Author Archive

Universals and Particulars (2): Universals and Infinite Regresses

October 15, 2011


In this post, I argue that infinite regresses are not successful philosophical explanations. An infinite regress of concepts cannot ground understanding; nor can an infinite regress of beings ground the existence of another being. Thus, postulating an infinite regress of universals such as “having a universal” cannot ultimately answer the question “what is the thing that has a universal?”

In the first post in this series, I explained the distinction between universals and particulars. The existence of universals is supported by the argument from exact resemblance. But the same reasoning that leads us to postulate universals in the first place seems to suggest that “having a universal” is a universal. And that leads to an infinite regress of universals. But then why bother saying particulars are an underlying reality that possess universals? Why not just say that particulars are infinite chains of universals, each with one (or more) different properties to individuate them? This post intends to answer that question. (more…)

Universals and Particulars (1): A Distinction and a Problem

September 13, 2011


In this post I will attempt to clarify the universal-particular distinction in metaphysics. Then I will present an argument that this distinction is either absurd, or leads to an infinite regress. Later posts will attempt to answer this objection, explain more about universals and particulars, and relate this distinction to the difference between person and nature. (more…)

Energetic Procession post: Prayers to Saints in the Pre-Nicene Era

July 29, 2011

It is commonly claimed that the practice of praying to departed saints and to angels is a late development in Christianity, probably post-dating the Council of Nicea. In this post, I will try to argue that prayers to departed saints were relatively common in the pre-Nicene Church. There are 5 to 8 clear post-Apostolic references from at least 3 locations. Some of the references come from official Christian teachers. The earliest reference may be first or second century, and many of the second and third century writers’ beliefs probably reflect the customs of even earlier times.

Read more at Energetic Procession.

Incarnation without the Fall in St. Irenaeus

July 27, 2011

In the Third Book of his tome Against Heresies, St. Irenaeus writes,

…Luke points out that the pedigree which traces the generation of our Lord back to Adam contains seventy-two generations, connecting the end with the beginning, and implying that it is He who has summed up in Himself all nations dispersed from Adam downwards, and all languages and generations of men, together with Adam himself. Hence also was Adam himself termed by Paul “the figure of Him that was to come,” because the Word, the Maker of all things, had formed beforehand for Himself the future dispensation of the human race, connected with the Son of God; God having predestined that the first man should be of an animal nature, with this view, that he might be saved by the spiritual One. For inasmuch as He had a pre-existence as a saving Being, it was necessary that what might be saved should also be called into existence, in order that the Being who saves should not exist in vain.


This is a rich and mysterious passage. Below, I will speculate that this selection teaches a variety of interesting doctrines, including the eternal generation of the Son (which some scholars think the Saint did not teach) and that the Incarnation would happen without the fall.[1] I recommend Perry’s post Cur Deus Homo as pre-reading. For a short summary of my analysis below, skip to the Conclusion and Why This Matters.  (more…)

Does reason matter? (1)

April 14, 2011

What is reason? Is it good, bad, or neutral? Is being reasonable an important part of what makes a person virtuous? Does reason help us find Truth or just truths? (more…)

The Return

February 18, 2011

The Well of Questions is back after a short vacation.  Now that I’ve applied to some grad schools, I will have some free time to blog again.  Also make sure to watch for my upcoming posts on energetic procession.  I will continue my series about Apostolic Succession.

Some earlier posts may get deleted, and there will be updates and new posts soon.

Does the Argument From Divine Hiddenness Count Against Theistic Arguments?

September 23, 2010

The argument from divine hiddenness (ADH) is an intuitive problem for theism that some philosophers consider to be a sub-species of the problem of evil.  The problem arises when we consider the fact that there are some people who seem to non-culpably lack belief in God.  If God exists, the argument goes, then He would ensure that no one non-culpably lacks belief in Him.  The empirical data runs strongly against this intuition (the argument goes).  Quite the contrary: in the world we see that there are many people who lack belief in God.  And a significant portion of them do so for what seems to be no morally-culpable reason.

Now, is ADH a good argument against theism for some subjects?  Perhaps in some epistemic contexts.  But I don’t think its a good argument against theism for a subject if (1) that subject considers there to be any “live” theistic arguments and (2) that subject is appealing to himself or herself as the exclusive evidence for the existence of inculpable nonbelief.  By a “live” argument for a subject, I mean an argument that the subject either considers to be sound, likely to be sound, or equiprobable with respect to soundness or lack of soundness.  By saying that a person appeals to himself or herself as the exclusive evidence for the existence of inculpable nonbelief, I mean that the only example that this person cites in support of the premise of the ADH which states “inculpable nonbelief exists” is himself or herself.

Consider a person who believes that there is at least one sound argument for theism, or believes that it is 50/50 that there is a sound argument for theism.  This person may go on to reason that despite this “live” argument, his or her inculpable nonbelief with respect to theism is evidence that God does not exist, and hence that the conclusion of the “live” theistic argument is outweighed by the ADH argument against theism.  But if there is a “live” theistic argument for this person, then for this person to accept the premise that he or she inculpably lacks belief that theism is true is premature; it assumes that he or she has decided already that there are no good arguments for theism.  So we shouldn’t look at ADH as an undercutting or a rebutting defeater for theistic arguments (at least for subjects in the situation we’re considering).  In the absence of “live” theistic arguments, an agent can view ADH as a rebutting defeater for theism.  But in their presence, an agent who is appealing to himself or herself as the example that provides evidence for the existence of inculpable nonbelief is making a decision that falsely presupposes lack of evidence.

I suspect that a similar point can be made not just about particular people, but about intellectual cultures.  If the climate of academia (American? Western? it doesn’t matter) regards at least one theistic argument as a “live” argument, then this means that said intellectual culture should not regard the argument from divine hiddenness as successful.  How we would identify an intellectual culture as considering a theistic argument to be “live” is another question.

Finally, some notes on the intuitive problem raised by ADH.  Yes, it does seem that there is inculpable nonbelief.  It doesn’t seem like all people that reject the existence of God or the truth of Christianity do so out of culpable ignorance.  Yes, Christianity would be counterintuitive if it were commited to denying the existence of inculpable nonbelief.  But I think that Christians can embrace the existence of inculpable nonbelief in at least two ways.  First, some cases of nonbelief may actually be cases of masked belief.  As C. Stephen Evans suggested in an article once, it is possible that some who do not explicitly affirm the reality of God can at the same time love, trust, or be otherwise committed to God in some way.  The fact that God Himself is the Goodness by which all things are Good makes it easy to see how this might be so: a person who has been tricked by uncontrollable circumstances into disbelieving in the existence of God may still love the Good and seek it.  And in doing so, that person believes in God but does not call him by all his names.

Second, some cases of inculpable nonbelief may not be permanent.  God could give a person who presently lacks sufficient evidence all of the evidence that they need at sometime in the future.  This may even include postmortem revelation.  If a person dies in a state of inculpable nonbelief, God may reveal Himself to him or her.  Many early fathers believed in a view of the intermediate state between a person’s death and the universal resurrection that included the possibility of deliberation and habituation (at least for persons of unsettled character).  Some even thought that the ignorance of some was compensated for in Christ’s harrowing of hell, and the subsequent preaching that those in Sheol who had seen Christ’s harrowing could give to those who died after Christ came.

Excellent Posts on the Problem of Genocide in the OT

July 23, 2010

The following posts by New Zealand philosopher-theologian Matthew Flannagan  give an excellent defense of the goodness of God in light of the history of the Old Testament, focusing on the Canaanite Genocide in Joshua:

Joshua and the Genocide of the Canaanites (Part 1)

Joshua and the Genocide of the Canaanites (Part 2)

The author’s argument basically goes like this.  Most of us come to the text of Joshua and assume that the historical intention of the human writer was that the divine commands to (paraphrase) “kill everything: men, women, children, animals…” should be read with full, literal force as mandating the killing of children.  The problem with this is not only that it seems to conflict with the character of God that we see revealed in Christ.  There are internal, textual reasons to doubt that this command was meant to be taken literally–textual reasons that do not assume the authority or inspiration or inerrancy (or even extremely high historical accuracy) of the book of Joshua.  The textual reasons are that the people groups that Israel is commanded to “exterminate” persist after the command is allegedly fulfilled.  Given the prominence and frequency of significant hyperbole/exaggeration in the ancient near east’s accounts of wars and conquests, and the unlikeliness that the author would write such blatant contradictions within a relatively short space of text, an alternative hypothesis recommends itself.  We can reconcile all of this data if we read the commands to “kill everything” as hyperbole.  On this view, it is kind of similar to a coach telling his team to “go exterminate the opponents” or to a basketball player bragging about how his team “totally annihilated those dudes”.  This is compatible with saying that the Israelites waged violent war on the Canaanites, but did not necessarily kill innocent women and children.

Though I don’t think this is the only possible solution to the problem of the Canaanite Genocide (because I hold to the moderate allegorism defended by Swinburne and used by some of the Church Fathers), I think this is a very plausible explanation of the text that will be more acceptable for Evangelical apologists and others who are commited to the historical grammatical method.  It also fits with the broader approach to the OT as best understood in light of the New Testament and the revelation of God’s love in Christ (Swinburne’s moderate allegorism is a variety of this approach).

I haven’t read much from the Fathers about the Canaanite genocide specifically, so I’m interested to hear if any Orthodox or other students of patristics have insight about this.  Is it possible, for instance, that the Fathers themselves were aware of this approach and used (or just assumed) it?

Hat tip to Aaron Gleason for suggesting these posts.

Apostolic Succession Posts at Energetic Procession

May 7, 2010

Readers of this blog are invited to take a look at a series of posts that I have been making on Energetic Procession.  Theses posts are geared towards answering objections to, and eventually arguing for, Apostolic Succession.  As I write further posts, expect notifications on occasion:

Apostolic Succession (1): Presbyter = Bishop?

Apostolic Succession (2): Presbyterian Ordination?

Apostolic Succession (3): The Didache

Please feel free to comment, preferably on those posts (but here as well, if the comments on those posts are closed) in response to the arguments offered.

Incarnation and Immortality

January 22, 2010

The problem of the necessity of the Incarnation is something I touched on before here. After thinking about it for awhile, I realized that there were weaknesses in my first account of why God needed to be incarnate to save us from death. It doesn’t analyze or answer the question “why does the source of life have to be intrinsic to human nature in order for us to be incapable of dying? why can’t God just will us to be incapable of dying without becoming incarnate?” This naturally has a lot more to do with my own misunderstanding than with St. Athanasius, who gave the answer to this question (though I didn’t understand it at first).[1]

In this post I offer a revised account of the Incarnation’s saving effects.  To understand this, we must first understand what the Incarnation changed, which requires making a lot of distinctions.  The incarnation did not change the fact that we partake of God’s energies as something intrinsic to human nature.  After all, we have the image of God, which is the logos of human nature.  Instead, the change is in the mode of participation–the way in which humanity partakes of the divine energies. Two initial distinctions are necessary. (more…)