Saturday, May 16, 2009

Life, death, and immortality

Living & Dying

The fear of death is a common fear. It can take two different forms: a fear of oblivion or a fear of the afterlife–if the afterlife is perceived to be unpleasant.

On the standard atheistic outlook, our consciousness is extinguished at death. This raises the question of whether the atheist has reason to fear death.

Some atheists frankly admit their fear of death. But other atheists, like Epicurus and Lucretius, say man has nothing to fear from death since the dead experience nothing at all.

In addition, some atheists, making a virtue of necessity, say our mortality is what gives life meaning. Conversely, immortality would be an interminable bore.

Of course, an orthodox Christian doesn’t believe that consciousness terminates at death. But, for the sake of argument, let’s examine the secular response to death on its own grounds.

Existence & Experience

Is it true that experience is a precondition of a deprivation? That unless you are in a position to consciously experience a deprivation, then it’s no deprivation to you?

While this may seem intuitively plausible, it’s easy to come up with some counterintuitive examples. Suppose a happy, healthy 20-year-old is wheeled into the ER after an accident. The accident has left him in a coma.

But with good care he will make a full recovery. He will revert to being a happy, healthy young man.

But suppose you pull the plug while he’s in a coma. By pulling the plug,you terminate his life.

Have you deprived him of anything. On the Lucretian, Epicurean view, he suffers no deprivation since he cannot experience the consequences your action. Indeed, he was already unconscious. All you’ve done is to extend that condition indefinitely.

Of course, most folks, including the comatose patient, would not agree with that assessment! By taking his life, you robbed him of his future happiness. The opportunities he would otherwise enjoy.

Likewise, suppose a young man, in a fit of depression, commits suicide. On the Lucretian, Epicurean view, he suffers no deprivation since, once he’s dead, he cannot experience any sense of loss.

Again, most folks wouldn’t agree. We tend to view premature death, by accident, illness, or suicide, as tragic precisely because the young man (or woman) had his entire life ahead of him. He missed out on so much that life has to offer. His inexperience is the nub of the problem. Now he’ll never have a chance to do this or that. And, by taking his life, he can never make up for lost opportunities.

Indeed, on the Lucretian, Epicurean view, there’s no reason to avoid death. No reason to avoid premature death. No reason to avoid murder. You can’t harm someone by killing him–since he cannot experience the result of your action. He can experience the moment before death, but once he’s dead he can’t remember that event.

So whatever initial plausibility the Lucretian, Epicurean view may enjoy is quickly lost as soon as we consider some obvious and important counterexamples.

What response is available to the Epicurean? Well, he could bite the bullet. He could say these counterexamples beg the question. They don’t prove that death is a misfortune for the decedent. The only show that many people feel that way. But, of course, that assumes the very point at issue.

And how should we respond to that?

i) When the question at issue is the fear of death, then feelings matter. Thanatophobia is a feeling. A deep-seated, emotional state. Like love or joy or anger.

Simply telling someone he shouldn’t feel that way doesn’t make the feeling go away. So it doesn’t solve the problem. You might as well tell a teenage boy that he shouldn’t have a crush on that girl in the front row. Saying so doesn’t change how he feels.

ii) Moreover, feelings are morally significant. They may often be an unreliable guide in decision-making, but for better or worse our emotional states are either appropriate or inappropriate. As such, the fear of death cannot be dismissed so easily.

iii) Furthermore, there’s more at issue than the bare feeling. Than a groundless feeling. For these counterexamples have a logical foundation. They appeal to counterfactuals. Lost opportunities.

No, the decedent can’t experience all these lost opportunities, but that, of itself, is a total deprivation. A counterfactual deprivation is still a deprivation. And, in this case, the deprivation couldn’t be more all-encompasing.

Meaning & Mortality

What about the further argument that mortality is what gives meaning to life? One can think of illustrations which lend an air of plausibility to that claim.

Suppose a close relative is diagnosed with terminal cancer. Suppose that, before his diagnosis, I took my relative for granted or even resented him (or her). And the feeling was mutual.

But now that his death is no longer a distant prospect or practical abstraction, we value our time together in a way that was never the case when we seemed to have all the time in the world.

Does this successfully illustrate that mortality is what makes life meaningful? No.

i) It wasn’t terminal cancer that suddenly made an otherwise worthless life worthwhile. Rather, terminal cancer simply shocked the patient and his relatives into the realization of how precious his life always was.

ii) Moreover, the insight which this experience creates is one which only the living can appreciate. Death deprives all parties of that experience. Fleeting goods are good insofar as we can anticipate their occurrence or remember them after they have passed. But that’s a viewpoint which only the living can share or entertain.

Passing the Time

Would immortality be an interminable bore?

i) There are some folks whose only goal in life is to experience everything just once. They read a book once. See a movie once. See a mountain once. See a cathedral once. Have one child–or, at most, one son and one daughter. They live for novelty. For folks like that immortality could well be an interminable bore.

Likewise, an atheist contrives subjective meaning for his life by setting artificial goals. But what happens when he achieves all his goals?

ii) Apropos (i), I think the atheist is half-right. It’s quite possible for immortality to be a crashing bore. Not immortality in general. Not all kinds of immortality. But certain kinds of immortality. And that strikes me as an excellent way to punish some evildoers.

iii) Even in this world, there are certain pleasures that many or most folks seem to find inexhaustible. For example, visual beauty has great staying power.

iv) Likewise, it’s possible to get tired of something after a while, let it lie fallow, then return to it with renewed interest.

v) Likewise, various things can be interesting or uninteresting at different times of life. Something may have no appeal to us at one point in life, but be appealing at a later point in life when it resonates with our maturing experience.

vi) Moreover, it’s not a case of just doing the same thing every single time, as if you spend all your time doing the very same thing. You can vary your activities.

vii) Furthermore, there’s a circular quality to the objection. For one thing, if the only way to make life meaningful for ourselves is to pose artificial challenges to overcome, then life ceases to be meaningful when we run out of challenges. But that conclusion derives from an atheistic premise.

For another thing, mortality itself makes us more impatiently goal-oriented than we would naturally be. If we thought we had all the time in the world, we’d be more inclined to take life as it comes, without trying to structure our time to the same degree. Rather than imposing our itinerary on life, life would supply the itinerary. There are so many things to discover and to savor. We could afford to take our time.

viii) An atheist may object that even if some joys seem to be inexhaustible in this life, we might get tired of them after a million years or so.

That’s hypothetically possible. However, that objection cuts both ways. To say that immortality would be a crashing bore is, itself, an extrapolation from our earthly, mortal experience. If you can extrapolate from earthly boredom to justify your claim that immortality would be deadly dull, then you can just as well extrapolate from the opposite sort of experience to justify the claim that immortality would continue to be full of interest.

ix) Furthermore, a Christian doesn’t view the afterlife as merely an extension of existence in a fallen world. Depending on whether you’re heavenbound or hellbound, the afterlife will either be better or worse than life here-below. A Christian expects the afterlife to be a signal improvement.

The Phrase "Man Of God"

Perry Robinson (Acolyte4236) recently repeated an argument I've seen him use before, one that's also been used by Roman Catholics, such as Brent Arias and Phil Porvaznik:

How does Scripture apply the phrase “the man of God.” Just it apply it to just anyone?...

In 2 Tim 3, Paul seems to indicate the Scripture is the rule to be employed by the “man of God” and the way that Scripture uses that term doesn’t seem to indicate that the “man of God” is just any believer. The Scriptures are a rule to be employed by those appropriately sent and commissioned such that the question becomes, who sent these ministers?

It's true that the term "man of God" is applied in the Bible to individuals who were sent by God in some manner, such as Moses (Deuteronomy 33:1) and David (Nehemiah 12:24). But it's a vague phrase, and the similar phrase "people of God" is applied to believers in general or a larger community (Judges 20:2, 2 Samuel 14:13, Hebrews 4:9, 11:25, 1 Peter 2:10). The particular phrase "man of God" is applied to a wide variety of individuals, including Moses (Deuteronomy 33:1), an angel (Judges 13:6), a disobedient prophet (1 Kings 13:31), and a church leader (1 Timothy 6:11). They can all be said to have been sent by God in some manner, but in many different ways and contexts, often without any succession involved. And Evangelicals don't claim that all humans are people of God. Rather, they apply the term to believers, as we see in passages like Hebrews 4:9 and 1 Peter 2:10. They don't apply it to "just anyone", as Perry puts it at one point, but rather to "any believer", as he puts it later. It could be applied even more narrowly, such as only to more mature believers, without being limited to religious leaders or Perry's religious leaders in particular.

We find the phrase "man of God" used in some places in the patristic literature, and it's often applied to believers in general, or it's applied to religious leaders in a manner suggesting that it wouldn't be exclusive to them. Several examples:

"Again, therefore, some venomous and false hypocrites, who plotted against righteousness, He once called 'a brood of vipers.' But if one of those serpents even is willing to repent, and follows the Word, he becomes a man of God....But godliness, that makes man as far as can be like God, designates God as our suitable teacher, who alone can worthily assimilate man to God. This teaching the apostle knows as truly divine. 'Thou, O Timothy,' he says, 'from a child hast known the holy letters, which are able to make thee wise unto salvation, through faith that is in Christ Jesus.' For truly holy are those letters that sanctify and deify; and the writings or volumes that consist of those holy letters and syllables, the same apostle consequently calls 'inspired of God, being profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be perfect, thoroughly furnished to every good work.' No one will be so impressed by the exhortations of any of the saints, as he is by the words of the Lord Himself, the lover of man. For this, and nothing but this, is His only work--the salvation of man. Therefore He Himself, urging them on to salvation, cries, 'The kingdom of heaven is at hand.' Those men that draw near through fear, He converts. Thus also the apostle of the Lord, beseeching the Macedonians, becomes the interpreter of the divine voice, when he says, 'The Lord is at hand; take care that ye be not apprehended empty.' But are ye so devoid of fear, or rather of faith, as not to believe the Lord Himself, or Paul, who in Christ's stead thus entreats: 'Taste and see that Christ is God?' Faith will lead you in; experience will teach you; Scripture will train you, for it says, 'Come hither, O children; listen to me, and I will teach you the fear of the LORD.'" (Clement of Alexandria, Exhortation To The Heathen, 6, 9)

"Thereupon the Lord, driven apart into desert places after baptism, showed, by maintaining a fast of forty days, that the man of God lives 'not by bread alone,' but 'by the word of God;' and that temptations incident to fulness or immoderation of appetite are shattered by abstinence. Therefore, blessed ones, whom the grace of God awaits, when you ascend from that most sacred font of your new birth, and spread your hands for the first time in the house of your mother, together with your brethren, ask from the Father, ask from the Lord, that His own specialties of grace and distributions of gifts may be supplied you." (Tertullian, On Baptism, 20)

"'The fig-tree,' says He, 'shall not bear fruit, and there shall be no blossom in the vines. The labour of the olive shall fail, and the fields shall yield no meat. The flock shall be cut off from the fold, and there shall be no herd in the stalls. But I will rejoice in the Lord, and I will joy in the God of my salvation.' He says that the man of God and the worshipper of God, depending on the truth of his hope, and founded on the stedfastness of his faith, is not moved by the attacks of this world and this life. Although the vine should fail, and the olive deceive, and the field parched with grass dying with drought should wither, what is this to Christians?" (Cyprian, Treatise 5, An Address To Demetrianus, 20)

"Wherefore, O man of God, do thou recognize the plots of thine adversary; for the battle is against him that hath, and it is concerned with the most important interests. Take not thine enemy to be thy counsellor; despise not to be and to be called Faithful. As long as you are a Catechumen you are but in the porch of Religion; you must come inside, and cross the court, and observe the Holy Things, and look into the Holy of Holies, and be in company with the Trinity." (Gregory Nazianzen, Orations, 40:16)

"'But thou, O man of God.' This is a title of great dignity. For we are all men of God, but the righteous peculiarly so, not by right of creation only, but by that of appropriation. If then thou art a 'man of God,' seek not superfluous things, which lead thee not to God, but 'Flee these things, and follow after righteousness.'" (John Chrysostom, Homilies On First Timothy, 17)

"'That the man of God may be perfect.' For this is the exhortation of the Scripture given, that the man of God may be rendered perfect by it; without this therefore he cannot be perfect. Thou hast the Scriptures, he says, in place of me. If thou wouldest learn anything, thou mayest learn it from them. And if he thus wrote to Timothy, who was filled with the Spirit, how much more to us!" (John Chrysostom, Homilies On Second Timothy, 9)

"Therefore when Christ says, 'I have prayed for thee that thy faith fail not,' we may understand that it was said to him who is built upon the rock. And thus the man of God, not only because he has obtained mercy to be faithful, but also because faith itself does not fail, if he glories, must glory in the Lord. I speak thus of those who are predestinated to the kingdom of God, whose number is so certain that one can neither be added to them nor taken from them; not of those who, when He had announced and spoken, were multiplied beyond number." (Augustine, On Rebuke And Grace, 38-39)

The Means Of Identifying A New Testament Canon

By what means might a person conclude that the book of Isaiah is scripture? He could be led to that conclusion by the Spirit of God. He could accept the scriptural status of the book on the basis of the authority of Jesus Christ, who referred to Isaiah as scripture. Or on the basis of the authority of an apostle. A contemporary of Isaiah could accept the book as scripture by means of the testimony of Isaiah regarding the scriptural status of the book, accompanied by authenticating miracles. Somebody living several hundred years later could be led to a belief in the scriptural status of the book by means of its prophecies fulfilled in the life of Christ. Or the book could be accepted because it was part of a canon of scripture that was agreed upon by most of the Jewish people and accepted by Jesus and the apostles.

A New Testament book, such as Revelation, could similarly be identified as scripture by a variety of means. It could be accepted on the basis of apostolic authority, since it was written by an apostle. The churches who initially received the book would have had evidence of its inspiration in the fulfillment of the prophecies of Revelation 2-3. The book was part of a Christian canonical consensus comparable to the Jewish Old Testament consensus.

The early Christians didn't appeal to only one standard by which to judge what is and isn't scripture. They saw God drawing people to a recognition of the scriptures by a variety of means, some more demonstrable than others.

Justin Martyr recalled what the man who led him to Christianity told him:

"There existed, long before this time, certain men more ancient than all those who are esteemed philosophers, both righteous and beloved by God, who spoke by the Divine Spirit, and foretold events which would take place, and which are now taking place. They are called prophets. These alone both saw and announced the truth to men, neither reverencing nor fearing any man, not influenced by a desire for glory, but speaking those things alone which they saw and which they heard, being filled with the Holy Spirit. Their writings are still extant, and he who has read them is very much helped in his knowledge of the beginning and end of things, and of those matters which the philosopher ought to know, provided he has believed them. For they did not use demonstration in their treatises, seeing that they were witnesses to the truth above all demonstration, and worthy of belief; and those events which have happened, and those which are happening, compel you to assent to the utterances made by them, although, indeed, they were entitled to credit on account of the miracles which they performed, since they both glorified the Creator, the God and Father of all things, and proclaimed His Son, the Christ sent by Him" (Dialogue With Trypho, 7)

Tatian wrote:

"I sought how I might be able to discover the truth. And, while I was giving my most earnest attention to the matter, I happened to meet with certain barbaric writings [the Old Testament scriptures], too old to be compared with the opinions of the Greeks, and too divine to be compared with their errors; and I was led to put faith in these by the unpretending ease of the language, the inartificial character of the writers, the foreknowledge displayed of future events, the excellent quality of the precepts, and the declaration of the government of the universe as centred in one Being. And, my soul being taught of God, I discern that the former class of writings lead to condemnation, but that these put an end to the slavery that is in the world, and rescue us from a multiplicity of rulers and ten thousand tyrants, while they give us, not indeed what we had not before received, but what we had received but were prevented by error from retaining." (Address To The Greeks, 29)

Theophilus of Antioch wrote:

"At the same time, I met with the sacred Scriptures of the holy prophets, who also by the Spirit of God foretold the things that have already happened, just as they came to pass, and the things now occurring as they are now happening, and things future in the order in which they shall be accomplished. Admitting, therefore, the proof which events happening as predicted afford, I do not disbelieve, but I believe, obedient to God...The Egyptian or Chaldaean prophets, and the other writers, should have been able accurately to tell, if at least they spoke by a divine and pure spirit, and spoke truth in all that was uttered by them; and they should have announced not only things past or present, but also those that were to come upon the world. And therefore it is proved that all others have been in error; and that we Christians alone have possessed the truth, inasmuch as we are taught by the Holy Spirit, who spoke in the holy prophets, and foretold all things." (To Autolycus, 1:14, 2:33)

Athenagoras makes similar comments (A Plea For The Christians, 9). Melito of Sardis traveled to Israel to gather information about the Old Testament canon, apparently believing that the information there would be more reliable than elsewhere (Eusebius, Church History, 4:26). Regarding the Old Testament prophets, Tertullian writes, "Their words, as well as the miracles which they performed, that men might have faith in their divine authority, we have still in the literary treasures they have left, and which are open to all." (Apology, 18) He goes on to cite current events that fulfill prophecy as evidence of the Divine nature of the Biblical books (Apology, 20). Serapion comments that documents written by the apostles are accepted as having the authority of Christ (Eusebius, Church History, 6:12). Julius Africanus rejects the Apocryphal Susanna on the basis of internal evidence and its rejection by the Jewish people (A Letter To Origen From Africanus About The History Of Susanna). Augustine appeals to the testimony of the churches in judging which books belong in the canon, giving different weight to different types of churches (On Christian Doctrine, 2:8).

People can come to the conclusion that a book is or isn't scripture for a wide variety of reasons, some more valid than others, some more provable than others, and some more applicable in our day than others. We aren't contemporaries of Isaiah, so he can't perform authenticating miracles for our benefit. We don't know as much about the early history of the churches of Revelation 2-3 as the people who lived at that time did, so we don't know as much about the fulfillment of the prophecies given to those churches. Tatian's appeal to the writing style of the Biblical authors isn't as demonstrable an argument as his appeal to fulfilled prophecy.

Modern canonical disputes tend to focus on potentially easy, demonstrable, and widely applicable means of judging what is and isn't scripture. People want something like an infallible papal decree or infallible council ruling to tell them what their canon ought to be. But we don't have such an infallible proclamation, and we have reason to distrust the belief systems that most often claim to possess such a thing. Those who criticize Evangelicals for identifying their canon without something like a ruling from an ecumenical council are also criticizing the many Jewish and Christian believers in antiquity who did the same.

God can bring His people to recognize His word, including scripture, without something like a papal decree or a declaration from a council (John 10:4, 1 Corinthians 14:37, 1 Thessalonians 2:13). When many believers recognize particular books as scripture over a long period of time, as we've seen with the books of the New Testament, their combined experience carries more weight than the experience of an individual. And since Jesus and the apostles seem to have accepted a Jewish Old Testament canonical consensus, we have precedent for trusting a New Testament canonical consensus among Christians. Characteristics of scripture like those mentioned by men like Tatian and Theophilus of Antioch, above, also move us further in the direction of considering these books scripture.

But these approaches only go so far. Claiming that God has led you to recognize a book as scripture isn't the same as demonstrating it. And while the widespread agreement among Christians about the scriptural status of particular books could be a result of Divine guidance, it also could be a result of something else. Sometimes an erroneous belief is popular among Christians. A doctrine widely held in one generation is widely rejected in another generation. Sometimes an erroneous belief is widely held for a long time. Though Jesus and the apostles seem to have accepted a Jewish Old Testament canonical consensus, it's possible that a New Testament consensus would be unreliable, even if we think that's unlikely. And while some of the characteristics of the Biblical books suggest some sort of Divine involvement, not every book of the Bible has those characteristics. There is no equivalent of the prophecies of Isaiah in Esther or Philemon.

Is there a canonical standard that's more widely applicable than something like fulfilled prophecy and more demonstrable than something like the guidance of the Holy Spirit? An infallible council ruling that lists every book of the canon could be such a standard, and it could be easier to follow than many of the alternatives that are proposed. Such an edict from a council could have the three attributes I referred to above, namely easiness, demonstrability, and widespread applicability. Thus, many people have sought to find an infallible proclamation from a council where one doesn't exist.

A better case can be made for another canonical standard that's also more widely applicable and more demonstrable, though not as easy to identify and interpret as an infallible council ruling could be. I'll discuss it in the next post in this series.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Hellboy, History, & Dialectic

Daniel Jones keeps bugging me to read some book or another by Joseph Farrell. However, after browsing his blog I see that I don’t need to read Farrell’s book after all since I’ve already seen the movie.

At least, to judge by his blog, Farrell is obviously the ghost screenwriter for Hellboy. It has all the key elements: Russian monks, Nazi technology, freewill v. destiny, &c.

Anyone can see that Hellboy is a thinly-veiled allegory for Farrell’s alternative histories. On second thought, maybe his alternative histories are thinly-veiled allegories for Hellboy. Hard to tell which is which.

More Americans Now Self-Identify As Pro-Life Than Pro-Choice

Gallup Poll: Majority of Americans Pro-Life on Abortion, Highest Levels in 15 Years

From the article:

The Gallup survey, conducted May 7-10, finds 51% of Americans calling themselves pro-life and just 42 percent saying they are "pro-choice" and supporting legal abortions.

The poll finds a plurality of women say they are pro-life -- with 49 percent saying so and just 44 percent saying they are "pro-choice." Men favor the pro-life position on a 54 to 39 percent margin. Both numbers are record highs for the pro-life position.

The 9 percent pro-life majority is a stark change from last year, when the Gallup survey showed a 6 percent majority in favor of abortion. Before the current poll Gallup had the pro-life percentage at its highest at 46 percent in both August 2001 and May 2002.

Freelancing the authorship of sin

For some reason, many theists imagine that Calvinism holds the copyright on the “authorship of sin.” They deploy this argument with seeming impunity, as if their own variety of theism is exempt from the same charge. What’s ironic about this charge is that while many a theist is busy using this argument against Calvinism, an atheist can easily redeploy the same argument against theism generally.

“The first of the two issues of consistency concerns the stipulation that, in this sense of God, God should, both be the infinitely powerful creator, and possess a will which his creatures can, and regularly do, disobey. The force of this question is frequently not felt, or not felt fully, because people either do not realize or forget the relevant meaning of Creator. To say that the Christian God is the Creator is to say, not only that he brought the universe into being out of nothing, but also that he is the constant and essential sustaining cause of everything within it. That is why the first of the Articles of Religion speaks of ‘the Maker, and the Preserver of all things both visible and invisible,’ and why it is possible for us to render that whole expression with the alternative two words the Creator,” A. Flew, God & Philosophy (PB 2005), 56.

“Once we are thus seized of the meaning of creation it becomes clear that the image usually offered as a resolution of the antinomy does not apply. This stock image is that of a Supreme Father showing long-suffering tolerance toward his often rebellious children: he has given us, it is said, our freedom; and we–wretched unworthy creatures that we are–too often take advantage to flout his wishes. If this image fitted there would be no problem. Obviously it is possible for children to act against their parents’ wishes. It is also possible for parents to grant to their children freedoms which may be abused, by refusing to exercise powers of control which they do possess. But the case of Creator and creature must be utterly different. Here the appropriate images, insofar as any images could be appropriate, would be that of the Creator: either as the Supreme Puppet-master with creatures whose every thought and move he arranges; or as the Great Hypnotist with subjects who always act out his irresistible suggestions. What makes the first image entirely inept and the other two much less so is crucially that God is supposed to be, not a manufacturer or a parent who may make or rear his product and then let it be, but the Creator. This precisely means that absolutely nothing happens save by his ultimate underdetermined determination and with his consenting ontological support. Everything means everything; and that includes every human thought, every human action, and every human choice. For we too are indisputably parts of the universe, we are among the ‘all things both visible and invisible’ of which he is supposed to be ‘the Maker, and Preserver’,” ibid. 56-57.

“It is often thought that a doctrine of predestination is peculiar to Calvin and to Calvinists, and that it is an optional extra to Christian theism. On the contrary” in the present rock-bottom sense it is an immediate consequence of basic theism; and one which, with greater or lesser degrees of discretion and embarrassment, has been recognized as such in doctrinal formulations and in the writings of other great theologians,” ibid. 57.

“As Creator he could not decide simply to leave to their own devices creatures already autonomously existing. He both designs and makes them in full knowledge and determination of all that they will ever do or fail to do. As Creator he must be first cause, prime mover, supporter, and controller of every thought and action throughout his utterly dependent universe. In short: if creation is in, autonomy is out,” ibid. 59.

“Why then is this vital conclusion so often ignored or even denies? Partly, no doubt, because the idea of creation is misunderstood…Mainly, surely, because theologians are no more than other men exempt from conflicts of desire…These common tendencies are reinforced by the conviction, which is for most of us for most of the time quite inescapable, that we are on occasion free agents: as indeed we are. It is, apparently, easy to mistake the implication. If in fact we ever are free agents, and if this is in a sense which is incompatible with being completely the creatures of a Creator, then what follows is: not that there may be a Creator liberally–albeit mysteriously–granting some degree of emancipation; but that there cannot be any Creator at all,” ibid. 59.

“There is, however, a way to give meaning to the notion of disobedience to God’s will (as much, that is, as can be given to any human notion applied in this context). But it is a maneuver for which there is a price to be paid when we come to consider the next question. In the human context we give sense to talk about what people want primarily by reference to what they do or would do in appropriate circumstances…We decide what a man–any man, including ourselves–really wants by determining what he would do if all obstacles were removed. But to creative omnipotence there are no obstacles. So what he really wants must be whatever actually comes about; and that goes for everything that is happening, including whatever we are doing. If, therefore, anyone wants to insist that some of these happenings, in particular some actions, are against God’s will; then this has, presumably, got to be done by reference to the consequences which he arranges, or would arrange, for different sorts of actions. All actions must, in the primary sense, be according to God’s will,” ibid. 60.

Sensation and revelation

Clarkians try to drive a wedge between Biblical revelation, which counts as knowledge, and sensory perception, which–at best–can only yield opinion.

One of the problems with this dichotomy is that it disregards an important category of Biblical revelation: visionary revelation.

Visionary revelation can occur in a trance state or dream state. In this altered state of consciousness the seer registers a series of inspired images. Occasionally the vision will include a speaker. Occasionally the vision will include some explanation.

But, in many cases, what Scripture gives us is a transcription of what the seer perceived, with few editorial asides. A verbal description of mental imagery.

This is not quite the same as sensory perception. There is no external stimulus which directly corresponds to the imagery. What we have, rather, is simulated sensory perception. Virtual imagery. However, it’s the functional equivalent of sensory perception:

i) At a phenomenological level, a vision has the same secondary qualities as actual sensation. Indistinguishable from what we sense with our sensory organs. At the sense datum level, the source of the sensory input makes no difference to the percipient.

The mechanism or reality that underlies the experience–whether external stimuli or inspired images–is distinct from the experience itself.

ii) The visionary imagery is only intelligible because it corresponds to imagery drawn from the external, sensible world–through sensory perception. Even fictitious creatures are composites of actual creatures.

If a Clarkian denies that sensory perception can ever yield knowledge, then, by the same token, he must deny the same to visionary revelation. Pictures are pictures.

Everything you perceive is unreliable

From Dominic Bnonn Tennant:
A brief, critical response to the Scripturalist claim that sense perception is unreliable, and/or does not produce knowledge. This article refutes Vincent Cheung’s argument that John 12:27–30 constitutes “an inspired example against empiricism.” It does not deal with the question of epistemic justification; merely with the biblical view of sense experience, and the problems inherent in Vincent’s own position.
Read the excellent article here.

Religious authority


"So here is my question for you, if scripture is the only infallible rule, who is the judge to apply the rule?"


As you know, Jesus conducted public debates with members of the religious establishment. So did John the Baptist. So did the Apostles.

Bystanders overheard the debates. Who was to judge which side got the better of the argument?

Clearly the religious establishment was not the final arbiter, for Jesus, John the Baptist, and the Apostles were challenging the religious establishment.

As a practical matter, every man (or woman) in the crowd had to judge for himself. Some judged rightly and some judged wrongly.

That's a leading theme in the Gospel of John (to take one example).


“Your example of Jesus and the Jewish leadership would be germane if all things were equal, but all things are not equal so it is not an apt comparison. Jesus has a commissioning superior to theirs. Jesus’s commissioning is attested to by the miracles and prophecy. (Jn 10:38) In a similar fashion the prophets had a commissioning superior to the ordinary commissioning of the Levitical priests, which is why they could correct them. The judgment in both cases is that of a superior degree of normativity.”

My example presupposes that Jesus, OT prophets, and NT apostles are more authoritative than scribes and Sadducees and Pharisees and Levitical priests–or even the high priest.

“Further, when you ask among the bystanders, who was to judge, there is an equivocation on the term , judge.”

It’s an equivocation from your standpoint, not from mine.

“For the question is not, who is to ascertain the truth of the matter for their own conscience, but who can settle the matter with a normativity that goes beyond in application their own conscience to that of others.”

That’s how you frame the question, not how I frame the question. I don’t think it goes beyond ascertaining the truth of the matter for one’s own conscience. I don’t think God has authorized church officers to settle the matter with normativity for others.

“The judgment of the prophets and Jesus was not on a normative par with the ordinarily commissioned Hebrew/Jewish leadership. At best they can claim Abraham and Moses, since they have no miracles and prophecy since they were ordinarily commissioned, through a succession. (Neh 7:64) Jesus clearly one-ups them through an appeal to the Father directly with attesting miracles.”

There are two separate issues here:

i) Intrinsic/contingent authority

ii) Verification of intrinsic/contingent authority.

Apropos (i), the authority of Jesus is inherent in his person. By contrast, merely human authority, however exalted, is derivative and conditional.

Apropos (ii), verification doesn’t confer authority. It merely furnishes a means of recognition.

“Jesus and the prophets by virtue of their superior commissioning and attestation with miracle and prophecy were in a position to challenge those lower down on the commissioned and normative ladder.”

It would be simpler to say that one party was right while the other party was wrong. And that’s because one party had access to the truth in a way not shared by the errant party. “Normativity” is secondary to truth.

“So the question is, in the church, who is to act as the judge in terms of normatively settling a matter or dispute in applying the rule or is there to be as many judges applying the rule as there are readers of the rule.”

Since the church has a corporate life, there has to be some decision-making process to set policies for the fellowship as a whole. But there’s nothing inherently normative about those decisions. Such decisions are only normative to the degree that they accurately apply biblical teaching to the matter at hand.

“In which case, there is no judge which can settle a matter with the normativity to bind the conscience of any man other than himself and all ecclesiastical judgments are in principle revisable.”

I accept that consequence.

At the same time, every individual is also in the hands of God. Nothing happens apart from God’s providential purpose for the church.

“Clear problems arise in say cases of excommunication.”

How is that a problem? Excommunication is a fallible process. It’s quite possible to be unjustly excommunicated.

That’s only a problem if you have a sacramental view of the church such that excommunication severs the individual from the saving means of grace. I don’t.

“In 2 Tim 3, Paul seems to indicate the Scripture is the rule to be employed by the ‘man of God’ and the way that Scripture uses that term doesn’t seem to indicate that the ‘man of God’ is just any believer.”

Yes and no. Paul lays down certain qualifications for church office. Church office doesn’t qualify the candidate. Church office doesn’t confer a set of qualifications on a candidate. Rather, the candidate, in his lay identity, must bring these qualifications to the job.

A pastor is a qualified layman. A layman who’s qualified to hold church office.

“The Scriptures are a rule to be employed by those appropriately sent and commissioned such that the question becomes, who sent these ministers? For how will they preach, unless they have been sent?”

Prophets and apostles are “sent.” Pastors are not.

Prophets and apostles have a special divine vocation. A charismatic calling. Their authority derives from their inspiration.

By contrast, pastors have natural abilities. The Pauline qualifications for church office involve natural human abilities.

Timothy himself may have had a prophetic gift of some sort, but that’s not a qualification for church office.

“Who commissioned the Reformers and with what commissioning, ordinary or extraordinary?”

No one. The only relevant question is whether the Reformers met the Pauline qualifications for church office.

Your reasoning might have more traction with someone like Scott Clark, who has a more authoritarian concept of the church than I do. But it’s a nonstarter for a Biblicist and low/free churchman like me.


“Steve, in Orthodoxy, authority is predicated on the spiritual life such that the prophets, apostles, and saints in seeing the glory of the Lord have this authority.”

I appreciate the explanation. However, I have no reason to put the saints in the same class as the apostles and prophets. Indeed, I have good reason not to.

“Those who know and are of God are the final arbiter. Like the men you quote.”

But I the pertinent knowledge is tied to inspiration, which had its terminus at ad quem with the death of the apostles and some of their handpicked deputies.

“The prophets, Christ, and the apostles held men accountable to their testimony whether some judged it true or not.”

True, which is why heretics and impenitents don’t get away with anything in the long run.

God in three persons

Cornelius Van Til made the notorious claim that “We do assert that God, that is, the whole Godhead, is one person,” An Introduction to Systematic Theology (P&R 1974), 229.

I’ll evaluate that statement shortly, but I’m going to work through some other issues before I return to his controversial claim.

1.For high churchmen, the correct articulation of the Trinity turns on word-studies regarding the patristic or Scholastic usage of terms like ousia, physis, hypostasis, prosopon, and their Latin counterparts, viz. substantia, subsistentia, essentia, persona.

But from a Protestant perspective, especially the “Biblicist” variety, whatever terms we use are basically verbal placeholders to capture what the Bible has to say about the Trinity.

2.Aquinas defined the members of the Trinity as “subsistent relations.” On the face of it, there are problems with that definition:

i) A relation is a property of a property-holder. There are no properties without corresponding property-holders.

ii) While persons generate relations, relations don’t generate persons. (By “generate” I mean a logical relation of entailment).

“Relation” is too impersonal to define the members of the Trinity.

3.Some theologians, like Barth, define the members of the Trinity as “modes of subsistence.” But this definition is not without its own difficulties:

i) The definition is fine as far as it goes, but it’s too indiscriminate. Just about anything can be a mode of subsistence. A chair is a mode of subsistence. Ideally, we should select terms that are more specific to the object under review. Terms that distinguish one type of object from another.

ii) Apropos (i), “mode of subsistence” is too impersonal to define the members of the Trinity.

Of course, one might say the same thing about the term “member.” But I’m deliberately using a neutral term at this stage of the discussion to avoid prejudging the best formulation.

4.Theologians often use the word “person” to define the members of the Trinity. Of course, you then have to define “person.”

Some theologians (like Barth) tell us that we can’t use “person” in the modern, psychological sense, because three persons in that sense would amount to tritheism. But there are problems with that objection:

i) On historical grounds alone, this doesn’t strike me as an especially modern definition. Boethius classically defined persona as “an individual substance of a rational nature.”

Here I assume that “rational” has an Aristotelian connotation. To be rational is to be in possession of a mind or intellect.

ii) It’s bad theological method to begin with a generic category like “tritheism,” then formulate our doctrine of God to avoid that category. God is like whatever God is like. Our theology must conform to God’s self-disclosure, and not some antecedent parameters.

5.A “person” is sometimes defined as a “center of consciousness.” Of course, if you define “person” by consciousness,” you then have to define “consciousness.” I assume this term has been popularized in Trinitarian discussions due to the emphasis on consciousness in modern philosophy of mind.

“Consciousness” has both popular and technical senses. At a popular level, it can be synonymous with lucidity or a waking state.

At a popular level, it can also be synonymous with self-awareness, as well as awareness of one’s surroundings. The ability to draw a subject/object distinction.

6.Apropos (4)-(5), the issue confronting us is not so much to begin with a definition, and then find a corresponding object–but to begin with the object under review, and then find a word that approximates, as best we can, the kind of object the word is used to denote.

The Bible ascribes certain attributes and actions to God. Because the human reader is a person or conscious entity, he can analogize from his own mental life and behavior to those ascriptions.

If we use words like “person” or “center of consciousness” to denote the members of the Trinity, that’s because, as personal agents, we have a capacity to recognize personal traits in others–including Biblical descriptions of God or the Godhead.

The human reader is using himself as a proximate point of reference. Of course, we must also make allowance for the revealed differences between God and man.

I happen to think that words like “person” or “center of consciousness” are the best available words to summarize Biblical God-talk.

7.Van Til’s statement is problematic on one of two possible grounds:

To use the same count noun (one, three) with the same common noun (person) either generates a contradiction or equivocation.

If he’s using the common noun (person) in the same sense in each numbered occurrence, then the usage is contradictory. And if he’s using the common noun in a different sense, then the usage is equivocal.

In principle, it’s possible to qualify his usage in a way that avoids either equivocation or contradiction. It is, however, better to avoid a confusing formulation in the first place.

Now, if we take the position that the Trinity is paradoxical, then there’s nothing inherently wrong with a paradoxical formulation. If the Trinity is paradoxical, then any accurate formulation would have to preserve the paradoxical element.

But even on that assumption, we need to avoid gratuitously paradoxical formulations. Where the paradox is generated, not by the truth we’re trying to formulate, but by the words themselves.

8.Apropos (6), what do Biblical descriptions of the Trinity tell us about the Godhead?

i) Each member of the Trinity is a self-conscious individual. A personal, rational agent.

(By “individual,” I don’t mean a separate being, but a distinct consciousness.)

ii) Each member of the Trinity is also conscious of the other two members of the Trinity.

Not merely conscious of their existence. But sharing the same knowledge. The same basic thought-content.

(They don’t share exactly the same beliefs, for the Son believes that he is the Son, and not the Father, &c.)

And they share this in common because they are the same being. The same God.

iii) So, in addition to the multiple self-consciousness of the Godhead, there is also a collective consciousness or group consciousness.

And this goes deeper than those SF scenarios in which telepathic aliens can read other minds. For in that scenario you’re dealing with two or more separate entities who happen to know each others thoughts.

In the Trinity by contrast, they know each other’s thoughts because they are the very same being. A single, timeless, indivisible being.

9.And this is why, in Scripture, it’s possible for God to speak or act as one person. Not because he is one person. But because, in addition to his multiple self-consciousness, he also has a collective consciousness.

Likewise, each member of the Trinity can speak or act on behalf of the others. They can represent each other because, at a profound level, they are symmetrical.

10.It’s not my aim in this little post to harmonize the Trinity. But as I’ve said in the past, if I were casting about for a harmonistic principle, I’d model the Trinity on symmetries. In particular, the geometric notion of enantiomorphism. A symmetry is both one and many.

The Godhead is self-symmetrical. The Trinity is a symmetry of persons–three persons.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Kinder gentler Arminianism

Charles Wesley

Oh Horrible Decree
Worthy of whence it came!
Forgive their hellish blasphemy
Who charge it on the Lamb.

The righteous God consigned
Them over to their doom,
And sent the Saviour of mankind
To damn them from the womb;

To damn for falling short
Of what they could not do
For not believing the report
Of that which was not true.


God, ever merciful and just
With newborn babes did Tophet fill;
Down into endless torments thrust;
Merely to show His sovereign will.

This is that ‘Horrible Decree!’
This that wisdom from beneath!
God (O detect the blasphemy)
Hath pleasure in the sinner’s death.

John Wesley

Such blasphemy this, as one would think might make the ears of a Christian to tingle! But there is yet more behind; for just as it honours the Son, so doth this doctrine honour the Father. It destroys all his attributes at once: It overturns both his justice, mercy, and truth; yea, it represents the most holy God as worse than the devil, as both more false, more cruel, and more unjust.

This is the blasphemy clearly contained in the horrible decree of predestination! And here I fix my foot. On this I join issue with every assertor of it. You represent God as worse than the devil; more false, more cruel, more unjust. But you say you will prove it by scripture. Hold! What will you prove by Scripture? That God is worse than the devil? It cannot be. Whatever that Scripture proves, it never proved this; whatever its true meaning be. This cannot be its true meaning. Do you ask, "What is its true meaning then?" If I say, " I know not," you have gained nothing; for there are many scriptures the true sense whereof neither you nor I shall know till death is swallowed up in victory. But this I know, better it were to say it had no sense, than to say it had such a sense as this. It cannot mean, whatever it mean besides, that the God of truth is a liar. Let it mean what it will, it cannot mean that the Judge of all the world is unjust. No scripture can mean that God is not love, or that his mercy is not over all his works; that is, whatever it prove beside, no scripture can prove predestination.

Hearest thou not that God is the devouring lion, the destroyer of souls, the murderer of men? Moloch caused only children to pass though the fire: and that fire was soon quenched; or, the corruptible body being consumed, its torment was at an end; but God, thou are told, by his eternal decree, fixed before they had done good or evil, causes, not only children of a span long, but the parents also, to pass through the fire of hell, the 'fire which never shall be quenched; and the body which is cast thereinto, being now incorruptible and immortal, will be ever consuming and never consumed, but 'the smoke of their torment,' because it is God's good pleasure, 'ascendeth up for ever and ever.' "

Sing, O hell, and rejoice, ye that are under the earth! For God, even the mighty God, hath spoken, and devoted to death thousands of souls, form the rising of the sun unto the going down thereof! Here, O death, is they sting! They shall not, cannot escape; for the mouth of the Lord hath spoken it. Here, O grave is thy victory. Nations yet unborn, or ever they have done good or evil are doomed never to see the light of life, but thou shalt gnaw upon them for ever and ever! Let all those morning stars sing together, who fell with Lucifer, son of the morning! Let all the sons of hell shout for joy! For the decree is past, and who shall disannul it?"

Shadowboxing with a lepresean

Sean Gerety has cobbled together another reply:

”In spite of Hays’ gross mischaracterization of Clark, you’ll note that Clark clearly differentiates the three divine Persons simply because each Person does not think precisely the same set of thoughts. If Clark were a modalist, as Hays falsely charges, then all three Persons would think exactly the same thoughts simply because God would be numerically one Person. Each of the three ‘Persons’ would be different expressions of one Person.”

This is inept on several grounds:

i) A modalist does distinguish the persons of the Trinity. Modalism doesn’t deny the existence of personal distinctions in the Godhead.

What modalism denies, rather, is a distinction between the immanent Trinity and the economic Trinity. Modalism distinguishes between appearance and reality. God is apparently Trinitarian, but really Unitarian.

ii) So the question at issue is not whether Clark differentiates the persons, but his principle of individuation. On Clark’s model, what kind of distinguishing thoughts differentiate one Trinitarian person from another? Here are some of Clark’s examples:

“Though they [the Persons of the Godhead] are equally omniscient, they do not all know the same truths. Neither the complex of truths we call the Farther nor those we call the Spirit, has the proposition, ’I was incarnated.’ This proposition occurs only in the Son’s complex. Other examples are implied. The Father cannot say, ‘I walked from Jerusalem to Jericho.”

Notice that these are propositions about the world, not propositions about God in himself. They involve God’s economic relations. God’s relation to the world.

That principle of individuation reduces the immanent Trinity to the economic Trinity–which is classic modalism.

iii) At this point, the only possible way to rescue Clark from modalism is to resort to pantheism. If you argue that God is identical with the world, then economic Trinitarian distinctions would be equivalent to immanent Trinitarian relations.

Either way you carve it up, Clark’s position is heretical. It’s just a choice of heresies: either pantheism or modalism.

“So much for Hays’ charge that Clark was a modalist.”

And so much for Gerety’s countercharge that Clark was not.

“As far as Hays’ even wilder charge that Clark is guilty of ‘pantheistic idealism’ for defining a person as a congeries of thoughts, I suppose Solomon was also guilty of ‘pantheistic idealism’ when he wrote; ‘For as a man thinks within himself, so he is.’ ”

i) Notice that Gerety doesn’t attempt to directly refute my charge. But my charge follows from a premise supplied by Clark. If a human being is reducible to a set of divine ideas, then a human being is consubstantial with the Godhead.

ii) Quoting Prov 31:7 is no counterargument to the charge of pantheistic idealism, for Clark and Gerety construe the passage idealistically. So you end up with a theistic version of objective idealism–a la Berkeley.

iii) It’s also striking that Gerety is too incompetent to even exegete his prooftext. Here is the complete verse:

“For he is like one who is inwardly calculating. ‘Eat and drink!’ he says to you, but his heart is not with you” (ESV).

Notice that this verse sets up a contrast between what people say and what they actually think (to themselves). That involves a dualistic contrast between the spoken word and the private thought.

Yet idealism is monistic. So this is not a prooftext for idealism. Just the opposite.

“Of course, since no two people think precisely the same thoughts, no two people are the same person.”

i) That doesn’t rescue Clark from the charge of pantheistic idealism. One human being may have a different set of thoughts than another human being, but ultimately, in Clark’s ontology, human thoughts are divine thoughts. God’s concept of this or that human being.

ii) Moreover, how does Gerety even know about other people or other minds? What’s his point of access?

“Obviously this last accomplishment is something intolerable to confused Vantilians like Hays where God is said to be one Person and three Persons at the same time.”

i) I invite Gerety to quote me on that. Let him document where I ever said that.

ii) In addition, it’s meaningless to say what a timeless God is like or unlike “at the same time.”

What does Gerety’s denial amount to? If he denies that God is one person and three persons “at the same time,” does that stand in contrast to what God is like at different times? Is that Gerety’s distinction?

“Indeed, no man can learn what the Bible teaches through the use of his senses. Contrary to Hays, this is not a view exclusive to Scripturalism. Paul said, ‘But the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned’ (1 Cor 2:14). The things of God are ‘spiritually’ and not, as Hays would have us believe, physically or sensually discerned. Hays seems to think men learn with they eyes in their heads and even come to Christ via his untenable and unbiblical theory of ‘sense knowledge’.”

The problems multiply for Sean’s position:

i) The very paragraph I quoted is a sensory object. Sean typed this paragraph on a computer keyboard, the posted it on his blog. The Internet is a sensory mode of communication.

Sean had to type visible letters, composing visible words.

ii) Sean quotes 1 Cor 2:14. Hmm. That comes from a letter which Paul wrote (or dictated) to the Corinthians. The process involves the production of a visible text. Inscribing letters on papyrus. The letter was then read aloud to the Corinthians. The lector used his eyes to read Paul’s letter while the audience uses their ears to hear the recitation.

iii) Sean also quotes from an English version of 1 Cor 2:14. In particular, the KJV.

How did Sean become acquainted with the KJV? Did he read it?

Of did the Holy Spirit upload the KJV of 1 Cor 2:14 directly into Gerety’s mind? Is the Holy Spirit a KJV-Onlyist?

When a Catholic quotes from the NJB, or a feminist quotes from the TNIV, or a cultist quotes from the NWT, is the Holy Spirit uploading different translations?

iv) How did Sean acquire his knowledge of English? When the Holy Spirit uploads 1 Cor 2:14 directly into Gerety’s mind, does the Holy Spirit also upload a working knowledge of Elizabethan English? Is this like “Spock’s Brain,” where McCoy acquires instant knowledge of brain transplant surgery through a neural interface?

v) Does the Holy Spirit upload the complete text of Scripture directly into the mind of every Christian?

vi) On a Scripturalist epistemology, how do English words correspond to Greek and Hebrew words? And how do Greek and Hebrew words correspond to concepts?

vii) Notice that Gerety doesn’t actually bother to exegete his prooftext. He makes no effort to demonstrate that Paul is setting up a contrast between what is spiritual and what is physical.

The actual point of contrast is between the regenerate and the unregenerate, not between the material and the immaterial. Paul himself made use of physical materials to convey 1 Cor 2:14 to the Corinthians. He dictated written words, to be seen or heard.

“Notice, those who saw Jesus with their eyes, heard Him teach, witnessed His miracles, and who were perhaps even healed by the touch of His hand, all drew the wrong conclusion about who Jesus was with the exception of Peter.”

But Jesus himself appeals to his words and works:

“I told you, and you do not believe. The works that I do in my Father’s name bear witness about me” (Jn 10:25).

“Believe me that I am in the Father and the Father is in me, or else believe on account of the works themselves” (Jn 14:11).

“If I had not come and spoken to them, they would not have been guilty of sin, but now they have no excuse for their sin” (Jn 15:22).

And what about the folks who “drew the wrong conclusions” from his words and works? Are they culpable? Why would they be culpable if they can’t learn about Jesus from his words and works?

To the contrary, it’s because these sensory media convey genuine information about Jesus that his listeners (to his words) or eyewitnesses (to his works) are blameworthy if they respond in disbelief.

“Did Peter simply have better eyesight whereas the rest needed glasses? Were his auditory nerves more sensitive while the rest were in need of hearing aids? Of course not. Jesus said that God the Father had revealed the truth about Jesus immediately to Peter’s mind and to the saving of his soul.”

Of course, Peter was an apostle. We expect Peter to be a recipient of divine revelation.

Does Gerety take the position that every Christian is privately inspired? If doctrinal truths a directly revealed to every Christian, then the Bible is not the only source of knowledge.

Biblical knowledge is mediate knowledge, not immediate knowledge. Our knowledge of revealed truths is mediated by the instrumentality of the written word.

“Jesus said that Peter did not come to this knowledge by the means of ‘flesh and blood,’ which is just another way of saying Peter did not come to the truth of Christ through Hays’ empirically discerned and oxymoronic ‘sense knowledge’.”

Didn’t come to which truth about Christ? Didn’t come to any truth about Christ?

Does Gerety take the position that Peter couldn’t learn anything about the teaching of Christ by hearing him preach the Sermon on the Mount? Does Gerety take the position that Peter couldn’t learn anything about the mission of the Holy Spirit by hearing Christ deliver the Upper Room discourse?

On Gerety’s view, why did Jesus ever speak? Ever open his mouth? Why did Jesus ever perform a miracle?

To draw a distinction between sense knowledge and saving knowledge does nothing to salvage Gerety’s position.

Did I ever equate the two? No. There’s an elementary distinction between knowing the truth and responding appropriately. The devil is a very erudite theologian. The devil is not an unbeliever because his knowledge of theology is deficient.

Rather, the devil is simply defiant. He rebels against a known truth. Sins against the light.

“Besides, and according to Jonathan Edwards, ‘light and knowledge is always spoken of [in Scripture] as immediately given of God,’ and if immediately given, then it follows that ‘light and knowledge’ cannot be mediated through the senses.”

i) If all knowledge is immediately given by God, then the Bible is not the only source of knowledge. Indeed, on that view, the Bible is not even a partial source of knowledge.

ii) Does Scripture always speak of knowledge as immediately given by God? The claim is self-refuting. If Edwards is appealing to Scripture, then he is dependent on Scripture rather than immediate knowledge.

“Edwards would have little in common with Hays.”

Edwards is not my rule of faith. And claiming that Edwards says Scripture says something is not the same thing as documenting what Scripture actually says.

That’s a claim about Scripture, not a claim from Scripture itself.

“The above is one of many pinaetas Hays has formed in his own mind and for his own destructive amusement. Too bad it has nothing to do with the Scripturalism of Gordon Clark. Nowhere have I said that we learn what the Bible teaches through ‘innate knowledge’.” Nowhere has Clark said that we learn what the Bible teaches through ‘innate knowledge’.”

For someone to prides himself on his logicality, it’s ironic to see how clueless Gerety is. Was I imputing that position to Sean? No. Was I imputing that position to Clark? No.

Rather, I was using a standard form of argument: process of elimination.

How does a Scripturalist know Scripture? If he denies sense knowledge, then what remaining options are available to him?

“Clark did argue that all men possess the apriori or innate equipment that makes knowledge possible. For example, in his book, The Biblical Doctrine of Man, Clark makes an extended argument that the image of God in man is logic and the forms of logic make up the architecture of man’s mind and which presupposes communication between God and man, man and man, and even righteousness and sin.”

Notice that Sean is fudging. By his own admission, man does possess innate knowledge of logic.

But in that case, Scripture is not the only source of knowledge. And this is not a trivial exception.

“We also learn in Romans that men also have God’s law written on their minds and that even apart from the revelation of the law given to Moses, their conscience bear witness to the Law as ‘their thoughts alternately accusing or else defending them (Romans 2:15)’.”

Assuming, for the sake of argument, that this is the correct interpretation of Rom 2:15 (pace Cranfield, Jewett, Wright), this would involve another major exception to Scripturalist epistemology.

That’s a classic form of natural law theology. Thomas Aquinas would appreciate Gerety’s concession.

According to Gerety, man enjoys innate knowledge of logic as well as innate knowledge of morality.

Gerety has now torpedoed his Scripturalist epistemology by two fatal concessions.

“Quite apart from the revelation of Scripture it would be impossible to know anything about the apriori in man.”

That doesn’t follow from what Gerety previously said. Quite the contrary. Assuming, for the sake of argument, that Scripture vouches for man’s innate knowledge of logic and morality, this doesn’t mean it would be impossible to know about our a priori logical or morality apart from Scripture.

Indeed, if we possess an innate knowledge of logical and morality, then we don’t need Scriptural revelation to that effect. That, at most, would be confirmatory.

Apart from Scripture we might not know their source of origin, but that doesn’t mean we couldn’t know the end-product. Even if we didn’t know that our innate knowledge was innate, we’d still possess innate knowledge.

Knowing about knowledge is second-order knowledge. Not to be confused with the primary object of knowledge.

“I hardly think even Hays would want to replace the Biblical apriori for, say, Kant’s categories?”

In what sense is innate knowledge a Biblical “a priori”? If it’s innate, then it’s not supplied by Scripture. At best, Scripture corroborates this phenomenon or identifies the source.

It’s given in Scripture in the sense that Scripture (allegedly) mentions it, but it’s not given by Scripture, as if Scripture were the source.

Sean is trying to play both sides of the fence. The result is to fall on one side, then the other side.

If Scripture is the only source of knowledge, then no knowledge can be innate. If some knowledge is innate, then Scripture cannot be the only source of knowledge. There is no middle ground.

“But, who knows? Perhaps Kant’s categories are ‘properly basic’ and constitute ‘knowledge’ for Hays as well.”

i) Sean hasn’t shown that I subscribe to Reformed epistemology.

ii) And even if I did, properly basic beliefs are not equivalent to knowledge in Reformed epistemology.

One of Sean’s many problems is that he can’t deal with real live opponents. That would require him to think on his feet. And he has no capacity to do that.

Instead, Sean begins with a generic position like empiricism or Reformed theology–not that he even has an accurate grasp of the generic positions.

He then tries to pigeon hole his opponent into one of these generic positions, regardless of whether that’s an accurate description of his opponent’s position.

This makes it easier for Sean. Sean needs all the crutches he can reach for.

It has nothing to do with what I actually believe, or Manata, or Sudduth.

“I will say that somehow and somewhere Clark’s critics seemed to have picked up the idea that Clark argued that all true propositions are innate in man and that coming to the truth in Scripture is merely a stimulus for recollection of propositions already present or residing within man. I don’t know if that is the cause of Hays’ error here, but I suspect it is.”

Case in point. Notice that Sean isn’t responding to anything I actually said. He can’t point to anything I said to bear out this contention.

Sean keeps tilting at windmills because he’s too incompetent to deal with a real live opponent. Sean can’t think for himself. Sean can only regurgitate the arguments of Gordon Clark and John Robbins.

Unless something is written down on his cue cards, Sean is helpless to respond.

“What Clark denied is that knowledge is mediated through the senses and that so-called ‘sense knowledge’ is nothing more than an unsupported and giant petitio.”

Consider that sentence. Sean typed that sentence on a computer keyboard, then posted it on the Internet. That sentence is, itself, a sensory object.

The sentence that “sense knowledge is nothing more than an unsupported and giant petitio,” is, itself, a sensory object. Hence, Sean’s assertion of a petitio is, itself a petitio.

For someone who fancies himself a Christian rationalist, you’d be hard put to find someone quite as obtuse as Sean Gerety. He’s like a bird that keeps flying into the same window.

The bird hits a window. Is momentarily dazed. Then it flies back into the window a second time, and a third, and a fourth…

Poor little Gerety keeps banging his birdbrain against the same window. Thump, thump, thump. Bump, bump, bump. He can’t kick the habit of typing self-refuting statements. That’s because Scripturalism is incoherent. There’s no consistent way to argue for Scrituralism.

He’d be safer in a cage. Barring that, perhaps we could buy him a helmet.

“We know the above saints existed and still exist because the Scriptures say so.”

Which ducks the question of how Sean can know what the Scriptures say.

What is Sean going to do? Quote the King James Bible? Yeah, that’s a great way to prove Scripturalism.

“The saints listed above are accounted for in accordance with the axiom of the Christian faith; the Scriptures.”

But Sean can’t know what the Scriptures say. Heck, Sean can’t even know if the Scriptures exist. He can only opine, which is indistinguishable from sheer ignorance.

“Does Hays really believe the Scriptures are some kind of paper pope that he can parade around when he’s pretending to do ‘apologetics’?”

Scripture is my paper pope, while Robbins is his paper pope. I like my pope better than his.

“Rather than ink marks on the pages of a black book, the Scriptures are the eternal thoughts of God who alone is Truth.”

And how do finite creatures access the eternal thoughts of God? Is Sean God? Is Sean’s mind God’s mind?

The Scriptures are not God’s eternal thoughts. The Scriptures are a set of writings. That’s why they’re called “scriptures.” They inscripturate revelation.

Moses wrote the Pentateuch (e.g. Exod 24:20). Luke wrote the gospel bearing his name (Lk 1:3). John wrote the gospel bearing his name (Jn 21:24). John wrote Revelation (e.g. Rev 1:11). Paul wrote Romans (Rom 15:15).

The Scriptures are a storage and retrieval mechanism. That’s how we access God’s revelation to Israel. That’s how we access God’s revelation to the church. That’s why God inspired prophets and apostles to commit his revelations to writing.

“Hays seem to be under some delusion that if knowledge is not acquired through the senses then no knowledge is possible at all.”

Which I never said or implied. But the Bible is a sensory object. If sense knowledge is impossible, then the Bible is unknowable.

“If Hays’ arguments (or, better, assertions) were true, then God could also know nothing for the simple reason that God has no sense organs.”

As usual, Sean is burning a straw man. Sean can’t handle a real live opponent.

“Silly me.”

For once, Sean says something I agree with. I commend his self-assessment. For a fleeting moment of lucidity, he nails his own position for what it is.

“First, Hays claims to know through observing 999 ravens that 999 ravens are black. The problem is, Hays’ observations do not permit him to conclude anything true about ravens or anything else for that matter.”

Of course it does. It permits me to conclude that 999 ravens are black. As a result of observing 999 black ravens, I know something true about ravens: to wit, at least 999 ravens are black.

That’s something about ravens I would not have known apart from observation.

“The most he can say is that some ravens are black, but he can never know if the proposition ‘ravens are black’ pertains to all ravens that are now, were, or forever more will be.”

Let’s see. What did I originally say? Sean even quotes me. I said:

“That doesn’t tell me that all ravens are black, or even that most ravens are black. But it does tell me that some ravens are black.”

How does Sean respond to that statement? He says:

“The most he can say is that some ravens are black, but he can never know if the proposition ‘ravens are black’ pertains to all ravens that are now, were, or forever more will be.”

Isn’t that a paraphrase of what I originally said? Did I claim that enumerative induction can justify a universal inference? No. In fact, I explicitly said otherwise.

How does Sean respond? He objects to my statement by essentially paraphrasing my statement. Can you get any dumber than that?

But this is Sean’s problem. Because he can’t think for himself, he can’t adapt to a novel argument. All he can do is recite his cue cards. If it’s not in his cue cards, he’s at a total loss.

Sean has his little set of scripted objections and pat answers. For example, he has some scripted objections to empiricism. And he’s spoiling for a stereotypical empiricist to come along.

Sean’s problem is that I departed from the script. But because Sean can’t ad lib, he’s at a loss. All he can do is to stick to his script, even if it’s completely unresponsive to what his opponent actually said.

For someone who lauds the primacy of the intellect, Sean is a study in anti-intellectualism. He’s a jukebox, programmed to play the greatest hits of Gordon Clark and John Robbins.

That’s why you can’t have a rational exchange with Gerety. It’s like trying to debate a jukebox. All you can do is put in your nickels and dimes and quarters and listen to him replay the golden oldies of dead Scripturalists.

“Observing that 999 ravens are black isn’t to arrive at any ‘knowledge’ at all and provides us with no final truth (pardon the redundancy), no knowledge about ravens, or anything else.”

i) To the contrary, I arrive at knowledge about the pigmentation of 999 ravens. And that’s a truth. It’s not the only truth. But it’s true about those 999 ravens, at the time I saw them.

ii) Sean keeps tacking on this disclaimer about “anything else.” What’s that supposed to mean? How is that relevant?

No, observing 999 ravens doesn’t necessarily tell me about anything else. It doesn’t tell me about swans. So what?

How is it a problem for observation to say that observing one sort of thing doesn’t necessarily tell me anything about something else I didn’t observe?

Suppose I break my arm falling off a horse. The doctor x-rays my arm. Observing the fracture doesn’t tell him anything about the value of the Euro in relation to the yen, but what does that have to do with anything?

This is the kind of rank stupidity you get in dealing with a Scripturalist.

“Any conclusions that Hays might make about ravens from his multiple observations must remain tentative at best.”

Tentative in relation to what? The 999 black ravens I saw? What’s tentative about that? I saw 999 black ravens.

From observing 999 black ravens, I conclude that there are at least 999 black ravens. What’s tentative about that conclusion?

That it’s tentative to extrapolate from 999 ravens to every raven? Sure. But that’s a different issue. That doesn’t render the conclusion regarding the 999 ravens the least bit tentative. At best, it would only be tentative in relation to other ravens, outside the sample.

“His argument, provided we simply grant that it’s true and that he even observed 999 ravens, is that some ravens are black.”

Which would be true. It would be true that some ravens are black. That’s true for 999 ravens. That’s an object of knowledge.

Gerety can’t bring himself to admit the obvious–even when it’s staring him in the face–because his belief-system is too fragile to survive any internal adjustments.

“Some ravens might be brown, white or blue too.”

Of course, we could only find that out through observation. So Sean’s objection presupposes the value of observation to discover counterexamples. Thanks, Sean, for making my point!

“Knowledge, properly understood, is concerned with the truth, not whether something might be true, or may be true in ‘some’ cases, but that which is always true and in every case.”

I see. So unless everyone is going to heaven, no one is going to heaven. Unless everyone is going to hell, no one is going to hell.

Unless everyone can change water into wine, no one can change water into wine.

According to Sean, the miracle at Cana is unknowable. According to Sean, unique events are unknowable. Even rare or frequent events are unknowable.

According to Sean, the only knowable events are events that happen in every single case.

And, of course, as a card-carrying Scripturalist, Sean learned that from the Bible. There are no unique events in Scripture. Or merely rare or frequent events.

So Sean denies the Virgin Birth. You see, knowledge, properly understood, is concerned with the truth, not whether something might be true, or may be true in ‘some’ cases, but that which is always true and in every case. Unless everyone is virgin-born, no one is virgin-born.

BTW, Sean Gerety’s middle name is Troeltsch.

“Induction can never arrive at one universally true statement like ‘all men are sinners’.”

That’s only a problem if all truths are universal truths. What if some truths are unique, unrepeatable truths?

“There is no ‘all’ in inductive arguments, there is only ‘some’ and ‘maybe.’ This is the real limitation of Hays’ so-called ‘sense knowledge.’ It can never arrive at the knowledge of anything at all.”

i) Statements about “something” or “someone” or ‘sometime” or “somewhere” can’t be true. Sean knows this because Sean, as a good Scripturalist, derives all his knowledge from Scripture, and Scripture itself never makes sortal statements like “They saw that some of his disciples ate with hands that were defiled, that is, unwashed” (Mk 7:2), or “There are some of you who do not believe” (Jn 6:64), or “In order somehow to make my fellow Jews jealous, and thus save some of them” (Rom 11:14), or “The sins of some men are conspicuous, going before them to judgment, but the sins of others appear later” (1 Tim 5:24).

ii) Incidentally, to say that sense-knowledge is limited is hardly an argument against the possibility of sense knowledge. That’s a brazen non sequitur.

“Further, Hays simply begs the question when he claims to have observed 999 black ravens. He has never demonstrated his claim, he merely asserts it. He doesn’t show how one can start with sensation and arrive at the true proposition that even 1 raven is black. Hays hasn’t even defined what he means by sensation, nor has he shown that men have them, but I suspect it has something to do with his ‘observations’.”

i) Of course, this very paragraph, which involves a denial of sense knowledge is, itself, a sensory object. A string of visible letters, comprising visible words and sentences. So, if anything, the burden of proof lies squarely on Sean to demonstrate his empirical claim that no empirical claim is demonstrable. Sean keeps banging his own head against his own window–feathers flying every which ways.

ii) Gerety hasn’t shown what it means to “show how one can start with sensation and arrive at the true proposition that even1 raven is black.”

He hasn’t even defined what it means to show it, much less shown it.

iii) For that matter, why do we have to define something to know something? Does a baby not know what a breast is unless he can define a breast?

Lion cubs and bear cubs seem to know a breast when they see it. Yet I doubt the average bear cub could define the term.

iv) Moreover, why is Sean raising philosophical objections to sense-knowledge? Why does he retreat to “vain philosophy”?

The so-called problem of induction is a philosophical problem. But Sean is a Scripturalist.

Suppose, for the sake of argument, that I can’t formally justify sense-knowledge? So what? That’s not a Scriptural objection, now is it?

And unless it’s a Scriptural objection, it’s not a knowledgeable objection. At best it’s an opinionated objection, which is indistinguishable from an ignorant objection.

v) Speaking of Scripture, doesn’t the Bible use color terms? You know, statements like, “And I looked, and behold, a white horse!…And out came another horse, bright red…And I looked, and behold, a black horse!…I looked, and behold, a pale horse!” (Rev 6:2-8).

John is using Greek color terms. These terms have their origin in secular Greek usage. Greek speakers coined certain words to distinguish one color from another. And that, in turn, is based on their observation of the world.

Or consider Jesus giving street directions: “Behold, when you have entered the city, a man carrying a jar of water will meet you. Follow him into the house that he enters” (Lk 22:10); “Rise and go to the street called Straight, and at the house of Judas look for a man of Tarsus named Saul, for behold, he is praying” (Acts 9:11).

It takes sensory perception to follow these directions. To match a verbal description with a sensory counterpart.

Scripturalism is a giant fraud. Scripturalism is a philosophical position, not a Scriptural position. Scripturalism begins with schoolboy objections to empiricism. It didn’t get any of that from Scripture. Rather, it got that from Sophism and Platonism and Neoplatonism and Hume.

It then proceeds to graft an essentially philosophical and secular theory of knowledge onto Scripture. But no one who took his cue from Scripture alone would advance such a skeptical view of sense-knowledge or induction.

“Notice what Hays does here in this long convoluted example. He has substituted his own pragmatic assumptions concerning the reliability of his keyboard with knowledge. He doesn’t know that when he hits the symbol ‘A’ on his computer keyboard that an ‘A’ will appear on his desktop, he just assumes it will simply because he assumes his keyboard is ‘functioning properly.’

Sean typed these sentences on a computer keyboard. What did he expect to happen when he depressed certain keys in a certain order?

If an artifact is designed to perform a particular function, and we’ve tested it, then we can expect it to function in the way it was designed. Sean himself operates with that expectation. Do you think Sean bought a computer with no expectation that it would perform according to specifications?

And that expectation isn’t based on induction alone. Rather, it’s based on design.

It’s the same way with the natural world. God has designed the natural world to function in certain ways.

And we are to plan our lives accordingly. Seedtime and harvest (Gen 8:22).

“How this ‘proper functionality’ is supposed to equate to knowledge Hays doesn’t say. Not only does he admit that it is possible that a ‘random number of cases a keystroke won’t yield the corresponding letter,’ it only has to occur once to disprove his truth claim.”

To begin with, God doesn’t require us to know the future when he requires us to plan for the future. Only God has a detailed knowledge of the future. Yet the fool in Proverbs is reproved for his failure to think ahead. Failure to make provision for tomorrow.

So God often requires us to act on probabilities rather than certainties. And proper functionality is quite relevant to probabilities.

You can have a reasonable expectation, even if your expectation falls short of knowledge. Even if your expectations are sometimes mistaken.

ii) Moreover, a solitary exception doesn’t disprove my claim, since there is no expectation that a keyboard will never malfunction. The expectation, rather, is that my keyboard will function properly often enough to get the job done.

That is how Sean himself proceeds. Does Sean think his keyboard is either totally reliable or totally unreliable? No.

iii) Moreover, malfunctions don’t destroy the possibility of knowledge. They only destroy the possibility of knowledge in case of malfunction, not in all the other cases of proper function.

For example, people sometimes miscommunicate. Fail to understand each other. The message is garbled in transmission.

Does this mean that people never successfully communicate with each other? No.

Indeed, if successful communication were rendered impossible due to instances of miscommunication, it would be impossible to even detect instances of miscommunication.

“Could anything be more bankrupt or more paltry than Hays’ ‘knowledge’ claims? He confuses his own ‘well-placed confidence’ in the reliability of his keyboard with knowledge.”

i) Well-placed confidence can have a basis in knowledge. If I know an artifact was designed to perform a particular function, knowledge of its design undergirds my confidence. Likewise, if I have experience using the product, then I know that it’s worked well in the past.

ii) Even if experience alone didn’t warrant an extrapolation from the past to the future, experience is still a source of knowledge–knowledge of the past. Even if the future turned out to be completely dissimilar to the past, knowledge of the past doesn’t cease to be knowledge just because it isn’t a guide to the future.

Consider Sean’s own behavior Sean talks like Clark, but acts like Butler. His lips say one thing, but his fingers tell another story.

“Hays talks about memories being “sufficiently reliable,” but sufficiently reliable according to whom? ”

i) Well, far starters, what about Sean Gerety? Does Gerety not rely on his own memory? Everyday and every waking hour of the day?

Does Sean think that his own memories are either totally reliable or totally unreliable?

Does Sean think that someone with a photographical memory is no better off than someone with senile dementia?

Does Sean remember his wife? Does Sean remember his neighbor’s wife? Does Sean remember the difference?

Does Sean remember where to find his house? Does Sean remember how to type? Does Sean remember which key corresponds to which operation?

Does Sean remember the Bible? Does Sean remember where to find the Book of Isaiah or the Gospel of John? Does Sean remember Jn 3:16?

We don’t have to have perfectly reliable senses or perfectly reliable memories. Rather, we have to rely on what God has given us. God, in his providence, makes use of our senses and memories–including our misperceptions and faulty recollections.

Has Sean ever forgotten anything? Has Sean every misremembered anything? Does Sean thereafter avoid any reliance on his senses or memories in case they ever let him down?

ii) As a Scripturalist, we can rest assure Sean developed his skepticism about our memories from reading Scripture. Unless our memories are infallible, the Bible would never admonish us to “Remember this day in which you came out from Egypt, out of the house of slavery, for by a strong hand the Lord brought you out from this place” (Exod 13:3), or “Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy” (Exod 20:8), or “Set the two stones on the shoulder pieces of the ephod, as stones of remembrance for the sons of Israel” (Exod 28:2), or “Remember, then, what you received and heard. Keep it, and repent.” (Rev 3:3), or tell us, “This is my body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me” (Lk 22:19).

Commands like that would betray a “paltry” and “bankrupt” pragmatism.

i) As I’ve said before, Scripturalism doesn’t derive from Scripture. Rather, it’s a philosophical position. And it’s based on a very one-sided reading of philosophy at that. Conventional objections to empiricism. No discussion of how empiricists respond to conventional objections. No discussion of the objections which empiricists level against rationalists.

ii) Sean hates the world God gave us. Sean is at war with God’s handiwork. He doesn’t trust God. He distrusts our God-given faculties–even though he himself can’t avoid his utter and inescapable dependence on the very faculties he derides.

“Also, it would seem sense perception is synonymous to memory.”

Which I never said or implied. Sean is so illiterate.

“Memory is notoriously UN-reliable along with eyewitness testimony (which, I would think, is another case of ‘sense perception’). Perhaps Hays should spend some time on jury duty. But, even if he never enters a courtroom, he should at least spend some time considering the epistemic implications of the musical, Gigi.”

And perhaps Gerety should spend some time considering the epistemic implications of testimonial evidence in Scripture.

“Even Hays admits that senses ‘deceive us’ and that ‘memories sometimes fail,’ yet he claims that through the deceptions and failures he can deduce ‘natural patterns’ and ‘recognize design.’ Hays says that we are to plan for the future based on these deceptive sensations and failed memories.”

With Gerety, it’s always hard to tell if he’s quite as stupid as he sounds. Should we give him the benefit of the doubt?

i) There’s a difference between the claim that a faculty, which is sometimes unreliable, is a source of knowledge–and the claim a faculty is a source of knowledge when it’s unreliable. Is Gerety too dense to distinguish between these to very different propositions?

ii) Some animals have better daytime vision than nighttime vision, while other animals have better nighttime vision than daytime vision.

Poor nighttime vision doesn’t cast doubt on good daytime vision. Poor daytime vision doesn’t cast down on good nighttime vision.

Memory and sensory perception are modes of knowledge when they are functioning properly. They are not modes of knowledge when they malfunction.

Likewise, a car doesn’t drive very well when it has a flat tire. This doesn’t mean it makes no difference if you change the tire.

ii) Gerety cannot avoid the vicissitudes of fallible memory. Does Gerety have an infallible memory? No.

Yet everything he thinks he knows depends on memory. Short-term memory. Long-term memory.

iii) Unlike Gerety, I acknowledge the limitations of human finitude. But that’s nothing to fret over as long as we are finite creatures of an infinite Creator. God sees to it that his people know what they need to know when they need to know it. And God can keep us in his will even when we don’t know his will. Due to his all-embracing providence, we can do his will without knowing it–in advance of the fact. Indeed, at a decretive level, we cannot avoid doing his will. And those who consciously avoid God’s will unconsciously fulfill his will.

“Yet, in contrast to Hays irrational trust in his failed memories and faulty ‘sense perceptions’ as he ‘plans for the future,’ James tells us that all such planning is sinful.”

James doesn’t say we should distrust our senses or memories. And James doesn’t say we shouldn’t make plans. Rather, James says we shouldn’t act presumptuously. We could make allowance for the fact that our plans may not dovetail with God’s plans.

We have the same balance in Proverbs. On the one hand, the wise make preparations for the future. Have contingency plans. On the other hand, the wise also realize that human beings are shortsighted. The disposition of the world ultimately lies in God’s beneficent, but sometimes inscrutable, hands.

In context, James is addressing wealthy Christians. Rich people have more power than poor people. More resources. More options.

As a result, they have rather more control over their circumstances than poor people. If they don’t like their situation, they can often change it. They’re not at the mercy of circumstances to quite the same degree.

This, in turn, can lead to overconfidence. That’s what James is warning against. (See the commentaries by Blomberg and Moo for detailed exegesis).

That isn’t contrary to my stated position. That doesn’t support Gerety’s position. Quite the opposite: that corroborates my own position. According to James, planning for the future can’t be based on certainty, and, as such, ought not be based, on certainty. For certainly lies in God’s good hands, and not our own.

“Notice too the many weasel words Hays uses in order to get his ‘divine design’ theory past the uncritical reader. The past we are told is a ‘generally’ reliable guide. The world functions in a ‘fairly’ predictable way. Correlations of cause and effect ‘generally’ obtain.”

Sean typed this paragraph on a computer. Doesn’t he believe his computer was designed to function in a generally reliable and–therefore–fairly predictable way? Doesn’t he think that depressing a particular key in a particular order generally yields a predictable effect?

Would he invest is a generally unreliable computer? Would he buy a keyboard with unpredictable keystrokes? Doesn’t he count on computer technology to be a blogger?

“Cause and effect are ideas not derived from observation.”

i) I never said they were. To the contrary, I grounded cause and effect in the Biblical doctrine of created kinds.

ii) But where does Scripture say that ideas of cause and effect are not derived from observation? Sean didn’t get that from the Bible. He got that from Hume. Hume is his Bible.

His objections to induction are drawn, not from Scripture, but from philosophy. And just one particular strand of philosophy at that.

“The exceptions to the rule, miracles, completely vitiate Hays’ belief in so-called ‘sense knowledge’.”

Is that what Scripture says? Many Biblical miracles are public events. Deliberately so. Take the plagues of Egypt. These were meant to be a visible, tangible manifestation of God’s power and judgment.

Miracles are sensory events. Far from vitiating sense-knowledge, they presuppose it.

“Frankly, Hays’ belief in the past, cause and effect, not to mention observation would lead one to conclude that when ax heads are dropped they always fall to the ground...”

Notice that Sean isn’t responding to anything I actually said. Indeed, his objection runs counter to my qualified statements.

As always, Sean is helpless to rebut an opponent whose objections and arguments don’t conform to pat answers that Robbins drilled into his dutiful mascot. In the pecking order of Scripturalism, Sean is a poor man’s Robbins, while Robbins is a poor man’s Clark.

“Can there be anything more paltry and pathetic than Hays’ ‘divine design’ epistemology? Christians cannot draw ‘a universal inference from enumerative induction,’ they only draw tentative or ‘general’ inferences. Of course, the reason that the Christian, just like the atheist, cannot draw any universal inferences from their ‘enumerative inductions’ is because the form of the conclusion is not the same as the form of the premises. Or, to put it another way, the reason Christians do not draw universal inferences from ‘enumerative inductions’ is because all such conclusion are fallacious; they are false. Induction is just as fallacious for the Christian as it is for the atheist. Nothing in Hays’ ‘divine design’ theory makes any conclusions he might draw from his observations any less fallacious.”

i) The reason Gerety can’t tell the difference between a Christian outlook and a godless outlook is that Gerety’s own outlook is indistinguishable from a godless outlook. Gerety’s mentor is Hume, not Scripture.

For Hume, enumerative inductions are all we have to go by. That’s because Hume lacks a doctrine of divine creation or providence.

But Christians have a reason, above and beyond the past itself, to suppose the future will generally resemble the past. Take Gen 1, with its doctrine of natural kinds. Organisms reproduce after their kind.

Now, this doesn’t preclude a miraculous conception. And, in a fallen world, it doesn’t preclude birth defects. Freak mutations.

Things can malfunction. Or God can bypass the ordinary process.

But, as a rule, things reproduce according to their kind. And that’s something we depend on. For selective breeding and agriculture. It’s also something we depend on when we marry. Not in the sense that men can’t be impotent or women can’t be barren. But fertility is the default assumption. Moreover, we assume that men beget men, not kitten.

Likewise, crops can fail–due to drought or infestation. Do we therefore refrain from sowing seed? Would Gerety have us go on a hunger strike unless God guarantees a bumper crop?

Sean suffers from the same mentality as a psychic. He can’t leave the outcome to God. No, he has to divine the outcome for himself. Play his Clarkian Tarot cards.

“As we have seen, Hays is not interested in knowledge.”

This is from a man who says you can never trust your own memories. Well, as far as knowledge goes, once you eliminate memory, what is left?

Say the present moment is 7:55:48. Everything before that, beginning at 7:55:47, lies in the past. The remembered past. But according to Gerety, memory is not a source of knowledge. So what does Gerety know? At 7:55:48, he knows nothing that happened a second before. Nothing a minute ago, or ten minutes ago.

“Epistemology for him is simply a game of chance.”

i) As long as God is the croupier, I’m game to play epistemological roulette. I roll the dice God’s given me. After all, casting lots is a biblical practice. Does a Scripturalist disapprove of Scripture?

ii) Anyway, Gerety is just posturing. Imagine a world that operated according to Scripturalist principles.

Suppose that Gerety parks his car in a numbered slot on a numbered floor of a public garage, then returns an hour later. Keep in mind that, in Gerety’s world, there’s no presumption that the future bears any resemblance to the past. His car may vanish into thin air the moment his back is turned.

So, in Gerety’s world, returning to the parking garage is fraught with adventure.

Does he remember where he parked his car? Yet memory is hopelessly unreliable. But even if he does remember, there’s no expectation that his car will still be in the same slot, or even on the same floor. The floors may have changed places while he was away. Numbers on parking slots may have erased themselves and renumbered themselves.

Does he remember what his car looks like? Does he remember the color? Oh, but that would rely on sensation. Unless he can first define sensation, he doesn’t have a clue whether his car is black or white or pink or purple or green or yellow or orange.

Suppose, by luck, he stumbles across his car. But he needs to double-check the serial number. The serial number may have added a digit or dropped a digit or reversed a digit from one hour to the next. After all, there’s absolutely no presumption that the future ever resembles the past.

Suppose he checks the serial number. It’s the same. Or it? For one thing, he can’t trust his memory. Yes, he just checked in 30 seconds ago, but maybe he’s already forgotten it. Or maybe he correctly remembers what he saw 30 seconds ago, but misremembers what it was an hour ago, when he parked the car. He can’t compare one memory with another.

Or even if he remembers what it was, it may change by the time he leaves the parking garage. After all, there’s no presumptive continuity between past and present.

For all he knows, his car may mutate into an enchilada while he’s on the freeway. A speeding enchilada, fueled by hot tamales and unleaded Tabasco sauce.

Or what about the empty tomb? Sure, the body wasn’t there was when Peter and John and Mary Magdalene were poking around. But maybe, in Gerety’s discontinuous universe, the dead body appears and disappears and reappears. When someone’s looking, it isn’t there. When someone’s not looking, it’s there.

Maybe that’s what “really” happens when we misplace our keys. Our keys are such mischievous entities. They were there in the drawer all along, but as soon as we open the drawer, they become invisible. After all, you can’t even know of something’s visible unless you first define “invisible.”

And you can’t define something unless you can define “define.” And you can’t define “define” before you give an account of defining “define.”

What is more, you can’t account for your definition of “define” until you define “account.”

And then you have to account for your definition of “account.”

And before you do that, you have to deduce “define” from Scripture. But you can’t deduce “define” from Scripture until you can define “deduce.” Assuming you can account for your definition of “deduce.”

“He’s not interested in a method for discovering what is true,”

Ah, yes, Gerety’s methodology. Of course, Gerety has to define “methodology.” And account for his definition. And deduce his definition. And define deduction. And account for deduction. And account for the English word. And deduce the English word.

So I guess his methodology goes something like this:

Define “define” before you define “deduce” before you define “account” before you account for “define” before you account for “deduce” before you account for “account” before you deduce “define” before you deduce “deduce” before you deduce “account.”

Or is more like: Deduce “define” before you deduce “deduce” before you deduce “account” before you account for “deduce” before you account for “account” before you define “define” before you define “deduce” before you define “account”?

Or maybe it’s really like: Account for “define” before you account for “deduce” before you account for “account” before you deduce “define” before you deduce “deduce” before you deduce “account” before you define “define” before you define “deduce” before you define “account”?

Unless, of course, it’s truly like: Deduce “deduce” before you deduce “account” before you account for “account” before you deduce “define” before you define “define” before you define “deduce” before you define “account.”

Good thing Sean’s methodology isn’t “convoluted” like my “paltry” alternative.

At the end of the day, Gerety is a cultist–like Valentinus, Swedenborg, and Mary Baker Eddy. He has a secular epistemology which he derives, not from Scripture, but from his favorite philosophers. He superimposes that secular, extrascriptural grid onto Scripture. It functions as a filter to screen out Scriptural propositions which conflict with his secular, extrascriptural epistemology.