Friday, January 28, 2011

James 4:2 and Divine Foreordination

James 4:2 reads:

ἐπιθυμεῖτε, καὶ οὐκ ἔχετε· φονεύετε καὶ ζηλοῦτε, καὶ οὐ δύνασθε ἐπιτυχεῖν· μάχεσθε καὶ πολεμεῖτε. οὐκ ἔχετε διὰ τὸ μὴ αἰτεῖσθαι ὑμᾶς· (W-H)

Using this scriptural verse as his starting point, John Sanders (The God Who Risks) asks whether God may sometimes refuse to act in the life of a Christian unless the said Christian prays (with a proper motive) for O (a variable which stands for things requested by means of prayer). Additionally, Sanders wonders whether God ever does something he otherwise would not do because a Christian or a "believing soul" (to use Merold Westphal's terminology) prays for God to do O.

While it is certainly possible (from a logical standpoint), as adherents of predestination contend, that God could have foreordained both our prayers and the effects that would follow therefrom, the Bible itself seems to suggest that prayer can emanate spontaneously from a heart filled with devotion for God. Prayer, according to Scripture, also appears to be capable of effecting what otherwise would not be effected. In the OT, God is even said to feel regret and abstain from doing something He originally purposed to do when one of His servants offers a heartfelt prayer.

For instance, while Hezekiah was on his deathbed, he fervently prayed to Jehovah (with good motive) and his life was extended by 15 years in order that he would have time to produce a seed for the throne of David (2 Kings 20:1-6). James 5:16 also tells us that a righteous man's supplication, when it is at work, "has much force" (POLU ISXUEI). The context of that passage also suggests that God may sometimes abstain from effecting X or Y until one of his servants petitions or supplicates Him for X or Y. Such prayers are called impetratory prayers.

Eleonore Stump has written an interesting paper exploring what difference petitioning God makes. In that study, she asks a very interesting question. Can God make humans freely do anything? I too ask whether God foreordains humans to "freely" petition or supplicate Him for X or Y? Does it make sense to talk about an agent foreordaining someone to freely do anything? To me, it seems that men and women are able to pray freely (in a somewhat libertarian sense) without being foreordained to do so. When they consequently pray sincerely or altruistically in harmony with God's will, it is possible that the prayers of Christians may bring it about that God does something He otherwise would not have done. Yes, the supplication of the righteous man, when it is at work "has much force."


Monday, January 10, 2011

Souls, Mental States and Brain States

Here are a couple of logical arguments I've been playing with:

Let S = a human person

Let M = mental states

Let B = brain states

1. If S has M, then S has B.

2. S has M.

3. Therefore, S has B.

I know the argument is valid, but some might question its soundness. And maybe what I'm really trying to prove, which the argument above does not is the following:

1. If S has M, then necessarily S has B.

2. S has M.

3. Therefore, necessarily S has B.

But then have I now raised problems pertaining to the modal operator "necessarily"? I'm not sure. Comments anyone?

Sunday, January 09, 2011

Part of A Response to An Atheist Regarding the Logical Problem of Evil

One atheist writes:

"I know there COULD be a reason that he allows these evils that we as
humans do not know about, but why should that be passed off as fact?
There could also be no reason at all, just an act of evil. There COULD be a
lot of scenarios, but why is this one the only one Christianity
recognizes, as if it has been proven?"

Part of my reply:

We can't say that God allows evil for no reason at all. Who would want to give devotion to a God like that? If God's great-making properties are compossible or jointly possible, then we have to understand God in the light of his great-making properties. If God is omnibenevolent, then he does not act wickedly. If God is supremely rational, then he does not act or permit things without having an overall purpose. Christian logicians have chosen to say that one cannot legitimately conclude that God is not good because he permits evil. This move is not a matter of theology; it is a matter of logic. Even on the human level, it is not necessarily true that a being is evil just because he/she permits evil, even though he/she has the power to eliminate the evil in question. There could be other plausible alternatives why a finite rational agent permits some evil. But Christians say that God is supremely good because of what Scripture tells us, because of our experience in walking with God and based on what servants of God in the past have written about God. We also employ natural theology or logic to arrive at the notion that God has certain great-making properties that are compossible.

Monday, January 03, 2011

2 Maccabees and Purgatory

Addressed to a Catholic interlocutor:

Subject: 2 Maccabees 12:42ff

Hello B,

I've read some good scholarly treatments of the
passage you mention in Maccabees. N.T. Wright briefly
touches on it in his work For all the Saints (p. 29) and there are fuller treatments found elsewhere. I'll not belabor the
point now, but there is a note in the USCCB NAB that

"This is the earliest statement of the doctrine that
prayers (2 Macc 12:42) and sacrifices (2 Macc 12:43)
for the dead are efficacious. The statement is made
here, however, only for the purpose of proving that
Judas believed in the resurrection of the just (2 Macc
7:9, 14, 23, 36). That is, he believed that expiation
could be made for certain sins of otherwise good
men-soldiers who had given their lives for God's
cause. Thus, they could share in the resurrection. His
belief was similar to, but not quite the same as, the
Catholic doctrine of purgatory."