Friday, February 15, 2013

Man of Steel

A follow-up exchange I had with Jeff Lowder at The Secular Outpost:

Jeffery Jay Lowder:

“Even if Hays were right about ‘immortal,’ which he is not…”

Notice that Jeff is merely asserting that I’m wrong, rather than demonstrating his claim.

“…he hasn't shown that the ‘Atoms or Schmatoms’ dilemma is false.”

To the extent that the alleged dilemma is predicated on misinterpretations of biblical prooftexts, that’s a false dilemma.

“Atoms (protons, neutrons, electrons, quarks, etc.) are not immortal.”

i) Jeff is committing the composition fallacy. To say that individual atoms are “mortal” does not entail that something made of atoms is mortal. To the extent that we define a body in terms of atoms, what makes a body immortal is not the constituent atoms, but the pattern. The pattern can be permanent even if the atoms are impermanent.

Jeff’s objection is equivalent to saying a one-mile stretch of river isn’t the same river an hour later due to the turnover of water molecules. Yet what makes it the same stretch of river isn’t the same water molecules, but the same overall pattern. Even if all the water molecules change over the course of an hour–with newer water molecules replacing previous water molecules–it’s the same stretch of river.

ii) BTW, for Jeff to say atoms are “mortal” is a category mistake. Atoms aren’t alive or dead. Even if you think biological life is reducible to atoms, atoms aren’t living entities.

iii) Likewise, if you define a person in terms of his memories, character traits, &c., you could transfer the same person to a different body. 

“So Hays is forced to move (unwittingly) to the "schmatoms" side, and, in so doing, deprive R of any testable implications.”

That only follows based on Jeff’s false dichotomy, where he arbitrarily defines atoms as mortal and shmatoms as immortal.

“Then, moving on, Hays' exegesis of Paul is idiosyncratic.”

Another assertion bereft of argument.

“This, in particular, is a huge inductive non-sequitur.”

Jeff posits a non-sequitur, then quotes me. But he gives no argument to justify his claim that my explanation was “a huge inductive non-sequitur.”

“He also overlooks the fact -- emphasized by Craig and others -- that Jesus is represented as saying that the resurrected are ‘like the angels in heaven.’”

Notice, once again, that Jeff isn’t presenting an actual argument. But let’s briefly examine the passage he’s alluding to:

“34 And Jesus said to them, “The sons of this age marry and are given in marriage, 35 but those who are considered worthy to attain to that age and to the resurrection from the dead neither marry nor are given in marriage, 36 for they cannot die anymore, because they are equal to angels and are sons of God, being sons of the resurrection” (Lk 20:34-36, ESV).

i) In what respect are they like angels? What’s the comparison? In context, they are analogous to angels with respect to immortality.

ii) They are not analogous to angels with respect to incorporeity, for the passage says “worthy” humans will be resurrected. But angels won’t be resurrected. Angels don’t die. They don’t bodies. So the context involves a contrast between mortality and immortality, not between physicality and nonphysicality.

iii) That receives corroboration from 24:37-43, which goes out of its way to accentuate the physicality of the Resurrection.

iv) Keep in mind, too, that this passage has reference to levirate marriage. Mortality was the specific presupposition of levirate marriage. To replace a dead husband so that her widow could have kids by the brother-in-law. So, once again, the context involves a contrast between mortality and immortality, not between physicality and nonphysicality.

BTW, I’m interpreting the passage the same way as Lukan commentators like Joel Green, John Nolland, and C. F. Evans,

“But suppose Hays were right. Then the resurrected would be like Goldie Hawn and Meryl Streep in Death Becomes Her--immortal with skin peeling off, gaping holes in the stomach, deep wrinkles, etc.”

Jeff hasn’t even begun to explain how he derives that conclusion from what I wrote.

“Hays' statement: ‘there are hypothetical situations in which the body of a glorified saint would be vulnerable to injury or death.’ is laughable. If that's what the risen Jesus is like, that's pretty scary.”

This is the second time Jeff has said my argument is “laughable.” But adjectives are a sorry substitute for arguments. When is Jeff going to present something resembling an actual counterargument?

Jeff’s final paragraph simply repeats the same question-begging assertions he made before.

Jeffery Jay Lowder:

“Obviously 'imperishable' is equivalent to 'incorruptible,' and, therefore, is an antonym for 'corruptible.' Obviously, too, since whatever is incorruptible is immortal, one could use the stronger term 'incorruptible' instead of the weaker term 'immortal' in certain contexts, i.e., those in which it wouldn't matter that one was thereby saying more than merely that something is immortal, and thus, in only this sense, Hays is right to say ‘as such was also a common word for immortality.’…Just because 'aphtharsia' [incorruptibility], as a stronger term than 'athanasia' [immortality], can be used in the aforementioned contexts instead of that weaker term, it hardly follows that it is a synonym for it.”

Jeff keeps repeating the same mistake. He begins with his assumption that aphtharsia is conceptually equivalent to indestructibility. From this initial misstep, he proceeds to argue that indestructibility is a stronger concept than immortality. Therefore, the fact that Paul allegedly uses the weaker term doesn’t confine Paul’s analysis to the weaker term. For the weaker term is consistent with the stronger term, which goes beyond the weaker term.

But the problem with this argument is that Jeff hasn’t established on lexical or exegetical grounds that aphtharsia (“imperishable, incorruptible”) is a stronger term than “immortal.”

Is the concept of indestructibility synonymous with the concept of immortality? No, but that’s irrelevant–for Jeff keeps assuming what he needs to prove concerning the semantic import of the Greek word. He hasn’t even demonstrated that aphtharsia means “invincible.”

Moreover, there’s a difference between words and concepts. Jeff is operating with the concept of invincibility rather than the sense of the word. That commits the word-concept fallacy.

“Then, beyond this, clearly 'corruptibility' pertains to the ability of flesh to
undergo decay/decomposition; and, therefore, conversely, 'incorruptibility' pertains to the inability of flesh to undergo decay and decomposition. But disease, aging, and injury are all forms -- at the organ, tissue, cellular, and organelle levels -- of decay and decomposition. It thus follows that that which is incorruptible is incapable of disease, aging, and injury.”

i) Jeff is committing the word-concept fallacy.

ii) In addition, Jeff is equivocating. To say the glorified body is “incapable” of injury is ambiguous. For there are different kinds of impossibility.

iii) Apropos (ii), Jeff is raising a more specialized issue than 1 Cor 15 was designed to address. Paul wasn’t answering a question about whether or not the glorified body is fireproof, bulletproof, &c. He’s not dealing with hypothetical scenarios like that. Jeff is reading far more into the text than
Paul was discussing. Jeff is reframing the original discussion, as if Paul was answering a very different question.

By contrast Paul addressing the possibility of a resurrection. And he’s also discusses the resurrection of the body as an antidote to mortality.

“As I also wrote yesterday, Hays also overlooks the fact -- emphasized by Craig and others -- that Jesus is represented as saying that the resurrected are ‘like the angels in heaven.’ But angels are not merely immortal.”

I specifically responded to that objection. Jeff presents no counterargument.

“He provides no evidence for this claim, and Craig and others provide arguments for the exact opposite. (I do not have time to rehearse them here.)”

i) Craig is not a NT scholar, much less a Pauline scholar. Why should he be the first person we turn to interpret 1 Cor 15? When he did become the standard of comparison?

ii) Does Jeff not know what a divine passive is? That’s a standard construction in Biblical usage.

iii) “Raised in power” is a shorthand expression for what Paul previously said in the same letter: “And God raised the Lord and will also raise us up by his power” (1 Cor 6:14).

“The same holds for ‘glory.’”

In actuality, nothing holds for “glory,” inasmuch as Jeff fails to even explain, must less defend, his interpretation. As Pauline commentators like Thiselton, Rosner, and Ciampa point out, doxa here means “honor,” as the antonym for “dishonor,” in Paul’s antithetical parallelism. “Honor” is a relation, not a property. To be held in honor.

“It is bizarre and, therefore, hard to believe that Paul and the early Christians went around preaching that the dead would be merely raised 'immortal'! That would be a horrible curse! Imagine spending eternity like Goldie Hawn and Meryl Streep in Death Becomes Her: immortal but with skin peeling off, gaping holes in the stomach, deep wrinkles, Alzheimer's, etc. Who'd sign up for this kind of ‘salvation.’ Annihilation would be infinitely preferable!”

This is the third time Jeff has trotted out that movie. He keeps illustrating his flawed methodology. Once again, Jeff is committing the word-concept fallacy.

You can’t derive a full-blown concept of glorification from words like aphtharsia or doxa. Jeff is repeating the word-study fallacies that James Barr took to task in his celebrated review of Kittel.

“Then think about the Resurrected Jesus himself. If Hays were right and 'incorruptibility' meant nothing more than 'immortality,' then unfortunately for the Resurrected Jesus, he'd be, just like his followers, merely immortal with skin eventually peeling off, gaping holes in the stomach, deep wrinkles, etc. That would be a horrible fate for the Resurrected Jesus. After 500 years he'd look like a shriveled up prune, and he'd have such a bad case of Alzheimer's that he wouldn't remember who he was.”

i) Jeff is raising the question of whether glorification merely brings people back to life in the condition they were at the time of death. Likewise, he’s raising the question of whether glorification merely turns back the clock, so that a newly glorified body will undergo the same process of senescence all over again. Unfortunately, Jeff lacks the intellectual discipline or hermeneutical savvy to distinguish that question from what Paul is teaching in 1 Cor 15. But 1 Cor 15 is simply silent on many ancillary issues concerning the resurrection.

The question is whether glorification merely restores the dead to life, or whether it restores the dead to a pristine condition. I never said or suggested that glorification immortalizes the decedent’s physical condition at the time of death. But exegesis isn’t supposed to answer questions beyond the scope of the text. Jeff is trying to make Paul say more than he says.

“When he got out of the tomb on the first Easter Sunday -- I guess by kicking the stone ‘plug’ out of the entry passage and hurting his feet -- his enemies would easily recognize him and try to kill him. Since he'd be immortal, they couldn't succeed, but, since on Hays' view immortality is not freedom from disease, aging, and injury, the Resurrected Jesus' enemies could inflict a considerable amount of damage to his body (especially since he could only walk or run away on his painfully injured feet): they could cut off his arms, light him on fire, poke out his eyes, dip him in acid, pierce him with lances, give him a cold, leprosy, HIV, etc. The ‘Resurrected’ Jesus would still be ‘alive,’ but just barely. After they were through, no one would be able to recognize him. Whatever the precise details, this version of R has negligible power to explain the facts of Easter.”

i) I realize Jeff thinks that’s oh-so witty, but his witticisms are unwittingly witless. The doctrine of the resurrection is a theological construct, based on many lines of exegetical evidence. The fact that Jeff misinterprets and overinterprets 1 Cor 15 doesn’t mean my corrections yield his alternative. Unfortunately for him, Jeff lacks the critical detachment to distinguish his own framework from my framework. Because he equates atoms with resuscitation, he imputes his equation to me, to generate his cutesy parody. That’s yet another intellectual failing on his part. Apparently, Jeff is so conditioned by his own paradigm that he can’t even think outside his paradigm.

ii) BTW, Jesus was perfectly capable of defending himself against any and all assailants even before the Resurrection.

“So then the Resurrected Jesus -- although ‘raised in glory’ and immortal -- could die after all! This makes no sense!”

i) Why is Jeff unable to draw a rudimentary distinction between a hypothetical vulnerability and an actual vulnerability? Does he imagine that every hypothetical vulnerability is a live possibility?

ii) Moreover, as I already explained to him, something can be possible in one respect, but impossible in another. Does Jeff not understand counterfactuals?

To say, for instance, that a glorified body would combust if (ex hypothesi) heated to 20 million Kelvin is not to say that that’s a realistic prospect. Why is it necessary to keep explaining elementary distinctions to Jeff?

But Jeff’s biggest problem is that he needs 1 Cor 15 to mean certain things to provide an easy target for Cavin. So he tries to make it mean whatever he needs it to mean, rather than respecting the fairly limited parameters of Paul’s discussion.


  1. "Why is Jeff unable to draw a rudimentary distinction between a hypothetical vulnerability and an actual vulnerability?"

    Too much probability logic not enough modal logic?

  2. Jeff Lowder said:

    "Atoms (protons, neutrons, electrons, quarks, etc.) are not immortal."

    In addition to Steve's fine points on atoms, although granted some of these may be tangental at best:

    1. I agree atoms aren't living or dead, and to say atoms are mortal is a category mistake. However, if Jeff wishes to push the point, what about the conservation of mass-energy? For instance, can an individual atom ever be created or destroyed? Sure, if we collide matter and antimatter together, they can mutually annihilate one another. But in that case wouldn't mass be converted into energy per Einstein's famous equation? What's more, can't this energy then rematerialize (if that's the right way to put it) back into matter and antimatter (or perhaps a particle physicist would hope into a new form of matter)? In this sense, aren't atoms "immortal"?

    2. We likewise can't ignore the forces which bind quarks and antiquarks as well as other matter.

    3. On the one hand, it's possible to say an organism is made up of atoms. Say atoms of carbon, hydrogen, oxygen, nitrogen, etc. But on the other hand, we know atoms of carbon, hydrogen, oxygen, nitrogen, etc. can enter, be used by, and exit the same organism such as when it inspires or ingests and metabolizes foods containing these atoms. As such, these atoms can constitute various parts of an organism, but an organism cannot be reduced to these atoms alone. I mean, I suppose it's possible to say an organism is a collection of atoms, but I would think further reason is needed to say an organism is nothing but a collection of atoms.

    4. BTW, strictly speaking, particles like protons, neutrons, electrons, quarks, etc. makeup atoms. And, strictly speaking, quarks are subatomic particles, not atomic.

  3. Dont angel have bodies? The angels who visited abraham did. They even ate food.

    1. You're confusing the natural condition of angels with modes they can assume.

  4. Why cant glorified bodies be invulnerable?

    1. I'm not discussing what's counterfactually possible, if God had chosen to give us invulnerable bodies. Rather, I'm discussing what's exegetically justified.

      Moreover, Christians should resist cartoon theology, where we reduce the Resurrection to Marvel Comic Book superheroes.

    2. Well, I for one think it would be pretty cool to have a superman body. :-)

    3. Sure about that?

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

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

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

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

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