Saturday, April 12, 2008

Why Reppert Can't Unsolve Calvinist Solutions to Problems of Evil

Reppert re-published an old post where he argues that Calvinism can't solve the problem of evil. There's not much to respond to since I already undercut or rebut his major premises. There's been no response as of yet. In any event, I'll offer a couple quick comments to some of his other complaints:

1. God, if God exists, is omniscient, omnipotent, and perfectly good.
2. If there is a God, then there is no unnecessary evil.
3. But there is unnecessary evil.
4. Therefore God does not exist.

P3 is the problem. Victor would need to prove it. But then the conclusion would follow. So, Reppert doesn't believe P3. In fact, he thinks it is downright false. Thus, the argument is unsound. Why does Victor think an unsound argument is a problem for anyone, let alone a Calvinist? Perhaps Victor means, on the Calvinist's system, the argument goes through. But this is an internal critique, and so I get to pull from all my resources. I get to use all those nasty premises which go against the grain of Reppert's intuitions. So, internally, I'm fine.

"Now a lot of responses to the problem of evil employ two themes. One of those themes is that many evils in the world are not caused by God, but are the result of God's allowing creatures to act freely."

This is Reppert's defense. But this is just the greater good defense. The Calvinist can use a greater good defense.

And, what does Reppert mean that the evils are not "caused" by God? Reppert still must believe God allowed the world to be actualized, and if he hadn't, there wouldn't have been the evils. If Reppert knew that a NASCAR car had bad breaks, and a serious crash would occur if he let that car race, and he let that car race anyway, how is Reppert not a "cause" of the resultant evils?

And, on a Calvinist scheme, we employ dual causality where the agent is the actor who commits the sin, and that's all that's relevant. God didn't sin, the agent did.

I'd also point out that the classic evidential PoE argument is phrased as Bambi suffering in a forest fire. Say no human started the fire. Thus, no free will was involved. Thus, how does Victor's "free will defense" remove himself from dealing with the problem? Perhaps he will just admit that natural evils are not really evils. If so, then since the vast majority of philosophers who offer the argumentfrom evil do think the burning Bambi is an instance of evil, Victor can't make much more use out of his "intuition" arguments against Calvinism. Perhaps he will say "free will" was involved in Adam's choice to eat the fruit. If so, why is it moral for God to punish Bambi, or starving children in Africa for that matter, for something Adam did? The best resources here come from the Calvinist camp.

"If God makes us free to commit murder or not to commit murder, then God cannot guarantee that we not commit murder."

But if God knew at t1 God knew you would commit murder at t2, then how could you not have committed murder at t2? By causing God's infallible belief to be false? And, can we sin in heaven? Can God guarantee that we won't? Maybe someone will rape someone in heaven. Can Reppert guarantee that the won't? So in Reppert's heaven there is no guarantee that rape and murder will not occur.

"Second, some things that seem evil from a temporal, present-day perspective may not be evils from an eternal perspective."

The Calvinist can say this too (see my last post). And, to give criminals in God's universe their just deserts is not evil even from a temporal perspective; unless, of course, Reppert thinks it is evil to punish law-breakers.

"The problem with Calvinism is that on the Calvinistic view God sovereignly determines the outcome of every action."

He means, "the trouble with the God of the Bible is...." There's plenty of books, systematic theologies, exegesis, etc., that demonstrate this. How familiar is Reppert with them? How can he just assert that this is what Calvinism teaches? By doing that he is implicitly denying that the Bible teaches this. but I don't grant this premise of his. So it's an unargued premise. I don't stipulate it.

"Consider what philosopher Douglas Jesseph calls "The World of Mr. Rogers." In the world of Mr. Rogers, it's all a big happy neighborhood and everyone does what is right, and then go to heaven when they die. This world is obviously a better world than this one."

Who said that is better than this world? I think a redeemed world is better than one that never fell. I think a world where "greater love" is shown better than a world where it is not shown. "Greater love" shows itself in a man dying for his friends. In Christian theology, Jesus died because of sin. Evil. The curse. So, how could Mr. Roger's World WMR be better than Jesus' sin-sick world? In the former "greater love" does not get instantiated. Any world where "greater love" does not get instantiated isn't a better world than a world where it is instantiated. So, I just don't share Reppert's intuitions (I say as I pooch out my lips and shake my head back and forth).

"Just ask anyone who has gone to hell and see if they wouldn't prefer the World of Mr. Rogers."

Imagine a world where pedophiles get to violate children and earn no repercussion. or, imagine one where they get castrated.

Just ask pedophiles if they like the world where they get punished and see if they wouldn't prefer the world of flagrant violation.

It is telling that Reppert wants to poll law-breaking, God-hating, God's-people-hating sinners for what world is better.

And, Reppert shows us, again, his low view of sin. Sinners L-O-V-E their sin, Victor. They H-A-T-E God and his righteous ways. Therefore, they would not want God's holy, sinless world! Reppert think sinners in hell will be crying out for God to rescue them. Evincing regret for their actions. This is false. They will be maximally depraved. Their heart will be revealed for what it is when the sin-restraining power of common grace is removed. Sinners will want to stay in hell. This Pollyanna view of sinners has been repeated assumed by Victor in these dialogues, he has yet to defend it even though I have called him out on it repeatedly.

"The simple fact is that if Calvinism is true, then God could have created the World of Mr. Rogers, but sovereignly chose not to. Why?"

Because God wanted to show his mercy by saving sinners. There is no mercy shown in WMR. Because the Son wanted to show "greater love." Because a redeemed world is better than a fallen world. Because God is wiser than Victor. Because God is not a humanist. Because God's thoughts and ways are higher than ours. What Reppert would do if he were his straw man view of Calvin's God is a good indication that God wouldn't do it that way. Reppert isn't God. He's acting like John Loftus who says that if he were God he would have made us with wings so would wouldn't fall to our death and gills so we would drown.

The simple fact is that if Arminianism is true, then God could have created a world where people always do the right thing but do it with libertarian freedom. Does Reppert deny that God could do this? How so? And, if this kind of world is "boring" then he must say heaven is "boring too." If he resorts to compatibilism just for heaven, then how are we not robots in heaven? Do we freely worship God in heaven? Indeed, why is Victor's best world--heaven--a world where people have compatibilistic free will? Is compatibilism better than libertarianism? Then how can he appeal to libertarian free will as an escape from the problem of evil? What's so good about a good will that will get tossed like yesterday's trash?

"At this point it is possible to now appeal to human limitations, either limitations in human knowledge or in human goodness. Even though we can't see that this world is better than the WMR, it really is better, even though some people are damned in this world and no one is damned in WMR. I think these arguments from the limits of our knowledge have more force where the final outcome is unknown or inadequately understood. We know the final outcome in both worlds. Everyone is happy in the WMR and everyone gets saved. Many people suffer in our world and some are lost"

I deny that Victor "knows the outcome." He may know some outcomes, but how can he say he knows all of the outcomes? Especially when we're dealing with a Divine plan? How can Victor think he knows all the outcomes when he doesn't even know how God created a rat turd.

"Another way of replying is to present a version of Paul's rebuttal from the Book of Romans, "Who are you, o man, to answer back to God?" Now if this is a version of the argument from the limitations of our knowledge, which I think it is, then it has some value, but not on a Calvinistic scenario. If however, it is a way of simply dismissing the argument from evil, it is a transparently question-begging argument. The AfE questions whether there is a God, that is, a being omnisicent, omnipotent, and perfectly good, to answer back to. We cannot assume that such a being exists in order to eliminate the question as to whether or not an OOP being exists."

This is ridiculous. The AFE must allow the Christian to pull from all his resources. Indeed, the argument is supposed to be an internal critique. As William Lane Craig has stated:

"Since the problem is being presented as an internal problem for the Christian
theist, there is nothing illicit about the Christian theist's availing himself
of all the resources of his worldview in answering the objection."

And, we certainly can take all the resources of our position to bear on a problem. In his memorable address, Alvin Plantinga had this to say to Christian philosophers:

And my point here is this. The Christian philosopher is within his right in holding these positions, whether or not he can convince the rest of the philosophical world and whatever the current philosophical consensus is, if there is a consensus. But isn't such an appeal to God and his properties, in this philosophical context, a shameless appeal to a deus ex machina? Surely not. "Philosophy," as Hegel once exclaimed in a rare fit of lucidity, "is thinking things over." Philosophy is in large part a clarification, systematization, articulation, relating and deepening of pre-philosophical opinion.


So here again: my plea is for the Christian philosopher, the Christian philosophical community, to display, first, more independence and autonomy: we needn't take as our research projects just those projects that currently enjoy widespread popularity; we have our own questions to think about. Secondly, we must display more integrity. We must not automatically assimilate what is current or fashionable or popular by way of philosophical opinion and procedures; for much of it comports ill with Christian ways of thinking. And finally, we must display more Christian self-confidence or courage or boldness. We have a perfect right to our pre-philosophical views: why, therefore, should we be intimidated by what the rest of the philosophical world thinks plausible or implausible?


In still others the Christian will take for granted and will start from assumptions and premises rejected by the philosophical community at large.


Philosophy is many things. I said earlier that it is a matter of systematizing, developing and deepening one's pre-philosophical opinions. It is that; but it is also an arena for the articulation and interplay of commitments and allegiances fundamentally religious in nature; it is an expression of deep and fundamental perspectives, ways of viewing ourselves and the world and God. Among its most important and pressing projects are systematizing, deepening, exploring, articulating this perspective, and exploring its bearing on the rest of what we think and do. But then the Christian philosophical community has its own agenda; it need not and should not automatically take its projects from the list of those currently in favor at the leading contemporary centers of philosophy. Furthermore, Christian philosophers must be wary about assimilating or accepting presently popular philosophical ideas and procedures; for many of these have roots that are deeply anti-Christian. And finally the Christian philosophical community has a right to its perspectives; it is under no obligation first to show that this perspective is plausible with respect to what is taken for granted by all philosophers, or most philosophers, or the leading philosophers of our day.

In sum, we who are Christians and propose to be philosophers must not rest content with being philosophers who happen, incidentally, to be Christians; we must strive to be Christian philosophers. We must therefore pursue our projects with integrity, independence, and Christian boldness.

For you see, we can appeal to that passage in Romans because we think that given our whole package, some problems don't even arise for us. So, I would argue that the AFE may question whether there is a "god" or not, but its questions don't apply to whether there is a "GOD" or not.

If the unbeliever comes to me and gives me the AFE as a reason for why I should not believe in God, then you can bet dollars to donuts that I will appeal to the Bible. Since I believe it is true, and for me it is evidence, evidence of the highest sort being the testimony from a person who cannot be wrong, then I sure can appeal to it.

If the unbeliever uses it as a reason for her not to believe, I will point out that it only gains force if it doesn't take into account that Christianity is true. Thus it only has force if the one who employs the argument assumes that the Christian story is false. So, they beg the question as well. Indeed, to say that there is "unnecessary evil" already assumes that what God has said---there is no unnecessary evil---is false. So, the atheist offers an argument that assumes the falsity of theism. i do not find Victor's point here convincing at all.

Lastly, I am answering Reppert and not an atheist. In our context of dialogue, then, I can certainly appeal to biblical texts! Reppert keeps jumping from pillar to post. Reppert does the same thing as I do when answering the atheist, too. He makes a move that God gave us "free will." But if there is no God, then there is no God to give us free will. So, Reppert's arguments remain entirely unconvincing to me, and even border on incoherence.

"But why would God want to give us any kind of free will other than the kind of free will that the compatibilist (and the Calvinist) is prepared to admit? The incompatiblist holds that human beings have the kind of freedom that is incompatible with our acting from a determining cause. If we sin, we could have done otherwise under the actual circumstances."

Well here, Reppert endorses Pelagianism. But this position has been condemned as heresy across denomination boundaries

Councils of Carthage (412, 416 and 418)

Council of Ephesus (431)

The Council of Orange (529)

Council of Trent (1546) (Roman Catholic)

2nd Helvetic (1561/66) 8-9. (Swiss-German Reformed)

Augsburg Confession (1530) Art. 9, 18 (Lutheran)

Gallican Confession (1559) Art. 10 (French Reformed)

Belgic Confession (1561) Art. 15 (Lowlands, French/Dutch/German Reformed)

The Anglican Articles (1571), 9. (English)

Canons of Dort (1618-9), 3/4.2 (Dutch/German/French Reformed).


Reppert thinks it is possible for a mere human to go through life sinless.

Repperts attacks on Calvinism fail to find their mark, again.

I should also add that libertarian free will isn't without its philosophical (not to mention Scriptural) objections. For example, are his actions uncaused? How does he find belief in uncaused events rational? Or, are they self-caused? If so, how doe he answer the arguments from those like van Inwangen and Mele against agent causation? Arguments like the "luck" objection. Arguments from control and reliable mechanisms which lead to the conclusion that if an act is free then it is determined.

Arminianism, Libertarian Free Will, and the Road to Open Theism

Some LFWers (and some atheists) here raised the objection of theological fatalism for the Calvinist (though we escape that by denyingt eh LFW premise).

We raised the objection that exhaustive, traditionally conceived views of God's foreknowledge actually puts the LFWer in the predicament.

They danced around that with the Boethian shuffle.

We shoot back with the Dr. Sudduth bazooka.

"It seems that divine timelessness, rather than providing a way to reconcile foreknowledge and indeterministic freedom, actually accentuates the difficulty, perhaps even rendering such a reconciliation logically impossible."

Friday, April 11, 2008

Reply to the Anti-Calvinists

Victor Reppert is continuing his muddled critique of Calvinism over at DI. I'll offer some muddled responses. His comments will be in red.

"First, while I admit that Scripture can correct my conception of goodness, accepting reprobation would, on my view, not be a correction, but an out and out reversal, of what goodness seems to me to be. If Hitler was wrong to send people to Auschwitz, could it be OK for God to send people to an everlasting Auschwitz, when he could have chosen eternal bliss for them?"

i) And can Scripture "reverse" some particular conception of goodness? I don't see why not. Some may think that it is never good in any circumstance to make an innocent man pay for the sins of the guilty. In coming to the Bible, and being asked to accept what Jesus did on behalf of sinners, this man could reply: "That requires me to reverse my conception of goodness." Or, say one is a humanist. Man is the highest good. Since Reppert admits that God is the highest good, then he presents the humanists with a concept of goodness that is the reverse (outright denial, even) of the humanists. So, I don't see the problem Victor has here.

ii) Notice the philosopher's version of an ace up the sleeve. The philosopher's get out of jail free card. It is: The Appeal to Intuition (and this intuition is not like our intuition that modus ponens is correct, either. Not even close to that universally recognized). Now, the secret to offering this particular response to a position is that you much pooch our your lips, shake your head back and forth and say, "I just don't have that intuition."

iii) Reppert makes a disanalogy between Hitler and God. One relevant detail left out is that God is sending criminals to their just deserts.

iv) Reppert is more confused why God who would send sinners to hell, I'm more confused at why the Holy One of Israel, the Fear of Isaac, would save anyone. The Calvinist's high view of God is matched by Reppert's low view of sin.

v) If Reppert believes in hell, then he must answer why God would instantiate any person who chooses to go to hell when he could have saved them the pain and everlasting punishment by not creating them. If he believes all go to heaven, and also all have libertarian freedom, he must answer how God can guarantee this on a libertarian model.

vi) Was it impossible for God to make a world where everyone freely (in a libertarian way) did what was right? If not: (a) what happens in heaven?, (b) if Plantinga's transworld depravity is appealed to, what about Jesus' creaturely essence not being depraved?. If so, why this world? If for a greater good defense, why can't the Calvinist appeal to this?

"Second, it’s the very influence of Scripture on my character that makes Calvinism a problem. Scripture teaches that I should love my neighbor as myself and undermines the idea, in the parable of the Good Samaritan, that there are people outside the pale of being my neighbor. If I think about the people whom I come the closest to loving as I do myself, I don’t find that there are two good options, either an eternal bliss in relation to God, or eternal justified punishment forever and ever separated from God. The more I love someone, the less acceptable the second option is."

i) This is poor reasoning. It begs the question. If the sinner is a criminal worthy of punishment, then what does "loving your neighbor" have to do with anything? (Indeed, who says we are God's neighbor, anyway? Someone's massively confusing the Creator/creature distinction.) Does Reppert protest the sending away of child molesters? Of punishing them for their crimes? Either he does not love them (and undercuts his argument), or there is no problem with him loving his neighbor and punishing them.

ii) Love of neighbor is not the same kind of love as salvific or electing love (see D.A. Carson's The Difficult Doctrine of the Love of God for some relevant distinctions). Reppert is making a category mistake with this argument from love of neighbor.

iii) Apropos (ii), love of neighbor doesn't mean I can't kill someone trying to kill my wife. Is this man, who is trying to kill my wife, outside the pale of neighbor? Why should God alloow those in heaven who (a) hate him?, (b) hate his followers?, and (c) don't want to be there. Reppert's apologetic inspiration, C.S. Lewis, once said: "There are two kinds of people in the end. The ones who say to God "Thy will be done", and the ones to whom God will say, "thy will be done."

iv) As a matter of fact, there are people outside the pale of neighbor. Those trying to do you harm, for instance. Does Reppert think he should help those trying to beat and rob him like like the man who fell into the hands of the robbers in Luke 10?

v) Reppert acts as if every law Reppert is commanded to obey, God is likewise obliged. This logically leads to Mormonism, though. Does God need to honor his father (and mother!)? How about theft? If God owns everything, how can he steal what is his? We are commaded to pray, does God pray to himself.

"Finally, the summum bonum that God pursues in saving and damning is supposed to be his own glory. How in the world does damning someone eternally glorify God. How does taking voices out of the heavenly choir glorify God? Sending people to hell by a decree before the foundation of the world deprives God of glory."

i) I am trying to make a metaphysical point, Reppert is acting as if epistemic hindrances have something to do with that. Say I don’t know, what of interest follows? That God does not in fact gain glory from his cosmic display of justice? Hardly. What follows is the uninteresting claim that Paul Manata doesn't know how God gains glory.

ii) It's not as if those who go to hell did not commit acts of sin themselves. That God decreed it is not a problem to me. Now, allow me to pooch my lips out, shake my head from side to side, and say to Reppert: I just don't have these intuitions.

iii) Reppert is asking questions and then asserting. The above isn't an argument. He wouldn't accept it if someone simply asserted: "Neurons do all the work attributed to the mind."

iv) How does allowing unrepentant criminals into heaven add to the glory of God? Does Reppert think God forces people to repent? Perhaps Reppert think that after some time in hell, people will gladly repent. In this reppert demonstrates his low view of sin. The sinners will gnash their teeth against God in hell. Their pride will be maximalized. Their hatred intensified. God's goodness villainized. God and his people stigmatized. This compounds their crime. Begets more judgment. How does allowing these people into heaven add to God's glory?

v) Reppert begins his theology with his intuitions, the Calvinist begins with Scripture. Reppert can't show his views in Scripture. Can Reppert exegete any of his views from Scripture? How about libertarian freedom? Can Reppert exegete universalism from Scripture? I think not. So, his argument is armchair philosophical speculation.

"Paul Manata does not think that Calvinism relies on theological voluntarism, and does therefore think that God’s goodness, even on a Calvinistic view, is in some way commensurable with goodness as human beings ordinarily understand it."

i) I think I said that the good God does is really and objectively good. Since it is, Reppert would have to, if he were thinking appropriately, admit the actual goodness of God's actions.

ii) And, it's no big mystery that there is a position on God-talk called "analogy." And it's not just the Calvinist who uses it. A dog is faithful to his master as a man is faithful to his wife in an analogous way. But the Creator/creature distinction comes into play here. Though God is truly good, it's not an univocal good with man's goodness. Man isn't, for instance, infinitely good.

Michael Sudduth writes,

"The theological pessimist emphasizes the fact that God is unlike anything in the world. But what does this mean? Is God not completely like everything in the world of human experience? Or he is completely unlike everything in the world of human experience? If God is not completely like everything in the world of human experience, then God does share all properties or characteristics with anything else. But if God is completely unlike everything in the world of human experience, then God does not share any properties or characteristics with anything else. It is certainly true that God does not share all properties with anything else, but it's hard to see how God could not share any properties with anything else. If God had nothing in common with anything else, God would have at least one thing in common with everything else, namely the property of "having nothing in common" (as this would be a property of both God and everything else)."

"He claims Sudduth blows the idea that Calvin is a theological voluntarist. He quotes a passage with suggests otherwise, but I wonder how he would interpret the following statement form the Institutes

The will of God is the highest rule of justice, so that what He wills must be considered just…for this very reason, because he wills it. (Institutes, vol ii, chap 3, trans. John Allen. Philadephia: Presbyterian Board of Christian Education, p. 23) quoted in John Beversluis’ C. S. Lewis and the Search for Rational Religion p. 230.

Now, as I see it not much turns on whether Calvin was a voluntarist (or, to use Beversluis’ terminology, and Ockhamist) or not. I suspect that a textual case could be made on both sides of the issue."

i) Here Reppert loses some respect. If he's going to "interact" with an article, and try to "rebut" one of my points, he can at least read the article he's "rebutting." Here's what I mean. It just so happens, unfortunately for Reppert, that Sudduth deals with this exact quote from the institutes! Starting with II. Calvin’s Rejection of the Distinction and reading down will be enough to show Reppert’s position in error. Here's the link to Sudduth.

ii) Respected Calvinist philosopher, Paul Helm, also interacts with this exact quote. Helm points out that, in the same section Reppert mines from Beversluis, Calvin goes on to say:

We do not advocate the fiction of “absolute might”: because this is profane, it ought rightly to be hateful to us. We fancy no lawless God who is a law unto himself…But we deny that he is liable to render an account; we also deny that we are competent judges to pronounce judgment in this cause according to our own understanding’. (Inst. III.23.2)

"I am more interested in Manata’s suggesting that, for the most part, you can use many of the same defensive responses to the problem of evil if you are a Calvinist. Of course you can’t use the free will defense, but there are other considerations used by people like Plantinga, Alston, Adams, etc, that a Calvinst can still use."

i) Can Reppert use the free will defense? How does that work for heaven?

ii) Is Reppert thinking of Plantinga's free will defense? That's been shown to be insufficient for defending Christian theism (sec. 1.3).

"In many cases, we find that some things that seem to be gratuitously evil turn out to have good sides we couldn’t see. The wicked act of selling Joseph to the slavers resulted, after a long chain of events, in Jacob’s family being able to settle in Egypt and to avoid the ill effects of the famine."

i) It's more than that. It's that we might not see that things "turn out" for good, and is possible that we might never understand, given our creatureliness and the magnitude of God’s plan. I quote Welty at length,

But now let us suppose, again for the sake of argument, that Wykstra's application of CORNEA is an utter failure, an overly bold and therefore indefensible amendment to the Principle of Credulity. What of the weaker hypothesis that Alston proposes in its place? Rather than "proceeding on the basis of any such unrestricted epistemological principle," Alston says the more proper response

focuses on the peculiar difficulties we encounter in attempting to provide adequate support for a certain very ambitious negative existential claim, viz., that there is (can be) no sufficient divine reason for permitting a certain case of suffering, E. I will be appealing to the difficulties of defending a claim of this particular kind, rather than to more generalized human cognitive weaknesses (102).

That is, Alston (unlike Wykstra) is willing to initially grant the atheist his 'it appears' claims. But, Alston argues, a moment's reflection on the part of the atheist will rob premise (1) of Rowe's argument of any rational support.[16] The atheist is perhaps initially entitled to say, "it appears that God could not have a morally compelling reason for permitting this evil." But when he is led to reflect upon, more particularly, his cognitive limitations vis-à-vis the complexity of God's plan, to reflect upon his inability to determine whether or not an omniscient God could have a sufficient reason for permitting this evil, he should realise that this very cognitive limitation is a reason that tells against the initial 'appears' claim. The common-sense qualification Swinburne makes to the Principle of Credulity has been fulfilled in the course of this very exercise.

Swinburne would disagree; he alleges that even if Alston is right that our moral and logical intuitions may be in error when examining an instance of evil, this is a worthless point, for Alston has still given us no "reason to suppose that our error is more likely to lie in the one direction rather than in the other" (1998, 28). That is, if Alston's argument is to be consistent, it must call into question all of our moral and logical intuitions. We need "positive argument for supposing that certain appearances rather than others are misleading" (1998, 28).

Three replies are in order here. Alston Defines the Limits

First, this criticism overlooks the explicit restriction Alston places upon his scepticism, as well as his rationale for that restriction. The heart of Alston's argument is that

the critic is engaged in attempting to support a particularly difficult claim, a claim that there isn't something in a certain territory, while having a very sketchy idea of what is in that territory, and having no sufficient basis for an estimate of how much of the territory falls outside his knowledge. This is very different from our normal situation in which we are forming judgments and drawing conclusions about matters concerning which we antecedently know quite a lot, and the boundaries and parameters of which we have pretty well settled (120)... [The point] is that the judgments required by the inductive argument from evil are of a very special and enormously ambitious type and that our cognitive capacities that serve us well in more limited tasks are not equal to this one" (124 fn. 36) (my italics).

Alston is zealous to maintain this explicit restriction upon his scepticism. Thus,

having carefully examined my desk, I can infer 'Jones's letter is not on my desk.' But being ignorant of quantum mechanics, I cannot infer 'this treatise on quantum mechanics is well done' from 'so far as I can tell, this treatise on quantum mechanics is well done' (102).

If the Principle of Credulity cannot be fitted to obvious counterexamples like the above, then the Principle as it stands has no authority with respect to the judgements that are relevant to the evidential argument from evil, since these counterexamples form a precise parallel to those judgements. Even as ignorance of the complexities of quantum mechanics disqualifies me from passing judgement on how well done is a treatise on the subject, so ignorance of the complexities of God's plan disqualifies human beings (in their present cognitive condition) from passing judgement on how well done is a world God has made. Alston Appeals to Discontinuity

Second, this criticism overlooks the fact that Alston's argument appeals to a clear principle of discontinuity between our knowledge of human affairs and our knowledge of God's affairs, to a discontinuity between our ability to conceptualise possibilities for sufficient reasons and God's ability to conceptualise them. Thus Alston asks his readers to

remember that our topic is not the possibilities for future human apprehensions, but rather what an omniscient being can grasp of modes of value and the condition of their realization. Surely it is eminently possible that there are real possibilities for the latter that exceed anything we can anticipate, or even conceptualize. It would be exceedingly strange if an omniscient being did not immeasurably exceed our grasp of such matters (109, my italics).

Such an appeal to discontinuity is familiar to those conversant with Joseph Butler's apologetic strategy in The Analogy of Religion Natural and Revealed to the Constitution and Course of Nature (1736). From the title alone it might be inferred that Butler only appealed to observed continuities between religious claims and the 'constitution and course of nature,' but this is not the case. While Butler does make great use of reasoning about unknown possibilities from the known constitution and course of nature, he recognises (and, like Alston, even exploits to his advantage) the limitations of this method of reasoning.

Thus, Butler argues for human immortality by pointing out that although we have in our lifetime undergone much change, we have still survived. Therefore, it is likely that we will survive death. This is Butler employing the principle of continuity. But, Butler also points out that we do not know enough about death to say (with the materialist) that it involves a loss of our present powers. This is Butler employing the principle of discontinuity. (For both of these points, see "Of a Future Life, " in ch. 1 of the Analogy.)

We can see Wykstra's emendation to the Principle of Credulity, and Alston's argument generally, as being in the spirit of Butler's appeal to discontinuity. There are areas concerning which human beings (in their present cognitive condition) are not qualified to speculate. If this is true for some of us with respect to human endeavours like quantum mechanics; why is it not all the more true for all of us with respect to divine endeavours?

As one commentator has expressed Butler's strategy:

Analogy tries to show that special revelation is analogous to natural revelation. Disanalogy, or the argument from ignorance, tries to show that the unlikeness of the supernatural invalidates unbelieving objections: the unbeliever does not know enough to object to scriptural teaching. This too is, in Butler's estimation, a practical kind of argument, like those by which we make decisions in everyday life. He presses the non-Christian to be consistent: admit in the religious debate the same continuities and discontinuities that you freely recognize elsewhere. When you do that, he tells the inquirer, you will see that special revelation has the same cogency that you accept in natural revelation. And if there are problems in special revelation, they are no greater than the problems of natural revelation. Since you are able to bear with the latter, you should be able equally to bear with the former.[17] Alston Provides 'Positive Argument'

Third, I take Alston as having, in any case, fulfilled Swinburne's requirement; he has given "positive argument for supposing that certain appearances rather than others are misleading" (Swinburne, 1998, 28). Namely, those 'appearances' into which the concept of God enters as part of its description are misleading, to the extent that we have not reflected upon the relationship between the cognitive abilities of that God, and our own cognitive limitations. We can interpret Alston as holding that 'it appears that p' (where p is 'God could not have a morally compelling reason for permitting this evil') would be misleading, if the aspect of 'God' being considered is merely that he is a perfectly good being. But if, in addition to his perfect goodness, his perfect wisdom and power are equally considered - that is, if it is truly the concept of God (and not a scaled-down substitute) which enters into the content of p in 'it appears that p' - then cause for scepticism as to the rational acceptability of p is due to enter in. It was the burden of Alston's article to argue this point at length. He initially concedes to the atheist his 'it appears that p' only because he is convinced that further reflection on the content of p will make p well-nigh indefensible.

To formalise a bit,[18] if we take the following definitions:

h = 'God could not have a morally compelling reason for permitting this evil'

e = 'it seems to me that God could not have a morally compelling reason for permitting this evil'

k = irrelevant background knowledge

c = considerations of our human cognitive condition vis-à-vis God's omniscience and omnipotence

Then I am convinced that Alston's argument is meant to show that, even if it is a fact of human psychology that P(h/e.k)> 1/2, what is important with respect to the evidential argument from evil is that Alston's considerations lead to P(h/e.k.c)W 1/2.

"So if something appears evil, it may not be because

1) We don’t see all the causes and effects that will result for this so-called evil.
2) We don’t see the long-term consequences of the evil.
3) We don’t see the eternal consequences of the evil.
4) We don’t see the possible bad consequences of eliminating the evil."

i) Given God's infinity, he divine plan, the massive gap between his knowledge and ours, possibly hundreds of various theodicies, the promise of his trustworthy word that "the judge of the earth shall do right," and that he has a morally sufficient reason for what he does, and that he is working all thing together for the good of those who love him, Reppert’s 4 little points may safely be said to be a tad bit underwhelming. I quote Helm, again:

God may have a reason and yet that reason not be available to us. Perhaps this is true of all the particular things that God ordains. Why was Esau the twin of Jacob and not, say, Izzy (or Lizzy)? Or why were there not triplets, Jacob, Esau and Izzy? It may seem arbitrary of God to bring into existence these two, and not some other two, or some three. We may presume that Calvin might say there is a reason for this, but that the reason has not been disclosed to us. There are multitudes of reasons for multitudes of states of affairs, perhaps none of which we can give the reason for. Maybe the reason for this irritating fact is that the will of God is not concerned with separately-identifiable situations, but with whole ensembles, with worlds. That is, maybe we ought to be asking not, why not Izzy? But, Why a world in which there is no Izzy? However, we find, naturally enough, that whether we ask ‘Why not a world with Izzy?’ we do not have a reason for that, though we have fewer questions to ask. Perhaps the reason can be given, and appreciated, only when the world is over, when this passing world is done.

ii) Reppert is begging the question against the model. Recall Alston:

remember that our topic is not the possibilities for future human
apprehensions, but rather what an omniscient being can grasp of modes of value
and the condition of their realization. Surely it is eminently possible that
there are real possibilities for the latter that exceed anything we can
anticipate, or even conceptualize. It would be exceedingly strange if an
omniscient being did not immeasurably exceed our grasp of such matters"
(emphasis added).

"Now if someone went to hell as a result of divine decree who could have been saved, and I say that isn’t something a good God could permit, which one of these mistakes could I be making? It’s a final result for someone’s soul. We see all the causes and effects, at least so far is this particular life is concerned. The long-term consequences are known, even the eternal consequences are known, and the alternative possibility of God’s saving that person is also known. So my error can’t be traced to any of these four sources. So where did I go wrong if I thought this would be wrong for God to do, but it really isn’t? It must be that my conception of goodness is dead wrong. That’s all that’s left."

i) I proved above (my first (i)) that it is many times that our conception of "good" is "dead wrong." This doesn't imply that metaphysical conclusion that God's actions are not good.

ii) Reppert equivocates. he could have been saved only by another decree. Given the decree, he could not be saved.

iii) How does Victor know that we see all the causes and effects? I don’t see how he can say that, at all. And, his admission that "at least in this life" is perhaps more telling than he admits. If he doesn’t know all, most, many, some, hardly any, of all the causes and effects, how is he in a position to make this judgment, at all? Especially when the Calvinist trusts God at his word, the testimony of another person, a person who cannot lie, that he will do good, right, just.

iv) How are the long term consequences known? We're talking eternity here. Victor thinks that all that is taken into account is that we know "He is in hell for eternity." How in the world does he know that that is the only long term consequence?

v) Victor's error can most certainly be traced to those four sources, and the multitude of other sources involved in a divine plan. Indeed, look at the finding of science. The detailed plans of how our universe is fine tuned. The amazing DNA program we have. Most learned scientists admit we only know the tip of the ice berg here! Is it a little presumptuous for victor to think that he has the majority of the picture in an admittedly more involved, detailed, and mysterious part of God's plan for all things? I refer to Paul Helm once again:

One can think up other sorts of considerations why the reasons are presently hidden, reasons to do with prudence, or appropriateness, or the fact that it is none of our business, or otherwise not in our interests to know them. In modern society there is the problem of balancing the disclosing of information with the right to privacy. In respect of the reasons for the election of one and the reprobation of another Calvin asserts God’s right to privacy, as Paul does in Romans 11.33f. The sources of election etc. are ‘secret’, as Calvin often says.

Perhaps, as Jesus once said of his own disciples, there are reasons that we presently cannot bear. Perhaps because we would necessarily misconstrue these reasons, or make a bad use of them. In any case why, if God has a reason for doing X or not doing it, do we have an overriding entitlement to know what that reason is? As Alvin Plantinga asked, in a rather different context, Why should we be the first to know? Different attitudes to this question mark deep religious differences.

vi) I am not convinced by Reppert's arguments in the slightest. He may dislike Calvinism all he wants, disagree with it, etc., but I would at least appreciate his admission that on this argument, he doesn't have the Calvinist where he thinks he has him. I trust Reppert can be intellectually honest here. Admitting my points doesn't mean he needs to become a Calvinist. It will just show that he can treat his opponent charitably, recognizing what the good vs. the bad arguments against a position are. Surely Reppert doesn’t think that every single argument he ever offers against the Calvinist is spot on, does he? That’s a pretty good record, especially for someone who admits he’s not an expert in theology, historical theology, Calvinism, or Calvin.

(HT James Anderson for Helm's paper)

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Okay, I'm Officially Over It

This is not the Reformed View


Turretinfan responds so very well.

These particular words are filled with irony:

Second, James White is so fixated in his theology and ministry with the sovereignty of God that he cannot speak with any kind of substand about God’s will, desire, love, or grace about anything other than God’s sovereignty, decree, and predestinating purpose

1. That's what the debate actually was about.

2. Dr. White has, on more than one occasion, as have I, affirmed the "Free Offer."

3. Do you, sir, reserve this condemnation only for those of us who hold to the Penal or Pecuniary views of the atonement, or do you also feel the same way about those who post on nothing but God's will, love, or grace - eg. "common grace" and the free offer. In case you haven't looked about, but some of the major internet proponents of your view of the atonement have not lifted a finger on their blogs in quite some time - if ever - to help the rest of us as we interact with the Romanist, the Orthodox, the Atheist, the Mormon, the Arian, the Muslim, and so on. Isn't it well past time for them to "put up or shut up?" If they really believed what they say they believed, then they should demonstrate it.

Indeed one cannot help but notice that one side of this particular debate is generally the one doing that work - and it's not yours. Fortunately, there are exceptions. Indeed, there are exceptions on both sides, but you know, from what I've seen, the exceptions are not your "ring leaders."

4. In fact, the real irony here is that I've seen your cadre work hard, very hard, to systematically rewrite systematic theology to suit your own ends. I'm particularly disturbed by the misuse of Charles Hodge, beginning @ the Puritanboard some time ago and spilling over into the blogosphere later. Take a gander at his commentary on the pertinent texts of Romans and 1 Corinthians, and he by no means holds to your view. While you all play historical theology, the rest of us are interacting with the very people to whom you say we should maintain the "free offer."

No more than you should have some Protestant Reformed theologian, who denies the free offer of the Gospel, and who denies common grace, to be the poster-child for being a Calvinist should you have James White out in the public eye representing himself and his lop-sided Calvinism as true and proper Calvinism.
This criticism cuts both ways, for the undercurrent that runs through many of the posts I've seen from your crowd is that your view is "the" true and proper view and no other, and you'll quote many a theologian in your support, even if it's out of context. Indeed, I've been specifically told by one of you, who shall remain nameless, just to make you wonder, that there has been a good old fashioned conspiratorial coverup of what the true and proper view is. This same person even told me privately that to say "the command impels the gospel" or "we should evangelize indiscriminately because we don't know who the elect are" is simply not enough! Rather, we have to protect God's very honor, and the way to do this was by a QuasiAmyraldian view of the atonement.

a. That's a marvelous demonstration of an ethical, not an exegetical argument.
b. It's also borderline heresy. God's command alone is not enough?!

I'm sorry, but until you all take care of some glaring problems emanating from your side of the aisle, you lose the credibility to lob "you're all a bunch of big meanies" at us, and you undermine what you say you believe about the atonement by allowing your ring leaders on the internet to post on nothing but those issues while getting their knickers in a twist when we confront the obvious hypocrisy in doing so to the exclusion of all else while those of us on the receiving end of their posts are the ones actually interacting with the unregenerate - while they fail to do so themselves.

So, how about it? Will the QuasiAmyraldians about whom I am writing take some time to actually interact with Atheists, pagans, etc., or will they get red in the face and whine about it? Here's an idea: Given your obvious talents for researching historical theology, why don't you spend some time interacting with the perpetual misuse and abuse of the Ancient Church Fathers by our Roman Catholic friends? Given your obvious belief in the "free offer" craft some responses to the endless bile spewed from the depths of the Debunking Christianity blog. If you decide to whine about a public post about your behavior, then don't expect it to be taken seriously, for, if you really believed in the "free offer" you'd roll up your sleeves and do some internet apologetics and evangelism with the rest of us. Until then, don't expect me and a bunch of others to take you seriously and to continue to roll our eyes.

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

Paul Seely

(Posted on behalf of Steve Hays.)

Over at Green Baggins, Paul Seely has come to the defense of Peter Enns.1 He's posted several related comments, so I'll rearrange the material by topic:
To help one arrive at an answer to my question regarding accommodation, it may help to look at the question from a slightly different perspective via the issue of “phenomenal language.” Scripture often speaks of the sun “rising,” and “going down.” Since people in biblical times believed the sun was literally moving, when a biblical author made a statement of this nature, he thought he was saying that the sun was literally rising and literally going down. In other words, he would have been surprised and unwilling to agree that he was just using phenomenal language, just speaking about appearances.

If you will read those papers, even though I did not specifically address the movement of the sun, you will find a plethora of evidence from both ancient literature and anthropology that Peoples in OT times, including the educated, did not distinguish between the appearance of the universe and its factual nature. That is, they believed that the appearance was the reality. The earth looks flat, so they thought it is flat. The sky (especially at night) looks like a solid dome, so they thought it is a solid dome. The sea at the horizon looks circular, so they thought the sea must surround the earth. Mutatis mutandis, the sun looks like it is moving, so it is moving. In addition to this, because the earth is fixed, a revolving earth is excluded. And because the earth is flat even if you forced the concept of revolving upon it, there would never be any nighttime unless the sun moved. Given the flat earth and the nighttime, the sun has to literally move. Given all of the evidence I cited in my papers (and more) the burden of proof falls on anyone supposing the Israelites, or even Moses, distinguished the appearance of the sun's movement from the reality.
To summarize Seely's contention:

i) The ancients didn't distinguish between appearance and reality.

ii) As a consequence of (i), they thought the earth was flat, the sky was a solid dome, the sea surrounded the earth, the earth was immobile, and the sun was mobile.

By way of response:

1.Seely is attributing naïve realism to the ancients. Things were the way they appeared to be.

By this logic, the ancients thought that mountains really were smaller at a distance. As you walked toward a mountain or hill, it literally grew taller.

Is it Seely's contention that the ancients were, in fact, that clueless? Could it not occur to an ancient Israelite that mountains only seemed to be smaller at a distance?

2.I'd add that Bible writers describe mountains and hills as if they really are taller than the surrounding countryside. So they don't speak as if they think the size of mountains is observer-relative.

3.Likewise, did an ancient sailor really think an oar was bent in water?

4.Assuming Seely would concede that the ancients did make allowance for certain optical illusions, then they did distinguish between appearance and reality. Yet that's the linchpin of his subsequent argument. He ascribes ancient belief in geocentrism and a flat earth to the fact that the ancients didn't distinguish between appearance and reality. But once he is forced to admit that, at least in some cases, they did draw such a distinction, then he loses the major premise in which he grounded his conclusions.

5.Let's remember that you would have had the same bell curve in the ancient world that we have in the scientific age. The ancient world had its share of brilliant men. Its Bronze Age version of Dirac, Da Vinci, Einstein, Feynman, Gauss, Mandelbrot, Newton, Pauling, Penrose, Poincaré, Shannon, von Neumann, Witten, &c.

Men of native, scientific genius. Of course, employment opportunities were limited back then, viz. scribes, tanners, farmers, shepherds, hunters, carpenters, fishermen, masons, blacksmiths, &c. But the raw intelligence was already in place. And with it comes the natural aptitude to draw inferences from observations.

6.Yes, the earth looks flat. And the sun seems to move across the sky. But how do those two observations go together?

i) The sun apparently travels from east to west. Yet this happens everyday. But if the earth were flat, how did the sun make its way back to the east in time to repeat the cycle?

Logically, we'd expect if the earth were flat, for the sun rising in one place and set in another, then reverse direction, so that it alternates direction from one day to the next.

But, of course, that's not what we observe. So there's a certain tension between the motion of the sun and the flatness of the earth.

ii) Would the sun go under the earth? But what does that mean if the earth is flat? Why wouldn't the flat earth be solid all the way down until you hit bedrock? Why would there be anything underneath the flat earth?

iii) The only way for the sun to go under the earth is if there were empty space under the earth. But that's not something an earth-bound observer could see. Rather, that would be an inference.

iv) And if an ancient Israelite could imagine that the sun went under the earth, then it would be just as easy to imagine the sun going around the earth. But if the sun circles the earth, then it's more natural to think of the earth as a round object. Two globes floating in space. One globe circles another other.

But if you think it through to that point, then there's no way of telling which object is moving in relation to the other.

v) Ancient stargazers would have noticed the phenomenon of retrograde motion. That's easier to account for in a system of mutual motion. And the calculations are simpler in a heliocentric system.

vi) The ancients were well aware of the seasons. Their calendars and agricultural cycles were dependent on the seasons.

Surely they noticed a correlation between the seasons and the shortening or lengthening of day and night. Surely they also noticed that the sun didn't rise or set in the same place along the horizon throughout the year. And yet, if the sun were moving across the sky of a flat earth, what would account for the seasonal variations?

But if the earth were spinning like a top, with an axial tilt, then that would explain the seasons.

vii) The ancients were well aware of solar and lunar eclipses. From these events it's possible to draw some inferences regarding the size and shape of the sun, moon, and earth.

viii) How big was the sun? Did it looks smaller because it was smaller? Or it did look smaller because it was farther away?

If, in fact, then sun were bigger than the earth, then—intuitively speaking—it seems more natural for the smaller object to orbit the larger object, rather than vice versa.

ix) The ancients were also familiar with whirlwinds. And these exhibit the Coriolis effect. Suppose you were a Bronze Age Richard Feynman. What might you infer from that phenomenon?

xi) Ancient mariners could observe ships “sink” below the horizon, or vice versa. That makes sense if the earth were spherical rather than flat.

xii) How would the sun, moon and stars move through a solid dome? If you really think the sky is a solid dome, then, logically, the earth would be illuminated because the dome was backlit, with holes in the dome, through which shafts of light would beam down. But, of course, that doesn't allow for the motion of the luminaries through space. So would the sky need to be a movable dome?

7.I've been drawing attention to empirical phenomena which any attentive observer could see with his own eyes. Phenomena in tension with a literal triple-decker universe.

Perhaps Seely would say that not every ancient Israelite would be smart enough to ponder the deeper implications of empirical evidence. But he's the one who indulges in sweeping generalities about what the ancients believed.

8.Let's also recall that heliocentrism was originally an armchair theory. Long before the space age. Ground-based observers came up with this theory. Naked-eye astronomy.

9.And consider the role of thought-experiments in science,2 such as Newton's spinning water pail. Later, Mach came up with a counter thought-experiment.

In principle, there's nothing to this experiment that a Bronze Age “scientist” couldn't visualize or duplicate.

Then there's Newton's thought experiment involving an orbital canon ball. In principle, an ancient archer could have drawn the same inference.

10.My point is that men in Bible times might well have been far more sophisticated than Seely gives them credit for.3

11.Even more to the point, Seely is setting up a false dichotomy between a phenomenal interpretation of the text and a grammatico-historical interpretation of the text—for the natural phenomena don't implicate geocentrism or a flat-earth or a triple-decker universe. An alert observer would be able to perceive the fact that what he saw called for a more complex model behind the scenes to account for what he saw.

12.Another fundamental problem with Seely's argument is that that ANE cosmography in general, as well as Biblical cosmography in particular, was rather stylized, using architectural metaphors to signify sacred space—as the symmetrical counterpart to sacred time.4 The universe was a temple. As such, architectural metaphors were used to depict the universe. That was a way of denoting its sacral significance. Seely is very insensitive to the cultic dimension of Biblical cosmography. But grammatico-historical exegesis would take this into account.
I hope you will read my papers, and you might add the discussion of the biblical/ANE universe in Chapter 7 of John Walton's Ancient Near Eastern Thought and the Old Testament. He is a very conservative professor of OT at Wheaton, but too well educated in ANE literature to take the Bible out of context. The same might be said for John Currid, professor of OT at Reformed Theological Seminary in Mississippi. And see my comments in the Save our Seminary thread that Charles Hodge and E. J. Young acknowledged that the OT was speaking of a solid sky, and Warfield acknowledged specifically that the merely human [and erroneous] opinion about the sun's relation to the earth might show up in inspired Scripture outside of the scope of the writer's teaching [hence as an accommodation.]
Three issues:

i) This statement overlooks important OT scholars who demure.5

ii) It's also deceptive for Seely to cite Currid and Walton when—in fact—they interpret Genesis very differently than he does. Yes, they agree with him on 1:6, but they disagree with him on so much else.6 If he's going to invoke their expertise in ANE literature, then that carries over to all the times in which they differ with Seely.

iii) Even if we construe Gen 1:6 to denote a “solid firmament,” that misses the point—for if Moses is using architectural symbolism, then the sky is the roof of the cosmic temple. But this doesn't mean Moses really thought the universe was just a scaled up version of the tabernacle or pagan shrines.7 The imagery is emblematic, not representational.
Historically, this has led to two different responses in the Reformed tradition. Turretin argued on the basis of such passages that since God cannot lie and he knows more about these things than we do, we ought to agree with Scripture and reject the Copernican theory. (Compendium Theologicœ Didactico-Elencticœ,(Amsterdam, 1695.) He rejected the idea that such passages were accommodated to the beliefs of the times. Calvin, on the other hand, when dealing with the size of the sun, moon, and stars (Gen 1:16) set the example of reducing such statements to merely phenomenal language, and Warfield's statement (above) about such matters follows Calvin's example.

The biblical evidence cited by Turretin, which I would also cite, is given by T. as follows: “First. The sun is said [in Scripture] to move in the heavens, and to rise and set. (Ps. 19, 5.) The sun is as a bridegroom coming out of his chamber, and rejoiceth as a strong man to run a race. (Ps. 104, 19.) The sun knoweth his going down. (Eccles. 1, 5.) The sun also ariseth, and the sun goeth down. Secondly. The sun, by a miracle, stood still in the time of Joshua. [As Luther had said, Joshua commands the sun to stand still, not the earth.] (Joshua, 10, 12-14,) and by a miracle it went back in the time of Hezekiah. (Isa. 38, 8.) Thirdly. The earth is said to be fixed immoveably. (Ps. 93, 1.) The world also is established, that it cannot be moved. (Ps. 104, 5.) Who laid the foundations of the earth, that it should not be removed for ever. (Ps. 119, 90, 91.) Thou hast established the earth, and it abideth. They continue this day according to thine ordinances. [He missed the best evidence: Eccles 1:5 ends with the statement that the sun rushes back to its starting place, which could not be phenomenal language because no one sees it do this.]
Several issues:

i) Isn't it anachronistic to interpret Biblical statements in light of Ptolemaic astronomy? And if Bible writers were that self-conscious about celestial mechanics, then they were capable of entertaining heliocentric as well as geocentric speculations.

ii) Statements about the (im-)mobility of the earth have reference, not to the relation of the earth to other celestial bodies, but to eschatological earthquakes—which symbolize divine judgment.

iii) John Walton doesn't interpret Joshua's Long Day the same way that Turretin or Seely does.8

iv) The description of the sun in Eccl 1:5 is figurative. Solomon personifies the sun as a runner who is “gasping” or “panting” to make his way around the racetrack.9 And note the similes and metaphors in Ps 19:5.

Did ancient Israelites think the sun literally dwelt in a tent, was literally a bridegroom, was literally a runner? Isn't it quite arbitrary of Seely to selectively take one part of this description literally and another part figuratively?
My question can then be framed as, On what basis do we reject the historical-grammatical meaning of any passage in Scripture and replace it with the meaning that it is just phenomenal language? Or, What is the criterion or criteria for deciding when an inspired statement in Scripture can be set aside as not really speaking of the actual facts but only of the misleading appearances?

This takes us back to my questions, which could be summed up as, On what basis do those who follow Calvin, Hodge, and Warfield in believing that merely human opinions have been accommodated into inspired Scripture, separate those errant opinions from the inerrant teachings of Scripture? Since Hodge and E.J. Young acknowledged that Scripture is speaking of a solid sky, a concrete example would be Gen 1:6, 7. What is the inerrant teaching in those verses, and what is the accommodated human opinion? And on what basis do you tell the difference?
Seely has failed to give us any examples in which we must set aside the grammatico-historical meaning of the passage. He's failed to give us any examples in which Scripture has accommodated errant human opinions.

On a final note, I'm struck by how supporters of Enns play the Devil's chaplain in this debate. They're casting about for some wedge which they can use to punch through a more liberal view of Scripture. Can they find some verse of Scripture at which the inerrantist will balk?

Their strategy is to instill a spirit of doubt in the mind of a Christian. It's a game of chicken with the Word of God.

This is nothing short of diabolical. If that's the only way they can defend Enns, then that, alone, is sufficient reason for Westminster to fire him.

3 Incidentally, there are contemporary Christians who defend geocentrism. That's not the position I'm arguing for, but I doubt that Seely would have the scientific expertise to win an argument with an astute geocentrist. For example:
4 E.g. J. Levenson, Creation and the Persistence of Evil (Princeton 1994).
5 C. Collins, Genesis 1-4 (P&R 2006), 45-46; V. Hamilton, The Book of Genesis: Chapters 1-17 (Eerdmans 1991), 122; G. Wenham, Genesis 1-15 (Word 1987), 19; R. Youngblood, The Book of Genesis (Wipf & Stock 1999), 28.
6 J. Currid, Genesis 1:1-25:18 (EP 2003); J. Walton, Ancient Near Eastern Thought and the Old Testament (Baker 2006); Genesis (Zondervan 2001).
7 Cf. V. Hurowitz, I Have Built You an Exalted House: Temple building in the Bible in the Light of Mesopotamian and Northwest Semitic Writings (Sheffield 1992); O. Keel, The Symbolism of the Biblical World: Ancient Near Eastern Iconography and the Book of Psalms (Seabury 1978).
8 Ancient Near Eastern Thought and the Old Testament, 262-63.
9 D. Garrett, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Song of Songs (Broadman 1993), 285; I. Provan, Ecclesiastes, Song of Songs (Zondervan 2001), 55.

Google, UN unveil project to map movement of refugees

Google, UN unveil project to map movement of refugees: "Internet search giant Google Inc. unveiled a new feature Tuesday for its popular mapping programs that shines a spotlight on the movement of refugees around the world.

The maps will aid humanitarian operations as well as help inform the public about the millions who have fled their homes because of violence or hardship, according to the office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, which is working with Google on the project."

A Proposed Paleontology Study

The past couple of days I’ve been thinking a bit about the fossil record. I’ve e-mailed a couple of people some of my thoughts, but today something finally crystallized in my mind and I’ve come up with a paleontology study to propose. Obviously, this study is beyond my capabilities to perform myself, but I wanted to throw this out there to see what other people thought about it anyway (and who knows, if a paleontologist reads it and decides it’s worth studying then maybe I’ll get an actual answer sometime!).

First, this study begins with two assumptions:

Assumption 1: Most (animal) organisms that die will be very young, very old, or infirm; the “ideal” specimen (i.e., the age when the species is, on average, the healthiest) only dies in the case of random accidents, which are rare. As anecdotal evidence to back up my assumption here, consider your local city’s closest graveyard. If you go through it and look at the various tombstones, you will see that the large majority of people buried there are going to be very young or very old. Furthermore, a detailed excavation of the graveyard would indicate many people there died of diseases. However, if you look at the number of graves of, say, people aged 15-30 years, the vast majority of those will be people who died of non-natural causes (e.g., suicide, murder, car accidents, drug overdoses, etc.).

We also have evidence from the animal kingdom. Most victims of predators are the young and defenseless, the old who have weakened, or those who are otherwise already disabled in some manner. It is rare that a healthy animal will be killed by a predator (it still happens, but statistically this would happen far less often than any other type of death of a species).

Assumption 2: Most living (animal) organisms have larger populations close to the “ideal” specimen age than in any other demographic. In the case of the elderly, since organisms have to pass through the younger ages to get to an advanced state and there is the possibility of death in those younger ages too, it is obvious that there will be fewer elderly people than younger people. However, it is also the case that given the high infant mortality rate of most species and the fact that only a few will survive past the first couple of months (and also the fact that the youngest age ranges are typically far shorter than the length of the “ideal” specimen), there will usually be more of the “ideal” organisms living than the young. Again, this is not a hard and fast rule, but it is an assumption I think has some validity in the animal kingdom).

Hypothesis: If fossils have more “ideal” specimen types than very young, old, or infirm types, then organisms that are fossilized are almost always killed by catastrophic and indiscriminate “accidents” rather than due to factors such as predation, illnesses, or other more natural causes.

Note that under these circumstances, the “catastrophic and indiscriminate accidents” would not necessarily be such things as mudslides (although depending on the extent of the mudslide, one could qualify). The reason being is that if you have two organisms of the same species and a mudslide is heading toward them, the one that is the fastest will have greater odds of escaping than the slower one (this is the unobjectionable—and trivial—aspect of Natural Selection). Therefore, the very young, very old, and infirm would have a greater likelihood of dying in that mudslide than would a healthy organism.

This would not be the case, of course, in a widespread mudslide that would kill everything regardless of the speed of the organism involved. As such, minor mudslides would not qualify as a “catastrophic and indiscriminate accident” whereas a major mudslide would. Note also that the “major” and “minor” aspect of the mudslide depends on such things as the size of the organism and the location of the organism too. For instance, a meter high mudslide has a good chance of wiping out an entire colony of trilobites, but probably wouldn’t kill a Brachiosaurus. Further note that there could be other things than mudslides too (I only use the mudslide illustration since fossils are often explained as having been created by rapid burial of animals, such as during a mudslide).

The reasoning for my hypothesis is: Since most natural deaths will be of organisms that are very young, very old, or infirm (assumption 1), then if the fossilization happens after a natural death there should be far more young, old, and infirm specimens than “ideal” types. However, since there will be more of the “ideal” specimens alive at any one time (assumption 2), then if a catastrophic and indiscriminate accident occurred to create the fossil, a random selection out of the entire population has a greater chance of landing on one of the “ideal” specimens than on any other demographic. Therefore, if there are more “ideal” types of fossils than the very young, very old, or infirm, most (if not all) fossils are caused by catastrophic and indiscriminate events instead of natural and common causes.

If that reasoning is valid, the question is: What does the fossil record show? Are most fossils “ideal” types? Or are most fossils very young, very old, or infirm?

While this study would be interesting just for the sake of knowledge alone, there’s another reason it might be important. Think about the large size of many dinosaur species. After all, we’ve already noted that a mudslide could be one of these catastrophic and indiscriminate events for a colony of trilobites; but many dinosaurs were huge. If there are more “ideal” types of these large dinosaurs, then there would have had to have been many large-scale catastrophes to hit these dinosaurs (especially since modern assumptions are that it is very difficult to make a fossil in the first place, let alone to find it after it has been made, so there would have been many more of these catastrophes that have occurred than we have found fossils). And that, of course, would lead to the question of whether it is more plausible to assume a score of major catastrophes or that our assumptions about fossil creation are false.

By the way, I’d also note that if someone responds that it would be impossible to tell this from the fossil record, then it would be impossible to tell anything relevant to evolution from the fossil record too. That is, if we cannot tell the relative age of a dinosaur or whether or not it was severely ill from the fossil record, how are we to tell the relationship of that dinosaur to other similar-looking dinosaurs? Could they not be similar looking because they’re identical species but one had scurvy, for instance?

Just some thoughts.

Tuesday, April 08, 2008

Overhearing the Word of Life

The Bible was written for us rather than to us.

Most every objection to the inspiration of Scripture comes from disregarding this simple fact.

The Bible was written between about two-thousand and thirty-five hundred years ago. The books are undated. Some books contain datable events, but the reader must supply the dates. That’s because the Bible was written for us rather than to us.

Like all history, Bible history is severely selective. But when a historian has a contemporaneous audience in mind, he can afford to let his audience fill in the gaps. That’s because the Bible was written for us rather than to us.

We have thirteen letters by Paul. Occasional pieces. Of the two surviving letters to the church of Corinth, we can infer that he wrote at least four letters to the Corinthians. And we only have his side of the correspondence. We must reconstruct the rest. That’s because the Bible was written for us rather than to us.

Books of the Bible rarely say where they were composed, or to whom. That’s because the Bible was written for us rather than to us.

Background information outside of Scripture is sparse and partisan. That’s because the Bible was written for us rather than to us.

When, therefore, I come to Scripture, I expect to find many obscurities and loose ends. I don’t expect it to be transparent to the eye. The wonder of it all is that Scripture is still intelligible so much of the time. That’s because, although it wasn’t written to us, it was written for us.

There’s a sense in which you and I don’t even belong here. I’m an outsider. An interloper. A trespasser.

We are the wild vine. We were graciously grafted onto the native foliage.

Like having a friend at the door of the club, we were let it without a ticket or a formal invitation. We were escorted to the nosebleed seats in the uppermost balcony.

We have been permitted and privileged to overhear this ancient conversation which God had with his people so very long ago. He has allowed us to hear the echo of that life-giving conversation he had so very long ago.

But some spectators high up in the balcony jeer and heckle. Instead of removing their shoes before they entered, to reverently listen and learn, they wave signs and shout the speaker down because the Bible isn’t utterly transparent to their understanding. They demand answers. Instant answers. They act as though the Bible was written to them rather than for them.

They deny the inspiration of Scripture. And yet, if Scripture were inspired, it would confront us with many obscurities and loose ends—since it was written for us rather than to us.

We ought to be thankful even to be here. So many perished outside the auditorium without ever hearing the word of life. Less attitude, and more gratitude, is what is called for. Yes, unspeakable gratitude.

Monday, April 07, 2008


(Posted on behalf of Steve Hays.)

[According to the Seminarillion, Ents are the offspring of Pieter Enns, a legendary ogre who dwelt in the land of Westmünster during the Second Age, and devoured nubile seminions for breakfast.]

I've been asked to comment on something which Stephen Young posted over at Green Baggins. Let's make a few preliminary observations before I delve into the details.

i) I don't know what theory of inspiration he thinks that he's opposing. Who or what is the target of these examples? The Westminster Confession? The Chicago Statement? Warfield? Turretin?

If so, then he's shadowboxing with a straw man.

ii) What if we couldn't harmonize two Biblical accounts of the same event? Would that impugn the accuracy of Scripture? No.

Suppose you and I went to Disney World. Suppose that evening we wrote down what we saw in our daily journals.

There would be almost no overlap between your account and mine if you and I chose to go to different events at Disney World.

Or suppose we saw the same events, but I went in the morning while you went in the afternoon. And suppose we didn't state the time of day when we attended.

That might make it difficult for an unsuspecting reader to sort out the chronological details. Yet the discrepancies would be purely illusory.

But imagine if the higher critics got hold of our journals. They would insist that each journal was a work of composite authorship, involving several different redactors. The stories of what we saw must have undergone a long period of oral gestation before they were committed to writing. The higher critics would carefully peel away the editorial layers to isolate and identify the rival theologies of the Ur-Hattist, Ur-Cinderellist, and the Ur-Epcotist. Erudite monographs reconstructing the Epcotist Community and the Cinderellist Circle would be published. Bart Ehrman would write a bombshell book on the long lost ideology of the Hattist faction—which had been ruthlessly suppressed by power-hungry, "orthodox" Cinderellians.

Yet stuck-in-the-mud fundies would blindly insist that these canonical accounts were authentic and accurate even though they didn't coincide on many details. Bold, visionary professors who tried to liberate their students from the shackles of this scholastic, antiquated paradigm would be persecuted by the old guard.

iii) Then there's Stephen Young's disingenuous disclaimer. On the one hand, he double-dares the inerrantist to harmonize these passages. But just in case the inerrantist should rise to the challenge, he dismisses the effort in advance because it robs the text of its "richness" and significance. If the inerrantist fails, he fails—but if he succeeds, he also fails.

Moving along:
Hopefully you would accept me as a Christian—I am, after all, a member in good standing at a PCA church.
Perhaps his membership status needs to be readjusted in light of his public comments.
A while back, when I was frustrated by similar sentiments from someone else on a different blog, I typed out the following nine examples off the top of my head and posted them. They represent some of the types of issues, I think, inerrantists should confront when articulating what Scripture 'is.'
As if inerrantists had never done that before.

So, for all the nuanced Reformed inerrantists here—who pay close attention to the phenomena of Scripture—please do share your thoughts on these examples.

The issue isn't specific to Reformed inerrantists. I see no reason to cast it in such parochial terms.
Some of these may seem harmonizable. But, in those cases, as I try to point out, you miss out on the theological depth and significance of the passage and the Scriptural writing in question—thus making me suspicious that the harmonization deal with the text in a way honoring to it.
He sets up a false antithesis between theology and historicity.
1) Mark 12.9 attributes words to Jesus that Matthew's version of the pericope attributes to the crowd (Matt 21.41).
I agree with Bock that this as probably a case of narrative compression.1 Instead of distributing the question to one speaker, and the answer to another, Mark and Luke summarize the incident.

Does Young think that the traditional doctrine of inspiration can't make allowance for narrative compression? Where did he get that idea?
For another fun synoptic 'who said what' instance compare Matt 19.16-17 with Mk 10.17-18. In Mark the man said to Jesus 'Good teacher.' In Matthew the man says uses good with reference to the deed in question. What is going on here? We could multiply examples such as these from the Synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark, and Luke) almost endlessly. The Matt 19 and Mk 10 example has an interesting history of discussion in Westminster circles. Both E.J. Young and Ned Stonehouse treated it at some length. Young essentially harmonizes while Stonehouse refuses to do so, looking at how the differences reflect the freedom and creativity of the author and as such serving as windows in on the theology of the writings in question.
The conventional explanation is that Matthew redacted Mark. The Markan version could leave a misleading impression regarding the divinity or rectitude of Jesus.

Does Young think the traditional version of inspiration is unable to accommodate this? If so, why?

Without a proper context, facts can be deceptive. And a writer like Matthew was in a position to know something that his audience did not.
(2) The Synoptics portray Jesus as eating his last supper with the disciples as a Passover meal (Thursday night), being arrested that night, and being crucified Passover day, Friday (c.f. Mk 14.12 / Lk 22.15; then follow the narratives). John portrays Jesus as eating supper sometime prior to Passover and then being crucified on the eve of Passover precisely when the Lambs are being slaughtered for the Passover meals for the Jews (see John 13.1-5; 19.14-16). It seems that John has a rich theological reason for what he is doing—Jesus being killed with the Passover lambs fits in nicely with his emphasis of Jesus as the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world (John 1.29; cf. 1.36). Or, perhaps the Synoptics were motivated in their chronological presentation to cast the last supper (eucharist?) as a new Passover meal? It seems we have the authors of the Gospels (or at least one/some of them) modifying the 'facts' for their theology.
Blomberg discusses this issue in his standard monograph of the historicity of the Gospels.2 Unless Young can tell us why he thinks that Blomberg's harmonization is unsatisfactory, we need go no further.
(3) Does Jesus tell the disciples to take a staff (Mk 6.8) or not (Matt 10.10)? I have heard it suggested that the only way to 'deal with' this is positing autographs that did not have this problem—therefore this issue arises from corruption in the transmission history of either Mark or Matthew. This would seem like an extreme case of 'special pleading.' What do you all think?
i) I agree with Blomberg that this is probably a case of narrative compression.3 On his understanding, Matthew's version is a composite speech combining some of Jesus' injunctions to the Twelve with some of his injunctions to the seventy-two disciples. There is only a contradiction if we fail to make due allowance for Matthew's redaction.

ii) France makes the additional point that,
The specific application of these instructions to the mission of the Twelve in Galilee, rather than as rules for all subsequent Christian mission, is indicated by Luke 22:35-36, where they are rescinded for the new situation following Jesus' arrest.4
So these injunctions were always flexible in time and place.
(4) Do you mind if I mention a canon 'issue'? Jude quotes the Book of the Watchers (1 Enoch 1-36; a Jewish apocalypse of the 3rd century BCE) as Scripture, Jude 14-15. The way he introduces it corresponds to ways other parts of our Bible (and contemporary Jewish literature) cite what the authors in question would consider Scripture. Such a view of the Book of the Watchers for Jude makes sense since the Book of the Watchers—along with many of the other writings making up 1 Enoch—were viewed as Scripture by Jews in many (most?) strands of Early Judaism in the centuries prior to Jesus and around his time. In fact, the view of 1 Enoch as Scripture continues in the early church as early church writers cite 1 Enoch as Scripture (see, for example, the Epistle of Barnabus with its 3 citations of 1 Enoch with scripture citation formulas!). I am not claiming 1 Enoch or some of the writings in it should be in our canon—but rather that this material makes the Bible messier than we would like.
i) Jude doesn't use a standard citation formula for Scripture in quoting Enoch.

ii) Young offers no documentation to back up his claim that many Jews in pre-Christian Judaism regarded 1 Enoch as Scripture. As one authority has noted:
The fact that works such as 1 Enoch or Jubilees have been preserved since 70 CE through other/Christian channels need not indicate that they were accepted as authoritative and authentic within Second Temple Judaism beyond the pale of the sect which came in part to occupy Qumran.5
iii) Has Young ever read the standard monograph of Jude by Charles? Unless he can explain why he thinks that this analysis is unsatisfactory, we need go no further.6

iv) Commentators generally attempt to reconstruct the life-situation of a Biblical document as a preliminary exercise before they proceed to the exegesis proper. This includes an effort to identify the target audience or implied reader.

But we only have one document from the hand of Jude. And what we do have is exceedingly brief. As such, we have a very restricted frame of reference for knowing what this sectarian literature would have meant to him or his audience or his opponents. As such, there's no solid basis on which to draw sweeping conclusions regarding his personal opinion of the Apocrypha or Pseudepigrapha.
(5) What did Jesus say on the Cross? You could put all the Gospels on this together and have our '7 last words of Jesus' sermon series. But, that distorts the different theologies of the death of Jesus that each Gospel has. This is especially true if you conflate Mark and Luke on the death of Jesus. They have different views on the death of Jesus and his approach to it—which can be very theologically enriching (after all, it is the Bible) if we do not flatten them out.
i) Traditionally, the seven words of Jesus consist of Matthean saying (27:46; par. Mk 15:34), three Lucan sayings (23:34; 23:43; 23:46), and three Johannine sayings (Jn 19:26f.; 19:28; 19:30). And the textual authenticity of Lk 23:34 is questionable.

ii) How one Markan saying and three Lucan sayings represent different theologies is something that Young asserts rather than demonstrates.

iii) Moreover, "different" is ambiguous. Does he mean "different" as in contradictory? If so, how does he think they represent contradictory doctrines of the Passion?

And if they're not theologically contradictory, then how does that present a contrast to the traditional doctrine of inspiration?
(6) Deuteronomy (10.1-5) has a different understanding of where the ark came from than Exodus.
He doesn't say what he means here. But as one commentator has observed, there's a difference in literary genre between the two accounts, so we'd expect some differences: "the sermonic style of the text in Deuteronomy is such that particular parts are emphasized and other items are added (the ark) which do not appear in Exodus."7

Does Young think that the traditional doctrine if inspiration can't make allowance for differences in literary genre?

Another commentator makes the additional point that,
In the following verses [Deut 10:1-11] we have a very condensed account of the incident [Exod 34:1-4) without special attention to exact chronology. It was sufficient to draw attention to some of the more important features of those events which presumably everyone knew about.8
Does Young think the traditional doctrine of inspiration can't make allowance for narrative compression or topical selection?
(7) Who failed to dislodge the Jebusites from Jerusalem, Judah (Josh 15.63) or Benjamin (Judg 1.21)? Note, it is exactly the same verse, except that Judges has modified the material from Joshua to fit in with its, basically, anti-Benjamin ideology/theology seen throughout the book. If you delve into this further, you find this to be a window into some rich theology in Judges. But, if you flatten this out, you start to miss something God was saying through Judges.
i) As several commentators (e.g. Block, Howard, Woudstra) have explained, Jerusalem was a border town. As such, we'd expect the city limits to be disputed by rival claimants.

ii) Moreover, Judges obviously recounts a latter state of affairs than Joshua. Would we try to harmonize a 1990 roadmap of NYC with an 1890 roadmap of NYC?

iii) How does understanding that both statements are factually accurate removed the "rich theology in Judges"? Is Young saying that rich theology comes at the expense of impoverished factuality, or that rich factuality comes at the expense of impoverished theology?
(8) Was Hiram/Huram-abi's descent from the tribe of Naphtali (1 Kgs 7.14) or Dan (2 Chr 2.13-14)? Perhaps one could harmonize this, but then you are missing out on the Chronicler's rich theology of Solomon and Hiram/Huram (in the building of the Temple) as the new Bezalel and Oholiab (who built the Tabernacle). As the Chronicler draws on his sacred scripture and traditions, he brings out this parallel between Huram and Oholiab by, among other things, giving Huram the same tribal affiliation as Oholiab (see Exod 31.6, 35.34, 38.23). All this has a very important function in the Chronicler's overall message and theology. But, again, to harmonize this is to get in the way of understanding what God is saying and doing through Chronicles.
i) Since every man has both a mother and a father, it's quite possible to be of multi-tribal descent. Moreover, some place names can be geographical while others can be eponymous.

ii) And how does factual accuracy "get in the way" of theology? Young seems to think a message is more meaningful if it's less truthful. Is fiction his standard of sound theology? If so, he might be happier converting to Mormonism or Scientology.
(9) Is it ok for a Moabite to enter the assembly of the Lord and be part of Israel (the book of Ruth) or not (Deut 23.3-6)? See also the general theology of Ezra-Nehemiah on foreigners, Israel, and marriage.
i) In context, the Mosaic legislation is talking about pagan Moabites who also enemies of Israel. By contrast, Ruth was a convert to the true faith.

ii) In addition, the Mosaic law has to be adjudicated, and OT judges enjoy broad powers of judicial discretion. That's' because the Mosaic law, like ANE law codes generally, was paradigmatic rather than exhaustive.

In sum, Young's 10 examples are pitifully easy to harmonize. They pose no threat to the inerrancy of Scripture. We don't need to revise our theory of inspiration—a "theory" which happens to be conterminous with the self-witness of Scripture.

1 D. Bock, Luke 9:51-24:53 (Baker 1998), 2:1602.
2 C. Blomberg, The Historical Reliability of the Gospels (IVP 2007), 221-25.
3 Ibid. 187-88.
4 R. France, The Gospel of Matthew (Eerdmans 2007), 386.
5 D. Jackson, Enochic Judaism (T&T Clark 2004), 7.
6 J. Charles, Literary Strategy in the Epistle of Jude (USP 1993).
7 P. Craigie, The Book of Deuteronomy (Eerdmans 1989), 199.
8 J. Thompson, Deuteronomy (IVP 1974), 143.