Friday, March 30, 2012

A Brief Argument for Libertarian Free Will

1.       One cannot force someone else to do something freely.
2.       If (1) is true, then compatibilism is false.
3.       If compatibilism is false, then we have libertarian free will.
4.       Therefore, we have libertarian free will (from 1-2, 3).
(1)    Should be accepted as a matter of course. It seems undeniable that if some agent has performed some act because he was forced to do so, then he did not do it of his own free will; he was not the originator of his action.
(2)    States that upon (1)’s acceptance, compatibilism is false. I do not expect compatibilists to agree with this premise. They may very well believe that (1) can be true and yet compatibilism also be true, and hence (2) would be false. It could be claimed compatibilism only teaches that determinism and free will both are true and work together in some way. Aside from the verbiage “in some way,”[1] one can also press a further objection. Especially with respect to theological determinism, it’s difficult to see how any cause of some act in a primary sense can avoid just doing the act for the agent himself! Whatever the cause in causal determinism, it is that cause, and not the agent, that is determining (in a causal, not epistemological, sense) that such an action should be performed. In essence, he is forcing an action that is purported to be free. But then per (1) this is false.
(3)    Might be objected to by so-called hard determinists. They could claim that while compatibilism is false, determinism is nonetheless true, so that libertarian free will is not possessed by anyone. To this we might wish to consider that determinism of this sort can never be rationally affirmed. For in order to affirm it as true, she must realize that everything, even this affirmation of determinism’s truth, is determined! In that case, it is not that she has performed an act of free will or free thinking, but rather that whatever was the cause of her action ensured she would do the action. Much like a GI Joe or child’s action figure, this action figure did nothing of any sort—it merely acted as the conduit or puppet of the one playing the game. In the same way, hard determinism surely cannot be rationally affirmed, for one did not reason to arrive at his conclusion, but was merely determined to repeat it. But then it follows that we have at least some libertarianly free actions, and hence (3) is true.
(4)    Follows as a logical entailment, and so cannot be denied. We live in a libertarianly free universe, and hence we are held under an incredible sense of responsibility, morally, to God. What will you do with this choice? Choose to honor God, to be holy? Or choose to live in a state of rebellion against God?

[1] The difficulty with compatibilism is this reference to “in some way,” thus referencing mystery. While this may work as a defense, it does not work as an account of free will.
All posts, and the blog Possible Worlds, are the sole intellectual property of Randy Everist. One may reprint part or all of this post so long as: a) full attribution is given (Randy Everist, Possible Worlds), b) all use is non-commercial, and c) one is in compliance with the Creative Commons license at the bottom on the main page of this blog.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Theological Journal, Part 4

            This week’s reading included both views of God and creation and divine providence. I particularly enjoyed Feinberg’s discussions on the various theories of origins; these were not a glossing over, but a real treatment of the issue. Discussing God as creator and what follows from that was also particularly interesting. Of note, I found stating that because God has created all things, he owns all things to be reassuring.[1] When it comes to the days of creation, Feinberg argues that while there are similarities with Ancient Near Eastern culture, the account of them need not be construed as identical with such literature.[2] For me, I am much more sympathetic to those who view Genesis 1-2 as longer periods of time or more poetic in language than I have been in the past. While I still believe in a literal six day creation, I am open to evidence from the text suggesting otherwise.
            The next section dealt with divine providence. This was a very controversial issue and a very interesting one for me as well. In evaluating the essays, I found Helseth’s to be the most abrasive. For instance, at one point he argues that the major reason people reject his view of divine providence is due to a pagan attitude: “The primary difficulty with the doctrine is found . . . in the increasingly pagan milieu that makes the doctrine sound almost completely implausible to contemporary listeners.”[3] While on the next page he throws out the bone stating Christians would not like to believe in pagan gods, he nonetheless lumps those within and without the church in this original problem.
            I appreciated Ron Highfield’s critique of this essay. There was not much for Highfield to disagree with, inasmuch as his view is very nearly Helseth’s. The one major point of disagreement surrounds God’s causing evil. Highfield expressed what I have long thought to be obvious. He stated, “It should be axiomatic for Christian theology that God does not ordain evil and never uses evil as means to an end” (emphasis in original).[4]
            I also enjoyed and mostly agreed with the essay by William Lane Craig. I have been convinced of Molinism prior to this class, and did not find the objections presented by the other three very compelling. Helseth seemed to think the abstract objects that are possible worlds were necessarily-existent alongside of God, and hence a kind of paganistic dualism unfolds. However, this is only so if one assumes a sort of Platonic view of abstract objects.[5] Helseth even takes Craig to task for allowing “philosophical speculation over the careful examination of what God has revealed in His Word.”[6] But since philosophy is just applied reasoning, just how is one supposed to carefully examine God’s Word? Reason takes logical priority over communicated language precisely because reason must be employed in communicated language. Now perhaps Helseth merely wishes to say Craig is using philosophy in spite of the text; but that would be question-begging.
            Boyd’s objections seemed equally weak and confused. While I found his defense of his open theism interesting and spirited, it was his attacks on Molinism that seemed to evince the most misunderstanding. As an example, Boyd notes Craig’s point that would-counterfactuals of divine freedom cannot be known to God in middle knowledge, since that would destroy divine freedom. Boyd thinks that whatever logic is in play here equally applies to why would-counterfactuals of middle knowledge would destroy human freedom.[7] It is apparent, then, he does not understand the logic Craig is using here.
            For Craig, the moments are logical, not chronological. Thus, if God knows in his middle knowledge what God would do, and middle knowledge, strictly speaking, describes contingent truths not under God’s control, then by definition God does not have control of them. But if he does not, then by definition God is not free in these truths. These truths can only be known in an analysis of his free knowledge. These are logical, not chronological, relationships. But then, the apparent analogy Boyd would like to draw makes no sense. How does it follow that if God does not have control over his actions in middle knowledge that other free agents would not have control of their free actions known to God in middle knowledge? The point is that God has to know truths of how he would act in his free knowledge, since it is he who has willed them! Middle knowledge truths are truths over which God has no faculty of control (i.e., will). I found this book incredibly interesting!
            This week’s reading continued the discussion on divine providence and added Feinberg’s discussion on the problem of evil. For Feinberg, he was tasked with defending God against the problem of evil in virtue of a compatibilist view of the human will. This view precluded him from using the Free Will Defense.[8] I thought his defense against it was robust, and at times even compelling. However, there is one glaring problem left remaining: the origin of sin and evil in the first place.
            How is it that sin originates? Feinberg mentions sin comes from the desires of men, and that even Adam sinned from his desire.[9] But how did Adam have this desire? If we must speak in compatibilist terms, then it seems Adam’s desires were not created by a libertarian nor character-forming prior choice, but rather by God himself. But in that case, God just is the author of evil. This line of reasoning goes completely unaddressed. He wants to say that if God were to create a human who would not ever sin, then this would contradict what it is to be human.[10] In that case, barring God’s initial involvement in sin (which Feinberg rightly denies on page 790), libertarian free will was at least present in Adam. But if libertarian free will is essential to Adam’s freely performing an initial act of sin, why is it not essential to performing an initial act of sin for everyone?
            The most interesting thing I thought about concerning Feinberg’s chapter had to have been the problem of the intensity of evil. As a basic example, Feinberg suggests the patient who has cancer. “The critic of theism may grant that God has a purpose in allowing this person to have cancer, but the critic wonders what is accomplished by God’s inability or unwillingness to staunch the pain even minimally.”[11] I found it problematic at first, but inadequate as an objection.
            First, it assumes there is some kind of metric for devising morally sufficient reasons for allowing pain. For example, it would be like suggesting whatever reason God has for permitting the patient to have cancer would come to pass with 55 units of pain, but not 54. Whatever that threshold may be, it seems absurd to think that the cancer patient could not have suffered for even one less millisecond, lest God’s purposes be thwarted. I agree with the objector that this is absurd. However, I disagree that God’s morally sufficient reasons ought to be linked to intensity of pain or amount of time spent in pain. Rather, God has morally sufficient reasons for bringing about states of affairs. If the state of affairs of having cancer for the person is removed, then God’s plan does not follow or is imperiled. However, this is not the problem of the intensity of evil but the problem of suffering simpliciter. The state of affairs of the person’s having cancer will take a natural course, which may include much or little pain. The question then only becomes this: when God does intervene in natural affairs, why has he done so?
            The other segment of reading this week concerned Highfield’s and Boyd’s views on divine providence. I did not find Highfield’s view to be much different than Helseth’s, other than that he does not wish to affirm God as causing evil even while affirming God’s omnicausality. Boyd’s version of open theism is interesting, although I think hopelessly confused. First, central to Boyd’s claims is that “x will occur” and “x will not occur” are not contradictory.[12] On one level, this is correct. Technically speaking, a contradiction is a and not-a, so that “x will occur” and “not-x will occur” are the contradictories. However, it should go without saying that if something such that it is “not-x” occurs, then by definition x has not occurred, and thus it is true that “x will not occur.”
            Next, Boyd seems to have an incoherent view when he suggests the future is ontologically composed of such truths via the truths of might counterfactuals. If will counterfactuals are both true, then their contradictories (contra Boyd’s suggestion) entails logically contradictory states of affairs (e.g., X will happen and X will not happen). Even if one accepts Boyd’s curious way of discussing might propositions, he seems to equivocate on how they are used.
            First, it is suggested by Boyd that these are possibilities.[13] In this case, we can construct these modally as “could” counterfactuals. Boyd wishes to affirm that God knows more than mere possibilities. He knows things with such ability to be able to bring about good from evil. But how can he know this? With each passing day, billions of decisions are made. Even assuming that a majority are “character-formed” decisions and so could be known to God reliably, what of those other truly free decisions? Even if one says God is so intelligent he would know with a 99.99999999% probability what decision would be made, probability theory tells us it is overwhelmingly likely that God not only gets some beliefs wrong, he gets them wrong every single day.[14] I thought this was highly problematic, and makes God just simply a smarter version of human beings.

                [1] John S. Feinberg, No One Like Him: The Doctrine of God (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2001), 557-60.

                [2] Ibid., 569-70.

                [3] Paul Kjoss Helseth, “God Causes All Things,” Four Views on Divine Providence, eds. Stanley N. Gundry and Dennis W. Jowers (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2011), 38.

                [4] Ron Highfield, “Response to Paul Kjoss Helseth,” Four Views on Divine Providence, eds. Stanley N. Gundry and Dennis W. Jowers (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2011), 67.

                [5] Indeed, the same “problem” would plague anyone who believes in numbers, math, laws of logic, etc. It does no good to claim these are part of God’s nature, for unless God just is numbers, laws of logic, etc., then the dualistic problem remains. Hence, whatever solution is available to these people is also available to the Molinist (namely, a factionalist or nominalist account of abstract objects solves the problem nicely).

                [6] Paul Kjoss Helseth, “Response to William Lane Craig: A Tendentious Analysis,” Four Views on Divine Providence, eds. Stanley N. Gundry and Dennis W. Jowers (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2011), 104.

                [7] Gregory A. Boyd, “Response to William Lane Craig,” Four Views On Divine Providence, eds. Stanley N. Gundry and Dennis W. Jowers (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2011), 132.

                [8] John S. Feinberg, No One Like Him: The Doctrine of God (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 2001), 789.

                [9] Ibid., 790.

                [10] Ibid., 790-92.

                [11] Ibid., 778.

                [12] Gregory A. Boyd, “God Limits His Control,” Four Views on Divine Providence, eds. Stanley N. Gundry and Dennis W. Jowers (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2011), 197.

                [13] Ibid.

                [14] Since probabilities are multiplied together to form a collective probability of a conjunction of states of affairs occurring or being true, one can multiply the probabilities, using this number, together. After only 20 calculations, the probability of God’s getting every one of those beliefs correctly has been reduced to 99.9999998%, or a reduction of 0.00000019%. While seemingly harmless, once it is considered that there are billions, not just 20, of decisions made every day, it renders it overwhelmingly probable that at least one of those beliefs, on a daily basis, is false for God.

All posts, and the blog Possible Worlds, are the sole intellectual property of Randy Everist. One may reprint part or all of this post so long as: a) full attribution is given (Randy Everist, Possible Worlds), b) all use is non-commercial, and c) one is in compliance with the Creative Commons license at the bottom on the main page of this blog.

Theological Journal, Part 3

            This week, God’s moral attributes were discussed and studied in the reading. Within these moral attributes, special focus was given to God’s love. Within the reading on Feinberg, I especially enjoyed his discussion of egalitarian justice and distributive justice.[1] I agreed with Feinberg when he states, “Distributive justice, on the other hand, renders to each person exactly what is due . . . Though everyone might deserve the same thing, that rarely happens; and even if everyone merited and received the same thing, that would still be distributive justice.”[2] This aspect of God’s justice seemed to resonate with my experience of the biblical reading.
            I found the book edited by Kevin J. Vanhoozer on God’s love to be interesting. On one hand, it seemed as though each of the first five essays repeated themselves; they were all concerned with what it meant to say God loves us, or whether it is meaningful in any human sense or understanding at all. On the other hand, I learned much about the issues surrounding God’s love of which I was not previously familiar.
            The essay on Augustine and how he viewed God’s love was thought provoking. This was primarily due to the assertion that not only is “God is love” true, but “love is God” is true as well.[3] I did not find this assertion to be true, at least not in any real sense. The reason is that is is either of identity or predication, as of a property. The problem is that love is typically construed as an abstract object. Abstract objects do not have properties, so it cannot be that love has the property of being God. Nor could it be that love is just identical to God; for God is not an abstract object, but concrete.
            There were several other interesting essays in this volume. Especially noteworthy is Paul Helm’s consideration of whether or not God can will the salvation of all people and the sermon from the book of Hosea. While I did not always agree (especially with Helm’s essay), they were both well-done and well-reasoned.
            The reading for this week focused on the idea of the Trinity. So many issues were addressed that I had never read extensively on or had never even really considered before. I especially appreciated Bray’s discussion on biblical passages that support the Trinity, both in the Old and New Testaments. For instance, Bray compares the story in Genesis 18 of Abraham and the three heavenly beings with Philo’s writing on the subject. Bray claims this may indicate that there was a plurality of persons in the Godhead.[4] Another piece of biblical evidence given is the formulation in Matthew 28:19-20. This verse states new believers are to be baptized “in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost.”[5]
            While some have sought to claim the idea was original to the text but not really spoken by Jesus, Bray introduces some enjoyable biblical textual criticism-reasoning to show it was most likely an original to the text, and what Jesus said. He discusses that the author of the book of Matthew was not likely to create this phrase from a vacuum. Further, Bray adds, “How conceivable is it that the first generation of Christians would have mentioned the threefold name of God if Jesus had not explicitly commanded it, and if there had as yet been no theological reflection on the subject?”[6] This points to a previous tradition from which Matthew wrote—which is to say the quote is authentic.
            In Feinberg, I especially enjoyed the discussion over the logic of the Trinity. He framed the debate well by explaining what a contradiction is and how it can be shown to be a false accusation. The discussion of Bartel’s introduction of “sortals” was extremely helpful in attaching a philosophical term to the idea that there is a difference between saying God is one being manifest in three persons and saying God is one being and three beings.[7] Worthy of note is Feinberg’s illustration of the airline passenger and a person.[8] While at first this may seem like some kind of subordination or even modalism, the illustration is not meant to be taken to such lengths. Rather, it appears the analogy is only to be taken to show it is possible there are two such relative identities describing the same thing; one need not keep adding persons for every passenger claimed, and one need not add a new god for every person claimed in the Trinity. While I certainly do not claim to understand all of the issues involved in the Trinity, our reading this week served to highlight this as a future area of study.

                [1] John S. Feinberg, No One Like Him: The Doctrine of God. (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2001), 347.

                [2] Ibid.

                [3] Lewis Ayres, “Augustine, Christology, and God as Love: An Introduction to the Homilies on 1 John,” Nothing Greater, Nothing Better, ed. Kevin J. Vanhoozer. (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans, 2001), 87.

                [4] Gerald Bray, The Doctrine of God. (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1993), 140.

                [5] Ibid., 142.

                [6] Ibid., 143.

                [7] John S. Feinberg, No One Like Him: The Doctrine of God. (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 2001), 493-94.

                [8] Ibid., 496-97.
All posts, and the blog Possible Worlds, are the sole intellectual property of Randy Everist. One may reprint part or all of this post so long as: a) full attribution is given (Randy Everist, Possible Worlds), b) all use is non-commercial, and c) one is in compliance with the Creative Commons license at the bottom on the main page of this blog.

Monday, March 19, 2012

Interpreting the Old Testament Law

            The Old Testament Law has caused many interpretive problems for Christians throughout the ages. This has especially been true in the last 50-60 years (since the dawn of Fundamentalism and its anti-intellectual tendencies [which now seem to have gone]). The traditional view is examined by J. Daniel Hays and ultimately found to be arbitrary in its delineation of what is and is not for the Church today. He espouses a view called Principlism. This essay shall consider the implications of Principlism, its contribution to the author’s overall understanding of the issue, and an application of this view to Scripture.
Principlism Examined
            His alternative, Principlism, asserts a five-step hermeneutic for ascertaining and applying the OT Law to Christian life today.[1]  
            Hays exhorts readers to “identify what the particular law meant to the initial audience…determine the differences between the initial audience and believers today…develop universal principles from the text…correlate the principle with New Testament teaching…apply the modified universal principle to life today.”[2]
            The primary strength of this approach is that it tries for consistency and faithfulness in interpreting the text. It also finds New Testament purchase in Romans 15:4: “For whatsoever things were written aforetime were written for our learning, that we through patience and comfort of the scriptures might have hope.” (KJV) For instance, assessing the original audience’s cultural context is essential to understanding of any text. All of his steps are also in logical order (for instance, the reader should never try to apply the principle to himself before assessing the cultural context or the principle itself!). A weakness of this view is found in the second step. He asks the reader to find a timeless and universal truth.[3] However, even on the traditional view this is the problem! It seems he is telling the reader how to find a timeless truth by telling him to find the timeless truth! The author’s understanding of OT Law was enriched from the traditional view (which arbitrarily assigned a law as moral or ceremonial) to a view of Principlism. Hays accomplished this move from traditionalism by pointing out the intermingling of moral and ceremonial law.
Principlism and the Law
            Jesus said in Matthew 5:17 that he had “not come to abolish the law, but to fulfill.” In both Romans 7 and Galatians 3-4, Paul states clearly believers are not under the law at all. These statements are not in contradiction in any way. Jesus is to fulfill the law while believers are not bound by the law via the Old Covenant, but are related to God in the New. Hays shows the meaning is roughly akin to “complete,” when Jesus says he is fulfilling the law.[4] Hays makes it known that the OT Law was actually a covenant between God and Israel, and the New Covenant is one between God and the Church through Jesus Christ.[5] Since Jesus is not assigning covenantal significance to the OT Law for believers in him, there is no conflict.
Principlism Applied
            The idea of Principlism will be applied to the text of Deuteronomy 18:9-13. First, we must identify the contextual experience of the original audience. They had been promised a specific land to enter into (v. 9). When they did so, God told them to expect sorcerers, child sacrifices, astrologers, supernatural mediums, witches, or ones who contact the dead (vs. 10-12). Further, God promised to drive them all out of that land that God had promised the Jews.
            Second, we must determine the differences between the original audience and hearers today. God did not promise modern-day readers a specific land, and certainly not one in the Middle East such as this. In a Westernized context there is not much going on in the way of child or animal sacrifice. Finally, God has not promised to remove people who do these things from our presence here on earth.
            Next, we must apply a universal principle and see if it accords with New Testament theology. The admonition to avoid the aforementioned things has a common theme of the supernatural. The principle is that God does not want his people to look to any other source of knowledge, wisdom, strength, or to worship any other. This is reflected in Romans 11:33, Colossians 2:3, Matthew 4:10, Colossians 2:23, and Acts 17:23-31.
            Another principle involves infanticide, or child sacrifices done to other gods. While people in a Westernized context surely would not sacrifice to other gods, the fact remains that abortion is a large issue. God here places a high value on human life, and specifically that of children.
            Another implicit but universal principle is that of being separate from the world’s ideology as it relates to spirituality. 2 Corinthians has Paul showing this separation to be from unbelievers. The final step is application. This is done by a turning from worldly sources for information about God and spirituality and a turning to the God of the Bible and godly wisdom for spiritual truth.

            The traditional view may have some beginning steps to a proper understanding of the text, but it is ultimately arbitrary. Hays’ explanation of Principlism demonstrates a logical hermeneutic for understanding and applying the OT Law to New Testament times and situations. An application is easy to do once the believer identifies the proper principle and applies it in light of New Testament theology. In this way the modern-day reader can understand the timeless truth within an often-misunderstood portion of God’s Word.

                [1] J. Daniel Hays, “Applying the Old Testament Law Today,” in Bibliotheca Sacra, 158, No. 629 (2001): 21-35.

                [2] Ibid., 31-32.

                [3] Ibid.
                [4] Ibid., 29.

                [5] Ibid., 28.

All posts, and the blog Possible Worlds, are the sole intellectual property of Randy Everist. One may reprint part or all of this post so long as: a) full attribution is given (Randy Everist, Possible Worlds), b) all use is non-commercial, and c) one is in compliance with the Creative Commons license at the bottom on the main page of this blog.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Theological Journal, Part 2

This week the study surrounded a coherent model of God in contemporary thought and the challenge open theism presents. With respect to open theism, we were challenged to answer the question of whether or not open theism can be considered orthodox in its view of election, which McCormack identified as identical to Arminianism. In the final analysis, I am not sure that the view of election as construed by open theism really can be identical to Arminianism. After all, central to an Arminian view of election is their view of divine foreknowledge. Since the Arminian and open theist views of divine foreknowledge are radically dissimilar, it seems the main argument for considering open theism to be orthodox in that respect is not correct.
            In our reading, I was struck with the skill with which Feinberg wrote. His view of God in contemporary thought was an interesting analysis of modernism and postmodernism. Especially interesting was his discussion of how beliefs were considered to be meaningful only in the case that they were either self-evident, observable by the senses, or incorrigible.[1] Of course, Feinberg later pointed out that this criteria is not itself self-evident (that is, obviously true to anyone who understands it), observable to the senses, nor incorrigible (unable to be denied).[2] Hence, it seems the foundations for logical positivism were hopelessly unstable.
            McCormack also discussed, at some length, a Barthian view of God. I found it to be hopelessly mired in contradiction. Some of it was virtually unintelligible to me. For instance, I don’t even know what it means to speak of God as self-actualized. Further, it seems a consequence of a Barthian view is that there is no way to speak of alternative actions on the part of God.[3] Yet McCormack wishes to retain divine freedom. But if all of who God is finds itself in what he does (or even vice versa), then there just is no fact of the matter as to any alternative actions. In summary, I thought the discussion was quite interesting, though it does not provide an accurate answer for us.
My study this week involved the attributes of God and the providence of God. These two are intricately combined. If God has sovereignty as an attribute, it seems to follow that God is provident over his creation in some sense. Even a deistic view accounts for God’s providence, as most deists would affirm that God has so created the world to be self-sustaining in the natural law. However, a deistic conception of God and his attributes would not necessarily be a biblical one.
            Feinberg raised several issues in relation to divine attributes that I had never considered before. First, he raised the issue of whether or not God is just identical to his attributes.[4] I had not considered ramifications of this before. He quotes Plantinga to support the idea that if God is identical to his attributes, then all of his attributes are identical to one another.[5] If that is the case, it remains unknown what it means for God to have “love” as an attribute. This is because “love” is distinct from “knowledge;” but on this divine simplicity view, the two would be identical. This seemed to me to be problematic.
            Next, Feinberg discussed, at some length, the definition of omnipotence. I had never realized how truly problematic it was to formulate a definition. I think we all know intuitively the things that would qualify to be under God’s power. However, it’s difficult to get a comprehensive definition of omnipotence that does not also lend itself to some other, lesser creature. For example, if omnipotence is doing whatever is logically possible, then it follows that some creature who can only scratch its nose (in terms of logical possibility) qualifies as omnipotent, which is surely wrong.[6]
            Finally, I read briefly from the collaborative work that discusses divine providence. Jowers had an interesting essay that served as an introduction. Within it, the most interesting aspect was Augustine’s view of freedom. I found it fascinating that Augustine believes one need not be able to refrain from some act in order to be morally responsible for that act.[7] While fully discussing such an issue would take an entire paper in itself, I learned a new argument for this position, and found it very fascinating.

                [1] John S. Feinberg, No One Like Him: The Doctrine of God. (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2001), 87.

                [2] Ibid., 97.

                [3] Bruce L. McCormack, Engaging the Doctrine of God. (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2008), 239.

                [4] John S. Feinberg, No One Like Him: The Doctrine of God. (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2001), 325.

                [5] Ibid., 330.

                [6] Ibid., 286.

                [7] Dennis W. Jowers, Four Views on Divine Providence. eds. Stanley N. Gundry and Dennis W. Jowers. (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2011), 13-14.

All posts, and the blog Possible Worlds, are the sole intellectual property of Randy Everist. One may reprint part or all of this post so long as: a) full attribution is given (Randy Everist, Possible Worlds), b) all use is non-commercial, and c) one is in compliance with the Creative Commons license at the bottom on the main page of this blog.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Theological Journal, Part 1

For a recent class, I composed a theological journal, discussing my reactions to and applications of some reading on the doctrine of God. Over the next week or so, I would like to publish each of those, two weeks at a time. Feel free to comment, agree, or disagree.

        This first week has allowed me to examine what questions I myself have about the doctrine of God. The main questions I have surround the Trinity, the Incarnation of Jesus Christ, and God’s relationship to time. These questions are all very important in one sense, and unimportant in another. They are unimportant as it relates to someone becoming saved; no one needs to understand the inner workings of the Trinity in order to believe that Christ died for the ungodly. However, they hold significance because if God is who we think He is, then He is the most important person in all of reality. Who He is ultimately determines what is real and what we can rely on.
            I have also learned what questions others have brought to the table. As part of my spiritual growth this week, I have discovered it is not as important to have answers to all of the questions as it is to be asking the right questions in the first place. Asking questions about God such as “how does God control the world’s events?” and “Was Jesus always the Son of God or only from His incarnation?” hold serious implications for our theology. For instance, if we suppose God’s providence must be causal, that will impact how we view free will and what makes someone morally responsible for an act.
            Some questions I hope to answer include “is God timeless or temporal?” I also hope to find the implications of any answer to that question there may be. I will examine both sides of the argument and see which comports most with a proper view of the Scriptures. This journey is sure to teach me many things, and I am very excited for it!
            This second week I have been studying natural theology, or arguments for God’s existence. This is a topic that has excited me for some time. This is because I believe there is so much we can learn from natural theology. Romans 1:19-20 details that we all know that God exists, both through an inner knowledge and through evidences of God’s handiwork. However, the question was raised: to what extent can these arguments for God’s existence be used?
            In particular, I was troubled by Bray’s treatment of the standard types of arguments for God’s existence: cosmological, ontological, teleological, and moral. For instance, Bray seemed to think the old-line “who made God?” was a decent objection. He says, “if the prime mover and first cause is supposed to be itself unmoved and uncaused, how did it come into being?”[1] It was as though he honestly did not fully understand the arguments. Yet I found myself ultimately agreeing with his assertion that natural theology “is inadequate as a statement of the Christian doctrine of God.”[2] This is because general revelation cannot compete with the fullness of special revelation.
            I found Feinberg to be more sophisticated, intellectually. I also found his critiques of the differing arguments to be very honest. This helped me to realize I must also be as forthright when it comes to debating points of theology and philosophy with other people. I cannot afford to be prideful; I have nothing but Christ in which to boast!
            Feinberg’s discussion of the ontological argument is fascinating, but I found it ultimately lacking in two respects. First, it did not analyze any of the modern formulations of the argument. This is crucial, as some of the most common criticisms of the ontological argument do not apply to the modern versions. Second, though he asserts “what Anselm actually proved is that a contingent being could not be God. Any being worthy of the title ‘God’ must be a necessary being,” Feinberg does not recognize a major implication (and benefit) of this fact.[3] If God’s existence is necessary, then his existence is either necessarily true or impossible. If God does not exist, it is because it is necessarily false that he should! Most people would find this incredible, and many would intuitively perceive such a maximally great being was at least possible. While I found both to be less than comprehensive, I found both to bring specific insights to the table that I needed to consider. Further, I very much enjoyed Feinberg’s attention to detail even while covering such breadth of material.

                [1] Gerald Bray, The Doctrine of God. (Downers Grove, IL: IVP, 1993), 70.

                [2] Ibid., 54.

                [3] John S. Feinberg, No One Like Him: The Doctrine of God. (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2001), 190.

All posts, and the blog Possible Worlds, are the sole intellectual property of Randy Everist. One may reprint part or all of this post so long as: a) full attribution is given (Randy Everist, Possible Worlds), b) all use is non-commercial, and c) one is in compliance with the Creative Commons license at the bottom on the main page of this blog.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Christianity, the Body of Christ, and Judgment

Tonight I met and talked with a homeless man. He was homeless by choice, he claimed. I saw him before and after I went to the gym to workout. I didn't want to talk to him. I even started driving off. I rationalized it by pointing out I didn't feel guilty for not helping him. And I didn't. But I did feel guilty because the Spirit was telling me to talk to him, and I wasn't. For that, I turned the car around and went back.

What followed was a 30 minute discussion about all sorts of things, mostly spiritual. He claimed he was a former Muslim who had been saved. But he became angry as he spoke about churches. He didn't like all the "condemnation and judgment." I can't blame him. I don't like it either! However, he has clearly miscalculated. He has taken this desire to avoid "being a Pharisee" and turned it into a "Lone Worshipper."

Now it is true that if you were to be locked up this very moment in a dungeon in a third-world country for the rest of your life, God could minister to you there. But in normal circumstances, God created people to be in relationships with other people, and the local body of Christ is there for that very reason! He did not realize that by stepping away from churches altogether, he has engaged in the very sort of condemnation he hates. He has judged in the very sort of way he hates. Churches are not filled with perfect people. Some churches are far worse than others. But Jesus Christ died for the church (cf. Ephesians 5:25), and this idea has both corporate and local shades to it.

When one divorces himself from the life of the church, he is handicapping himself in his spiritual life. Oddly, I found his physical predicament a metaphor for his spiritual life. He was hanging on, making it from day to day, and doing it his own way. But he was not doing too well. His life was marked by loneliness, which is exactly what happens when one becomes bitter at the church, cutting himself off from the body so beloved by our Lord. May we all take caution from this encounter.
All posts, and the blog Possible Worlds, are the sole intellectual property of Randy Everist. One may reprint part or all of this post so long as: a) full attribution is given (Randy Everist, Possible Worlds), b) all use is non-commercial, and c) one is in compliance with the Creative Commons license at the bottom on the main page of this blog.

Saturday, March 3, 2012

Awake, Modal Realism, and Transworld Identity

Thursday night, the new NBC series Awake premiered. The show follows a detective after a tragic car accident and his experiences with his wife and son. In one world, his son has died and he copes with his wife. In the other, his wife has passed and his son remains. Adding to the confusion is the fact he seems to pass between these worlds when he goes to sleep in the other one; each world suggests the other is a dream. Which of them, if either, is real?

Perhaps it is the case that they are both real and the show is ultimately depicting a kind of modal realism. That is to say, all logically possible worlds actually exist, and the main character is experiencing two of them. He is oscillating between them and retaining his memories.[1] This would rely on the idea of transworld identity. Roughly, transworld identity says that there are some essential properties of a person, and these properties hold across all possible worlds in which that person appears. Hence, because of the indiscernability of identicals, that person just is who he is in every possible world; they aren’t different persons. The reason this take on Awake would rely on transworld identity is because if a person is not who he is across all possible worlds in which he exists, then the detective would not be the same person in both possible worlds. He would be two separate persons.

Transworld identity suggests there is something more to personhood than mere matter. It suggests there is an “essence,” or that collection of essential properties that define a person. This essence would not include wholly external or wholly contingent factors. So, for instance, an essence would not include the property of being tall (or being any specific height). It would include being a person, being a moral agent, and so on.

A criticism of modal realism is that it would result in logically contradictory states of affairs. It would be true that a is actual, and it would be true that not-a is actual, if there were to be more than one actual world. A possible defense is to say that “John performs A in C” and “John performs not-A in C,” describe two different people. Basically, the two possible worlds have “John” and refer to a person very much like the other, but they are two different persons. However, if transworld identity is true, then this is, strictly speaking, false, and there cannot be more than one possible world that is actual.

Further, transworld identity is consistent with the Christian view of having a soul. That can be what personhood is: a concrete expression of the collection of abstract but essential properties. Transworld identity is an interesting concept, but highly intuitive. It seems obvious that our performing of an action differently than we in fact did, or growing one inch taller than we in fact did, would not make us a different person. Rather, it would be us—but a different version of us! What do you all think?

[1] It should go without saying I do not believe in modal realism. However, it would be an entertaining show!

All posts, and the blog Possible Worlds, are the sole intellectual property of Randy Everist. One may reprint part or all of this post so long as: a) full attribution is given (Randy Everist, Possible Worlds), b) all use is non-commercial, and c) one is in compliance with the Creative Commons license at the bottom on the main page of this blog.