Thursday, December 29, 2011

John Sanders Remarks Upon the Putative Divine Use of Evil

This excerpt is taken from John Sanders' book, The God Who Risks:

"After my conversion some Christians informed me that my brother's death was ordained for the purpose of bringing me to faith in Christ. What? God killed my non-Christian brother so that I would become a Christian? But without middle knowledge God could not have known that this would happen. This would mean that God kills people and causes disasters in the hope that some may repent and confess Christ. However, the model of general sovereignty does not allow for each and every such evil to be explained this way, since God is only responsible for the structures within which we operate and for those specific acts in history God elects to do" (page 262).

Sanders explains "middle knowledge" on pp. 196-198 of his study. In short, middle knowledge in this context has reference to the divine awareness of all "counterfactuals of creaturely freedom" which means that, according to this theory, God knows what would happen in the world He chose to create if possible world W1 obtained. A possible world may denote a counterfactual situation. Sanders illustrates this somewhat abstruse notion with a concrete example about requesting a child to do some necessary chore around the house.

If anyone here has ever asked a son or daughter to take out the trash or wash the car, he/she can pretty much understand how different conditions (X, Y, Z) influence a child's willingness to do A (i.e., a certain action). Furthermore, most of us are aware of the fact that if S (a particular rational subject or moral agent) had been raised in a developed country instead of a developing land, then S might have performed A instead of ~A. But we could not infallibly guarantee that A would be performed instead of ~A. Nonetheless, the "counterfactuals of creaturely freedom" notion indicates that if S were in possible world (counterfactual situation) W1, then God knows what S would freely do.

Luis de Molina (advocate of middle knowledge) writes that middle knowledge is that

"by which, in virtue of the most profound and inscrutable comprehension of each free will, He [God] saw in His own essence what each such will would do with its innate freedom were it to be placed in this or in that or, indeed, in infinitely many orders of things--even though it would really be able, if it so willed, to do the opposite" (On Divine Knowledge, Part IV of the Concordia).

What are some possible criticisms of middle knowledge?

Monday, December 26, 2011

Lactantius on the Worship of God (DI 5.8)

"But if God only were worshipped, there would not be
dissensions and wars, since men would know that they
are the sons of one God; and, therefore, among those
who were connected by the sacred and inviolable bond
of divine relationship, there would be no plottings,
inasmuch as they would know what kind of punishments
God prepared for the destroyers of souls, who sees
through secret crimes, and even the very thoughts
themselves. There would be no frauds or plunderings if
they had learned, through the instruction of God, to
be content with that which was their own, though
little, so that they might prefer solid and eternal
things to those which are frail and perishable. There
would be no adulteries, and debaucheries, and
prostitution of women, if it were known to all, that
whatever is sought beyond the desire of procreation is
condemned by God" (Divinae institutiones 5.8).

Friday, December 23, 2011

Must Evil Exist In Order That We Might Experience The Good?

I once wrote the following to a colleague and friend:

Undergrads often claim that evil must obtain in order
for good to exist. However, I'd like to run this less than
wholly ruminated thought by you to get some feedback:

Let us imagine that there is a possible world in which
the only existent is God. God, according to the
Judeo-Christian tradition, is wholly good: evil is
neither coextensive nor coterminous with God (please
overlook the issue of temporality vis-a-vis God for
now). In this possible world, it seems that one could
say good exists in this case. But would evil obtain in a
possible world wherein God is the only (possible)
existent? In what way could evil exist (i.e. obtain)
in such a possible world? If only good obtained in
this world and evil did not obtain, would it not be
true to say that good could exist without the
concomitant existence of evil? If what I am proposing
is logically possible, then it is not necessarily true
(maybe even untrue) that one needs evil in order for
good to exist.

Edgar Foster

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Justin Martyr on the Causative Force behind the Virgin Birth


What caused the Virgin to conceive and give birth to Jesus of Nazareth? How was a woman "not knowing any man" able to have a child? Here is Justin Martyr's reasoning on the matter:

"But lest some, not understanding the prophecy now
cited [Isa 7:14], should charge us with the very
things we have been laying to the charge of the poets
who say that Jupiter went in to women through lust,
let us try to explain the words. This, then, 'Behold,
a virgin shall conceive,' signifies that a virgin
should conceive without intercourse. For if she had
had intercourse with any one whatever, she was no
longer a virgin; but the power of God having come upon
the virgin, overshadowed her, and caused her while yet
a virgin to conceive. And the angel of God who was
sent to the same virgin at that time brought her good
news, saying, 'Behold, thou shalt conceive of the Holy
Ghost, and shalt bear a Son, and He shall be called
the Son of the Highest, and thou shalt call His name
Jesus; for He shall save His people from their
sins,'--as they who have recorded all that concerns
our Saviour Jesus Christ have taught, whom we
believed, since by Isaiah also, whom we have now
adduced, the Spirit of prophecy declared that He
should be born as we intimated before. It is wrong,
therefore, to understand the Spirit and the power of
God as anything else than the Word, who is also the
first-born of God, as the foresaid prophet Moses
declared; and it was this which, when it came upon the
virgin and overshadowed her, caused her to conceive,
not by intercourse, but by power" (1 Apology 33).

"But who, through the power of the Word, according to
the will of God the Father and Lord of all, He was
born of a virgin as a man, and was named Jesus, and
was crucified, and died, and rose again, and ascended
into heaven, an intelligent man will be able to
comprehend from what has been already so largely said"
(1 Apology 46).

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Interesting Thought From Aquinas (Summa Contra Gentiles 1.8)

I don't necessarily agree with Aquinas here, but I find his remarks noteworthy:

Of the Relation of Human Reason to the first Truth of Faith

"THE things of sense, from whence human reason takes its beginning of knowledge, retain in themselves some trace of imitation of God, inasmuch as they are, and are good; yet so imperfect is this trace that it proves wholly insufficient to declare the substance of God Himself. Since every agent acts to the producing of its own likeness, effects in their several ways bear some likeness to their causes: nevertheless the effect does not always attain to the perfect likeness of the agent that produces it. In regard then to knowledge of the truth of faith, which can only be thoroughly known to those who behold the substance of God, human reason stands so conditioned as to be able to argue some true likenesses to it: which likenesses however are not sufficient for any sort of demonstrative or intuitive comprehension of the aforesaid truth. Still it is useful for the human mind to exercise itself in such reasonings, however feeble, provided there be no presumptuous hope of perfect comprehension or demonstration. With this view the authority of Hilary agrees, who says (De Trinitate, ii, 10), speaking of such truth : 'In this belief start, run, persist; and though I know that you will not reach the goal, still I shall congratulate you as I see you making progress. But intrude not into that sanctuary, and plunge not into the mystery of infinite truth; entertain no presumptuous hope of comprehending the height of intelligence, but understand that it is incomprehensible.'"


Monday, December 19, 2011

Granville Sharp Rule and Maximus of Tyre's Dissertatio 2.10

I once posted this question to an electronic Greek forum with little response. If anyone has some input on this question, I'd love to hear it:

Speaking of Granville Sharp's Rule, I came across a passage in

Maximus of Tyre (Dissertatio 2.10) and I wonder whether it has any relevance to the issues involving the rule:


Of course, Maximus is extracting concepts from Timaeus


Plato seems to have one entity in mind, although Numenius of Apamea interprets Timaeus 28C as a reference to a transcendent Father along with a separate Demiurge. But it seems more likely that one entity is meant in the passage written by Maximus and the one composed by Plato. What do you think?

Best regards,

Edgar Foster

Monday, December 12, 2011

Early Remarks on the "Last Days" (Patristics)

"Accordingly, therefore, prophesying concerning the
temple, He said: 'See ye these buildings? Verily I say
to you, There shall not be left here one stone upon
another which shall not be taken away; and this
generation shall not pass until the destruction begin.
For they shall come, and shall sit here, and shall
besiege it, and shall slay your children here.' And in
like manner He spoke in plain words the things that
were straightway to happen, which we can now see with
our eyes, in order that the accomplishment might be
among those to whom the word was spoken. For the
Prophet of truth utters the word of proof in order to
the faith of His hearers" (Clementine Homily 3.15).

"'But immediately after the affliction of those days
the sun shall be darkened, and the moon shall not give
her light, and the stars shall fall from heaven, and
the powers of heaven shall be moved: and then shall
appear the sign of the Son of man in heaven: and all
the tribes of the earth shall lament, and shall see
the Son of man coming in the clouds of heaven with
great power and glory. And He shall send His angels
with a great trumpet, and they shall gather together
His elect from the four winds, from the heights of
heaven, even into the farthest bounds thereof.' And
these are not new or sudden things which are now
happening to Christians; since the good and righteous,
and those who are devoted to God in the law of
innocence and the fear of true religion, advance
always through afflictions, and wrongs, and the severe
and manifold penalties of troubles, in the hardship of
a narrow path" (Cyprian, Treatise 11.11).

"For in the last days false prophets and corrupters
shall be multiplied, and the sheep shall be turned
into wolves, and love shall be turned into hate; for
when lawlessness increaseth, they shall hate and
persecute and betray one another, and then shall
appear the world-deceiver as Son of God, and shall do
signs and wonders, and the earth shall be delivered
into his hands, and he shall do iniquitous things
which have never yet come to pass since the beginning.
Then shall the creation of men come into the fire of
trial, and many shall be made to stumble and shall
perish; but they that endure in their faith shall be
saved from under the curse itself. And then shall
appear the signs of the truth; first, the sign of an
out-spreading in heaven; then the sign of the sound of
the trumpet; and the third, the resurrection of the
dead; yet not of all, but as it is said: The Lord
shall come and all His saints with Him. Then shall the
world see the Lord coming upon the clouds of heaven"
(Didache 16).

"But as the conquering power of things evil is on the
increase-which is the characteristic of the last times
-things good are now not allowed either to be born, so
corrupted are the seminal principles; or to be
trained, so deserted are studies; nor to be enforced,
so dined are the laws" (Tertullian, On Modesty 1).

Thursday, December 08, 2011

Paulo F. M. Goncalves Critique of Thomas V. Morris' "Logic of God Incarnate"

Paulo F. M. Goncalves is lecturer in religious studies
at the University of Derby. His online essay is
entitled "A Critique of Thomas V. Morris's Use of
Natural Kind Terms in The Logic of God Incarnate."
This critique is nine pages long, including
endnotes. I'll try to state the gist of Goncalves'
analysis in a few pages.

Goncalves notes that his analysis of Morris' book is
not concerned with the "historical and theological
propriety" of the attempt to demonstrate the logical
coherence of the Incarnation. Instead of focusing on
such matters, he primarily concentrates on
critiquing Morris' use of natural kind terminology and
theory. In particular, he observes that Morris makes a
theoretical distinction between individual natures and
kind natures as well as a distinction between "common"
and "essential" properties found within a natural

The mention of natural kinds or "predicative
universals" calls to mind the debates on natural terms
contained in studies produced by Saul Kripke, Hilary
Putnam and W. V. O. Quine. Of course, Goncalves points
out that these thinkers all elaborate, "with extensive
qualification," what might be called a certain type of
nominalism. Conversely, Morris' view seems to be a
form of "conceptual realism." Goncalves thus provides
an overview of Morris' argument, distills the
aforesaid contentions and putatively clarifies Morris'
use of natural kind terms. He subsequently picks apart
Morris' view, concluding that Morris "does not
adequately deal with his relation to such recent
studies [those of Kripke and Putnam] and assumes a
conceptual realism on a fragile theoretical basis."
Goncalves ultimately charges Morris with incoherence
at crucial points and suggests that his methodology is
also "vulnerable." At this point, we will now review
one serious criticism that the lecturer in religious
studies makes concerning Morris' employment of natural
kind terms and theory. It involves Morris' theory of
human properties.

Detractors of the Incarnation doctrine contend that
the proposition:

(A) Jesus is God the Son

is incoherent and false a priori since this assertion
endeavors to unite two entities that are
seemingly, by definition, complementary
which can be defined as "mutually
exclusive." Morris criticizes this view, arguing that
while terms such as "bachelor," "doctor" or "lawyer"
are nominal kinds, "gold," "tiger," and "humanity" are
not. Instead, Morris thinks that the latter kinds are
natural terms. In other words, he seems to be
maintaining that the properties of
tigers or humans are necessary, but they are known a
posteriori. However, once the necessary properties of
a particular kind are known a posteriori, then certain
notional positions can be discounted a priori. But how does this
theoretical approach taken by Morris affect his construal of (A)?

Goncalves observes that Morris does not seem to be
that forthcoming vis-a-vis necessary a posteriori
properties of humanity. The latter does include "being conscious
at some time or another" as an indispensable property
of humanity. Nevertheless, Goncalves argues, it
quickly becomes clear that Morris is not willing to
let any properties that might possibly be "logical
complements of essential divine properties"
constitute his definition of what it means to be
human. Aside from this putative approach manifested in
Morris' book, Goncalves has another criticism that
pretty much sums up his objection to Morris' overall methodology.

How does one go about determining what is essential
with relation to human nature? What are the necessary
properties an entity must instantiate to be considered
essentially human? Goncalves argues that Morris
wrongly excludes certain properties that are commonly
associated with being human, to wit, properties that
serve as complements to the divine nature or qualities
that logically disallow a divine incarnation.

Morris avers that contingency, being created, being
non-eternal and finite with regard to knowledge and
power as well as being non-ubiquitous are not
complementary with respect to human nature. He claims that a
all such properties may characterize those entities that are
"merely human" but they are not necessary properties
that belong to one who is "fully human." Being "fully
human," according to Morris, involves assuming "a
human body and a human mind, no more and no less."
Jesus Christ, even though he subsists as God, can
simultaneously be fully human since human properties
that one would normally regard as complementary in
relation to divine properties are excluded based on
Morris' view of kind terms as they apply to humanity.

In conclusion, Goncalves finds Morris' use of natural
kind term theory problematic. Since the task of
relating individual objects to other members in a set
is fraught with seemingly insurmountable difficulties,
Goncalves wonders how Morris can develop a coherent
notion of the Incarnation. Goncalves indicates that
other strategies for rendering the doctrine of the
Incarnation coherent may possibly work. But Morris' use of
natural kind terms seems to miss the theoretical mark.