Friday, February 22, 2013



It is important for you to know that religion poisons everything! Imagine how beautiful life would be if only we would stop trying to treat our fellow man like he was created in the image of God, stop treating him as if the Creator endowed him with unalienable rights, stop pretending that all men stand equal before their Creator, and start treating him like a purposeless carbon based bag of water revolving around a boring dwarf star, like bits of stellar matter gone wrong, like a sick fly, like the ground worm that he is, like a tuna fish that sprouted legs…

Remember, it is religion that poisons everything! The only thing religious people do is to go around killing each other in the name of God. I ask you honestly, does any rational, logical, skeptical, atheistic, scientific minded person really think it’s necessary to believe in God if you want to go around killing people? Of course not! Don’t let those fanatics brainwash you. Stalin and Pol-Pot murdered millions and I am proud to remind you that they were fellow atheists. Anything those religious people do, we can do much, much better.

Let’s be totally honest. As an atheist I assert that Adolf Hitler’s racist notion that the Aryan race is superior to all other races is a “stupid” construct “made out of literally nothing.” By the same token, Thomas Paine’s idea that all men are created equal is also a “stupid” construct “made out of literally nothing.” There is, however, an important difference between the two…Thomas Paine did not have that silly moustache.

On second thought, since as a result of Darwinian evolution species evolve to higher and higher levels of sophistication and intelligence, it actually is quite possible that one particular race, say for example the Aryan race, through the process of natural selection actually did evolve to a superior level and some of the other races actually are inferior. In other words, just like some types of monkeys and primates are smarter than others…..oops, better not go there, that line of reasoning could really get me in trouble…

In the final analysis I really don’t know what difference it makes anyway, since I have no conclusive reason to care one way or the other. However, please keep in mind that all of us atheists, including myself, Dr. Sigmund Freud, Dr. Steven Weinberg, Dr. Will Provine, etc., assert that there is no objective purpose or value to human life, and the universe is meaningless and pointless. This of course means there is no real point in me speaking to you, or for you to listen to me for that matter…which makes me wonder…why exactly do I keep speaking anyhow?…But even more important, why do you keep listening? The main thing to remember is this: Although I haven’t the faintest idea why, all these things are necessary for morality!

Christian realism

It’s important for Christians to have a realistic view of miracles. Of course, atheists regard a realistic miracle as oxymoronic. A contradiction in terms.

What do I mean by “realistic” in this context? Well, I’m not defining “realistic” the way W. V. Quine would define realistic. I mean “realistic” according to a Christian worldview.

Let’s begin with some comparisons. Is Narnia realistic? Is Middle-earth realistic? Is Poictesme realistic? They aren’t realistic compared to the actual world.

These are magical worlds. Magic is real in Narnia and Middle-earth. Magic is natural in Narnia and Middle-earth.

Narnia has its own rules. Magic is realistic given the narrative viewpoint which C. S. Lewis assumes in writing his stories.

That doesn’t mean anything goes in Narnia. Sometimes a creative writer resorts to a deus ex machina. Even in the fantasy genre, that’s an artistic flaw. It’s precisely because a creative writer is free to make the rules that he shouldn’t get one of his characters into a bind that only a deus ex machina can get him out of. A creative writer should have the foresight and consistency to make everything happen according to the rules of his imaginary world. Since he’s making up all the rules which govern his imagery world, he shouldn’t put himself in the position of having to make an exception to his own rules. Rather, his rules should cover every contingency.

Let’s take another comparison. The French film Donkeyskin (Peau d’Âne) is based on a 17C fairy tale. The film has a loosely medieval setting, viz. period attire, the Château de Chambord.

In the story, Catherine Deneuve has a fairy godmother. Her fairy godmother has magical powers. That’s realistic within the fairy tale framework.

However, at the end of the film, her father and fairy godmother arrive by helicopter. That’s a deliberate anachronism, for comic effect. In the world of Donkeyskin, fairy godmothers are realistic, but helicopters are unrealistic.

Likewise, when Peter Jackson filmed the battle of Helm’s Deep, he could have introduced predator drones, cruise missiles, and stealth bombers to help the good guys defeat the bad guys, but that would be out of place in the world of Middle-earth. In Middle-earth, wizards are realistic, but stealth bombers are unrealistic. That would mix up two different worlds. That violates the rules of Middle-earth.

Take another example: although I haven’t seen it, to judge by reviews, Cowboys and Aliens is a comedy of the absurd. It trades on the incongruity of science fiction and the Wild West, the 19C and advanced alien technology.

Let’s take a different example. It’s possible to write coherent time-travel stories that avoid the grandfather paradox and other antinomies. It’s possible to write a time-travel story in which everything happens just once.

Likewise, there are scientific models of time travel (or the equivalent), like stories set in an Everett universe (i.e. multiverse) or a Gödelian universe (i.e. rotating, non-Minkowski spacetime). However, SF novelists, directors, and screenwriters are usually too lazy to attempt coherent time-travel plots. That’s an artistic flaw. Time-travel may or may not be feasible in the actual world, but if you’re going to do a time-travel plot, try to make it realistic according to the physical laws you invent for the fictitious world you put it in.

Atheists like to attack miracles by concocting intentionally preposterous scenarios like Russell’s celestial teapot. But even a supernatural worldview has rules. It’s not a free for all.

Conversely, this is why it’s fallacious for atheists to define a miracle as a violation of natural laws. A world in which miracles occur is not a lawless universe. It’s still a rule-bound world, but it has its own set of rules.

That doesn’t mean God is bound by the rules. Rather, God made the rules in the first place. He doesn’t have to break his own rules, for the rules allow him to do whatever he wants. If he wanted to do something contrary to the rules, he’d put different rules in place from the get-go. God plays by the rules because the rules reflect his intentions. The rules don’t make him do anything or inhibit divine action. God isn’t a shortsighted creative writer who has to rewrite his own rules halfway through the story to extricate himself from an unforeseen dilemma.

There are theological systems that play into the atheistic stereotype. Take the hagiographic tradition of cephalophoric saints: decapitated Christians with talking heads. That’s supernaturally possible, but it’s not realistic.

Take Christians whose sacramentology requires the body of Christ to be physically present in a wafer. Indeed, simultaneously present in multiple wafers. Or take Christians who convert the risen Christ into a Marvel Comic Book superhero.

This is justified by a promiscuous appeal to divine omnipotence. But that’s unsound.

For instance, why was the tomb empty on Easter morning? How did Jesus escape?

Well, it’s possible that God changed his corpse into a butterfly that flew out the tomb through a crack in the stone. That would also account for the burial strips he left behind. Once he turned into a butterfly, the strips collapsed.

But although that’s possible, it’s not realistic–much less orthodox.

Imagine a Christian angrily denouncing my repudiation of the lepidopteran theory. “How dare you be so sceptical about God changing Jesus into a butterfly! There’s so much we don’t know about the Resurrection. And God is omnipotent. Who are you to dictate what God can do!”

No doubt God can do many things that surpass human imagination. But that doesn’t mean every supernatural explanation is equally plausible. What God can do and what God would do are two very different things.

Because miracles really happen, we need to take seriously the kind of world in which that happens. That’s not Alice in Wonderland.

Question I sent to Jonathan Fisk @ Worldview Everlasting

I occasionally catch the occasionally-helpful and usually-witty Worldview Everlasting show on Lutheran theology, etc, served up by one Pastor Jonathan Fisk, conservative Lutheran extraordinaire. He comes highly recommended by frequent reader Andrew.

I decided to send Pastor Fisk a question on his contact page, to see if he might address it on a future show. The upper limit was 500 characters, so I had to really slice and slice to get it under the limit, but I'm decently happy with what I was able to send:

To say "adult baptism is God’s work" is nothing less than special pleading. Why can’t I assign the label “not my work; God's work” to other things? By this principle, I could consistently be a tithing-circumcisional-abstentional-regenerationist and still profess that I hold to sola fide. Please tell me why I'm wrong. If your answer includes 1 Peter 3:21 or Romans 6, please prove that those are definitely not Holy Spirit baptism (Matt 3) but are definitely water baptism.

At the still point of the turning world

"Q: What day most changed the course of history?"

Various scholars and public figures proffer responses.

What about the day Jesus was crucified for his people's sins (and resurrected three days later)? For to be without Christ is to be without God's redemption. If Christ never redeemed us in any possible world, then a gazillion different historical paths taken would each ultimately lead to the same place for all people in all places at all times: without hope and without God in the world.

Paradigms, Tradition, and the Lexicon, Part 4

The Precedence of Written Torah. Or, Jason Stellman’s “already-existing apostolic tradition”.

We should keep in mind what Jesus thought of “oral tradition”. Oscar Cullmann notes (“The Tradition”, in “The Early Church”, London, UK: SCM Press Ltd, ©1956) “Jesus rejected in a radical manner the paradosis of the Jews” (pg 60). Consider how Jesus put it:

So for the sake of your tradition you have made void the word of God. You hypocrites! Well did Isaiah prophesy of you, when he said: “This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me; in vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.”

We have seen how this worked in John Wenham’s contribution in Norman Geisler, ed., “Inerrancy”, Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, ©1980), when he says:

Our Lord used the Old Testament as the court of appeal in matters of controversy. Both with Pharisee and Sadducee, He did not call into question their appeal to Scripture; rather, He rebuked them for failure to study it profoundly enough. Even the seeming waste of time and effort by the Pharisees on detailed legal formulations based on their study of the Torah He commended rather than condemned. “You should have practiced the latter,” He said. Their mistake was not that they applied the law too rigorously, but that they left undone its more important matters (Matt. 23:23, pg 10).

“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint and dill and cumin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faithfulness. These you ought to have done, without neglecting the others. You blind guides, straining out a gnat and swallowing a camel!”

Markus Bockmuehl (“Jewish Law in Gentile Churches”: Halakhah and the Beginning of Christian Public Ethics, Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, ©2003) takes this notion further and puts real flesh on the bones of Wenham’s outline, exploring “your tradition” and how it intersected with “the word of God” in first century Palestine:

The Mishnah [the authoritative compilation of the oral law, ~200AD] commends that a good interpreter should ‘make a fence’ for the Torah, i.e., interpret in keeping with tradition… Pharisaic halakhah, and later normative halakhah, was a way of giving increasingly definitive traditional shape to the practice of Judaism. Whether or not the pharisaic respect for oral tradition had already crystallized into a formal doctrine of oral law, Jesus’ legal disputes with the Pharisees represent a clash between different conceptions of halakhah, different ways of building that protective hermeneutical fence.

That Jesus, too, was engaged in the erection of an interpretive fence cannot be in doubt, even if his overall concern had a different focus. Several emphases of Jesus’ teaching demonstrate this quite clearly. First, and most strongly attested, is his opposition to halakhic arguments that restrict or suspend the plain meaning of the written Torah (emphasis added).

The key illustration here must be the dispute about handwashing in Mark 7:1–13 par. The argument concerns the authoritative place of Pharisaic tradition in a matter of purity not explicitly legislated in the Torah, viz. that of ritual handwashing to cleanse any acquired contamination before each meal. Jesus’ interlocutors appeal to a well-known Pharisaic principle of halakhah that is not based on the Torah (and is apparently not attested at Qumran): food is rendered unclean at second remove, by derived impurity of the hands ([non-Biblical references omitted]; nb impurity of ‘hands’ as distinct from the body). Biblical law, by contrast, recognizes only direct sources of impurity, which affect the body as a whole (e.g. Lev 11:31–35).

Jesus’ reply, as recorded somewhat differently in Mark and Matthew, consists of two parts. First, he insists on the distinction between the authority of the Torah, which he accepts, and that of the ascendant Pharisaic halakhah, which he rejects (Mark 7:8–9 with reference to Isaiah 29:13). This insistence on the halakhic primacy of Scripture over against Pharisaic tradition was also shared by the Sadducees and the sectarian Dead Sea Scrolls).

It was Jesus “making a fence for the Torah” – giving precedence to the Written Torah.

The second part of the argument in Mark 7, equally rooted in a Palestinian Jewish Sitz im Leben well before AD 70, illustrates Jesus’ charge that the Pharisees in practice assign a higher authority to their tradition than to Scripture. He does so by drawing on the familiar halakhic topic of vows (cf. also Matt 5:33–37; 23:16–22), to which the Mishnah later devotes an entire tractate and which was also of interest to the Essenes.

Bockmuehl notes that Josephus “suggests that the Essenes refuse to take vows altogether. Although vows are envisaged … the document nevertheless criticizes the conditional hedging of vows in terms reminiscent of Matt 5:34–36; 23:16–22.”

Jesus again was “giving precedence to Written Torah” in a way that was not unusual in his time.

The halakhah of Jesus’ opponents apparently did not allow them to release a person from a vow to make and offering in the Temple, even in the case where the designated resources were needed to support one’ parents. There is clearly a conflict of commandments here, between the duty to keep one’s vows (Numbers 30:2; cf Deut 23:21, 23) and that of honouring one’s parents (Exodus 20:12; Deut 5:16). The tradition of Jesus’ opponents; perhaps holding all mitzvoth to be of equally binding force [non-Biblical references omitted], had led them to a legal rigorism that made the mitigation or suspension of a lesser commandment in favour of a more important one very difficult to achieve.”

(Bockmuehl discusses “The Weightier Things of the Torah” shortly).

What is more, Jesus’ view in Mark 7 relates easily to the range of mainstream Jewish positions, as is clear from a late first-century debate recorded in the Mishnah (and previously, in Philo). There, a position not dissimilar from that of Jesus is taken by the late first-century R. Eliezer ben Hyrcanus (who is elsewhere reported to have been sympathetic to an apocryphal Halakhan of Jesus [non-Biblical references omitted]; the explicit Scriptural commandment to honour one’s parents can take precedence over the secondary and merely traditional rules about the cancellation of vows.

For Jesus, therefore, the ‘fence’ around the Torah is itself rigorously scriptural; in case of conflict, the Decalogue’s commandment to honour one’s parents takes precedence over the laws about vows, which are in any case voluntary. Jesus refuses to subordinate one written commandment to the oral tradition pertaining to another (a distinction recognized in [rabbinic doctrine, non-Biblical references omitted].

In the first instance, then, Torah serves as its own interpretive fence.

Thus, Jesus, in giving his teaching, was relying on sola Scriptura, the precedence of Scripture norming tradition, and emphasizing “the weightier things of the Torah”.

As I’ve related: “By standards that Beale relates, there may be more than 4,000 “allusions” or “echoes” of the Old Testament found within the New. Given that there are 7956 verses in the New Testament, more than half the New Testament can be seen as bearing at least some form of “echo of” or “allusion to” some Old Testament concept or idea.”

Jesus, in his teaching, was echoing and reinforcing Torah above all.

Thus, when Jesus, and then a New Testament writer talks of “tradition” “handed down (παρέδοσαν) to him by “those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and ministers of the word”, the “content” of that “tradition” was “oozing with Old Testament words and concepts.”

In the question of “The Tradition and the Lexicon”, the two were, in the New Testament, one and the same.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

What is love?

More here.

Gorilla warfare

Sam Harris was right. Religion is dangerous. This is why religion must end. If it weren’t for religion, we wouldn’t have wars around the world. Religion lies at the root of human aggression. Just look at these religious fanatics on the rampage. Good thing we’re not related to them:

Sabotaging the Resurrection

I’m pulling this out of the combox to illustrate an unintentional reductio ad absurdum:

You are operating from an unproven assumption that Jesus' resurrected body could not do things that His physical body could not do without it compromising the fact of the resurrection. I would argue that is sheer nonsense.

No, I’m objecting specifically to an ethereal body. A docetic or Gnostic resurrection. 

I’m also objecting to the glib assumption that we must ascribe certain dominical miracles to properties of Christ’s body, rather than Christ’s omnipotence.

Christ’s resurrected body could not perish, it could not decay…

That wouldn’t be a case of what his body can or can’t do, but what can’t be done to his body. Different principle. did not require food.

Why assume a glorified body doesn’t require food? Does the Bible say that? No.

I suppose he doesn’t think a glorified body needs oxygen.

This is how a physical resurrection dies the death of a thousand negations. Is his body still a biological organism? If so, why assume it doesn’t need food?

 In fact, there are a number of radical differences between Christ’s physical body and His resurrected body.

There are certainly important differences.

Christ’s physical body walked on water. That defies the laws of gravity.

But is that a property of his body? Could he walk on water because his body was naturally buoyant? Was his body made of cork or Styrofoam?

This confuses what a body can do with what can be done with a body. Jesus could do things with his body that we can’t, not because he had a custom-made Superhero body, but because he was (and is) omnipotent.

Keep in mind, too, that he could walk on water before the Resurrection. So did he have one kind of custom-made, Superhero body before the Resurrection, and a different custom-made Superhero body after the Resurrection? Or is it a mistake to attribute these abilities to his body?

His resurrected body ascended up into the sky.

Is that because his body is lighter than air? Was his body a helium balloon, covered by skin?

For that matter, was Jesus unable to levitate before the Resurrection? If he wanted to levitate before the Resurrection, would he be unable to do so?

What about Jesus glowing in the dark at the Transfiguration? Is this because his body was made of zinc sulfide or strontium aluminate?

This whole approach fails to distinguish what his body could do with what he could do with his body. As God Incarnate, Jesus didn’t need a special kind of body to do special things with his body. What that requires is not a special kind of body, but a special kind of power.

How did Phillip find himself in the desert?...Was not Phillip's experience just as mysterious? I would be willing to say that Phillip could equally be said to have vanished.

And is that a special property of Phillip’s body? If you did a body scan, would you discover something about the composition of his body, or a special internal organ, which enabled him to do that? Or is this something God did to Phillip?

This is an example of how some Christians unwittingly sabotage the integrity of the Resurrection. They end up giving us a “body” that’s indistinguishable from a nonbody.

Here I’ll add something I said to another commenter:

Let’s approach it in reverse. What makes a body vulnerable to harm? What makes a body destructible? The fact that a body can be affected by external agents. Conversely, if a body is invulnerable or indestructible, that means it can’t be affected by external agents.

But that comes at a cost. An invulnerable body is an insensate body. The senses must be sensitive to function. The senses can’t sense unless they can be affected by outside factors. Unless they can register or absorb stimuli.

Light that’s too bright hurts our eyes. Noise that’s too loud hurts our ears. Food can be too hot or spicy.

A quick way to temporarily disable a man is to kick him in the groin. In theory, that part of the male anatomy could be made impervious to pain or harm. However, that would totally desensitize the area in question, and most men would rather remain vulnerable–for having a sensitive anatomy in that department has widely reported fringe benefits.

An embodied soul, a soul united to an invulnerable body, would be a mind imprisoned in a block of steel-reinforced concrete. A mind sealed away from sensory perception. By making it impregnable to harm, one makes it impregnable to being on the receiving end of the physical world.

Befuddled infidels

Reddit plugged my post:


This is not a response at all. This is avoiding answering the question entirely.

For a lone voice of reason, he doesn’t exhibit much reason.


Holy long walk for a short cop-out, batman.

The question isn't, "if you thought god were telling you to kill someone, would you do it". It's , "assuming god is absolutely real, and 100% obviously instructing you to kill someone, will you do it."

i) Actually, the question is typically framed in just those terms: “if you thought god were telling you to kill someone, would you do it”?

I didn’t make that up. I got that from reading atheists.

ii) But what about his alternative: “assuming god is absolutely real, and 100% obviously instructing you to kill someone, will you do it.”

If the atheist is stipulating the actual existence of Yahweh, as well as unmistakable knowledge of his command, then why wouldn’t you do what Yahweh commanded you?

Suppose I answer that hypothetical in the affirmative. How can the atheist object? After all, his hypothetical grants the reality of God commanding me to kill someone. That’s the set up.

He can’t turn around and say that just goes to show how dangerous religion is. That just goes to show why we should reject religion.

For his hypothetical assumes the actual existence of God–a God who really did issue this command. In that event, it’s not religion or religiosity that’s dangerous, but God. A God who really says and does these things.

He can’t very well say, God exists–therefore, don’t believe in God. He can’t very well postulate God’s existence for hypothetical purposes, then complain about the real world consequences if we answer him on the terms of the hypothetical.  Either be consistently hypothetical or be consistently realistic.

i) No it's not a trick question. There are commands to kill all over the old testament supposedly commanded by God, why should we not ask what you would do?

a) That’s ambiguous. Is he asking, “What would I do if I were living under the Mosaic covenant?” If that’s the question, then I should do what Yahweh commands.

b) Is he asking, “What would I do if I were living under the new covenant?” If that’s the question, then the cultic purity codes which underlie herem don’t apply. So if I heard a voice telling me to kill someone, I should disregard it.

By the same token, I’m not Abraham. God hasn’t made me a federal head. And the time for that is past.

ii) The point for me isn't to call religion dangerous, it's to get people to think of how would they know who God is commanding to kill others.

I’ve already thought about that. Next question?

If you don't believe Muslim extremists, why would all the tribes in the old testament believe the supposed chosen people of God?

That posits an analogy without a supporting argument. There are many reasons to disbelieve Islam. For one thing, we’re under the new covenant. There’s no subsequent covenant after the new covenant. There’s no room for Muhammad.

Not to mention that Muhammad disqualified himself by making the Bible the standard of comparison.

Likewise, there’s no positive evidence that Muhammad was a genuine prophet. No prophecies. No miracles. No nothing.

I could go on, but why bother?

iv) This isn't just about psychotics. People say God speaks to them in a variety of means, and what if any of those means leads to the command to kill others? Certainly there is a movement of Christians in the armed forced that believe God is commanding them to fight. They aren't schizo.

Where is he getting his information?

v) People like Sam Harris already bring up these issues. This way of thinking leads to less vengeance on those who commit crimes and more understanding and a drive to learn how to practically solve the problems and reduce crime. I think it's a good step forward.

In that case, why is joecool so hot and bothered by Muslim terrorists? We shouldn’t fight them. We should try to understand them. Apply the Swedish model. If they commit mass murder, send them to a deluxe rehabilitation center.

vi) I'm totally lost on what he was saying... no idea what point he was trying to make.

Another freethinker who can’t think.

vii) I'm sure Abraham thought he had no reason to think God would command him to kill his son too.

We’re at a very different stage of redemptive history.

 You're basically just admitting you will follow what YOU think God is like as described by the bible over what an actual thing claiming to be God says.

The fact that an “actual thing” claims to be God creates no presumption that it is what it claims to be.

 That just changes the hypothetical to would you follow the commands of God if he proved to you he was God and the bible was incorrect and he actually wants you to kill person x.

According to the revised hypothetical, I wouldn’t have much choice in the situation. Neither would joecool.

It’s like asking, “If Zeus were real, and he ordered you to kill someone, would you do it?”

Well, in a world where Zeus is real, and Yahweh is not, then you have to adapt if you wish to survive. What would Zeus do to you if you disobeyed him?

BTW, we can easily create a secular parallel: What if there is no God, and a sadistic dictator forces you to choose between shooting your best friend to save your wife and kids? If you refuse, he will have all of them shot. As an atheist, what would you do in that situation?


For some people it has to do with religion. Right now, nobody is forced to serve in the military. There are groups that think they are called by God to defend American and kill the terrorists. Whether you want to say they are using their religion to justify what they want to do or not is your prerogative, but it looks the same from my perspective.

If terrorists pose a threat to your friends and relatives, why shouldn’t you sign up to kill them? Does joecool think lethal force to repel violent aggression is intrinsically evil?

Conservative Roman Catholics vent disappointment over Benedict’s papacy

Analysis: Conservatives vent disappointment over Benedict’s papacy:

“Now, however, with Benedict set to leave office eight years later in an unprecedented departure, many on the Catholic right are counting up the ways that Benedict failed them, and wondering how their favorite watchdog turned into a papal pussycat.”

All his initiatives remain incomplete,” Michael Brendan Dougherty, a Latin Mass enthusiast, lamented at Slate the day the pope made the shocking announcement that he would resign on Feb. 28….

Benedict did not sufficiently clean house in the clergy sex abuse scandal and did not appoint enough hard-liners to the hierarchy; he did not bring the old Latin Rite schismatics fully back in the fold, a mission that will likely end with his pontificate; he was too quick to mollify Muslims or pursue ecumenical gestures; and he charted, as Dougherty put it, “a precarious middle course” theologically.

Even his three encyclicals — the most authoritative documents a pope writes — focused on social justice issues and often embraced the kind of liberal policy prescriptions that sent conservatives into conniptions….

That vaunted German managerial instinct? It seemed to have no effect, as the Vatican under Benedict became a mismanaged palace of court intrigue and financial scandals, lurching from gaffe to disaster, and all exposed to public view when the pope’s own butler leaked reams of internal papal documents.

Benedict was “as bad as a pope has been for 200 years,” Joseph Bottum wrote in a withering verdict delivered in the latest edition of The Weekly Standard. “All in all,” he said, “a terrible executive of the Vatican.”

Cardinal Timothy Dolan: Papabile? Or Jailable?

The next pope?

Cooperating on the “Historical, Western World View”?

Dr. David Snoke, a physicist from the University of Pittsburgh, is asking the question, To what degree can we [Reformed Christians] cooperate with members of the Catholic church and other churches?

After ruling out what he calls “the doctrine of ‘holy separation’”, he goes on to explore a “three-fold” view of “not only ‘churches’ and ‘false religions’, but a third category which I would call ‘churches with radically different views of authority, and consequently radically different concepts of God’s salvation’”. Into this third group he places Roman Catholics, Eastern Orthodox, Liberals, Charismatics, and some cults.

Some may disagree with my short summaries, but I think all would agree they have radically different views from the Reformed and Protestant “Scripture alone” and “by grace alone through faith alone”. But I would say that we can find foolish Christians, who are nevertheless real Christians, in each of these.

He is clear to say “I would not view it as wise to cooperate with any of these groups in an evangelistic or discipleship ministry”, and “I would not want to have any official cooperation with, say, the Catholic church or PCUSA, even in a cultural project”.

Then he posits:

But I can support the idea of a board of trustees of a non-profit which includes individuals who, in my view, have made unwise decisions to join such churches, but who themselves are scholars, mature at the personal level, confess Christ as Lord, and show the fruits of repentance toward God. I would want the freedom and level of friendship to be able to continue to try to persuade them of the failings of their churches.


But I think in some contexts that a cultural endeavor which presents the “historical, Western world view” could have great value even without a consensus on such important concepts as authority in the church and the concept of salvation.

He says, “One place where this comes up, obviously, is my own involvement with the ID (intelligent design) movement, which includes many Catholics such as Michael Behe... I am working through the issues, and would welcome feedback on pitfalls that may be faced.”

What do you think?

Past Popes vs “Called to Communion”

Paul Bassett takes on the Called to Communion gang, showing how past popes contradicted the “Catholic Interpretive Paradigm” (CIP) that they are advocating.

Here is how their claim works:

“The person becoming Catholic, by contrast, is seeking out the Church that Christ founded. He does this not by finding that group of persons who share his interpretation of Scripture. Rather, he locates in history those whom the Apostles appointed and authorized, observes what they say and do viz-a-viz the transmission of teaching and interpretive authority, traces that line of successive authorizations down through history to the present day to a living Magisterium, and then submits to what this present-day Magisterium is teaching. By finding the Magisterium, he finds something that has the divine authority to bind the conscience.”

Paul summarizes the mechanics of that quote here:

The superiority of the Roman Catholic IP consists in the claims that:

1.) it can be located in history,
2.) it has divine authorization, and
3.) it is consistent “through history”

As it turns out, history has given us a laboratory in which to test those claims:

If we were to test this IP we would look for a laboratory that contained only those items needed by the IP but was free from any contaminants not needed by it. And fortunately for us, history provides just such a laboratory – the Papal States. The Papal States was a European country entirely under the control of the Roman church and its hierarchy. It existed for 700 years until 1870 and was at its peak during the 16th century. The Vatican exercised complete and total control over every aspect of life within those borders and therefore qualifies as the perfect laboratory to test the IP.

Therefore, “the Catholic IP” must have flourished there, right? Wrong, actually:

The boys at C2C want us to believe that the Magisterium of the Roman Catholic Church is the only God-given instrument whereby Scriptures can be properly and authentically interpreted. And yet in a place and time where the Roman Catholic Church reigned supreme not only did they not exercise their alleged responsibility, but they used their temporal power to eliminate the Scripture to the greatest extent possible.

Read the whole piece here.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

How to become pope

The following how-to video has been making the rounds:

I'll just say I doubt most the apostles could've made it thru such a rigorous selection process!

To be fair, the RCC isn't Christ so they wouldn't be able to appoint someone as easily as the Lord appointed the apostles. I mean it's not as if the RCC can peer into the hearts and minds of men, among other things, like Jesus can.

However, I don't recall Jesus saying you had to have multiple and higher degrees, be of a certain age, etc. to become an apostle. But I guess Catholic bishops are a bit different from apostles.

Anyway, I'm a bit surprised popes, cardinals, bishops, and priests haven't seriously considered standardized testing yet. Well, just a hopefully helpful tip to Il Papa and the dons from your friendly neighborhood Protestant!

"God and the Applicability of Mathematics"

"God and the Applicability of Mathematics" by William Lane Craig.

Killing baby Hitler

I recently watched the movie Looper. It asks (essentially) whether we'd be willling to kill baby Hitler if we were able to travel back in time.

While browsing thru some reviews and commentaries online, I noticed some secularists argue for killing baby Hitler. But it's ironic how these secularists say stuff like they'd kill baby Hitler in a heartbeat in order to prevent the Holocaust, WWII, and other great evils, whereas on the topic of killing the Canaanites they'd hardly be so sanguine. How do these same secularists know Canaanite babies weren't each ticking time-bomb baby Hitlers, so to speak?

However, other secularists argue they would not kill baby Hitler. Here's a compelling reason that's been given:

Paradoxes abound.

By killing Hitler then the likelihood that you would never have been born to get on the time machine in the first place would be quite high, and in my case the chances of my parents ever meeting would have been remote.

To go back in time and kill Hitler would be to wipe out all those people alive today in which the war and its consequences were consistent with the appropriate sperm meeting the appropriate egg.

A large chunk of humanity, I'd guess.


If I did so I wouldn't be here to go back in time and do it.

My parents wouldn't have met if it hadn't been for WWII.

We are all the spawn of the misfortunes of yesteryear.

What if God told you to kill someone?

Atheists, as well as some theological liberals, like to ask this question to make Christians squirm. It’s intended to create a dilemma. If the Christian says “No,” then the atheist will gleefully exclaim, “So why do you believe those Old Testament commands about killing”? But if the Christian says “Yes,” then the atheist will gleefully exclaim, “That just goes to show how dangerous religion is. It will make you do anything. Suspend your normal moral inhibitions.”

So how should a Christian answer this question?

i) We should begin by pointing out that it’s a trick question. It’s intended to trap the Christian into giving the wrong answer however he responds. But the question is deceptively simple.

ii) Suppose, for the sake of argument, you answered in the affirmative. Does that mean religion is dangerous? No. It’s not religion that makes you kill someone, but the hypothetical.

That’s the thing about hypothetical questions. Because it’s a hypothetical situation, we can make it do exactly what we want it to do. We can frame a hypothetical to yield any desired result. The answer is inescapable because the hypothetical artificially narrows your range of options. Given those options, you can only give one or two answers. But why is that a given?

If your answer is morally unacceptable, blame the hypothetical, not religion. That’s just an artifact of the hypothetical. The shocking consequences isn’t the result of religion, but the hypothetical framework.

iii) Apropos (ii), it’s easy to dream up hypotheticals that generate moral dilemmas. Ethicists like to do that:

That doesn’t single out religion. It’s easy to dream up non-religious moral dilemmas. If religious moral dilemmas discredit religion, do non-religious moral dilemmas discredit secularism?

iv) However, the atheist might press the point. He might say this isn’t just hypothetical. He might say there really are people who think God told them to kill someone.

But that’s ambiguous. Does the atheist mean there are people who hear voices telling them to commit murder? That may well be true. But in that event, we have to recast the question:

“If you were psychotic, and you heard a voice telling you to kill somebody, would you do it?”

I suppose the answer would be “yes.” So what? Don’t blame religion. Blame schizophrenia.

After all, the atheist doesn’t think God is really telling anyone to commit murder, since the atheist doesn’t believe in God in the first place. So even if the psychotic thought he was following orders from God, the atheist doesn’t think he was following orders from God, even if the psychotic is convinced God was speaking to him.

So why would religion be to blame, rather than mental illness? You don’t have to be religious to be criminally insane. A psychotic atheist can hear voices too.

v) Let’s recast the question in atheistic terms. Suppose the atheist is a physicalist. Indeed, many atheists subscribe to physicalism. And even secular dualists are usually grudging dualists. They’d rather be physicalists.

But in that case, the atheist is really asking: “If your brain told you to kill someone, would you do it?”

Well, within the framework of physicalism, the answer would be “yes.” Given physicalism, you have no choice but to obey whatever your brain tells you to do. That’s because you are your brain. There’s no you, over and above your brain; there’s no mind, distinct from your brain, to censor what your brain is telling you to do.

You’re in no position to evaluate what you’re brain is telling you is real. For you rely on your brain to tell you what’s real.

Suppose a Christian thinks he hears God telling him to kill someone. According to physicalism, that just means his brain is telling him to kill somebody. Is religion to blame, or his brain?

In fact, if physicalism is true, then everybody who commits a heinous crime was doing so because his brain told him to do it. If an atheist commits murder, his brain told him to commit murder. Does that prove how dangerous atheism is? Does that just prove how dangerous physicalism is?

vi) If someone says they hear voices telling him to commit murder, a common Christian explanation is demonic possession. It’s not the Holy Spirit, but evil spirits, telling him to do that.

Of course, Christians can also believe in psychotic behavior. Maybe he hears voices because he has brain cancer.

An atheist might counter, “But what if you were sure that God was telling you to kill someone–even though we know that’s delusive”?

But in that case, the hypothetical stipulates that you can’t help yourself. You don’t know any better. You lack control. In that situation, aren’t you in a condition of diminished responsibility?

vi) The atheist might say this isn’t just hypothetical, for we have divine commands to kill people in the Bible. Take Abraham and Isaac.

But the atheist challenge is ambiguous. If God really does command you to kill someone, then you should obey God’s command. But if God really isn’t commanding you to kill someone, then you shouldn’t. So what does the ostensible dilemma amount to?

After all, there are atheists who believe in moral obligations to kill people. There are secular utilitarians who think that we should take one innocent life to save ten innocent lives. Their value system requires them to do that. Yet utilitarianism is a respectable position in secular ethics.

vi) Moreover, most Christians aren’t voluntarists. We don’t think God would command just anything for the heck of it. That’s a problem with this hypothetical questions, viz., “What if God commanded you to blow up a bus full of school children.”

We have no reason to think God would command that. And if he really wanted them dead, he could do it himself.

Paradigms, Tradition, and the Lexicon, Part 3

Which “tradition”?

Everett Ferguson, in his “Backgrounds of Early Christianity”, (Grand Rapids, MI and Cambridge, UK: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co, © 1987, 1993, 2003), defined the Halakah this way:

The authoritative compilation of the oral law in the Mishnah was the achievement of Rabbi Judah the Patriarch (or Prince) at the end of the second century. He was the great-great grandson of Gamaliel the Elder (Paul’s teacher from Acts 22:3 and Acts 5:34) and is often cited simply as “Rabbi”…

Rabbi Judah’s compilation of the oral law in written form and with a few minor additions is the Mishnah, a topical collection of legal rulings. The word comes from a verb meaning “to repeat,” and so means “study.” The Tannaim (lit. “repeaters”) were the rabbinic scholars of the first and second centuries whose interpretations are collected in the Mishnah. More specifically, the Mishnah is a codification of the Halakah (pl. Halakoth). The verb halak means “to walk,” and halakah referred to an authoritative legal decision on how one was to conduct himself according to the law. (Note the frequency of “to walk” in the practical, ethical sections of the New Testament Epistles – e.g., Gal. 5:16; Eph 4:1, 17; 5:2; 8’, 15; Col 4:5; 1 Thess 4:1) (pg 492).

This was a first century “oral law”, not written down and codified until about the year 200. However, various snippets of it were commented on in a variety of ancient sources, from which the following derives.

Halakah and Ethics in the Jesus Tradition
Previous generations of scholars frequently approached the ethics of Jesus from a naively Christian perspective, by categorically asserting the superiority of his love command and the Sermon on the Mount to the supposed ‘legalism’ and hide-bound casuistry of his Jewish contemporaries. More recently, however, the blossoming study of ancient Judaism has enabled us, perhaps for the first time since the first century, to explore Jesus’ moral teaching meaningfully in its original setting.

All the main features of Jesus’ ethics are deeply conversant with Jewish moral presuppositions. God is one and he is supreme. Ethics is therefore inalienably theonomous rather than autonomous: both the substance and authority of right behaviour have their source in the God of Israel. ‘Why do you call me good?’ Jesus asks. ‘No one is good but God alone’ (Mark 10:18 par.). The commandment to love God in the Shema‘ Israel, along with the love of one’s neighbor, is for Jesus the heart of the Torah – as it was for some of his contemporaries (see Deut 6:4–5; Mark 12:29; [other non-New Testament references omitted], from Markus Bockmuehl, “Jewish Law in Gentile Churches”: Halakhah and the Beginning of Christian Public Ethics, Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, ©2003, pg 4).

Note here, whereas Bockmuehl does not hesitate to provide a source for Jesus’s ethical teaching (“deeply conversant with Jewish moral presuppositions”), Bryan Cross introduces his concept of “agape paradigm” to support the Roman Catholic view of “infusion of agape as “the law written on the heart”.

Jesus’s ethical teaching features no such “infusion” of anything at all, much less agape. In pointing to “law written on the heart” (Jer 31:33). Paul notes the nature of this in 2 Cor 3. Scripturally, this new ethical teaching is “written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God”, “the ministry of the Spirit”, “the ministry of righteousness”.

He contrasts this with a so-called “list paradigm”, but this is what an ethical law is.

What is the content of this law? As I suggested in my last blog post in this series, the content of the New Testament is overwhelmingly taken from the Old Testament:

By standards that Beale relates, there may be more than 4,000 “allusions” or “echoes” of the Old Testament found within the New. Given that there are 7956 verses in the New Testament, more than half the New Testament can be seen as bearing at least some form of “echo of” or “allusion to” some Old Testament concept or idea.

Thus, when a New Testament writer talks of “tradition” “handed down (παρέδοσαν) to him by “those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and ministers of the word”, which in Luke 1:2 is a clear reference to the apostles, the “content” of that “tradition” was oozing with Old Testament words and concepts.

Bockmuehl concurs with this:

To this day, textbooks continue to make much of the fact that explicit use of the Torah plays only a minor role for the Gospel writers. This in itself might seem to cast doubt on Jesus’ indebtedness to Jewish moral teaching. Three points, however, must be raised in defense of our proposition.

First, many other Jewish ethical texts also make only limited explicit use of the Torah (see Niebuhr 1987; also cf. the Mishnah), and one must not extrapolate from the specialized exegetical discourse of certain sages and Dead Sea Scrolls to the whole of pre-70 Judaism, as is still so often recklessly done.

Secondly we are dealing with Gospels written in Greek for a Gentile or mixed audience outside Palestine; and that in itself will have a great deal to say about the shape in which the gospel material has been transmitted.

But thirdly and most importantly, to understand the Jewishness of Jesus’ morality it is in any case far less appropriate to theologize abstractly about what he said (or indeed did not say) about the Torah in general than to examine the verbal and practical clues as to how and why he acted as he did. In other words, it is impossible to judge the supposed ‘uniqueness’ or otherwise of Jesus’ moral teaching without an adequate assessment of his practical ethics and his halakhah. It is to this subject, therefore, that we must now turn.

I’ll look at this in another blog post, Lord willing.

Impediments to scientific progress

A large part of this work took place during a year when Villani was holed up at the Institute in Princeton, and this is described in detail. Difficult working conditions included lack of access to good bread or cheese, a major reason Villani turned down efforts by Princeton to keep him there and returned to France, where he is now Director of the Institut Henri Poincaré in Paris.

Bock on Gigliogate

Life with God

There are different ways of describing Christian conversion. One way is to say that God came into my life.

Of course, there’s a sense in which God was never absent. God’s providence is pervasive. What is meant by saying God came into my life is, in part, that I became aware of the God who was always there. Moreover, that God did something to make me aware. His grace restored my sight.

To say that God came into my life is a friendship metaphor. Like being lonely, adrift, until you have someone to share your life with. Share your likes with.

Another, perhaps richer way of describing conversion is to say, not that God came into my life, but that God brought me into his life. I have life, I have a life, because the living God shares his life with me.

This dovetails with the divine adoption metaphor. Take a five-year-old in an orphanage. He’s alive, but he’s out of place. He’s not a part of anyone there. He has no sense of belonging. Lost. Rootless. Alienated.

Suppose he’s adopted by a wonderful couple. There’s a sense in which his life truly begins on the day they come for him in the orphanage, and take him home. He may remember the orphanage. He may remember what his existence was like before he was adopted. But that was life without a center.

They take him into their lives. Into their home. Into their preexisting relationships. Into their daily routines. It all falls into place, as if he’d always been there, as if he’d always been with them.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013


I grew up on police dramas like Dragnet, Adam-12, and The F.B.I. In these dramas, law-enforcement officers were men of stainless integrity who risks their lives to protect the public from the criminal element.

Of course, the reality is somewhat different. For one thing, the police are revenue collectors for the state. Enforcing speed traps and parking meters isn’t really a public service. It’s often petty, punitive, and pecuniary.

But there’s a deeper issue. Law enforcement doesn’t exist to protect the public so much as it exists to protect the state from the public. The police, DA, and other branches of law enforcement, are the strong arm of the state. The domestic army of local, state, and federal, government. They put boots on the ground. That’s how the government wields its will on the populace.

Good or bad, they enforce the law. When laws are good, law enforcement protects the public. But that’s a side effect of law enforcement. Laws can protect criminals and crack down on innocents.

Is theirs an honorable profession? That ultimately depends on what policies they are enforcing. As laws become more unjust, they are more like security forces, tasked to protect the ruling class from the masses.

Coming from behind

When, by their own admission, William Lane Craig wins a debate with an atheist, atheists have well-worn excuses to discount the importance of the loss.  Of course, some atheists deny the loss. But among those who concede the loss, familiar excuses include the claim that he’s a master debater, or that he’s better prepared.

Jeff Lowder recently came up with another excuse: Craig is a philosopher of religion. And that gives him a leg up on opponents like Rosenberg.

However, that excuse cuts against the grain of something else atheists are wont to say. Atheists contend that Christianity is false. And not just wrong about one or two things, but wrong on a whole raft of issues. And not just wrong in some subtle way, but obviously wrong. Blatantly wrong. After all, that’s why they’re atheists, right? Any reasonable person can see that Christianity is false.

But this means that by atheist criteria, Craig goes into every debate at a severe disadvantage. It’s harder to argue for a false position, when the evidence is stacked against you, than to argue for the truth. If atheism is true, then every time Craig wins, he had to come from behind. His opponent had a tremendous head start, which he must somehow overcome. The odds are heavily against him going into every race.  

Van Tilian Old Calendarists

In this post I’m going to comment on some recent criticisms of James Anderson and Greg Welty by Nate Shannon and Vern Poythress.

In recent years, James Anderson, David Reiter, and other scholars have shown interest specifically in TAG, the transcendental argument for the existence of God. This philosophically rigorous discussion overlooks the fact that in the context of van Til’s apologetic, the transcendental argument amounts to the claim that Christianity is true, and everything contrary to it false. There is no indication in van Til’s writing that he had any interest in formal transcendental argumentation apart from positive Reformed, Christian presuppositions. I think Lane Tipton is correct when he says, “van Til never viewed his transcendental method as operating outside of a trinitarian theology and a corresponding ‘revelational epistemology.’ To construe van Til’s approach as attempting to establish his theology on the basis of philosophical argumentation is simply to misunderstand his approach at a very basic level. This would be to grant a priority to philosophy that van Til’s system in principle prohibits” (Lane G. Tipton, “The Triune Personal God: Trinitarian Theology in the Thought of Cornelius van Til” [Ph.D. diss., Westminster Theological Seminary, 2004], 170).

N. Shannon, “Christianity and Evidentialism: Van Til and Locke on Facts and Evidence,” WTJ 74 (2012).

i) So philosophical argumentation is, by definition, non-Christian? Whatever happened to “taking every thought captive”?

ii) Didn’t Van Til say things like: “there is an absolutely valid argument for the existence of God and for the truth of Christian theism,” “the argument may be poorly stated, and may never be adequately stated. But in itself the argument is absolutely sound”?

Doesn’t this suggest Van Til was convinced that there was, in principle, a rigorously formulatable version of TAG? Doesn’t he present this as a hypothetical ideal which Christian apologists should aim for, even if they fall short? 

iii) Does TAG merely “claim that Christianity is true, and everything contrary to it false”? A claim in contrast to a reasoned argument? So it just comes down to competing claims? What about the claim that atheism, Buddhism, Mormonism, Islam, Scientology, or Hare Krishna (fill in the blank) is true, and everything contrary to it is false? 

iv) Likewise, suppose Tipton and Shannon are correct in their interpretation of Van Til. So what? Is the purpose of apologetics to stay faithful to Van Til, or to defend the faith? The attitude of Tipton and Shannon reminds me of the Old Calendarists, who felt it was impious to deviate even slightly from Russian Orthodox tradition. Apologetics is not an end in itself, but a means to an end. The objective of apologetics is not to defend Van Til’s methodology, but to defend Christian theology.  Van Til is not the object of faith.

v) They haven’t learned the lesson of the Peter Enns affair. His claims can’t be allowed to go unchallenged. They need to be directly rebutted. How well did the Tipton/Shannon/Oliphint strategy work at out at WTS? How would invoking “covenantal apologetics” be effective?

vi) I skimmed Shannon’s blog (the entries from 10/11-2/13). From my admittedly cursory review, Shannon appears to be preoccupied with methodological purity. In that respect he falls into a trap all-to-common among Van Tilians: he devotes nearly all his time to talking about how to do apologetics rather than doing what he talks about. Leaves without fruit (Lk 13:6-9).

It’s like designing the perfect racecar, when you have no intention of ever racing the car. The car is always in the garage, as you keep refining your technology. Something to look at rather than drive. Something to admire. Buff and polish. But heaven forbid you should ever do anything with it.

v) Van Til talked about the metaphysics of knowledge. James and Greg are turning that programmatic claim into an actual, full-fledged argument. Redeeming the IOUs. That makes a significant advance in Van Tilian apologetics.

They are rewarded for their efforts by aghast expressions. How could they be so presumptuous as to stray beyond Van Tilian flash cards to unpack the claim and furnish supporting arguments!

Now I’m going to comment on Shannon’s recent “Necessity, Univocism, and the Triune God: A Response to Anderson and Welty.” (I simply copy/pasted excerpts from a PDF. This resulted in some transcriptional infelicities, but I won’t take the time to tidy that up.)

To put it another way, a proposition is essentially 'about' something, as AW note; propositions are essentially intentional (333-5). (This quality of intentionality or 'aboutness' serves AW as the link between propositions and personal minds.) So a proposition is essentially parasitic on whatever it is about. Apart from the thing it is about, a proposition has no referent and no meaning and thus cannot bear truth-value.6 The law of identity is an attribution, a de dicto sort of thing, of de re necessity to the state of affairs A=A, but the attribution itself—the law, the proposition—can have only de dicto necessity.

In an attempt to make them more like the sorts of objects that can have necessity, AW affirm that the laws of logic exist; but this is irrelevant. Real existence, particularly mental, intentional real existence, does not change the fact that the modality of propositions, just like their truth-value, is derivative and dependent upon a state of affairs distinct from any proposition 'about' that state of affairs. Quite the contrary. Affirming the mental existence of propositions in fact emphasizes the intentional and thus derivative nature of propositions and confirms that the modality of a proposition is merely de dicto.

Suppose God thinks to himself, “I am omnipotent,” or “I am the Son of the Father.”

Are divinely self-referential and/or intratrinitarian propositions derivative, parasitic, de dicto entities? Do they lack de re necessity?

If there is no possible world in which the law of noncontradiction is false, it does not follow necessarily that the LNC is true in all possible worlds. For to not be false, a proposition does not have to exist; a proposition might not exist at all and still be not false. But to not fail to be true, it must exist.

What does it even mean to say “a proposition might not exist at all”?

According to the doctrines of divine simplicity and aseity, God's mind and thoughts are identical to his being; the only necessarily existing thing, because God did not have to create…

Actually, isn’t the theory of divine simplicity in tension with divine freedom? Doesn’t divine simplicity make it difficult to finesse a principled distinction between necessary truths and contingent truths? Between intrinsic and extrinsic relations? Between what God is and what he wills?

…is God himself; thus God does not necessarily think anything other than himself. No thought content can be imputed to God essentially, in the possible world which is only God, short of implying that the thought content is identifiable with the being of God. Neither the proposition in question, nor any of the laws of logic, are part of the essential being of God: they are not God.

But that’s a false dichotomy, for possible worlds can be a subset of God’s self-knowledge. God knows what God can do. Possible worlds are variations on divine omnipotence.

Univocal mind. Univocal terms imply unitarian ontology.

How does that implication follow? Does the Father have a univocal concept of the Son? If so, does that imply unitarianism rather than Trinitarianism?

Wouldn’t it make more sense for Shannon to claim that univocal terms imply a pantheistic ontology? Of course, I don’t think that’s correct, but if he’s saying univocity blurs the Creator/creature distinction, wouldn’t pantheism be the corresponding category, rather than unitarianism?

 AW use  “mind,” “thought,” and “proposition” univocally. In their argument, all of these terms, familiar to us in the created realm, in the context of our knowledge and familiarity, are applied univocally to the mind and being of the uncreated God. When we say “a thought requires a mind,” what do we mean by mind? If no distinction appears, the use of the term suggests that there is one kind of mind; and of that kind, AW argue, there must be at least one which exists in all possible worlds, but that 'necessarily existing' mind is essentially of a kind with minds that exist in only some possible worlds.

He’s committing the word-concept fallacy. The fact that the same word is used doesn’t mean one can’t draw conceptual distinctions between the nature of God’s mind and the nature of man’s mind. At the same time, they share some things in common–which makes them both mental.

The problem with couching possible worlds in terms of logical necessity should be obvious: it is tautologous to say that the laws of logic are true in all possible worlds, and it is pure stipulation. It clearly indicates that we have reached the explanatory limits of this explanatory category.

i) To begin with, what’s wrong with reaching explanatory bedrock? Isn’t that inevitable at some point in the analysis? The only question is whether we stop prematurely.

ii) Moreover, it’s not tautologous, but linear. It’s not saying the same thing in different words, but explicating and grounding one thing by reference to something else.

In other words, possible worlds delineate, by pure stipulation, the boundaries for metaphysical speculation. We who use them for that purpose endorse this surrender to the laws of logic as the most basic and non-negotiable principles of intelligibility; we agree to play by those rules because we can neither find nor imagine any less controversial ones.

James and Greg aren’t treating the laws of logic as the most basic and non-negotiable principles of intelligibility. Rather, they are nesting the laws of logic in the mind of God. So there is an underlying explanation. Again, we need to distinguish between the metaphysical level at which the laws of logic subsist and the explanatory level.

The problem of a univocal notion of necessity comes to the fore in of apparent paradox. In 2 Kings 6 an axehead floats; it rises to the surface of the waters of the Jordan river.

i) First of all, that would be a contingent fact, not a necessary truth.

ii) Second, how is that paradoxical? The miracle involves changing the natural, normal conditions in some way or another. Could involve changing the properties of water into something that’s not water, or changing the composition of the axehead, or changing the relationship between water and a heavier object by interfering with gravity at that particular time and place. We could speculate on how it happens. But I don’t think it’s paradoxical.

iii) How can he even use that example if he rejects univocity? In that event, what do the terms refer to? What’s an axehead?

In John 2 Jesus changes water to wine.

i) A contingent fact, not a necessary truth.

ii) How is that paradoxical? It’s not saying water has the properties of wine. It’s not simultaneously ascribing contradictory properties of the same object. Rather, one kind of thing is changed into another kind of thing. Where’s the paradox? Unless we say change itself is paradoxical, a la Zeno, McTaggart, et al. but that wouldn’t be confined to miracles.

 On a larger scale, there are the problems of freedom and election and of providence and evil. All of these are thought to be at least apparently paradoxical. And the reason for this perception, and for the tremendous efforts it evokes toward resolution, is that it is assumed that notions of logical relations and of logical necessity operate univocally; it is assumed that they apply equally to man and to God.

The alleged problem of freedom and election or providence and evil isn’t logical, but moral or metaphysical. We’re not denying the God unconditionally elects some while reprobating others. We’re not denying that God providentially governs all events. The terms are not ambiguous.

It is assumed that the laws of logic, as we articulate them and have come to understand them, obtain identically or are equally true in all possible worlds, even in eternity past, before creation. If, however, we confess first the unique ontological self-sufficiency of the triune creator God, and, indeed, the (moral) authority and (epistemological and soteriological) necessity of divine self-disclosure in Scripture, then we always have ready in hand the derivative, dependent, and partial nature of the laws of logic. There is no possible world in which an iron axehead floats; This one did.

Why is there no possible world in which an iron axehead floats? Where’s the argument? What makes his assertion even prima facie plausible?

This is a true or even only an apparent contradiction only if it is assumed that our logical tools exist independently of God, and apply equally to creator and creature.10

i) Who said a floating axehead was an apparent (much less true) contradiction? At best, it would only be contradictory if ordinary conditions obtain. But the miracle presupposes a new and additional factor: God doing something that alters the usual conditions.

ii) He also fails to distinguish between a logical proposition and a concrete object.

It's likely that the incentive for positing these second order thoughts in the divine mind, distinct from content rich first order thoughts, is largely the preservation of the purely formal nature of the laws of logic, which is crucial to their existing (or being true) necessarily. God must think the laws of logic because the laws of logic exist necessarily. So this much is clear: AW are theologizing by the sheer force of logical necessity alone.

In an attempt to maintain pure formality and sustain the notion of necessity they've built their argument upon, AW claim that on some level distinct from his first order thoughts, God thinks exclusively about the form of his first order thoughts. That claim depends on the separability of form and content in God's first order thoughts, which is to lean on a broken reed. For second order thoughts to be purely formal, they must have as their content only the abstracted logical relations of God's first order thoughts. And if the content of first and second order thoughts is distinct, isn't the obvious implication that there are distinct first and second order divine minds?13 In that case the second order thoughts and the second order mind, rather than the first order, are more properly said to exist necessarily, as they only are purely formal.

And so why not say that God essentially thinks only the laws of logic, and these give form to his other thoughts, should he have any other thoughts? What is God at this point anyway—is he not merely logic thinking itself? Or, put it this way: what now of God's first order thoughts? What are those thoughts about? What is the stuff that God subtracts from his thoughts in order to think about them qua thoughts? And if only thoughts about thoughts qua thoughts are necessary, why suppose that God has first order thoughts at all? Aren't these thoughts contingent? The notion of thoughts about thoughts as thoughts in the divine mind is incoherent.

Doesn’t Trinitarianism imply second-order thoughts? What about this thought: “I am the Son of the Father”?

It is also pure fiction, forced upon AW by their commitment to a univocal notion of necessity, and standing in the place where AW should have been led to consult the riches of historical theology in which one finds orthodox protestantism consistently denying that God thinks discursively, infers one thing from another, or has propositional knowledge.14

i) Really? Orthodox Protestantism denies that God has propositional knowledge? How did he pull that out of the hat?

ii) There is no process of inference in the divine mind. No temporal succession. But God timelessly understands timeless implications.

iii) The standard Reformed position is that God doesn’t learn about the world from the world. God is not dependent on the world for anything he knows. Indeed, God has nothing to learn in the first place. God knows the world indirectly by knowing his plan for the world. In that sense, God lacks inferential knowledge of the world.

But I don’t think James and Greg deny that in their paper.

However, God's self-knowledge involves God's timeless knowledge of all logical relations.

This leads to a third theological concern. According to the doctrine of divine simplicity, God's thoughts are identical to his being. Indeed, AW think this much is true of any mind: “. . . thoughts belong essentially to the minds that produce them” (336 n.31). So if we think thoughts that are essential to God's being—exactly those thoughts that God thinks about his own thoughts as thoughts—are we not participating in the divine essence? The same thoughts—univocal thoughts—belong essentially to our minds and to God's mind. Given simplicity, in other words, unless we deny that our thoughts are ever identical to God's, we flirt with pantheism or apotheosis.

That confuses knowing the same truths with being what you know. Must I be a tree to know something about trees?

Or, hoping to maintain simplicity and the ontological distinction between God and creation, we may say that the laws of logic are abstract objects existing independently of both God and man.15 In that case, perhaps God knows the laws of logic in all possible worlds because he is omniscient in all possible worlds and the laws of logic exist in all possible worlds, not because he essentially thinks the laws of logic.

Of course, James and Greg expressly reject that model.

Even more troubling is this question: would we be able to affirm in this case that God's Word is essentially—necessarily, in all possible worlds—self-consistent and trustworthy?

If anything, it’s it harder to maintain the trustworthy, self-consistent character of God’s word when he rejects univocity. Doesn’t that mean the Bible is just partially logical, partially true? What we have in Scripture isn’t verity, but verisimilitude.

Traditionally there are three choices in terms of the meaning of theological language: equivocal, univocal, and analogical. AW implicitly reject the thesis that language and concepts are equivocal and say nothing intelligible about God. For readers of this journal, this is uncontroversial. Enjoying equally broad consensus in the history of Christian theology is a rejection of univocism: when we say “God is good” and “John is good,” it is clear that the predicates are not identical.16  Orthodox protestant thought takes theological language analogically and grounded in verbal divine self-revelation.

Analogy and univocity aren’t necessarily opposed. You can have a theory of analogical predication which allows for univocity if you compare two things at the relevant level of generality or abstraction.

On the basis of the voluntary self-revelation of God, we have true knowledge, and yet, since God is incomprehensible to the creature, our knowledge is never exhaustive. Add to this the metaphysics of the Creator-creature relationship: the creation is a contingent image of the Creator. All things are from him, to him, and through him (Rom 11:36, indicating aseity); and everything that was created was created by and through the Word (Col 1:6, John 1:3, indicating the triune economy of the act of creation). So we understand our theological knowledge and categories as applying to God truly but incompletely, imitatively and derivatively. So our concepts are analogical.  Not only the nature of the relation as analogical, but the order figures in as well: God is the original or the archetype, and we—and our knowledge—are the analogue, or the ectype. As in any analogy, there is an original and there is an analogue, and the order is irreversible—in the Creator-creature analogy more than in any other. God is the original; we and the created order are derivative. In sum, the irreducible ontological distinction between Creator and creature, and precisely this archtypal-ectypcal or original-analogue order, give us revelationally grounded, analogical theological predication. We have true knowledge, so we reject equivocism; but because of the 'ontological distance' between the Creator and the creature, our knowledge is ever partial; so we reject univocism.

There’s a sense in which I can agree with this. However, Shannon is simply using buzzwords like “ectypal” and “analogical.” He’s not giving the reader a model of analogical predication or ectypal knowledge. He’s not fleshing out the concepts. And he’s skating over the complexities and difficulties of articulating a satisfactory theory of analogy. He attacks James and Greg on philosophical grounds, but he doesn’t present a philosophically rigorous alternative. Instead, he just retreats into pious formulas. These don’t solve any problems. They are merely verbal placeholders. All the hard work remains to be done–assuming it can be done.

So in Christian thought, triunity is more basic than either threeness or oneness…

That’s modalistic. That makes Trinitarian oneness and threeness secondary to something more primary. A projection or epiphenomenon of something more basic.

Now I’m going to comment on some statements by Vern Pothress, in his forthcoming book on Logic: A God-Centered Approach to the Foundation of Western Thought.

Before I comment, I’d like to say that to his credit, Poythress isn’t one of those Van Tilians who spends all his time talking about apologetic method. Poythress does practice apologetics in books like Redeeming Science, Redeeming Sociology, Inerrancy and Worldview, Inerrancy and the Gospels.

Something similar to this argument can be found in James N. Anderson and Greg Welty, “The Lord of Non-Contradiction: An Argument for God from Logic,” Philosophia Christi 13:2 (2011): 321–338. But it appears to me that this article does not take into account the presence of analogy and the Creator-creature distinction in logical reasoning about God (see chapter 24 below).

If he’s saying the Trinitarian relations are merely analogous to logical relations, that’s a problem, for that would generate three layers of reality: Trinitarian relations, logical relations (which are somehow distinct from Trinitarian relations), and concreta. If logical relations are analogous to Trinitarian relations, then they have a realty that’s distinct from God, without being creatures. Entities which are analogous to Trinitarian relations, but not identical. So what's their metaphysical status?

The problem, in relation to the ontology of logic, is that theological analogy usually involves a contrast between transcendent reality and mundane reality. And, presumably, logical relations would be on the transcendent (=divine) side of the distinction–although they’d have concrete analogates. If, however, logical relations are merely analogous to the Trinity, then what are they? What’s their ontological status? Are they transcendent, but different from God? Are they a tertium quid? Not quite divine and not quite mundane?

If any concrete piece of reasoning is, by theological definition, an imperfect creaturely representation of uncreated logic.

Isn’t the claim that “any concrete piece of reasoning is, by theological definition, an imperfect creaturely representation of uncreated logic” itself an imperfect creaturely representation of uncreated logic? So is that claim an imperfect representation of a truth?

We need to distinguish between logical arguments, and arguments for the ontology of logic. Needless to say, Greg and James are using ectypal logical arguments, in the sense that their arguments reflect their human understanding of logic; but that's distinct from what they are arguing for or arguing about. They are arguing for or about the archetypal logical truths or logical relations constituted by God’s mind.

Can we have one term, father, that applies both to God and to human creatures who are biological fathers? Clearly we can. But God’s fatherhood and human fatherhood are not on the same level. So the relation between the two is one of analogy rather than strict identity.

One problem with this comparison is that formal logic is fact free (“topic neutral”). A formal system of entailment relations that doesn’t make constantive claims. Rather, it provides an abstract framework into which you can plug factual premises or truth-claims. Formal logic isn’t comparing one thing with another, is it? We need to distinguish logic from what we do with logic. James and Greg aren’t talking about the content which we plug into logical syllogisms, but the necessary metaphysical system of entailments.

He seems to be confusing whether logic is worldview neutral with whether logic is content neutral? There’s an obvious sense in which the ontology of logic is worldview sensitive, viz. conceptualism, constructivism, fictionalism, platonic realism. These go with different views of reality. And you have the whole effort at a naturalized logic, to match a naturalistic or materialistic worldview.

In that sense, logic is not neutral. But of course, James and Greg weren’t arguing for neutrality at that level. Just the opposite. They were presenting a theistic foundation for logic.

Conversely, that kind of “neutrality” is very different from topic neutrality.