Archive for the ‘God and Moral Responsibility’ Category

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 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.

Natural Consequences (3): Jeremiah on Suffering and Punishment

May 28, 2008

What is punishment, according to the teachings of the Old and New Testaments? Is it just God repaying us for our guilt in a way proportional to the evil we did by inflicting suffering on us? Or can punishment mean something else too?

Normally when we think of “punishment” it is something inflicted retributively by an authority who is responsible for moral censure. But if we find a wider range of punishment language in Scripture, then this should caution us against assuming that elsewhere, punishment must mean some suffering that is meant to repay us for our guilt. Indeed, the prophet Jeremiah uses punishment terminology to describe the effects of sin upon the person who sins and their social group and environment.

Natural Consequences (2): Isaiah on the Fire we Light

May 8, 2008

Is hell just retributive punishment inflicted actively by God?  The language of “punishment” and the fact that God is a judge who casts people into the fires of hell seems to favor this understanding.  But is there any biblical evidence for the idea that the fires of hell (whatever they are) are self-lit?  Consider Isaiah 50:10-11: (more…)

Natural Consequences (1): Jeremiah on Word, Fire, and Wrath

May 5, 2008

It seems like I’m always starting series of posts that I never finish. Oh well.

Anyways, this series is going to be about the biblical data and theological implications of the idea of “natural consequences”. To say that something has natural consequences for you basically means “what goes around, comes around” or “you asked for it”. Natural consequences are the non-intentional results of actions we take. They are not inflicted by an exercise of will that is aimed at retributively punishing us for our guilt; they just sorta happen because of the way the world is. (more…)

Supererogatory Actions?

April 11, 2008

For those that don’t know, supererogatory actions are basically actions that go “above and beyond the call of duty,” actions that are good, but are not required deontologically.  A paradigm case for a supererogatory action would be self sacrifice.  Think of a soldier jumping on a grenade to save his comrade. 

Well, this is all well and good for most systems of ethics, but does this category fit within the Christian paradigm?  I may be controversial in my position, but I think there is good reason to think that there are no supererogatory actions for the Christian.  Here are a few simple arguments to try to motivate my intuitions on this:

1) In James 4:7 we are told that “to him who knows to do good, and does not do it, to him it is sin.”  This seems to me to be saying that anytime there’s a good thing that could be done, you ought to do it.  To not do it is sin.  Thus, if self-sacrifice is good, you ought to do it. 

2) Ethics by example:  The primary way ethics is taught in Scripture is by pointing to examples.  Philippians is a paradigm case of this.   Paul presents the Philippian believers with the example of Christ’s completely self-sacrificial/self-empting life and says that they ought to think and act this way as well.  The dialogue form would be something like:  Paul:  Be humble.  Philippian:  What’s humility?  Paul:  Look at Jesus.  That’s humility.  Be that.  In the same letter, Paul also provides the Godly examples of humility and self-sacrificial love in Epaphroditus and Timothy to teach them as well.  He tells the Philippians to honor men like Epaphroditus because he suffered for the sake of the gospel.  Finally, Paul describes his own journey to salvation, his own self-emptying; acknowledges that he’s not perfect yet, but must keep striving; and tells the Philippians to imitate him. 

If our paradigm cases for what constitutes proper Christian behavior are Christ and the saints (who are all martyrs in one way or another), what actions could possibly be considered supererogatory? 

3) Think about the deontological commands that are given in Scripture.  Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength.  Love your neighbor as yourself.  We’re to love God with complete and total abandon; we’re to give everything of ourselves to him.  We’re also to love our neighbor as our very self because we are all members of one another.  So again, what would qualify as supererogatory actions under this deontological system?

4) In another place, Christ says that if anyone is to be His disciple, he must deny himself, take up his cross daily, and follow Him.  This is not some weak acknowledgment the troubles we’ll all face in life or some pithy nonsense like that.  Christ is calling us to recapitulate all His suffering unto death, even death on a cross, and nothing less.  We’re called to total and complete self-denial.  So, again, what could be a supererogatory action in this system of ethics?


These are only a couple of arguments running through my head right now.  I’m going to be writing a paper on this topic for my ethics class so I would appreciate any thoughts or feedback.  I will be posting more of my thoughts on this topic in the weeks to come.  Specifically, I will post some thoughts on virtue ethics, deification, ontological views of salvation vs. legal views, etc., and the effect these things have on the possibility of supererogatory actions. 

Inclusivism (5): The Gentiles in Romans 2:12-16

February 28, 2008

For all who have sinned without the law will also perish without the law, and all who have sinned under the law will be judged by the law. For it is not the hearers of the law who are righteous before God, but the doers of the law who will be justified. For when Gentiles who do not have the law, by nature do what the law requires, they are a law to themselves, even though they do not have the law. They show that the work of the law is written on their hearts, while their conscience also bears witness, and their conflicting thoughts accuse or even excuse them on that day when, according to my gospel, God judges the secrets of men by Jesus Christ.”

Apparently the Gentiles have the law written on their hearts, can follow the law by nature (would you call such a nature totally depraved?), and their conflicting thoughts may EXCUSE them on the day when God judges the hearts of men by Jesus Christ. Hmmmm…