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.

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  1. Of course Barth's view would be held in contradiction, he is an existentialist and so everything about God is a contradiction. The Barthian god is the author of confusion.

  2. Hi Randy,

    I am curious: Is there any evidence or series of arguments which could defeat your belief in the resurrection of Jesus or in the existence of your deity?

  3. Hi Aaron. :) Lest we forget, if God exists, he's your deity too! :)

    Yes, if the bones/body of Jesus were to be discovered, that would do it. Or if the concept of God were to be shown to be logically contradictory, and thus logically incoherent/impossible.

  4. Randy,

    You seem to want to say that if a deity exists, (1) it must be the only one that exists, and (2) that it thus must be the deity you worship. I see not reason whatsoever to believe either (1) or (2) is true.

    Nevertheless, you worship a particular deity, Muslims worship quite another, and similarly for Zoroastrians, Hindus, etc.

    I do wonder, though, what type of evidence would convince you that some set of remains were Jesus'. Never mind how incredibly unlikely it would be to find any particular person's remains in the first place. Of course, even if the remains were found in a tomb or ossuary with markings reading "This is Jesus, son of Joseph, brother of James, you know, the so-called Messiah of the Christians", I must believe you would hold onto your belief in the resurrected Jesus?

  5. Hi Aaron. :)

    Contextually, you referred to "my" deity, and I just pointed out if God (capital "G" and in general [and in this specific case] referring to the Christian God so described in the Bible and in other places) exists, then he is everyone's deity, not just those who worship. After all, one's father is one's father whether or not he likes it. Similarly, if God exists, one is related to him in some way (even if only by indirect means of creation), whether he recognizes it or not.

    The fact it would be difficult to prove some remains were Jesus' certainly isn't my problem. :) Nor does my faith rest in the fact that thus far no one has proven such. Because of that, I am just not concerned about that. As challenges to Christianity arise, I research them and see what I think. Otherwise, I rely on the positive set of arguments.

  6. Randy,

    Even if YOUR deity exists, it does not therefore follow that it is the only deity which exists; others may exist and I may be at liberty to worship them E.g., I may be a henotheist: I may recognize that your deity exists but worship another, equally powerful deity with all the trappings of a necessary, omni-type existence.

    As to the resurrection, my point is this: I suspect believers in Jesus would never accept any evidence which purports to show that some set of remains are those of Jesus.

    As to general belief in the so-called resurrection of Jesus, it is beyond me how anyone could think the paltry historical evidence in favor of the resurrection sufficient to overturn fundamental physical laws such as the first and second laws of thermodynamics, conservation of momentum, etc.

  7. Hi Aaron.

    Now if my deity (and yours!) exists, it's just part and parcel of that Christian claim that he is the only God who exists. If he were not to be, whatever it is, it's not Christianity, and not the claim of what the Christian God is!

    As for the rest, I just don't see how any of that would be an issue for me! Most people, especially Christians, don't think physical laws are logically necessary, so that there just is no problem here. :)

  8. Randy,

    Setting aside the other bit, your response to my point on the resurrection misses the mark entirely. The issue is not that physical laws are logically necessary (who thinks they are?). Rather, the issue is whether the historical evidence, E, which is proffered in favor of the so-called resurrection of Jesus, J, sufficient to increase our degree of belief in J given the background knowledge of modern physics, B, which makes J extremely improbable.

    In other words, does the following obtain: Pr(J|E & B) > Pr(not-J|E & B).

    My contention is that E is not sufficient and thus does not warrant belief in J.

  9. Hi Aaron,

    I don't see any reason to think it's improbable unless we assume some kind of anti-supernaturalism or that physical laws are necessary. I don't see any reason to embrace either!

  10. Randy,

    No anti-supernatural assumption is required in order to establish that resurrections are improbable events. The matter is simple and you are avoiding it. We have some set of evidence in favor of the resurrection (the Pauline letters, Gospel accounts, and Church tradition) and some set of evidence against the resurrection (the entire edifice of modern science). Now, thermodynamics, physiology, quantum mechanics, and biochemistry do not say that resurrections are impossible.

    Rather it says such an event is ridiculously improbable. So, if the prior probability of the resurrection is to be increased to rational acceptability, the evidence in its favor must be very, very, very good. Unfortunately, it is not; in fact, it's not quite good at all.

  11. Hi Aaron,

    But your account of the evidence discounts any supernatural considerations--unless you just hold it to be 50-50. It seems almost obvious the probability we would see the facts and evidences and background knowledge we do see would be higher than .5 given the hypothesis. In fact, given a .6 probability for this figure and, say, a .2 probability of the hypothesis being true on the background knowledge alone, along with a probability of .3 for seeing the evidences if the hypothesis is not true, and we arrive at a final probability (given Bayes' Theorem) of 50%. This is even giving low probabilities all around (as .6 is likely much too low given the hypothesis' truth seeing the evdiences and background knowledge we do see). Just stipulating that somehow naturalistic means make it improbable doesn't seem to make sense here.


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