Archive for the ‘Theodicy’ 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.

3.22.3

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…)

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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.

Swinburne on Interpretation of the Old Testament

January 10, 2009

The modern world… has become very conscious of the fact that some passages of the Old Testament cannot be treated [in a literal or straightly historical way]; for they state (and not merely presuppose) scientific and historical falsities, or they represent God as commanding immoral conduct (not merely conduct which might seem less than the best), or otherwise behaving immorally. It has therefore tended to say that the Old Testament contains a mixture of truth and falsity, revelation and misunderstanding; and that attitude of course leads to a fairly low view of the sacredness of Scripture. And if one reads the books of the Old Testament on their own, either straight or historically, one must certainly say that, if God was inspiring the development of Israel and its recording in the Old Testament, his inspiration got mixed with much error. But what the modern world has forgotten is that the Church, which followed Irenaeus and subsequent Fathers in proclaiming the Old Testament to be Scripture, also followed the way which he initiated in interpreting in metaphorical senses many passages of that Testament which were not edifying if taken in straight or historical senses. As noted above, Irenaeus himself tends to assume that all such passages are to be understood in straight or historical ways, even if they had also a more important metaphorical meaning. But his successors took the logical step of maintaining that these passages had only a metaphorical meaning (or more than one metaphorical meaning). This metaphorical meaning is a meaning forced on the passage, not by considerations of the need to make sense of that passage as a passage of the biblical book taken on its own, but by the need to make sense of it as part of a Christian Scripture.

Revelation: From Metaphor to Analogy p 265

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.
(more…)

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…)

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)

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.