Choice as Participation in Creation.

Recently I have been feeling overwhelmed by the weight of the future. Every plan I have had about where I would be by now has not come true, and I have been struggling with what to do next. Should I reapply for graduate school and continue to put effort into that vein, or should I focus on starting a career and looking for a job and moving on? Is it feasible to do both? What does God want me to do next?

It only got worse when I began to think that whatever choice I made, even the choice not to choose, cuts off possible futures for me. Every decision, every second, of every day, creates radically different worlds for me in the future. Or perhaps not. I don’t have the omniscience to know. It seemed like a terrible burden, crushing in the responsibility. I came to think about how choice is perhaps the greatest power in the universe; it is the ability to deny or allow possible worlds to come into being. And we sometimes choose on impulse, or for no reason! For no reason we might disallow a world to come into existence and we might not even know it! With this greatest of powers comes the greatest of responsibilities. It was very…depressing for a while. What if I messed up? Made the wrong decision. It could not be fixed or repented of, ever. Not completely. The world I denied can never be brought into being.

Then I began to be reminded of what Lewis called, “The Weight of Glory.” That there are no ordinary people, everyone is an immortal soul who reflects the image of God. In this, our decisions matter, are taken seriously. But ultimately, for the Christian, God promises us that we will be glorified. Glory, to Lewis is being praised by the Creator, a Divine accolade, “Well done, good and faithful servant.” Lewis describes it this way,

It is written that we shall “stand before” Him, shall appear, shall be inspected. The promise of glory is the promise, almost incredible and only possible by the work of Christ, that some of us, that any of us who really chooses, shall actually survive that examination, shall find approval, shall please God. To please God… to be a real ingredient in the divine happiness… to be loved by God, not merely pitied, but delighted in as an artist delights in his work or a father in a son—it seems impossible, a weight or burden of glory which our thoughts can hardly sustain. But so it is. [^1]

The promise of glory is not that we will do everything perfectly, nor that we will make all the perfect decisions or that we do anything. But that God will continue his work in us and perfect us.

So what then is the purpose of my choosing? Of my struggling? Of my trying to do my best?

I’ve been thinking about this, and because of my position between Free Will and Determinism (which I will not expound upon in depth here) I am going to have to say; to create. Admittedly not create in the way that God does, from nothing. I am just as restricted by the choices of my ancestors as I am by the choices that I have made up to this point, but that doesn’t mean that my choices are irrelevant. Our choices, before the universe began, limited the range of possible worlds that God could have created. Thus this universe, the universe we are in, we helped bring about. We, to some extent, continue to help bring about. If we had chosen differently, God would have known differently. The worlds we deny, God knows, but he knows that we deny those worlds, but comes alongside us in all of our weakness and creates with us.

This is consistent I think with other things God does. The Holy Spirit worked alongside authors of Scripture to produce the writings of the Bible, he did not dictate them to the Prophet like Allah did with Muhammad, nor did he let the human writer work entirely independently of God’s will. We entered into creation with him. God invited us into relationship with him, he does not force us into it, and as we “work out our salvation in fear and trembling”1 we also know that “he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion.”2 It does not mean that I should make bad choices and know that God will bless them, but I do know that God will bless those who try. This is the Parable of the Talents.

And this comforts me intellectually, and inspires me to do better. I want the world that I help bring about to be a better place, because God is amazing and has invited me to make something great with Him. It assures me that the work I do with God, will be good. It is a comfort, but that does not mean that it makes decision making easy. I am still at a crossroads of life, and am dependent on grace. I want to step forward and do God’s will. I pray that I will be able to. And I am thankful for the honor.

  1. Philippians 2:12 
  2. Philippians 1:6 

Quinquae Viae: The Five Ways of Aquinas (parts 4&5)

I’ll admit, part of the reason this post took so long was because Aquinas’ Fourth Way was a bit confusing to me. It is commonly classed as an “argument from degree” but I couldn’t figure out quite what it meant. Aquinas’ argument goes like this:

The fourth way is taken from the gradation to be found in things. Among beings there are some more and some less good, true, noble and the like. But “more” and “less” are predicated of different things, according as they resemble in their different ways something which is the maximum, as a thing is said to be hotter according as it more nearly resembles that which is hottest; so that there is something which is truest, something best, something noblest and, consequently, something which is uttermost being; for those things that are greatest in truth are greatest in being, as it is written in Metaph. ii. Now the maximum in any genus is the cause of all in that genus; as fire, which is the maximum heat, is the cause of all hot things. Therefore there must also be something which is to all beings the cause of their being, goodness, and every other perfection; and this we call God.

On the one hand, this argument seems easy enough. There are comparative terms. For us to have comparative terms of abstract concepts, like “Goodness”, “Beauty” and so on, there must be a thing which is their maximum and causes them to be more or less of itself, assuming that such things exist. His example though, of Fire, puzzled me.

Yes, Fire is hot. And it causes other things to be hot. But we know that it’s not really the fire, per se, that is hot, but the energy given off by the reaction that causes the fire to be hot. Since fire is caused to be hot by other things, what is it that gives those things heat?

But, as anyone should do, I attempted to be sympathetic and think about fire like Aquinas would have. When he claims that fire causes heat in all things, what does he mean? It can’t simply cause it by existing. Aristotle had four different types of causation that Aquinas would be drawing on: Material, Formal, Final, and Efficient. Fire is an example where all four types of causation would be met out in a single instance.

Material: Fire is made of fire.
Efficient: Fire creates Fire
Formal: The substance of fire is heat which is fire.
Final: The aim of fire is to produce more fire.

This is an odd example for Aquinas to use in reference to trancendentals like “Goodness”, and “Being.” And this is what puzzled me. God cannot be all four types of causation to the universe: The Universe is not made out of God. And so naturally, I did some research. 1

I discovered that Aquinas’ views on God’s causal relationship to the universe are in play here, and that upon investigation I found out that he denies that God is the causal relationship in two categories: material, and what might be called inherent formal.

Urban argues, in his paper, that Aquinas views at least five types of causation built on Aristotle’s four:
1. Material
2. Final
3. Efficient
4. Inherent Formal
5. Extrinsic Exemplary Formal

While 4 and 5 are subcategories of “Formal Causation” the distinction winds up being important. The first type, Inherent Formal, concerns structural principles present in things which make things as they are. The second type, Extrinsic Exemplary Formal, concern archetypes in the minds of intelligent beings to which they can form their artifacts.

This distinction suggests that the Fourth Way of Aquinas could deal with three types of causes: Efficient, Extrinsic Exemplary Formal(henceforth EEF) and Final causation. The argument goes that if Aquinas thinks that God is the maximal exemplar of Goodness, Truth, and Being then he is the cause of them, but each of them has different kinds of causation.

Truth must be conformed to by propositions, and is thus an EEF. Goodness is normally considered a “final” cause, that which all things strive towards, and Being is taken as an efficient cause, at least by Aquinas if we go back to his Second Way. In order for things to come ‘into being’ being must first bring them there. Thus, Aquinas’ Second Way is laying out his understanding of how Being relates to the world.

If this interpretation is correct, the Fourth Way, in a sense, ties all of the arguments in the Quinquae Viae together. The First and Second Ways show that God has efficient causation. The Third Way makes it impossible for Being, that is the Efficient Cause of the universe, to not exist. The Fifth Way deals with EEF and Final Causation, and since it has not gotten it’s own post I will expound on it here:

The fifth way is taken from the governance of the world. We see that things which lack intelligence, such as natural bodies, act for an end, and this is evident from their acting always, or nearly always, in the same way, so as to obtain the best result. Hence it is plain that not fortuitously, but designedly, do they achieve their end. Now whatever lacks intelligence cannot move towards an end, unless it be directed by some being endowed with knowledge and intelligence; as the arrow is shot to its mark by the archer. Therefore some intelligent being exists by whom all natural things are directed to their end; and this being we call God.

The so called “Argument from Design” is the Final of Aquinas’ Five Ways. A common objection to it is that you could just dismiss the Fifth Way out of hand since Darwin came along and disproved that the Universe had any purposes other than survival. The problem with that objection though is that if the universe really ‘aimed at survival’ as some have suggested then ‘survival’ or ‘fitness’ is the final cause.2 But what is the source of that final cause? What is the supreme ‘fitness’? This is what Aquinas is getting at between his Fourth and Fifth Ways.

Final Causes are always directed towards something, “Fitness”, “Goodness”, “Survival”, “Progress” but you have to have a terminus for these objects that are not within the object itself. The difficulty with certain abstract notions like, “Fitness” or “Progress” is that they don’t seem to have a maximum. Progress, as Chesterton once remarked, “is a comparative to which we have not settled the superlative.”3 because even if you arrive, you must progress beyond it. Fitness, well, if Fitness has a superlative it fails at evading the Third Way, much less the Fifth. Fitness is a state that readies you for survival. The longer you survive the more fit you are. To survive all things at all times would be to be the “Fittest” and the only thing I can think of that would fit that category would be a Necessary Being.4

But that doesn’t quite get at the guts of the Fifth Way. The Fifth Way, has to do with Aristotelian Physics again. According to that system, when an object is moving it is trying to move somewhere. With earthy and watery objects it is towards the center of the universe. With fiery and airy objects it is up to the edge of the universe. Thus, when you throw a rock and it falls to the ground it is doing so because it’s ultimate Final Cause is the Center of the Universe, it just gets stopped by the Earth along the way.

If this is true and all objects move according to purpose, or are shaped according to purpose: The eye being to see, rocks to fall to the ground, etc. then there must be some Final cause that ALL FINAL CAUSES MOVE TOWARD. The Universe as a whole, in an Aristotelian Framework, rotates. That whole thing, is seeking out a final cause, and that thing must be outside the universe. Thus, it must be either an abstract principle: like Goodness, Truth, or Being, which are not grounded in physical reality, OR an intelligence that Goodness, Truth and Being find their root in. Or as Aquinas puts it:

For since things in the physical world are naturally inclined to induce their likeness in things which are generated, this inclination must be traced back to some directing principle which ordains each thing to its end. This can only be the intellect of that being who knows the end and the relationship of things to the end. Therefore this likeness of effects to their natural causes is traced back to an intellect as their first principle. (In Meta. I 15 233.)

So then how do Final causes make sure they link up with the proper effect? Simple, an intelligence does it. And that is Aquinas’ answer to how that works. There is an intelligence who arranges the universe so that final causes wind up being aligned with the proper effects. In a sense, this intelligence is also EEF of those cause and effect situations, because it causes the archetypes to align with the types.

Which brings us full circle back to the Fourth Way.

  1. If there are certain comparatives we use to describe objects, such as “Goodness”, “Truth” and “Being”, then they cannot exist without a superlative.
  2. There are such comparatives.
  3. Therefore there is a superlative.
  4. This superlative is the final cause of the universe, due to being Goodness.(Goodness is the source of all Final Causation, as all things seek the Good.).
  5. This superlative is the efficient cause of the universe: in that it is Being. (Via the First and Second ways.)
  6. This superlative also is the EEF of the universe, due to being the intelligence that aligns effects to causes(and helps final causation.)
  7. Therefore, the Superlative is the Cause of the Universe.
  8. This superlative can be called God.

At least, this is the most around the argument that I’ve been able to get. You are welcome to disagree with my interpretation, but this is what I have come to.

  1. Urban, Linwood. “Understanding St. Thomas’s Fourth Way” History of Philosophy Quarterly 1.3: 281-195. Web 
  2. There are entire types of Darwinism that extend out beyond the realm of evolutionary biology. Fields such as “Evolutionary Ethics” and “Evolutionary Cosmology” exist. see: 
  3. Chapter 2, Heretics 1905 
  4. Whether or not any form of Darwinism can be directed into an argument for the existence of God is a subject for more debate. It’s possible Darwinian Cosmology was born out of an attempt to escape modern recastings of Teleological Arguments. 

God and the Daredevil: Marvel’s Foray into Theology

281662-g3Warning: Potential Spoilers Follow

I’m not often impressed enough with how theology or religious people are handled on television to say anything about it, but I’ve been impressed with Marvel’s Daredevil and their treatment of the protagonist, Matthew Murdock, and his faith. For those of you that don’t know, within the Marvel Universe Daredevil is Catholic.

In the Comics we know that Matt Murdock’s father was Jack Murdock, a boxer and his mother was a nun. She became a nun after he was born, but he still grew up never knowing her. He only met her once as a kid. It was shortly after he went blind saving an old man from being hit by a truck that she came in to visit him. She asked him to consider his blindness not a curse but a gift.

cene from Daredevil #229, Marvel Comics Group: New York City (1986), page 4, written by Frank Miller, illustrated by David Mazzucchelli. Reprinted in Daredevil: Born Again trade paperback, Marvel Entertainment Group: New York City (2005), 7th printing, page 56.

Scene from Daredevil #229, Marvel Comics Group: New York City (1986), page 4, written by Frank Miller, illustrated by David Mazzucchelli. Reprinted in Daredevil: Born Again trade paperback, Marvel Entertainment Group: New York City (2005), 7th printing, page 56.

And this I think is where we begin to get into some of the territory that the Netflix series covers. Matt Murdock grows up to be a defense lawyer by day, vigilante by night, hunting down those who deserve judgment. He never kills though. The first season of this series is about him hunting down the man that is trying to abuse the people of his home, of Hell’s Kitchen New York, and make them leave while he remakes the city in the image he wishes it to be. This is not what I want to talk about though, what I want to talk about is some of the Theological questions they actually raise in the show.

1. What is the purpose of law?

Matt Murdock is a lawyer, but he recognizes that not everyone who is guilty of a crime is brought to justice by the legal system. He takes it on himself to use his vigilante status to bring them to justice(usually through gathering evidence and then using the law.) but he limits himself to never cross the line and become executioner. (At least in the Netflix series, the comics are a little different of a story.)

“Judgment is best left to God…” his priest says in the Netflix series and Murdock seems to agree with that in regards to life and death.

In addition, in a particularly interesting scene they are in a courtroom defending a guilty man. Matt Murdock presents the law as is, namely, the accusation has to show that there is no reasonable doubt that this man killed in self defense. No one witnessed him not doing so. He does not deny that his client killed a man, and did so rather brutally, he only states that in the court they are there to decide ‘legal judgments’ not moral ones.

In other words: The law does not decide whether an action is good or bad, or a person is good or bad, but only whether they are culpable of the action in question. That is an interesting distinction for a lawyer/vigilante to make. If breaking the law does not make you a bad person, how is he justified in referring to the Kingpin as “the devil.”

It’s possible he was just being showy, saying what he needed to. Or he actually thinks it and behaves inconsistently(that wouldn’t be a surprise. He is only human.)

2. The social character of sin and righteousness.

Matthew and his Priest are discussing a particular proverb: “Like a muddied spring or a polluted well are the righteous who give way to the wicked. (Proverbs 25:26 NIV)” Matthew takes an interpretation that that is a mandate to stand up to the wicked, lest they poison the entire village and harm everyone in the process.

His priest takes a different interpretation (though it isn’t mutually exclusive): That if a man who is righteous, falls into sin, he poisons everyone and everything around him. Sin isn’t just his private affair, but it harms those around him.

We see this, for example, with his lying. In keeping secret his identity from his friends Foggy and Karen, he feels he is protecting them, doing them no harm. But soon, Foggy finds out and gets mad and stops speaking to Matt because he’s not sure who he is anymore. This causes Karen to begin to get upset because Matt and Foggy are fighting and there can’t be “Nelson and Murdock: Attorneys at Law” is Nelson and Murdock are fighting. Eventually she winds up not being able to tell either of them the truth about what happened one night when she shot a guy to death. This one lying habit, quickly spread to all of them.

This is one of the tensions of the series. How do we stand up to evil men, without becoming evil men ourselves? Especially, when the law can’t touch him.

3. God’s gifts/will and how to use them.

In the Comics, Daredevil’s mother asked him to view his blindness as a gift from God. After all, he wound up being able to see the world better than he could before, and hear the pain of people around him. He was given this power for a reason, he argues. In the current television rendition, he tells a story of a time he was lying in his apartment and he heard a man down the street violating his young daughter. He did it in such a way the wife didn’t know and it didn’t leave any marks, and so when Matt called CPS it simply got brushed under the rug.

But it kept happening and only he knew about it because of his gift. Was he supposed to sit on it? He followed the man and beat him up and told him that “he’d know if he ever touched his daughter again” and then disappeared. The man, as far as Matt could tell, never did touch his daughter again.

But Matt’s struggle is that exactly. If God is to be the sole judge, why did he give him this gift that allows him to hunt down and destroy evil, if he had no intention of it being moral to do so? Surely we see that God uses certain forms of Earthly Punishment as Divine Punishment, we see it in the Babylonian Captivity, just to give one example. So maybe Daredevil is like the Babylonians, God’s instrument of punishment on Earth.

But how much is in his hands? Can he take life? Is he judge, jury, and executioner, or just the instrument for that? But how? Matt Murdock is a complex character in this way. He always wants to do what is right, by both man and God, but isn’t always sure what that is. What is the line between standing up for the weak and righteous against evil, and becoming that very horror yourself?

This is but a few of the issues I think the plot raises. There are additional interesting points, for example: “Whether or not there is a singular entity called ‘the Devil’?”, “Are there such things as absolutes? Even Lucifer the absolute evil in this universe, was once an angel.” but though they are in the series, they have not yet become big themes in them, so I have chosen to not focus on them.

Quinquae Viae: The Five Ways of Aquinas (Part 3)

When thinking about the Second Way of Aquinas, which states that no cause can cause itself and therefore there must be a first cause, we run into a difficult problem of which the Second Way cannot get itself out. This problem is this: Aquinas has only proved this First Cause, he has not proven God.

In light of Modern Cosmology you might make the argument that the first cause was the Big Bang that brought all matter into existence.1 And given the restraints of the Second Way there is no way out of it. You cannot deny that if you define the Big Bang by the simplified way it usually is, then it fits the qualifications of “First Cause”. So then why think the First Cause is God? That is what Aquinas seeks to do in his Third Way. Show that “Even if there is a Big Bang, it did not have to occur, it is possible that the universe could have not existed. Since it is possible for the Big Bang to have not happened, there must be an explanation for the possibility that is namely: the Big Bang did happen.”

The third way is taken from possibility and necessity, and runs thus. We find in nature things that are possible to be and not to be, since they are found to be generated, and to corrupt, and consequently, they are possible to be and not to be. But it is impossible for these always to exist, for that which is possible not to be at some time is not. Therefore, if everything is possible not to be, then at one time there could have been nothing in existence. Now if this were true, even now there would be nothing in existence, because that which does not exist only begins to exist by something already existing. Therefore, if at one time nothing was in existence, it would have been impossible for anything to have begun to exist; and thus even now nothing would be in existence – which is absurd. Therefore, not all beings are merely possible, but there must exist something the existence of which is necessary. But every necessary thing either has its necessity caused by another, or not. Now it is impossible to go on to infinity in necessary things which have their necessity caused by another, as has been already proved in regard to efficient causes. Therefore we cannot but postulate the existence of some being having of itself its own necessity, and not receiving it from another, but rather causing in others their necessity. This all men speak of as God.

What we have above is a precursor the Leibniz’ Cosmological Argument from Contingency and a follow up on Avicenna’s argument from the same. As his other arguments in this series it depends heavily on the argument against actual infinities, but has a distinct flair from his versions on motion and causation. This is a distinctly modal argument.

While Avicenna drew largely on Aristotelean principles he seems to have come to a different conclusion than Aristotle did. Aristotle and Aquinas both argue that there is a first cause because of an infinite regress of causes is impossible. Avicenna however, argues that since the totality of all possible things cannot be caused by itself (since it is itself possible) it must be caused by something outside itself. And since the thing is outside of the totality of all possible things, it must be necessary. And that means that there is a necessary thing, and that thing is God.

Aquinas doesn’t take this same sort of modal approach to the argument. He argues very similarly to the fashion of Aristotle, namely that the unvierse has to have an explanation of itself. A cause of causes. It is easy to conflate this argument with the Argument from the Beginning of Motion, but we should not do that because they are distinct even though they have a logical similarity to their argument. We should not think of these causes, for example, as temporally sequential, happening one right after the other. Instead we should view them as simultaneous causes: logically simultaneous like what exists in an argument.

Let us take for example his argument:
1. Contingent beings are caused.
2. Not every being can be contingent, for this would create an infinite regress.
3. There must exist a being which is necessary to cause contingent beings.
4. This necessary being is God.

There is not a temporal succession to these things. It is not that ‘First’, step one comes, and then step two and then three and then four. Our minds may track through that path, but they all exist simultaneously. They are on your screen at the same time whether you are reading them or not. And they happen concurrently, and YET there is some degree of dependence of 4) on 3) and 3) on 2) and 2) on 1). If any of these had been different the argument would not work.

In the same way, we like to say that the irrational number Pi, “Goes on to infinity…” which is a misstatement. It is not as if Pi is continuing to count itself out every time it is calculated. It exists in it’s entirety, like a ray but rather all of it’s infinite digits exist simultaneously though each is dependent on the former. This is not to say that it is an actual infinite. Pi has a definite end point, namely the 3 on the other side of the decimal. It is infinite in the future direction only and all later numbers are dependent on that 3. 3 however, could not exist if it were the final number of Pi, that was dependent on an infinite set of variables in the other direction.

Similarly, if I had an argument consisting of infinite premises, all of which was dependent on the others but I came to a conclusion at the end.

Infinite 1: There exists an x
Infinite 2: There exists an x+1
Therefore: _____

That conclusion would be dependent on an infinite number of non-temporal causes that occurred before it, and therefore could never be reached.

In the same way, Aquinas argues that necessity and possibility work. For every contingent thing must have a cause. To put it another way, every contingent thing is dependent on something else for it’s existence. Since an actually infinite number of causes is impossible, this first thing must be a necessary being.

Since God is the only thing that could exist necessarily (think about Anselm trying to show the absurdity of a God that doesn’t exist) and must exist of its own power, then this first cause is God. It is not just a convenient stopping point for Aquinas it is the end.

  1. This doesn’t actually help the problem since it doesn’t make sense for that to have occurred un-caused at any point. If there was an infinitely dense ball of matter that existed there since eternity past, there would have had to have been a change in order for it to rapidly start expanding. That would be the first cause. 

The Ridiculousness of “Religulous”

This week’s post is going to be a bit out of the ordinary. A friend of mine asked me to watch Bill Maher’s Religulous, where he satires and supposedly proves that “Religion is detrimental to the progress of humanity.” (1:43) I’m normally skeptical of documentaries, especially ones done by people who are not in any real sense scholars, and this documentary did little to ward me of my skepticism.

Firstly, I’d like to address what he sets up as the premise of the film. As far as I can tell he wants to understand how otherwise reasonable people can believe in religion, and to prove that “religion is detrimental to the progress of humanity.” (ibid) In order to prove this he claims he will use rationality, but that would involve a logical argument of some sort. It could look something like this:

  1. Anything that encourages beliefs in the supernatural is a detriment to society’s progress. (This would take the form more formally as “If something encourages… then …. ) [P->Q]
  2. Religion encourages beliefs in the supernatural. [P]
  3. Therefore religion is detrimental to society’s progress. [Q, Modus Ponens 1&2]

While these claims are by no means self-evident, they are nonetheless at least possible as true, and if so, the argument winds up being a valid one. However, I detected no such argument in the documentary. (I would have been impressed at an attempt) It instead was largely Argumentum Ad Populum (He visited trucker’s chapels, and tourist attractions, but avoided universities and seminaries.) Ad Hominem (he dismissed entire religious claims based on the fact that sometimes their adherents did terrible things), Dicto Simpliciter (he made sweeping generalizations about entire religions and ignored the nuance.) and other various propaganda like material. (Though he did have a few good points, which we will address later in the body.)

To start, he begins to ask some guys at a Trucker’s Chapel, if they were okay with the fact that certain doctrines were mentioned nowhere in the Bible. For example, “Original Sin”, “Immaculate Conception” and the “Virgin Birth”(which he admits is found in two of the four gospels.) I am not surprised he did not ask about these when he was at the Vatican or questioning Catholics, as they would have an easy answer to it, but considering how little of the majority of Protestants engage with the works of Church History (especially those at a Truckers chapel), it is unsurprising that they do not have answers to these questions.

You could have gone for a bigger target than the doctrines he picked if you wanted to take a shot at the Biblicity issues. For example, the word Trinity is not found until the writings of Tertullian, where the word “Trinitas” was first used.1 Not that it wasn’t implied in Scripture or in the earlier Fathers, but that the word never appeared until the the late Second Century would have been something I gunned for. The answer to why some of these Doctrines are there however is simply that they arose out of reflection on the Biblical data over hundreds of years. That is what tradition is built on, the interpretation of the Scriptures through the living body of the Church for a long time. So the Biblicity of these doctrines is little problem. Some of them would be debated between traditions, for example, the Immaculate Conception of Mary, but the Virgin Birth for example is unanimously accepted. (Though some traditions have implications others don’t.)

It is clear however, that Maher did not do any research into the forming of the Canon or the development of Doctrine before challenging these people’s views. For example, if the Virgin Birth is only in two of the Gospels there is likely a reason for it. (He never once asked the question as to why there are Four gospels, as opposed to One or Twelve.) The different Gospels were written for different audiences for different purposes, and the Virgin Birth was included in Matthew(written to a Jewish Audience) and Luke (written after interviews with Eyewitnesses). Matthew was written to Jewish audiences as an apologetic, to show that Christ met all the prophecies of the Old Testament. Luke was trying to do as much credit to the original eyewitnesses as he could. He has more detail on the childhood of John the Baptist and Jesus than any other Gospel, which suggests that Mary and Elizabeth were potentially some of the people he interviewed, and if he’s being faithful then he’d report Mary’s experience as accurately as he can.

Maher claims at different points that the Gospels were not written by eyewitnesses. This seems absurd for a few reasons, but I’ll start with one glaring problem. Where is he getting his information? He simply asserts it as fact. A basic study into the formation of the Canon will reveal that the Canon-formers had actually discarded and eliminated documents that were forgeries and fakes. In addition, the basic books of the New Testament Canon were being cited as early as Clement of Rome. In his Epistle to the Corinthians (AD 68-97) Clement references Ephesians,  Acts(Which is the second part of Luke-Acts), 1 Peter, Titus, Romans, 2 Peter, 1 Corinthians, 2 Corinthians, Hebrews, and so on. This shows that there is little to no difficulty in asserting that the New Testament was in use incredibly close to the time of Christ. Not only that but the direct disciples of the Apostles, such as Ignatius, and Polycarp, were quoting from them as well. So these men would not have cited them unless they were certain their masters had written them.

Maher though, does bring up a good point with Dr. Francis Collins. Does the fact that the Bible being written fairly close to the time of the Apostles give it credit for a historical document? If you were to run it through a laboratory or a courtroom would that hold up? And this is now no longer a question of authenticity, but of epistemology? What are the standards for knowing History? Can we know it at all? We certainly can’t know it like we know the laws of physics, through observation. We can only really hear about it from people in the past and then falsify it through Archaeology. So the answer to the question he raises is ‘no’ it would not survive a lab test. Simply because it’s not repeatable or observable.

But neither would World War I history. Or the fact that yesterday existed. We can’t know these by observation and experimentation, but rather inference and testimony and memory. So the epistemological question he raises is really a Red Herring. “Is history science?” “Well no.” “Ah.” “That’s why you get a Arts degree in it, rather than a Sciences.” In fact, we start to see Maher’s epistemological cards coming out on the table. He thinks that science is the purveyor of Truth with a capital T.

Maher then interviews a televangelist about the image of Jesus in today’s culture. He asks if the poor man was what Jesus looked like and the preacher said something along the lines of “No. He had fine linens because he was rich. He was given gold as a child after all.” Which Maher rightly pointed out is not exactly the image you get from the New Testament. So the question then appears (at least in the viewers mind) “Where did the gold go then?” And this can be explained when you notice that after the Magi show up, Jesus does a good bit of travel. They traveled from Bethlehem to Egypt. On foot. With a newborn. This cost money due to bandits and robbers and such, and so they likely had to hire mercenaries to guard them on their way, book a place to stay while they were there, and then return at a later date. This likely exhausted the gifts the Magi brought, and were a sign of God’s providence. It’s not plain in the text exactly, but seeing as how they flew there a verse after the Magi gave them the gold, leads to that sort of inference.

Maher then uses an Ad Hominem attack against Lot. He claims that since Lot is a Godly Man that offered his Daughters up for rape, rather than the angels, he was a role model. Maher claims that since this man is considered Godly, then there is less morality in the “King James Bible” than the “Rick James Bible”. He’s clearly missing the point there, it wasn’t that Lot was good. Or that Abraham was(pimped out his wife…) or that David was(killed a man, stole his wife) or any Biblical character save Jesus was, but that God is good. With this in mind, the stories of debauchery and sin make a bit more sense.

Maher then tries to rope in modern politics. He goes to a “Gay rehabilitation clinic” where gay people are made straight through religion, and talks to the leader there about homosexuality in the Bible. He asks why, if it’s such a big deal, does Jesus not say a word about it in the New Testament? The guy has very little of an answer, but the answer is fairly forthcoming in both the question and in the original language. The question assumes something that is unsupported by the text, which is, “Whatever Jesus thought was important he’d say something about right?” but he fails to remember that our ideas of sexuality are not the same as they were in the 1st Century AD.

There was temple prostitution, government condoned orgies(indeed even government planned orgies), and much sexual activity that might be considered deviant in our time, such as paederasty or the practice of educating young boys through homoerotic relationships with older men. Most of the Emperors indulged in this practice for instance, Gibbon states, “Claudius was the only one whose taste in love was entirely correct”2 which implies that he had no male or boy lovers. But it was easily seen in most of the others.

When the New Testament writers spoke of “Sexual Immorality” they use the term “pornea”. This had a double connection, that of ‘idolatry’ and that of ‘sexual immorality’.3 This was a ‘junk drawer’ term for anything that was considered non-standard sexual intercourse between a man and his wife. This would include things like temple prostitution (this is a double whammy of both Idolatry and sexual immorality) and that would include both heterosexual and homosexual prostitution. The condemnation of long hair on men in 1 Corinthians was to dissociate them from the male homosexual prostitutes of Hermaphrodite that were worshipped in Corinth. Paederasty, incest, rape, adultery, prostitution and homosexuality these all fall under the umbrella of “Pornea”. So Jesus did speak of it.4

Can a Christian be a homosexual (by orientation) rather than a heterosexual? Yes. The Bible seems to only condemn the behavior, though with the given that ‘lust in the heart’ counts as adultery. (Matt 7:27-28) but that applies to both hetero and homosexuals.

Maher critiques then the adequacy of the Ten Commandments as moral rooting. He makes the statement that the first four seem silly, why does it matter what God you serve, and why aren’t there commandments against say, child abuse or rape? (Even though these would fall under what the Bible would call ‘adultery’.)

He doesn’t understand that the Commandments are set up in the following way. “Love the Lord your God”, and “Love your neighbor as yourself.” If you love God, you will love yourself as God loves you, and therefore love your neighbor as God loves them. If you follow the first four commandments, you will follow the rest.

So Child Abuse, Rape, etc, would be morally discounted by the remaining commandments as they treat objects of dignity as objects of valuelessness. He then asks if the first four are even necessary? I mean God seems like a very jealous God! Should we really be encouraging such closed-mindedness?

But not all Jealousy is bad, there is a difference between denying the petty and protecting the precious. A husband who feels no anger at a man who is trying to steal his wife is not a good husband, but a bad one! If God has made a covenant with his people then for him to be jealous over them is for him to be a good God, just as a man who has made a covenant with his wife is a good husband he’s jealous at something or someone trying to steal them away. These laws were only binding governmentally in Israel sure, but they hold true for Christians today since we also enter into this covenant with God. And if it is the case that the others follow logically from it, maybe we should?5

But sure, we could have seen some of this ourselves (as Maher suggests). That murder is wrong and so on, and the God thing is a bit less obvious. What he doesn’t realize is that in affirming objective moral values he has created a deeper philosophical problem.

Why is it wrong to rape or murder or steal? Surely it’s not something that we find in nature? We’re not going to go out and discover written in the heavens some law, like the law of Gravity? Is it testable or repeatable? If it’s a product of the evolutionary process then they are more like fashions then law. When someone goes against the herd, it’s not that they are doing something wrong but merely something out of fashion. But rather than getting distracted by the argument of Natural Theology here, I’ll simply provide a link to a paper on it, and then do a post on the Moral Argument another time. (See footnote) 6

Maher then references that there were ‘other myths’ in circulation that postulated a diety born on December 25th, crucified and resurrected. Most frequently I hear this of Horus, but the most ridiculous one I have heard is Quetzalcoatl, the Aztec feathered serpent, and then Baldur, Mithras, et al. Not only are these rehashed from that terrible documentary Zeitgeist (a full refutation of which can be found at the following (See footnote)7) where he depends on outdated scholarship of a lone Egyptologist Gerald Massey.8

I am going to end with the review of the content there, as he focuses briefly on the foundings of Mormonism and Islam, which I would tend to agree with in the most part, however he does fail to address the flourishing Golden Age period of Medieval Islam, and the (for the most part) peaceful coexistence of the People of the Book under their reign.

The rest of my review will focus on a definition issue. Early on he made the unfounded assertion that faith is simply “belief without evidence” which is quite a startling claim. At first, that seems plausible, based on certain Biblical passages such as Hebrews 11:1. “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” Some people take this to mean that to simply ‘not have faith’ is to not believe anything without evidence, and thus Atheism can be a lack of belief.

Of course that’s not a very high calling. My dog, my desk, and my computer all ‘lack belief’ and therefore all are atheists. The better and more sophisticated definition of atheism is a “belief that there is no God” which serves as a more rigid designator and helps distinguish them from thing that lack belief in God, (ie. Infants.)

This definition of faith however, is simply misguided. Faith is not an ‘epistemological’ category but rather a ‘relational’ category or perhaps a better description would be a description of a psychological state. For example, to have faith in one’s wife, is not to believe that she will do things without evidence, but rather that you trust in her based on the deliverance of reason and experience. It is a trust in conjunction with reason that creates faith. This is even supported in Scripture.9 Paul gives a list of eyewitnesses to the resurrection so you could go and check the evidence. Peter says to be ready to give a defense. Jesus says to believe, if not because of his word, then on the basis of miracles.

In addition the tradition carried this on in men like Augustine and Anselm who famously said that the were doing philosophy as “Faith, seeking understanding.” or that “They believe in order that they might understand.” If you do not first have a foundation of trust with a person or a thing, you cannot rightly study it. If you do not believe that the laws of physics are not constant, what is the point in studying them? We take epistemological claims in relation to ourselves and we either trust them or deny them.

So, we need to not fall prey to ridiculous documentaries like Religilous, which if it did anything for me, it convinced me we need better training of our laypeople in the Church and better familiarity with history. This Anti-intellectualism that has been plaguing the faith since the Fundamentalist movement needs to stop.

  1.  Adversus Praxean 
  2.  Edward Gibbon, Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, footnote on p. 76, vol. 1 
  3. For locations of this term in the Greek NT check, 
  4. Specific locations would include but not be limited to Mark 7:21, and The Sermon on the Mount(which he gives ‘pornea’ as legitimate excuse for divorce.) 
  5. Recommend Copan, Paul, “Is God a Moral Monster” Chapter 4 “Monumental Rage or Kinglike Jealousy?” 
  7. This one is my favorite: ,, 
  8. Just one citation to keep your search simple, though it could be sorted fairly quickly. 
  9. A short list of references: Jude 4, 10. Matt 22:37-38, 1 John 4:1, Romans 14:5, John 14:11, Acts 1:2-3, Acts 17:2-3, 1 Peter 3:15 

On Divine Hiddenness

One of the questions I have been asked on several occasions is something like this. “If God does exist and wants people to know him, why is he so hard to find?” My answer has always been that he isn’t. That he’s clearly revealed himself in Creation, his Son, his Word, his Actions, and through the Holy Spirit, that General revelation by itself is fully revealing and gives man no excused.

“For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world,in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse.” (Romans 1:20 ESV)

But that’s not necessarily to take the question seriously, I’m starting to realize. Yes, we may be able to to perceive God in some sense, to feel Him there with his Spirit, or to see Him in his Son Jesus, or to hear from Him in his Word. But these are still specific circumstances upon which we hear from Him. The men of Jerusalem saw and touched Jesus, but still did not believe, and Israel after Miracles and Movements would quickly forget.

Part of this is due to our sinful nature to be sure, but is there another explanation? Is sin simply one of the results of divine hiddenness? William Lane Craig argues that there are many plausible explanations of why God might be hidden from us in some sense. The one he prefers however is that God created us at sort of an “epistemic arms length”, that he lets us see him “in a mirror dimly, but then face to face.”1 This would allow us free will to sin and fall on Earth, but not in Heaven, where we are sealed by the absolute presence of God should we have chosen to follow him. This makes earth into the “Vale of decision making” as he argues.2

I think this makes a degree of sense. Aristotle argued that the “Final End” of everything was directed towards the Prime Mover. That the Universe moved in a great act of imitation of the thing that is the source of all its motion.3 4 If it is true that true reason for Human action is to “be like God” then this makes sense. Our sin and elevation of ourselves is an imitation of God’s ultimate position as that which receives worship, only we are not fitting receptacles for that. Instead, we wish to become more like God which is what the Serpent promised us falsely, but Jesus promises us truly. As St. Irenaeus put it “the Word of God, our Lord Jesus Christ, who did, through his transcendent love, become what we are, that He might bring us to be even what He is Himself.” 5 Our goal through the grace and work of God is to become more like Him, that we might enter into communion with Him fully, face to face, at the end of our lives.

But not now. To encounter God face to face would destroy us now. Not just because of our sin, but because of our finitude as well. We cannot even encounter things such as trees or rocks or people without pulling a bit away from them, keeping ourselves at a distance from them.

“The abstract is the symbol of the concrete. This may possibly seem at first sight a paradox; but it is a purely transcendental truth. We see a green tree; it is the green tree which we cannot understand; it is the green tree which we fear; it is the green tree which we worship. Then because there are so many green trees, so many men, so many elephants, so many butterflies, so many daisies, so many animalculae, we coin a general term ‘Life.’ And then the mystic comes and says that a green tree symbolises Life. It is not so. Life symbolises a green tree. Just in so far as we get into the abstract, we get away from the reality, we get away from the mystery, we get away from the tree. And this is the reason that so many transcendental discourses are merely blank and tedious to us, because they have to do with Truth and Beauty, and the Destiny of the Soul, and all the great, faint, faded symbols of the reality. And this is why all poetry is so interesting to us, because it has to do with skies, with woods, with battles, with temples, with women and with wine, with the ultimate miracles which no philosopher could create. The difference between the concrete and the abstract is the difference between the country and the town. God made the concrete, but man made the abstract. A truthful man is a miracle, but the truth is a commonplace.”
~G.K. Chesterton: “The Speaker,” May 31, 1902.”

Augustine even argues that we are epistemically disconnected from ourselves. “”Don’t you believe that there is in man a deep so profound as to be hidden even to him in whom it is?”6 We exist at an epistemic distance from everything, even ourselves, and so this gives even more credence to the view of Dr. Craig. That our inability to choose the good is not due only to the weakness of our flesh, but also due to the distance we have from the Good. This is why philosophers and scientists cannot even prove that we exist beyond a doubt, or that the external world exists, or that God exists. We are always slightly at a distance.

In this manner, I agree with Keith Ward who argues that what we believe has to be reasonable, but our contact with the truth must be through additional means than reason alone. God is a mystery. He makes good sense, but we cannot get our head around it with a simple explanation.7

Life then is, as the Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I titled his book on Eastern Orthodoxy, “Encountering the Mystery” and we will be judged for how we encountered it. For this mystery imposes itself upon us but keeps itself at a distance at the same time.

  1. 1 Corinthians 13:12 
  3. Interestingly as a side note, Sufis twirl for this reason. That in their spinning they might imitate the rotation of the heavens and be at one with that which gives it motion. (At least that’s the explanation given in Ibn Tufayl’s book.) 
  4.  “The object of desire and the object of thought move without being moved” (Met., 1072a26–27) 
  5.  Against Heresies, Book 5, Preface. 
  6. Source Unknown. Obtained from here, 

Al-Ghazali: First Proof against the Past Eternity of the Universe (Part 1)

Abū Ḥāmid Muḥammad ibn Muḥammad al-Ghazālī (c. 1058–1111) was an Asharite theologian of Persian descent who lived in the 11th and 12th centuries. He spent a lot of time in Baghdad teaching at the Madrasa there, and he devoted a lot of his time to rejecting Greek philosophy and more fully embracing the religious traditions found in Islam.

The work we are going to be examining today is his “Incoherence of the Philosophers” which he published as a refutation of men he referred to as ‘corruptors of the faith’ and that anyone who reads their writings becomes more lost in their own ignorance and incoherence. His point is to show that the philosophers do not provide demonstrative proofs of knowledge, they do not even stand up to their own tests of wisdom and truth.

In short: he was trying to show that Philosophy wasn’t able to meet it’s own standards. Or in more modern analytic terms, that it was “Self-referentially incoherent.” He does this by attacking several of the philosophical topics of his day that were commonly held, but not unquestionably. The one we want to focus on here is his first critique, namely of their doctrine in the Past Eternity of the Universe.

In this post I will be focusing only on his first objection to their (the philosophers) first proof. This is for two reasons, the first is for the sake of brevity, and the second is to give me more material for later. Now some of you may think that the Universe’s past eternity was thrown out among People of the Book aeons ago, since the book of Genesis clearly states that God created the world, and the creation accounts in the Koran are similar. (That God created the world in a set number of days.)

So why then the difficulty? In short: Aristotle.

Aristotle(who has reached Ghazali by Al-Farabi and Avicenna) believed that the universe was eternal in the past for several reasons. Existence was a form of motion, and in order for there to be a motion there had to be a motion that set that motion into motion and so on and so forth. Time is a measurement of motion. If motion came into being, then there would have to be movement away from something, and therefore there be something before time, which is contradictory. These arguments held and continued to hold influence over the world from the time of Aristotle, until (arguably) the end of the Middle Ages.1

Ghazali in his work, starts to outline the thinking of the philosophers up to his time and how they have agreed on the past eternity of the universe. He claims that “the view of the multitudes, both ancient and modern, has settled on upholding its past eternity: that it has never ceased to exist with God, exalted be He, to be an effect of his, to exist along with Him, not being posterior to Him in time, in the way the effect coexists along with the cause and light along with the sun; that the Creator’s priority to [the world] is like the priority of the cause to the effect, which is a priority in essence and rank, not in time.” 2

He talks about how Plato seemed to be an exception to this rule stating that the universe was created in his Timaeus, but this is an exception and not to be noted. He then says he is not going to get bogged down in every single argument they give, but instead only focus on the good ones. He doesn’t want to waste time on the bad arguments but rather the ones that can cause even the best thinkers to doubt because “…arousing doubt in the weak is possible with the most feeble [of arguments]” 3

The first proof he focuses on (and the only one we will be focusing on here) goes from this:

“They say, ‘it is absolutely impossible for a temporal to proceed from an eternal.'”

In short the argument they give for this looks like this. If states of the Eternal are similar then either everything always comes into existence or nothing comes into existence at all. Since there is no difference in one state of the eternal than another there is no reason that in one moment there should be something and in the next moment there not be, unless something changed that brought about its creation. This thing could not be the ‘will of the divine’ because it would be utterly arbitrary to refrain from one thing and then act on it the next moment without something bringing that change in will into being.

The philosopher does his best to bolster the argument by asking why the world did not exist before its creation. There was no logical or physical necessity to stop it, since God has no physical limitations.4 The Eternal would have to change from “…Impotence to Power, and the world from Impossibility to Possibility, both of which are impossible.” And the philosophers argue that it would be unbecoming due to the nature of God, for God to have a will to create. This is because deciding to create is to say that He became a willer of its existence after having not been, but this creates a problem of a will having come into existence. And God cannot receive things that are created because he is separate from creation, nor can it have been created apart from him because that would make him not a willer.5

To push this even further, not only could God not create his own will, but if will can come into existence uncaused then so can anything, even universes. This makes God superfluous really. The question still remains, why the universe came into existence then and not earlier? Was it because God lacked an instrument by which to do his purpose? Or perhaps a purpose, or a nature, that once they come into existence, so then will the universe? But, then why do those things come into existence then and not earlier and so on and so forth ad infinitum.

This is the heart of their argument.6 And we will spend the rest of the time dealing with the first part of Al-Ghazali’s first objection to it. (though he does have two objections.)

Ghazali argues that perhaps God willed the creation of the world at a specific time, timelessly. That past-eternally the will was created that “at such and such a time I will create the universe.” and asks what proof there might be to show this to be false.

The response he then imagines is something like this: That if the necessary conditions exist they always bring about their effects immediately. Since the will exists, and the willer exists, and these two things are related to each other, then the effects of the will will come about immediately. If this is not the case then nothing could ever come into existence, since the Eternal always exists in identical states, that from moment to moment there is no difference.

“Indeed the state of affairs would have remained identical to what it was [before], the object of the will not having come into existence, and would remain thereafter as it was before when [lo and behold] the object of the will would come into existence! This is nothing but the ultimate in impossibility.”

So the problem rests in the fact that nothing changes, no new will is gained, and no new thing is given, but suddenly there is a new thing. And this is the first response of the Philosophers.

Ghazali wants to know if they know of the impossibility of Eternal Will through basic knowledge, or through investigations? He wants to know if they use a middle term to connect “eternal will” and “temporal creation” for they have not shown it. And if it is basic knowledge why do men like Ghazali and the others not have it? Is it because they lack some knowledge, but this knowledge is basic and necessary? Since you have done neither, but instead given “nothing but [an expression of] unlikelihood and the drawing of an analogy with our resolve and will, this being false, since the eternal will does not resemble temporal [human] intentions.” And just saying something is unlikely is not enough, without a proof that can be demonstrated!

The Philosopher might say then, we know this by the necessity of reason, and one who denies this is stubbornly defying their own reason and resorting to irrationality!

This is where Al-Ghazali resorts to some of his most famous arguments, the arguments based on the concept of infinity. He asks what the difference is in that response and someone who says that they are stubbornly defying reason with their own doctrines. This is not a reasonable response, but instead an irrational one, as it puts forth no argument or explanation. Indeed, Ghazali thinks that their ‘necessity of reason’ can be shown to be demonstrate logical contradictions, or at least logical absurdities, and therefore must be false.

  1. If the universe is past eternal then there must be an infinite number of movements by each heavenly sphere. 7
  2. These spheres all rotate at different rates, one being a sixth, a forth, a half, and so on, of the radius of the whole heavenly body.
  3. If Jupiter rotates twice for every rotation that Saturn makes then Jupiter has logically rotated twice as many times as Saturn.
  4. Yet they have both rotated the same number of times, namely, an infinite number of times.
  5. Indeed, they are not only the same number, but infinitely different, for with every rotation Saturn falls further behind.

He then asks, if someone says “This is impossible by the necessity of reason!” how does this differ from their defense? How would they answer if they were asked whether the rotation is even or odd? It cannot be one or the other. If it were odd then by adding one you could make it even, but how can the infinite be in need of one? If on the other hand you answer it to be both or neither, these Ghazali argues, are also false by necessity.8

If they try and rebut saying that infinites cannot be measured like finites, then we can simply say that they can be divided into eighths, and sixths, and fourths, why not into odds or evens?

Interestingly an appeal to what came to be known as the “A” theory of time was made to try and fenagle their way out of this. That the past is ‘non-existent’ and only the present exists, and the present has a finite number of rotations, because past rotations do not exist.

Ghazali does not find this objection very strong saying that numbers are even or odd regardless of existence of the objects or non-existence. He gives an example of horses. If we suppose we have six horses, this number of horses is even or odd, even if the horses are hypothetical or non-existent.9

He then goes on even more of an offensive, saying that they claim that there are existing substances that vary in properties and are infinite. These are human souls that have been separated from their bodies. These then are neither even or odd, if the philosophers are to be consistent.

The philosophers might then throw up their hands and say that is it is not Avicenna who is correct but Plato, who thought that there is but one soul and it is divided into bodies and then returns and becomes one with the over-soul again after death.

Ghazali thinks that this is repulsive, and contrary not only to experience but also to logic. We experience ourselves as ourselves and not as other people. If we were the same as other people we would experience ourselves as one. But logically he also holds it to be untenable. Since souls are immaterial talking about ‘dividing’ it is nonsense. You cannot divide things that do not have extension. This only makes sense in objects that have quantitative value. For example an ocean can split into three rivers that all merge back into the ocean again. Non-quantitative substances cannot be divided. This is impossible according to logical necessity.

“What is intended by all this is to show that they have not rendered their opponents unable to uphold belief in the connectedness of the eternal will with the act of temporal creation except by invoking [rational] necessity and that they are unable to disengage from those who [in turn] invoke [rational] necessity against them in those matters opposed to their own belief.”

This ends his treatment of the rejection of rational necessity. He then begins to treat the same objection from a different angle, of a person who rejects rational necessity as the starting point of the disagreement on will. He takes this approach from the impossibility of actually distinct events among the eternal. But this will be a topic for another post, for now, this is the first argument in his first objection to the doctrine of the Past Eternity of the Universe, and we shall sit content with that. (Or at least I shall.)

  1. I say that this is arguable because of thinkers like Crescus and Abū l-Barakāt al-Baghdādī brought into question the Aristotelian framework long before the end of the middle ages. 
  2. Ghazali, The Incoherence of the Philosophers, Translated Michael E. Marmura. Pg 12. 
  3.  Ibid. Pg. 13 
  4. And in certain Islamic schools, no logical limitations either. 
  5. The similarity this has to the Euthyphro problem always makes me smile. Either wills exist because God wills it, or wills exist apart from God. The answer is of course that God is will. 
  6. This is much more Avicennan than Farabian metaphysics. 
  7. Note that this is dependent on Aristotelian physics though many of his arguments still hold water in my opinion given a non-Aristotelian system. 
  8. Modern set theory has something to say about this it is true. Actual Infinities are both even and odd. 
  9. Similarly I suppose you could invent an object. “I have seven glarks.” The number of ‘glarks’ is still odd, despite the fact that glarks are a nonexistent thing. 

Creationism: Good or Bad for Christianity

For months I’ve been mulling over the Bill Nye and Ken Ham ‘debate’1 and wondering whether or not Christianity specifically, or Theism more broadly, has actually been helped by these debates? My argument is no. We have not actually done ourselves any good, but actually more harm.

In this debate in particular,2 and in the debate about creationism more broadly, I find that often times both sides make fallacious appeals to experts and facts and big names. Often times they say the same thing, but with different words and claim it’s entirely the same thing. And very rarely is any common ground found on which to continue.

For example, in the Ham vs. Nye debate, Nye constantly brought up scientific methodology and epistemology. We know things because we can test them empirically. Ham rebutted by saying that the Bible says that’s false, but makes no attempt to show this with an argument. These men are not philosophers, and can be excused for some fallacy, but supposedly these men are smart enough to know how to follow evidence. (And you’d think at least ask direct questions.)

But this is not a debate review, what it is is an attempt to examine this mindset that Christians sometimes have. Why do some insist that the Bible is the only way you can know things? Nye made an interesting comment to Ham, asking him why he thought his specific interpretation of ‘the Bible as it is written in English’ should be authoritative. Ham responded that this is simply what the Bible teaches, as if there is a monolithic teaching that the Scripture has, as if he was appealing back to a single, uniform body of beliefs that makes everything make sense. But this is not the case. On Genesis alone there are at least six interpretations I can think of, which could be considered justifiable from the text.

  1. Gap Theory
  2. Age Theory
  3. Myth Theory3
  4. The Literal Theory
  5. Old Earth View
  6. Framework Interpretation

I will not go into much detail here, but these are all very different theories and can not all be true. But they have all been professed throughout Church history. For example, Augustine (yes, THE Augustine yes, Saint Augustine) held that the universe was not created in Seven Literal days. In fact, he says this of people who do:

“It is too disgraceful and ruinous, though, and greatly to be avoided, that he [the non-Christian] should hear a Christian speaking so idiotically on these matters, and as if in accord with Christian writings, that he might say that he could scarcely keep from laughing when he saw how totally in error they are.” (Augustine, The Literal Interpretation of Genesis 1:19–20, Chapt. 19)

Augustine did not believe that anything of salvific substance was taught along with the revelation of Creation. Augustine did believe that there were some things God taught about the universe in the Scriptures, but they were ultimately a book of Salvation. They did not teach scientific truth, but rather Salvific truth.

“With the scriptures it is a matter of treating about the faith. For that reason, as I have noted repeatedly, if anyone, not understanding the mode of divine eloquence, should find something about these matters [about the physical universe] in our books, or hear of the same from those books, of such a kind that it seems to be at variance with the perceptions of his own rational faculties, let him believe that these other things are in no way necessary to the admonitions or accounts or predictions of the scriptures. In short, it must be said that our authors knew the truth about the nature of the skies, but it was not the intention of the Spirit of God, who spoke through them, to teach men anything that would not be of use to them for their salvation.” (Augustine The Literal Interpretation of Genesis 2:9)

Now, for the record. I am not trying to make an appeal to Authority by saying that Augustine did not believe it and therefore we shouldn’t either. That is not the case. It might very well be false, but it is logically possible. No one that I know of would argue that Augustine was not a Christian, and yet he had a non-literal interpretation of Genesis. (If we’re naming people who don’t though, the list is long. For a partial list here: Basil the Great, Origen of Alexandria, Irinaeus of Lyon, (Possibly) Gregory of Nazianzus) The problem of course is when people like Ken Ham want their particular interpretation endorsed as “Christian” by not only the Church but the secular authorities to allow it to be taught in schools as such, is grossly unrepresentative.

Even if it were true, the interpretation that Ken Ham has, he is leaving it up to the government to teach it in their schools, to rule on it as orthodox. And that is why I think it is bad for Theism and Christianity; because people are going to be convinced that in order to be a Christian you must hold these cosmological beliefs. And that is patently and demonstrably false. It’s gaining ground, at least on a Popular Level though.

I will respect the young Earth Creationist’s argument, but I will not swallow his dogma without more evidence. And arguing without evidence makes us look like fools. As Ghazali says

“Whoever thinks that to engage in a disputation for refuting such a theory is a religious duty harms religion and weakens it. For these matters rest on demonstrations – geometrical and arithmetical – that leave no room for doubt. Thus when one who studies these demonstrations and ascertains their proofs, deriving thereby information about the time of the two eclipses and their extent and duration, is told that this is contrary to religion, such an individual will not suspect this science, but only religion. The harm inflicted on religion by those who defend it in a way not proper to it. As it has been said: ‘A rational foe is better than an ignorant friend.'” (Ghazali, The Incoherence of the Philosophers, Originally quoted in my post “Natural Theology: A Brief History”

I do not believe that this retreat from the ideas of modern cosmology will do us any good as Christians. It will do us no good, and it will do Christanity no good. We should instead engage with the thoughts of the day, shake off the shackles of isolationist fundamentalism and start being fundamental in the way that is good. To preach the fundamentals, and not keep everything as one. We will only damage ourselves if we do not.

But what about the problems that other views bring out? For example, If evolution is true then Adam and Eve could not have existed and therefore all of Christian doctrine falls in because of Paul’s references to them as historical and Oh NO!”

Guess what, people talk about that too. You’d be surprised about how much research is done on this particular topic. Sometime soon I will have a book review up of the Counterpoint’s Series “Four Views on the Historical Adam” up, but for now, I will give you just a bit of a list of possible views regarding Adam.

1. That there is no historical Adam.
2. The Archetypal Creation View
3. Old-Earth Creation View
4. Young-Earth Creation View

I will be detailing these when I do my review of the book, but for now I give them only to perhaps try and open your mind to thinking about the question. When one only has a literal interpretation, one can only take the book literally. But we fail to take some books literarily, as in “According to the sense they were written.” If parts of Genesis are poetic or mythological or whatever, then literal interpretation is horrible to it. A disservice really. Like asking Shakespeare if he propounded a Juliet-centric universe since “…Juliet is the sun.”

These are complicated problems, with complicated answers. But no one ever said the world was simple.

  1. If you could call it a debate. Stasis was never decided on and they constantly bounced back and forth around each other’s questions. 
  3. The use of the word ‘myth’ here is not to show that it is false, rather that it is structured in a mythological sense 

More thoughts on Arguments for Divine Personality

In my last post, I gave several arguments for Divine Personhood.

Today I’d like to expound a bit more on some.

In the Argument from the Absolute Beginning I mention how the cause of the Universe must be a person because of it’s immateriality and it’s spaceless and timeless nature. Another potentially useful analysis of it, is (again, assuming the argument goes through) that given that the cause caused the Universe, it must have had a series of necessary and sufficient conditions that had to obtain in order to bring this about.

If a universe can bring itself into existence out of nothing, then specific conditions must obtain in order for this to be the case. The gravitational constant, and other constants must be particularly tuned so that even given the self-creation of the universe, the universe doesn’t implode in on itself.1 That being said, assuming a universe had the necessary conditions to come into being…and had so from Eternity past(since time did not exist before the Big Bang event), why did it come into being 13.7 billion years ago, and not 18.9 trillion years ago, or now, or ten minutes ago, or all the time? The conditions could not have changed (since time did not exist, and change requires time), and yet the universe popped into existence at a certain time when nothing changed.

Which make sense if a personal being willed it. A being endowed with non-deterministic free will could make this decision. If it was a necessary outflowing, there is no reason why it could not have happened ten thousand years before it did, or ten minutes ago. The pattern would be the same, but it should be happening at the instant the necessary conditions are met. (Which if they are logically necessary, is all the time.)

Basically, the question comes down to. What caused the change that caused the Big Bang. Even if the universe popped into existence out of some pre-existent state2 that pre-existent state had to change. But why change then and not at a different time? What caused this change.

This leads us back into the Cosmological Argument from the Absolute Beginning, which leads us to a personal creator. This creator is shown to have Free Will by this argument, being able to act, but not out of necessity, and being able to bring about spontaneous change.

  1. Modern versions of the Teleological argument take this form, but I am not going to address it much here. 
  2. Maimonides arguably thought that God created the universe from something pre-existent. He at least thought it wasn’t inconsistent with Judaism. Philo of Alexandria as well. 

Objective Personality: Arguments for the Personhood of God

Recently in discussion a friend of mine brought up the fact that all of the arguments for the existence of God, are good, but only get you to a sort of Platonic Form of the Good. A metaphysically necessary, first cause, moral ground of the universe. He then said that this object could be impersonal, and so they are not good arguments for Theism.

While I certainly believe that God is a person I will admit I was a bit stumped here, if only for sheer surprise, Normally I have people reject premises or just get annoyed, but this did seem like a semi-solid objection. The Contingency Argument got you back to a Metaphysically Necessary thing, the argument for Objective Morality got you to a Platonic Object of the Good, and the Cosmological Argument from Absolute beginning got you back to a Timeless, spaceless, immaterial, thing. The only one I knew that could definitely prove personhood was the Telelogical argument, assuming it went through successfully.

After a bit of reflection though, it occurred to me that this is false. All of them refer back to a Personality. We will take each argument one at a time and show how.

The Moral Argument.:
1. If God does not exist objective moral values do not exist.
2. Objective Moral Values exist.
3. Therefore, God exists.

First, let us define objective morality. Objective morality is the state of affairs in which for any situation x, there is a moral thing to do.1 But what do we mean by ‘moral’? Morality seems to be rooted in the idea of persons: The Oxford Dictionary2 has as their first definition for the adjective moral as:

Concerned with the principles of right and wrong behavior and the goodness or badness of human character:

and Merriam-Webster has three:

: concerning or relating to what is right and wrong in human behavior

: based on what you think is right and good

: considered right and good by most people : agreeing with a standard of right behavior

Notice, they all refer to people or persons. Morality has to do with people and our behavior, how how we treat people due to their inherent value. Rocks cannot be said to be ‘moral’ or ‘immoral’. Therefore, if Objective Morals exist, it also means ‘objective personhood’ exists. There is of course Kant’s Principle, wherein we are to treat people as ends in themselves, is an objective statement, but implies no direct personhood. The problem with Kant’s principle is that there seems to be no way to make sure that that actually aligns with the world. It seems utterly contingent.

“Apparently, Kant’s Principle of Humanity, as it appeared in the empyrean and before the foundation of the world, read, ‘Should, against all probability, there be stars, and should, also improbably, those stars align in such a way as to permit the emergence of life, and should, against overwhelming odds, some of those living things turn out to be ‘human’, then they are to be treated as ends-in-themselves and never as means to an ends, and this even in the event that the contingencies of evolution direct them to think otherwise. Disregard this directive in those universes in which these conditions fail to obtain.” (Mark Linville: The Moral Argument, The Blackwell Companion for Natural Theology)

And the reason for that brings us nicely into our second argument.

The Argument from The Absolute Beginning
Simply put the argument from the Beginning of the Universe goes like this:
1. Everything that begins to exist has a cause.
2. The Universe began to exist.
3. The Universe has a cause.

The cause of the spatio-temporal-material universe could not have been anything spatio-temporal-material, which leads to a non-spatio-temporal-material thing that caused the universe.3 The problem with this, is that there are only a scant few things which could be immaterial/spaceless/timeless, and those things are ‘abstract objects’ and ‘unembodied minds’.

Abstract objects would include things like numbers, shapes, universals, propositions, and so on and so forth. The problem is however, that all of them are causally impotent. They bear no causal relationships to anything. The number seven does not cause anything, but seven objects might. This is the problem with the above statement of Kant’s Moral Principle. As a principle, it stands in causal impotence with the world unless the world happened to be aligned to it, or else was aligned to it by a mind, then it seems implausible to think it shapes the morality in the universe.

This leads us then to a cause of the universe that is an Unembodied Mind. Minds in most cases are regarded as persons, persons here being something with will and knowledge, and power. (The ability to make a decision, know the decision, and execute the decision.) Or else we have a universe that is contingently aligned with principles and propositions.

The Contingency Argument:

1. Anything that exists has an explanation of its existence, either in the necessity of its own nature or in an external cause.
2. If the universe has an explanation of its existence, then that explanation is God.
3. The Universe exists.
4. Therefore the Universe has an explanation of its existence. (Modus Ponens, 1,3)
5. Therefore the explanation of the existence of the universe is God. (Modus Ponens, 2, 4)

Assuming that the argument goes through we wind up with an explanation of the universe that is God. 2) seems at first blush to be an unfounded assertion, but lets pick it apart a bit. If the Universe is taken to be all of material-temporal-spatial reality, then that would include anything material-temporal-spatial that could exist. Therefore the explanation of the universe has to be in something timeless, immaterial, and spaceless. This thing, which we established cannot be an abstract object without itself being contingently aligned (though not necessarily contingently existent) with the universe, must therefore be an unembodied mind. Which is a being with will and knowledge and power, which is a person. And an unembodied mind that is spaceless, timeless, and immaterial is what everyone means by God.

So we can conclude that the personhood of God is deducible from these arguments when you really begin to ponder them. There are some arguments that might go to show that he’s multi-personal, but these require theological assumptions and could belabor a whole post by themselves. We do know however, that if these arguments go through, we have a timeless, spaceless, powerful, willing, personal being, who is also immaterial, who is the source of the universe and the cause of the universe, as well as the being who is good enough to be the grounding of all our moral values. Which sounds a lot like God to me.


  1. This allows you to deal with difficult situations. While “It is wrong to lie” is a general absolute, when you have Nazis banging on your door it may not be okay to follow. But there is nonetheless a ‘right’ thing to do in this situation. This is not to suggest situation ethics, where it may be okay to slaughter little children if it brings around a good result or if the situation requires it. That would imply that there are relative morals that change depending on the circumstance. 
  3. Cause here is being used in the sense of ‘efficient’ cause, not ‘material’ cause.