Friday, April 24, 2009

My Dialogue with An Atheist or Skeptic


A skeptic writes:

I understand your viewpoint, but I was hinting at 2 distinctly
different ideas. First, that if God does in fact, as they say, have infinite
ability, then he most definitely could have (could have and can) will G [good]
out of E [evil] if he wants. According to Christian beliefs at least. Infinite
ability would imply ANYTHING is possible, including a real Utopia.
That, in my eyes, would be more desirable than Earth as-is. I'd be more apt
to say it was a product of "love" than what we've got now. The idea
that a world with free will is much more desirable than a Utopian world
is absurd. Free will spawns good AND evil, but in a Utopian world, only
good come about. Free will is enjoyable because it does hold the
potential to spawn good. In Utopia, life would be enjoyed to its utmost and
one would ALWAYS feel good. I can't imagine anyone who would pass up the
opportunity to live in such a paradise for "free will." I would
sacrifice free will to live in a controlled Utopian world in a heartbeat!

Part of my response to his remarks is:

The term "infinite" is ambiguous. It seems to me that Christians have been wont to deny that God is quantitatively infinite but they have usually contended that God is qualitatively infinite. Moreover, although God is by hypothesis (EX HYPOTHESI) omnipotent or has maximal power [omnipotence], God evidently cannot do that which is logically or conceptually impossible. That is to say, God cannot do that which results in a contradictory state of affairs. Hence, certain "Christian" philosophers argue that it is logically possible that God cannot bring it about that a rational creature has free will, yet always unequivocally does what is right. Be that as it may, you raise another issue. Is a utopian world in which people always do what is right because of being determined to do X or Y (certain actions) preferable to a world in which people are free and have the ability to do what is morally wrong or what is morally right? You suggest that option A is superior or preferable to option B. But I submit that it is difficult for you to know how you would like a [deterministic] utopia in comparison to the world we have now since neither you nor I have ever experienced a utopia. Moreover, if we lived in a world where everything was determined (including our actions), would we really prefer [or have the ability to prefer] that world to a world where free will obtained? I might add that as a parent, I can tell you--and this is the testimony of a number of parents--that I prefer my child to love me because he or she wants to, not because he or she has been programmed to love me. I submit that God also wills that his creatures love him freely, not because they have been programmed or determined to love him.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Augustine on the Trinity and A Person Being Able to Love Himself or Herself

The following is from an email I wrote to a colleague some time ago.

I quote Augustine of Hippo:

"But what if I love none except myself? Will there not

then be two things--that which I love, and love? For

he who loves and that which is loved are the same when

any one loves himself; just as to love and to be

loved, in the same way, is the very same thing when

any one loves himself. Since the same thing is said,

when it is said, he loves himself, and he is loved by

himself. For in that case to love and to be loved are

not two different things: just as he who loves and he

who is loved are not two different persons. But yet,

even so, love and what is loved are still two things.

For there is no love when any one loves himself,

except when love itself is loved. But it is one thing

to love one's self, another to love one's own love.

For love is not loved, unless as already loving

something; since where nothing is loved there is no

love. Therefore there are two things when any one

loves himself--love, and that which is loved. For then

he that loves and that which is loved are one. Whence

it seems that it does not follow that three things are

to be understood wherever love is" (De Trinitate


Augustine then proceeds with an argument about mind

and love to establish his case for the triunity of

God. But notice that he insists it is possible for one to

have a love of self in the absence of an alterior




Friday, April 17, 2009

Divine Exemplification Theory

From time to time, I review my notebooks to see what projects I started and never finished or may never finish. One such project is what I have called (for lack of a better term) "divine exemplification theory." I might one day go forward with work on this idea, concept or theory, but what I am trying to figure out is how one can intelligibly and accurately talk about forms or abstract concepts without being a Platonist of one stripe or the other.

Concepts or properties like treeness, rockness, doghood or humanity seem fairly "easy" to discuss intelligibly or coherently. But where the waters become rough is when one discusses justice, goodness, courage and wisdom (inter alia). Aside from the difficulties that come from trying to define these terms (as anyone who has read Plato can attest to), a problem also resides in trying to explain the primordial locus of these concepts/properties/attributes.

Are the aforementioned "qualities" Forms that "exist" in some transcendent realm of Being (Plato)? Do putative "Forms" like justice obtain in acts performed by free agents rather than in some intelligible sphere of Being? Or do the Forms reside in God's mind (Philo, Augustine). Or should one say that the Forms have their locus in the human mind?

I humbly submit--more work needs to be done here--that what have been called "Forms" do not reside in some intelligible (i.e. noetic) realm nor do they reside in the mind of God. But the "Forms" (especially things like justice or wisdom and beauty) reside and have been everlastingly exemplified by God Himself. Notice, I am not limiting the Forms to the mind of God. Nor do I think they are immutable, even though they are everlasting. I am suggesting that the so-called Forms like justice or goodness have been everlastingly exemplified by God in his actions and eternal purpose. They have not just resided in the mind of God. Hence, the name, Divine exemplification theory.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

The Early Fathers on John 1:3-4

The evidence from the pre-Nicenes suggests that they took the expression hO GEGONEN in Jn 1:3-4 with what follows rather than with what precedes. For example, Clement of Alexandria evidently writes:

Ver. 2. "The life was manifested." For in the Gospel he thus speaks: "And what was made, in Him was life, and the life was the light of men."

See his Comments on the Epistle of John in Fragments of Clemens Alexandrinus.

Also see Contra Celsum 6.5 by Origen of Alexandria

Monday, April 13, 2009

Abstaining from Blood and The Council of Gangra (343 CE)

Canon II. If anyone shall condemn him who eats flesh
which is without blood and has not been offered to
idols nor strangled, and is faithful and devout, as
though the man were without hope of salvation because
of his eating, let him be anathema.

Quoted in The Evolution of the Late Antique World by Peter Garnsey and Caroline Humfress (page 193).

Best regards,

Wednesday, April 08, 2009

The Lord's Evening Meal as Sacrifice

One Scriptural passage that has really helped me to
appreciate tomorrow night's upcoming Memorial of Christ's
death on Nisan 14 is 1 Corinthians 10:18:

"Look at that which is Israel in a fleshly way: Are
not those who eat the sacrifices sharers with the

When posing this rhetorical query, Paul alludes to the
OT practice of communion sacrifices. One can find a
lovely description of such offerings in Leviticus
7:1-38. I want to recount briefly what that Biblical
chapter says and apply it to the apostolic words found in 1
Corinthians 10:18ff.

The communion sacrifices were peace offerings designed
to restore the broken relationship that obtained
between God and His ancient worshipers. It was a holy
presentation to Almighty God (YHWH), and when offering
a communion sacrifice, the Israelites were fittingly
obligated to give their best to Jehovah (YHWH).

Leviticus 7:28-30 mandates that one presenting a
communion sacrifice to Jehovah should offer the "fat
upon the breast" to God as a wave offering.
(Leviticus 7:30 briefly explains what a wave offering
entailed.) In addition to offering the fat and the
blood to Jehovah or YHWH (Leviticus 7:33), the one presenting
peace offerings to God was also commanded to give "the
right leg" of his sacrifice as "a sacred portion" to
the officiating priests. Furthermore the High Priest
and his sons were to have a share in this communion
offering. What a privilege all those who offered
communion presentations enjoyed! Paul rightly said
that those who sacrificed upon the altar became (by
their respective gifts to God) sharers in the altar.
But how does this levitical practice apply to
Christians today?

As Paul intimates, the Lord's Evening Meal (1
Corinthians 11:20) is the antitype of the OT peace
offerings. Just as ancient worshipers of God brought
their sacrifices to Jehovah in order to repair the
breach that obtained between themselves and God, so
anointed Christians annually observe the Memorial of
Jesus' death in order to remember how God repaired the
figurative breach between God and sinful humanity and
thus fully reconciled His sons to Himself.

Anointed Christians share in the antitypical communion
meal by partaking of Christ's blood (the cup of wine)
and his body (the bread). The emblems at the Memorial
are emblems or signs of the spiritual reality effectuated
by God and Christ. Those who partake of the cup and wine
today share with God's altar as they partake
of a meal, in effect, with Jehovah, His High Priest
(Jesus) and other fellow anointed ones (underpriests). It
is still an inestimable privilege to sit down for a
meal with God. Anointed Christians therefore esteem
the undeserved kindness that has been shown to them
through the Son of God's ransom sacrifice. However
they are not the only ones who benefit from being
present at the yearly communion meal.

The great crowd of other sheep who possess a hope of
living forever, while not partaking of the emblems and
thus sharing in the altar, still have their
appreciation for Christ's sacrifice deepened as they
listen to the discourse given about Jesus' death and
watch the symbols of his death being passed around the
Kingdom Hall of Jehovah's Witnesses. I thus hope that everyone attending the
Memorial this year reflects on what Christ's death
means. May you continue to grow in love and
appreciation for Jehovah God (YHWH) and His Son.

Brotherly love,

Monday, April 06, 2009

Reductio ad Absurdum

A little more on this type of argumentation. Stephen F. Barker in The Elements of Logic points out that the type of argumentation which contains a conditional premise and which is known as reductio ad absurdum ("reduction to the absurd" or "reduction to absurdity") can be illustrated as follows. Assuming p is true,

If p, then not p (e.g., If there is a largest integer (a positive number), then there is not a largest integer.)

Conclusion: Therefore, not p (e.g., Therefore, it is not the case that there is a largest integer.)

The reasoning above is valid because the antecedent of the proposition "If p then not p" is false. By reducing the antecedent of the proposition "If p then not p" to absurdity, it shows that the antecedent is false. For if the antecedent were true, then the consequent of the proposition "If p, then not p" would be inconsistent with the propositional antecedent. So the antecedent must be false.

Sunday, April 05, 2009

Dogs in Scripture

Concerning dogs: In Philippians 3:2, Paul told the Christians living in that Roman outpost to be wary of the dogs (βλέπετε τοὺς κύνας), that is, "those who mutilate the flesh" (or those who practice circumcision for the purpose of salvation). His words reflect the common Jewish view of dogs (particularly scavenger dogs).

Also, in Rev. 22:15, "dogs" (οἱ κύνες) are debarred from the heavenly city of New Jerusalem. They are left outside of the gates along with those who practice spiritism and fornication, as well as idolators and liars and murderers. Bible commentator David Aune has a very informative section in his Revelation commentary. He notes that the MT (Masoretic Text) has the term KELEB for dog (Cf. Deut. 23:18 which has כֶּ֗לֶב).

Aune writes that κύων (dog) is ambivalent in Greco-Jewish literature, even though a number of pejorative references appear vis-a'-vis dogs. For while dogs were "economically beneficial" as "watch dogs and herding dogs," and while they were not necessarily considered unclean in halachic traditions--the term is clearly used pejoratively in 1 Sam. 17:43; 24:14; 2 Kings 8:13; Isa. 56:10-11; Matthew 7:6; 2 Pet. 2:22; Didache 9:5; Ignatius, Eph. 7:1.

Norman Hillyer (in his commentary on 2 Peter) likewise observes that κύων in 2 Pet. 2:22 denotes: "the wild scavenger of the streets and rubbish tips, not a pet house-dog" (208).