Tuesday, September 09, 2014

Feser on Olson

Given his emphasis on what he claims we would come to think about the divine nature “just reading the Bible,” you might suppose that Olson’s objections are sola scriptura oriented.  However, in a combox remark he says: “I didn't say it's not true just because it's not in the Bible.  My argument was that it conflicts with the biblical portrayal of God…” (emphasis added). So, what arguments does Olson give to show that there is such a conflict?  None that is not fallacious, as far as I can see. 
Consider Olson’s populist appeal to what the “ordinary lay Christian, just reading his or her Bible” would come to think.  I certainly agree with him that the average reader without a theological education would not only not arrive at notions like divine simplicity, immutability, etc., but would even reject them.  But so what?  By itself this is just a fallacious appeal to majority.  Moreover, Olson does not apply this standard consistently.  The average reader might also suppose that God has a body -- for example, that he has legs with which he walks about the garden of Eden in the cool of the day (Genesis 3:8), eyes and eyelids (Psalm 11:4), nostrils and lungs with which he breathes (Job 4:9), and so forth.  But Olson acknowledges that God does not have a body.  Since Olson gives us no explanation of why we should trust what the ordinary reader would say vis-à-vis divine simplicity, etc. but not trust him where divine incorporeality is concerned, we seem to have a fallacy of special pleading.  
One of Olson’s readers points out that Olson himself “repudiate[s] much of the biblical portrayal of God,” such as God’s “commanding capital punishment,” and asks how Olson can do so given his appeal to consistency with scripture.  Olson’s response is: “Surely, if you've read me very much, you know the answer -- Jesus.”  But of course, that is no answer at all, since whether Jesus would approve of Olson’s position (vis-à-vis capital punishment or classical theism) or that of Olson’s critic is itself part of what is at issue, so that the reply begs the question.  (Olson also tells the reader -- who, quite rightly, wasn’t satisfied with Olson’s response -- that the reader intends only “to challenge and argue and harass” Olson and lacks a “teachable spirit.”  What Olson does not do is actually answer the reader’s objection.)  

1 comment:

  1. Some might suggest that Olson challenges, argues, harasses, and lacks a teachable spirit.