ‘Come near before the LORD, for He has heard your grumblings.'” It came about as Aaron spoke to the whole congregation of the sons of Israel, that they looked toward the wilderness, and behold, the glory of the LORD appeared in the cloud.

The language of spatial location (“in the cloud”) is striking. It seems that God’s glory can be seen (as Moses and Aaron predicted) precisely because it has a localized presence with properties that allow it to be apprehended through the senses. It can also be compared to physical things:

Exodus 24:16-17
The glory of the LORD rested on Mount Sinai, and the cloud covered it for six days; and on the seventh day He called to Moses from the midst of the cloud. And to the eyes of the sons of Israel the appearance of the glory of the LORD was like a consuming fire on the mountain top.

God’s glory is likened to a “consuming fire”. And, oddly, it is the *eyes* of the people that make them aware of it. Later, Moses makes the following request of God:

Exodus 33:17-34:9
The LORD said to Moses, “I will also do this thing of which you have spoken; for you have found favor in My sight and I have known you by name.” Then Moses said, “I pray You, show me Your glory!” And He said, “I Myself will make all My goodness pass before you, and will proclaim the name of the LORD before you; and I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will show compassion on whom I will show compassion.” But He said, “You cannot see My face, for no man can see Me and live!” Then the LORD said, “Behold, there is a place by Me, and you shall stand there on the rock; and it will come about, while My glory is passing by, that I will put you in the cleft of the rock and cover you with My hand until I have passed by. Then I will take My hand away and you shall see My back, but My face shall not be seen.” Now the LORD said to Moses, “Cut out for yourself two stone tablets like the former ones, and I will write on the tablets the words that were on the former tablets which you shattered. “So be ready by morning, and come up in the morning to Mount Sinai, and present yourself there to Me on the top of the mountain. No man is to come up with you, nor let any man be seen anywhere on the mountain; even the flocks and the herds may not graze in front of that mountain.” So he cut out two stone tablets like the former ones, and Moses rose up early in the morning and went up to Mount Sinai, as the LORD had commanded him, and he took two stone tablets in his hand. The LORD descended in the cloud and stood there with him as he called upon the name of the LORD. Then the LORD passed by in front of him and proclaimed, “The LORD, the LORD God, compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in lovingkindness and truth; who keeps lovingkindness for thousands, who forgives iniquity, transgression and sin; yet He will by no means leave the guilty unpunished, visiting the iniquity of fathers on the children and on the grandchildren to the third and fourth generations.” Moses made haste to bow low toward the earth and worship. He said, “If now I have found favor in Your sight, O Lord, I pray, let the Lord go along in our midst, even though the people are so obstinate, and pardon our iniquity and our sin, and take us as Your own possession.”

Moses’ request is for a particular kind of experience–a visual experience. This is brought out by the fact that God is described as moving in a localized way across a specific stretch of space, and Moses is consigned to a vision of God’s “back”. Could the language of “back” be a clue to a metaphorical reading of the text, according to which God’s glory is a *symbol of God* but not God Himself? The language of “hand”, and “back” is interesting and peculiar, because when God manifests his presence, He doesn’t seem to have a physical body per se. Hence, it seems natural to take the language of body parts as metaphorical. Nevertheless, they are not metaphors in an ahistorical, abstract discourse. They are metaphors in a concrete historical narrative, and thus when coupled with language about God’s glory being spatially located and God being “seen” it seems best to take them not as utterly unreflective of concrete historical realities, but as indeed in a pictorial fashion describing localized and visible manifestations of God. In Isaiah we read as follows:

Isaiah 6:1-5
In the year of King Uzziah’s death I saw the Lord sitting on a throne, lofty and exalted, with the train of His robe filling the temple. Seraphim stood above Him, each having six wings: with two he covered his face, and with two he covered his feet, and with two he flew. And one called out to another and said,
“Holy, Holy, Holy, is the LORD of hosts,
The whole earth is full of His glory.”
And the foundations of the thresholds trembled at the voice of him who called out, while the temple was filling with smoke. Then I said,
“Woe is me, for I am ruined!
Because I am a man of unclean lips,
And I live among a people of unclean lips;
For my eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts.”

In this theophany God is seen visibly present before the eyes of the prophet. John refers to this as a vision of the divine glory:

John 13:38-41
This was to fulfill the word of Isaiah the prophet which he spoke: “LORD, WHO HAS BELIEVED OUR REPORT? AND TO WHOM HAS THE ARM OF THE LORD BEEN REVEALED?” For this reason they could not believe, for Isaiah said again,”HE HAS BLINDED THEIR EYES AND HE HARDENED THEIR HEART, SO THAT THEY WOULD NOT SEE WITH THEIR EYES AND PERCEIVE WITH THEIR HEART, AND BE CONVERTED AND I HEAL THEM.” These things Isaiah said because he saw His glory, and he spoke of Him.

God’s glory was thus described as having a particular shape in Isaiah. In Ezekial we read of a similar encounter with language that is equally emphatic about the visibility of God’s glory:

Ezekial 1: 26-28
Now above the expanse that was over their heads there was something resembling a throne, like lapis lazuli in appearance; and on that which resembled a throne, high up, was a figure with the appearance of a man. Then I noticed from the appearance of His loins and upward something like glowing metal that looked like fire all around within it, and from the appearance of His loins and downward I saw something like fire; and there was a radiance around Him. As the appearance of the rainbow in the clouds on a rainy day, so was the appearance of the surrounding radiance Such was the appearance of the likeness of the glory of the LORD And
when I saw it, I fell on my face and heard a voice speaking.

The glory of God is described in terms of “radiance”, “like fire”, and having “the appearance of the rainbow in the clouds on a rainy day”. All of these visible phenomena resemble the appearance of God’s glory to Ezekial. Several passages in Scripture witness to a kind of general manifestation of God’s glory that will happen in the eschaton:

Habakkuk 3:3-4
God came from Teman, the Holy One from Mount Paran. His glory covered the heavens, and the earth was full of his praise. The brightness was like the sun; rays came forth from his hand, where his power lay hidden.

Revelation 21:23
And the city has no need of sun or moon to shine on it, for the glory of God is its light, and its lamp is the Lamb.

Revelation 22:5
And there will be no more night; they need no light of lamp or sun, for the Lord God will be their light, and they will reign forever and ever.

The emphasis in these verses on light, and the comparisons with the sun, definitely give the impression that God’s glory is something visible. When Christ is transfigured on Mount Tabor, the experience of the apostles is a visible one involving light and the presence of a cloud:

Matthew 17:1-8
Six days later, Jesus took with him Peter and James and his brother John and led them up a high mountain, by themselves. And he was transfigured before them, and his face shone like the sun, and his clothes became dazzling white. Suddenly there appeared to them Moses and Elijah, talking with him. Then Peter said to Jesus, “Lord it is good for us to be here; if you wish, I will make three dwellings here, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.” While he was still speaking, suddenly a bright cloud over-shadowed them, and from the cloud a voice said, “This is my Son, the Beloved; with him I am well-pleased; listen to him!” When the disciples heard this, they fell to the ground and were overcome by fear. But Jesus came and touched them, saying, “Get up and do not be afraid.” And when they looked up, they saw no one except Jesus himself alone.

Peter speaks of being an eyewitness to this event.

2 Peter 1:16-18
For we did not follow cleverly devised myths when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we had been eyewitnesses of his majesty. For he received honor and glory from God the Father when that voice was conveyed to him by the Majestic Glory, saying “This is my Son, my Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.” We ourselves heard this voice come from heaven, while we were with him on the holy mountain.

Christ is said to have received honor and glory from the Majestic Glory–the cloud out of which the voice of the Father issued. This cloud is what Peter identifies as the divine glory.

I conclude that the preponderance of the evidence of Scripture supports the idea that one use of the word “glory” can be a special divine manifestation that is visible to the eyes and spatio-temporally located.


Saint Isaac the Syrian on Love and Hell

December 22, 2007

Few arguments against Christianity are stronger and more troubling than the problem of hell. The problem is familiar to anyone who is familiar with Christianity. But not all understandings of hell are equally problemmatic. As Swinburne notes in Responsibility and Atonement for every “hard” position about salvation, sin, hell, justice, or human agency, there is a “soft” or more “liberal” view. Ironically, the more “liberal” view is hardly “liberal”, if by that we mean “new, innovative, rebelling against conservative consensus”. I think we sometimes assume for some reason that the harshest, most morally-repugnant view of Christianity is the most faithful to text and tradition. To help start correcting that tendency, I offer some words from Saint Isaac the Syrian:

What is a merciful heart? It is a heart on fire for the whole of creation, for humanity, for the birds, for the animals, for demons, and for all that exists. By the recollection of them the eyes of a merciful person pour forth tears in abundance. By the strong and vehement mercy that grips such a person’s heart, and by such great compassion, the heart is humbled and one cannot bear to hear or to see any injury or slight sorrow in any in creation. For this reason, such a person offers up tearful prayer continually even for irrational beasts, for the enemies of the truth, and for those who harm her or him, that they be protected and receive mercy. And in like manner such a person prays for the family of reptiles because of the great compassion that burns with without measure in a heart that is in the likeness of God.

The person who is genuinely charitable not only gives charity out of his own possessions, but gladly tolerates injustice from others and forgives them. Whoever lays down his soul for his brother acts generously, rather than the person who demonstrates his generosity by his gifts.

God is not One who requites evil, but who sets evil right.

Paradise is the love of God, wherein is the enjoyment of all blessedness.
The person who lives in love reaps the fruit of life from God, and while yet in this world, even now breathes the air of the resurrection.

In love did God bring the world into existence; in love is God going to bring it to that wondrous transformed state, and in love will the world be swallowed up in the great mystery of the One who has performed all these things; in love will the whole course of the governance of creation be finally comprised..

As for me I say that those who are tormented in hell are tormented by the invasion of love. What is there more bitter and violent than the pains of love? Those who feel they have sinned against love bear in themselves a damnation much heavier than the most dreaded punishments. The suffering with which sinning against love afflicts the heart is more keenly felt than any other torment. It is absurd to assume that the sinners in hell are deprived of God’s love. Love is offered impartially. But by its very power it acts in two ways. It torments sinners, as happens here on earth when we are tormented by the presence of a friend to whom we have been unfaithful. And it gives joy to those who have been faithful. That is what the torment of hell is in my opinion: remorse. But love inebriates the souls of the sons and daughters of heaven by its delectability.

If zeal had been appropriate for putting humanity right, why did God the Word clothe himself in the body, using gentleness and humility in order to bring the world back to his Father?

(Taken from here)

Dualism and Joint Causality

December 21, 2007

In his response to my argument against property dualism from its inadequate account of personal identity, Brett made a suggestion that if the soul together with the body is adequate to generate a continuity of consciousness, that the body alone is adequate to generate a continuity of consciousness. Here I will examine and critique these suggestions.

Brett wrote:

“I have no problem accepting a materialist account of the mind and here is why: if the dualist hold that certain material states of the brain “capture” or “hold in” the soul to the body, then they believe that it is sensible to say that some physical state causes the continuity of the soul’s interaction with the body. It appears to me that a dualist would have to accept this in light of what we know about labodomis: if dualism is true, then the altering, or rather severing, of the frontal lobe causes the aspect of the “soul” that causes emotion to vanish and go off somewhere else. Therefore, from this, we can draw a general principal (lets just assume that other phenomena of the mind like belief work in the same way emotion has been demonstrated to work) that physical states are a necessary factor for states of consciousness to endure continually. Well, if ((X and S)->continuous Y) where X is a certain chemical combination, S is some soulish agent, and Y is the consciousness being presently experienced, then it necessarily follows that (X->continuous Y) is also possible, where X and Y are the same things. If one is to say that X, since it is material and its parts are being replaced, cannot be one of the casual factors in bringing about uninterrupted consciousness because its token is changing constantly (X->continuous Y), then it follows that X should also be insufficient to continually “cage in”, or “hold onto” the soul in an uninterrupted fashion, as would occur in the case of ((X and S)->continuous Y). In short, it seems that the argument that Michael uses to critique the brand of materialism under question is either valid, and therefore the dualist and the monist account of consciousness are both incompetent, or the critique is invalid, and the dualist and monist models are both workable. I believe that both models, the dualist one and monist alike, are possible and that the critique does not show that either are incompetent, but I think the monist account wins because it does not multiply as many bodies to explain the phenomena as with the dualist account, when taking occum’s razor into consideration.”

I will try to analyze this part of Brett’s post in 3 segments.

(1) Brett first states that “if the dualist hold that certain material states of the brain “capture” or “hold in” the soul to the body, then they believe that it is sensible to say that some physical state causes the continuity of the soul’s interaction with the body. It appears to me that a dualist would have to accept this in light of what we know about labodomis: if dualism is true, then the altering, or rather severing, of the frontal lobe causes the aspect of the “soul” that causes emotion to vanish and go off somewhere else. Therefore, from this, we can draw a general principal (lets just assume that other phenomena of the mind like belief work in the same way emotion has been demonstrated to work) that physical states are a necessary factor for states of consciousness to endure continually.”

Brett uses language of “capturing” which seems to imply that on his view of dualism, the dualist is saying that the body is what causes the continual interaction between soul and body. But this is false. Dualists would hold that a precondition for the interaction of the soul with the body is the existence of specific physical states (the body, and more specifically, certain causal channels within the body). But preconditions (Brett’s “necessary factors”) aren’t causes. The example of lobotomy does show that the soul may have some powers that are inactive if certain physical states aren’t in place that the soul will normally act through. But that doesn’t imply that the body and specific brain states are efficient causes of the soul continually interacting with it–no more than the existence of a plaster surface is the efficient cause of a three week painting project.

It is the assumption that physical states cause the continual interaction that leads to Brett later arguing that “if the body can cause continual interaction, then the body can adequately cause continual consciousness”. I will continue to address the soul/brain relation below as related issues come up (see [3]).

(2) Next Brett says “Well, if ((X and S)->continuous Y) where X is a certain chemical combination, S is some soulish agent, and Y is the consciousness being presently experienced, then it necessarily follows that (X->continuous Y) is also possible, where X and Y are the same things.”

It seems to me that this is false–even obviously so. Take for instance the good ole’ volcano experiment that you did in fourth grade. You wanted to make foamy, fizzy bubbles. So you took vinegar (ingredient x) and baking soda (ingredient s) and you put them in the cheap paper-mache volcano sculpture. You got a whole ton of bubbles (continuous Y) and were a very happy kid.

But was it ever reasonable to believe that ingredient x was adequate on its own to give a continuous Y? I don’t see how. It is not in fact sufficient. The fact that X and S can lead to Y doesn’t imply by any known rules of inference that I’m aware of that X is sufficient by itself to generate continuous Y.

But, you might protest, we *know* this to be the case with baking soda and vinegar because we’ve *seen* the interaction between them and that both are joint causes of bubbling. But that isn’t true with the soul and brain states. We haven’t seen that they’re *both* jointly necessary. We just know that the brain states are necessary–the question of whether they are jointly necessary is something else. So its simpler, given this consideration, to assume that the soul is not a necessary factor and need not be postulated to explain consciousness.

I would agree with this (other things being equal–like assuming we don’t have any other arguments for the existence of a soul). But that last comment (“we know this to be the case with baking soda and vinegar… but that isn’t true with the soul and brain states…”) is the *real* intuition–a principle of parsimony–that motivates the assumption that a soul isn’t necessary to explain consciousness. All by itself, the assumption in the last comment (“we know…but this isn’t true…”) serves to undercut the assumption that a soul is necessary. But this is very different from the line of reasoning expressed in the argument for “possibly, X–>Y”. That original reasoning was what I have already criticized above; I thought it was more closely analogous to assuming that because baking soda and vinegar are jointly necessary and sufficient for bubbles, that vinegar by itself is necessary and sufficient for bubbles. Why incorporate that whole extra first part that is, by itself, fallacious reasoning until you add in the principle of parsimony to explain what you’re really trying to say (“we shouldn’t assume both are necessary for consciousness if we only experience one”) if the principle of parsimony would have got the job done in the first place?

(3) Next, Brett suggests that “If one is to say that X, since it is material and its parts are being replaced, cannot be one of the casual factors in bringing about uninterrupted consciousness because its token is changing constantly (X->continuous Y), then it follows that X should also be insufficient to continually “cage in”, or “hold onto” the soul in an uninterrupted fashion, as would occur in the case of ((X and S)->continuous Y).”

I think this assumes that on my account, a single continuous physical state is causally responsible for the
continual interaction between soul and body (I already discussed this above somewhat). But I deny this; I think that the soul by its nature interacts with its body so long as the body is available. The soul’s qualities are what cause the continual interaction with the brain, through the various causal channels in the brain.

You might think of it in terms of a computer–more specifically, a robot–like this: certain faculties of the soul are like USB ports. They can sense whether a USB drive (the body–specifically the brain) has entered into it (whether the soul and body are united). When the USB drive does enter into the port, it accesses it, (the soul is aware of the body) and displays it as available on the computer screen (kind of like the brain displaying sensory data [transmitted through the eyes] to the soul). Then the computer (soul) can interact with the USB drive (body/brain), transferring files on and off of it (causing brain events, and allowing physical/brain events to be preconditions to the soul causing mental events–if they are identified as the appropriate kind of physical events). But it is the computer’s robotic arm that goes through the process of inserting the USB drive (it is the soul that causes itself to be united to the body and keeps that union in place).

So some powers of the soul cause it to automatically be joined to the body if the right physical preconditions are in place.

Now, even if we grant the assumption that the body causes the soul to remain united to it, what follows? I’m not sure we can automatically go to Brett’s conclusion–that it follows that the body could be an adequate grounding for the continual existence of certain mental entities. Why would we have to assume that in order for the soul to remain united to the body, there must be the *same* body parts that cause it to be continually united? I don’t see why the physical states that causes soul-body union couldn’t be replaced over time slowly so that eventually they are totally replaced. It could be that every physical state of the type U (cause of the union between soul and body), whether it be U1, U2, or U3… Un, U[n+1], will automatically cause the union of what remains of the body with the soul that was united to it before. So why not think the soul remains united to the body so long as there is a state of type U?

For an analogy, think of a king’s throne that a servant has to carry on his shoulders to keep the king up. In order to keep the king supported, all you need is an entity of type S–a “strong servant type” of human being. There doesn’t have to be absolute numerical sameness throughout time–you can replace one servant with another after the first guy gets tired. All that has to be there is *someone* who can handle the load. Because we aren’t talking about an identity relation here (the servant example is illustrating continual causality, not sameness or identity) its okay for him to be replaced. He can uphold the king, who remains elevated in place the entire time.

So I think the problems with Brett’s arguments are numerous. Some of them seem to be fallacious (until coupled with considerations that would have illustrated the same point just fine on their own); others seem to be working off of assumptions that dualists aren’t willing to grant; while still others seem to be easily answerable.

Physicalism, Property Dualism, and Personal Identity (II)

December 21, 2007

Brett has suggested that my critique of property dualism as adequately grounding personal identity fails. Here I will attempt to respond to his criticisms of my argument.

Brett wrote:

Michael introduces this as a critique of type-property dualism, but this seems to be another critique of token-property dualism taken from a different angle. Michael points out that the second tape is a “different tape” from the first one, which seems analogous to the difference between the first token-molecules of the mind being different in token to the second token-molecules of the mind, even though they are the same type throughout. But as Michael himself points out the same image will pop up on the screen, and so he agrees that it is the same “type” and that nothing has changed as far as “type” even though, with the switching of tapes, things have changed with “token.” And since the “type” does show continuity between the exchanging of tapes, this hypothetical situation does correlate to what we experience phenomenological. So, in the instance of property dualism, where aspects of consciousness are the emergent property of brain chemicals, it seems that the changing of brain chemicals will not interfere with the belief, feeling, or image that it emergently creates.

Brett says that I am giving a critique here of token-property dualism. But what I am really arguing is that type-property dualism is counterintuitive. Its correct that I am pointing out that the second tape of the same type is a different token from the first one, analogous to the difference between physical state X token A and token B. And yes, the same type of image will appear on screen. So there is continuity of the type of image even though there’s two different tokens.

But that’s the whole problem. Personal identity, whatever it is, has to involve total continuity and sameness across time. Now think of how property dualism articulates personal identity. If a ship lost its mast and got a new mast, we wouldn’t say that it was exactly the same ship. Whatever we believe about personal identity, we can’t believe that its grounded in switching the ship’s mast every time it falls off; that’s precisely *not* a continuity of identity, but two totally different things. Similarly, two different showings of the same film are *not* the same film. They are two very different things.

Now, the continuity of mental states Brett is imagining that gives us personal identity is like the continuity between two different showings of the same film on a tv screen. Its two very different things, not having any of the exact same parts or properties in common with previous states of the mind. Two different video tapes have successively gone into the VCR, and now the image being projected on the screen is a different one from before. This is not a continuity but precisely a discontinuity of identity between this showing of the film and the previous one. It may be displaying the same image, but we would not say its the *exact same film*.

Its like the replacement mast on the ship: sure, its a mast–but its not the same one as before. And similarly this is not a continuity but precisely a discontinuity of identity between this mental state and the previous one. Thus the continuity that is suggested by this theory of personal identity is like the replacement of one mast on a boat with another mast–hardly adequate for claiming numerical sameness throughout time in the sense necessary for *identity*. At most, this theory of personal identity seems like it can be dubbed a theory of *personal similarity*.

In Brett’s next section he talks about how substance dualism is unparsimonious. This may be true if we have no arguments for it. But of course an argument for dualism from the inadequacy of non-dualist theories of personal identity would qualify to override this appeal to parsimony. For if materialists can’t explain personal identity, and property dualists can’t explain personal identity, then parsimony should be set aside for the explanatory power of substance dualism.

Inclusivism (3): A false implication of Romans 10:8-17

December 13, 2007

A common argument for religious exclusivism comes from Paul’s statements about hearing and believing in Romans 10. Here I will examine one argument for exclusivism in Romans 10:8-17 and the inclusivist response. The verses read as follows:

…But what does it say?
“The word is near you,
on your lips and in your heart”
(that is, the word of faith that we proclaim); because if you confess with your lips that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For one believes with the heart and so is justified, and one confesses with the mouth and so is saved. The Scripture says, “No one who believes in him will be put to shame.” For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; the same Lord is Lord of all and is generous to all who call on him. For, “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.”

But how are they to call on one in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in one of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone to proclaim him? As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!” But not all have obeyed the good news; for Isaiah says, “Lord, who has believed our message?” So faith comes from what is heard, and what is heard comes through the word of Christ.

A standard argument given is as follows:

1. Paul says “If you confess with your lips that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.”
2. Saying that confession and belief are a necessary precondition for salvation imply that lack of confession and belief rules out salvation.
C. Therefore Paul rules out salvation for those who lack confession and belief.

Is this right? No. As the moderate Evangelical theologian John Sanders points out in his book “No Other Name”,

Some believe that Paul asserted the necessity of knowing about Christ for salvation when he said that “if you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you shall be saved” (10:9). But logically this means nothing more than that confession of Christ is one sure way to experience salvation: Paul does not say anything about what will happen to those who do not confess Christ because they have never heard of Christ. The text is logically similar to the condition statement “If it rains, then the sidewalk will be wet.” If the condition is fulfilled (if it rains), then the consequent will follow (the sidewalk will be wet). But we cannot with certainty say, “If it is not raining, the sidewalk will not be wet.” Someone may turn on a sprinkler, or there may be a pile of melting snow nearby–any number of thigns besides rain might make the sidewalk wet. It is sometimes argued that since all those who accept Christ are saved, it must follow that only those who know about and accept Christ are saved. But this is like arguing that since all Collies are dogs, all dogs must be collies. The argument is simply fallacious. We can be certain the text is telling us that hearing about and coming to know Jesus is one sure way to experience salvation, but we can be just as certain that the text is not explicitly telling us that all the unevangelized are damned.(p 67-8)

This is precisely the fallacy called “affirming the consequent”; Sanders illustrates it well when he gives the sidewalk/rain example. Saying “If p then q” and then affirming “q” does not imply “p”.

Sanders admits in a footnote that applying strict standards of linguistic precision to this text may be inappropriate, as some critics of this response have suggested. Paul might be saying that one can only be saved by believing in Christ explicitly. But the question he raises is one worth pondering: why think that Paul is saying that? We would have to assume that something more is going on behind the text than what the grammar indicates and requires. But is there any good reason to do that here?

There are other arguments for exclusivism from Romans 10, but they will have to wait for future posts. It seems that this one, though, is relatively unpersuasive.

The Fathers and Theistic Arguments (II); Athanasius

December 13, 2007

My first example is Athanasius, from On the Incarnation:

(2) In regard to the making of the universe and the creation of all things there have been various opinions, and each person has propounded the theory that suited his own taste. For instance, some say that all things are self- originated and, so to speak, haphazard. The Epicureans are among these; they deny that there is any Mind behind the universe at all. This view is contrary to all the facts of experience, their own existence included. For if all things had come into being in this automatic fashion, instead of being the outcome of Mind, though they existed, they would all be uniform and without distinction. In the universe everything would be sun or moon or whatever it was, and in the human body the whole would be hand or eye or foot. But in point of fact the sun and the moon and the earth are all different things, and even within the human body there are different members, such as foot and hand and head. This distinctness of things argues not a spontaneous generation but a prevenient Cause; and from that Cause we can apprehend God, the Designer and Maker of all.
Others take the view expressed by Plato, that giant among the Greeks. He said that God had made all things out of pre-existent and uncreated matter, just as the carpenter makes things only out of wood that already exists. But those who hold this view do not realize that to deny that God is Himself the Cause of matter is to impute limitation to Him, just as it is undoubtedly a limitation on the part of the carpenter that he can make nothing unless he has the wood. How could God be called Maker and Artificer if His ability to make depended on some other cause, namely on matter itself? If He only worked up existing matter and did not Himself bring matter into being, He would be not the Creator but only a craftsman.
Then, again, there is the theory of the Gnostics, who have invented for themselves an Artificer of all things other than the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. These simply shut their eyes to the obvious meaning of Scripture. For instance, the Lord, having reminded the Jews of the statement in Genesis, “He Who created them in the beginning made them male and female. . . ,” and having shown that for that reason a man should leave his parents and cleave to his wife, goes on to say with reference to the Creator, “What therefore God has joined together, let no man put asunder.” How can they get a creation independent of the Father out of that? And, again, St. John, speaking all inclusively, says, “All things became by Him and without Him came nothing into being. How then could the Artificer be someone different, other than the Father of Christ?

(3)Such are the notions which men put forward. But the impiety of their foolish talk is plainly declared by the divine teaching of the Christian faith. From it we know that, because there is Mind behind the universe, it did not originate itself; because God is infinite, not finite, it was not made from pre-existent matter, but out of nothing and out of non-existence absolute and utter God brought it into being through the Word. He says as much in Genesis: “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth;[4] and again through that most helpful book The Shepherd, “Believe thou first and foremost that there is One God Who created and arranged all things and brought them out of non-existence into being.” Paul also indicates the same thing when he says, “By faith we understand that the worlds were framed by the Word of God, so that the things which we see now did not come into being out of things which had previously appeared.” For God is good—or rather, of all goodness He is Fountainhead, and it is impossible for one who is good to be mean or grudging about anything. Grudging existence to none therefore, He made all things out of nothing through His own Word, our Lord Jesus Christ and of all these His earthly creatures He reserved especial mercy for the race of men.

Notice the following about Saint Athanasius:

(1) Theistic arguments do not provide the foundation of theological belief-structures in Athanasius. He speaks as though Christian theology has authority separately from the considerations of his arguments. Notice how he takes divine Revelation as giving an adequate answer to opponents: “Such are the notions which men put forward. But the impiety of their foolish talk is plainly declared by the divine teaching of the Christian faith. From it we know that, because there is Mind behind the universe, it did not originate itself; because God is infinite, not finite, it was not made from pre-existent matter, but out of nothing and out of non-existence absolute and utter God brought it into being through the Word.” He knows that God is infinite, not finite because of divine revelation–a claim that would make little sense if he thought his trust in the contents of Christian revelation required theistic arguments first.

(2) Theistic arguments are primarily rhetorical/persuastive/polemical for Athanasius.
He appeals to the common standard of human *experience* (not some kind of supreme, neutral “reason”) to argue that the Epicurean view is unbelievable. He appeals to intuitions about divine perfection to argue against Platonism’s view that matter coexisted with God. This use of a shared standard of authority to show inconsistencies within opponents’ view and bring them in the direction of Christian faith is rhetorically powerful. In the first case, Athanasius argues that experience supports one specific view; in the second case, he argues that the view in question is inconsistent.

(3) The conclusions Athanasius draws are modest. Athanasius argues from experience and intuition to some of what the fathers would call “names of God”. He shows that God has names such as Creator, Orderer, etc. But this is very different from reasoning to truths about the divine essence. For creating and ordering are divine activities. God’s names of Creator and Orderer are designations of His personal acts. Athansius leads his opponents to approach the persons who are God via their personal activities.

The Fathers and Theistic Arguments (I): Preliminary Considerations

December 10, 2007

Many Orthodox theologians dissociate themselves from using or endorsing arguments for God’s existence. It is sometimes claimed that the early Church Fathers–the early Christian theologians of the first few centuries–rejected human reason and logic and were mystics who did not care about philosophical questions. While it is true that reasoning from the reality of creation to a Creator does not factor into the theology of the Early Church Fathers in the way it does perhaps in subsequent Western theology, it has always seemed to me to be an exaggeration to deny that “natural theology” has any part to play in their thought.

The purpose of this series will be to examine the place of arguments for God’s existence and what I will call “common theistic claims” (beliefs theists generally hold about the soul, nature, etc.) in the thought of the Eastern Fathers. When I say “natural theology” I don’t mean the idea that natural reason can approach the divine essence; I just mean that human reason and experience can lead us to some knowledge of the existence of God (his activities as Creator, Designer, Lawgiver, etc.). Because of the extremely negative connotation “natural theology” has in contemporary theology, I will instead use the phrase “theistic arguments” or “arguments for God’s existence”. And notice that I do not say *unaided* human reason; because grace never abandoned nature, all intellectual movement toward God is God-given. My preliminary thesis is that the use of arguments for God’s existence and common theistic claims in the Eastern Fathers can be characterized in the following ways:

(1) Theistic arguments do not provide the foundation of theological belief-structures in the Fathers. By “foundation” I mean “beliefs that constitute the basic claims of Christianity which serve as the starting point for theology”. A foundational belief for Christian theology is “Jesus Christ is God”; this claim is part of the initial deliverances of Christian revelation. My claim is that “natural theology” does not serve as a starting point for what gives Christian faith its authority. It comes to conclusions that fit with the “foundation”; but the process is not itself the foundation. The ultimate authority of Christian claims comes from God’s revelation in Jesus Christ and the authority is known (or reasonably believed) ultimately through experience of God.

(2) Theistic arguments are primarily rhetorical/persuastive/polemical. By rhetorical/persuasive/polemical I mean that they serve a purpose of moving those outside of the Christian faith toward the faith by showing the intellectual inadequacy of naturalism, dualism, Platonism, pantheism, etc. By rhetorical I do not, however, mean “lacking in intellectual integrity”, “merely intellectual and linguistic games”, or “lacking in substance”. Theistic arguments tell us real things about the world and can be used to persuade non-Christians or help the faith of catechumens and students.

(3) The conclusions are modest. The Fathers do not attempt to idolize philosophical rationality by claiming that arguments for God’s existence give deep insights into the nature of God. They don’t bring us all the way to the Christian God. They do not infer a whole lot about God but give us some basic propositions that fit with some of the fundamental beliefs of Christianity.

Inclusivism (2): Responsibility and Knowledge in the New Testament

December 9, 2007

A standard ethical principle is that we are can only be held fully responsible for the actions we do if we are sufficiently aware of their wrongness. This directly relates to the inclusivism/exclusivism debate. If knowledge of a certain kind is necessary to be fully responsible for your relation to God, then if this principle holds, people who lack this knowledge should (plausibly) be treated differently. The following is an exegetical argument for the conclusion that degrees of moral knowledge correlate to degrees of responsibility in the New Testament.

Acts 17:30 While God has overlooked the times of human ignorance, now he commands all people everywhere to repent.

The action of “overlooking” seems to indicate a lesser degree of judgment. The overlooking is in response to human ignorance–specifically ingnorance about salvation through the specific God of Israel and his Messiah. This past fact is now to some degree and in some sense being reversed; God expects an appropriate response because of Jesus’ appearing. The scope of this reversal is not, however, evident.

Luke 23:34 Then Jesus said, “Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing.”

Jesus here intercedes on behalf of the ignorant. He seems to imply, in his prayer, that because of the ignorance of those who are harming him, they are not to be held fully responsible for their actions.

Luke 9:62 Jesus said to him, “No one who puts a hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.”

Though it is not directly stated here that there is a decreased degree of responsibility for those who are previously ignorant, it is interesting to note the range of people to whom Jesus’ statement applies. Not being fit for the kingdom is an issue for those who *look back*. The punishment of the unworthy only applies (here at least) to those that reject what they have already been given.

Luke 12:47-8 That slave who knew what his master wanted, but did not prepare himself or do what was wanted, will receive a greater beating. But the one who did not know and did what deserved a beating will receive a light beating. For everyone to whom much has been given, mcuh will be required; and from the one to whom much has been entrusted, even more will be demanded.

Here Jesus teaches the lesser punishment of those who are ignorant of the wrongness of their actions.

Matthew 11:20-24 Then he began to reproach the cities in which most of his deeds of power had been done, because they did not repent. “Woe to you, Chorazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! For if the deeds of power done in you had been done in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes. But I tell you, on the day of judgment it will be more tolerable for Tyre and Sidon than for you. And you, Capernum, will you be exalted to heaven? No, you will be brought down to Hades. For if the deeds fo power done in you had been done in Sodom, it would have remained until this day. But I tell you that on the day of judgment it will be more tolerable for the land of Sodom than for you.”

The fact that judgment will be more tolerable for those who did not witness the “deeds of power” implies the principle that a lesser degree of knowledge they had decreased their culpability.

James 1:22-5 But be doers of the word, and not merely hearers who deceive themselves. For if any are hearers of the word and not doers, they are like those who look at themselves in a mirror; for they look at themselves and, on going away, immediately forget what they look like. But those who look into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and persevere, being not hearers who forget but doers who act–they will be blessed in their doing.

Though this passage does not touch on those who are not “hearers”, there is a distinctive emphasis on awareness of the law as what divides people into two categories–hearers who do and hearers who do not obey. If other categories exist they are not explicitly mentioned.

James 4:17 Anyone, then, who knows the right thing to do and fails to do it, commits sin.

Similarly to above, there is an emphasis on defining moral wrongdoing with relation to knowledge.

Romans 2:12 All who have sinned apart from the law will also perish apart from the law, and all who have sinned under the law will be judged by the law.

Though Saint Paul does not say that existing apart from the Mosaic law makes one *not* a sinner in any sense, there does seem to be something special about sinning “under” the law (presumably meaning “with awareness of it due to membership in Israel”). Paul talks later about how the Gentiles who exist apart from the law still have awareness of the law in their hearts. This could be taken to imply that everyone has equal consciousness of the law and are thus equally guilty; but it seems that if we go this route, verse 12 doesn’t make as much sense.

Romans 3:30 For “no human being will be justified in his sight” by deeds prescribed by the law, for through the law comes the knowledge of sin.

Again, this doesn’t say that there’s no knowledge of sin at all apart from the law. Yet this does seem to be making a distinction of some kind between those who have the law and those who don’t.

Romans 7:7 What then should we say? That the law is sin? By no means! Yet, if it had not been for the law, I would not have known sin. I would not have known what it is to covet if the law had not said, “You shall not covet.”

Similarly to Romans 3:30 there is not a denial that one can know sin *in any sense* apart from the law (and Romans 2:14 seems to suggest this, as well as Romans 7:22 if you read it as Witherington suggests–see here for a summary of Witherington’s exegesis). But there does seem to be a lesser degree of awareness, perhaps, or something like that as a result of not having the law. One could also interpret “know” in a sort of “acquaintance” sense, such that one could not be acquainted with sin apart from the law; but I am not sure if this is as plausible of a reading as understanding “know” in a sense of “being aware that I am doing”. And even if we grant that it means “know” in an acquaintance sense, doesn’t this still imply that lacking knowledge of sin would mean that we are obstructed from sinning?

A plausible conclusion to draw from the above verses is that there is some kind of direct relationship between the amount of knowledge we have about right and wrong and the guilt that comes from sinning.

Inclusivism (1): The Issues

December 9, 2007

There is a debate about salvation in Christian theology with respect to the “unevangelized”. An unevangelized person is someone who has never heard the message of Christianity. The problem that these people pose for Christianity is easy to see. If God is all-loving, and wills the salvation of all, and faith is necessary for salvation, and there are people who never even have an opportunity to exercise faith, then this seems to create a problem: God does not give an opportunity for salvation to all people. This series of posts will be aimed at articulating the approach to this issue called “inclusivism”, according to which salvation does not require explicit knowledge of the historical facts of Christianity.

The Questions

In order to explain the range of opinions on this subject, consider the following two questions:

-Is every human person saved?
-What are the conditions for salvation with respect to the kind of *knowledge* a person must have?

The first question can be given two different answers: yes and no.

-A person who answers “yes” to the first question is called a “universalist”.
-A person who answers “no” to the first question is called a “particularist”.

I will take it for granted that particularism is true, and move on to assess questions about how salvation becomes available.

With respect to the second question about conditions of knowledge for salvation, several sub-questions arise:

Is explicit knowledge of the Gospel–the fact that Jesus Christ is Lord and the Kingdom of God has come by the power of his death and resurrection for all who repent and believe–necessary for salvation?

-A person who answers “yes” is called an “exclusivist”.
-A person who answers “no” is called an “inclusivist”.

Regardless of whether or not this knowledge is necessary, how can people gain access to this knowledge?

-One answer (sometimes erroneously considered the traditional view) is called “restrictivism”, according to which only missionary work by human Christian missionaries can make the knowledge necessary for salvation available.
-A second view is called “post-mortem evangelism”, according to which after death, unevangelized people are given a chance to convert to Christianity.
-A third answer is called “accessiblism”, according to which God provides access to the Gospel to every appropriate person, whether through human missionaries, or direct revelation (dreams, angels, etc.). Many accessiblists think that God is not obligated to reveal himself to people who He knows wouldn’t respond to Him if given the opportunity.

If it is not necessary that one have explicit knowledge of the Gospel, then what are the conditions of salvation?

-Inclusivists vary widely on this issue, giving answers that include monotheism, belief in a future life, belief in future judgment, belief in one’s own sinfulness, belief that God remedies one’s sinfulness through salvation, and various other potential points.

I will be attempting in this series to weigh arguments in favor of exclusivism and inclusivism, and eventually move to questions about the different varieties of exclusivism.

Sources of Information:

Biblical data bears on these questions in the following ways:

-Principles could be located in Scripture that either entail or refute these positions.
-Principles could be located in Scripture that make up the assumptions and frameworks of these various views or count against their assumptions and frameworks.
-Concrete examples could be given of people who fit the criteria unique to one of the specific views.

Reason can bear on these questions in the following ways:

-What we know about God from nature could count for or against any of the views
-There could be concrete examples from our experience that support one of these views
-There could be an implication that we could draw from logical or philosophical principles in conjunction with our knowledge of God from nature, a concrete example from our experience, or the content of Scripture, that would support one of the views.

Tradition can bear on these questions in the following ways:

-The majority view of the early fathers may be that one approach is true
-Principles in the early fathers may favor one approach

It is important to realize that some of these views can overlap, such as post-mortem evangelism and inclusivism.

These distinctions help set the groundwork for assessing the strength of these various views.