Saturday, June 10, 2017

Information and resurrection

It's clear from experience that information always comes embodied. What's less clear is that information can always be re-embodied. When matter that embodies information disintegrates, we are likely to think that the information is lost. And for the matter that did the embodying, it is. But this same information can, in principle, always be recovered and then realized in other embodiments. Information is multiply realizable. To say that information is multiply realizable is to say that the same information can be re-presented (that is, made present again) in numerous distinct embodiments. For instance, a musical composition can be realized as notes written in ink on paper, as an electronically scanned version of that document, as a live performance (provided it is without errors), or as an audio file on your computer, to name just a few possibilities. The material embodiment of information can always be destroyed. But information itself is transferrable to other embodiments. It is therefore indestructible and even eternal. 

Information's multiple realizability may illuminate the Christian doctrine of bodily resurrection...consider what has been called the "super supercomputer," attributed to statistician David Blackwell.7 This computer performs its first computational step in half a second, its next computational step a quarter of a second, its next in an eighth of a second, and so on. In general, the nth computational step takes 1 in 2^n seconds. Because the infinite mathematical series 1/2^1 + 1/2^2 + 1/2^3 + ... sums to 1, such a computer would therefore perform any computation whatsoever in a single second. Because it would have infinite computational speed and memory, it could resolve any mathematical problem whatsoever. To an intellect endowed with such computational power, all mathematical truths would be immediately obvious, or, as Ludwig Wittgenstein would say, "surveyable" or "perspicuous."8 Does God’s mind have such computing power? Will humans, if bodily resurrected, be given minds with such computing power? Would having such computing power take the fun out of math for us? Who knows?
William Dembski, Being as Communion.

HT: Patrick Chan

I think there's some value in Dembski's comparison. Certainly, if we view bodies as instantiations of abstract information, then there's an obvious sense in which a body that's destroyed can be the same body as a replica: they both exemplify identical information.

But there's a problem with Dembski's comparsion. Supercomputers have more hardware. But you can't scale up the human body beyond a certain threshold. If the (human) mind is filtered through the brain, then that imposes an upper limit on cognition, because there's an upper limit to a physical structure like the brain, a living structure that depends on fit with a corresponding body to function or even remain alive. 

Our brains age, wear out, and get damaged (as in Alzheimer's disease). In such cases, a destructive transposition occurs that undermines a person's ability to think, feel, and act...In the resurrection our embodied form is supposed not merely to be reconstituted but also to be transposed to a new reality in which wounds are healed, sorrows are comforted, limitations are overcome, and aspirations are fulfilled.

It's true that glorification will repair physical damage. However, the resurrection of the body doesn't repair psychological damage or overcome natural limitations. Psychological healing requires a different principle than physical healing. 

I said you are gods

Recent exchange between apostate Dale Tuggy and me:

Jews prayed the Shema every day. Any observant Jew would instantly register an allusion to the Shema in Jn 10:30. Jesus knew that.

Again, you ignore the Lord's correction of the spiritually blind opponents in John 10:34-36, not to mention the context in John of that "one" statement. You also ignore the obvious implication of John's thesis - that Jesus is not God himself. The "Son of God" is (explicitly in John) none other than the Messiah, the man anointed by God. This special man, anointed by God, is not God himself. He, John has him explicitly say, has a God, who is the same god over you and me. That god is the Father. (John 20:17) In other words (John 5:43-44), the only god, Yahweh. Why do you beat your head against these obvious facts of the text?

i) The context of the Jn 10:30 is a dispute over the identity of Jesus. The context of 10:30 is a Jewish audience who recited the Shema every day. The only way Jesus could reasonably expect them to interpret his statement is an allusion to Deut 6:4. In context, the statement would inevitably trigger that association. Hence, he's claiming to be the Lord of the Shema. 

ii) In v36, Jesus uses "son of God" as a synonym for "God" in v33. They accuse him of making himself "God". Yet, in v36, he translates their allegation as equivalent to the accusation that he's the "Son of God". So he himself uses "God" and "Son of God" as interchangeable labels in that context.

iii) To be anointed by "God" is to be anointed by the "Father". John typically uses "God" as a synonymous proper name for the "Father"–although there are some striking exceptions that accentuate the deity of Christ (Jn 1:1,18; 20:28; 1 Jn 5:20).

iv) Regarding vv34-36, his counterargument turns in part on the identity of the "gods" in Ps 82:6. I believe most modern scholars think the original referent is either God sarcastically addressing the "gods" of the nations, or God addressing the angels of the nations (i.e. angels put in charge of nations). 

In either case, Jesus is presenting an a fortiori argument. If Scripture can property use a divine designation in the lesser case of angels or heathen deities, then with far more propriety can it be used in the greater case of the Son.

v) "Sent into the world" (36) implies the preexistence of the Son. 

vi) Finally, you falsely assume that "God" is a divine designation, but "Son of God" is not. Yet it's demonstrable that in the Johannine corpus, as well as some other NT writings, "Son of God" is a divine title. 

You just choose your own speculations over Jesus's explicit correction. Really, you ought to take Jesus more seriously.

Revealing when a philosophy prof. is forced to resort to sophistry. 

i) To begin with, your reply is a tacit admission that you have no direct rebuttal for my argument. You haven't bothered to explain how a Jewish audience, not to mention a Jewish audience in the context of a dispute over the identity of Jesus, could fail to take Jn 10:30 as anything other than a studied allusion to the Shema. 

ii) You then pretend that I prefer my "own speculations" to Christ's "explicit correction". But, of course, I then spent some time exegeting the verses you appeal to. 

Whoah. Stop right there. It is Jesus's blind enemies that say he's claiming to be God in v. 33. You need to see that you're siding with them, against Jesus!

More sophistry from you. Did I deny that the speakers in v33 are his adversaries? No.

But the truth or falsity of their allegation depends on how Jesus responds and/or how the narrator contextualizes their allegation.

In passages like Jn 8 and Jn 10, the mistake of the Jewish opponents is not in what they discern Jesus to be saying about himself, but in their refusal to believe what he says and intends. 

It's not a simply question of right or wrong. Rather, they get the interpretation right, but refuse to believe it. That's part of the Johannine irony which threads its way through the narrative of the Fourth Gospel. Hostile testimony that unwittingly bears witness to the true identity of Christ.

So, you choose not to see his correction. :-/ Deity of Christ uber alles - never mind how John uses "the Son of God" interchangeably with 'the Messiah' (John 20:31).

Yet more of your sophistry. Because, once again, you can't directly refute my argument, you change the subject. 

In addition, you erect a false dichotomy between messiahship and divine sonship, as if there can't be a divine messiah. 

The way to easily see how you're misreading John here in ch 10 is to see how your reading misfits the logic of Jesus's argument in correcting his opponents.

Yes, you keep thumping that drum, but I reject your interpretation. What is more, I exegeted the verses you cite. I provided a justification for my own interpretation, refuting yours.

Part of his point is that 'Son of God' is a lesser title than 'God'.

That's a point you impute to him, but it's hardly his point.

In any case, he can't here be claiming to be God - he immediately goes on to say that he's and God are cooperating together (vv. 37-39). This presupposes that they're two selves.

So you take refuge in your customary equivocations, which I've exploded on multiple occasions. You never advance the argument, Dale. You just push the rewind button and replay all the same oft-refuted arguments you always use.

Shedding light on John and Revelation

Let's consider a neglected line of evidence for the common authorship of John, 1 John, and Revelation

1. To begin with, light is a common motif in all three documents. Jn 1-12 has 16 figurative references to light, as well as two figurative references to day and night (Jn 9:4; 11:10). 1 Jn has 5 references to light. Rev 1:12-13,20 & 2:5 refer to lamplight while 21:23-24 & 22:6 refer to divine light. Although light is a frequent Scriptural metaphor, which other Bible writers use, the way it clusters in John, 1 John, and Revelation is striking. 

2. In addition, the connections are more specific:

i) As some scholars note, Gen 1:14 foreshadows the tabernacle. It uses the same word ("lights") for the Menorah (Exod 12:31-40). 

ii) Jn 1:1-5 is a studied allusion to the creation account. Not only does it identify Jesus as the Creator in Genesis, but, not coincidentally, it picks up on the contrast between light and darkness. 

iii) In Rev 1:12-13,20 Jesus carries a Menorah. 

iv) References to sun and moon, sunlight and night in Rev 21:23-25 & 22:5 evoke the creation account in Gen 1. That's reinforced by other Edenic imagery (tree of life, river of life). This is a new creation, or recreation, only divine light will take the place of sunlight, and the diurnal cycle will be abolished. 

3. Finally, some people with senile dementia suffer from sundown syndrome. At night they become restless and disoriented. Despite the advent of electrical lighting, humans remain earthlings, psychologically programmed to be responsive to sunlight and night. 

Friday, June 09, 2017

What God has joined together


I'll comment on Tuggy's attempted reply to me:

I'd like to single out this particular line of argument:

Generally, when Hays, in interacting with me, starts riffing on the metaphysics of time or personal identity, it is because he wants to deny this:Things which differ are two (i.e. are not numerically identical)
which is premise 2 in this argument, an argument to which McClatchie and Hays seem to lack any good reply. To put it differently, nothing can, either at one time or in eternity, be and not be some way. Ridiculously, Hays denies this. Why? Because his confused, pop-evangelical theology says that Jesus just is God and vice-versa. And yet all Christians think, on scriptural grounds, that God and Jesus have differed. So this self-evident truth, Hays reasons, has got to go!
Epistemically, this is indefensible. The above principle is just as evident to Hays as it is to me. It has the same epistemic status as countless other principles he’d insist on, like the validity of modus ponens. He employs it all the time without realizing it. It’s probably unfortunate for him that he heard it from me. If he’d heard it from someone on his theological team, his head would immediately nob. “Yes, that is obvious.”But coming from me, it just must be the product of some ungodly speculations. It must be, ’cause it helps to make a problem for my obviously-correct theology!
Well, no, it’s not. Basically every one of these worked out Trinity theories is designed to be consistent with the indiscernibility of identicals. That’s because these philosophers (with the exception of the logically idiosyncratic Geach) see that it is self-evident that if some x and some y actually differ (or have differed, or will differ, or even just could differ) that it is false that x = y. Understanding this is just part of understanding our concept of (numerical) identity. Many times, a philosopher will explain identity as that relation whichnecessarily: is reflexive, transitive, and symmetrical, and which forces absolute indiscernibility.

1. Let's compare that to a recent exchange that Tuggy and I had on my blog:

In the NT, 'the Son' and 'Jesus' are co-referring terms. That is to say, it is assumed that Jesus just is the Son, and vice-versa. In plain English, these are not two characters, but one. You just asserted that one existed before the other; but that requires them to be two."

Norma Jeane and Marilyn Monroe are coreferring terms. Does that mean Norma Jeane was always a movie star, Playboy centerfold, wife of Arthur Miller and Joe DiMagio? Things can be true of the same individual at one stage of life, but false at another stage of life. 

Tuggy then admits that my example "is obviously true". But obviously true in reference to what? The reality of change, or the indiscernibility of identicals? 

Continuing the exchange:

That's why your invocation of is the indiscernibility of identicals is arbitrary. You yourself make that consistent with change. But in that event, you're not using the the indiscernibility of identicals as your standard of comparison. Rather, you are using your theory of personal identity as your standard of comparison, and then adapting the indiscernibility of identicals to accommodate the reality of change in reference to the same individual. So you're very flexible in how you apply the indiscernibility of identicals in that case, but very inflexible in how you apply to the Trinity or the Incarnation.

We know that things change.

True, but what this means is that you're not using the indiscernibility of identicals as your standard of comparison. Rather, you begin with the experience of time as your standard of comparison. You then reformulate the indiscernibility of identicals to accommodate the experience of time.

Time is change. Change is difference. How is that consistent with the the indiscernibility of identicals? Not consistent if you absolutize the indiscernibility of identicals.

You're not using a necessary truth (indiscernibility of identicals) as your criterion. Just the opposite: your using a contingent truth (the experience of change) as your criterion. So you prioritize truths of fact over truths of reason. 

2. Compare Dale's methodology to John McTaggart. McTaggart denied the reality of time, based on the very same principles that Tuggy invokes: the dissimilarity of the diverse (i.e. identity of indiscernible) and the diversity of the dissimilar (indiscernibility of identicals).

Unlike Tuggy, he actually begins with that "self-evident" truth of reason, which he applies with ruthless, fanatical consistency. By contrast,  Tuggy approaches the issue from the opposite end of the spectrum. Tuggy begins with the self-evident truth of time. 

So there's a choice of starting-points. Do we, like McTaggart, take a necessary truth like the law of identity as our standard of comparison, and then disallow change because that conflicts with the law of identity? Or do we take a contingent truth like the experience of time, and allow that to qualify the law of identity? 

The same issue crops up in the case of transworld identity. On the one hand, it seems natural for us to make counterfactual claims. For instance, if I had a brother, I'd be somewhat different than if I didn't have a brother, or vice versa. For one thing, some of my memories would be different, and memories are an element of personal identity. 

But how can I be the same individual if something about me is different, especially something as significant as personal memories? So what gives? Do we deny the truth-value of counterfactuals? Or do we qualify the law of identity?

One move is to distinguish between intrinsic and extrinsic properties. I don't object to that distinction, but that's drawn in spite of the indiscernibility of identicals. 

Tuggy's dilemma is that he careens between two divergent "self-evident" principles. He absolutizes the law of identity when attacking the Trinity and the Incarnation, but he makes exceptions when the topic is diachronic identity or transworld identity. He exempts them from his strictures. So Tuggy's appeal is selective and arbitrary. 

3. Finally, let's take a comparison. Do symmetries satisfy the principle of substitutivity (i.e. indiscernibility of identicals)? What makes them symmetrical is one-to-one correspondence. That's a rigorous criterion. 

But consider mirror symmetries. What makes them symmetrical is that you can place them in a relation of one-to-one correspondence.

Yet because they have the property of chirality, they are nonsuperimposable. Left-handedness is not interchangeable with right-handedness. 

So that's where Tuggy's false dichotomy between strict identity and strict alterity breaks down. Not everything is reducible to his binaries. 

Thursday, June 08, 2017

The everlasting light

As a young boy, back in the mid-60s, my parents had a family custom. On Christmas Eve, before heading off to the midnight candlelight service, they'd play an old LP of King's College choir, performing lessons and carols. It must of been one of the first commercial recordings of the famous choir.

I've been listening to these hymns and carols for over 50 years. As you pass through the lifecycle, as you experience the wear and tear of life, the same hymns and carols take on deeper meaning. Here's a performance I enjoy:

Even though a carol we associate with Christmas Eve, the service evidently took place during the daytime. Perhaps it was a Christian Day service rather than a Christmas Eve service.

Towards the beginning of the video clip, the camera pans up a stained glass window. The viewer sees two flickering candles in the foreground, with the illuminated window in the background. Light behind the window, from outside, streaming in. Steady light in contrast to the flickering candlelight. 

Light and darkness are elemental religious symbols. They figure prominently in the Genesis creation account as well as the prologue to John's Gospel. Lamplight is a motif in the early chapters of Revelation. 

But it takes an effort to appreciate the symbolism, because it loses impact due to excessive familiarity. We're so used to these metaphors that they've lost their freshness unless we consciously mediate on their timeless significance. 

If the interior is brighter, it makes exterior lighting seem dimmer. If the interior is dimmer, it makes exterior lighting seem brighter. 

If a cathedral depends on natural lighting or candlelight, the dim interior stands in contrast to sunlight flooding in through stained glass panels.

Some Christians lead lives that grow increasingly dark. A flickering candle in the night. Yet dimming the light in this world makes it possible to better see and to better appreciate the everlasting light beyond our dying world. 

A Whitsun Address

Did Comey break the law?

Preexilic Bible manuscripts

The earliest manuscript of any recognizable part of the OT is a text of part of Num 6:24-26 found incised on two small silver scrolls discovered in 1979 during the excavation of Judean burial sites at Ketef Hinnom, immediately southwest of the city of David in Jerusalem. This text is too brief to make a definite connection with a particular tradition. However, it is a form of the blessing of Aaron as well as possibly Deut 7:9. Because biblical texts would have been written on perishable materials such as papyrus or vellum (animal skin), these silver-inscribed scrolls are the only ancient biblical texts preserved in the settled areas of Judah and Israel, thus the earliest such texts. Although they were discovered in a burial context that dates from the years immediately before the destruction of Jerusalem in 586BC, it is likely that the actual composition of these silver manuscripts should be assigned an early date, in the seventh century BC. R. Hess, The Old Testament: A Historical, Theological, and Critical Introduction (Baker, 2016), 10. 

Unitarian weasel watch

Apostate Dale Tuggy attempted to refute a post by Jonathan McLatchie:

I assume he means here something like a substitutional theory of atonement. That’s right, I don’t think anyone has to believe that in order to be saved. A person doesn’t have to believe any developed theory about the mechanics of forgiveness, i.e. a theological atonement theory, in order to be saved. That is as it should be. All Peter tells them in Acts 2, is if they repent and get baptized, they’ll be forgiven.

Tuggy's response fails on two levels:

i) There's an elementary distinction between what's necessary to believe to be saved, and what's necessary for the Christian faith to be true. For instance, a convert might be ignorant of the fact that Jesus is, among other things, the Davidic messiah. A convert might not believe it because he doesn't know that much. He could exercise saving faith despite that theological lacuna. 

However, the truth of Christianity depends, in part, on the fact that Jesus is the definitive heir of the Davidic covenant. The fact that knowing and believing that may be inessential to salvation doesn't render it inessential to the Gospel. It's a necessary presupposition or precondition of messiahship.

ii) In addition, there's a difference between innocent unbelief and defiant disbelief. There's a difference between not believing something because you don't know that you're supposed to believe it, and refusing to believe something you're supposed to believe, after you've been informed about your epistemic duties. 

Here Mr. McLatchie introduces a red herring, a distraction. The use of “philosophical categories” (i.e. terms) is irrelevant. I would count it here if in any way, the tripersonal God were mentioned as such, or the “deity of Christ” or the two natures of Jesus were taught. The terms needn’t have time-traveled back from Constantinople (381) or Chalcedon (451). Any sort of explicit statement or clear implication would do.

That's the tactic of framing an issue to the advantage of your own position. Why require an "explicit statement"? "Clear implication" in reference to what?

For instance, when addressing a Jewish audience, Jesus and the Apostles take many things for granted. Because a Jewish audience has a background in OT theism and messianic prophecy, the deity of Christ is implicit in many statements and actions by comparing NT statements by or about Jesus with the OT exemplar. It is, in part, generated by a relationship between the OT and the NT. That's different from a theological formula. 

Next, McLatchie serves up an example of the fulfillment fallacy.

i) Here Dale resorts to well-poisoning tactic by inventing a prejudicial label which he slaps onto Trinitarian hermeneutics. 

ii) In addition, Dale is appealing to his refuted arguments:

Amazingly, Mr. McLatchie celebrates having (he thinks) proved the numerical identity of Yahweh and Jesus, and then immediately mentions that they qualitatively differ!…Right Jesus received the spirit from the Father. (Acts 2:33) The Father didn’t receive his spirit from anyone. It follows that they are numerically two. Mr. McLatchie needs to learn this self-evident truth, the indiscernibility of identicals, and then theologize (and interpret scripture) accordingly.

i) To begin with, if the Trinity is true, then that's a necessary truth. God is a necessary being. What is true of God's essential nature is necessarily true. 

ii) The indiscernibility of identicals isn't Dale's starting-point. For instance, Dale believes in the reality of change. He takes that as his standard of comparison. Yet change makes something different. So is it the same thing? 

That forces Dale to weaken the indiscernibility of identicals to make room for his common sense belief that personal identity is consistent with change. 

If you want an example of a philosopher who takes the indiscernibility of identicals as his standard of comparison, consider McTaggart. He denies the reality of time because he takes the indiscernibility of identicals as his starting-point and standard of comparison. Dale does the opposite.

Ironically, Dale is, in that respect, using the same methodology as Trinitarians. Our understanding of reality conditions our metaphysical commitments. 

Wednesday, June 07, 2017

Fact-checking the fact-checkers

Worshiping a God Who Might Damn Your Children

Although I disagree with his freewill theism (among other things), Craig's response to the writer is generally strong and useful:

Story of the Ethiopian eunuch

The miracle writer

The logistics of reincarnation

Recently I was considering some additional, internal problems with reincarnation:

i) If accounting for how some people allegedly remember past lives is a problem, then there's the opposite problem of accounting for why most folks have no recollection of former lives. That vastly outnumbers the people who say they remember a past life. So that poses a dilemma for the reincarnational explanation. 

ii) Reincarnation poses daunting logistical problems. Consider the timing. On the one hand, new bodies only become available for souls to reincarnate at the moment of conception. Conversely, souls only become available when the host dies. 

Since the timing of when people die and when people are conceived is random, how is it possible to coordinate the transfer of preexisting souls to new bodies? If reincarnation is true, wouldn't there be shortages in either direction? Bodiless souls and soulless bodies? Souls waiting for a body to become available and bodies waiting for a soul to become available? 

What's the mechanism that synchronizes death and conception so that a soul is freed up at the moment of death at the same time a couple in some part of the world succeeds in fertilizing an ovum? 

In theory, reincarnation could happen between conception and birth. But there's still going to be a logjam or bottleneck since there's no correspondence between when someone happens to die and when a baby happens to be conceived. Those are causally and chronologically independent events.

And what about preemies? Moreover, we keep pushing back viability. So the window for souls to reincarnate a new body is narrowing.  

It’s time to accept some uncomfortable truths

"Islam and Terrorism. Again and Again."

How Roman Catholic Apologists Operate

Raymond Brown is not a modernist
The work of Roman Catholic Apologist Peter D. Williams 

Tuesday, June 06, 2017

We are watching “development of doctrine” in the making

Amoris Laetitia Development of Doctrine
"Binding and Loosing" right before our eyes!
Pope Bergoglio the Jesuit knows just enough about how to manipulate the Roman Catholic system (theology --> Magisterium) and to create enough of a public upswell (just as with the Marian devotions and doctrines) to see a new doctrine on marriage in the making. Yes, folks, we are witnessing a development of doctrine right before our eyes:
Cardinal Cupich has written the forward to a new English translation of Cardinal Coccopalmerio's booklet "A Commentary on Chapter Eight of Amoris Laetitia",...

In his endorsement of Coccopalmerio's book-long defense of adultery for the divorced and civilly remarried, Cupich cites an article by Rocco Buttiglione calling Amoris Laetitia a "development of doctrine and what it means for Popes to exercise their divinely granted Petrine power of loosening and binding in different ways and in different historical circumstances." (Emphasis added).

Cupich suggests Francis' new teaching on sex and the sacraments marks "new opportunities to retrieve certain truths that have become dormant," namely about the Church's teaching on conscience and mitigating circumstances, such that "when it comes to dealing with certain so-called irregular situations, what is required is a pastoral approach that takes into consideration both the general and the individual aspects of a person's life."

To understand Amoris Laetitia's treatment of conscience, Cardinal Cupich also recommends an article on the subject by Fr. James Keenan, an LGBT activist and supporter of condoms, who even testified publicly against a Massachusetts bill defining marriage as the union of a man and a woman as "contrary to the Catholic Church's teaching on social justice." Given that Cupich is on the record also supporting Holy Communion for some living active homosexual lifestyles, this all should come as no surprise.

Cupich's comments about "binding and loosing" regarding marriage and adultery also smack of two disturbing quotes from the 2015 synod on the family:

"Others, for the penitential way, intend a process of clarification and of a new direction, after the failure experienced, accompanied by a delegated presbyter.. [who] may reach an evaluation so as to make use of the power to bind and loose in a way adequate to the situation." - 2015 Instrumentum Laboris, 123

We are honored to be watching the sensus fidelium lead the way into a development of this new Roman Catholic doctrine!

Edit 6/7/2017, 9:30 am: It seems as if Peter Williams (@PeterDCXW) did not catch my allusion here to the sensus fidelium. Of course it was a reference to Pope Bergoglio knowing how to manipulate the popular opinion – in this case, “divorced and remarried ought to be able to receive communion” – in order to create a groundswell that can then be attributed to the sensus fidelium (“the sense of the whole faithful”) in order to make the claim that the doctrine should be changed.

What's in a name?

Normally, it's the job of translators to…well…to translate. That's kind of the whole point of the exercise. Translate a text from one language to another. Sometimes, when translators are in the dark, they transliterate, but that defeats the purpose of a translation. After all, the premise of a translation is that readers don't know the original language, so a transliteration is opaque. 

It can pose a dilemma. A striking case is the tetragrammaton. If you read scholars and commentators (e.g. Alexander, Cassuto, Childs, Currid, Durham, Enns, Garrett, Hamilton, Kaiser, Motyer, Sarna, Stuart, Waltke), there's no agreement on how to render the divine name. Proposed renderings include:

• I am
• I will be
• I will become
• I will cause to be

As will as more paraphrastic renderings:

• The One who always is
• My abiding identity
• I will be what I need to be for you 

Part of the difficulty is how to approach the issue. Some scholars rely on etymology, but that's unreliable–hence the etymological fallacy. 

But even from an etymological frame of reference, scholars differ on the etymology of the construction. 

Some renderings are more metaphysical, accentuating what God is like. God's essential nature. Others are more dynamic, accentuating God's providential protection. A difference between what God is and what God does. 

There's a tradition of overinterpreting the tetragrammaton to prooftext a theologian's philosophical agenda. Aquinas is a classic example.

Yahweh's answer seems designed both to reveal and conceal. On the one hand, the name has tantalizing connotations. So they may disclose something about the character of Yahweh. On the other hand, the sense of the name appears to be couched in a studied ambiguity, so that God is holding a lot in reserve.

Why, then, is Yahweh's answer to Moses something of a cipher? Why not be more forthcoming? My best guess is that it's deliberately elusive because, in the ancient Near East, knowing the name of a god was used in incantations and imprecations to manipulate a deity into doing favors. A command performance.  

This may be what Jacob had in mind when he asked the angel's name (Gen 32:29). He was losing his wrestling match with the angel. He may well have thought that if he could just learn his name, that would give him an edge. A competitive advantage. The patriarchs were not far removed from folk magic. 

God's name is enigmatic to discourage Jews from using his name to extort God. Not that they'd succeed, but it's a mentality that needs to be forestalled. 

If you wish to know what Yahweh is like, you don't derive that from a name, but from the entire Pentateuch. God unveils his nature and character, not in name, but in action. 

The temptation to misuse God's name isn't confined to ancient sorcery. Consider, in church history, right up to the present, how God's name, or Christ's name, is used in exorcism rituals to compel and expel demons. It's easy for Christians to turn the name of Jesus into a magic formula, as if they were casting spells. Ironically, that's using witchcraft to combat witchcraft, like using Satan to cast out Satan (Mt 12:26). A self-defeating exercise.  

On a different, but related note, some "deliverance" ministries  think it's important to learn the demon's name. If you can get the demon divulge its name, you can make it say uncle. As I recall, that was Fred Dickason's position. 

Or take the epiclesis, in high-church ceremonies, to transform the communion elements into the True Body and Blood. 

What do they mean when they say “Development”?

It’s not clear, for example, that Jesus-believers of Paul’s time (ca. 30-60 CE) thought of themselves, their faith and practices as “primitive” or “embryonic” of some more mature and complete form of Jesus-devotion that might be worked out across time. I get the impression, instead, that Paul (for example) thought of the convictions and teachings that he delivered as adequately formed and fully appropriate for his situation. So, if we refer to those early years of the Jesus-movement as embryonic or the seeds of something that developed later, I think that we’re importing a value judgment that isn’t based on the evidence.

Monday, June 05, 2017

Keep yourselves from idols

17 When Jesus had spoken these words, he lifted up his eyes to heaven, and said, “Father, the hour has come; glorify your Son that the Son may glorify you, 2 since you have given him authority over all flesh, to give eternal life to all whom you have given him. 3 And this is eternal life, that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent. 4 I glorified you on earth, having accomplished the work that you gave me to do. 5 And now, Father, glorify me in your own presence with the glory that I had with you before the world existed (Jn 17:1-5).

v3 is a unitarian prooftext. On that interpretation, the "only true God" stands in contrast to the Son. The Father is the "only true God" and the Son is not. But is it John's intention to exclude Jesus from that category? 

One barrier to that interpretation is:

I and the Father are one (Jn 10:30).

This echoes the Shema. So the Father and the Son are the one Yahweh.

In terms of pervasive Biblical precedent, the "only true God" stands in opposition to pagan polytheism and heathen idolatry. So that forms the natural backdrop to v3. 

And here's a striking Johannine parallel: 

20 And we know that the Son of God has come and has given us understanding, so that we may know him who is true; and we are in him who is true, in his Son Jesus Christ. He is the true God and eternal life. 21 Little children, keep yourselves from idols (1 Jn 5:20-21).

V21 seems a bit abrupt, but the point is the opposition between idols and the true God. By the same token, that's the implicit point of contrast in Jn 17:3. The Father, as the "only true God" stands in contrast, not to the Son, but to pagan impiety. 

In addition, the Son is probably the referent of the "true God" in 1 Jn 5:20. 

Holy Ghost Greek

A common objection to the traditional authorship of some NT books is that Palestinian Jews or "fishermen" lack the requisite command of Greek. I've discussed this before, but I'd like to approach it from a different angle. Even conservative scholars who defend traditional authorship usually offer naturalistic explanations. 

But what about xenoglossy? I think the best interpretation of glossolalia in Acts is xenoglossy. That's a supernatural understanding of a foreign language. The individual didn't acquire his command of that language by natural means.

If we take that phenomenon seriously, then why would NT writers be exempt? If one or more NT writers needed to be able to write in competent Greek, but didn't have natural proficiency in the language, what's to prevent God from endowing him, at least temporarily, with a supernatural grasp of the language (i.e. xenoglossy)?

Indeed, that isn't sheer speculation. Isn't that exactly what God did with the disciples on the day of Pentecost (Acts 2:1-12)?

This needn't be a permanent endowment. Perhaps it comes and goes as the need arises. Perhaps there is such a thing as "holy Ghost" Greek after all, if not in the traditional sense. 

God and God's Spirit

I've written a lot about the deity of Christ, but less about the personality and deity of the Spirit. That's in part because there's less material to work with. 

That's not a damaging concession. We have so much material about the Son because he became Incarnate, unlike the Father and the Spirit. The Gospels say comparatively less about the Father and the Spirit. If we only had the OT to go by, the nature of the Son would be more shadowy. In that respect, revelation about the Spirit is rather like OT revelation about the Son. Even so, it's striking that the Spirit plays a more prominent role in Acts and the Pauline epistles. That's because, in a sense, the Spirit takes over from Christ, after the Ascension. 

I think some of the traditional prooftexting for the personality and deity of the Spirit is weak and superficial, so I'd like to marshal some of the exegetical evidence differently. I'll present my material, then anticipate some objections. 

1. In Hebrews, God and the Spirit are interchangeable:

7 Therefore, as the Holy Spirit says,

“Today, if you hear his voice, 8 do not harden your hearts as in the rebellion, on the day of testing in the wilderness, (Heb 3:7-8).

That's quoting Ps 95:7-8. In the original context, the speaker is Yahweh (v6) or Elohim (v7). But the author of Hebrews makes the Spirit the speaker. 

8 By this the Holy Spirit indicates that the way into the holy places is not yet opened as long as the first section is still standing (Heb 9:8).

In this section, the author of Hebrews is alluding to Pentateuchal instructions regarding the Mosaic cultus. In the original, these are represented as direct revelation from Yahweh. But the author of Hebrews attributes these instructions to the Spirit. 

15The Holy Spirit also testifies to us about this. First He says: 16“This is the covenant I will make with them after those days, says the Lord (Heb 10:15-16). 

Minimally, this makes the Spirit the author of Scripture or agent of revelation. But it goes beyond that. The Spirit himself is making the new covenant. 

2. Paul says:

22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law (Gal 5:22-23).

i) These virtues are dispositions. Mental properties as well as moral properties. But how can the effect be personal unless the cause is personal? How can the Spirit be the source these psychological characteristics unless the Spirit is a personal agent? 

ii) In addition, these are traits of godliness. They make Christians godlike. By the Spirit, Christians exemplify these exemplary virtues. But how can the Spirit be the source of communicable attributes unless he is divine? 

3. Paul says:

All these are empowered by one and the same Spirit, who apportions to each one individually as he wills (1 Cor 12:11).

This attributes intelligent agency to the Spirit. The Spirit exercises discretion in choosing who will receive which gift. 

4. Paul says:

The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God (Rom 8:16).

i) If our human spirit is personal, can God's Spirit be less than personal?

ii) To be a witness is the action of a personal agent. 

5. Paul says:

26 Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words. 27 And he who searches hearts knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God (Rom 8:26-27).

The Spirit has a mind. The Spirit functions as a intercessor.

6. Paul says:

And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption (Eph 4:30).

That attributes personality to the Spirit.

7. Paul says:

10 these things God has revealed to us through the Spirit. For the Spirit searches everything, even the depths of God. 11 For who knows a person's thoughts except the spirit of that person, which is in him? So also no one comprehends the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God (1 Cor 2:10-11).

Paul's analogy involves a distinction between self-knowledge or introspection and the perspective of an outside observer. I alone know what I'm thinking. I have privileged access to my own mind. 

Or to use Paul's imagery, only my soul knows what I'm thinking. So the Holy Spirit is like the soul of God. Only God has direct knowledge of himself. 

There's a subject/object distinction in the process of introspection, where we engage in self-reflection. 

Now let's consider some objections:

1. Scripture simply uses "Spirit of God" as a stylistic variant for "God". They are one and the same thing. The distinction is rhetorical.

There are probably passages in which that explanation works. However, consider all those passages where God is in heaven while the Spirit comes down from heaven. That can't be collapsed into a stylistic variant, for it depicts two individuals in two different places. Even making allowance for the anthropomorphic use of spatial metaphors, it's not a rhetorical distinction. 

2. The "Spirit" is metaphorical language. It would be rendered "breath" or "wind".

i) Of course, Scripture uses other figurative designations for God. God is light, fire, and rock. But that hardly means God is just a metaphor for natural forces.

ii) Scripture uses the same terminology for angels. Angels are "spirits" (pneuma). That could be rendered "breath". But it hardly means that angels are just metaphors for natural forces. Not from a Biblical perspective. 

3. We could also say that when a prophet speaks, that's equivalent to God speaking. 

True, but there's a crucial difference. In their respective relationship to divine revelation, the Spirit is productive while a prophet is receptive. Prophets play an instrumental role in mediating divine revelation, while the Spirit is the originating source. Both are sources of divine revelation, but a prophet is a proximate source while the Spirit is the ultimate source. 

4. The Spirit is simply a personification for divine action in the world. 

i) Take the parallel between the Spirit coming down from heaven and angels coming down from heaven. If the Spirit is just a personified projection of divine power, then, by parity of argument, so are angels. Yet Scripture clearly presents angels as distinct individuals and agents. 

ii) In Jn 14-16, there's a symmetry between the Father, Son, and Spirit as personal agents. 

Sunday, June 04, 2017

Varieties of religious experience

A Christian responds to my earlier post on God, but I don’t see many actual arguments for the existence of God in there (criticizing “metaphysical nominalism” doesn’t count).  The testimony argument is offered, but I considered that in my original post, and I don’t see a rebuttal to what I wrote.

1. I appreciate Cowen's acknowledging the response. That said:

i) It wasn't my aim to mount a full-blown case for theism, but to respond to some of Cowen's objections.

ii) As far as that goes, he didn't catch on to the strategy. If the standard paradigm of naturalism is defined by physicalism and causal closure, and if we can cite various lines of evidence that falsify the standard paradigm of naturalism (thus defined), then the alternative will be theism by default. You don't need positive arguments for theism to prove theism if it's a choice between two alternatives–theism and naturalism–and you disprove the alternative to theism.

There are, of course, many positive arguments for theism, but I preferred to take an indirect approach, because that's a neglected strategy.

iii) In addition, evidence for the historicity of the Gospels automatically translates into evidence for theism. Indeed, a very specific type of theism: Christian theism!  

iv) But by way of direct response to his inquiry, here are some actual arguments of the existence of God:

Stephen T. Davis, God, Reason and Theistic Proof (Edinburgh University Press, 1997)

William Lane Craig & J. P. Moreland, eds. The Blackwell Companion to Natural Theology (Wiley-Blackwell, 2012)

Jerry L. Walls & Trent Dougherty, eds. Two Dozen (or so) Arguments for God: The Plantinga Project (Oxford University Press, forthcoming)

2. Regarding testimony, I believe he's alluding to point #6 of in his original post:

I do take the William James arguments about personal experience of God seriously, and I recommend his The Varieties of Religious Experience: A Study in Human Nature to everybody — it’s one of the best books period.  But these personal accounts contradict each other in many cases, we know at least some of them are wrong or delusional, and overall I think the capacity of human beings to believe things — some would call it self-deception but that term assumes a neutral, objective base more than is warranted here — is quite strong.  Presumably a Christian believes that pagan accounts of the gods are incorrect, and vice versa; I say they are probably both right in their criticisms of the other.

Several issues:

i) If he's using William James's classic monograph as his standard of comparison, that's disanalogous to the material I cited. James's treatment is a study in religious psychology: "the feelings, acts, and experiences of individual men in their solitude, so far as they apprehend themselves to stand in relation to whatever they may consider the divine," or "inner experiences". 

But a collection of subjective impressions, including mysticism, isn't comparable to the material I cited in reference to miracles and the paranormal.   There's a categorical difference between testimony to private mental states and testimony to public events, including veridical experiences. 

ii) Regarding the value of testimonial evidence in general, including criterion to sift reliable from unreliable testimony, here's a classic study:

C. A. J. Coady, Testimony: A Philosophical Study (Oxford University Press, 1992).

Likewise, this work includes a detailed defense of anecdotal evidence:

Stephen E. Braude, The Limits of Influence: Psychokinesis and the Philosophy of Science (Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1986), chap. 1. 

iii) In addition, philosophical critiques of Hume assess and defend the value of testimonial evidence in reference to miracles. For instance:

John Earman, Hume’s Abject Failure: The Argument Against Miracles (Oxford, 2000)

D. Geivett & G. Habermas, eds., In Defense of Miracles: A Comprehensive Case for God's Action in History (IVP, 1997)

Joseph Houston, Reported Miracles: A Critique of Hume (Cambridge, 1994)

David Johnson, Hume, Holism, and Miracles (Cornell, 2002)

Robert Larmer, The Legitimacy of Miracle (Lexington Books, 2013) 

iv) Regarding pagan accounts of gods, I don't know what Cowen has in mind. Homer's Iliad, Hesiod's Theogony, Ovid's Metamorphosis, and the Bhagavad Gita (to take a few paradigm examples) are hardly accounts based on testimony in the sense of reported observations by eyewitnesses. The genre is fictional. That's hardly analogous to the four Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John), or case-studies of miracles I referred to.