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.

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  1. In regards to this bit here: 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.

    couldn't it also be said that it's also possible that a maximally great being does not exist?

  2. Hi Frank, thanks for the comment: to answer your question, no. Let's take two quick reasons why, and then a brief explanation.
    1. It is a metaphysically impossible state of affairs to say that "X is possible, and if X is possible, then X is necessary; therefore, X is either necessary or impossible," and "not-X is possible."
    2. If we accept God is possible and that modal logic dictates God's existence is either necessary or impossible, then by deduction God's non-existence is impossible.

    The explanation of what you might be perceiving is just an epistemological sense of possibility, not metaphysical. It's like saying "for all we know, God exists, and for all we know, he does not exist." But that is not the kind of possibility we're interested in for this argument. We're looking for metaphysical possibility, which is construed by taking a concept to be logically consistent and having no necessary truths which override it. Our modal intuitions tell us God is possible, and since we are discussing metaphysical possibility, the only way we can say God does not exist after this argument is to say that it is impossible that he does.

    Finally, lest one accuse me of a kind of bias or question-begging, let's allow the objector to hold "Possibly, God does not exist" prior to considering the MOA, and let's further suppose she does not have a belief or argument for God's impossibility. Such a person should allow that "Possibly, God exists," in the modal sense as well. Now suppose she runs the MOA as outlined above. The other premises are definitional and entailments of those definitions, and hence cannot be denied. But then she should believe God exists, which is a defeater for her original premise, "Possibly, God does not exist"! Does that make sense?

    1. Ya, that makes perfect sense (I did have more epistemic possibility in mind), thanks.



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