Sunday, June 17, 2007

Lonergan on Tertullian

The contention that there was a time when the Son as such was not has caused Bernard Lonergan to question the logical coherence of Tertullian’s Christology. Although Lonergan avoids reproaching the pre-Nicenes for their ostensible need to excise incongruous logical elements from distinct theological notions which they espoused regarding the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, he points out that Tertullian’s argument concerning a time when the Son was not in existence conflicts with his fundamental theological case made against Praxeas respecting the three persons.[1] Tertullian supposedly holds that the Son is God as the Father is God. But this does not mean that he believes the Father and Son have every divine-constituting property in common.[2] The Latin apologist is convinced that the Son, being derivative of the divine substance is God (Adversus Praxean 9).[3] Nevertheless, Tertullian also believes that the entity who generates the preexistent Christ is eternal or everlasting, whereas the Son qua Son is not. But Lonergan insists that this position is logically untenable. For if God is everlasting and the Son is God, then the Son must also be everlasting; furthermore, if God is the whole divine substance and Christ is God, then Christ too is identical with the whole divine substance.[4] A claim to the contrary simply appears incoherent, based on the law of transitivity. The logical law of transitivity states that if A=B and B=C, then A=C. Stated non-formally, if Marcus is Tullius and Tullius is Cicero, then Marcus is Cicero.[5] If the term “God” identifies a referent as opposed to predicating divinity of a subject, then Lonergan’s argument seems convincing. However, it is possible that “God” is not a term marking absolute identity, but one that predicates relative identity. And relative identity is most closely associated with terms that philosophers consider “sortal.”

The chief objection to Lonergan’s syllogisms is probably the theory of sortal-relative identity, which certain thinkers view as suspect.[6] The theory of sortal-relative identity claims that it is logically possible for two entities (A and B) to be the same F without being the same G.[7] For example, a couch and chair may have the same color (F) but still be different pieces of furniture (G).[8] Advocates of sortal-relativity thus contend that identity is never absolute. A piece of clay (F) is not the same G as a statue of which it is the material cause. Two entities (A and B) are always discernible in some crucial aspect or relativized with respect to a sortal noun (e.g. bird, dog, cat, chair, star, couch or tree). John Feinberg, Christopher Hughes, Saul Kripke, Peter Geach, Thomas V. Morris and Peter van Inwagen adequately treat the topic of sortal-relative over against absolute identity in their respective studies.[9] While a deeper exploration of identity (relative, absolute, qualitative or numerical) is outside the bounds of this work, this investigation espouses the position that Lonergan’s syllogisms fittingly comport with the theory of absolute identity.

[1] Bernard J. F. Lonergan, The Way to Nicea: The Dialectical Development of Trinitarian Theology: a Translation [from the Latin] by Conn O'Donovan from the First Part of De Deo Trino (London: Darton, Longman, and Todd, 1976), 48.

[2] What are here called “divine-constituting properties” are similar to what others call great-making properties. Thomas V. Morris defines a “great-making property as “any property, or attribute, or characteristic, or quality which it is intrinsically good to have, any property which endows its bearer with some measure of value, or greatness, or metaphysical stature, regardless of external circumstances,” in Our Idea of God: An Introduction to Philosophical Theology (Vancouver: Regent College Publishing, 1991), 35. The difference between a divine-constituting property and a great-making property is that while non-divine beings can possess the latter, only a being that is fully divine can possess the former. See Hoffman and Rosenkrantz, Divine Attributes, 13-20.

[3] Seeberg, History of Doctrines, 1:126.

[4] Lonergan, The Way to Nicea, 48.

[5] See Bertrand Russell, Introduction to Mathematical Philosophy (London: G. Allen and Unwin, 1970), 33; Simon Blackburn, Think: A Compelling Introduction to Philosophy (Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press, 1999), 134.

[6] See Richard Cartwright, Philosophical Essays (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1987); Hughes, Complex Theory of a Simple God, 157.

[7] Ibid.

[8] Ibid. 158.

[9] Ibid. 156-161; Kripke, Naming and Necessity, 3; Peter Geach, “Ontological Relativity and Relative Identity,” in Logic and Ontology, ed. Milton Karl Munitz (New York: New York University Press, 1973); Peter van Inwagen, Ontology, Identity, and Modality: Essays in Metaphysics (Cambridge University Press, 2001); Thomas V. Morris, The Logic of God Incarnate (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1986); John Feinberg, No One Like Him: The Doctrine of God (Wheaton: Crossway, 2006), 494-496.

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Longer Lifespan?

Is the world getting better? Is the world becoming less violent? Are humans now living longer due to medical advances?

While some might be tempted to think that modern scientific medicine has increased the current lifespan for those of us living in the 21st century, the truth is more complex than often heard claims about an increase in the human lifespan.

In his book Biology as Ideology: The Doctrine of DNA, geneticist Richard C. Lewontin points out that we certainly live longer than our ancestors who lived in 1890 did. However, what has contributed to our seeming increased lifespan?

While Lewontin's book was first published in 1991, his research on this issue still comports with present-day work done on these issues. Lewontin argues that modern medicine has not "prolonged the life of elderly and sick people" (page 42). A reduction in infant mortality is what accounts for the expected life span, not an increase on the upper end of the age continuum. As for those have reached maturity, Lewontin notes that science has done "little to add years" to their lives (ibid).

So, while it is true that we now generally live to be at least 75 rather than 45 (as was the case in the 19th century), it seems important not to exaggerate what has actually happened. Certain diseases have become non-factors for a number of people and decreased infant mortality. But as history has shown, these diseases can also return with a vengeance. There are many reasons to believe that the world is not getting better. I hope to touch on some of these issues in the future.

Saturday, June 02, 2007

Arnobius and Theological Discourse

Since rational creaturely essences seem capable of knowing by means of general revelation whether God exists but utterly incapable of fathoming his essence (i.e. his immanent being), Justin and Philo insist that rational creatures should utilize expressions such as “He That Is” or “The Being” (o` w;n) which signify authentic divine existence.[1] Nevertheless, on this view, created entities cannot verbally reveal anything pertaining to God’s quiddity since to do so would define the Most High’s whatness; the act of defining, in turn, would ontologically limit the boundless Creator.[2] Therefore, Arnobius contends that the only legitimate alternative to defining God is reverential silence: “There is but one thing man can be assured of regarding God’s nature, to know and perceive that nothing can be revealed in human language concerning God.”[3] However, is reverential quietude a plausible option for devout theists seeking understanding (quaerens intellectum) of the deity, whom they religiously profess? Frank Kilpatrick ostensively addresses this question when he remarks that hardly any theist withdraws into theolinguistic silence when referring to the Christian divinity. Rather, theists usually choose to articulate something definitive about the divine one through corporate worship or theological discourse: “As the language about God as ‘act-of-being’ makes clear, some words continue to be used with respect to God.”[4] Deferential silence thus does not appear to be a viable theolinguistic option.[5]

[1] Carabine, Unknown God, 209.

[2] Sanders, The God Who Risks, 27.

[3] Adversus nationes 3.19: Unus est hominis intellectus de dei natura certissimus, si scias et sentias nihil de illo posse mortali oratione depromi.

[4] Kilpatrick, Together Bound, 35. One is here reminded of Wittgenstein’s concluding proposition in the Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus: “Whereof one cannot speak, thereof one must be silent” (Wovon man nicht sprechen kann, darüber muß man schweigen).

[5] Compare ST Ia.13.1. See Vincent Brümmer, Speaking of a Personal God: An Essay in Philosophical Theology (Cambridge, UK and New York: Cambridge University Press, 1992), 36-37.