Saturday, December 03, 2011

Beckwith misstates Catholic theology

Francis Beckwith says:
December 2, 2011 at 9:11 am

There’s an interesting question percolating beneath this controversy: what if Mike Licona cannot change his mind because he remains unconvinced by his critics’ arguments? Our beliefs are not formed like we form arguments, the latter of which are deliberate with a certain end in mind. People, of course, do change their beliefs, but they rarely if ever change them because of one or two arguments. Why? Because beliefs come in clusters, and those clusters are part of a complex mosaic of interlocking and mutually dependent other beliefs.
So, when Geisler et al demand that Licona recant, they are literally asking him to publicly violate his own conscience (if in fact they have not provided him sufficient reason to abandon his belief). The only way that Geisler et al can trump Licona’s conscience is if they have authority; that is, unless Geisler et al constitute am ecclesial magisterium that Mike is obligated to obey, their call for recantation is unwarranted.

Beckwith is suggesting that if a man can't change his mind because he's unconvinced, the Magisterium has the authority trump his doubt or disbelief. But this runs contrary to Catholic theology, according to which the Magisterium lacks the authority of bind a man's conscience in violation of his conscience.

It is one of the major tenets of Catholic doctrine that man's response to God in faith must be free: no one therefore is to be forced to embrace the Christian faith against his own will.(8) This doctrine is contained in the word of God and it was constantly proclaimed by the Fathers of the Church.(7) The act of faith is of its very nature a free act. Man, redeemed by Christ the Savior and through Christ Jesus called to be God's adopted son,(9) cannot give his adherence to God revealing Himself unless, under the drawing of the Father,(10) he offers to God the reasonable and free submission of faith. It is therefore completely in accord with the nature of faith that in matters religious every manner of coercion on the part of men should be excluded. In consequence, the principle of religious freedom makes no small contribution to the creation of an environment in which men can without hindrance be invited to the Christian faith, embrace it of their own free will, and profess it effectively in their whole manner of life.

Calvinism and the contrast effect

Here's a response to Randal Rauser from his colleague Jerry Shepherd, OT prof. at Taylor Seminary:

Jerry Shepherd says:
Wednesday, November 30, 2011 at 4:05pm
Hello Randal, my good friend and colleague,
Let me point out here some real problems with your article. First of all, it is important to note that the passage you quoted from Revelation 5 does not exist. Oh, it exists all right, but not in the somewhat manipulated form in which you presented it. You left out the very start of this song of praise, where the living creatures and angels start this worship session by proclaiming, “You are worthy to take the scroll and to open its seals . . .” The song starts by praising Jesus that he is worthy to open the seals — seals which when opened will pour out horrors, devastation, and death-dealing destruction on the wicked of the earth. Therefore, when the rest of the angels and “every creature in heaven and on earth” join in the worship service, they are praising the Lamb precisely because he is about to pour out this destruction on all his wicked enemies, and they fully recognize and declare that the result will be “honor and glory and praise” for the Lamb. Thus, in context, when this destruction is poured out in the following chapters on people who call out to the mountains and the rocks to “Fall on us and hide us from the face of him who sits on the throne and from the wrath of the Lamb! For the great day of their wrath has come, and who can stand?” this does in fact result in great honor and praise and glory for God. In no way can we see that the wicked who say these things are part of “every creature in heaven and on earth” in Revelation 5. So we cannot take that phrase to be absolute. The creatures who praise God in Revelation 5 are those who have allied themselves with the Lamb and the one who sits on the throne, and they are praising God for what he is about to do to those who are not so allied. In fact, your attempted caricature of the Calvinist “revised scenario” is, indeed, not a revised scenario, but the original scenario! And one which you apparently do not like, and therefore cannot join in on the praise session (sorry). The worship in Revelation 5 is of the Lamb, and more precisely, the Lamb who is about to display his great wrath.
Second, as far as the contrast effect is concerned, let’s just go ahead and admit that, as far as this present world is concerned, it is an effect that is woven into the very “warp and woof” of the universe. And, if not the universe, at least the Bible and the history of redemption. God receives glory and praise, not only because he redeems the Israelites, but because he hurls the Egyptians into the sea. He receives glory, not only because he spared the life of firstborn Israelites on the night of the Passover, but also because he “struck down the firstborn of Egypt.” And despite your praiseworthy introduction of Rom 9:22-24 into the set of data that needs to be reckoned with in the debate, you did not deal with the force of the passage: God has, indeed, prepared objects of wrath for destruction, and this brings him glory. And, of course, there are even more explicit scenes in Revelation where God receives glory and honor or praise because of how he repays those who “curse the God of heaven.” And despite the translation difficulties of Psalm 76:10, whether it is the wrath of men that brings God praise, or God’s wrath against men that brings God praise, either way God gets praise. Will this contrast effect be done away with in eternity? I don’t know. But it cannot be denied that it is here now, and God receives glory through it.
Third, I’m not all that concerned about interacting with your use of “maximally” and necessary.” I know many Calvinists use this language, ones that I respect, but for my part I think it’s unfortunate. I’m very comfortable, biblically, talking about what God did or does. Talking about what God has to do, or positing some “maximal” position to which all of God’s attributes have to measure up seems to me to be too much like Paul’s pot talking back to the potter.
Finally, though I appreciate your perspective on what is often trotted out as a debate stopper, the “unsatisfactory nature of the appeal to mystery,” at times this trotting out is necessary in order to keep a datum from either being denied or relegated to a corner of the theological room where it is never dealt with. In fact, I have found this appeal to be used far more by Arminians than Calvinists. But they end up using it, not to preserve the tension, but rather to ignore and not have to deal with one side of the tension. This is why I find Calvinism so much more intellectually rigorous and honest than Arminianism. The Arminian arbitrarily believes half the Bible and can’t be bothered to deal with the repercussions of contrary data. The Calvinist believes the whole Bible, and when the data seem to be contradictory, tries to make sense of it, admitting all the while that some contradictions cannot and will not ultimately be resolved in this existence. I agree with you that many times this appeal to mystery is trotted out way too conveniently. But I would also go further and say that sometimes this appeal is, in fact, sometimes where an obedient theologian has to land, confessing that God’s judgments are unsearchable, his paths beyond tracing out, and the only “responsible response” is doxology.

The king's heart is a stream of water

steve hays November 30, 2011 at 9:24 am

“Now Hays is writing as if he is some sort of psychiatrist making his ‘diagnosis’ of some Arminians who supposedly suffer from this ‘syndrome’ which he has invented.”

Which Arminians constantly illustrate. Indeed, Robert’s response is a further confirmation.

“Besides his claim that some of us **fear** being totally controlled by God, a fear he apparently does not have being the good fatalist that he is.”

I’m not afraid of God controlling me, that’s true.

“First of all, Hays must believe that he himself is totally controlled by God or ***Holy Spirit possessed. That God completely controls him and thus everything that he does is exactly what God wants him to do. Second, note what underlies Hays’ claims here: he actually believes that God controls Him and everyone else. And that control if it is real would mean that God controls our thoughts, minds, wills, bodies, movements, every aspect of our being.”

Such as:

“The king’s heart is a stream of water in the hand of the Lord; he turns it wherever he will” (Prov 21:1).
“In him we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to the purpose of him who works all things according to the counsel of his will” (Eph 1:11).

Back to Robert:

“Call that ‘Hays’ control principle’ for short.”

Better yet–why don’t we call that biblical predestination and providence.

“Third Hays says that I fear being controlled by God, that I fear HCP, that I hate the idea of HCP. He must be kidding! I would love to have God completely possess and control me. Why that would mean that as God controlled me in this way I would always be perfectly doing God’s will.

In fact, Robert is doing God’s bidding, just like Pharaoh.

“…but if Hays is correct not only were they controlled by God so are all of us, we just don’t all know it (if someone believes they are controlled by God and they are not we ordinarily say they are delusional, what should we say if they did not know they were controlled by God but in reality they are? ‘Unknowing puppets’? ‘Unknowing pawns’?)!”

As in:

“6Against a godless nation I send him, and against the people of my wrath I command him, to take spoil and seize plunder, and to tread them down like the mire of the streets. 7But he does not so intend, and his heart does not so think” (Isa 10:6-7).

Back to Robert:

“Why am I attacked by Him who is supposedly perfectly doing God’s will, for myself perfectly doing God’s will?”

God uses some people (e.g. Robert, Pharaoh) as a foil.

“The HCP leads to some very confusing and contradictory things.”

No, it’s just the difference between means and ends, normative characters and foil characters.

“I thought that God was frustrated with Israel in the Old Testament because they were freely choosing to sin against and rebel against Him (e.g. as it says of the time of Judges that everyone was doing what was right in their own eyes). But they were all controlled by God too. So God controlled them so that they sinned against God and then God got frustrated at their rebellion which he controlled them to do.”

Was God frustrated with Joseph’s brothers for selling him into slavery? No. That was part of God’s long-range plan. A way of fulfilling the prophetic dream he gave to Joseph.

“He is repeatedly contradicting himself by controlling people to rebel against his Word and disobey his commands.”

When people like Robert rebel against God’s word, that also serves God’s purpose. For instance, the Crucifixion was contingent on Jewish disobedience. Yet that was part of God’s plan (Acts 2:23; 4:28). So there’s no contradiction. It’s a means-ends relation.

“It is also confusing to me how HCP works when it comes to sin. God is controlling every one according to Hays, so all those inmates that I work with, their every crime is something God controlled them to do. In each case they could not help it, they had to do it, they had to do what God controlled them to do. And that includes some serious and heinous sin.”

Of course, the Arminian God empowers sinners to commit heinous sin. They couldn’t do it without divine assistance.

Identifying the Tempter in Gen 3

The Righteousness of Christ imputed to believers

One of the sideshows from the recent Dave Armstrong threads involved a discussion of “the righteousness of Christ imputed to believers”. One of the commenters there said, “But you don't really care whether ‘the imputation of Christ’s righteousness’ is in the Bible or not, do you, John? Not really.” He also reiterated many times, “there just is no such thing as ‘the imputation of Christ's righteousness’ in scripture and no amount of verbal acrobatics can change that.”

Another commenter essentially quoted Roman Catholic doctrine: “Imputed righteousness is something that is not taught in the Bible. God's grace is infused and is able to actually clean and recreate a new heart in us as opposed to forensic justification which is the notion that God merely takes an eraser to our "account" and erases our sins.”

One of the better brief statements concerning the Reformed doctrine of “the righteousness of Christ imputed to the believer” is in John Murray’s Redemption Accomplished and Applied. The link here is to his chapter on Justification, but several of the specific pages which deal with that topic are missing. So I’d like to provide here the entire sweep of Murray’s argument that not only is the sinner’s sin forgiven in justification, but as well, the Righteousness of Christ is imputed to the sinner as well.

Murray deals effectively with the notion of why “our own righteousness”, even that given by God’s grace, is not sufficient for what God’s holiness entails:

House of Stairs

File:House Of Stairs (Escher).jpg

I’m gratified to see that Roger Olson espouses unmediated revelations from God. In fact, during my weekly audience with the Archangel Metatron, we were discussing the fate that awaits Roger Olson when he kicks the bucket.

According to Metatron, Roger will be consigned to spend eternity wandering inside M. C. Escher’s House of Stairs. It was custom-built just for Roger. This goes the principle of alternate possibilities one better because it realizes the principle of simultaneous impossibilities.

And I know this unmediated revelation from God to be veridical, for it passes all five of my criteria for the Reformed evil genius:

1) The Monster Touchstone

2) The Horrible Decretal Norm

3) The Dantean Poetic Justice Criterion

4) The Meinongian Check

5) The Cartesian Test

Did the Cartesian demon speak to Roger Olson?

But I suspect many of our disagreements about scripture have more to do with blik than objective exegesis. I know that no exegesis could convince me that God is a monster.  If I thought it possible that God is a monster there would be no point in doing exegesis because a monster cannot be trusted.

I agree. At least once in my life I “heard” God speak to me so distinctly and clearly that I could not question it...It passed all five of my criteria.

So how does Olson know that the God who unquestionably spoke to him wasn’t the deceitful Cartesian demon of Calvinism? After all, not only could a Cartesian demon speak clearly and distinctly to Olson, but it could easily delude Olson into imagining that it passed all five of his criteria–just like those sci-fi stories involving telepathic aliens who make their human captives imagine they escaped, when–in fact–they are still imprisoned in their 6 x 8 ft. cell.

Olson can’t very well dismiss this as an implausible thought-experiment, for he’s the one who introduced that thought-experiment as a hypothetical defeater for Calvinism.  

Friday, December 02, 2011

"More Mistakes: A Rejoinder to Randal Rauser" 

Help Wanted

Autobahn To Damascus

From a one-time teammate at Debunking Christianity:

When Bad Things Happen to Good People

When Rabbi Kuschner came out with his famous, infamous book Why Bad Things Happen to Good People 30 years ago, that was a controversial publication. As I recall, it was denounced at the time by Christian reviewers.

Well, evangelicalism has changed a lot in 30 years, and not all for the better. Of course, many Christians are too young to remember the reaction to Kushner’s book. Some of them weren’t even born back then. I was 3 years out of high school.

The libertarian theodicies put forward by Arminians like Roger Olson or Molinists like Craig and Plantinga are just a variation on Kushner’s finite godism.  


According to William Lane Craig:

Your pun on Sophie’s Choice (a choice between two bad options) reveals that you haven’t yet grasped the theory of middle knowledge, for God doesn’t create such a choice for Himself. The counterfactuals of creaturely freedom which confront Him are outside His control. He has to play with the hand He has been dealt.

When a poker game gets out of control, things can get mighty rambunctious. Last night the angel Gabriel showed me what God was up against. 

The Epistle of St. Craig to the Biolans

In love he postdestined us for adoption as sons, according to the low nut hand he was dealt, to the praise of his glorious cartomancy. In him we have obtained an inheritance, from the bottom of the deck, by him who works all things according to a forced bet.  For by chance you have been saved through the luck of the draw.

Though they were not yet born and had done nothing either good or bad—yet owing to the counterfactuals of creaturely freedom–she was told, “The older will serve the younger.” As it is written, “I really wanted to love Esau, but that wasn’t in the cards.” What shall we say then? Is there injustice on God’s part? By no means! For he says to Jimmy the Greek, “I’d have mercy if I could, but my hands are tied.” So then it depends not on God's will or exertion, but on the hand he was dealt.

Newman, “The Roman Catholic Hermeneutic”, and Rome’s Foundational Assumption

A “willing suspension of disbelief”

The following citation came up in recent comments, citing John Henry Newman’s defense of the early papacy:
While Apostles were on earth, there was the display neither of Bishop nor Pope; their power had no prominence, as being exercised by Apostles. In course of time, first the power of the Bishop displayed itself, and then the power of the Pope. . . . St. Peter's prerogative would remain a mere letter, till the complication of ecclesiastical matters became the cause of ascertaining it. . . . When the Church, then, was thrown upon her own resources, first local disturbances gave exercise to Bishops, and next ecumenical disturbances gave exercise to Popes; and whether communion with the Pope was necessary for Catholicity would not and could not be debated till a suspension of that communion had actually occurred. It is not a greater difficulty that St. Ignatius does not write to the Asian Greeks about Popes, than that St. Paul does not write to the Corinthians about Bishops. And it is a less difficulty that the Papal supremacy was not formally acknowledged in the second century, than that there was no formal acknowledgment on the part of the Church of the doctrine of the Holy Trinity till the fourth. No doctrine is defined till it is violated.
All of this, however, is based on Newman’s foundational assumption. Newman, of course, makes historical concessions, when he says [relying on the Notre Dame publication of his “Theory”], “I shall admit that there are in fact certain apparent variations in teaching, which have to be explained; thus I shall begin, but then I shall attempt to explain them to the exculpation of that teaching in point of unity, directness, and consistency” (7) … “Here then I concede to the opponents of historical Christianity, that there are to be found, during the 1800 years through which it has lasted, certain apparent inconsistencies and alterations in its doctrine and its worship, such as irresistibly attract the attention of all who inquire into it. (p. 9)

There are two ways to approach these “inconsistencies” and “alterations”. Genuine history and Biblical studies will seek to understand (a) what the biblical writers understood and sought to convey, (b) who the readers were, and (c) what the “cultural context” was that shaped the writers’ and readers’ understanding. To borrow the words of a famous Watergate-era senator, we seek to understand “what the early church knew, and when they knew it”.

This contrasts with Newman’s understanding, which posits, “St. Peter's prerogative would remain a mere letter, till the complication of ecclesiastical matters became the cause of ascertaining it”. But in fact, no such thing existed – no human being understood this “prerogative” until “bishops” of Rome, made wealthy by Roman emperors, had the power and wealth and freedom to assert authority outside of their small circle.

The Roman Catholic Hermeneutic, the backward-looking method of which Newman followed, does the opposite thing: it takes a current or existing Roman Catholic doctrine or dogma, then “proving the present teachings of the magisterium from the evidence of the ancient sources” (Aiden Nichols, “The Shape of Catholic Theology” pg 253).

The raw, overpowering weakness of the Roman Catholic hermeneutic is that its foundation is this assumption. As Newman put it
Till positive reasons grounded on facts are adduced to the contrary, the most natural hypotheses, the most agreeable to our mode of proceeding in parallel cases, and that which takes precedence of all others, is to consider that the society of Christians, which the Apostles left on earth, were of that religion to which the Apostles had converted them; that the external continuity of name, profession, and communion, argues a real continuity of doctrine; that, as Christianity began by manifesting itself as of a certain shape and bearing to all mankind, therefore it went on so to manifest itself; and that the more, considering that prophecy had already determined that it was to be a power visible in the world and sovereign over it, characters which are accurately fulfilled in that historical Christianity to which we commonly give the name. It is not a violent assumption, then, but rather mere abstinence from the wanton admission of a principle which would necessarily lead to the most vexatious and preposterous scepticism, to take it for granted, before proof to the contrary, that the Christianity of the second, fourth, seventh, twelfth, sixteenth, and intermediate centuries is in its substance the very religion which Christ and His Apostles taught in the first, whatever may be the modifications for good or for evil which lapse of years, or the vicissitudes of human affairs, have impressed upon it.
Writing perhaps 75 years after this, Adrian Fortescue (“The Early Papacy,” pg 26-27) writes
Even the most fundamental dogmas rest ultimately on the teaching of the Catholic Church today, even, for instance, that of the Holy Trinity. All we suppose, before we come to the Church, is that our Lord Jesus Christ was a man sent by God and whom we must follow if we wish to serve God in the proper way; that he founded one visible Church, to which his followers should belong; that this Church is, as a matter of historic fact, the communion of Rome (not, however, supposing anything about the papacy, but supposing only the visible unity and historic continuity). This much must be presupposed and does not rest on the authority of the [Roman Catholic] Church. All else does.
Newman assumes that there was “communion with the Pope”, and that it “was necessary for Catholicity [and] would not and could not be debated till a suspension of that communion had actually occurred.” This “communion” is merely assumed.

As John Reumann noted, there are historical gaps precisely in the places where Vatican I proclaimed “immediate jurisdiction”, and where Vatican II proclaimed “this hierarchically constituted society”. John Meier said, and I’ve quoted him many times, “A papacy that cannot give a credible historical account of its own origins can hardly hope to be a catalyst for unity among divided Christians”. In fact the papacy’s account of its own origins is merely a fiction, the Roman Catholic maintenance of which relies on what is essentially a willing suspension of disbelief. Such a process works to enable us to enjoy fiction; as a “foundation for the faith,” I find it quite lacking.

This is why the most recent scholarship, an effort to understand “what the early church knew and when they knew it” is so necessary. This is why an early primary document source such as The Shepherd of Hermas in conjunction with Scriptural and other evidence for house-church networks and also leadership structures, both Biblical and cultural, and most importantly, exegetical studies of Roman Catholic proof-texts, are so important. All of these decisively affirm the notion that Rome’s presupposition of a divinely-instituted hierarchy, situated in Rome, with which communion was necessary, is a fiction.

See this link for more information on how Newman’s “theory of development” rests upon the logical fallacy of “amphiboly”.

Thursday, December 01, 2011

Finite godism

William Lane Craig

There may be no world feasible for God involving universal, freely embraced salvation which comes without other overriding disadvantages...Your pun on Sophie’s Choice (a choice between two bad options) reveals that you haven’t yet grasped the theory of middle knowledge, for God doesn’t create such a choice for Himself. The counterfactuals of creaturely freedom which confront Him are outside His control. He has to play with the hand He has been dealt.

Rabbi Harold Kushner

TIME: Your books, including this one, challenge the idea of God's omnipotence. Could you explain your reasoning?
Kushner: Given the unfairness that strikes so many people in life, I would rather believe in a God of limited power and unlimited love and justice, rather than the other way around. Why do we worship power? Why do we assume that total power is the most wonderful thing we could ascribe to God, even if it means compromising his fairness and his love? I believe that God is totally moral, but nature, one of God's creatures, is not moral. Nature is blind. Floods, hurricanes, earthquakes, disease germs, speeding bullets, they are all equal opportunity offenders. They have no way of knowing whether it's a good person or a bad person in their path. In fact, there's a passage in the Talmud [Jewish scripture] that says that God's justice would demand that certain things not happen, but nature is not just and those things happen.
TIME: Does that separate you, to some extent, from the Orthodox Jewish community?
Kushner: I get a better reception from Mormons than I do from the Orthodox Jews. It's precisely because of that point. They feel obliged to defend God's omnipotence, irrespective of the fact that that holds God responsible for every retarded child, every flood and earthquake, every plague and everything else that happens in the world, and they have to twist themselves into all sorts of theological pretzels to explain why bad is good.

The tail wagging the God

Your pun on Sophie’s Choice (a choice between two bad options) reveals that you haven’t yet grasped the theory of middle knowledge, for God doesn’t create such a choice for Himself. The counterfactuals of creaturely freedom which confront Him are outside His control. He has to play with the hand He has been dealt.

If we must play the hand that God dealt, that’s Satanic and fatalistic.

But if God must play the hand that we dealt, that’s love

Craig on counterfactual identity

But now you raise a quite different objection aimed specifically at (3). “Before God sticks Fred in second century Tibet wouldn't He have to ascertain that Fred would freely reject the Gospel in all circumstances, not just some of them?” Well, He wouldn’t have to, but that’s my hypothesis. Clearly, God could place a person anywhere He wants in human history, regardless of how that person might freely behave in different circumstances. But my suggestion is that God, being so merciful and not wanting anyone to be damned, so providentially orders the world that anyone who would embrace the Gospel if he were to hear it will not be placed in circumstances in which he fails to hear it and is lost. Only in the case of someone who would be saved through his response to general revelation would a person who would freely respond to special revelation, if he heard it, find himself in circumstances where he doesn’t hear it.

Pardon me for asking, but isn’t this sort of counterfactual identity blatantly incoherent? The Tibetan Fred has a completely different past. Different genealogy. He doesn't have the same parents or grandparents, &c.

Doesn’t treating possible persons as self-contained units who can be moved forward or backward along the timeline obliterate any notion of historical causation, continuity, and time’s arrow?

Aren’t we the product of the past? How can the same person have a completely different family tree leading up to him and still be him? 

Take three different scenarios:

i) If JFK hadn’t been assassinated, LBJ would not have become president in 1963.

That’s a future counterfactual. The past remains the same up to a certain point, then forks off in a different direction.

This counterfactual is prima facie coherent.

ii) If JFK’s PT-109 hadn’t been destroyed in W.W.I.I., he would not have suffered so much back pain.

This counterfactual does alter something about his past. However, that seems to leave his personal identity essentially intact.

iii) If JFK had been born in medieval Tibet, LBJ would not have become president in 1963.

There’s a sense in which the conclusion is true. But in this case, the counterfactual isn’t changing something merely extrinsic or incidental to JFK’s personal identity. Rather, it’s more like the grandfather paradox–for it’s changing something in the past that’s a necessary precondition for him to exist. That’s intrinsic to his personal identity.

You can’t coherently say, If Joseph Kennedy and/or Rose Kennedy were not his parents, then JFK would have turned out differently in this or that respect. Rather, under that scenario, he wouldn’t turn out at all. 

Craig's fatalistic fictionalism

Your pun on Sophie’s Choice (a choice between two bad options) reveals that you haven’t yet grasped the theory of middle knowledge, for God doesn’t create such a choice for Himself. The counterfactuals of creaturely freedom which confront Him are outside His control. He has to play with the hand He has been dealt.

A good place to begin is by asking ourselves, “Does the number 3 exist?” Certainly there can be three apples, for example, on the table; but in addition to the apples does 3 itself exist? We’re not asking whether the numeral “3” exists (the symbol borrowed from the Arabs to represent the quantity three). Rather we’re asking whether the number 3 itself exists. Are there such things as numbers? Do numbers really exist?
Some people might think that this question is so airy-fairy as to be utterly irrelevant. But in fact it raises a fundamental theological issue whose importance can scarcely be exaggerated. For if we say that numbers do exist, where did they come from? Christian theology requires us to say that everything that exists apart from God was created by God (John 1:3). But numbers, if they exist, are almost always taken to be necessary beings. They thus would seem to exist independently of God. This is the view called Platonism, after the Greek philosopher Plato.
Someone might try to avoid this problem by espousing a modified Platonism, according to which numbers were necessarily and eternally created by God. But then a problem of vicious circularity arises: explanatorily prior to God’s creating the number 3, wasn’t it the case that the number of persons in the Trinity was 3? Of course; but then the number 3 existed prior to God’s creating the number 3, which is impossible!
I remember the sense of panic that I felt in my breast when I first heard this objection raised at a philosophy conference in Milwaukee. It seemed to be an absolutely decisive refutation of theism. I didn’t see any way out.
The way out, I discovered, is to deny the Platonist view that abstract objects like numbers exist. My first inclination was to adopt some sort of Conceptualism which construes abstract objects as ideas in God’s mind. This may still be the route I’ll take, but the more I’ve studied the problem the more attracted I’ve become to various Nominalistic or anti-realist views of abstract objects which flatly deny their existence rather than re-interpret their existence in terms of conceptual realities. As you note, Conceptualism seems to be a sort of realism which identifies numbers with thoughts in God’s mind. Such thoughts are concrete objects, not abstract objects, even though they are immaterial. Such an identification seems problematic in a number of ways, which I needn’t go into here. If, on the other hand, the Conceptualist does not take numbers to be actual thoughts God is having, then he seems to be really embracing some anti-realist view like Fictionalism.
Sentences like “2 + 2 = 4” are like statements concerning fictional characters, such as “Santa Claus lives at the North Pole.” Such sentences fail to correspond to reality because they have vacuous terms in them. Because they thus fail to correspond to reality, they are literally false. Since there is no such person as Santa Claus, he cannot literally live at the North Pole. Since there are no such things as two and four, it is not literally true that four is the sum of two twos. What is true to say, however, is that Santa Claus lives at the North Pole according to the usual story of Santa Claus; he does not, according to that story, make his home in East Peoria. Similarly, it is true to say that 2 + 2 = 4 according to the standard account of mathematics. This saves the Fictionalist from the embarrassment of stating flatly that “2 + 2 = 4” is false, for he agrees that such a statement is true in the standard model of arithmetic. But he denies that that model corresponds to any independent reality. It is a mistake to think that mathematical practice commits us to the literal truth of mathematical theories, for the ontological question concerning the reality of mathematical objects is a philosophical question which mathematics does not itself address. At most our practice commits us to holding that certain statements are true according to the standard account in the relevant area.

So not only must God play the hand he’s been dealt, but he was dealt that hand from a fictitious deck by a fictitious dealer! 

Molinist fate

Your pun on Sophie’s Choice (a choice between two bad options) reveals that you haven’t yet grasped the theory of middle knowledge, for God doesn’t create such a choice for Himself. The counterfactuals of creaturely freedom which confront Him are outside His control. He has to play with the hand He has been dealt. 

Michele Bachmann no longer attending Baptist church

“For graduate students, only the most recent research is adequate, particularly when you reach the dissertation stage”

Just sayin’. There’s a good reason for this, which escapes some people.

Liberal Arminianism

This is a follow-up to an earlier post:

In my observation, Arminian institutions are generally more liberal than Reformed institutions. Although Reformed institutions can go liberal, when that happens, Calvinists break away to form conservative alternatives.

What is it about Arminian theology that seems to foster greater tolerance for liberal theology? In addition to some of the examples I already cited in my previous post, here are some other examples that spring to mind:

Consider Southern Methodist University:

This is also where open theist William Abraham, Albert Cook Outler Professor of Wesley Studies, teaches.

Or consider open theist Henry Knight, Donald and Pearl Wright Professor of Wesleyan Studies, at St. Paul School of Theology.

Or consider Messiah College, a Wesleyan institution where open theist Randall Basinger is Provost.

Or consider Roberts Wesleyan College, where open theist David Basinger teaches.

Or consider Roger Olson’s liberal theology and politics. Just go to his blog.

Or consider Seattle Pacific University, a Free Methodist institution, with liberal theology profs. like Frank Spina and Robert Wall. 

Society of Womanist Arminians

While the SEA does not officially endorse any particular school, this list is provided to help potential students identify avenues of study which are in keeping with an Arminian perspective. The following schools all offer an ATS accredited education, and to our knowledge, are broadly speaking Arminian and evangelical.

Let's looks at some of the examples SEA then gives of educational institutions in keeping with Arminian perspective:

Alliance Theological Seminary (New York)

Where William Crockett teaches. Doesn't he advocate inclusivism? 

Anderson School of Theology (Indiana)

Wasn't open theist Barry L. Callen a longtime theology prof. at Anderson?

Asbury Theological Seminary (Kentucky)

Certainly that's the flagship of Arminian seminaries. And it has some fine faculty. However, its close affiliation with the United Methodist Church tells you something about Asbury's theological center of gravity.

Oral Roberts University School of Theology (Oklahoma)

So the Arminian perspective includes Benny Hinn, Oral Roberts, Kenneth Hagin, Copeland, Creflo Dollar, Carlton Pearson, Joyce Meyer et al.

Ashland Theological Seminary (Ohio)

When I go to the faculty page ( and click on Dr. Mitzi J. Smith, Associate Professor of New Testament and Early Christian Origins, this is what comes up:

Womanist Biblical Scholar Reflections 

Prayer by Maya Angelou

Father, Mother, God
Thank you for your presence
during the hard and mean days.
For then we have you to lean upon.

Thank you for your presence
during the bright and sunny days,
for then we can share that which we have 
with those who have less.

And thank you for your presence
during the Holy Days, for then we are able
to celebrate you and our families
and our friends.

For those who have no voice,
we ask you to speak.

For those who feel unworthy, 
we ask you to pour your love out
in waterfalls of tenderness.

For those who live in pain,
we ask you to bathe them
in the river of your healing.

For those who are lonely, we ask
you to keep them company.

For those who are depressed, 
we ask you to shower upon them
the light of hope.

Dear Creator, You, the borderless
sea of substance, we ask you to give to all the 
world that which we need most--Peace.

Arminianism is certainly a big tent–floating in the borderless sea of substance.