Do We Need To Prove All Other Religions False?

religions

Comment conversations here lately have brought up the question, “Sure, you think Christianity is true. Muslims think Islam is true. Hindus think Hinduism is true. What makes you think you’re any more right than they are? Not only that, but if you applied the same standard to Christianity that you do to those other religions, you would reject Christianity just like you do all of them.”

That’s not so, actually. I’ve looked at the world’s major religions. Here briefly are the reasons I accept one while rejecting the others.

1. Christianity and Judaism are unique in being historically situated.

Unlike all other religions save one, the truth of Judeo-Christianity stands or falls depending on historically testable facts. Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, secularism and tribal religions—the other major worldview groupings—are philosophical systems. Judeo-Christianity is a story. The other worldviews have no story by which to test their truth. Buddhism and Islam do have stories of their founders, but they are incidental to the message; their messages could have been delivered in many other ways, and in a sense their messages could be true even if their founder stories were false, for their founders were only messengers.

So we can’t apply the same truth tests. Note that this means that Judeo-Christianity is much more easily falsifiable. The others cannot be disproved by historical research, Christianity and Judaism could be.

The one exception among other religions is Mormonism, which also makes historically testable claims. We can and do apply the same kind of standard to Mormonism that we apply to Christianity. It fails.

Still on the basis of just this one item, other religions might be true. Let’s go on. I’m being necessarily brief here but I’ll do what I can in the space of a blog post.

2. Eastern religions suffer from an irrational monism.

Buddhism and Hinduism are generally pantheistic: they hold that all is god, and god is all; and the fundamental problem of humans is that we do not recognize our identity with the all. Their goal is extinction of the person in Nirvana, the swallowing of the individual in the all. But this is a type of monism, a view of all reality being essentially one thing, which fails to satisfy rational inquiry. It erases distinctions that the rational person knows are real: self and the universe, good and bad, the physical and the non-physical.

3. Islam fails the goodness test.

Islam’s messenger was a war-monger and a rapist. The Qur’an approves of violence toward nonbelievers. Islam’s advance throughout the world has been mostly through military conquest.

4. Judaism and Islam fail the unity-in-diversity test.

The Trinitarian God of Christianity is a God whose perfection requires no creation to complete it: He is one, yet he is love and other relational attributes are completed in relationship among the Persons of the Trinity.

5. Secularism fails the believability test.

Atheistic secularism leads to the conclusion that consciousness and free will are illusions, that humans are ontologically indistinct from the rest of nature, that there is no real objective morality, that purpose is individual and contingent, and that the world is either eternal or created itself (from nothing, some even say!). The first two in particular are not only hard to believe existentially but impossible to accept philosophically, for they are rationally self-defeating: if they were true they could never be discovered to be true.

6. Christianity passes the truth test.

Christianity passes all the tests of truth to which I have been able to put it: historical, philosophical, existential, experiential. It satisfies both the heart and the mind. Only one religion, one worldview, can be true.

Update 6:15 am May 26: see comment 4. This is one of those posts I wish I had taken more time with, because there’s a lot more I could have said. I have done considerable reading into Eastern religions, for example, but it’s been a while ago, and I’d need to review it to be able to pass along to you more of the main reasons I found them wanting. I won’t try to fix the post now; I’ll just leave it with this note to say that I don’t consider this one of my best, and I won’t try to defend it as if it were.

Comments 264
  1. Jayman777

    1. Christianity and Judaism are unique in being historically situated.

    While the Koran does not contain lengthy historical narratives like portions of the Bible, it does include some historical claims. For example, 4:157 claims that Christ was not crucified and killed. This is a blatant historical error.

    3. Islam fails the goodness test.

    While there are issues with Islam in this regard, I have a feeling this will merely open a counter-attack on the goodness of the God of the Bible.

    4. Judaism and Islam fail the unity-in-diversity test.

    Unless you have a proof that God must be Trinitarian I don’t see how this is a good argument against Judaism or Islam. If you leave Christian revelation to one side (the non-believer won’t accept it), I see no reason to believe that God could not be Unitarian.

  2. JB Chappell

    Historical claims are not testable. You can investigate and assess their plausibility, but they are not testable. Jesus’ ascension is a historical claim no more testable than the claim that Mohammed ascended. Supporting facts may make it more plausible, however.

    Furthermore, the fact that other “major” world religions have been examined and found wanting does not answer the question of whether we need to examine ALL other religions.

  3. JB Chappell

    Oh, one more thing: the “goodness” test? “Goodness” is a subjective evaluation wholly independent of “correct”-ness. Something can be completely despicable and still be true.

  4. Tom Gilson

    Thank you both for your comments.

    This is one of those blog posts I wish I had written differently–I wrote it in too much of a hurry. There are many other reasons besides these, for example, that I am sure Islam is not true.

    Having said that, I also didn’t intend it to be more than bullet points. Jayman777, you’re exactly right that I don’t have an argument here based on the Trinity. That was beyond the scope of what I was trying to accomplish with this post. I just wanted to mention some ways in which I have examined other religions and decided they were not true.

    Islam does make historical claims, and with that I also agree, Jayman777. That does not mean that its message is historically situated, though. In fact the Qur’an is said to be eternal, from before time.

    JB Chappell, I don’t know what you mean by historical claims not being testable. Suppose I said I had dinner with Barack Obama last year on Independence Day. That’s an historical claim, and it’s testable with respect to the historical record.

    Not everything in the New Testament is historically testable. You picked Jesus’ ascension. What about his crucifixion? Knowledgeable historians universally agree that happened. Knowledgeable historians virtually all agree that Saul (Paul) was quite stunningly converted, and that the disciples had experiences after Jesus’ death that they took to be encounters with the risen Christ. I could say more. These things are not unknown and not untestable.

    Furthermore, the fact that other “major” world religions have been examined and found wanting does not answer the question of whether we need to examine ALL other religions.

    It answers it as far as I’m concerned. Especially in view of my point 6.

    There are certain things that can be completely despicable and still be true, you say. But your statement about goodness being subjective borrows from one worldview to test another, which doesn’t work. It smuggles in a foreign term: “You cannot assess whether Islam is true on the basis of the goodness test, because [if there is no knowable objective goodness, which is false if Islam is true] then goodness is a subjective evaluation wholly independent of correctness.” Or, “If we assume Islam is false, then we assume the goodness test cannot be used to test whether Islam is true,” which begs the question.

    Goodness is considered wholly subjective only in certain philosophical systems, none of which (as far as I know) are broadly theistic. Once you begin to consider theistic options, I think you have to reject the one whose most highly revered messenger was like this one.

  5. Sault

    Unlike all other religions save one, the truth of Judeo-Christianity stands or falls depending on historically testable facts.

    Hmmm. Like the Exodus? Or how much time has passed since the Flood? Or how about when the Tower of Babel was constructed? Or (moving to the NT) the alleged census that required Joseph to return to his city of birth? Or when Jesus was born? Or when Jesus was crucified? Or the star that guided the Zoroastrian Magi, or the resurrected dead that walked the streets of Jerusalem, or Pentecost?

    3. Islam fails the goodness test.

    And Buddhism is one of the few that pass.

    There is just as much violence in Christianity as there is in Islam. Even a cursory glance through the Bible gives us plenty of examples of immoral behavior commanded by God. Look at the Flood – if it had actually happened it would have killed at least hundreds of thousands of people, millions of animals, innumerable species of plants and trees… true devastation on a level never seen since. If you want to talk body count (a game that many theists like to play), Yahweh beats them all hands down with just that one event.

    4. Judaism and Islam fail the unity-in-diversity test.

    Do your research a little better next time. There are a number of different sects within Hinduism, and each has a nuanced view of God. Smartas, for instance, view the 5 gods (Vishnu, Shiva, etc) as 5 forms of Brahman. Vaishnavism is another variant that reveres Vishnu as as the “supreme being and the foundation of all existence.” There is also at least one non-monistic tradition within Hinduism.

    It should be noted that Hinduism and Christianity share a common parallel in that God grants some beings god-like powers. Two examples of this from Hinduism are devas and asuras, and even other deities… so even though Hinduism may seem pantheistic, it isn’t necessarily so. In Christianity, of course, you’ve got the devil, angels, demons, and saints, but it isn’t pantheistic, right?

    5. Secularism fails the believability test.

    Yes, because talking donkeys, fruit that makes you know right from wrong, a boat that carried all of the species (oh, excuse me, “kinds”) of animals while the rest of the world was flooded, and God making people out of mud are soooo believable.

    Only one religion, one worldview, can be true.

    Quite possibly. So, out of the thousands of different denominations of Christianity, which one got it right?

  6. Tom Gilson

    Sault,

    Not all historical claims about the Bible are testable. The ones that have been tested have passed. The Bible is historically situated.

    Does Buddhism really pass the goodness test? It’s good, you might say, from the perspective of modern or classic liberalism, or Christian ethics. Does Buddhism really believe in the good? Or does it believe in the one, without distinction?

    Your perspective of God’s goodness also imports from outside the Bible. You assume it is not good to end evil, apparently; God says otherwise, and his view is quite arguably good in real terms.

    I’m not sure why some description of Hinduism explains why I should do better research into Judaism and Islam.

    Christianity is not pantheistic by any stretch. I suggest you look up pantheism.

    Yes, because talking donkeys, fruit that makes you know right from wrong, a boat that carried all of the species (oh, excuse me, “kinds”) of animals while the rest of the world was flooded, and God making people out of mud are soooo believable.

    In their contexts, properly understood rather than mockingly caricatured, sure.

    So, out of the thousands of different denominations of Christianity, which one got it right?

    Only one religion broadly speaking can be right. I would say that out of the thousand denominations, those that adhere to the Nicene Creed (filioque aside) are on the right path. C.S. Lewis’s “mere Christianity” presents a further set of answers to your question–it’s a great read if you haven’t read it already.

    I don’t say that every church or denomination must agree on all details.

  7. AgeOfReasonXXI

    “The Qur’an approves of violence toward nonbelievers.”

    while, “in contrast”, the Bible has many examples where Yahweh personally orders the followers of other religions to be wiped out.
    so “Islam fails the goodness test.”, while Christianity and Judaism which believe the same genocidal texts of the OT to be “sacred” do not? what’s wrong with you, man?

  8. Tom Gilson

    AOR21,

    Let’s start with your closing question, which reveals a lot. You assume there’s something really wrong with me. You assume that’s the only possible explanation; that I’ve never thought this through, or that if I have, my ethical sensibilities are so shot through with murderous error that I don’t see genocide as wrong.

    Let’s acknowledge that (as I wrote in #4 and in my edited ending to the post) I didn’t explain everything in this post. Now, with that in mind, are you committed to the position that the only explanation is that there’s something deeply and obviously wrong with me?

  9. AgeOfReasonXXI

    “The first two in particular are not only hard to believe existentially but impossible to accept philosophically, for they are rationally self-defeating:”

    yeah, right. that’s why the vast majority (80% – 85%) of philosophers are secularist.
    what’s more likely, that all of them have missed on what you claim are the implications of secularism, or that a handful of “philosophers”(or rather, theologians) who have been indoctrinated into the “faith”, in most cases from an early age, fail to see what everyone else in philosophy (and in academia in general) does.
    and btw, cowardice in the face of unpleasant facts about the Universe, you know, like the fact that not everything is about us and was not created with us in mind, and we’re not part of a an all-important cosmic drama (the most self-centered idea of all, yet the religious have the nerve to talk about “humility”!), is not a prove of anything, except of the existential insecurity of certain people who stubbornly refuse to let go of their comforting, self-centered delusions and face the real world. (here WLC’s constant, and pathetic, whining about our own mortality, the lack of a God-given purpose in life, the heath-death of the Universe, etc., etc., is a case in point)

  10. Victoria

    @Tom
    Have you noticed that it is almost universal among atheists to show extreme hatred for the dual Christian concepts of God’s sovereignty and His authority to be Judge of all the earth? They hate and fear that concept most of all.

  11. Melissa

    @AOR,

    Well you’re right about one thing – it’s not all about us.

  12. Tom Gilson

    AORXXI,

    You didn’t answer my last question to you.

    You brought up further assumptions about my character, but let’s just take it one at a time, okay?

    Victoria, we need to explain it better, so it’s not our fault if they misunderstand; otherwise, yes.

  13. SteveK

    The message that I am personally trying to get across in discussions like these, is that belief in Christianity is very reasonable given the facts of history and science, given the common facts that we as humans experience corporately (desires, brokenness, purpose, moral realism, etc) and given the reality-based philosophical arguments. It’s a very reasonable faith.

    By comparison, many of the other religions fall short in one or more of these areas, which is reason enough to justify disbelieving when you put them side-by-side.

  14. SteveK

    And it’s the relative reasonableness. I think that is what the skeptics are missing here.

    Put another religion side-by-side next to Christianity, and it’s the meaningful differences that justify disbelieving in one and holding on to the other.

  15. Sault

    I’m not sure why some description of Hinduism explains why I should do better research into Judaism and Islam.

    And that’s what I get for responding when I’m tired. Dunno how I got “Hinduism” from “Judaism and Islam”, but there you go.

    @ AoR

    Christians rationalize genocide in the same way that they rationalize the death that Yahweh rained down from the sky in the Flood – the ends are justified by the means.

    Or, alternatively, that at least it was better than what all of the other guys were doing.

    @ Victoria

    Huh? ….no, nevermind. Not interested, I’ve been preached at enough in the last 48 hours.

    @ Tom

    Christianity is good, even when it does bad things! Christianity has magic fruit and talking donkeys, but is way more believable than other religions as long as you don’t think of it as having magic fruit and talking donkeys! Christianity is historically true, even though we can’t historically say if and when many of its major events happened!

    You’re totally cherry-picking here.

    Okay, let me restate that – if you aren’t cherry-picking here, you’re doing a very poor job of showing why not.

    I’d also be interested to hear why, as AoR notes, secularism is so dissatisfying philosophically when so many philosophers are secular?

  16. G. Rodrigues

    @Sault:

    Christians rationalize genocide in the same way that they rationalize the death that Yahweh rained down from the sky in the Flood – the ends are justified by the means.

    Some Christians may do that, I do not know. I do know that they are wrong.

    I also know that you are talking about what you do not know.

    I’d also be interested to hear why, as AoR notes, secularism is so dissatisfying philosophically when so many philosophers are secular?

    Read AoR in context, that is, what part of the post of Tom Gilson he was responding to. Then read Peter Singer, Alex Rosenberg, the Churchlands, etc.

    Are these specific examples *representative* of secularist philosophers? There is a sense in which they are (and I can try to argue for it), but you tell me.

    And since what you battle is but a caricature of the Christianity *I* defend or argue for, I am not *too* worried about any possible charges of straw-manning.

    And you do realize that you are implicitly making a fallacious appeal to popularity?

  17. Bryan Bigej

    I don’t think the problem of free will comes from atheistic secularism–it is purely from philosophy (see, for example, Holbach’s essay). We are physical beings and the laws of nature are binding upon us, and our minds. We are slaves to external influences and the impulses that pop up in our head. And free will seems to be an illusion even on Christian theism–which leads to the large problem of sin and moral responsibility.

  18. Mike Gene

    the most self-centered idea of all, yet the religious have the nerve to talk about “humility”!

    No nerve. Just opened eyes. It is not humility to believe you are no more important or significant than a sea slug. After all, it did not stop atheist Richard Carrier from writing, “In Part V, “Natural Morality,” I surveyed and defended the ethical philosophy of “Secular Humanism,” which I defined as any philosophy that holds to two basic doctrines: that humankind is the most important thing in the universe and the welfare and betterment of all human beings is a fundamental good, and that only secular solutions to our problems are credible, not religious or mystical ones.”

    It is humility to recognize you are not the source of meaning, value, and morality. In other words, you are not god.

  19. SteveK

    It is humility to recognize you are not the source of meaning, value, and morality. In other words, you are not god.

    Speaking of that, on the views of naturalism/secularism, the universe does not give meaning to our lives and to reality, we do that. Meaning is rooted in us. In that respect, we are gods and we are the source of our own Euthyphro dilemma.

    On those views, we create all meaning and we sometimes later curse the very meaning we create as if someone else were to blame. On those view we are slaves to the rising and falling tides that are our environments and our cultures of the day. We see progress and we see it as good, but that too is a meaning we created and one day those shifting tides will change our view of it.

    Because this contradicts with what I know about progress/morality/meaning, I am justified in concluding that naturalism/secularism does not provide a reasonable picture of reality.

  20. BillT

    “(here WLC’s constant, and pathetic, whining about our own mortality, the lack of a God-given purpose in life, the heath-death of the Universe, etc., etc., is a case in point)”

    This really would be funny if it weren’t so pathetic.

  21. SteveK

    Sault,

    Okay, let me restate that – if you aren’t cherry-picking here, you’re doing a very poor job of showing why not.

    Let’s look at your list.

    Christianity is good, even when it does bad things!

    Christianity doesn’t do anything good or evil, but living beings do so I’m not sure what you are getting at – but…God is a necessary, eternal, immutable and holy being. Good and evil could not be otherwise. The subject is not ignored.

    Christianity has magic fruit and talking donkeys, but is way more believable than other religions as long as you don’t think of it as having magic fruit and talking donkeys!

    Pretty lame characterization, Sault. Anyway, we don’t ignore God performing miracles, we speak about them all the time. If God can make a human talk, I see no difficulty in him communicating through a donkey, if that indeed happened. The subject is not ignored.

    Christianity is historically true, even though we can’t historically say if and when many of its major events happened!

    Huh? How do you ignore, or overlook, dates or locations that nobody knows about? I don’t get it.

  22. Justin

    yeah, right. that’s why the vast majority (80% – 85%) of philosophers are secularist

    I’m not sure whether to classify that as an appeal to authority or appeal to consensus fallacy. Perhaps it is because many people who like to think that much about big questions and believe in a god end up in seminary and the philosophy department is the secular equivalent. Perhaps the doctoral process grades on a curve and those are the “C” students. Who knows.

    I do know that it is interesting that every time I’ve seen the subject of comparing religions comes up, the atheists always leave their own worldview off the list of philosophies they say should be scrutinized.

  23. JB Chappell

    Tom,

    JB Chappell, I don’t know what you mean by historical claims not being testable. Suppose I said I had dinner with Barack Obama last year on Independence Day. That’s an historical claim, and it’s testable with respect to the historical record.

    Perhaps we are just using the word “testable” differently. If by “testable”, you simply mean there are things we can check to increase or decrease the claim’s plausibility, then I agree.

    As for your point 6 eliminating the need to investigate other world religions, I find your statement “only one religion, one worldview, can be true” to be highly problematic, and you left it completely unjustified. I do realize you stated you wished you said more on this whole topic, though, so I don’t want to beat a dead horse too much.

    Finally, regarding the “goodness test”… you claimed I’m smuggling in a view from one world view to another. Are you not doing the same by saying that Islam fails your “goodness test”? What objective standard are you using, if not? Note that by saying that “goodness is subjective”, I am not saying that there is NO objective standard. Muslims and Christians alike may believe that God has revealed at least some “goodness” to them, and they may even agree that “goodness” is grounded in God. But unless we know God’s nature (which a Muslim would readily deny), then we cannot know the full extent of goodness. We’re left with what’s been revealed which is obviously incomplete, and this incompletion still must be copied, disseminated, translated, interpreted, applied, etc. There’s a lot of subjectivity in there.

  24. Tom Gilson

    Sault,

    Have a little intellectual honesty. You wrote, almost as if you were trying to represent the way we present our position,

    Christianity is historically true, even though we can’t historically say if and when many of its major events happened!

    That’s pretty laughable, all right. At whom are you laughing, though? Our claim is, Christianity is historically testable because we do know if and when its most major events happened, even if we don’t have indepedent corroboration of all of them.

    It’s hardly cherry-picking to say, “Where there is independent testimony, all of it corroborates the NT documsnts,” is it?

    You can contest that claim, but laughing at it is not, shall we say, a very logically valid way to do that, especially if what you’re laughing at is a strawman misrepresentation.

    What’s your purpose here, anyway? Is it to laugh? If so be honest about it. I don’t mind you having a good time here, even at our expense, if you would just say that’s your intent. But as long as you try to represent yourself as seeking inttellectual honesty I’m going to hold you to it.

  25. Tom Gilson

    JB,

    I appreciate your willingness not to “beat a dead horse.” There are better reasons than the goodness test to reject Islam on its own terms, you are right about that.Islam defines goodness accordng to the will of Allah, which in Islam is not even subject to any eternal character of Allah. That means that whatever it is, it is, and it could change as Allah wills. So it cannot be internally inconsistent on those terms.

    I’ll have to come back to this topic another time with further reasoning.

    As for my claim that only one religion can be true, that’s pretty plain in view of their mutually contradicting each other. Besides, that, if Christianity is true, then the cross of Chrsit is true; and if the cross of Christ is true, then it’s impossible to think that God did that while he had another plan B operating at the same time.

  26. d

    I’m not sure whether to classify that as an appeal to authority or appeal to consensus fallacy. Perhaps it is because many people who like to think that much about big questions and believe in a god end up in seminary and the philosophy department is the secular equivalent. Perhaps the doctoral process grades on a curve and those are the “C” students. Who knows.

    I read it more as a not-so-gentle pointing out that some certain things, thrown around as if they are settled, uncontroversial facts of the matter, aren’t quite so settled as they are treated.

    When somebody says “secularism is rationally self-defeating” – they’ve got a lot of arguments (and experts) to refute.

  27. JB Chappell

    Tom,

    As for my claim that only one religion can be true, that’s pretty plain in view of their mutually contradicting each other. Besides, that, if Christianity is true, then the cross of Chrsit is true; and if the cross of Christ is true, then it’s impossible to think that God did that while he had another plan B operating at the same time.

    No doubt there are many religions that contradict each other. I think it is fair that not ALL of them can be true. It is also fair to say that all of them could be WRONG. You could even say that all of them ascertain a portion of the truth. But it strikes me as unreasonable to say that ONLY ONE can be true, unless you are limiting yourself to those religions with which you are very familiar.

    As for a plan B being “impossible”… why think of it as a plan B? Christ said no man comes to the Father but by Him (Jesus). Jesus did not say that there is only one way to access Himself.

  28. Tom Gilson

    JB, I am quite sure that all religions access some of the truth. My point is that none of them has it in full as it is found in Christ.

    And as far as I have found, all other religions contradict the truth in Christ in a very fundamental way, which prevents them from being the alternate version of a Plan A. They all say that coming to one’s best outcome (heaven, Paradise, Nirvana … ) is a matter of doing better in life. Christianity says it is a matter of humbly admitting that we are fundamentally separated from God through sin, our better or best efforts fall short, and we need Christ’s rescue, not trying harder.

    If there is some minor unknown religion out there that is compatible with that, then it is minor and unknown. If there is some variant of a major religion, say Buddhism, that is compatible with it, I’d be interested to know about it. Otherwise the major ones are not.

  29. G. Rodrigues

    @Justin:

    yeah, right. that’s why the vast majority (80% – 85%) of philosophers are secularist

    I’m not sure whether to classify that as an appeal to authority or appeal to consensus fallacy.

    Right. You can add the fallacy of equivocation too. Atheism is a metaphysical position and secularism is a view of how society should be organised. So, a secularist is not necessarily an atheist; maybe he just advocates the separation of Church and State, in which case many religious people will agree with him. Probably even Christ would agree with him when he said “Render unto Caesar the things of Caesar and unto God the things of God”. On the other hand, an atheist can be anti-secularist if he happens to believe that religious views should be taken into account and have a say in the public square. And as I am on a roll, the same for Darwinism. Many Christians have no problem with Evolution Theory and there are atheists who are anti-Darwinists (e.g. Jerry Fodor).

  30. BillT

    “When somebody says “secularism is rationally self-defeating” – they’ve got a lot of arguments (and experts) to refute.”

    Like Lawrence “something from nothing” Krauss? Or perhaps it’s you d who, best I can tell, have repeatedly failed to support the existence of morality from a secular perspective. Maybe you could give us a hint who or what “arguments (and experts) (we need) to refute.”

  31. JAD

    A few questions atheists and other non-theists never seem to answer:

    1. How has atheism made the world better?

    2. How will atheism make the world better?

    3. How would, or could, atheism make my life better?

  32. SteveK

    Atheism, being a lack of belief, is like a shadow or a donut hole. It is not something, it is a lack of something and therefore it cannot be credited with anything.

  33. G. Rodrigues

    @JAD:

    3. How would, or could, atheism make my life better?

    Here is one possible answer from an atheist: knowing the truth is a Good Thing (if we ask why, they will just stare at you in utter amazement. Move on is my advice; against some types of cluelessness it is just better to move on). Knowing that the universe, life, yourself, are all just the blind, meaningless result of impersonal, pitiless, purposeless forces is liberating. It makes you humble they will say. Following this, they will say that we are free to invent meaning and purpose for ourselves, which is just a disguised way of putting ourselves, by arbitrary fiat, at the center of the universe, with the advantage that “we” can arbitrarily dictate who belongs to the “we” group in the first place. Whoo Hoo! One-day old human beings? They are not *really* human beings, as they lack “personhood”. Elders with all sorts of disabilities? That is *not* a human way of living; euthanize them. You are doing a favor to them and they will even thank you for it.

    At which point, we Christians, are entitled to pour intellectual scorn and contempt on them.

  34. d

    JAD,

    Do you value truth, reason, and rationality?

    If yes and if atheism is true, justifiably knowing so will help you realize your values – and by that measure, your life will be better.

  35. Victoria

    @d
    But if worldview X is true (that is, corresponds to reality as it really is), wouldn’t knowing that and living one’s life by the implications and truths of X make one’s life better?

  36. d

    Victoria,

    Only if one truly values justifiably knowing what corresponds to reality. But yes, I think the same applies to any possibly true worldview.

  37. d

    Some other interesting things can be said here too…

    If Christianity were true, would your life be better than if atheism were true. Possibly – but possibly not (for all those destined to Hell). But perhaps on the other end, life would be better for many, if Christianity is true.

    But either way, I’d want to know what IS true. If Christianity is true, I want to know it. If Islam is true, I want to know it. If atheism is true, I want to know it.

  38. Ordinaryseeket

    It doesn’t matter what’s true; what matters is how you live. You can ascribe to any creed, and act in a way that benefits others, or not. And if there’s a God, God will recognize your efforts–even if for some (any) reason you got what is “good” wrong. That’s how good God has to be, to be God.

  39. Justin

    Hey d,

    http://philpapers.org/surveys/results.pl?affil=All+respondents&areas0=0&areas_max=1&grain=fine

    Here’s the results of one such study. It is interesting for sure. Of note, a large percentage of philosophers hold to moral realism. This particular study used the term atheism instead of secular, but if was a bit lower percentage. But one can conclude from this study that there are a significant number of atheist philosophers that hold to moral realism. Unfortunately, the study doesn’t tell us how those philosophers reconcile their atheistic views with their views of moral realism. There are probably some fine distinctions between moral realism and objective morality (which if anyone could educate me, I’d be grateful), but I think the study raises more questions than it does answers. It is interesting.

  40. Tom Gilson

    What ordinaryseeket wants us to understand is that it doesn’t matter whether this is true:

    It doesn’t matter what’s true; what matters is how you live. You can ascribe to any creed, and act in a way that benefits others, or not. And if there’s a God, God will recognize your efforts–even if for some (any) reason you got what is “good” wrong. That’s how good God has to be, to be God.

    If this is true, good; if it’s not true, then it doesn’t matter, because

    It doesn’t matter what’s true; what matters is how you live. You can ascribe to any creed, and act in a way that benefits others, or not. And if there’s a God, God will recognize your efforts–even if for some (any) reason you got what is “good” wrong. That’s how good God has to be, to be God.

    Of course the next step is that if this true, good; if it’s not true, then it doesn’t matter, because … see above.

    Ordinaryseeket, do you see how self-defeating your proposal is?

  41. Alex Dawson

    Tom:
    Just to point out a little niggle – I’ve noticed around here that people love to jump on statements as self-contradictory. While there are cases where it is crucially important, I tend to find that more often than not ironing out techincal flaws isn’t particularly relevant to the heart of debate, and acts a distraction to debating the essence of what is being said.

    While I don’t think its great that OrdinarySeeker has offered his view without any justification, I can clearly see the point OS is trying to get across in his claims, which has ended up getting ignored because it is not perfectly articulated.

    The problem is that often such self-contradictions are not inherently imbedded in the point made, and with slight modification can easily be avoided, for example in this case by prefixing the statement with “other than this statement”; or perhaps better rephrasing as “it doesn’t matter what you perceive to be true“.

  42. Justin

    So if Dawkins has his way and eugenics is enacted to purify the gene pool, if he did so with good intentions, he is good with God? How is that still not a license to do whatever you think is right?

  43. Tom Gilson

    Alex,

    If you want to try to make that case, go ahead, but I don’t think it stands a chance. It matters what is true; and “it doesn’t matter what you perceive to be true” means (among other things) that “it doesn’t matter whether this thing that I perceive to be true really is true.” And that takes is right back into the loop.

  44. JB Chappell

    Tom, you wrote:

    JB, I am quite sure that all religions access some of the truth. My point is that none of them has it in full as it is found in Christ.

    OK, fair enough. I guess I would just emphasize that we are talking about degrees of truthfulness here, not “absolutely true” and “definitely not true”. Saying Christianity is the MOST true religion seems to automatically preclude a statement like “only one religion can be true”.

    And as far as I have found, all other religions contradict the truth in Christ…. They all say that coming to one’s best outcome (heaven, Paradise, Nirvana … ) is a matter of doing better in life.

    Perhaps they do, but I’m not sure they would also deny that we need God’s mercy. (Buddhism would, since “God” really isn’t a being with the attribute of possessing mercy). I wonder if this is more of a difference in emphasis rather than a fundamental contradiction.

    Christianity says it is a matter of humbly admitting that we are fundamentally separated from God through sin, our better or best efforts fall short, and we need Christ’s rescue, not trying harder.

    “Christ’s rescue” is obviously the main, critical distinctive in Christianity. In order to fundamentally contradict Christianity, then, a religion needs to explicitly deny Christ (which Judaism would do) and/or His sacrifice (which Islam would do). I would not say that emphasis on “trying harder” fundamentally contradicts Christianity, as much ink was used in the NT exhorting people to do exactly this.

  45. Alex Dawson

    Tom:
    Apologies if I’m being thick, but I really don’t see how:

    It doesn’t matter whether this thing that I perceive to be true really is true.

    follows from:

    It doesn’t matter what you perceive to be true.

    I would personally agree with you that it matters what is true, but I do not think that is inconsistent with “it doesn’t matter what you perceive to be true”. Of course the latter statement in and of itself is independent of “truth matters”, and as a truth-claim would need justifying.

    If you intend to still vigorously contend what I’m saying perhaps we should elucidate what we mean by “matters” to ensure we’re not accidently talking at cross purposes?

  46. Alex Dawson

    Tom:
    To clarify, a reformulation of my statement would be:
    (1) It doesn’t matter that I perceive A to be true, whether or not A is true
    This, as the original formulation, is a statement about the importance of perception.

    Whereas your statement could be written as:
    (2) If I perceive A is true, it doesn’t matter whether A is true or not
    This is now a statement about the importance of truth (rather than perception), and so in my mind these statements are obviously not equivalent, and so without explicit argument, I see no reason why it should follow.

    And explicity, (1) doesn’t self-contradict, because referring it to itself simply tells me that (if it is true, and I perceive it to be true) it doesn’t matter that I perceive it to be true, not affecting the truth of falsity of (1) at all.

  47. Victoria

    @JB

    I would not say that emphasis on “trying harder” fundamentally contradicts Christianity, as much ink was used in the NT exhorting people to do exactly this.

    Careful, you may be mixing up the ‘imputed righteousness’ that faith (in Jesus’ sacrificial death and resurrection, which Paul explains in Romans 4:13-5:21, for example) produces by God’s grace, with the practical working out of that faith, through the transforming power of the indwelling Holy Spirit to produce fruit (Romans 6:1-23, Galatians 5:16-26, Ephesians 4:17-5:21, 1 Peter 1:13-2:5, 2 Peter 1:3-11, the book of James, for example).

    Christ’s sacrificial death provided the new life (see Ephesians 1:3-14, Ephesians 2:1-10, for example) that human effort could never have produced on our own. At the same time, we are exhorted to live that life and actively participate / cooperate with God the Holy Spirit (Romans 12:1-2, Romans 8:1-28)

  48. Victoria

    @JB
    you might find this helpful:

    JUSTIFICATION (Gk. dikaíōma). † The presentation of justification by faith in Christ in the letters of Paul is slightly obscured in English versions by the dual terminology “just, justice, justify, justification” and “righteous, righteouness.” Both sets of terms represent the one reality which is presented with the related Greek words dikaióō “justify, set right”; dikaíōma “justification, judgment, righteous deed”; dikaíōsis “justification, acquittal.” See RIGHTEOUSNESS.
    Paul taught that the gospel is God’s offer of righteousness to all who have faith in Jesus Christ and who give up reliance on human effort and “works of the law” in order to attain righteousness. Sin as a universal objective condition of humanity is the problem; God’s justifying activity in Christ is the solution. Faith is the subjective human reception of God’s objective offer of righteousness in Christ. “The righteousness of God” addressed in Romans is, therefore, not a quality of God, but God’s activity of deliverance, of justification, of making right the relationship of human beings to himself. This righteousness and the ethical righteousness of humans are not entirely distinct from each other; they can, indeed, be spoken of in the same breath and with the same word (dikaiosýnē; Rom. 9:30; cf. 5:18–21). The basis of this relationship as it is known in Christian experience is seen at 8:3–4; Gal. 5:13–14 (cf. Rom. 13:8–10): God’s objective is, as always, the fulfillment of the law, which is brought about by his justification of the sinner and by the life of the Spirit in the justified.
    Paul’s teaching, although of course dependent on the Christ event, sought its foundations in the Old Testament. The picture of Abraham as the man of faith, justified by that faith, is inspired mainly by Gen. 15:6 (Rom. 4; Gal. 3:6–9). The basic text of justification by faith is Hab. 2:4 (Rom. 1:17; Gal. 3:11). While the idea in Habakkuk is of faithful allegiance to God as constituting a person’s righteousness, rather than of faith in justifying grace, the change is not as great as it might seem. Both in the Old Testament and in Christ the initiative is from God and the human part is the response of allegiance to the acting God. Paul also has in mind the thought repeated in the Psalms that God is the one who brings about righteousness by giving just verdicts as the bringing of justice for the oppressed (e.g., Ps. 9:4, 7–8 [MT 5, 8–9]; 17:1–15; 18:20, 24 [MT 21, 25]; 35:22–25). Despite the frequent claims to human righteousness in these Psalms, the thought has an important point of contact with Paul: God is still the one active to establish righteousness for and in his people. (The same can be said about the relationship between the teaching on justification in the Dead Sea Scrolls and that in Paul, although in the Scrolls it is the teachings of the “Teacher of Righteousness” by which righteousness is brought.) However, Ps. 143:2, in which the psalmist refuses to make such a claim before the divine judge, is also a significant part of the background of Paul’s teaching, echoed at Rom. 3:20; Gal. 2:16. Another significant element in the background of Paul’s teaching is the late prophetic expectation of the day when God would himself become the provider and guarantor of the righteousness of his people (Isa. 46:12–13; Jer. 31:31–34).
    Paul’s teaching on justification by faith in Christ became in the hands of Luther, Calvin, and others (following Augustine) the theological basis of the Protestant Reformation. It was especially underlined by Luther’s insistence on “by faith alone” and “by grace alone,” and by the Reformers’ teaching on election. Some scholars have insisted against the prevailing tendency of Protestantism inherited from the Reformers that justification by faith should not be considered the center of Paul’s theology (often with the added comment that it should not thereby be considered an unessential doctrine). Justification by faith appears fully only in connection with some controversy concerning the law and only where Paul bases an argument on the priority of Abraham’s righteousness to his circumcision (i.e., in Galatians and Romans). Justification is brought into the argument in both letters because of what it is able to say about the situation of the law in the eschatological community, the church. The law’s function is not to justify the sinner, but to bring about “knowledge of sin” God’s justification does not follow ethnic lines; Jew and Gentile are equal in justification by faith (Rom. 3:29–30). The setting of this teaching on the law is not an argument with Judaism, but rather with Jewish Christians who sought to give the law a role in eschatological salvation that Paul refused to give it.
    The teaching of Paul appears to be contradicted by Jas. 2:18–26, which, like Paul, argues from the experience of Abraham and emphasizes Gen. 15:6. James asserts that faith lacking works is dead (Jas. 2:17); “faith,” here meaning a mere intellectual assent to religion, is not sufficient (v. 19). True living faith manifests itself in acts of love to the needy (vv. 14–16). Justification “by works and not by faith alone” (v. 24) means that faith is “completed by works” in this way (v. 22). The contradiction is only apparent; Paul and James address different issues. Jas. 2:18–26 was apparently written to counteract a misunderstanding of Paul’s teaching which separated “faith” from any moral obligation.
    See GRACE; LAW.

    Myers, A. C. (1987). The Eerdmans Bible dictionary (614). Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans.

  49. Tom Gilson

    JB,

    Saying Christianity is the MOST true religion seems to automatically preclude a statement like “only one religion can be true”.

    Let me be utterly precise then.

    Christianity is entirely and completely true. Other religions are true insofar as they agree with Christianity and false insofar as they disagree with it. Even within the Christian spectrum the truth of a religious belief depends on its extent of agreement with what the Scriptures intend to affirm about the faith.

    I wonder if this is more of a difference in emphasis rather than a fundamental contradiction.

    It is a fundamental contradiction, based on all my studies.

    “Christ’s rescue” is obviously the main, critical distinctive in Christianity. In order to fundamentally contradict Christianity, then, a religion needs to explicitly deny Christ (which Judaism would do) and/or His sacrifice (which Islam would do). I would not say that emphasis on “trying harder” fundamentally contradicts Christianity, as much ink was used in the NT exhorting people to do exactly this.

    Another way in which to deny Christ is by supposing one does not need his sacrifice, which is characteristic of all other religions.

    The question of trying harder relates to, “to what end?” if it is to gain acceptance with God it is not Christianity. If it is to live out a life of gratitude based on that acceptance already received, that’s Christianity.

  50. Andrew W

    No doubt there are many religions that contradict each other. I think it is fair that not ALL of them can be true. It is also fair to say that all of them could be WRONG. You could even say that all of them ascertain a portion of the truth. But it strikes me as unreasonable to say that ONLY ONE can be true, unless you are limiting yourself to those religions with which you are very familiar.

    I don’t think this line of reasoning makes sense at all.

    First, let me propose 2 premises:
    Premise 1: There is objective reality.
    Premise 2: It is possible to know and discuss reality, at least in part.

    If we don’t accept these two premises, then we’re all just talking out our rear-ends. But if one accepts these premises, then one must also accept that knowledge and truth, whether physical or metaphysical, is possible. And thus it is possible for one world view to be “true”, while another is “false”.

    The interesting thing about Judeo-Christian epistemology is that it is rooted in history. People do not “discern” or “discover” its fundamental truth. Rather, the claim is a historical one: at key points in history, truths of the universe were revealed to various people (many of whom weren’t that keen on hearing it). And the “truth” also rests on that historical claim: were these things actually revealed, and do those revelations have credibility?

    Now, if you accept the reality and credibility of the revelations, it is irrational to doubt their truth. Either all of it is trustworthy, or none of it is.

    This is why thinking Christians always point back to the historical Christ. If Christ was whom the histories say he was and said and did what the histories say he said and did, then it completely answers questions of truth, within the domain of the claims. If I tell you that my name is “Andrew”, then there is little point asking whether it is not “Fred”, “Tom”, or “Bill”, because the answer is obvious. Buddhism might have some interesting moral or philosophical insights, but it is not “true” in the sense of “this is how to understand reality”.

    At its core, Christian epistemology is a profoundly humbling activity – they key is not whether you can discover metaphysical truth, but whether you will receive it. And yet the behaviour of Christians might suggest this truth is easily forgotten.

  51. JB Chappell

    Andrew, I’m with you until this:

    Either all of it is trustworthy, or none of it is.

    I don’t see how such an all-or-nothing proposition can be justified.

    If I tell you that my name is “Andrew”, then there is little point asking whether it is not “Fred”, “Tom”, or “Bill”, because the answer is obvious.

    There might SEEM to be little point… unless, someone else pointed you out to me and said your name was “Andy”. Or “Mr. So-and-So”. Etc.

  52. JB Chappell

    Tom,

    Christianity is entirely and completely true.

    You *believe* this to be true. I don’t think there’s any way for you to KNOW this to be true. You have already agreed that not every claim in Christianity is testable, so either you’ve reduced Christianity to a set of claims that you’ve tested and know with complete certainty that they’re true… or you’re essentially taking this on faith, with the caveat that *some* of the claims are testable and you’ve found that they agree with the evidence. But that is a far less-reaching claim than what you stated above. In short, if you continue to claim only one religion can be true with this kind of approach, you do so based on dogma.

    Other religions are true insofar as they agree with Christianity and false insofar as they disagree with it.

    If this truly is your litmus test for other religions, then obviously it does follow that “only one” religion can be true… but only because of a self-fulfilling prophecy.

    Another way in which to deny Christ is by supposing one does not need his sacrifice, which is characteristic of all other religions.

    How is this characteristic of all other religions? I would say that most other religions are completely ignorant or agnostic of Christ, not affirming a lack of need for Him. Thus, while they may affirm a path to heaven (or whatever) that does not include the Christ of history or by His name, this does not contradict Christianity insofar as Christianity as a whole does not teach that those ignorant of Christ will not see God.

    Furthermore, I’m not convinced that saying you don’t need Christ’s sacrifice is the same thing as denying Christ. Take Pelagius, for example. Now, one might very well say that he was a heretic. But would you say that someone who affirmed Christ as Lord is “denying Christ”? [Which, in turn, means that Christ will deny Him before the Father]. I, for one, would not be willing to go that far.

  53. JB Chappell

    Andrew, I’m not entirely certain what you mean by this:

    At its core, Christian epistemology is a profoundly humbling activity – they key is not whether you can discover metaphysical truth, but whether you will receive it.

    Perhaps you can elaborate?

    In any case, i don’t see why the distinction between “received” or “discovered” is very important… what would be important to me is being able to *demonstrate* Truth. With the proper justification, I don’t see why it matters how one arrives at Truth.

  54. Andrew W

    JB,

    Either all of it is trustworthy, or none of it is.

    I don’t see how such an all-or-nothing proposition can be justified.

    It’s the nature of revelation. Knowledge of the Christian metaphysic is fundamentally external: we claim it was not discovered, but rather given by a reliable source. Or more accurately, the reliable source.

    Let’s go to the greatest revelation: Jesus himself. As described in the accounts, Jesus made some pretty big metaphysical claims, the most startling of which is that he knew because he is from “outside” with first-hand knowledge (eg John 3:10-13). When faced with the claim “I’m from God; I made it; I know it”, you can’t sensibly take this as a starting point for discussion; you either accept or reject the claims in total. Either he has the authority to tell you “this is truth”, or he has no metaphysical credibility and any “truth” is co-incidence.

    (Note: I’m not at this point engaging with questions of whether particular revelations were correctly recorded and interpreted, just the big picture)

    Now, I believe that a degree of skepticism is healthy. It is wise for the Christian to frequently ask “is this really truth?”. But as long as one believes it to be true, Christian truth basically obligates you to go “all in” – picking and choosing what bits one will trust in is effectively not trusting at all.

    When my wife lost our son at a fair and then found him again, it might be reasonable for her to query whether he is an impostor. But it would completely inane for her to ask him to stay and wait while she keeps looking for him, in case he is somewhere else. If I am convinced that the historical Jesus is who he claims to be, I don’t need to engage in a process of systematic elimination of all other potential sources of truth.

    With the proper justification, I don’t see why it matters how one arrives at Truth.

    Chains of justification matter. The truth of revelation is vested in the revealer; it’s essentially an appeal to authority. If I accept the authority, then whatever is from that authority is truth. There might be a process of discovery in vetting the authority, but once that is done, truth flows from “that which I can vet” to “that which I cannot”.

    In contrast, pure discovery is incremental. At each point, I have the option (and perhaps even the obligation) to weigh the new claim’s truth, and accept or reject it as I will. One truth only leads to another if I let it.

    Within its scope, revelation does not permit one to arbitrate each truth – you either accept the whole, or deny the validity of the revelation as revelation, reducing it to a collection of non-authoratitive ideas.

    Even so, there is much debate within Christian thought of the meaning and limits of revelation. But this is a question of whether revealed knowledge has been correctly understood, not whether it constitutes true and authoritative knowledge.

  55. JB Chappell

    Andrew, you wrote:

    Knowledge of the Christian metaphysic is fundamentally external: we claim it was not discovered, but rather given by a reliable source. Or more accurately, the reliable source.

    Yes, but so does everyone else. Claims come cheap.

    When faced with the claim “I’m from God; I made it; I know it”, you can’t sensibly take this as a starting point for discussion; you either accept or reject the claims in total. Either he has the authority to tell you “this is truth”, or he has no metaphysical credibility and any “truth” is co-incidence.

    Many have made the claim “I’m from God.” On what basis would you accept the claim of Jesus, but reject the claim of David Koresh? I would claim the only reasonable thing to do IS to use that as a starting point of discussion. You have to ask yourself on what basis you should believe this person. There is a reason Jesus worked miracles: if He didn’t, He would have had no credibility.

    …Christian truth basically obligates you to go “all in”…

    Perhaps I’m being dense, but I’m still not seeing a justification for this sentiment. You’ve merely re-phrased the assertion. There is no reason to think that just because I believe Paul when he says “Christ is Lord” that I cannot disbelieve him when he says “It is a shame for a man to have long hair.” The reason is because there is actual evidence for one claim, none for the other.

    …picking and choosing what bits one will trust in is effectively not trusting at all…

    Not if you have sound reasons for your “picking and choosing”. It doesn’t have to be arbitrary or based on personal preference.

    If I am convinced that the historical Jesus is who he claims to be, I don’t need to engage in a process of systematic elimination of all other potential sources of truth.

    You do if you are going to claim that there is ONLY ONE Truth, or to engage others’ versions of “truth”. And that is what we are called to do, no?

    The truth of revelation is vested in the revealer; it’s essentially an appeal to authority. If I accept the authority, then whatever is from that authority is truth.

    Then Truth is relative? If I accept Dan Rather as my authority, it necessarily follows that everything He says is True?

    There might be a process of discovery in vetting the authority, but once that is done, truth flows from “that which I can vet” to “that which I cannot”.

    There *might* be? How could there *not* be? So far all you’ve done is defend the claim that appeals to authority – any authority – constitutes “Truth”.

    In contrast, pure discovery is incremental. At each point, I have the option (and perhaps even the obligation) to weigh the new claim’s truth, and accept or reject it as I will. One truth only leads to another if I let it.

    So revelation is not incremental? Seems to me like Christianity claims exactly that.

    Within its scope, revelation does not permit one to arbitrate each truth – you either accept the whole, or deny the validity of the revelation as revelation, reducing it to a collection of non-authoratitive ideas.

    I’m curious to see how you interpret 1 Thessalonians 5:21 then.

    Even so, there is much debate within Christian thought of the meaning and limits of revelation. But this is a question of whether revealed knowledge has been correctly understood, not whether it constitutes true and authoritative knowledge.

    I assume we are using the same definition of “knowledge”: correct, justified belief. Thus, the “justified” portion here is critical. An appeal to authority (“God told me”) is not sufficient justification. Note that I’m not claiming revelation is not “true and authoritative knowledge.” I’m saying that one has to justify that it is, in fact, revelation for it to have any value.

  56. Andrew W

    Then Truth is relative? If I accept Dan Rather as my authority, it necessarily follows that everything He says is True?

    Not quite. If you accept Dan Rather as your authority, then you are obligated to accept everything he says as true, or negate his authority.

    So revelation is not incremental? Seems to me like Christianity claims exactly that.

    You mis-state my point. Acceptance of revelation is not incremental. If an instance of revelation in unreliable at one point, the entire instance is unreliable, and any connection to “knowledge” becomes incidental.

    I’m curious to see how you interpret 1 Thessalonians 5:21 then.

    I don’t see the issue. It’s specifically referring to testing instances of revelation to see whether they are true revelation, which then creates an obligation to either accept or ignore them.

    An appeal to authority (“God told me”) is not sufficient justification.

    At core, I disagree. If “God” indeed told you, then that settles the matter. But it may be wise to carry a healthy helping of doubt on the way to reaching that conclusion.

  57. JB Chappell

    Andrew, you wrote:

    If you accept Dan Rather as your authority, then you are obligated to accept everything he says as true, or negate his authority.

    Ok, so my fears have been realized and I *was* being a little dense. I would only qualify thusly: one does not have to identify Dan Rather (or anyone) as an authority in *everything*. You can say “Dan Rather is my authoritative news source” or “Ben Stein is my authoritative economics source”, etc.

    Acceptance of revelation is not incremental. If an instance of revelation in unreliable at one point, the entire instance is unreliable, and any connection to “knowledge” becomes incidental.

    If you don’t simply assume that everyone claiming to speak for God actually is, then you are, in fact, accepting revelation “incrementally”, just the same as you would any other discovery. It may not be *provisional* knowledge like other discoveries, but nonetheless the decision was arrived at in a discovery-like fashion. I guess I don’t have a problem with “discovering” revelation. You try to present it as a dichotomy, earlier stating that “…we claim it [revelation/knowledge] was not discovered, but rather given by a reliable source”, whereas I say something that is given is discoverable – and has to be, for those without direct access to the revelation.

    [1 Thessalonians 5:21 is] specifically referring to testing instances of revelation to see whether they are true revelation, which then creates an obligation to either accept or ignore them.

    And that doesn’t sound “incremental” to you? If, as you say, revelation is an all-or-nothing affair, then what matters is the source, not the claims. But that is not what we are told to test. If we are checking for factuality, then are we not holding reason and evidence as an “authority” over revelation?

    If “God” indeed told you, then that settles the matter. But it may be wise to carry a healthy helping of doubt on the way to reaching that conclusion.

    Right. That’s what I’m saying. You have to *reach the conclusion* that God has said something, one does not merely accept it willy-nilly (technical term). This is a discovery process. From the person who needs to “know” whether or not God has told them something, to the person that needs to “know” whether or not another has received a “genuine” revelation, this is a process of discovery, of inference. The “problem”, of course, is the fact that inferences are provisional, whereas “revelation” is not supposed to be.

  58. Tom Gilson

    You’re asking great questions, JB, and I appreciate it. It’s going to take a while to give you the answer they deserve. I may not get to them for a while, though I’m itching to do so. In a few moments I’m going to be taking my daughter out so she can drive on the expressway for the first time. I don’t know if you live in the US–it’s a holiday today so the traffic should be light. Later today the family has some commitments together.

    Andrew, if I may offer this, I think you’re jumping some steps. I believe that “it’s all true or none of it’s true” with caveats (what do you mean by “none of it’s true”?), and I believe I can defend it; but that comes at the end of a much longer discussion, not in this early stage, or at least not without some more work in preparation for it.

    Anyway, JB, I want you to know I’m looking forward to sitting down and working through these questions further with you. Maybe someone else will get there first, or Andrew will catch the intervening steps.

    Alex, I started to answer your question last night and changed my mind. I’ll be back later today.

  59. ordinary seeker

    Here’s why I believe it doesn’t matter what’s true (or, better said, that there is no truth other than the following):

    First, if there is a God, God must be large enough to be universal, because if there is a God, God would not leave anyone out; if God left anyone out, God would not be good enough to be God. God could not, for example, forsake some isolated individual who had never heard of Christianity (or some other religion that was the only true religion), or someone who followed the tenets of his/her religion, fully believing that that religion was the true religion, even though it turned out–suprise!–that it wasn’t. God couldn’t be good enough to be God, and pull that on someone.

    Second, most people try to be good, according to what they understand good to be.

    What they understand good to be is dependent on an infinitely variable and complex set of factors: upbringing, culture, exposure to other cultures, exposure to ideas including religion, etc.

    A person’s ability to act according to his/her own understanding of what is good is complicated by another set of infinitely variable and complex factors: fear and other emotions, personal history (for example, of abuse), possible consequences, instinctive self-preservation, etc.

    If there is a God, God certainly understands all this. God understands that, for example, those who oppose equal rights for homosexuals do so based not on a desire to oppress others, but based on their own understanding of what is good, however wrong that understanding may be.

    Some people’s actions are driven by mental illness. Some people are so damaged by their own experiences that they are driven to hurt others. If there is a God, God understands this.

    If there is a God, all are ultimately forgiven, because all are either trying to be good according to what they understand good to be; or they are so damaged that they are unable to act according to what they understand to be good or they are unable to understand in any way what good is.

  60. Victoria

    @os
    You do realize, I hope, that you are just making up a god out of nothing but your own imagination, right?

    Neither Christianity, Islam, or Judaism would take this viewpoint – in fact, we would probably all agree that what you are claiming is a variation on a theme started by Satan in Genesis 3:1-7 – questioning and challenging God’s sovereignty, goodness, authority to define what is good or evil, and to set consequences for breaking a covenant with Him.

    For the Christian answer, you can read Romans 1:18-3:20 for the problem, and Romans 3:21-5:21 for God’s solution.

  61. Ordinaryseeket

    Yes, Victoria, I am aware of that. I would argue that you are making up your God as well, with some assistance from those who came before you.

    My conception at least solves some of those tricky problems yours does not.

  62. Tom Gilson

    JB,

    You asked Andrew how an all-or-nothing proposition could be justified, and I would say that the answer rests on,

    Now, if you accept the reality and credibility of the revelations, it is irrational to doubt their truth. Either all of it is trustworthy, or none of it is.

    I think he’s right here under a certain understanding of “trustworthy” that I missed earlier today. That is, if—and I grant this has not been established in this thread—if we understand that God has spoken through Scripture, then all of the accounts of the Bible are trustworthy and true, for that would imply that we have an truth-telling God who has communicated through that means to us. That’s if we take it that God has spoken.

    The alternative is that the Bible is not God’s word to us, in which case some or much of it may be true and even trustworthy as an ordinary historical document but not as the revelation of God.

    But that’s to address a point that wasn’t really mine, so if it’s not what you were looking for I’ll let Andrew take it from there.

    You said to me, quoting me first,

    Christianity is entirely and completely true.

    You *believe* this to be true. I don’t think there’s any way for you to KNOW this to be true. You have already agreed that not every claim in Christianity is testable, so either you’ve reduced Christianity to a set of claims that you’ve tested and know with complete certainty that they’re true… or you’re essentially taking this on faith, with the caveat that *some* of the claims are testable and you’ve found that they agree with the evidence. But that is a far less-reaching claim than what you stated above. In short, if you continue to claim only one religion can be true with this kind of approach, you do so based on dogma.

    What do you mean by “KNOW… to be true”? I think I do know it, even though as you say I cannot test every claim. We can test the major ones, those that have to do with the life, teachings, death, and resurrection of Christ. If Jesus Christ rose from the dead, then what he says has a lot of authority. A lot.

    Does that mean there’s some faith involved? Well, of course. That’s easy. But that faith is the same kind of faith that you express when you trust someone’s word without testing everything they say to you every time. If your significant other says s/he went shopping after work and couldn’t find what s/he was after, do you call all the bars and find out if s/he was out cheating on you? Maybe–if you’re not sure you can trust your significant other. But if your relationship is such that you know this person speaks truly, then you accept his/her statement on the basis of trust–which is a synonym for faith.

    Note that part of your trust is also connected to knowing that this person has a reason to know. You wouldn’t accept it merely on trust if s/he said that Microsoft stock was going up by 40% tomorrow. (Not unless s/he was in the right part of the industry to know.) I think it’s fair to take it that someone who comes into history as Jesus did, whose coming was prepared for centuries prior through Israel and the prophets, who rose from the grave, who claimed to be God and supported his claim through his resurrection, has authority to speak truth about the entire nature of reality.

    If this truly is your litmus test for other religions, then obviously it does follow that “only one” religion can be true… but only because of a self-fulfilling prophecy.

    No, but rather because only one religion actually is true, based on the above.

    Another way in which to deny Christ is by supposing one does not need his sacrifice, which is characteristic of all other religions.

    How is this characteristic of all other religions? I would say that most other religions are completely ignorant or agnostic of Christ, not affirming a lack of need for Him. Thus, while they may affirm a path to heaven (or whatever) that does not include the Christ of history or by His name, this does not contradict Christianity insofar as Christianity as a whole does not teach that those ignorant of Christ will not see God.

    Furthermore, I’m not convinced that saying you don’t need Christ’s sacrifice is the same thing as denying Christ. Take Pelagius, for example. Now, one might very well say that he was a heretic. But would you say that someone who affirmed Christ as Lord is “denying Christ”? [Which, in turn, means that Christ will deny Him before the Father]. I, for one, would not be willing to go that far.

    Other religions, as religious systems, say that there is a path to heaven (Nirvana, the ultimate good…) apart from Christ. This is just fact, and I don’t know how you can deny it. And yes, to deny the need for Christ’s sacrifice is to deny the primary reason for which he came, and the only reason he suffered torture and execution. That, in my opinion, is denying Christ. To affirm him as Lord is not necessarily to know him for who he is: Matt. 7:21-23.

  63. ordinaryseeker

    Justin,

    I don’t actually believe there is a God, at least not the kind discussed here. However, I’m willing to consider that I might be wrong. If so, and there is a God, then no, I don’t think God is just; rather, I think God is merciful, all-forgiving. I think justice is a human conception and not something God could be interested in. Instead, I think God is interested in healing, in bringing the hurt and damaged to renewal.

  64. Tom Gilson

    OS, you conjecture,

    First, if there is a God, God must be large enough to be universal, because if there is a God, God would not leave anyone out; if God left anyone out, God would not be good enough to be God. God could not, for example, forsake some isolated individual who had never heard of Christianity (or some other religion that was the only true religion), or someone who followed the tenets of his/her religion, fully believing that that religion was the true religion, even though it turned out–suprise!–that it wasn’t. God couldn’t be good enough to be God, and pull that on someone.

    This is as mushy as could be.

    What does “leave anyone out”?

    What is it about God’s goodness that entails he overlook evil?

    What is it about God’s goodness that requires him to condone falsehood about himself?

    Second, most people try to be good, according to what they understand good to be.

    Sure. No one succeeds. We all fall short even of our own standards. For that reason God gave provision so we could be lifted up above ourselves into righteousness. I encourage you to read Romans 1, Romans 2, Romans 3 for more on this.

    (Reading on just now I see I’m not the first to recommend this!)

    If there is a God, God certainly understands all this. God understands that, for example, those who oppose equal rights for homosexuals do so based not on a desire to oppress others, but based on their own understanding of what is good, however wrong that understanding may be.

    Sure, God understands, but he doesn’t forgive based on “understanding.” He forgives based on Christ’s payment for our sins. You see, forgiveness is not a simple thing of saying, “hey, it doesn’t matter,” because it always does. We humans may say that, but we say it from a different base: “I understand, I’m no better than you are, I might have made the same mistake if I’d been in your shoes, and I’ll forgive.” God forgives without saying anything at all like that. His forgiveness is, “What you did was wrong, and it deserves to be treated as wrong with the appropriate consequence; but in my love I have paid that penalty on your behalf. There is a penalty, but I’ve covered it for you.”

    For him to just pass by error and sin and injustice and evil and murder and anger and hate would be unjust of him. It would not be good, any more than it would be good for a human government to pass by murder and theft and rape. That’s what Justin was getting at just now, I’m sure.

    So if I am wrong to oppose same-sex “marriage,” which I do not equate with opposing “equal rights,” by the way, and if I’m wrong not to equate that with an equal-rights issue, then before God I have done wrong that calls for a just penalty. My only hope–and my sure hope–for forgiveness does not lie in God’s “understanding” but in the payment Christ paid for me on the cross.

    Now, if you think this is a strange way for God to be, then what you are saying is that Christianity is false and bad, even though it is the message of God’s great gift to mankind.

    If there is a God, all are ultimately forgiven, because all are either trying to be good according to what they understand good to be; or they are so damaged that they are unable to act according to what they understand to be good or they are unable to understand in any way what good is.

    You assume a lot. Forgiveness has a lot to do with being damaged goods, yes, but it also has to do with recognizing our need for God, turning to him, asking him for forgiveness, and accepting it from him.

    What you’re doing instead is quite the opposite: “Hey God, I can just bank on an assumption here, right? I’m good enough because I’m trying hard enough, right?”

    You could argue that Victoria is making up her God, and you’re welcome to try to run that argument—but you’d be wrong.

  65. Tom Gilson

    I don’t actually believe there is a God, at least not the kind discussed here. However, I’m willing to consider that I might be wrong. If so, and there is a God, then no, I don’t think God is just; rather, I think God is merciful, all-forgiving. I think justice is a human conception and not something God could be interested in. Instead, I think God is interested in healing, in bringing the hurt and damaged to renewal.

    You think God could be good without being just?

    Do you then think that it is not good to be just?

    Wow.

  66. Tom Gilson

    OS, you have crafted for yourself the ultimate self-centered wish-fulfillment reality. Nothing could turn out bad for you. You’ve made up your conjectured God such that if there’s a God, you need not worry about Him. So if there’s no God, fine; if there is a God, fine; everything’s fine. Nothing could ever be a real problem.

    Life is a whole lot more dangerous than that, my friend. And a whole lot more interesting–when you have the possibility of turning out not so fine. You see, what it means is that what you do in life actually makes a difference.

    You will say, “It makes a difference to me.” I say, “Not for very long.” You say, “It makes a difference to those I touch.” I say, “Not for very long.” Not enough to be a real difference. Not if it’s impossible for anything to turn out any way but fine. What could be different, after all, if nothing can be anything but fine?

  67. ordinary seeker

    Tom,

    Yes, I anticipated it would seem “mushy” to you.

    God doesn’t “overlook” evil, God forgives. God forgives because God understands the infinitely complex factors that underlie and give rise to evil actions.

    Reading the Bible will not influence me because I don’t accept the Bible as an authority.

    The idea of having to pay a penalty for being wrong about what is good is, in my opinion, absurd. Humans punish; God, if there is a God, is beyond punishment.

    Yes, I am saying that Christianity is wrong. Not bad–just wrong. As is every other religion wrong. They are all wrong because they are prescriptions for how to be good, and there is no possible, all-encompassing prescription for how to be good. Life is too complicated for that.

    You write, “Forgiveness has a lot to do with being damaged goods, yes, but it also has to do with recognizing our need for God, turning to him, asking him for forgiveness, and accepting it from him.” Well, that’s YOUR idea about forgiveness. Not mine.

    I’m good enough because I’m trying hard enough? Yes.

  68. Victoria

    @os
    Please, do show us how your concept of God ‘solves some of those tricky problems’ that Christianity’s concept of God can’t solve (and show us exactly where Christianity fails to do so).

  69. ordinary seeker

    Tom,

    You write, “You will say, ‘It makes a difference to me.’ I say, ‘Not for very long.’ You say, ‘It makes a difference to those I touch.’ I say, ‘Not for very long.’ Not enough to be a real difference. Not if it’s impossible for anything to turn out any way but fine. What could be different, after all, if nothing can be anything but fine?” I’m not sure I understand what you’re talking about. Do you mean, being judged in some sort of after-life? I don’t believe there’s an after-life. But, if there is, I don’t believe there’s the kind of judgment you seem to be referring to.

    Here’s how I do believe what we do in life “makes a difference:” If I live my life as a moral person with integrity, according to my best and always-developing understanding of morality and integrity, then I will raise children who are also moral people with integrity. And they will raise children who are moral people with integrity, and so on. That’s my idea of an “after-life.” Also, through the particular kind of work I do, I have the opportunity to help people develop their own morality and integrity, and this is another way in which what I do in life “makes a difference” and “lives on.” The possibility of some sort of punishment after I die pales in comparison.

  70. Justin

    I’m good enough because I’m trying hard enough?

    And those who don’t try? The ones who enjoy evil? I’m sure we could think of examples. Those who seek to maximize their own enjoyment through the suffering of others, seeking only power, pleasure, at whatever cost.

  71. JB Chappell

    Tom, regarding the “all-or-nothing approach”, you write:

    …if we understand that God has spoken through Scripture, then all of the accounts of the Bible are trustworthy and true, for that would imply that we have an truth-telling God who has communicated through that means to us. That’s if we take it that God has spoken.

    IF you accept that ALL of the scripture has been communicated truthfully and infallibly, then of course it logically follows for you to consider ALL of it reliable. For now, I will ignore how one could reach such a conclusion, and will simply grant that the “all” portion of the formula is justified. However, you then state:

    The alternative is that the Bible is not God’s word to us, in which case some or much of it may be true and even trustworthy…

    And there you have it. If some of it can still be reliable, and there are means to check this, then it follows logically that just because not ALL of something is considered revelation/reliable, not ALL of it is UNreliable or not revelation.

    Furthermore, the only alternative is not “the Bible is not the Word of God”. Whatever thought process/chain of reasoning/evidence you use to make such a determination can be applied to individual authors, books, passages, etc. By stating the alternative in such a way, it seems to me that you’re begging the very question in dispute. Even ignoring that, however, the “nothing” part of the formula still doesn’t follow.

    But, as you say, it’s not your proposition you were defending, so I certainly won’t hold it too much against you 😉

    Regarding our “knowing” and confidence/faith in certain claims, I agree with pretty much everything you said. Nevertheless, there remains a difference between faith/trust/belief and *knowledge*. If you *know* something, there is no need for faith and trust.

    I gave you “my” definition of knowledge, so I’m not sure you’re asking what I mean by it. “knowledge” is justified true belief. You can have a justified belief (which is perfectly compatible with “faith”), but if it isn’t true, then it isn’t “knowledge”. Sounds to me like you are using the term a lot “looser”, if you will, which is fine as long as we understand each other.

    I think it’s fair to take it that someone who comes into history as Jesus did, whose coming was prepared for centuries prior through Israel and the prophets, who rose from the grave, who claimed to be God and supported his claim through his resurrection, has authority to speak truth about the entire nature of reality.

    He may have had the authority to do so, but apparently He took a pass. Jesus did not address, or at least we have no documentation of Him doing so, “the entire nature of reality”. This makes this next comment you made all the more spurious:

    …only one religion actually is true, based on the above.

    [I am assuming I correctly attributed “the above” reference…?] None of what Jesus said indicates “only one religion is true.” Ironically, being a Jew, He is far more likely to have affirmed Judaism as being true. Of course, you could affirm that for that place and time, just not now. But at the very least, then, we’ve demonstrated that more than one religion *has been* true, and that is significant.

    Furthermore, the best proof-text for exclusivism on Jesus’ part comes from John 14:6: “I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life, no man comes unto the Father except by me.” But like I said earlier, the fact that Jesus sets Himself up as the Gatekeeper (John 10:9) does not preclude more than one way to access or know Himself. God has revealed Himself in many different forms/ways throughout history; we know at least that much from the OT and Romans 1.

    Other religions, as religious systems, say that there is a path to heaven (Nirvana, the ultimate good…) apart from Christ. This is just fact, and I don’t know how you can deny it.

    Show me creedal statements from every other religion (not Judaism or Islam, which I’ve already addressed) that specifically addresses Christ and how He isn’t necessary and you’ll have made your point. My point is not that other religions (or more importantly: people) *don’t* deny Christ; my point is that not ALL of them do.

    You can also demonstrate your point by proving that all of these other religions are completely ineffectual at getting people into heaven. But Jesus affirms that those who seek, find. Paul affirms that God has revealed Himself to all of us (Romans 1), and that we are held accountable for that knowledge (Romans 2:14-15). If you hold that one must actually know and affirm the name and identity of Christ in order to get to heaven, then you are essentially claiming that people will suffer in Hell for eternity because of what they did not know.

    And yes, to deny the need for Christ’s sacrifice is to deny the primary reason for which he came, and the only reason he suffered torture and execution. That, in my opinion, is denying Christ. To affirm him as Lord is not necessarily to know him for who he is: Matt. 7:21-23.

    No doubt, knowing Jesus by name does not ipso facto grant access to heaven. It does not follow from that, however, that holding an incorrect atonement theory is denying Christ. Let’s be honest here: Jesus didn’t exactly lay it out for us *exactly* why He needed to suffer and die, or how His death & resurrection made it all better.

  72. BillT

    “If so, and there is a God, then no, I don’t think God is just; rather, I think If so, and there is a God, then no, I don’t think God is just; rather, I think God is merciful, all-forgiving. .”

    So, OS, this merciful, all-forgiving God. When you find him and sit down at the merciful, all-forgiving God’s great banquet and next to you is Hitler, and across from you is Stalin and next to him is Pol Pot and….well you get the idea. All-forgiving is all-forgiving, right? And none of these men though they were doing the wrong thing. And they certainly were trying hard. In fact, they thought they were great heroes doing the right thing for all mankind. Are you going to enjoy your appetizer?

    “My conception at least solves some of those tricky problems yours does not.”

    It would seem it creates a few of it’s own as well.

  73. Justin

    Just a couple of thoughts related to the exclusivity of Christianity, granted the New Testament accurately reflects Jesus’ message (I believe it does).

    Jesus claimed that all authority in heaven and earth had been given to him. Matthew 28:18

    Jesus spoke as though he had authority to forgive sins. Mark 2:1-12, for example.

    I think it is clear that Jesus affirmed Jewish belief, even if he had to right the Jewish ship a bit, so to speak. Based on his claims, it seems fairly clear that he had a sense of vocation as the Jewish messiah, and more.

    So even ignoring for a minute Jesus’ claim that he is the way, truth, and life, and granting that he did and said the rest of the things described in the New Testament, seeking God any other way seems superfluous at best, and possibly dangerous (Jesus did warn people of damnation). Why would I not submit my appeal for forgiveness to the one with the authority?

  74. ordinary seeker

    Justin,

    You wrote, “And those who don’t try? The ones who enjoy evil? I’m sure we could think of examples. Those who seek to maximize their own enjoyment through the suffering of others, seeking only power, pleasure, at whatever cost.” I think I covered this. I think I was clear that I don’t believe there are such people. I said that most people try to be good, according to their understanding of good. I have never actually met anyone who “enjoys evil,” who, “maximizes their own enjoyment through the suffering of others.” I have met some who cause others pain, but they are either mentally ill or have been damaged by their own experiences, often as very young children. I don’t believe there is anyone who is simply evil. I believe there is always an underlying cause to a person’s evil actions.

    BillT,

    You wrote, “When you find him and sit down at the merciful, all-forgiving God’s great banquet and next to you is Hitler, and across from you is Stalin and next to him is Pol Pot and….well you get the idea. All-forgiving is all-forgiving, right?” Yes, all-forgiving is all-forgiving. Yes, even those we consider the most “evil” get forgiven, if there is a God. Because either they believed they were doing what is good, or they were mentally ill, or they were damaged by their own experiences to such a degree that they were not capable of acting according to what they believed to be good. Do you believe there are people who are simply evil, without any of these being a factor? And yes, I would enjoy my appetizer, because the idea of every human being being healed, no matter how deep or encompassing his or her damage, would be something to rejoice in.

  75. Tom Gilson

    OS,

    This is nuts.

    You don’t believe there’s a God, and you won’t accept any “theological” input, but you seem to think you have done all the philosophical research necessary to determine what God would be like if there is a God. On what basis have you done it? Your own opinion. Your own feelings, as far as I can see.

    You have determined that this God who doesn’t exist would not be just if he did exist.

    You have determined that this God who doesn’t exist would not care about sin, about rejection of himself, about error, if he did exist.

    You have determined that this God who doesn’t exist would consider doing one’s best to be the only criterion for each person’s future, if this God did exist.

    You have determined that this God who doesn’t exist would recognize that everyone tried their best to exactly the same degree, if this God did exist.

    So you have determined that the ultimate reality that does not exist is not just, does not differentiated between good and evil, would regard everyone equally in the long run, if this ultimate reality did exist.

    You have apparently made this determination on the basis of your own feelings.

    Which leads me to a question not for you but for myself, Justin, and Victoria:

    Why not just let him have his own felt opinion? It’s completely disconnected from reality. It has no concern for evidence. It’s impervious to information and argument. It’s based in his own feelings. Why dignify him with further response?

  76. Justin

    OS,

    I’ve met and worked with people with an insatiable lust for wealth. Yachts moored near their Long Island homes don’t satiate their desire. They constantly talk of the next biggest yacht. There is within them no discernible underlying “good” motivation. Polite and charming, I’ve witnessed them mislead and lie to suit their need for money. They operate purely in terms of legality and risk, not right and wrong.

    To think that every evil action is simply mistaken good intention seems naive.

  77. ordinary seeker

    Tom,

    Actually, my beliefs are pretty well-informed by “theological” input. I was a religion major as an undergrad, and much of my current personal theology is informed by what I studied then. It was then that I learned about mutuality as moral excellence, for example. I even studied the NT, but what I learned and what you offer here are, at times, at odds.

    If God exists, God cares about sin. But God realizes that, as you yourself wrote earlier, we can’t help but sin. I just have a different concept of how we are forgiven than you do; in my conception, Jesus is not required. Paying a penalty is not required.

    “Doing one’s best” is incredibly difficult, Tom. Trying to act morally and with integrity in our world requires almost constant awareness and reflection, not to mention courage. Why do you belittle it?

    Tried their best to “exactly the same degree”? I didn’t say that, actually. Did I imply it? Perhaps I did. That is something I’ll need to think about.

    “…would regard everyone equally in the long run”–yes, of course! How else would God regard everyone? Do you think God ranks people?

    And you are trying to get others to ignore me because you don’t like what I have to say! Really?! I’ve broken none of your rules. I even made sure I capitalized “God” every time I used the word, out of respect for you! I find it very ironic that you would try to silence me.

  78. Justin

    Why not just let him have his own felt opinion? It’s completely disconnected from reality. It has no concern for evidence. It’s impervious to information and argument. It’s based in his own feelings. Why dignify him with further response?

    Just attempting to plant some seeds 🙂

  79. ordinary seeker

    Justin,
    I don’t think that “every evil action is simply mistaken good.” I think some evil actions are a function of mental illness. I think some evil actions are a function of a history of abuse. Perhaps those with an insatiable lust for wealth are struggling with a compulsion? I don’t know. What I do know is that when I’ve gotten to know people whose actions I’ve believed were unconscionable, I’ve been able to understand why they did what they did.

  80. Tom Gilson

    Tried to silence you because I didn’t “like” what you had to say??

    No. I tried to communicate how little value there was in what you wrote, and if you want to assign it a motive, it’s because I see so little value in what you wrote.

    I did not try to silence you. I recommended that the theists including myself be silent.

    Sheesh!

  81. Tom Gilson

    “Doing one’s best” is incredibly difficult, Tom. Trying to act morally and with integrity in our world requires almost constant awareness and reflection, not to mention courage. Why do you belittle it?

    You belittle it by assuming that whatever anyone does without exception they are doing their best!

  82. ordinary seeker

    Sorry, Tom. You did not try to silence me, only to convince others not to listen to me. There is a difference, and I should have used other words.

  83. Justin

    OS, I know that these people are aware at some level that what they are doing is wrong, because I’ve heard their attempts to justify their actions. We seem to agree that nobody is perfect, and all have sinned, and sin leads to suffering. If we’re not responsible at some level, if we are all treated the same in the hereafter, then the suffering in this world seems excessive and your god not good for creating it.

  84. ordinary seeker

    Tom,

    I believe that most people do their best. I will have to think about what you said about degree of effort, though. But not tonight–time for bed.

  85. Sault

    @ Tom

    Man, step away from the computer for a day…

    Our claim is, Christianity is historically testable because we do know if and when its most major events happened, even if we don’t have indepedent corroboration of all of them.

    Somehow picked up on the sarcasm but missed the point, so I’ll spell it out a little more clearly…

    When was the Earth created?
    When did God flood the Earth?
    When was the Tower of Babel built?
    When did the Exodus take place?
    When was Jesus born?
    When did he give the Sermon on the Mount?
    When was he crucified?

    These are a few very significant events that have happened in our history – the last one probably the most important of all. So… when did they happen?

    Your claims that Christianity is so historically testable (and tested) are somewhat overstated.

    (as a point of style – when we speak about God the pronouns are capitalized, but Jesus was a man and wasn’t “God” at that point, so it is correct to use non-capitalized pronouns, right?)

  86. BillT

    “And yes, I would enjoy my appetizer, because the idea of every human being being healed, no matter how deep or encompassing his or her damage, would be something to rejoice in.”

    And just how did that happen. How did these unrepentant mass murders get “healed”. And what about their victims. The torture, the children murdered, the women raped, the old and infirm exterminated. Their lives destroyed, their love ones taken from them. Where is the justice for them? How does your solution “solve those tricky problems”?

    Yours is the worst possible solution. One where the victims pay twice. First, when they are victimized and again when there is no justice for them. Your “idyllic” little world is a horror.

  87. ordinary seeker

    Justin,

    Re: “If we’re not responsible at some level, if we are all treated the same in the hereafter, then the suffering in this world seems excessive and your god not good for creating it.” Of course we’re responsible. We’re responsible for our actions in this world.

    I know you will disagree with this, but I don’t believe that human suffering has very much to do with God. I think that we–humans, individually and collectively–create suffering, and if there is a God, God pities us for it.

    Do you think punishment of the offender in the after-life would alleviate the suffering of the victim in this life? How would that work?

    I think that if all are fully and completely healed in the after-life (if there is one, which I strongly doubt), there is mutual understanding and acceptance, and no need for punishment. I believe that’s the kind of radical love God would have to offer, if there is a God.

  88. ordinary seeker

    BillT,

    Re: “And just how did that happen. How did these unrepentant mass murders get ‘healed.'”

    Um, that’s where God comes in. God can do anything, right? I have no idea how God would do it, but if there is a God, then certainly God can figure it out.

    Re: “And what about their victims. The torture, the children murdered, the women raped, the old and infirm exterminated. Their lives destroyed, their love ones taken from them. Where is the justice for them?”

    As I’ve said, I believe justice is a human concept, not a Godly one. I believe God is interested in healing, not justice. Certainly here on earth, people should be held accountable, whenever possible, for the suffering they cause others. And those who suffer should be treated with all the love we humans are capable of.

  89. Fleegman

    @BillT

    Couple of quick questions:

    When you talk about how victims are victimised twice by not getting the justice they deserve, do you mean they don’t get to revel in the punishment of their killer/torturer? What happened to “turn the other cheek.”

    And while I’m on the subject, how about this scenario: someone goes around killing people, and then finds God, and ends up in Heaven. Some of his victims were atheists, or the wrong religion but may have found God later in life. And yet they are in Hell for eternity, while the killer is in paradise. Is this what you call justice?

  90. BillT

    Sault, if I may. In your litany of questions I would suggest that you falied to ask either interesting or important ones. Here are some alternatives.

    Why was the Earth created?
    Why did God flood the Earth?
    What does the Tower of Babel teach us?
    What can we learn from the Exodus?
    Why was Jesus born?
    What did the Sermon on the Mount explain?
    What did His crucifixion accomplish?

    These are some of the questions the Bible and Christanity answer. You’re thinking too small.

  91. Justin

    OS,

    Of course we’re responsible. We’re responsible for our actions in this world.

    Not everyone is held responsible in this world. Murderers remain uncaught, brutal oppresive dictators die of old age, etc.

    In fact, claiming that God is not just in this inclusivist type of theology really undermines any moral imperative in this life. As Kant might have said, it makes right moral actions irrational.

    Do you think punishment of the offender in the after-life would alleviate the suffering of the victim in this life? How would that work?

    I don’t think what you’ve described is Christian belief, actually. Sin for which we’re punished is against God, therefore any punishment is not for the purpose of healing the victims. I agree with you that God takes care of the healing separately from the punishment.

    I think the “punishment” in the hereafter is self-inflicted, not punishment in the sense we know it here. It’s God saying to those who have rejected Him, “Fine, I won’t force you, have it your way.” And whatever that looks like, the separation from God is apparently not something that is pleasant.

  92. BillT

    “God can do anything, right? I have no idea how God would do it, but if there is a God, then certainly God can figure it out.”

    No. God can’t do anything. God can only do things that comport with His character. Real suffering requires real solutions. The pain is real, the debts are real, and the suffering is real. The solution to those has to be real as well. There is no magic. No incantations or hand waving. Only true sacrifice can atone for the suffering of those victims. Only true sacrifice will make all those terrible things become untrue.

  93. Tom Gilson

    Based on what we know about the Jewish calendar and the days of the week during the Passion, we know that Jesus was crucified on a Friday in early April of either AD 30 or 33, and was resurrected the following Sunday morning. He was probably born in 6 BC. Records of Roman and Jewish leaders at the time confirm all those dates. The Sermon on the Mount was probably given in various forms repeatedly during Jesus’ three years of ministry just before his death.

    The other dates you asked for are difficult or impossible to pin down. The date of Jesus’ death and resurrection is not.

    So there are some things we do not know. There are some things we do know. I suggest it’s worthwhile to think through the implications of what we know. One great way to do that is to look at BillT’s questions very closely.

  94. BillT

    Fleegman,

    I didn’t say anything about “revel(ing) in the punishment of their killer/torturer?” If you think that has anything to do with justice you need to completely start over.

    And your scenario is just another version of “why don’t good people go to heaven or why don’t bad people go to hell”. There are no “good people or bad people” there are only forgiven people.

  95. Tom Gilson

    Fleegman, you write,

    And while I’m on the subject, how about this scenario: someone goes around killing people, and then finds God, and ends up in Heaven. Some of his victims were atheists, or the wrong religion but may have found God later in life. And yet they are in Hell for eternity, while the killer is in paradise. Is this what you call justice?

    No, it’s what I call mercy. Both persons (the victim[s] and the murderer) deserved hell. One of them escaped, on the basis of turning to God in dependent faith and saying, “Okay, I finally admit it. I need you, and I believe you can rescue me from this mess I’m in, through Christ’s death for my sins and through the power of his resurrection.”

    The victims who made the same turn toward God received the same mercy. Those that you specified in your example would include all those who said they didn’t need God’s work in Christ.

    Here’s how it works from another angle. It’s about relationship. What makes for a good relationship? Is it “Hey, I don’t need you, and I don’t even believe you exist.” Think of a love relationship: how far would it get on those terms? How about “Sure I know you’re there, but I don’t need you for anything!” That’s just from a human perspective. How much greater an offense it is when the person to whom one says that is Being itself, and who is the source of everything we need.

    It’s about relationship. There is eternity in relationship with God, or apart from relationship with God. Those who say to God throughout their life saying, “I don’t care about you, God, I don’t need you, I can make it on my own, or (for some) I hate you,” are those who will get to continue life without God.

  96. d

    BillT,

    Only true sacrifice can atone for the suffering of those victims.

    I see no reason at all to accept this principle, and in fact I am always tempted to reject it as obviously silly, every time I see it.

    How do Christians establish and defend this principle?

  97. ordinary seeker

    Justin,

    Not everyone is held responsible in this world: True. It’s an imperfect world. Believing that there’s some sort of settling up after we die may appear to some to be the solution to this dilemma, but to me it seems pointless.

    Claiming that God is not just may undermine your moral imperative, but it doesn’t undermine mine. Regardless of whether there is a God, I find it imperative to try to act morally and with integrity. I believe this is the only way to be in right relationship with others, and to try to change the world, to create a better future world.

    I most decidedly have NOT described Christian belief. I think I’ve been clear that I don’t believe the Christian theology.

    I agree with you that, if there is a God, separation from God is not pleasant. But why would God allow people to continue suffering? Instead, God heals. Everyone.

  98. ordinary seeker

    BillT,

    Re: “Only true sacrifice will make all those terrible things become untrue.”

    NOTHING will make all those terrible things become untrue. They will always be true. They can only be healed from, not eradicated.

  99. BillT

    d,

    The sentences just preceeding that were.

    “Real suffering requires real solutions. The pain is real, the debts are real, and the suffering is real. The solution to those has to be real as well. There is no magic. No incantations or hand waving.”

    If you are going to reject what I said you could at least address what I said.

  100. BillT

    “NOTHING will make all those terrible things become untrue. They will always be true. They can only be healed from, not eradicated.”

    You’re wrong. Everything sad will become untrue. That is the power of and effect of the sacrifice of the Christ. An one day you will witness it.

  101. Justin

    Believing that there’s some sort of settling up after we die may appear to some to be the solution to this dilemma, but to me it seems pointless.

    I think of it less as a settling up, some vindictive act of God, than the desire of some to have nothing to do with God. In sin, our natural state is separation from God. Some people desire to stay that way, and God says, fine, I won’t force you. It’s not really a “settling up” in the sense that punishment somehow reverses an evil or creates a good that can then be applied to the suffering.

    Claiming that God is not just may undermine your moral imperative, but it doesn’t undermine mine. Regardless of whether there is a God, I find it imperative to try to act morally and with integrity. I believe this is the only way to be in right relationship with others, and to try to change the world, to create a better future world.

    Well, there’s no law that says one must always act rationally. I still think that your version of god isn’t omnibenevolent, if indeed our actions here have no effect on how god treats us later. Not only that, but this universal treatment of everyone, irrespective of their desires, seems to violate the will of some. If we’re all forced into a relationship with god in the end, all treated the same, then it seems impossible that this god is omnibenevolent. To argue at one point that evil action is the result of some defect in creation such that nobody is really responsible for their actions (they’re all trying their best, afterall) is at odds with their being justice here or in the hereafter. There seems to be a disconnect in your logic somewhere.

    I most decidedly have NOT described Christian belief. I think I’ve been clear that I don’t believe the Christian theology.

    I wasn’t referring to your beliefs, but the beliefs you were arguing against – that punishment is god’s mechanism for setting things right. I don’t think this is how Christians view punishment in the hereafter.

    I agree with you that, if there is a God, separation from God is not pleasant. But why would God allow people to continue suffering? Instead, God heals. Everyone.

    Even those who do not want it? So he would violate their will? If the response is that such people are clouded by the fog of imperfect creation, then I’m back to your god not being omnibenevolent.

  102. d

    BillT,

    Those read to me like different ways to dance around saying the same thing, but not justifying premises or arguments.

  103. Fleegman

    @Tom, and BillT

    I don’t think either of you answered the question I posed.

    My original question specified: “Some of his victims were atheists, or the wrong religion but may have found God later in life.

    So they’re dead. They haven’t got the chance of turning to God. If they’d lived another 20 years or so, they may have. So, someone who gets to spend eternity in Heaven effectively robbed his victims for the chance to find God.

    Is this just?

  104. G. Rodrigues

    @Fleegman:

    So, someone who gets to spend eternity in Heaven effectively robbed his victims for the chance to find God.

    Is this just?

    You are cooking up an artificial scenario (artificial because it is not possible for us to know the judgments of God) and then presume to judge God, who is omnipotent and omniscient, from your constrained and limited perpective.

    Is this fair?

    note: If I understood you right, you are throwing doubt on God’s moral righteousness. I think the question itself is meaningless, although to explain that would take a while.

  105. BillT

    d,

    Maybe this will help. If you go to someone’s house and break their lamp three things can happen. You can pay for it, they can pay for it or they can go without it. Breaking the lamp creates a debt. That debt must be paid one way or the other.

    Sin, like breaking the lamp, creates a debt. The lies I’ve told, the pride I’ve exhibited, the things I’ve stolen have harmed people and created debts. Many, many of them. That debt must be paid one way or the other. The debt that sin creates is a cosmic one. There is no currency to pay it but the debt is as real is the one created by breaking the lamp.

    There is only one person who has the currency to pay my debts and the price was his life. And all he asks of me is to acknowledge Him and His sacrifice for me. That’s not easy for me to do as my pride insists that either I’ve not been “that bad” or that I can handle it myself. However, neither is true.

  106. ordinary seeker

    Justin,
    You make an interesting point about God potentially violating the will of those who would choose not to be in relationship with God. It’s difficult to imagine anyone not choosing to be healed, but certainly it’s possible. I guess then the question becomes whether it can be good to violate another’s will; or, better question, can it be good for God to violate a person’s will.

    I don’t think of God as a being in the usual way, so I don’t think of this process of healing as one being effecting another being, but more of a transition that would happen upon death. A transition that happens regardless of whether the individual desires it to happen? Possibly. I guess for me that doesn’t make God less good.

  107. ordinary seeker

    BillT:

    There’s a fourth option: You can be forgiven for breaking the lamp.

  108. BillT

    “There’s a fourth option: You can be forgiven for breaking the lamp.”

    No, there isn’t. Forgiven or not, either someone pays or someone does without the lamp. The debt must be satisfied.

  109. BillT

    Fleegman,

    I’ll go with G. Rodrigues’ answer. A few too many “ifs and buts” to be a reasonable question. We know he “judges in justice” so we can be confident he has these kind of scenarios covered.

  110. Fleegman

    G.Rodrigues

    You are cooking up an artificial scenario (artificial because it is not possible for us to know the judgments of God) and then presume to judge God, who is omnipotent and omniscient, from your constrained and limited perpective.

    Do you really think this is a cooked up artificial scenario? Really?

    You don’t think people have killed anyone at any point in their life that might have been before they would have turned to God, had they not been killed? And then the killer turns to God? How can you say this is contrived?

    What are the “ifs and buts” of which you speak, BillT?

    Unless life is predetermined, and the victims were alwaysgoing to die at that age, how can you say there’s a question over whether or not some would have turned to God.

    To make it simpler, how about this:

    Some people live long lives, some people live short lives. Is it fair that the people living long lives have more of a chance to turn to God?

    I suppose, though, like BillT says, since these are hard questions, it’s best not to think about it and simply conclude “He has it covered.”

  111. Fleegman

    Oh, and I asked this in another thread, but it was never addressed.

    BillT mentioned “…His sacrifice to me.”

    To what sacrifice is he referring? Ignoring, for the moment, that Jesus is/was God, how is it a sacrifice when you don’t lose anything? God didn’t lose His Son, right? He knew Jesus wasn’t going to die permanently, right? I’m just confused where the sacrifice was.

    And no, I’m not just trying to poke holes in everything, I’d really like to know why this is considered a sacrifice. (I’m not even going near why a sacrifice was needed in the first place. Well, not yet.)

  112. G. Rodrigues

    @Fleegman:

    Do you really think this is a cooked up artificial scenario? Really?

    Yes, and I told you my reasons but you did not addressed them. If you think the objections are no good, please explain why.

    I have also said in a note that asking if God is morally good in the same way human beings are is a meaningless question (although here I should insert a caveat that not every Christian will agree with me), so your question, if I am understanding you right, is meaningless.

  113. BillT

    Fleegman,

    You’re dreaming up a contrived scenario that just for starters doesn’t take God’s omniscience into account. Those are the “ifs and buts”. Seemed pretty obvious but I’m glad to spell it out if you like.

    On top of that lives are as long as they are. There is no length a life should be. That’s why it’s utter nonsense to talk about something that could have happened if someone lived longer because they didn’t live longer. They lived as long as they did which is as long as they should have no matter the cause of their death.

  114. Fleegman

    G.Rodrigues

    Yes, and I told you my reasons but you did not addressed them. If you think the objections are no good, please explain why.

    Well, not really, you just said it was a contrived example, and I’m asking what’s contrived about it. You said:

    artificial because it is not possible for us to know the judgments of God

    But that’s nothing to do with the scenario itself.

    I have also said in a note that asking if God is morally good in the same way human beings are is a meaningless question (although here I should insert a caveat that not every Christian will agree with me), so your question, if I am understanding you right, is meaningless.

    So are you saying we can’t judge God using our standards? I thought they were God given standards. Are you saying whatever God does is, by definition, just? There are a few problems with that view.

    @BillT

    You’re dreaming up a contrived scenario that just for starters doesn’t take God’s omniscience into account.

    Again, and I hate having to repeat myself, but since you still don’t seem to understand it, it’s not a contrived scenario. 

    Just for starters doesn’t take God’s omniscience into account.

    Ok, I’m trying to work out what you mean by that. He knows everything… 

    Presumably, in this case, you’re playing the omniscient card to say that he would know if the victims would have turned to God at some point. Which is the same thing as saying their lives are predetermined. Which is another way of saying that you believe in the illusion of free will, rather than free will itself. Ok, I guess. I just didn’t think Christians subscribed to that.

    It’s just, if that is what you’re saying, then it opens a massive, huge, can of worms. Like this: “if God knows the future, then He knew Adam would eat the apple.” Whoops!

    Those are the “ifs and buts”. Seemed pretty obvious but I’m glad to spell it out if you like.

    They are nothing compared to the “ifs and buts” you are raising with your response.

    On top of that lives are as long as they are. There is no length a life should be. That’s why it’s utter nonsense to talk about something that could have happened if someone lived longer because they didn’t live longer. They lived as long as they did which is as long as they should have no matter the cause of their death.

    Yet more evidence that you believe in predetermined lives. For one thing, if it’s all predetermined, why not just beam all those who would have chosen God to Heaven, send the rest to Hell, and be done with it? Why all the pretense of all this free will?

    If the future is all set in stone, why bother praying for anything? 

  115. G. Rodrigues

    @Fleegman:

    artificial because it is not possible for us to know the judgments of God

    But that’s nothing to do with the scenario itself.

    It has everything to do with your scenario. First, because you cannot say that God’s judgment will be this or that, because as a simple matter of fact, and outside of the *direct* judgments of God revealed in His Word (which are irrelevant for this matter), no one can say with certainty how God will judge said person. To say that He will judge this way or that, in whatever scenario, is to presume an omniscience you do not have. And to say that said judgment is right or not is simply a measure of your hubris.

    So are you saying we can’t judge God using our standards? I thought they were God given standards. Are you saying whatever God does is, by definition, just?

    No, to the last question. As for the first, what I am saying is that judging God by our standards is meaningless; it is like judging whether a dog is morally righteous or not — the analogy is very bad, I know, but the *only* point I want to stress by using it is that the question is equally meaningless.

    Presumably, in this case, you’re playing the omniscient card to say that he would know if the victims would have turned to God at some point. Which is the same thing as saying their lives are predetermined.

    Wrong again. You are conflating a temporal relationship, which does not exist, with a causal relationship. God’s foreknowledge does not imply absence of Free Will. Read Augustine’s Confessions or Boethius’ Consolation of Philosophy; the answers to these false conundrums are about 1500 years old.

  116. BillT

    “…you’re playing the omniscient card to say that he would know if the victims would have turned to God at some point. Which is the same thing as saying their lives are predetermined. Which is another way of saying that you believe in the illusion of free will, rather than free will itself.”

    No, that’s not what I said nor is it what I’m saying. It’s what you said and what you’re saying. See how that works. Your words get attributed to you and my words to me. It’s tremendously dishonest to attribute your words to me. I’d appreciate it if you would not do that. And as G. Rodrigues has explained, you also might consider getting acquainted with the answers to the false dichotomies you present given they were successfully dealt with many centuries ago.

  117. JB Chappell

    I don’t find Fleegman’s scenario “contrived” at all; in fact, I don’t know of many who have not considered such a scenario. How could you not?

    The concern is for differential treatment of persons, and how it is considered “just”. Jesus addressed a similar scenario in Matthew 20. The bottom line is this: it makes no sense to hold a transcendent Being accountable to our own subjective standards, and you are never going to be able to prove God is “good” in any meaningful way. Questions along these lines are fair, and the discussion can be interesting, the outcome always undetermined.

    As for divine foreknowledge, it depends on knowledge and reality of counter-factuals. If counter-factuals (what could otherwise be true) are “real” possibilities, and God has knowledge of them, then there is no conflict between omniscience and free will. This is the Molinist position. Interestingly, many would claim Molinism is wrong, yet still try to claim omniscience/foreknowledge doesn’t conflict with free will, because God doesn’t actually cause the decision. Granting that claim does nothing to affirm the Calvinist acceptance of free will or Arminian acceptance of divine foreknowledge, however, because if there are no counter-factuals, then things cannot be otherwise. If things cannot be otherwise, then we are not “free” to choose, regardless of what is causing it.

    Furthermore, it is somewhat misleading to say that these matters were “successfully dealt with” centuries ago. Settled to whose satisfaction? Orthodoxy? Clearly not everyone’s. It isn’t as if there hasn’t been any discussion along these lines throughout the centuries.

  118. BillT

    Calvinists are, I believe, generally considered to be dualists. That is, they believe in a both a sovereign God and free will. Fleegman implies that omniscience equates to predestination and that predestination means there is no free will. None of that is true. For God to know what will happen and/or even when he predestines something to happen that doesn’t deny that person in that instance free will. And as G. Rodrigues has explained, those explanations have been a part of Christian theology for centuries. That doesn’t mean you have to accept them but they have certainly been vetted quite extensively.

    And JB. Yes, those questions can be “considered” but as you point out it makes no sense to hold a transcendent Being accountable to our own subjective standards. Nor does it make sense to limit a transcendent Beings understanding to our own quite limited understanding.

  119. JB Chappell

    BillT, you wrote:

    For God to know what will happen and/or even when he predestines something to happen that doesn’t deny that person in that instance free will.

    This is the standard line, but it doesn’t make sense. Again, the critical issue is whether things can be otherwise. If God’s foreknowledge cannot possibly be wrong, if there are no counter-factuals, if things cannot be otherwise, then God may not be causing the decision, but they certainly aren’t “free” in the sense that their destiny is open-ended.

    The acceptance of free will and God’s sovereignty has definitely been a part of orthodoxy for centuries. I mean, both Calvinists and Arminians, for all their differences, both affirm as much. That does not mean, however, that such acceptance has been “vetted” rationally. Take Christ’s dual nature or the Trinity, for example. Such explanations are also orthodoxy, but they make no sense. They may have been vetted by the Church, but that is another matter.

  120. G. Rodrigues

    @JB Chappell:

    The bottom line is this: it makes no sense to hold a transcendent Being accountable to our own subjective standards, and you are never going to be able to prove God is “good” in any meaningful way.

    Wrong. While I do not think that it is coherent to speak of God as morally good in the same way as human beings are (always with the caveat, that not all Christians agree with me, although in my defense I would have to say that I am well within mainstream classical theism), there is a perfectly legitimate, objective sense in which God is perfectly and maximally Good, and also a perfectly legitimate, objective sense in which all our moral judgments, ultimately have its source in Him.

    As for divine foreknowledge, it depends on knowledge and reality of counter-factuals. If counter-factuals (what could otherwise be true) are “real” possibilities, and God has knowledge of them, then there is no conflict between omniscience and free will. This is the Molinist position.

    Wrong again. First, Molinism is to reconcile Grace and Free Will, not foreknowledge and Free Will. Second, it is opposed to the Thomistic doctrine of grace whose chief exponent is the Dominican Bañez. But this is a complicated debate, with no settled answer, and I have no desire to go into its subtleties.

    Furthermore, it is somewhat misleading to say that these matters were “successfully dealt with” centuries ago. Settled to whose satisfaction? Orthodoxy? Clearly not everyone’s.

    If you have any objections to lodge, lodge them. Complaining that the answers are not to everybody’s satisfaction is an empty complaint. Assuming you are discussing with me, and not some imaginary opponent in your head, it is what I defend that you have to argue with. And for the sake of clarity, my point, my only point, was that these answers are available 1500 years ago. From Fleegman’s wording, it is clear that he is not aware of them, and yet he presents these objections as if they were decisive refutations and nobody has managed to respond to them. We are all ignorant, just about different things, and there is no crime in it. But if someone pretends to argue against what he does not know, is it unfair to point out his ignorance?

  121. JB Chappell

    @G. Rodrigues

    …there is a perfectly legitimate, objective sense in which God is perfectly and maximally Good, and also a perfectly legitimate, objective sense in which all our moral judgments, ultimately have its source in Him

    It may be legitimate and objective, but what I said is that it’s not meaningful. And by that I mean that whatever we think of as “good” is not necessarily what God thinks is “Good”. We may as well call God perfectly “Red”.

    …Molinism is to reconcile Grace and Free Will, not foreknowledge and Free Will.

    Molinism can’t address both? It addresses providence and free will; I don’t know how you can deny this. I will agree that it is complicated and unsettled, however.

    Complaining that the answers are not to everybody’s satisfaction is an empty complaint.

    No more empty than declaring something to have been successfully answered, as if everyone acknowledges as such. It is fair to point out someone’s ignorance, but much more helpful to point to actual information or arguments.

    As for my objections, I have already lodged them. I am a layman, I do not claim to have intimate knowledge of Augustine, Aquinas, etc. (although I have read some). Nevertheless, what I have read and heard is almost exclusively along the same line: God knows, He does not cause. Because Christians reject natural determinism, they think this settles the matter in favor of free will. But while I find the distinction between knowledge and causation to be a rational one, it does not solve the problem. It really doesn’t matter what affects the will in this instance: if destiny is not open-ended, you are not free.

  122. G. Rodrigues

    @JB Chappell:

    And by that I mean that whatever we think of as “good” is not necessarily what God thinks is “Good”.

    What God thinks or does not think is beyond our knowledge; it is not even coherent to say that God thinks, at least if by thinking we have in mind how human beings think. But this is all irrelevant. The only thing I said was that there is a legitimate and *objective* sense in which we can say that God is perfectly and maximally Good.

    Molinism can’t address both? It addresses providence and free will; I don’t know how you can deny this.

    Fair point. But I maintain by my qualification that what Molina was interested in was in the harmonizing of efficacious grace (gratia efficax) and Free Will. The problem of Foreknowledge creeps in, but if Foreknowledge was the only problem Molina would have found no need to construct his theory. Molina (and his Thomist “opponents”), and all Catholic theologians, are constrained by two Catholic principles, dogmas of the Church clearly and emphatically defined at the council of Trent, first, the supremacy and causality of grace, and second, the unimpaired freedom of consent in the will.

    No more empty than declaring something to have been successfully answered, as if everyone acknowledges as such.

    You are addressing me, not “everyone”. You are not seriously tasking me with defending what I do not believe in, are you? I repeat, my only point was that these answers are available 1500 years ago. They are not to everybody’s satisfaction? Shrug shoulders.

    Nevertheless, what I have read and heard is almost exclusively along the same line: God knows, He does not cause. Because Christians reject natural determinism, they think this settles the matter in favor of free will. But while I find the distinction between knowledge and causation to be a rational one, it does not solve the problem. It really doesn’t matter what affects the will in this instance: if destiny is not open-ended, you are not free.

    I am having difficulties parsing this paragraph. By your previous account, I gather that the argument is the standard one:

    1. Before I have typed this post God already knew I would type this post.

    2. God’s foreknowledge is infallible and certain.

    3. So I could do no other than type this post.

    Is this a correct rendering of the argument? If it is, it fails and it fails miserably. Once again, to know why read the references I gave (although I hinted at where it goes wrong; do not know if it is enough to tease out the full answer, probably not).

  123. Fleegman

    BillT,

    No, that’s not what I said nor is it what I’m saying. It’s what you said and what you’re saying. See how that works. Your words get attributed to you and my words to me.

    Maybe if you were clearer, and didn’t resort to soundbites, it might be easier to understand what you were actually trying to say.

    And since we’re talking about free will, forget about us for a moment; how can God have free will if he knows what he’s going to do? Is he not enslaved by his own omniscience?

  124. BillT

    If you think I’ve resorted to “soundbites” why don’t you point out exactly where I have done that and precisely what you find objectionable in what I have said. Your broad brush accusation isn’t very meaningful or constructive.

  125. Melissa

    Fleegman,

    To what sacrifice is he referring? Ignoring, for the moment, that Jesus is/was God, how is it a sacrifice when you don’t lose anything? God didn’t lose His Son, right? He knew Jesus wasn’t going to die permanently, right? I’m just confused where the sacrifice was.

    You haven’t shown us why to be a sacrifice something must be lost permanently. It’s not obviously true, but maybe you have an argument to support this?

    Edited to add: Of course the separation from God that Jesus experienced is not undone by the fact that they are subsequently reunited, which does equate to a type of permanent loss.

  126. SteveK

    Fleegman,

    Are you saying whatever God does is, by definition, just? There are a few problems with that view.

    What a being does flows from what that being is. The reverse is not true. This principle is what keeps you from becoming a dog when you behave, act and live like a dog.

    God is a particular being with a particular nature and he exists according to his nature. If God is a perfectly just being then God cannot be unjust. Therefore, what God does is always just.

  127. Andrew W

    Not answering for everyone by any means, but:

    Which is another way of saying that you believe in the illusion of free will, rather than free will itself. Ok, I guess. I just didn’t think Christians subscribed to that.

    One strain of Christian thought on this believes in neither free will nor the illusion thereof.

    It’s certainly not the only position within Christian thinking, so for now I’ll present only this: the Scriptures never describe mankind’s moral thinking as clear or unfettered or free. Words like “foolish”, “darkened”, “ignorant”, and “slave” are the order of the day.

    Caveat: So I suppose this thinking does believe in the illusion of free will, ie “free will is a vanity”.

    It’s just, if that is what you’re saying, then it opens a massive, huge, can of worms. Like this: “if God knows the future, then He knew Adam would eat the apple.” Whoops!

    Let’s restate that more clearly: “Human rebellion was part of God’s plan, from the beginning.”.

    So yes, the “strong Calvinist” position is indeed “God chose before the creation of the world” (and “chose” as in “determined”, not just “responded to foreseeing”).

    PS: JB – sorry for not following up on your latest thoughts. Couldn’t think of anything more to say that didn’t just restate what was already said. Thanks.

  128. Sault

    “Christianity’s most important claims are historically testable!”

    “Yeah, but what about x, y, and z?”

    “Oh, except for those. What matters more is why!”

    Blech. Okay, well, on to other things then. Maybe one of these days Tom will get around to providing a way to measure how SSM damages society…

  129. JB Chappell

    SteveK wrote:

    If God is a perfectly just being then God cannot be unjust. Therefore, what God does is always just.

    The “if”, however, looms large. I like to think in terms of omniscience. Omniscience is an attribute more readily granted to “God” by skeptics. It’s still an “if”, but granting that, what’s more probably true: that an omniscient being has adequate reasons for what they do, or that we don’t what it is? It makes no sense to second-guess an omniscient being.

    I realize the issue here is more related to goodness, but it is still helpful realize that it is sheer hubris to argue, in a sense, with such a Being. Nevertheless, it is also fair for the skeptic to question the grounding of such qualities. And seeing as how these qualities are usually grounded in either the ontological argument, which rests on an arbitrary definition of “God”, and/or Scriptural claims, it is not hard to see why they might remain unconvinced.

    Theist: “God is perfectly just.”
    Skeptic: “How do you know that?”
    Theist: “God is a Being with every perfection. Justice is a moral perfection.”
    Skeptic: “How do you know God has every perfection?”
    Theist: “Because it’s defined that way. Duh.”
    –OR–
    “Because the Bible says so. Duh.”

    In reality, I think if Christians were honest with themselves, they would realize that we infer good intentions from the story of Christ, and other scriptural claims, and hope that – despite many other counter-intuitive scriptural passages – God is perfectly good, because this makes Theodicy much more satisfying.

  130. Tom Gilson

    Sault, I haven’t forgotten your question. I’m going to be working up an article on it for print publication, in fact.

    Here’s the short version. I don’t think we have any good empirical criteria at this point to measure how SSM damages society—but if you find comfort for your position in that, you ought to think it through more deeply.

  131. JB Chappell

    @G. Rodrigues

    The only thing I said was that there is a legitimate and *objective* sense in which we can say that God is perfectly and maximally Good.

    I understand, and I acknowledged, that fact. Nor am I disputing this claim. What I am saying is that while it may be perfectly rational to conceptualize God as perfectly “Good”, the meaning of that term has no practical utility.

    I repeat, my only point was that these answers are available 1500 years ago. They are not to everybody’s satisfaction? Shrug shoulders.

    Your attitude is entirely unhelpful. I don’t understand why you would bother commenting in such threads if you don’t care if others are unconvinced. I could likewise state that the field of medicine had all the answers 1500 years ago with respect to the 4 humours. Not convinced? *shrugs shoulders*

    You rendering of the argument is not correct. It would go more like this:

    1. I am considering doing action X.
    2. There are no counter-factuals.
    3. [From 1 &2] Because there could not be otherwise, God knows what action I will choose re: X
    4. [From 1-3] God’s knowledge re: myself and X is infallible and certain.

    The critical distinction is 2. In the argument you rendered, you were silent on counter-factuals. A non-open theist needs to address this issue: can things be otherwise? Are there real, viable alternatives to what we do (can we do otherwise)? If so, does God have access to this knowledge as well? If so, what does He do with it? If you deny 2, then in order for God to remain sovereign, He must have knowledge of counter-factuals.

    If one is restrained by dogma, you might well deny 2, yet still claim there is no incompatibility between free will and sovereignty/providence or omniscience. But one would not do so rationally, and that was my point in making the comparison with the Trinity and Christ’s dual-nature. One would have to chalk it up to divine mystery.

    The Molinist would claim that God uses His knowledge of counter-factuals in His providence: that those who are elect or “predestined” are so chosen because God knows, based on this knowledge, what they would have chose in any possible world. They are then placed in a scenario where they will positively respond. Thus, the world in which we live can be considered the “best” of all possible worlds.

    In the end, I agree with you. The rendering you give DOES fail (and it is a commonly-touted argument). Why, however, you refuse to simply offer the reasoning behind it is simply mind-boggling to me. If your reasoning differs (and given your response to Molinism, I assume it does), I would be curious to know how.

  132. G. Rodrigues

    @SteveK:

    God is a particular being with a particular nature and he exists according to his nature.

    Careful here. Being is not a genus and God is not *a* being but Being Itself, his essence or nature, indistinct from his existence.

  133. Victoria

    @Andrew
    Actually, you bring up an interesting point, which seems to make sense out of what Paul says in Romans, contrasting being ‘slaves to sin (our sin nature)’ and being ‘slaves to righteousness(the new nature, given by the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit)’.

    Being made in God’s image thus should imply that we are free to act according to our nature, but not strictly determined simply by physical and chemical processes in our brains, sort of a brain/mind dualism (which naturalism denies).

    Two things are clear in Scripture – God’s sovereignty and human moral accountability to Him.

  134. G. Rodrigues

    @JB Chappell:

    What I am saying is that while it may be perfectly rational to conceptualize God as perfectly “Good”, the meaning of that term has no practical utility.

    You will have to explain to me what “practical utility” means, but the doctrine of the convertibility of transcendentals implies that God is Good insofar as He is, and given that He is Being Itself, He is perfectly and preeminently Good. There are also other ways of construing Good, but in classical theism they always end up, one way or another, more or less indirectly, of relying on the convertibility of Good with Being. From this, a lot of things can be deduced about what God is (or more properly speaking, about what He is not). If this counts as “practical utility” there you have your answer.

    I don’t understand why you would bother commenting in such threads if you don’t care if others are unconvinced.

    These answers have been conjured 1500 years ago and posing objections as if no such answers were available is just the effect of ignorance and should be pointed out. I am convinced by these answers. You seem not to be, so state your case and we will hopefully clarify the matter. If I ever implied anything else beyond this, my apologies for the misunderstanding.

    In the argument you rendered, you were silent on counter-factuals. A non-open theist needs to address this issue: can things be otherwise? Are there real, viable alternatives to what we do (can we do otherwise)?

    I will take that by counterfactuals you mean the existence of actual, real alternative possible courses of action. Short answer: yes and no. Heh. The PAP (principle of alternative possibilities) is “commonly” true, but even where it is not true (like for the Saints in Heaven enjoying the Beatific Vision) it does *not* imply that there is no Free Will. Free Will as understood classically is ultimately not about having different courses of action available to choice, but about the choice being ultimately to the agent. Aquinas account of the Free Will, which is the one I am following, is somewhat intricate, but if you want references I can give them to you.

    If so, does God have access to this knowledge as well? If so, what does He do with it?

    Yes if the first question means knowledge of counterfactuals (although in all honesty I should double-check my answer). I cannot make heads or tails of the second question.

    If one is restrained by dogma, you might well deny 2, yet still claim there is no incompatibility between free will and sovereignty/providence or omniscience.

    If the arguments are right, there is no contradiction between Omniscience and Free Will, period. Also note that the Providence or Sovereignty of God, is a related but different concept. To quote from the Catholic encyclopedia “Providence is God Himself considered in that act by which in His wisdom He so orders all events within the universe that the end for which it was created may be realized.” So, it may be the case that you are conflating too many things.

    The problem that Molina set out to solve was the harmonizing of Grace, defined as a supernatural gift of God to rational creatures for their eternal salvation, and Free Will, given the two principles stated above that must be held by all Catholic theologians: the supremacy and causality of grace, and second, the unimpaired freedom of the will. For the sake of clarity, a couple of clarifications. First, the problem reduces to what is called efficacious Grace since merely sufficient Grace can, by its very definition, be resisted and be inefficient. Second, the problem is in short, how can efficacious grace reside harmoniously in the same subject with the simultaneous consent of the free will? This problem is *logically distinct* from the supposed contradiction between Omniscience and Free Will. Why you keep lumping the two together is beyond me. We are also *well* within the territory of *revealed theology*. In Catholicism there are at least two theological solutions to this problem: the Thomist, which starts from the nature of Grace, and the Molinist, which starts from Free Will and relies on the sciencia media of God. There is no settled answer, not even in Catholicism, and for all we know, the problem may simply be too intricate for us to ever arrive at a complete solution in this life. But do you *really* want to go into these super-subtle debates? I am not particularly inclined to it.

    The Molinist would claim that God uses His knowledge of counter-factuals in His providence: that those who are elect or “predestined” are so chosen because God knows, based on this knowledge, what they would have chose in any possible world. They are then placed in a scenario where they will positively respond. Thus, the world in which we live can be considered the “best” of all possible worlds.

    Your gloss is not correct: see Molinism. And it is all good and well that you have put best in between quotes, because the Leibnizian concept of the best of all possible worlds is in my view incoherent.

    Why, however, you refuse to simply offer the reasoning behind it is simply mind-boggling to me. If your reasoning differs (and given your response to Molinism, I assume it does), I would be curious to know how.

    You keep conflating two different problems. While I am not certain of this, I am confident that the Catholic Molina would trot out the same answer. And I have already told you why, although admittedly a bit sketchily. The main problem, reverting to my previous post, is in 1. The first word is “Before”. This makes no sense because there is no temporal relationship between God’s foreknowledge and our actions. Time is the measure of change, and God, being impassible, is timeless or outside time. Our actions *are* the efficient cause of God’s knowledge but since there is no temporal relationship between the two, and causal relationships are distinct from temporal ones, it makes no sense to say that God’s foreknowledge determines, which boils down to efficiently causes, our actions.

  135. Victoria

    see also this entire book
    http://christianbookshelf.org/pink/the_sovereignty_of_god/

    in particular the chapter on God’s sovereignty and salvation

    @Fleegman – just so you know, I’m posting this for information purposes. I’m going to be charitable and assume that you are at least interested in having your understanding of Christianity properly informed and corrected where necessary. You are free to disagree with real Christian doctrine, of course, but that is a different matter

    I love how Arthur Pink deals with the objections, here: http://christianbookshelf.org/pink/the_sovereignty_of_god/chapter_eleven_difficulties_and_objections.htm

  136. Fleegman

    Victoria,

    Thanks for the links. I read a lot of it, and a clear pattern emerged that I’ve seen time and time again, here. I found it useful, because it actually cleared up something for me: it confirmed the position I’ve adopted from the beginning in the comments of this blog.

    I have always maintained that Christians interpret the Bible in ways that justify their preconceived ideas, and nothing could have shown it clearer than the link you provided to the “difficulties and objections.”

    The common thread is that there is absolutely no interest in discovering whether or not the Bible is true. That is assumed. It is always assumed. The focus is always about making what is assumed to be true actually make some kind of sense so it can be defended against attack. Every time I have suggested this, I have been shot down for not understanding Biblical research, and time and time again you have proven to me that this is exactly what the “research” is doing.

    And then you complain when I make objections to this. It boggles the mind.

    So far, I’ve identified a few options when things don’t make sense in the Bible:

    1) It’s taken out of context.
    2) God is addressing our finite minds, and comes down to us and converses in our own speech, so the message is necessarily incomplete.
    3) We don’t understand now, but we will in Heaven.
    4) The Bible has mistakes in it. 
    5) The Bible might not be the word of God.
    6) Christianity might not be true. 

    Ok, that’s fine, but please be honest about it, and admit that there is nothing in the Bible that could ever cast doubt on what you believe. That’s what I’ve been saying all along, and that is why you can’t use the Bible as evidence for anything, because you have to believe it’s all true in the first place.

  137. Justin

    It is always assumed.

    That’s painting with an exceptionally large brush. I especially don’t find this to be true when reading NT Wright or Ben Witherington, as just two examples. They treat the Bible as evidence, sure. That’s what historians do.

    Ok, that’s fine, but please be honest about it, and admit that there is nothing in the Bible that could ever cast doubt on what you believe. That’s what I’ve been saying all along, and that is why you can’t use the Bible as evidence for anything, because you have to believe it’s all true in the first place.

    This is likewise painting with too large a brush, and as a result, throwing the baby out with the bath.

    Depending on audience, an author may certainly present a case for some theological point by assuming that the Bible is true and that the reader grants as much.

    Other authors, two of whom I’ve noted above, don’t make this assumption in some of their books (though in others they do).

    It makes no sense for one Christian writing to other Christians to engage in presenting apologetics for the truth of the New Testament in every book they write. That would make no sense.

    It doesn’t rule out using the Bible as evidence at all. You’ve jumped to a conclusion the facts don’t support to affirm your pre-existing claim.

  138. Victoria

    @Fleegman
    Well, of course Christians interpret the Bible from the standpoint of having been convinced of its trustworthiness as the Word of God. We affirm what Paul wrote in 2 Timothy 3:16 and Peter wrote in 2 Peter 1:16-21 – the Bible is divinely inspired and human authored.

    However, it was not our preconceived idea before we became Christians, at least for those of us not raised in a Christian context. This did not come to us by reason alone, but by the work of the Holy Spirit Himself, convincing us of His truth, convicting us of our sin and need for redemption, and showing us the incomparable glory of Jesus Christ. Once a person is ready to listen to Him, then and only then will He open up His Word.

    I think we may have misunderstood your use of the term ‘preconceived ideas’, then, for proper Bible study and interpretation seeks to inform our worldview, correct it where it is wrong, reprove us when we don’t obey it and teach us things that we never knew before – again, this is the work of the indwelling Holy Spirit.

    There are implications for study of Scripture when the foundation of that study is that it is the Word of God, not the least of which is that the Holy Spirit would not contradict Himself, so when we do come across apparent contradictions (such as Paul and James on faith and works) we seek to resolve them as much as we can. Some truths are presented to us as paradoxes that have no clear resolution and are really beyond our complete understanding, like the Trinity, for example – Scripture is quite clear that Yahweh is the One and Only True God, yet it is also clear that Yahweh is God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit – three ‘persons’, one nature. We cannot conceive of that mode of existence, and all our analogies fall short of doing justice to the Trinity, but we accept it nonetheless.

    On the other hand, since we also affirm that Scripture is human authored, it came to us from real people writing about their real experiences in real history. They wrote about what they saw and heard, as well as what others saw and heard and experienced. For that reason, we can study the historical context of the documents, when they were written and by whom, just as we can with any other historical documents from the past.

    The weight of evidence for the historical reliability of the New Testament documents is considerable, despite what you have read from the skeptical scholars, who all have an anti-supernatural presupposition as their starting point.

    I would recommend to you to look at the minimal facts approach of Gary Habermas and Michael Licona – this only assumes what all NT scholars (skeptical and conservative) agree on as established historical facts, and go from there.

    None of your criticisms are new to me – I heard them 30 years ago, and I know far more now than I did back then.

  139. Victoria

    Actually, now that I think about it, even Christian New Testament scholars and historians don’t invoke the Holy Spirit when discussing the historical questions of NT documents and authorship.

  140. Sault

    @ Tom

    Thank you for the response, and I apologize – I was not intending to derail the conversation, and I am glad that I have not.

  141. SteveK

    G. Rodrigues

    Being is not a genus and God is not *a* being but Being Itself, his essence or nature, indistinct from his existence.

    I agree with most of this (perhaps all), but I am not sure what “being is not a genus” means. I recall a discussion on that subject some time ago, but did not pay too much attention to it. In hindsight, I should have.

  142. G. Rodrigues

    @Fleegman:

    I am going to emit what is probably a controversial opinion and probably not everyone of my brothers in Christ will agree with me, but here it goes:

    I have always maintained that Christians interpret the Bible in ways that justify their preconceived ideas, and nothing could have shown it clearer than the link you provided to the “difficulties and objections.”

    You should look yourself in the mirror, because you are doing *exactly* the reverse. When there is a passage that supposedly causes some sort of difficulty, it is in your own eyes proof proven that the Bible is wrong in some way, without even bothering to see if there are explanations that clear up the confusions.

    The Bible is a book. It is also the greatest cultural monument of western civilization, which is unthinkable without it. Possibly with the exception of Shakespeare, and I confess myself to be a card-carrying Bardolator, there is no book or collections of books that has had a fraction of its influence, aesthetic, cultural and societal. This much is uncontroversial. Now, if there is one thing that modern literary criticism has taught us is that there is no such thing as uninterpreted narrative. Every reading act is an interpretative act, and literary narratives, being centripetal structures of meaning, can be made to mean an indefinite number of things. Thus for example, medieval Scholastic exegetes came up with a fourfold level theory, involving the literal, the moral, the allegorical and the anagogical levels of interpretation. Reading done right amounts to have the feel for the right context and level. The Bible presents its own special challenges being the communication of an infinite mind to finite ones (according to Christians), but it shares this much with any other book.

    Is there a “right” way to interpret the Bible? Every Christian will say yes, but they will articulate the answer in different, and conflicting ways, so I do not intend to go into that. I will say however, that interpretation is not made in a vacuum, by “an ideal reader suffering from an ideal insomnia” to use James Joyce’s serendipitous phrase, but is *progressive*, in constant dialogue with the past acts of reading and interpretation. Note that this has nothing to do with whether one accepts the Bible as the inspired Word of God or not, but is simply a basic axiom of interpretation. To go back to my example of Shakespeare, there is a long and venerable tradition of criticism starting with Dr. Johnson, the wisest and most humane of all literary critics, and then going through Hazlitt, Coleridge, Bradley, Goddard, Wilson Knight, Empson, etc. to contemporary critics such as Nuttall, Kermode and Bloom. The reasons why we admire Shakespeare today would be largely incomprehensible to him and his Globe Theater audience.

    Is there a way to adjudicate what is the “right” interpretation? By what I said previously, the question almost answers itself. More importantly for the current discussion, if the parties in the adjudication are me, a Christian, and you, an atheist, my answer is a resounding no. You have your own (unconsciously held?) specific *presuppositions* and *assumptions* when interpreting the Bible, and guess what, I reject them. Now, as with all assumptions and presuppositions, one needs to rationally substantiate them, so it is incumbent upon *you* to make a rational case for them if you are to convince me that you are right. Since you reject the Bible as the Word of God, it is difficult to imagine how exactly you will substantiate your case to my satisfaction. Now I will admit that your polemics may have some traction with some Christians, but not with me, not with mainstream Christianity including the Catholic and Eastern Orthodox churches, many Protestant churches, etc. In other words, there is simply no *common ground* and the discussion over the interpretation of the Bible with an atheist like yourself is in my view, largely an exercise in futility and lost time.

    You want to argue for atheism and against Christianity? State your case philosophically. The Bible is essential for every Christian, but it is of little use in apologetics, at least until some common ground is found on basic questions of methodology and we can settle other issues that can be settled, or at any rate that can be the object of dialectical discourse, such as the very existence of God, the resurrection of Jesus Christ, etc. And in the latter case, I am not contradicting myself because it is the contention of Christianity that the resurrection was an actual, real, historical event, so its factual-ness can, in principle, be evaluated.

  143. Andrew W

    G.,

    With you right up until the last paragraph:

    You want to argue for atheism and against Christianity? State your case philosophically. … because it is the contention of Christianity that the resurrection was an actual, real, historical event, so its factual-ness can, in principle, be evaluated.

    I’d express that as “state your case historically”. Philosophy can form and guide the discussion, but the crux of Christianity (pardon the pun) is the historical person of Christ.

    Philosophy can speak on what should or might happen or be. Christianity is rooted in what did happen and what is.

  144. Melissa

    @ G. Rodrigueus,

    I had a lecturer a couple of semesters ago that put it like this “the text can mean many things, but it can’t mean anything”

    One of the things I have learnt is that good theological thinking requires that we move on from expecting that there are one dimensional answers to complex questions. Reality is complex and those one-dimensional answers, while being true, only give part of the truth. Sometimes the answer is not this or that but this and that. The challenge then is to holding a synthesis of the two statements in tension rather than letting one dominate. This is not easy for those of us, like me, who like their aI think that’s partly why I originally gravitated more towards the sciences.

  145. JB Chappell

    @Fleegman

    I have always maintained that Christians interpret the Bible in ways that justify their preconceived ideas

    Not necessarily. Many ideas are not conceived until the Bible is read. This isn’t to say that what you say isn’t true to an extent, such people obviously do exist, nevertheless as others point out: this is too broad of a brush.

    The common thread is that there is absolutely no interest in discovering whether or not the Bible is true.

    Well, no. There is incredible interest in this. Most Christians are very excited about archaeological findings that support the Bible, for instance.

    That is assumed. It is always assumed.

    This, I think is fair. For the most part. Licona, Habermas, Wright, Witherington, etc. have all been suggested as counter-examples, but I’m fairly certain that none of them (not as certain about Witherington) would deny inerrancy. They certainly don’t *conclude* this based off any logical argument or empirical evidence. Short of them claimimg that the Holy Spirit revealed to them personally that the Scripture is inerrant, it is an assumption. More than that: a non-negotiable for orthodoxy, which cannot be understated. Dogma would be a more apt description than assumption.

    The focus is always about making what is assumed to be true actually make some kind of sense so it can be defended against attack.

    Again, I think this is fair, although criticism is valid only so far. If you want to question the grounding of Christian beliefs, that is warranted. But is misguided to criticize Christians for constructing a rational way to view the world that is internally consistent and correlates with evidence (“can be defended”). After all, naturalists/atheists would do the same, and the same criticism would arise: what is the grounds for the belief?

    Ok, that’s fine, but please be honest about it, and admit that there is nothing in the Bible that could ever cast doubt on what you believe.

    Well, as someone who considers himself a Christian, let me blow your mind: there is much in the Bible that DOES cast doubt on what I believe. Perhaps better stated: I’m not sure what I can believe with respect to many things because to do so would rely on the Bible, which I find to be problematic in many respects.

    Victoria responded thusly:

    Well, of course Christians interpret the Bible from the standpoint of having been convinced of its trustworthiness as the Word of God. We affirm what Paul wrote in 2 Timothy 3:16 and Peter wrote in 2 Peter 1:16-21 – the Bible is divinely inspired and human authored.

    But WHY do we affirm it, this is a critical question! Surely you are not going to claim that you believe the Bible is reliable because the Bible says it’s reliable?

    Once a person is ready to listen to Him, then and only then will He open up His Word.

    This makes no sense. Why would God speak only when someone is listening? The Bible is full of examples of God doing the opposite: trying to get people’s attention. It also doesn’t answer the question, of what, exactly, is “His Word”? Are you honestly going to tell us that the Holy Spirit told you that the Bible is infallible? (If you can do so, fair enough, I just have never heard anyone actually willing to claim such).

    There are implications for study of Scripture when the foundation of that study is that it is the Word of God, not the least of which is that the Holy Spirit would not contradict Himself…

    You then admit there are genuine paradoxes, yet apparently this does not serve as evidence that the “foundation” might be misplaced? How is this not even a consideration?

    …we can study the historical context of the documents, when they were written and by whom, just as we can with any other historical documents from the past.

    Of course we can. Just as we do now, with ministers, teachers, evangelists, etc. But just as we would affirm that God “inspires” them in their work, we do not consider them to be inerrant. We do not consider inerrancy to follow from inspiration now, why do we think it did 2000 years ago?

    The weight of evidence for the historical reliability of the New Testament documents is considerable, despite what you have read from the skeptical scholars, who all have an anti-supernatural presupposition as their starting point.

    It is not fair to say that skeptics have pre-suppositions, as if adherents do not as well. Furthermore, speaking of the “the weight of” and “considerable” is obviously an admission that evidence is not all on one side. The fact remains that there are serious concerns with the reliability of certain accounts, and with who may have written certain works, etc.

    Of course, none of that means that the Bible is NOT inspired, or that is not inerrant, or even not reliable. But it begs the question of why, in the face of uncertainty, it is a non-negotiable for so many. (Actually, I would say it is negotiable for many… just on scriptures we don’t like… but that’s a whole nuther topic!)

    In any case, I agree wholeheartedly with G. Rodrigues that any points of view and pre-suppositions need to be supported, period. And if you are making a case against another point-of-view, the burden of proof rests on you.

  146. Justin

    Hey JB,

    This, I think is fair. For the most part. Licona, Habermas, Wright, Witherington, etc. have all been suggested as counter-examples, but I’m fairly certain that none of them (not as certain about Witherington) would deny inerrancy.

    Witherington, I believe, adheres to inerrancy. Wright has this to say about it:

    Though I am not unhappy with that people are trying to affirm when they use words like “infallible” (the idea that the Bible won’t deceive us) and “inerrant” (the stronger idea, that the Bible can’t get things wrong), I normally resist using those words myself. Ironically, in my experience, debates about words like these have often led people away from the Bible itself into all kinds of theories which do no justice to scripture as a whole…Instead, the insistence on an “infallible” or “inerrant” Bible has been seen as the bastion of orthodoxy against Roman Catholicism on the one hand and liberal modernism on the other. Unfortunately, the assumptions of both those worlds have conditioned the debate. It is no accident that this Protestant insistence on biblical infallibility arose at the same time that Rome was insisting on papal infallibility, or that the rationalism of the Enlightenment infected even those who were battling against it.

    Simply Christian, p. 183

    Since there is quite a bit of controversy between Christians regarding inerrancy, one can conclude that there are different views. Wright’s comments give some clues as to why it’s non-negotiable for many.

    Just to reiterate, some works by these authors presuppose the reliability of the Bible, because their target audience already believes and they’re not engaged in apologetics. I don’t think this is the case in books like The Resurrection of the Son of God (and the many, many others written in this same vein), because that’s an implicit part of the question Wright is trying to answer (“Why did Christianity form and take the shape that it did?”). This question includes, “why did they write the things that they did?”. The conclusion Wright comes to is that they wrote the things that they did because the resurrection really happened, but as far as I can tell, Wright doesn’t presuppose this to make his case.

    As far as presuppositions go, of course it’s fair to say that nobody analyzes the Bible in a vacuum, completely free of bias. For Christians, the presupposition could range from miracles happen to I’m not ruling out the possibility of miracles. The latter seems fairly easy to defend. For the naturalist, the presupposition is usually miracles don’t ever happen. That seems rather difficult to show with that level of certainty.

  147. BillT

    “The common thread is that there is absolutely no interest in discovering whether or not the Bible is true.”

    This is utter nonsense. It’s so far from the truth that it’s laughable. Study into the validity of the Bible is both a central theme of academia and apologetics. There is so much information in academic papers, books and on the internet about this anyone making the above claim must either be hiding under a rock or just being dishonest. Whether it’s the Habermas’ minimal facts approach or Richard Bauckham’s Jesus and the Eyewitnesses or dozens of others like N.T. Wright and F.F. Bruce, the information about this is overwhelming. Now, not finding these arguments compelling is one thing. To claim there is no interest is absurd.

  148. Victoria

    @JB

    Well, as someone who considers himself a Christian, let me blow your mind: there is much in the Bible that DOES cast doubt on what I believe. Perhaps better stated: I’m not sure what I can believe with respect to many things because to do so would rely on the Bible, which I find to be problematic in many respects

    Can you give us some examples? This sounds like it would be an interesting family discussion 🙂

  149. BillT

    Isn’t the inerrancy issue the same as the miracles issue? Miracles are only a problem if God doesn’t exist. If he does, then given He is capable of creating the entire universe ex nihilo, turning water into wine just isn’t that big a deal. Same with the Biblical inerrancy. If God can do the above, then why would getting a book written that contains what He wants it to contain any issue at all.

  150. Andrew W

    JB,

    After some time to think, let me restate where I am coming from in a way that might be clearer.

    Here’s two passages of Scripture as an example. For brevity, I’m just quoting key phrases.

    John 14:1-11 (NIV):
    – “I am going to prepare a place for you” (John 14:2)
    – “I am the way, the truth and the life. No-one comes to the Father but through me” (John 14:6)
    – “Believe me when I say that I am in the Father and the Father is in me; or at least believe on the evidence of the miracles themselves.” (John 14:11)

    Acts 17:31 (NIV):
    – “For he has set a day when he will judge the world with justice by the man he has appointed. He has given proof of this to all men by raising him from the dead.”

    In both cases the speaker takes evidence observable to the audience (Jesus himself and his miracles, Jesus’ resurrection) and uses this to ground a statement about events that are not. That which is testable should lead the hearer to trust the speaker about that is not.

    From this, I observe:

    (1) The bounds of understanding are formed by what is revealed, not the abilities of the observer. This is not claiming that no knowledge is discoverable, just that there is an important class of knowledge where the role of the observer is to decide whether to trust the source, because they have only very limited ability to evaluate the information itself.

    (2) If the source is trustworthy, revelation trumps observation. If you have reliable information that “this is the way things are”, you do not need to conduct an exhaustive investigation of that which is not, and expending significant effort to do so indicates a lack of trust.

    (Caveat: investigation – to the extent that you can – makes a lot of sense if you are not convinced if the source is trustworthy. But given convincing evidence of trustworthiness, continuing to search is denial, not honest seeking.)

  151. Melissa

    Bill T.,

    He is capable of creating the entire universe ex nihilo, turning water into wine just isn’t that big a deal. Same with the Biblical inerrancy. If God can do the above, then why would getting a book written that contains what He wants it to contain any issue at all.

    I think the issue is that the claim that the bible must be inerrant is a claim about what we think we need the word of God to be and that view is shaped by highly specific cultural influences of what kinds of texts can be considered truthful.

  152. JB Chappell

    @G. Rodrigues:

    You will have to explain to me what “practical utility” means, but the doctrine of the convertibility of transcendentals implies that God is Good insofar as He is, and given that He is Being Itself, He is perfectly and preeminently Good.

    What I mean is that if we equate “Being” with “Good”, we may as well not call Him “Good” at all, and merely say He “IS” (which, by the way, is pretty much how He described Himself to Moses). The additional term “Good” is not helpful, because it means the same thing. I’m not saying that the Thomistic logic is irrational here. I’m simply saying that it isn’t a helpful indicator for an objective “Good” accessible to us. You don’t get “monogamy = good” from “God IS”. So, while I can grant Aquinas’ account here is being logical in a “legimitate” and/or “objective” way, it simply isn’t helpful. At least not as much as many might think.

    In fact, one might as well consider it a tautology. Saying “God is Good” would merely be a re-statement, adding no value. When Christians worship God and say “He is Good”, they obviously continue on past “is” for a reason: they consider “Good” to mean something other than “is”. And when we say that mankind is “not good”, we obviously don’t mean to say that we don’t exist.

    There are also other ways of construing Good, but in classical theism they always end up, one way or another, more or less indirectly, of relying on the convertibility of Good with Being. From this, a lot of things can be deduced about what God is (or more properly speaking, about what He is not). If this counts as “practical utility” there you have your answer.

    There are difficulties with this, but I’m not sure I really want to add yet another sidetrack to the discussion. I do acknowledge, however, that with Aquinas’ view, there are things that can be deduced about God. There is value in that, to be sure, but I was more referring to justifying the conceptual leap from what Christians would ordinarily consider “good” as opposed to what “Good” might actually be.

    I am convinced by these answers. You seem not to be, so state your case and we will hopefully clarify the matter. If I ever implied anything else beyond this, my apologies for the misunderstanding.

    Simply put, I have a lot of respect for Augustine, Anselm, Aquinas, etc. But I’m not thoroughly familiar with them, either, and I remain unsettled/unconvinced by aspects of all of them. For instance, I am not convinced that Aquinas’ view does not merely “reduce” (not the best term) God to a mere property, as opposed to a person. Plantinga also holds this concern. Now, admittedly, this really should be a secondary concern to whether or not it is TRUE. However, I am not convinced that the framework Aquinas used to build on – Aristotelian logic – is actually true, as opposed to “just” useful, especially at the time. “Useful” still makes it worthy of consideration, however. Also, Aquinas was obviously able to develop such internally consistent models that they have stood the test of time. But internally consistent does not mean consistent with evidence or scripture, and like I hinted at before, I’m not sure one can get a “person” from “substantial being”.

    And as for misunderstanding, it simply seemed to me that you were holding back potentially helpful information for some reason. Whatever your reasons, you are obviously still willing to engage in fruitful dialogue, and for that I thank you.

    Free Will as understood classically is ultimately not about having different courses of action available to choice, but about the choice being ultimately to the agent.

    Free will, on any account, is about there being an actual choice. It may be influenced in some way, but obviously in the end the agent must make it. For there to be a choice, however, there must exist other, actual possibilities. If there aren’t real possibilities, then choice is illusory. Fake choice is not free will in any common understanding of the term.

    The alternative, I suppose, is to say that hypothetical possibilities can be can remain only hypothetical, but still be “real” – through whatever delusion – to the individual. In other words, the choice may have been real to the agent, even if the other possibilities didn’t exist. This would be compatible with Calvinism in that “free will” is maintained, while destiny is not open-ended. Call me crazy, but I don’t see how a scenario where there is no *actual* freedom can legitimately hold to “free” will, and that any scenario involving upholding free will through delusion is profoundly unsatisfying.

    I also don’t understand how you can distinguish between “different courses of action” and “choice”.

    Aquinas account of the Free Will, which is the one I am following, is somewhat intricate, but if you want references I can give them to you.

    I would welcome any references for further reading you offer.

    Your gloss is not correct: see Molinism.

    I will respectfully disagree. I stated what “Molinists would claim”. I know of at least a few well-respected Molinists (William Lane Craig being one) who would say what I described (although maybe not exactly).

    And it is all good and well that you have put best in between quotes, because the Leibnizian concept of the best of all possible worlds is in my view incoherent.

    Yes, there was a reason why I did that. I don’t claim that Molinist or Leibnizian concepts are completely satisfactory either.

    …there is no temporal relationship between God’s foreknowledge and our actions. Time is the measure of change, and God, being impassible, is timeless or outside time.

    God may be eternal, but not everyone agrees that He is “outside” time. I don’t really have an interest to debate along these lines, just wanted to point this out.

    Our actions *are* the efficient cause of God’s knowledge but since there is no temporal relationship between the two, and causal relationships are distinct from temporal ones, it makes no sense to say that God’s foreknowledge determines, which boils down to efficiently causes, our actions.

    This makes exactly the same mistake I was warning against. It may very well be true that God’s foreknowledge does not determine, that it’s merely a reflection what is True. But God’s knowledge does not have to cause the determination in order for an incompatibility to arise. But absolving God’s knowledge of causal determination is the standard, pat response to the standard, under-developed skeptic argument. And no wonder neither convinces the other: they are both misguided.

    A skeptic does not have to say exactly what *causes* the determination. All there needs to be is an incompatibility. And there is an incompatibility, at first blush, in saying “You could have chosen otherwise” and “things could not have been otherwise”. It may be naturalistic causes that determine; it may just be a brute fact. What needs to be asked – and satisfactorily addressed – however, is “could the agent have decided otherwise?” and/or “could things have been otherwise?” While you are obviously convinced that this has been satisfactorily addressed and answered (and with a caveat or two, I may agree with you), I have simply been trying to point out that pat answers are unsatisfactory. And this has become the pat answer of this particular dilemma.

    Again, while I respect and appreciate the fact that you are engaging, answers such as the above or “this has been dealt with 1500 years ago” cannot be expected to convince anyone. Perhaps that wasn’t your intent, and fair enough if that is so. Nevertheless, while it is fair on your part to point out neglect/ignorance of philosophy that has been available for some time, it is also fair on my part to point out that this is less than helpful.

  153. JB Chappell

    @Andrew W
    I appreciate the thoughtful reply. I agree with the vast majority of what you say. Couple of things I would expound upon, and a significant divergence of opinion to follow…

    That which is testable should lead the hearer to trust the speaker about that is not.

    This is true, assuming the speaker is trustworthy of course. The difference between this is and revelation in common practice is, well, testing. Or at least the quality of it. For instance, I would think it perfectly rational for anyone witness Christ’s miracles to believe He is what He claimed to be. But this is substantial testing. It’s difficult to make the same arguments from accounts we have 2000 years later, as opposed to those who witnessed these things directly.

    The bounds of understanding are formed by what is revealed, not the abilities of the observer.

    This is somewhat misleading, because you just prefaced this by stating that credibility needs to be verified. So, the “bounds of understanding” are very much set by both. They are unified and in tension; I see no way around it.

    But given convincing evidence of trustworthiness, continuing to search is denial, not honest seeking.

    Again, the determination that “convincing evidence” exists is made through discovery, and discovery is *always* provisional knowledge. Your statement, to me, is like stating that once a verdict is rendered, to hear an appeal is “not honest seeking”.

    A process of discovery is what determines whether a source is trustworthy or not. Because this kind of knowledge is provisional, the trustworthiness of the source remains provisional. The bounds of understanding are determined, at least in part, by this provisional knowledge, as it informs as to the extent and scope of the source’s trustworthiness.

    Thus, even when a determination is made that a source is “divinely inspired”, one must always keep in mind the rationale for such a decision. With this in mind, make sure rationale stays justified, as whatever process it arrived through was provisional. To not do so, I would claim, is to close one’s mind and become dogmatic: which, to me, is “not honest seeking.” Dogma, in fact, is the opposite of seeking.

  154. JB Chappell

    @BillT

    If God can do the above, then why would getting a book written that contains what He wants it to contain any issue at all.

    I am not one to put God in a box. The issue is not whether God CAN do it, but whether there are adequate reasons to believe that He did.

  155. BillT

    Melissa,

    It’s hard for me to understand how we could not need the Word of God to be inerrant and thus trustworthy. If we can doubt any of it we can doubt all of it can’t we? And perhaps you could be more specific when you speak of “specific cultural influences” that would influnce the truthfulness of the text.

    JB,

    Christianity is a revealed religion and the Bible is the absolute centerpiece of that revelation. That by itself would seem adequate reason to think He would want to create a text that would be completely trustwothy.

  156. JB Chappell

    @BillT

    Christianity is a revealed religion and the Bible is the absolute centerpiece of that revelation.

    Let’s not pretend that the Canon was handed to us by the divine, as the tablets were on Mt. Sinai. Christ may have been revealed to “us”, but this was done 2000 years ago. There is a discovery process necessarily involved in finding something like this out (unless you happen to have an experience Like Paul, I guess). See my conversation with Andrew W in this thread for the consequences of this.

    That by itself would seem adequate reason to think He would want to create a text that would be completely trustwothy.

    But we already have good reasons for thinking that the text(s) we have, at least, are not *completely* trustworthy – unless, of course, you are pre-supposing inerrancy as default. You may believe that scripture is relatively trustworthy, or trustworthy enough to inspire faith, but men are completely capable of achieving both these things without assistance. Furthermore, if one is to state a theoretical prediction such as “If Christianity is a revealed religion and the Bible is the absolute centerpiece of that revelation, then I would expect that God would have ensured its *complete* trustworthiness,” then the fact this prediction doesn’t fit the evidence, either counts as evidence against one of the claims or we need to reformulate the proposition. That would mean that we must either consider Christianity not a revealed religion, the Bible not the centerpiece, that we should not expect God to want a completely trustworthy document; or that we should consider the possibility (probability?) that just because God may want something doesn’t mean it happens.

  157. BillT

    “But we already have good reasons for thinking that the text(s) we have, at least, are not *completely* trustworthy…”

    “….then I would expect that God would have ensured its *complete* trustworthiness,” then the fact this prediction doesn’t fit the evidence, either counts as evidence against one of the claims or we need to reformulate the proposition.”

    Twice in one paragraph you made vague generalizations about the lack of trustworthyness of the Bible. Care to be a bit more specific?

  158. Victoria

    @JB
    BillT is right – rather than discuss this in the abstract, let us look at some specific cases.

  159. G. Rodrigues

    @Andrew W:

    I’d express that as “state your case historically”. Philosophy can form and guide the discussion, but the crux of Christianity (pardon the pun) is the historical person of Christ.

    I have no doubt that the “the crux of Christianity (pardon the pun) is the historical person of Christ”. But just to make sure we are on the same page, suppose that we had no *independent* reasons to believe that God exists, then wouldn’t you agree that the case for the resurrection of Christ would be severely undermined? This is one role (but by no means the only one) that Philosophy plays in apologetics; it provides the intellectual background for the historical case of the resurrection.

    More generally, philosophizing is inevitable and philosophizing we must; the only choice is between doing it badly or not.

  160. G. Rodrigues

    @Melissa:

    One of the things I have learnt is that good theological thinking requires that we move on from expecting that there are one dimensional answers to complex questions. Reality is complex and those one-dimensional answers, while being true, only give part of the truth. Sometimes the answer is not this or that but this and that. The challenge then is to holding a synthesis of the two statements in tension rather than letting one dominate.

    Exactly.

    This actually applies to any kind of serious reading; theology then adds its own special set of challenges. Irony, a modal concept at the heart of the aesthetic enterprise of literature, is in its broadest sense, saying one thing while meaning another. An instructive exercise is comparing literature with that other inexhaustible source of language and communication, called programming. Programming languages are mathematical formalizations, and like all of mathematics, it relies on univocal meanings. Irony in programming is called a bug.

    Reading is a learned discipline, in a sense similar to following a mathematical proof or running the marathon, but in another sense dissimilar, because you can no more teach someone what irony is than teach someone what loneliness is. As you say it quite aptly, to read well means being able to entertain conflicting, even contradictory ideas, at the same time, play them against each other and then find a synthesis. The loss of irony is the death of reading as can be seen from the destructive effects that shallow ideologues, profoundly anti-literary and anti-intellectual, have had on literary criticism on an Academia that gobbles up the latest foolish fads in the name of some mythical social justice program, whether it is feminism, multiculturalism, gender studies, or whatever idiotic isms our post-modern age has spawned.

    Apologies for the rant.

  161. G. Rodrigues

    @JB Chappell:

    Before responding a couple of points.

    1. In one of your previous posts, you mentioned open theism. Am I wrong to surmise that that is the approach you favor?

    2. I also should say that if at times I am stingy with providing proper arguments, whether consciously or unconsciously, is due to two different reasons. The first, and the more obvious one, is that some of these issues are genuinely difficult and no amount of combox posting can do them justice. The second is more of a personal choice; this Blog is aimed at a “Mere Christianity” level, and while I make no secret that I favor classical theism as crystallized in the works of Aquinas and his subsequent commentators, I have always been very studious of avoiding the internecine squabbles within Christianity.

    Now, on to your comments. If you want to respond to them, please read my last note at the end of the second post before doing so.

    What I mean is that if we equate “Being” with “Good”, we may as well not call Him “Good” at all, and merely say He “IS” (which, by the way, is pretty much how He described Himself to Moses). The additional term “Good” is not helpful, because it means the same thing.

    Your parenthetic remark is spot on correct, but the rest is not correct. The doctrine of the convertibility of transcendentals does not say that Good is *equal* to Being, it says that they are interconvertible. But this is neither a tautology nor unhelpful, but arises from an analysis of what we mean by Good, and said analysis concludes that when we predicate Good of something, we are always, more or less indirectly, pointing out ways in which such a thing is successful in being, where successful is wrt its essence.

    I’m simply saying that it isn’t a helpful indicator for an objective “Good” accessible to us. You don’t get “monogamy = good” from “God IS”.

    Of course you don’t get that. But, and excuse my flippancy, if you knew the classical metaphysical underpinnings for the structure and content of the Good you would not make such a mistake. When we say that God is Good we are predicating goodness of God in an ontological and metaphysical, objective sense. When we say “monogamy is good”, we are saying that monogamy, *given* what human nature is, is Good *for* human beings. Of course, since God created human nature, it can be rightly said that God is the source of morality, and in fact of all Goodness, since whatever is Good, it is Good insofar as it is, and God being the source and fountain of all existence, He is the source and fountain of all Goodness. The entailment is not “God is” then “monogamy is good” and nobody, certainly not me, ever suggested that.

    When Christians worship God and say “He is Good”, they obviously continue on past “is” for a reason: they consider “Good” to mean something other than “is”. And when we say that mankind is “not good”, we obviously don’t mean to say that we don’t exist.

    And what do we mean by mankind is not Good? Maybe you have in mind sin, either in the aspect of a moral failure, or in its effects such as disease, corruption, death, etc. But once again, a detailed analysis of what this means is that mankind is not good only insofar as it fails to be in some way given what human nature is, in other words, evil, suffering and a host of other cognate words, denotes a lack in being, a privation, a failure to instantiate some perfection or to actualize some potency.

    And what do *you* mean by God is Good? If you mean by Goodness moral Goodness as commonly understood with respect to human beings, then I would say that it makes no sense to predicate moral Goodness of God, because God is not *a* being, another item in the universe, but the very source of there being a universe at all, not a member of a moral community to which our moral standards apply, but He who enables the very conditions for moral standards to exist in the first place.

    I am not convinced that Aquinas’ view does not merely “reduce” (not the best term) God to a mere property, as opposed to a person. Plantinga also holds this concern.

    “Mere property”? Property of what? Definitely wrong. “Person”? Yes and no. Certainly God is not *less* than a person given that He has Will and Intellect (once again, analogously conceived), but on the other hand He is not *a* being, but Being Itself, that in which essence and existence are indistinct. Probably more correct, would be to say that God “embodies” personhood itself.

    However, I am not convinced that the framework Aquinas used to build on – Aristotelian logic – is actually true, as opposed to “just” useful, especially at the time.

    Surely you mean Aristotelian metaphysics not logic. Still, Aquinas synthesis is more complex, as while he starts out from Aristotle, he differs from him in significant points (some of them dictated by his Christian allegiance), he platonizes him with the help of Augustine, Pseudo-Dyonisus, etc., combats the Aristotelian Arab commentators such as Averroes, etc.

    But internally consistent does not mean consistent with evidence or scripture, and like I hinted at before, I’m not sure one can get a “person” from “substantial being”.

    Right. But what evidence do you have in mind? And Scripture cuts both ways. It is a veritable minefield, as we would get into pretty delicate issues about authority in interpretation, levels of interpretation, etc.

  162. G. Rodrigues

    @JB Chappell (continued):

    Free will, on any account, is about there being an actual choice. It may be influenced in some way, but obviously in the end the agent must make it. For there to be a choice, however, there must exist other, actual possibilities. If there aren’t real possibilities, then choice is illusory. Fake choice is not free will in any common understanding of the term.

    Sorry, but this is incorrect and I even gave the example of the Saints in Heaven who cannot sin, but nevertheless have Free Will. The problem you are having probably lies in what you mean by “real possibility” and, once again, this hinges on how we explain philosophically Free Will. Free Will is a power of the soul, standing in a relationship of final cause with the intellect (*not* efficient cause because then the Will would not be free), another power of the soul, that is prior in a certain sense I will not qualify, to the Will. To revert to my example of the Saints in Heaven, and to quote from some notes I gathered somewhere in the internet (sorry to the author for no attribution), “They are free because there is no efficient causation acting on them, but they are unable to do otherwise because the Christ’s goodness is directly perceived by the intellect and so it is impossible to consider Christ as otherwise than good, and therefore the will is compelled by Christ as by a final cause”. For Aquinas account of Free Will you may want to see — responding to your request below — Eleonore Stump’s “Aquinas” or Robert Pasnau’s “Thomas Aquinas on Human Nature”. Warning: none is easy going. You can also go to the source, for example Summa Theologica I, Q83 (this is available online, just google).

    I will respectfully disagree. I stated what “Molinists would claim”. I know of at least a few well-respected Molinists (William Lane Craig being one) who would say what I described (although maybe not exactly).

    The last parenthetic remark is why I said “not correct” instead of “wrong”. I am not conversant with how W. L. Craig articulates Molinism but for the record, my complaint on your gloss, besides the “‘best’ of all worlds”, is on the phrase “They are then placed in a scenario where they will positively respond”. God does not “place” people in “scenarios”; rather the Molinist response is that His Grace is doled out *efficaciously* because God has knowledge of counterfactuals.

    God may be eternal, but not everyone agrees that He is “outside” time. I don’t really have an interest to debate along these lines, just wanted to point this out.

    Agreed. But just to reiterate, I am defending here classical theism, not every and any brand of Christianity.

    This makes exactly the same mistake I was warning against. It may very well be true that God’s foreknowledge does not determine, that it’s merely a reflection what is True. But God’s knowledge does not have to cause the determination in order for an incompatibility to arise. But absolving God’s knowledge of causal determination is the standard, pat response to the standard, under-developed skeptic argument. And no wonder neither convinces the other: they are both misguided.

    There are two mistakes here in my view. First, it is definitely *NOT* a pat response, rather, it is a *rigorous* argument. Because the skeptic’s alleged incompatibility *is* founded on the mistaken idea that there is some temporal relationship between God’s foreknowledge and Free Will. The agent, on having two real, actual choices A and B, could have chosen either A or B. If he has chosen A, then God knows “from all eternity” that he has indeed chosen A *because* the agent has in fact chosen A. If he would have chosen B the same thing. But God knowing that the agent has chosen what he has chosen, does *not* determine that the Agent has indeed chosen what he has chosen, because if we unpack what this claim means, it really *is* just a confusion between a non-existent temporal relationship and a, likewise non-existent, causal relationship between God’s foreknowledge and an agent’s action. Second, I am not trying to “absolve” God, if by absolving you mean morally exonerating Him, because as I said above, I think that conceiving of God as a moral agent is just nonsense.

    I have responded to the best of my ability in two long, and probably long winded, posts to your good and genuinely difficult questions — a good change of pace, given the recent spate of ignorant and irrational skeptic commentators. But in all honesty, these issues cannot be settled in a combox post, and my explanations are full of holes that to be plugged need a good book or three. If you want references for the traditional, Scholastic-derived classical theism I can give a couple. I will keep responding to your posts to the best of my ability, but I am afraid we will be stuck in an infinite loop, because one answer will spawn ten questions, and you are much better served by going the whole way and just read a book. Or three.

  163. JB Chappell

    @Victoria
    Thanks for the links! I especially enjoyed the take on inerrancy by Daniel Wallace.

    In reply to both you and BillT: No, I am not interested in having a discussion about specific instances in the Bible that we cannot trust. My experience with these sorts of discussions is that for those who believe in inerrancy treat it as a default position, often so vaguely defined that it is unassailable by logic or evidence. I am aware of the mental gymnastics that can be done to harmonize divergent Biblical accounts, questionable authors, interpolated text etc. Harmonization generally has to introduce information (or even speculation) from outside the text, which just highlights the fact that whatever trustworthiness the Bible has is *incomplete*. We trust various accounts in spite of the text, not because of it.

    I am far more interested in discussing why inerrancy is considered to be justified. Inerrancy is a heckuva claim. “Complete Trustorthiness” is a heckuva claim. In fact, saying something is “completely trustworthy” would imply that every claim has been investigated and found trustworthy. I don’t think most Christians understand that “can be harmonized” is not the same thing as “trustworthy”.

  164. BillT

    “No, I am not interested in having a discussion about specific instances in the Bible that we cannot trust.”

    So when we ask about inerrancy you say “But we already have good reasons for thinking that the text(s) we have, at least, are not *completely* trustworthy…” But when we ask about what you find inerrant you give us the above. (Cake, eat it, too.) I guess we should have seen that coming.

    Well then since you want to stand on your generalities. I’ll stand on mine (#159, #165)

  165. Victoria

    @JB
    Do you not trust the leading of the indwelling Spirit of God? Would He lead you to believe and trust something that is not trustworthy and true?

    It is faith in the Author of Scripture that leads us to trust what He led His human authors to write. In the final analysis, it will come down to that. I trust that the problem areas can, in principle, be resolved in a manner that supports the trustworthiness of Scripture, because I have come to know and trust the Living Word, Jesus Christ.
    It is one thing to dig deeper into the issues from a position of faith, quite another to do so from a position of doubt (James 1:5-8, Hebrews 11)

  166. Holopupenko

    JB Chappell:

    Regarding G. Rodrigues’ last set of excellent comments, permit me (in that vein) a provocative but nonetheless true context for Plantinga and Craig (it’s a summary, so please don’t crucify me):

    Both are generally anti-Scholastic (albeit, softly and reservedly so)… and they’re that way in an a priori manner animated, in part, by their theological commitments.

    For example, while producing some narrow quibbles on important Scholastic principles, neither has attempted (let alone published) anything overtly challenging (in a rigorous way) Scholastic principles. We scholastic thinkers are all for a good, hearty debate with strong intestinal/intellectual fortitude… if only there were one.

    Second, they adopt some important and far-reaching errors:
         (1) Craig is overtly Scotian in his adoption of the univocity of being (see page 188 of his textbook “Philosophical Foundations for a Christian Worldview”);
         (2) Craig champions the Kalam cosmological argument–which errs significantly in assuming creation is a temporal issue with a “beginning” [creation has nothing to do with time AND is NOT change] and which misses the per accidens vs. per se distinction between causal chains, and these two in turn animate Craig’s incorrect notion that a per accidens infinite regress causal chain is impossible [it is, quite literally, impossible to argue–in the light of human reason alone–to either an infinite or finite chain of per accidens causality];
         (3) Echoing all the way from Luther and the early Reformers, there has been (to varying degrees) a skepticism of the efficacy of human reason and an externalist–even, at times, occassionalist–vision of God wrt to His creation. At best, say with the good work of Plantinga, there is a kind of minimalist direction (e.g., “warranted belief” more akin to C.S. Lewis than rigorous philosophical reflections upon theological issues). Plantinga is a rigorous and intellectually-strong analytic philosopher… and I’m glad he’s in our trenches, but like most of his colleagues of a similar pedigree, they struggle with fundamentally-important ontological commitments–“natures” being only one example of their somewhat deficient sense of contingent beings.

    So, while I share (albeit perhaps to a lesser extent) G. Rodrigues’ avoidance of internecine quibbles, I take C.S. Lewis at his word: we can demonstrate HOW Plantinga and Craig err on some issues, but then it IS important to understand WHY they err… in the interests of Truth possessing us per this blog’s masthead.

    That’s why I believe Tom’s blog is kind of unique: it’s not just confronting (upon solid intellectual grounds) the vain scientific and philosophical errors spewed by secularists and atheists against faith; it is on a solid trajectory of faith AND Reason. Tom and I may disagree on a few philosophical and theological issues, but this blog is a HUGE service that yields many unseen fruits.

    So, JB Chappell, with the best of intentions on my part, it would do you well to consider quite seriously the points G. Rodrigues raises in responses to you.

  167. JB Chappell

    @BillT

    The difference between my generalities and yours is that mine actually serve to support my claim that inerrancy is needs to be justified, whereas yours do nothing to support this claim. Claiming that God can do miracles does not mean that He has in this particular instance. Claiming that God might be motivated to accomplish something does not indicate that He, in fact, did.

  168. Justin

    @ Holo & G.Rodrigues,

    Can you guys recommend a few books to each of your viewpoints? I’ve read several of Craig’s books, so I have some of that perspective, but would like to go a bit deeper. Enjoy reading both of your posts, thanks for taking the time.

  169. BillT

    JB,

    I’m glad you’re so pleased with yourself. However, unless inerrancy actually exists your generalities are completely worthless. You’ve not shown that it does.

  170. JB Chappell

    @Victoria

    Do you not trust the leading of the indwelling Spirit of God?

    If you’re speaking of me personally, if I was convinced that the Holy Spirit was telling me something (including the Bible being inerrant), then of course I would be obligated to trust it.

    If you’re speaking generally, I do not put a lot of stock in claims of being led by the Spirit, and I would not expect others to lend much credence in any claim I were to make along these lines. It is a subjective experience. The exception to this being if specific information were provided that wouldn’t be possible otherwise.

    I see too many people doing ridiculous things in the name of the Spirit. The state of affairs is such that when someone claims this, we feel obligated to check the scripture to make sure it is, in fact, of the Spirit. Because scripture is inerrant. We know this because the Bible says so… and (maybe) because the Spirit tells us. I hope you can see the problem.

    Would He lead you to believe and trust something that is not trustworthy and true?

    One would hope not. But God has been known to send spirits of deception, hasn’t he? In any case, He hasn’t – so far as I can tell – led *me* to believe the the entirety of the Bible is trustworthy, so…

    It is faith in the Author of Scripture that leads us to trust what He led His human authors to write.

    Faith in God does not dictate that people *actually* write infallible things – even under the direction of the Spirit. We don’t operate this way now: we don’t take Martin Luther, John Calvin, C.S. Lewis, etc. to be inerrant (OK, well maybe SOME do), even if we accept that they were divinely inspired. For some reason, however, we want to believe that things happened differently 2000 years ago. Why?

    I trust that the problem areas can, in principle, be resolved in a manner that supports the trustworthiness of Scripture, because I have come to know and trust the Living Word, Jesus Christ.

    One has nothing to do with the other. It is begging the very question to assume otherwise.

    It is one thing to dig deeper into the issues from a position of faith, quite another to do so from a position of doubt (James 1:5-8, Hebrews 11)

    Doubt is not the opposite of faith. Hypocrisy is. There is no virtue in “just believing.”

  171. JB Chappell

    @BillT

    However, unless inerrancy actually exists your generalities are completely worthless.

    So, like I stated, inerrancy is apparently a pre-supposition for you, not a justified claim. Nevertheless, the above is another claim in need of justification. Curious why I need to pre-suppose Biblical inerrancy in order for my claim that it needs justification to have meaning.

  172. BillT

    JB,

    So, my belief in inerrancy is a pre-supposition but your belief somehow isn’t a pre-supposition. Right. This is a fact based subject and you refuse to discuss the facts. As far as your “I am far more interested in discussing why inerrancy is considered to be justified.” That’s been answered. Other common themes are based on the fact that Christ certainly believed the Bible to be the Word of God (and thus inerrant). Hard to understand how you can accept Him as God incarnate without accepting as true what he believed.

    “We don’t operate this way now: we don’t take Martin Luther, John Calvin, C.S. Lewis, etc. to be inerrant (OK, well maybe SOME do), even if we accept that they were divinely inspired. For some reason, however, we want to believe that things happened differently 2000 years ago. Why?”

    This is a false dichotomy. Theologians like Luther aren’t apostles. There writings aren’t apostolic or part of the cannon.

  173. Holopupenko

    JB:

    Stop with the flippant “apparently a pre-supposition” non sequitur. There is knowledge accessible through the light of human reason alone (e.g., the existence of God) and there is revealed knowledge that is authoritative and accessible through faith.

    It’s clear you’re not interested in engaging with BillT and others on the merits of their positions, but would rather impose what you think they’re saying and then attack it (hint: that’s a straw man).

    You have a very narrow and self-serving understanding of “justification” that is only useful to stop discussion… which works well for you, doesn’t it? It almost seems like you’re bringing your crime scene investigation skills into a realm where–hint–it doesn’t work and doesn’t apply, and then when it doesn’t you implicitly claim “victory.”

  174. BillT

    JB,

     “If there are errors in Scripture, what does that say 
    to us about the nature of God we worship, 
    particularly when God claims in Scripture to 
    never tell a lie? Hebrews 6:18 “it is impossible for God to lie.” Psalm 12:6: “Words of the 
    Lord are pure…refined seven times.” Seven being the number of perfection. This question
    of inerrancy implicates the character of God. Does he lie or tell the truth? 
    And it gets right 
    down to what we think about Jesus, since Jesus himself said: “Your word is truth” (Jn 17:17) 
    and referring to God’s word said “not one iota or dot will pass away” (Matt 5:17‐18). Then, 
    there’s the claim that “All Scripture is God‐breathed (or inspired)…” (1 Tim 3:16). So, in the 
    Bible itself, God claims to be telling the truth and not lying.”

    http://austincitylife.org/sites/default/files/Is%20the%20Bible%20Inerrant__sermon.pdf

  175. JB Chappell

    @G. Rodrigues

    Sorry, but this is incorrect and I even gave the example of the Saints in Heaven who cannot sin, but nevertheless have Free Will.

    This is begging the question, is it not?

    The problem you are having probably lies in what you mean by “real possibility” and, once again, this hinges on how we explain philosophically Free Will.

    I don’t disagree that we are explaining free will differently. What I’m wondering is if the “problem” is that our explanation differ, rather than the problem being that I’m wrong.

    Free Will is a power of the soul, standing in a relationship of final cause with the intellect (*not* efficient cause because then the Will would not be free)…

    And this is so because…?

    “They are free because there is no efficient causation acting on them, but they are unable to do otherwise because the Christ’s goodness is directly perceived by the intellect and so it is impossible to consider Christ as otherwise than good, and therefore the will is compelled by Christ as by a final cause”.

    So, if I understand this correctly, there is a cause acting on the will that prevents them from doing otherwise, but yet we want to maintain “free will”. This is so because we have (arbitrarily?) defined it to only exclude efficient (and I assume material) causes, not formal causes. I assume it is not as arbitrary as this, but I think you can see why I wouldn’t necessarily be persuaded that causes directing the will is not contradictory to “free” will. I do appreciate the fact that comboxes are not necessarily conducive to such discussions.

    …the skeptic’s alleged incompatibility *is* founded on the mistaken idea that there is some temporal relationship between God’s foreknowledge and Free Will.

    Again, I’ll respectfully disagree. Most skeptics I interact with would not articulate it in these terms, and are perfectly willing to grant God being “outside” time – even if they will declare it to be nonsensical. It seems to me that the “problem” may simply be that people conceive of “free will” differently, and therefore talk past each other. And I didn’t mean to imply that you (or anyone) were trying to “absolve” in a moral sense – bad choice of words on my part.

    …you are much better served by going the whole way and just read a book. Or three.

    Understood. 😉 I do appreciate the time you’ve spent with this discussion. I have learned a few things, and for that I am grateful.

  176. Holopupenko

    BillT:

    A friendly note of caution: the references you provide, while certainly acceptable to believers, have no merit with those who don’t. Worse, the way it’s presented, the references are… well… self-referencing. The authority of Scripture does not rest upon any self-referencing excerpts you may provide. In fact, if you consider I Tim 3:15, St. Paul pretty explicitly asserts something else is “the pillar and foundation of truth.”

  177. BillT

    Holo,

    JB indicated he believed in Christ. Otherwise, I would have gone in a different direction. Both #182 & #184 address JB as a believer.

  178. Holopupenko

    Hmmmm… my bad. Blast it: almost always ahead of my headlights…

    … but the responses were kinda weird, though.

    I’ll drop it.

  179. JB Chappell

    @Holopupenko

    I am no philosopher (although a layman, I do enjoy it), so I will simply defer to most of your comments, as I am not familiar with what, specifically, Craig or Plantinga have/have not published re: Scholasticism. I will respond to this, however:

    Craig champions the Kalam cosmological argument–which errs significantly in assuming creation is a temporal issue with a “beginning” [creation has nothing to do with time AND is NOT change]…

    I don’t think it is fair to say that he merely “assumes” this. He argues for this on philosophical grounds and supports it with empirical evidence. The empirical evidence may not interest you, but I’m sure you can appreciate that Craig regularly engages those who are primarily (and exclusively) concerned with it. And even if you disagree with Craig on the philosophical ground s(as no doubt some do), that does not reduce his premise to a mere assumption.

    …and which misses the per accidens vs. per se distinction between causal chains, and these two in turn animate Craig’s incorrect notion that a per accidens infinite regress causal chain is impossible [it is, quite literally, impossible to argue–in the light of human reason alone–to either an infinite or finite chain of per accidens causality]

    I’m obviously misunderstanding you here, because it sounds to me like you’re essentially saying the same thing Craig is. He’s saying it (infinite regress) is impossible. You’re saying it is “impossible to argue”. I’m missing something, but I’m not sure what it is…

    So, JB Chappell, with the best of intentions on my part, it would do you well to consider quite seriously the points G. Rodrigues raises in responses to you.

    I hope it’s clear that I am considering them, as I have tried to understand the points he raises.

    Stop with the flippant “apparently a pre-supposition” non sequitur.

    Well, it wasn’t intended to be flippant, and I don’t see how it is a non sequitur. I am claiming that a doctrine of inerrancy should be justified, not pre-supposed. I wasn’t sure exactly what he was claiming along these lines, although it seemed clear enough that he holds to inerrancy. So, establishing that he was pre-supposing it was, at least to me, interesting.

    There is knowledge accessible through the light of human reason alone (e.g., the existence of God)…

    Agreed.

    … and there is revealed knowledge that is authoritative and accessible through faith.

    I grant this with the caveat that the source is critical. One has to know, or at least have very good reasons, for trusting the source of revelation. Furthermore, while it may be “authoritative”, this is not necessarily absolute.

    It’s clear you’re not interested in engaging with BillT and others on the merits of their positions…

    I’m not sure why this would be clear. Apparently it is controversial that I don’t want to delve into disputed passages? I was merely trying to avoid wasting everyone’s time, but I guess if everyone else feels that it is not… then so be it. Nevertheless, it seems to me I was very transparent in trying to ascertain exactly what the justification (“merits”) for their position was. Note BillT took a pass on this, not I.

    …but would rather impose what you think they’re saying and then attack it (hint: that’s a straw man).

    Please tell me where I’ve constructed a straw man, and I will gladly retract it. I have no interest in caricaturing others’ arguments. If I have done so, it was unintentional. I am sincerely interested in learning, but, yes, I do push back if I feel an explanation is lacking.

    You have a very narrow and self-serving understanding of “justification” that is only useful to stop discussion…

    Please explain why my view is so different than everyone else’s. This is not clear at all to me.

    … which works well for you, doesn’t it?

    I don’t know. Perhaps not, since I seem to be one of the few Christians unconvinced of inerrancy. You seem to think I have an agenda. I assure you, my only agenda is inquiry.

    It almost seems like you’re bringing your crime scene investigation skills into a realm where–hint–it doesn’t work and doesn’t apply, and then when it doesn’t you implicitly claim “victory.”

    CSI is obviously concerned about what happened in the past. So, it’s obviously not entirely irrelevant to Christian claims. But while I may deal with physical (and testimonial) evidence on a daily basis, I certainly do not deny reason its place. I am not advocating empiricism or scientism. I am advocating justification for beliefs, with which I would think any reasonable person would agree.

  180. JB Chappell

    @BillT

    If there are errors in Scripture, what does that say to us about the nature of God we worship

    It tells us nothing about God if God wasn’t responsible for it. This is kind of what is at issue, yes?

    …particularly when God claims in Scripture to never tell a lie?

    I am sure you are quite aware of the passages that indicate God has no problem deceiving people, even if He is not telling the lie directly?

    Hebrews 6:18 “it is impossible for God to lie.” Psalm 12:6: “Words of the Lord are pure…refined seven times.”

    The Hebrews passage is irrelevant; it seems to me address God speaking directly. God does not have to lie for scripture to be wrong.

    Psalms is more relevant, as I would assume that the Psalmist here is referring to the Torah, although this may not be the case. But granting that, this establishes that a Psalmist considered the Torah to be perfect. Fair enough. It does not, however, establish that God actually inspired the Torah, much less the Psalmist.

    This question of inerrancy implicates the character of God. Does he lie or tell the truth?

    Well, He has no problem sending spirits of deception. Regardless, you’re again starting with the position that God is responsible for these written statements. I am asking how you get there.

    And it gets right down to what we think about Jesus, since Jesus himself said: “Your word is truth” (Jn 17:17)…

    This would be a compelling case for OT inerrancy (although His OT canon may have been different than ours), were Jesus referring to scripture or canon here, but I think it is clear He is not. Back up a few verses and I think it is clear that Jesus is referencing the message given to Him.

    … and referring to God’s word said “not one iota or dot will pass away” (Matt 5:17‐18).

    Longevity is not the same thing as inerrancy. Certainly it highlights that He holds the Torah in high esteem, though, although not so much that He had reservations with radically re-interpreting it (or just just blatantly circumventing it?). A bold claim by Jesus, too. If you think about it, it wouldn’t have been obvious at all at that time that the Torah would have been so well-established “until all was accomplished”. But 2000 years later, it’s not going anywhere. It’s would almost be a testable claim, were “until all was accomplished” so unclear.

    Then, there’s the claim that “All Scripture is God‐breathed (or inspired)…” (2 Tim 3:16).

    There’s a lot that could be said regarding this passage. I will try to not sidetrack too much and simply say that “God-breathed” or “inspired” does not equate to “without error”. That much is clear to me with the rest of the passage when it says it is “useful”. This strikes me as a fairly modest claim. Certainly not as bold as it could have been it his point was that all of it was without error – and that certainly doesn’t seem to be his point.

    So, in the Bible itself, God claims to be telling the truth and not lying.”

    Again, this is begging the question. You’ve smuggled “God” as the author without justification. The author of 2 Timothy claims to be Paul, not God. Even considering these other works, the authors do not claim to be inspired by God in writing their work, nor that their works should be elevated to that status of “scripture”. These are properties assigned to the text after the fact. And properties that we would never assign to a text now.

  181. JB Chappell

    This comment is for those who seem to think I need to discuss disputed Bible passages in order to meaningfully discuss the justification of inerrancy doctrine.

    BillT has been particularly insistent on the *importance* of the doctrine. It needs to be emphasized that just because something is considered to be important doesn’t make it true. Furthermore, there are (informal) logical fallacies that mirror this train of thought called slippery slope fallacies or the fallacy of grave consequences. So, while it is certainly fair to point out particularly unpleasant or undesired consequences of an idea, let’s not pretend that they make them *untrue*. Furthermore, using this line of reasoning, if considered fair for some reason, can just as easily be used to turn the tables on the inerrantist, as I will (attempt to) demonstrate below.

    I am sure most of you are familiar with the disputed ending of Mark. Today, it is nearly unanimous – even among Evangelical scholars – that the “longer” ending of Mark was not in the original work. By the way, according to the Chicago statement on Biblical inerrancy, which seems to be fairly definitive, it is the *original* works which are considered to be inspired/inerrant. This is generally considered (among Evangelicals) to not be a problem, since the works have been faithfully copied. I noted with interest that in the document BillT cited (#184), it mentioned 99% accuracy. I hope it is fairly obvious that something that is 99% accurate is not inerrant.

    Much like the pericope of the adulteress in John 7:53-8:11, despite the fact that the vast majority of even Evangelical scholars agree the story was not in the original work (and so cannot be considered “inerrant” – at least according to the Chicago statement), it appears in our Bibles as if it belongs. Only a footnote that dutiful readers check will indicate that early manuscripts do not contain the relevant text. Most, if not all, inerrantists I am familiar with will offer the following as an apologetic for these facts:

    1. The stories could still be true. After all, much of the longer ending in Mark is consistent with other works, and the story in John is, well, heart-warming in a way that is consistent with how many conceptualize Christ.
    2. Including these texts means that we have 110% of “scripture”. Not including them might mean that we have less.

    Let me address #2 first. It strikes me as obvious, but the first thing that needs to be pointed out is that saying you have 110% of something is incoherent. This is simply a gloss over essentially stating that there are good reasons to exclude some material. I would contend that if there are good reasons to exclude some material presently included as “scripture”, then that casts at least a little doubt on the doctrine of inerrancy as a whole.

    Furthermore, as stated before, generally it is accepted that only the original works were inspired and/or inerrant. If we accept, as most scholars do, that these works were not part of the original text, then there are good reasons for doubting their inerrancy. Eliminating the interpolated text does not solve the problem, because you’d have to consider, one would think, the texts containing the interpolation to be in error. Therefore, if my understanding is correct, only the earliest, un-interpolated texts should be used to form an “inerrant” text, but this would result in a fragmented gospel(s). The alternative is to use a stockpile of known errant texts to produce what is considered an “inerrant” text. In reality, the latter option is what is done, and I would say that is irrational to claim that source material known to be in error produces a final product that can be considered inerrant.

    Very simply put: since we all acknowledge that we don’t have the original works that would be considered inerrant, then great faith must be placed in the transmission process. But we can conclude in good faith that interpolations, serious ones, have been recorded in the transmission process. Thus, all we have are errant copies that we know are the result of an imperfect process. But we want to claim the final result is inerrant. This is not a plausible conclusion, ESPECIALLY when we still include the interpolated text as “scripture”!

    Finally, let’s examine why this might be important:

    “And these signs will accompany those who believe: in my name they will cast out demons; they will speak in new tongues; they will pick up serpents with their hands; and if they drink any deadly poison, it will not hurt them; they will lay their hands on the sick, and they will recover.” (Mark 16:17-18 ESV)

    Of note here is that Jesus is speaking. So, as BillT reminded me, this goes straight to the heart of how we view Christ. In addition, Jesus does not qualify “those who believe” with “many”, “some” or even “a few in the Appalachians.” Also, when describing these signs, he does not qualify them with any “if’s”.

    I will now direct you this story, which I am sure most of you have heard by now: http://abcnews.go.com/US/serpent-handling-west-virginia-pastor-dies-snake-bite/story?id=16459455#.T8mdVtVfFCp

    The doctrine of inerrancy has no small role to play in this man’s death. Either the longer ending in Mark is original to the text or it isn’t; it strikes me that the inerrantist has a dilemma:

    1. If it isn’t, then not only do we have good reasons to doubt inerrancy, but the family of this pastor may have good grounds to sue the publisher of whatever Bible he read for including the story as “scripture”.
    2. If it is, then we need to wonder why we don’t see these signs more regularly. If the Bible is truly without error, then believers are in very short supply, as I don’t see very many willing to handle snakes or drink poison.

    So, I ask the inerrantists: where did this pastor err? Should he have acknowledged the *error* in including the longer ending of Mark? Or did he fail to interpret the passage correctly? Or, did he do what was right, and he simply wasn’t a true believer – at least, not on this particular day. I know the temptation is to say that they misinterpret the passage. But there is nothing in the context that indicates Jesus is being anything other than straightforward: exorcisms and healing the sick are, or at least were, taken quite literally.

    It should be plain to see now that while denying inerrancy can be grave, so can accepting it.

  182. Melissa

    BillT,

    It’s hard for me to understand how we could not need the Word of God to be inerrant and thus trustworthy. If we can doubt any of it we can doubt all of it can’t we? And perhaps you could be more specific when you speak of “specific cultural influences” that would influnce the truthfulness of the text.

    This is a big topic and as such I will make a couple of comments which I would be happy to clarify or expand on if you wish.

    Firstly inerrancy is often conceived of as in every respect factually correct re historical, scientific details, which I would argue is not necessary to consider it trustworthy or authoritative in the life of the believer and the church. I would say the bible is true in everything it teaches, but not only that, it is one place where we encounter the living God. Believe it or not there are many, many people that take the whole bible very seriously as the Word of God, that allow it to transform them and equip them for God’s mission but don’t agree with inerrancy.

    The cultural influences I was talking about are the idea that there can be objective accounts, the need and expectation of precision that arises in a modern technological society, the form that truth bearing texts should take etc. These do not influence the truth of the biblical text but they do influence our view of what truth bearing text needs to be.

  183. Pingback: Really Recommended Posts 6/2/2012 « J.W. Wartick -"Always Have a Reason"

  184. Tom Gilson

    Just a note–on Thursday and Friday I drove a combined 760 miles, and had 8-10 hours of meetings besides that. That’s why you haven’t seen much of me here. Very interesting days, though!

  185. Melissa

    JB Chappell,

    It tells us nothing about God if God wasn’t responsible for it. This is kind of what is at issue, yes?

    I’m not sure if you are arguing that the bible isn’t God’s Word or not here, but even if you conclude that the bible is indeed a fully human work that does not preclude it also being the Word of God. If you are a Christian you already affirm Jesus as fully man and fully God. So too, the bible can be considered incarnational. Now if you are after evidence that the bible is the Word of God the evidence is in the testimony of the church to it’s transforming and equipping power.

  186. BillT

    “It tells us nothing about God if God wasn’t responsible for it. This is kind of what is at issue, yes?”

    Yes. And I think sums it up for me as much as any statement could given my limited theological and philosophical training (which is quite nonexistent!).

    I simply don’t understand the position you seem to be taking that “God wasn’t responsible for it”. The idea that the NT cannon wasn’t God’s work is quite unfathomable to me. Can I ask you your position on the “Chicago Statement” (perhaps the short statement would do for discussion purposes). Maybe that would clarify your points of departure on this issue.

  187. Victoria

    @JB
    Here’s another link to Daniel Wallace, where he talks about the variants in our extant New Testament manuscripts, and why NT scholars have the confidence they do in the quality of our reconstructed text.

    http://bible.org/article/what-we-have-now-what-they-wrote-then

    A brief excerpt summarizing the scholarly consensus:

    As an illustration of the sort of unfounded myth we’re talking about, Sir Leigh Teabing’s comments in Dan Brown’s Da Vinci Code readily come to mind. He pontificates, “The Bible is a product of man, my dear. Not of God. The Bible did not fall magically from the clouds. Man created it as a historical record of tumultuous times, and it has evolved through countless translations, additions, and revisions. History has never had a definitive version of the book.”1 There is of course a grain of truth in all this. The Bible did not fall magically from the clouds. And the Bible had human authors. But to say that it has evolved through translations, additions, and revisions, with the implication that the original is no longer detectable is just plain silly. We discussed these issues in our first chapter on textual criticism, noting that this kind of myth involves unwarranted assumptions that are easily disproved by the manuscripts themselves. It plays on the experiences of everyone who has passed on information without recourse to the earlier sources (such as in the telephone game). But in the case of the NT, this is not valid: as time goes on, we are getting closer and closer to the wording of the original text because of the vast amounts of manuscripts—many of which are quite early—scholars continue to uncover.

    But what about Teabing’s claim that Jesus’ divinity was not to be found in the NT manuscripts—that Constantine essentially invented this doctrine? We will address that specific issue toward the end of this chapter with concrete evidence that again shows how this kind of language is patently false and misleading.

    What is really at stake when it comes to the text of the NT—when it comes to how accurately the copies were made? We have already noted four kinds of textual problems related to this issue, but it would be helpful to briefly list them again here.

    1. The largest amount of textual variants (well over half) involve spelling differences and nonsense readings that are easily detectable. These affect nothing of meaning in the text.

    2. The next largest group are those that do not affect translation or, if they do, involve synonyms. Variants such as “Christ Jesus” vs. “Jesus Christ” may entail a slightly different emphasis, but nothing of great consequence is involved.

    3. Then there are the meaningful variants that are not viable. That is, they simply have no plausibility of reflecting the wording of the original because the manuscripts in which they are found have a poor pedigree. This issue involves careful historical investigation and requires the scholar to take the transmission of the text seriously. We saw that Robert Price’s attempt to excise Luke 1:34 from the Bible belonged to the category of “meaningful but not viable.” In his case, there was absolutely no manuscript evidence on his side, only wishful thinking.

    4. Finally, the smallest category, comprising about 1% of all textual problems, involves those variants that are both meaningful and viable. Most NT scholars would say that these textual problems constitute much less than 1% of the total. But even assuming the more generous amount (by expanding on the scope of both “meaningful” and “viable”), even then not much theologically is affected.

    The examples you are referring to have to do with the transmission of the original documents down through the years by hand copying. The fact that we have so many manuscripts means that we can detect the variants, right?

    See also http://bible.org/article/interview-daniel-b-wallace-textual-criticism

    Here is a better example for you:
    Mark 2:23-28, where it appears that Jesus refers to Abiathar the high priest (see 1 Samuel 21:1-9) rather than Ahimelech the priest (who we learn later on is Abiathar’s father – 1 Samuel 22:20).
    This happens to be the passage that pushed Bart Erhman over the edge and into the abyss of skepticism and shipwrecking his faith).

  188. Holopupenko

    JB:

    The empirical evidence may not interest you…

    That’s not a justified thing to assert, don’t you think? Especially since you’re engaged in a discussion with a an MIT Ph.D. nuclear engineer and physicist and scholastic philosopher of nature. The latter I don’t blame you for; the former is ridiculous on its face.

    Now, I agree (and it’s abundantly clear) you’re not a philosopher… but to borrow (from memory) an appropriate response from G. Rodrigues: to not philosophize or to not understand philosophy is to be very prone to bad philosophizing.

    Back to Craig: the assumption he makes in Kalam (I’ll admit it’s a bit buried) is that causes are all temporal-based (technical term: they are per accidens causes), i.e., one cause leads to another in temporal succession. He then states (as you point out) that an infinite regress of temporal is impossible. That’s wrong, but it requires the following important, nuanced distinction.

    As strange as bed-fellows on this point they make, both Aquinas and Hume correctly hold it’s impossible to argue (in the light of human reason) to whether the universe had a temporal beginning: you can argue to both but not to only one, which leaves you with the classic Kantian antimony. For example, God (who is 100% actualization, i.e., there’s not a shred of potency in Him, i.e., He does not change, i.e., he’s “outside” the metric of change—time) could “easily” have created a universe at the point of creation [recall: creation is not change because there is no “beginning” point] that was “already” temporally infinitely existing. Why not? Doing so would in no way be a contradiction or somehow limiting His unboundedness. So, any argument that says ‘an infinite regress is impossible because if it were we wouldn’t be here’ (as Craig does, but it’s NOT a direct quote from him) misses the point just made: again, in a limited sense he’s correct; in a rigorous sense he’s sneaking in an a priori condition upon how God can act.

    So, you’re quite incorrect to think I’m saying the same thing Craig says, and you’re correct to think you missed something—which hopefully the last two paragraphs explain… but I fear, nonetheless, you’ve missed the distinction between per se and per accidens causal chains. Not understanding that distinction is a show-stopper (see below). If you had a solid grasp of Aquinas’ Five Ways you’d realize the first premise of the First Way (ex motu) is wholly empirical as in utterly based in the senses: “It is certain, and evident to our sense, that in the world some things are in motion.” (“Motion” as used by Aquinas is not merely local change of position but something more akin to “change.”) BUT—and this is a VERY important BUT—Thomas is talking about per se causal chains—not per accidens causal chains. Kalam fails because it fails to make that distinction.

    And, any person that holds Thomas’ Five Ways are supported by evidence for the Big Bang, or any person that holds evidence for the Big Bang is supported by the Five Ways certainly doesn’t understand the Five Ways, probably doesn’t understand modern cosmology, and quite likely doesn’t understand either.

    Other issue: I take you at your word and at face value that you were not being flippant re: “apparently a presupposition.” Thank you for that clarification. I’ll also back off—but only a little—on the other points by which you defend you intentions. The reason for the “only a little” is that, nonetheless, you operate upon a certain level of philosophical ignorance. I do NOT hold that against you, except to the extent that some of your conclusions are incorrect.

    There’s other things I want to address, but for now this is enough… except for:

    per se and per accidens causal chain distinction

    I will not expound technically on these, but only provide examples that should make the distinction clear.

    per accidens causal chains are temporal: “Abraham begat Isaac; and Isaac begat Jacob; and Jacob begat Judas…” is such a case. If Judas is alive but his grandfather Isaac dies, this does not stop the chain: Judas will, in turn, beget progeny. In other words, Isaac continued existence is accidental to the continuation of this particular causal chain.

    per se causal chains can be both temporal and a-temporal: (1) an example of a temporal per se causal chain is the classic case of a man pounding a nail into wood: if any portion of the chain is removed (intention in the mind, synapses firing in the brain, signals travelling along nerves, particular muscles or bones, the hammer as instrument, the nail as object) the chain stops with no hope of continuing; (2) an example of an a-temporal per se causal chain is the classic example of a stack of books: remove one book—nay, remove one page from any of the books—and the top book’s explanation for it’s existence must be altered. Apart from growing older, the stack of books and the existence of the top book in its alluded-to state is independent of time.

    Looking around the universe you can easily see all sorts of examples of per se and per accidens causal chains. The problem is explaining why things exist at all—a question secularists and atheists either refuse to answer (stupidly and with great intellectual cowardice characterizing such a question to be “nonsensical”) or stumbling over such questions by inventing cute little invisible friends as necessary explanatory beings such as “nothingness” (pinhead Krauss) or “the laws of physics” (pinhead Hawking)—nicely betraying their a priori emotional commitments, ignorance of good philosophy, and a certain lack of solid critical thinking.

  189. Justin

    So Holo (or G)

    Can you elaborate on “creation is not change”, or point me in the direction of some discussion of this? I’ve found Craig’s arguments convincing vs Krauss or Dawkins, but how would that view of creation interact with the creation ex nihilo concept?

    The more I read the more I realize how much I don’t know.

    Thanks!

  190. David

    Islam’s advance throughout the world has been mostly through military conquest.

    @Tom
    To be fair, I wouldn’t necessarily judge the validity/truth of something by its results and/or use. We are human, after all, and humans have some innate…shortcomings. People can take the best of things and twist them for a variety of purposes.

  191. David

    A little while ago I watched a debate in which Dinesh D’Souza (vs John Loftus, if I recall, though I could be mistaken) devoted a portion of it to why he believed in the Christian God (the existence of whom was the specific topic of the debate), as opposed to other religions and their deities. It had to do with a fundamental difference in how Christianity deals with the divide between man and perfection compared to other religions. Christianity is one that stands out as bridging that gap via God’s descension to man (Jesus, salvation, etc), rather than an interminably insufficient struggle of man “upward” through piety, deeds, etc.

    Anyway, I hope atheists who pose such a question are equally as prepared to explain why they reject every religion, particularly since more often than not I find the reasons that ex-Christian (for one) atheists reject *one* religion (Christianity) rather illogical/insubstantial (“I challenged God to show Himself and He didn’t”, “I disagree with some things in the Bible”, etc).

  192. Holopupenko

    Justin:

    I’ll get back to you on the references and other stuff. Briefly, ex nihilo is usually translated as “from nothing.” In fact, the “from” doesn’t work: nothing is nothing so you can’t go from “from” non-existence, i.e., there is no “thing” from which to proceed–there’s no temporal beginning because there no existent in the first place. Nothing means no substance and no accidents inhering in substance: no spatial dimensions, no time, no “laws” of physics, no virtual particles, no quantum foam or membranes–NO THING, i.e., NOTHING. Nothing is an utter privation of being.

    The modern empirical sciences (MESs) are based solely upon understanding changes in real existent things. When things change, one of the metrics of change is time: an apple goes from being green to being red: there’s an initial time and a final time. But, if there’s no THING in the first place, there’s nothing to which to “pin” time. It’s kind of like trying to divide by zero.

    That’s why creation is not a change and hence why it’s not something even remotely susceptible to MES analysis. You may protest: “Wait, first there was nothing, then there was something.” Well, indeed. But the nothing is not the something. Change presupposes something that remain “under” all change, but with creation there is no underlying something that changes into something else or changes in its accidents.

  193. Pingback: Do We Need To Prove All Other Religions False? | Time For Discernment

  194. G. Rodrigues

    @JB Chappell:

    Free Will is a power of the soul, standing in a relationship of final cause with the intellect (*not* efficient cause because then the Will would not be free)

    And this is so because…?

    What are you asking? How do we know that Free Will is a power of the soul such that etc. and etc.? Read the Thomistic account of Free Will. The parenthetic remark? That is the very definition of un-Free. If the Will is efficiently moved by something else then the choice was not freely willed.

    So, if I understand this correctly, there is a cause acting on the will that prevents them from doing otherwise, but yet we want to maintain “free will”. This is so because we have (arbitrarily?) defined it to only exclude efficient (and I assume material) causes, not formal causes.

    No, you are no understanding correctly. It is not a matter of “arbitrarily” ruling out certain types of causes. Rather the Intellect in its act of judgment presents to the Will certain things in some aspect of the good, as desirable, as final causes or goals from which the Will chooses. Note a key point here: Free Will *presupposes* an Intellect because you cannot choose anything if you are unable to judge it as good under some aspect. So in that sense, the Intellect is prior to the Will. Going back to the example of the Saints in Heaven. The reason why they do not sin is because their intellects directly apprehend the Truth that God is The Summum Bonum, much beyond any other possible or imagined goods, so that effectively there is only one possible rational choice for them, to choose God. If they are compelled, they are compelled by a direct judgment of their Intellect, but this is just to say that the choice is ultimately up to the Saints in Heaven, and so it is freely willed, there being nothing extraneous to them efficiently compelling their Will to choose God.

    Most skeptics I interact with would not articulate it in these terms, and are perfectly willing to grant God being “outside” time – even if they will declare it to be nonsensical. It seems to me that the “problem” may simply be that people conceive of “free will” differently, and therefore talk past each other.

    Then maybe you could enlighten me on how such a skeptic *argues* (instead of merely claiming) for the incompatibility of Free Will and God’s Foreknowledge.

  195. G. Rodrigues

    @Justin:

    Holopupenko already answered you, but ask yourself this question: if creation were change what would be the substance that changed? The question almost answers itself: nothing (proof: if God used A to create B then there must have been something he used to create A, etc. The infinite regress is stopped either at God or by the conclusion that creation is not change. But the former suggestion, amounting to creation “out of God’s substance”, is equally nonsensical for all sorts of reasons: divine simplicity — that is, God is not metaphysically composite, He has no metaphysical constituents such as accidents — divine impassibility, etc.). And by nothing I do not mean that nothing changed into something, because that is non-sensical as nothing is literally and absolutely no-thing so it cannot be a subject of change. What I mean is that there is nothing that undergoes change and therefore creation is not change.

    If Holopupenko does not beat me to it, I will give you later some references, but note that my background is in mathematics and to a lesser extent in physics and, unlike him, I have had no formal training in philosophy, so what you will get is the haphazard end result of reading some books that a combination of factors (some advice, chance, what time insomnias can provide, etc.) has sent my way.

  196. Holopupenko

    Justin:

    Notwithstanding G. Rodrigues’ humble self-deprecation, don’t underestimate his knowledge and understanding!

  197. JB Chappell

    @Victoria

    The examples you are referring to have to do with the transmission of the original documents down through the years by hand copying.

    They do, but not exclusively. Take the longer ending of Mark, for example: it claims that signs that shall follow believers will, among others, include:

    1. [ostensibly safe] handling of snakes
    2. safely drinking poison

    Did the *original* document contain this assertion? If YES, we need to address why professing Christians seem to be consistently dying while handling snakes, and why no one seems too eager to drink poison. Now, it should be noted that just because these are signs does not *require* anyone to try these out. Nevertheless, it seems to naturally follow that if these are genuine signs, and you are a genuine believer, then you should be safe. If we accept inerrancy AND this longer ending of Mark, then it would seem we must conclude that these people simply weren’t believers, despite what they professed. Yet I would imagine not many would go there.

    If NO – the longer ending was not original to Mark – then we have an interpolation, and yes, this is addressing transmission.

    The fact that we have so many manuscripts means that we can detect the variants, right?

    That depends on what you mean. We can certainly detect variations from each other. But we cannot detect variations from the original. Because we don’t have the originals.

    All is not lost, of course. Originals can certainly be reconstructed, given certain (reasonable) assumptions. But any historian/textual scholar – including Dan Wallace – will tell you the same thing: this is done with probability in mind, not certainty. We cannot be certain about what the originals contained, but we can make very educated guesses/conclusions. But, as I am sure you are aware, very educated conclusions are not infallible. And, again, I implore you to consider what the odds are of using a process that is known to use at least some speculation, using incomplete sources that are known to contain errors, copied by people known to make mistakes, will somehow produce an INERRANT product. It’s not a reasonable conclusion.

    So, back to Mark, if we accept – as do the vast majority of scholars – that the longer ending is an ERROR, then the Bible as the overwhelming majority of people have it is in error. Because, i am sorry, simply adding a footnote does not mitigate the inclusion of the material that is not though to be genuine.

    And it does no good to say that we can simply remove these interpolations, and the rest is inerrant. Because that basically amounts to saying “Yeah, but what’s not wrong is true!”

    In short, I am perfectly willing to grant that the plethora of source material that scholars have at their disposal increases the amount of reliability with which they can reconstruct the originals. But, IMHO, this simply does not add up to inerrancy. I would be curious as to why you think it does.

  198. Victoria

    @JB
    There is a world of difference between saying that the longer ending of Mark is erroneous and saying that it is not authentic Mark.

    Which parts of the text in the longer ending are actually erroneous?

    Mark 16:9-15 clearly parallels what we have in the other three Gospel accounts, so unless you want to claim that those are erroneous as well…
    Mark 16:16-20 has parallels in Acts (and the ascension at the end of Luke); even the snake reference is paralleled in Acts 28:1-6. Pretty much the only thing we can’t be sure of is the drinking of poison. We had this discussion about the ending of Mark on another thread a while back…if I can find the link, I’ll post it – a pastor and NT scholar referred us to a published paper that argued for the authenticity of the ending, and provided an explanation of the poison reference. When I get a chance, I’ll hunt it down, and let you know 🙂

  199. Tom Gilson

    It’s also worth noting that the snake and poison references do not appear to be normative. In Acts, Paul was bitten accidentally by a snake and survived it. He didn’t handle snakes on purpose.

  200. Victoria

    @Tom
    Yeah, but the speaking in tongues and casting out demons are better attested in Acts

  201. Victoria

    One thing that we have not addressed regarding transmission of the NT documents is the intent of the copyists. I think that one conclusion we can draw from the manuscript evidence at our disposal is that the copyists’ mandate was high-fidelity replication (with perhaps editorial corrections) and not unrestrained invention. They just didn’t make things up out of their own imaginations. The fact that the vast majority of variants are actually trivial or obvious mistakes and only a small number are significant enough to worry about suggests that the copyists were intent on preserving the text.

    The real question is whether or not the Holy Spirit and the human writers co-labored to produce written documents that faithfully represents what God wanted to communicate to us. We can test historical content against what we know from history and archaeology (here and
    here for example), and that should give us confidence in the things that we could not test, but accept by faith. Regarding the Bible as trustworthy and a reliable authority of God’s revealed truth is ultimately an article of faith (in its Author), but it is not an evidence-free faith – it is justifiable. After all, as Jesus said to Nicodemus in John 3:9-15, “If I tell you of earthly things and you don’t believe, how will you believe if I tell you about heavenly things?”

  202. G. Rodrigues

    @Justin:

    Ok, here are a few references. First, Holopupenko’s gracious words notwithstanding, do bear in mind my caveats above. Second, I will add judgments like “accessible” or “not easy-going”, but given that my background is in mathematics, that is, I eat abstractions for breakfast, your mileage may vary and all that.

    1. Edward Feser’s “Aquinas” is great and a very good starting point. He goes through all the basic Thomistic metaphysical principles, Aquinas’ proofs for God’s existence, hylemorphic dualism, natural law theory, etc. Fairly accessible, faithful to Thomism and above all, clear, which in my view is probably the greatest virtue a Philosophy textbook can have given the super-subtle distinctions and nuances that need to be constantly made. You might also want to read “The Last Superstition”. There is some considerable overlap between the two books, but TLS’s main aim is not, in spite of its subtitle, a refutation of New Atheism but rather to offer a defense of the Aristotelian-Thomistic teleological view of reality. On the other hand, TLS has a fairly polemical tone and some supercilious people are put off by it. Personally, I revel in a good polemic (writers like Swift, Pope in the satirical mode of “The Dunciad”, Evelyn Waugh, etc. are among my favorites) and Edward Feser has a flair for lambasting his targets. But most of the time he stays on track. He also offers several suggestions for further reading (in both books), which is always a Good Thing.

    note: the “geniuses” that came up with the god-awful idea of putting notes at the end of the book or the chapter, instead of at the foot the page as it ought to be, should all be pilloried.

    2. There are several other authors that have written introductions to Aquinas’ thought or Aristotelian-Thomism in general. Of the ones I read, Brian Davies’ “The Thought of Thomas Aquinas” is among my favorites. He has the same virtues of accessibility and clarity of Edward Feser and he follows the pattern of the Summa Theologica in explaining him. You may also want to read his “The reality of God and the problem of evil” which, as the title indicates, treats the nature of God with Aquinas’ third way as a starting point and then goes on to treat the problem of evil. A large chunk of this treatment is devoted to *debunking* theist defenses, theodicies mainly, so you may come out of the book with ambivalent feelings. I think the book is great and the argumentation is sound; personally, that *always* counts as a Faith-booster.

    note: it has been my experience that the best objections to theistic arguments come from theists, not from atheists. I do not think this is a coincidence, but I will not venture an explanation here.

    3. As regards special topics, Thomism as a general philosophical view has implications on all levels, from the philosophy of nature to epistemology, from natural theology to revealed theology. If metaphysics is, per Aristotle, the study of being qua being, and empirical science is the study of the metric properties of changeable, material bodies, philosophy of nature stands somewhere in the middle as the study of all changeable beings. The great success of the empirical sciences is directly proportional to the delimitation of its field of study and concomitantly, of the methods used and “narrowness” of the conclusions reached. On the other hand, philosophy of nature has to take into account *all* the collective experience of mankind, from what physicists at the LHC tell us to the ordinary common experiences shared by the entire human race; so if its conclusions are more general and less “practical”, they are not only more secure, they are more fundamental because they underlie and support the very enterprise of the empirical sciences. Knowing even a little bit of philosophy of nature is the surest antidote against the villainies of scientism. I have been repeatedly advised to read Fr. William Wallace’s “The Modeling of Nature: Philosophy of Science and Philosophy of Nature in Synthesis”. Due to lack of time, I still have not read it but I have however looked up, and you can also, these online lectures, which are derived from the book.

    note: I have been trying to find resources on Aristotelian-Thomistic thought on mathematics. Unfortunately, very little seems to have been written. There is a smatter of articles, including a couple by James Franklin that I am not too happy with, and B. Mullahy’s very influential phd thesis “Thomism and mathematical physics”, chapter 6 in the “Laval” or “River Forest” school tradition, that by a stroke of luck is even available online. Still have not read it though. The usual excuse.

    4. Aquinas is towering, massive and imponent. Like any thinker of such importance and influence, his work has spawned its own splintered schools of thought, its divisions and controversies, influential commentators, etc. Of the latter, just in the twentieth century, we have for example J. Maritain and E. Gilson. I have read nothing of the former and only the “From Aristotle to Darwin and Back Again” from the latter. There are a couple of books from E. Gilson that I intend to read, but once again, lack of time has prevented me. Another very influential commentator, and well within traditional, orthodox Thomism, and that I have read is Fr. Garrigou-Lagrange. His Reality — A Synthesis Of Thomistic Thought goes through metaphysics, and both natural and revealed theology. It is available online which is good, though I find reading books on a computer screen something of an ordeal. Maybe I should get myself one of those tablet thingumajigs? No less than excellent but not easy-going.

    5. Finally, there is something of a revival of Aristotelian-Thomism in recent decades, possibly propped up or mixed with other philosophical elements or traditions such as those of analytical philosophy in the wake of Frege, Russell, Wittgenstein, etc. The already mentioned Brian Davies is one such example. One that is particularly faithful to the Thomist tradition is David Oderberg. His “Real Essentialism” is a contemporary defense of the essentialist AT picture of reality, harnessing the full resources of analytical philosophy. It was reading this book that I finally understood the analogy of being among other important points. Definitely *not* easy-going — it opens up with a critique of modalism and Kit Fine’s arguments against possible worlds. Ouch.

    note: D. Oderberg while a Thomist also defends the Kalam argument. While I agree with some of the objections that Holopupenko has put forward (and I could even add a few of my own, e.g. even if the argument is ultimately valid it does *not* get us to the fullness God as it does not rule out lesser deities, like the Gnostic’s demiurge, as creators), I think the argument can be salvaged and the more pressing objections met. If I have the time, I will respond to Holopupenko.

  203. JB Chappell

    @Victoria

    I think that one conclusion we can draw from the manuscript evidence at our disposal is that the copyists’ mandate was high-fidelity replication (with perhaps editorial corrections) and not unrestrained invention.

    I would qualify this with something like “for the most part”. There are also pretty clear cases of scribes making motivated changes or trying to cover up, you know, *errors* in the text:
    http://bible.org/article/mark-226-and-problem-abiathar

    On the whole, however, I agree with you.

    The real question is whether or not the Holy Spirit and the human writers co-labored to produce written documents that faithfully represents what God wanted to communicate to us.

    I agree that this is a significant question. I would add that we have no idea how to test for whether or not the Holy Spirit co-labors with us, nor do we have any way to test for whether or not the text is what God wanted to communicate.

    Regarding the Bible as trustworthy and a reliable authority of God’s revealed truth is ultimately an article of faith (in its Author), but it is not an evidence-free faith – it is justifiable.

    I agree 100%. I think we may just differ on the degree of trustworthiness and reliability. But, regardless, trustworthiness and reliability do not depend on inerrancy.

  204. Justin

    Hey G. Rodrigues!

    Thanks for the direction and references! It’s very much appreciated. I have to admit a partiality toward polemics as well. I studied to read the US tax law, regulations, and court cases (none of which have internal coherency as a basic premise or requirement) so reading philosophy is certainly different in that respect. I have found the basics of logic that I’ve picked up along the way to be very beneficial in my current occupation, though.

    As I mentioned, I’ve found Craig’s arguments compelling vs. the atheists’ cases that are presented in debates. I’ve never seen an opponent of Craig raise different types of causality as an objection to Craig’s position, so this points out the serious limitations in watching debates or reading only Craig.

    That, and my maturing interest in Christianity goes beyond just apologetics, so that I’m constantly pulled by the dozens of other areas that I’d like to learn about as well – alas, there’s only so many reading hours in a day, which makes your recommendations all the more valuable.

    Thanks again!

  205. JB Chappell

    @Victoria

    There is a world of difference between saying that the longer ending of Mark is erroneous and saying that it is not authentic Mark.

    No, there isn’t. The text is added without comment, as if it were there all along. If it wasn’t there originally, then this is dishonest, or at least spurious. Even if the content were factually correct, the fact remains that the interpolation is being passed off as original documentation of the words Of Jesus by Mark, and it isn’t. If true, I don’t know how this wouldn’t be considered an error. Any teacher would mark this as *wrong* on a student’s paper.

    Furthermore, we can’t ignore WHY things are considered “scripture”, and in turn, “inerrant”. A major factor in shaping canon was whether or not something was attributable to an apostle. Obviously, Mark is supposed to have been written by the Mark who accompanied Peter. So, to undermine the authority of a passage like this by identifying it as an interpolation is to cast doubt on it’s (the interpolation) very status as “scripture”.

    Which parts of the text in the longer ending are actually erroneous? …even the snake reference is paralleled in Acts 28:1-6.

    No, it is not. Do a word study on the passage in Mark re: handling of snakes, and you’ll find that the phrase there is referring to deliberate handling, which goes against Tom’s point about being normative.

    Pretty much the only thing we can’t be sure of is the drinking of poison.

    Well, I can’t speak for you, but I’m pretty sure about this: Christians regularly die when they handle snakes and drink poison, and a straightforward reading of the longer ending of Mark contradicts this.

    … a published paper that argued for the authenticity of the ending, and provided an explanation of the poison reference.

    Well, I’d certainly be curious to see this. However, a problem with this jumps out at me (shocking, I know). If it takes such a scholarly approach to interpret this passage to NOT mean what it seems to very plainly say, then we have salvaged inerrancy at the expense of simplicity. This may not sound so bad, but it directly undermines the thinking of most, if not all, Evangelicals: that anyone can read the Bible and understand what it says. It seems especially cruel that those holding to such Evangelical pre-suppositions are dying merely because they lack access to such scholarly discourse.

  206. JB Chappell

    @Tom

    It’s also worth noting that the snake and poison references do not appear to be normative.

    I may have misunderstood this point above in my response to Victoria. Are you saying this passage is not normative, in that it’s the only reference it in the Bible? Or that it’s not normative in the sense that people are not really supposed to be handling snakes? I’d agree with the former, but not with the latter.

    In Acts, Paul was bitten accidentally by a snake and survived it. He didn’t handle snakes on purpose.

    Right. Which is why it’s not a parallel to the passage in Mark.

  207. JB Chappell

    @Melissa

    I’m not sure if you are arguing that the bible isn’t God’s Word or not here, but even if you conclude that the bible is indeed a fully human work that does not preclude it also being the Word of God.

    Of course not. I think that I’m fully human, but that ultimately I am a work of God. 😉

    If you are a Christian you already affirm Jesus as fully man and fully God. So too, the bible can be considered incarnational.

    Yes, but one does not imply the other. Furthermore, just because something CAN be considered something does not mean it should.

    Now if you are after evidence that the bible is the Word of God the evidence is in the testimony of the church to it’s transforming and equipping power.

    Well, I would agree to a certain extent that the “transforming power” of scripture can be used as evidence of it’s being God’s Word. But this only goes so far: after all, it isn’t as if we don’t have other products with “transforming powers” that we would not attribute to God. Also, many other religions have holy books that they would claim are transformative. I am curious if you would grant them the same privilege.

  208. Victoria

    @Jb re your #216
    I would agree with what you said in that post 🙂
    More later on the other posts…

  209. JB Chappell

    @BillT

    I simply don’t understand the position you seem to be taking that “God wasn’t responsible for it”.

    My position is that we know humans were involved, and whenever humans are involved, there are errors. Furthermore, we based on the evidence we have available, we “know” that there are errors.

    I wasn’t claiming that God isn’t responsible for it, period. You specifically asked that what it says about God if there are errors in the Bible. I am replying that it is only when you *assume* that God is responsible for the errors that it casts a pall on God.

    The idea that the NT cannon wasn’t God’s work is quite unfathomable to me.

    Well, at least you are honest, and it confirms what I thought. Is it just the NT that you are so committed to, however?

    Can I ask you your position on the “Chicago Statement” (perhaps the short statement would do for discussion purposes).

    My general thought on the Chicago statement is that it moves the goalposts towards unfalsifiability. By stating that only the originals are inerrant, they are implicitly acknowledging that one cannot build a doctrine of inerrancy based on what we have – an appeal is needed to what we don’t.

    Re: the “Short Statement”
    1. I would acknowledge that God inspires people, not “scripture”. Scripture is a canonization of works that we think to be inspired.
    2. I would deny that scripture is infallible. Again, people are inspired by God and definitely write, speak, create, etc. to bear witness to Him, but when they do so today we don’t consider them infallible, and I see no reason to think that people 2000+ years ago were somehow that much better at being inspired, or that the Holy Spirit, for some reason, used them better.
    3. And how is the Holy Spirit authenticated? By the scripture. It is a referential circle. Alternatively, you can claim, as William Lane Craig does, that the Holy Spirit is self-authenticating, but this is question-begging.
    4. I love the inclusion of its inerrancy in “its own literary origins under God”. Now, we can refer to the Bible as our authority in declaring its own authority, and declaring its inerrancy. It’s trying to legitimize circular reasoning.
    5. I would agree that the authority is impaired if inerrancy isn’t true. Again, however, we have to be careful about simply being afraid of slipper slopes or grave consequences here.

    In any case, I’m firmly convinced that while many/most Christians adhere to inerrancy in principle, they do not in practice. I feel strongly that the consequences of rejecting inerrancy are not nearly so grave as what some people may claim – IF we properly educate on the reliability and trustworthiness of scripture in accordance with the evidence. This, unfortunately, is a weakness of the church, in my opinion, and it is an indirect result of the doctrine of inerrancy. One is not nearly concerned with evidence when it is acceptable within the community to merely pre-suppose inerrancy.

  210. BillT

    JB,
    Thanks for the reply. We’ll just have to disagree on this. When you say “I am replying that it is only when you *assume* that God is responsible for the errors that it casts a pall on God.” I think that sums up our differences. I believe the only possible positions are that either “God is responsible” and the “errors” are His responsibility or God somehow isn’t responsible for the scriptures. I find neither a tenable position. The human factor is certainly and absolutely within God’s sovereignty. Claiming that it’s a factor that God hasn’t or can’t deal with is a direct repudiation to his sovereignty. And a god who isn’t sovereign isn’t God.

  211. JB Chappell

    @BillT
    Fair enough. We can agree to disagree. 😉 I would like to ask for some clarification on this, however:

    Claiming that [errors] is a factor that God hasn’t or can’t deal with is a direct repudiation to his sovereignty.

    1. I have not claimed that God did not deal with errors, and especially that He cannot. What I am saying is that there are errors.
    2. If God is sovereign, then He can deal, or not deal, with errors however He sees fit. If God wanted an inerrant Bible, he could have very easily preserved for us the original documents that the Chicago Statement affirms. He did not. It does not follow from that alone that the Bible is not inerrant, but it certainly casts doubt on it.
    3. If God is sovereign, ultimately He is responsible for everything. But there are degrees of responsibility and control. I don’t hold God responsible for mistakes in my life, but that doesn’t mean He’s never influenced me at all, either. And stating that God is sovereign over me doesn’t make me inerrant, either.

    You seem to be setting up a false dichotomy, then making a strange leap from inerrancy (or lack of it) to sovereignty.

  212. BillT

    JB,

    That certainly is not a false dichotomy (as I believe your point #3 is). The Bible is God’s word and outside of Christ the centerpiece of His revelation to us. In your point #2 you seem to be suggesting that you know better than God does how He should have acted in regards to the preservation of the texts. Is that what you’re really suggesting? That certainly seems like another challenge to His sovereignty. As to your point #1, your belief that there are errors is, I believe, unfounded.

    As I said earlier, if we cannot absolutely trust the inerrancy of His word then we can doubt any part of what is written there. That is unacceptable. We can and must be able to trust what the scriptures have to tell us. That doesn’t mean that there aren’t difficult passages and places that stretch our understanding. However, it is in trusting God’s word that we ourselves grow in our faith of His sovereignty and truth.

  213. Melissa

    JB Chappell,

    Of course not. I think that I’m fully human, but that ultimately I am a work of God.

    I’m not sure how your comment relates to what I wrote. Word of God and work of God are two different things.

    Yes, but one does not imply the other. Furthermore, just because something CAN be considered something does not mean it should.

    Of course not, but as a way of understanding scripture it avoids the two extreme views of scripture whereby one aspect (human or divine) cancels out the other. It seems that you limit inspiration to inspiration of the authors whereas others would argue that meaning of inspiration, or being God-breathed, of being the Word of God is much deeper than that. NT Wright has some interesting ways of looking at these questions. The book that was quotes earlier in the thread (by Justin I think?) has a decent bit on this or there are online articles such as these:

    http://www.fulcrum-anglican.org.uk/page.cfm?ID=334
    http://www.ntwrightpage.com/Wright_Bible_Authoritative.htm

    Well, I would agree to a certain extent that the “transforming power” of scripture can be used as evidence of it’s being God’s Word. But this only goes so far: after all, it isn’t as if we don’t have other products with “transforming powers” that we would not attribute to God. Also, many other religions have holy books that they would claim are transformative. I am curious if you would grant them the same privilege.

    My argument wasn’t that transforming power was the only criteria with which to decide whether something is the Word of God or not. As to other religions holy books, they generally have a different view of the nature of a holy book and the nature of gathered believers that need to be taken into account if we were going to have that discussion.

  214. JB Chappell

    @BillT
    It isn’t a false dichotomy if you hold to an either/or notion of responsibility. But most people don’t in practice. As I pointed out, my guess is you wouldn’t hold God responsible for your mistakes in life, despite the fact God is sovereign. Likewise, I don’t hold God responsible for a scribal error despite the fact God may be, in some aspect or degree, responsible for scripture.

    …if we cannot absolutely trust the inerrancy of His word then we can doubt any part of what is written there.

    Right, but hat doesn’t make it UNtrue. Furthermore, this is already the case now. One can doubt any part of scripture now, given sufficent reasons. Likewise, a non-inerrantist would need sufficient reasons. Every point of view needs a justification.

    Do you not doubt the fact that you can drink poison and live? Handle snakes without harm? Move mountains? Do you not doubt that women should be silent in church? Etc. You may simply want to call these “difficult passages that stretch our understanding”, but the only difference between the inerrantist and non-inerrantist at this point is that the inerrantist will feel some obligation to undergo mental gymnastics in order to find some alternative reading that is still compatible with inerrancy. The non-inerrantist (I don’t have a good term for that) is not under any such obligation, although they may certainly acknowledge a different interpretation to be better/more likely.

    However, it is in trusting God’s word that we ourselves grow in our faith of His sovereignty and truth.

    I’m not exactly sure what you mean by this…. If by “His sovereignty and truth” you’re implicitly implying “[as revealed in scripture]”, then of course trusting in the Bible will make you feel better/more confident in the Bible claim’s about God. But one doesn’t need the Bible to trust in His sovereignty: Muslims do that just fine. And, again, if you’re equating “truth” with “scripture”, then it’s just begging the question.

    But I’m not trying to put words in your mouth; I’m genuinely interested in what you meant by that.

  215. BillT

    JB,

    Not holding “God responsible for mistakes in my life” has absolutely nothing to do with His sovereignty over scripture which is solely His creation. That is a simply false dichotomy.

    Your list of “difficult” issues raised in the Bible does nothing to make your point of the Bible containing errors. In fact, your example that the Bible says “that women should be silent in church” couldn’t be a better example of what is obviously a very limited understanding of that text.

    The Bible and its challenges are just that challenges. God wants us to trust Him. He wants us to trust Him unconditionally, something we all fall far short of doing. The Bible is, in some of its text, in the story of its transmission and its authorship, is another of the many places and circumstances where God is asking us to trust Him. Try it. You may like it.

  216. JB Chappell

    @BillT

    Not holding “God responsible for mistakes in my life” has absolutely nothing to do with His sovereignty over scripture which is soley His creation. That is a false dichotomy.

    I didn’t present a dichotomy. You really don’t see the parallel with scripture and man? God created both, yes? He is sovereign over both, yes? But you want to affirm that scripture is perfect because otherwise God is not sovereign. Yet you believe God is good despite man making mistakes and not being perfect. The reason is that we don’t attribute man’s mistakes to God, yet that’s exactly what you want to do with scripture. It’s puzzling.

    Your list of “difficult” issues raised in the Bible does nothing to make your point of the Bible containing errors.

    It wasn’t meant to. I was simply pointing out passages where people doubt the straightforward interpretation. Doing so obviously doesn’t make the passage “wrong”.

    In fact, your example that the Bible says “that women should be silent in church” couldn’t be a better example of what is obviously a very limited understanding of that text.

    Let’s be honest: there isn’t that much to understand here. Furthermore, I’m not claiming this is “wrong” (although I think it is, but this is an entirely different conversation), only that inerrantists and non-inerrantists can, and do, doubt it in the same way.

    The Bible is, in some of it’s text, in the story of it’s transmission and it’s authorship, is another of the many places and circumstances where God is asking us to trust Him.

    I think this raising the level of scripture to the status of God. This is borderline idolatry.

  217. BillT

    JB,

    I’m almost hesitant to reply to a post that treads the fine line between disingenuous, dishonest and absurd. However, you seem intent on making your points so some response is in order.

    You made the comparison between not holding “God responsible for mistakes in my life” and His sovereignty over scripture, then denied you made that comparison and then with your very next words made it again. That is simply dishonest. Claiming both that you weren’t pointing out Biblical errors while saying that these are “passages where people doubt the straightforward interpretation” is disingenuous. Claiming that the reference to “women should be silent in church” is both not wrong but that “there isn’t that much to understand here” is probably both disingenuous and dishonest.

    However, none of this really measures up to your assertion that it is “borderline idolatry” to take the scriptures as inerrant and a challenge to our faith by God. This is, I believe, in technical terms commonly referred to as laughably absurd.

  218. JB Chappell

    @BillT
    I will offer these remarks as (hopefully) clarification. After this, I am willing to let the matter rest and go back to agreeing to disagree.

    You made the comparison between not holding “God responsible for mistakes in my life” and His sovereignty over scripture…

    Yes I did.

    …then denied you made that comparison…

    No, I did not. I said that I did not present a dichotomy, which is true. I presented an analogy. You acknowledge it as a “comparison” yourself. A dichotomy is a set of mutually exclusive options. Clearly, I’m not making you choose between not holding God responsible for mistakes and His sovereignty – I am arguing they are compatible.

    …and then with your very next words made it again.

    Hopefully, I have made this clear. I never denied constructing an analogy to make a point, only that I was setting up a dichotomy.

    Claiming both that you weren’t pointing out Biblical errors while saying that these are “passages where people doubt the straightforward interpretation” is disingenuous.

    I honestly don’t know how you can say this. Inerrantists deny straightforward interpretations all the time – many, if not most, times right fully so. To do so does not mean that you consider such a passage “errant”.

    Again, you were playing the “grave consequences” card with respect to an non-inerrant view of scripture. I was making the point that the consequences may not be as dire as you think. This is because even on an inerrant position there are many disputed passages where people extend some skepticism. I never identified the examples I gave as “errors” (even if I think they were), however, because that wasn’t the issue I was addressing at the moment, and it opens other cans of worms.

    The mistake I made, however, was in lumping other examples in with examples I had previously identified as errors. So, I have some blame for this misunderstanding, to be sure. My apologies. It was not my intention to be disingenuous, and certainly not dishonest.

    Claiming that the reference to “women should be silent in church” is both not wrong but that “there isn’t that much to understand here” is either disingenuous or dishonest.

    I didn’t say it was “not wrong”. I just didn’t identify it as an “errant” passage because that wasn’t my concern at the moment. Being silent on this issue while claiming that it really isn’t that complex is hardly dishonest or disingenuous.

    Again, I was merely addressing this particular passage as one in which even many people holding to inerrancy extend skepticism, much like someone who would not hold to inerrancy would. Once again, the context of this is that I am addressing your “grave consequences” objection: you want to hold that inerrancy is a non-negotiable because otherwise skepticism can be applied to all scripture. I claimed that this may be so, but nevertheless justifications need to be made. And people find good reasons to object to certain passages regardless of the position they hold on inerrancy. Again, the critical difference here is that the inerrantist then feels an obligation to find some interpretation where the passage is still “not wrong”.

    However, none of this really measures up to your assertion that it is “borderline idolatry” to take the scriptures as inerrant and a challenge to our faith by God.

    I didn’t say it was borderline idolatry to accept inerrancy. This is what you wrote, what I was responding to (#228):

    The Bible is, in some of it’s text, in the story of it’s transmission and it’s authorship, is another of the many places and circumstances where God is asking us to trust Him.

    This sets up the following scenario: don’t trust Bible = don’t trust God. Obviously, when xy = xb, y=b. You inadvertently raised scripture to the status of God. Nevertheless, I qualify this with “borderline” because I assume it is inadvertent, and you acknowledge scripture as God’s creation elsewhere – but it wouldn’t be the first time God’s creation and God were conflated.

    I get that, especially for those holding to inerrancy, it is impossible to revere the Bible too much. The danger, I think, is not the quantity of reverence, but the quality: reverence that is unfounded, misplaced: belonging to Someone Else. Inserting scripture, however trustworthy, reliable, and good we consider it, in the place of the living God is a risk that is taken when it is categorically stated that we must trust it unconditionally.

  219. Melissa

    JB Chapell,

    I hope BillT does not mind me butting in here but I think there are a few issues with your responses to him but maybe I am just misreading you and further clarification is needed.

    Again, I was merely addressing this particular passage as one in which even many people holding to inerrancy extend skepticism, much like someone who would not hold to inerrancy would.

    Your suggestion seems to be that either we believe women should be silent in our churches or we are skeptical (or consider wrong) Paul’s teaching. There is another option which the vast majority of the rest of us take – that Paul was doing contextual theology here. My position would be that the whole of scripture is contextual theology and when we apply it in our lives we are also doing contextual theology.

    You also seem to be saying that inerrantists that are also not biblical literalists are just inconsistent inerrantists. A close reading of the biblical text demonstrates that biblical literalism is false, that much we agree on, but your conclusion from that seems to be that the bible is wrong in parts. The reality is that biblical literalism was too tightly bound to questionable aspects of modernism, we are much better off jettisoning those wrong assumptions (that happen to lead to all sorts of other errors as well).

  220. JB Chappell

    @Melissa

    Your suggestion seems to be that either we believe women should be silent in our churches or we are skeptical (or consider wrong) Paul’s teaching.

    Close, but not quite. I would say that either we believe women should be silent in our churches or we are skeptical of a straightforward interpretation.

    There is another option which the vast majority of the rest of us take – that Paul was doing contextual theology here. My position would be that the whole of scripture is contextual theology and when we apply it in our lives we are also doing contextual theology.

    I agree context is crucial, but this is not necessarily helpful, unless we know what the context was – and this is what is argued about. For Paul, was the context “this is the way it should be done in the church,” period? Or is the context Greco-Roman culture, similar to household status explained here: http://rachelheldevans.com/mutuality-household-codes

    You also seem to be saying that inerrantists that are also not biblical literalists are just inconsistent inerrantists.

    Not necessarily. That would have to be evaluated on a case-by-case basis. I would definitely not claim that an inerrantist is bound to bad hermeneutics.

    A close reading of the biblical text demonstrates that biblical literalism is false, that much we agree on, but your conclusion from that seems to be that the bible is wrong in parts.

    Scripture is not necessarily wrong if a literal interpretation is wrong; this is an important point, and it is well-taken. However, I would say that it is rational to conclude it is wrong if it is clear a literal meaning was intended, and/or a *plausible* non-literal interpretation cannot be presented instead. It is simply denial to cling to inerrancy when the text appears wrong and you don’t know what it would mean otherwise.

    In the longer ending of Mark, for example, it would be difficult to claim (although I’m certainly open for discussion) that the references to poison and snakes were not meant to be taken literally, when they are sandwiched between exorcism, speaking in tongues, and laying hands on the sick, and preceded by the Great Commission, all of which we do take literally.

  221. JB Chappell

    @Holopupenko

    That’s not a justified thing to assert, don’t you think?

    What did I assert? I didn’t claim anyone was NOT interested in evidence, I said you MAY not be interested. And the only reason I said that was because you indicated my profession’s methods, which is intimately involved with physical evidence, had no bearing in such a discussion. Based on that, I was merely addressing the possibility that interests may laid more along philosophical lines.

    Especially since you’re engaged in a discussion with a an MIT Ph.D. nuclear engineer and physicist and scholastic philosopher of nature.

    Agh, since when are physicists or philosophers interested in evidence? 😉 [TOTALLY KIDDING]

    …any argument that says ‘an infinite regress is impossible because if it were we wouldn’t be here’ (as Craig does, but it’s NOT a direct quote from him) misses the point just made: again, in a limited sense he’s correct; in a rigorous sense he’s sneaking in an a priori condition upon how God can act.

    I’m not entirely sure I follow, but it seems to me that you could be saying he’s correct, unless we’re appealing to a miracle. In which case, it just depends on how you view the miraculous. If your view of the miraculous allows for irrational things, then I guess Craig could be wrong. My guess is Craig would say that God doesn’t do nonsense, and an *actual* infinite, like a stone heavier than He can lift, is nonsense.

    Alternatively, you could be saying that Craig is equivocating between causes, and that when he says “an infinite regress is impossible” he’s (inadvertently?) referring to per se causes, rather than per accidens causes. Thus he (inadvertently?) argues as Aquinas doesn, but fails to demonstrate a temporal series cannot be infinite.

    I’m guessing the latter is what you are claiming? If so, however, you seem to merely dismiss Craig’s claim that a temporal regress is wrong. I am curious as to what the reasoning is behind this.

    Setting aside his argument against infinite regress for the moment, you claim:

    For example, God (who is 100% actualization, i.e., there’s not a shred of potency in Him, i.e., He does not change, i.e., he’s “outside” the metric of change—time) could “easily” have created a universe at the point of creation [recall: creation is not change because there is no “beginning” point] that was “already” temporally infinitely existing. Why not? Doing so would in no way be a contradiction or somehow limiting His unboundedness.

    It seems to me it is a contradiction. How are you defining “creation”? It seems to me that you cannot be defining it in any common-sense notion of the word, because then it means “bring into existence”, or something along those lines. To bring something into existence is to acknowledge a “point” of non-existence. Simulatenously claiming a point of non-existence and infinite existence results in a contradiction.

    …you operate upon a certain level of philosophical ignorance. I do NOT hold that against you, except to the extent that some of your conclusions are incorrect.

    Fair enough. I do admit that I operate under a certain level of philosophical ignorance. One of the reasons I engage in this manner is that I hope to learn. In any case, I am not sure what “conclusions” you are referring to.

  222. Melissa

    JB Chapell,

    I agree context is crucial, but this is not necessarily helpful, unless we know what the context was – and this is what is argued about. For Paul, was the context “this is the way it should be done in the church,” period? Or is the context Greco-Roman culture, similar to household status explained here: http://rachelheldevans.com/mutuality-household-codes

    You misunderstand what I mean by contextual theology. What the NT authors do is articulate the story of the gospel for particular cultural contexts and in the letters especially draw out the meaning and implications of the gospel story in a particular context. Therefore to frame the discussion in the way you have above does not make sense. The question we need to answer is, given the implications and meaning of the gospel story as articulated into the variety of cultural contexts in the scriptures, what would it look like for us to live in a way that is consistent with the gospel story in our own culture.

  223. JB Chappell

    @Melissa

    You misunderstand what I mean by contextual theology. What the NT authors do is articulate the story of the gospel for particular cultural contexts and in the letters especially draw out the meaning and implications of the gospel story in a particular context.

    Forgive me, but it’s not clear to me how I misunderstood. I assume you aren’t denying ANY universals in Christianity, and I assume that exegesis is still important. (Perhaps that is where I misunderstand?) Assuming these, while we all agree we aren’t in a Greek/Roman/Jewish setting anymore, the fact remains that we need to determine whether this was, in fact, a cultural adaptation or a hard-and-fast moral imperative.

    In other words, before I apply it, I need to know what was said. In order to know what was said, we need to understand the context. Once we understand the context, we can interpret. Before any of this is determined, I can’t help but think that there are many inerrantists and non- alike that arch an eyebrow at these passages.

    And that, again, is my main rejoinder to the concerns that doing away with inerrancy somehow fundamentally undermines the faith. With or without inerrancy, people can find reasons to identify alternative interpretations. It isn’t as if everyone agrees now, and those who don’t agree with inerrancy are ruining this.

  224. Victoria

    @JB, Melissa
    Would not the ‘literal’ or straightforward interpretation of what Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians about the status and role of women in an assembly of believers be what he (Paul) actually meant to say in answering the questions raised by the believers in Corinth? How did they understand the issue and Paul’s answer in their own cultural setting?

    I should point out that keeping when Paul was talking about women keeping silent ( 1 Corinthians 14:26-40), it comes after what he said about women praying or prophesying ( 1 Corinthians 11:2-16 ). So it is not as simple as you might want to make out, unless you are willing to say that Paul has contradicted himself in the same letter (which goes against a fundamental principle of interpretation derived from the doctrine of divine inspiration of Scripture – that the Holy Spirit never contradicts Himself, nor would He allow His authors to do so).

    Note that in chapter 11, Paul talks about both men and women praying and prophesying (aloud?), so what could the requirement to be silent mean in chapter 14? It can’t mean completely silent, otherwise they would not be allowed to pray or prophesy, so it must mean something else (teaching, perhaps? business decisions? 1 Timothy 2:9-15 – see the notes on that passage here ).

  225. JB Chappell

    @Victoria

    Melissa Would not the ‘literal’ or straightforward interpretation of what Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians about the status and role of women in an assembly of believers be what he (Paul) actually meant to say in answering the questions raised by the believers in Corinth?

    I think so. It’s clear to me that there’s no allegory or metaphor being used here. No “deeper” meaning or allusions. Just straightforward instruction.

    How did they understand the issue and Paul’s answer in their own cultural setting?

    A great question that, not having access to how they ran their “services” in detail, we can’t answer (as far as I can tell). I will say that even today there are synagogues who separate women from men and women must remain silent. Not a slam dunk, but provides evidence that Paul, being a Jew, would have meant exactly what he said.

    I should point out that keeping when Paul was talking about women keeping silent ( 1 Corinthians 14:26-40), it comes after what he said about women praying or prophesying ( 1 Corinthians 11:2-16 ).

    It’s clear to me that 1 Corinthians 11 is not referring to a church setting, whereas Chapter 14 obviously is.

    So it is not as simple as you might want to make out, unless you are willing to say that Paul has contradicted himself in the same letter…

    There is no contradiction if Paul is not utilizing a church setting in Chapter 11. And there’s no indication that he is. In fact, I would say that it’s clear that he isn’t, because verse 17 clearly signals a transition in that direction.

    Note that in chapter 11, Paul talks about both men and women praying and prophesying (aloud?), so what could the requirement to be silent mean in chapter 14? It can’t mean completely silent, otherwise they would not be allowed to pray or prophesy…

    I think that’s exactly what Paul is saying, and it would agree with the norms of his day.

    I am curious how you interpret 1 Corinthians 11:13-16, however. Again, a literal interpretation is obviously intended. Most Christians, I think, would agree with Melissa here in that Paul was exercising some Contextual Theology. However, for some reason, while many summarily dismiss (although you may not, I don’t know) Paul’s rigorous argumentation for women to keep their heads covered and men’s hair short, they want to keep the references to women praying or prophesying in this very context as evidence that Paul couldn’t have meant what it appears he says in Chapter 14. I don’t understand how the picking and choosing is justified here.

  226. Victoria

    @JB
    Good point on chapter 11, there. It may be that Paul has in mind a more general setting than within a ‘formal’ assembly of believers.
    But Paul does also refer to spiritual gifts being exercised in all settings in 1 Corinthians 14:1-25. There he talks about the whole church coming together.

    What seems to make this more than a cultural issue, though, is Paul’s appeal to the order of creation and the fact that a woman (Eve) was deceived first, regarding speaking up in the assembly, and an appeal to nature and the angels regarding the wearing of a head covering while praying or prophesying. In Brethren Assemblies (here in Canada, anyway), women wear a prayer shawl when in the formal assembly, although we are allowed to pray and speak and teach (other women and children), we do not do formal preaching and teaching in the full assembly, and as I recall, do not make decisions regarding official business. No woman in the assembly felt slighted by this, as it was done in obedience to the Lord’s commands.
    I happen to go to a Baptist church now, where the shawl is not required…but I think we are picking and choosing arbitrarily, perhaps even to the point of conforming to this world’s viewpoint, rather than to Christ’s viewpoint.

    We still have Paul’s statement about women not being allowed to teach men, however, in the pastoral letters, so perhaps the keeping silent has to do with that aspect of things. On the other hand, we read about husband and wife team Aquila and Priscilla (Prisca) teaching Apollos in Acts 18:24-28 (but they took him aside, so probably not in formal assembly).

    Hmmm…I suddenly feel convicted to go shopping for a new prayer shawl 🙂

  227. JB Chappell

    @Victoria

    But Paul does also refer to spiritual gifts being exercised in all settings in 1 Corinthians 14:1-25. There he talks about the whole church coming together.

    He does, but then he stresses that it must be in a proper order. Part of this, for him and the church at the time, was ensuring that women were silent.

    What seems to make this more than a cultural issue, though, is Paul’s appeal to the order of creation and the fact that a woman (Eve) was deceived first, regarding speaking up in the assembly, and an appeal to nature and the angels regarding the wearing of a head covering while praying or prophesying.

    It does give this impression, doesn’t it? Nevertheless, I think it is clear that Paul is not reasoning from nature to practice, but rather the other way around. It was quite common in this time to utilize an eisegetical approach to scripture, where one literally reads into the text what you want. It’s essentially a form of proof-texting.

    We see this in Matthew frequently. Matthew will appeal to very vague scriptures in the OT that no one would normally think refers to the Messiah, but he nonetheless states “This was done to fulfill…”. I think it is apparent that Paul is approaching creation and the angels in the same way. I think you and I agree that there is nothing in the creation story that would tell us that women should keep their heads covered and men should not, that women should have long hair and men short. It is only when Paul inserts his culture into the stories that he finds justification for the current practice.

    Where you and I differ, obviously, is that (I’m guessing) you would claim that Paul was being guided by the Holy Spirit when he did so, whereas I would claim that his reasoning and approach are spurious – even if accepted at the time. Thus, I have no problem with saying that Paul’s prohibitions here are no longer relevant. Personally, I find additional justification in 1 Corinthians 11:16. I find it hard to believe that the Holy Spirit would guide someone to say “we’ve always done it this way”, which is the ever-popular rationalization for outdated and ineffective policies in government work (I work for the government). Instead, it is clear to me that it reflects a man trying to superficially justify the practice, but not wanting to deal with any objections, so he appeals to tradition to squelch dissent.

    No woman in the assembly felt slighted by this, as it was done in obedience to the Lord’s commands.

    Well, I can appreciate the fact that women can remain happy and content while being submissive as Paul teaches here. Happiness and contentment are choices as much as they are feelings. And I respect the fact that they have chose to be content in what they believe to be obedience. Nevertheless, one can’t discount that at least part of the reason that many may be so is that they’ve been indoctrinated to believe this is correct. And I don’t say this because I have any special insight into the people you are familiar with, I say it because I have experience with others. I have been to churches where women are required to wear shawls, be quiet, and wave hankies to say “Amen”. It is one thing to say that these women, or at least many of them, are happy and content, it is another to consider whether or not they may be more so had they been taught otherwise.

    On the other hand, we read about husband and wife team Aquila and Priscilla (Prisca) teaching Apollos in Acts 18:24-28 (but they took him aside, so probably not in formal assembly).

    Right, exactly. Neither Jesus nor Paul appear to have a problem being around influential women, and much of what Paul says seems to be very progressive for his day. That is why it seems so curious when he takes these hardline stances that seem less progressive. This phenomenon is what lends credence to the idea that Paul was trying to adapt what he thought was right to the norms of the culture, balance his principles with practicality. Christians weren’t exactly beloved, and he may not have wanted to give society even more reason to put his brothers and sisters in danger. Or perhaps he simply was struggling what he had known to be true with what he been revealed to be true. One can appreciate his difficult position, and obviously this is something that Christians struggle with today: trying to remain relevant while not compromising moral truth.

    Hmmm…I suddenly feel convicted to go shopping for a new prayer shawl

    I admire and appreciate your commitment to remain consistent in your walk.

  228. Victoria

    @JB
    It’s enjoyable discussing these things with you 🙂

    It may very well be that Paul, even under the guiding illumination of the Holy Spirit, was being pragmatic with respect to not giving offense to the surrounding culture if it could otherwise be avoided – perhaps an application of ‘all things are lawful, but not all things are profitable’ – if unbelievers saw Christians essentially flouting what was considered common decency…

    So both Paul and the Holy Spirit can adapt to the surrounding culture so as to not give unnecessary offense, at least insofar as doing so does not contradict God’s own laws, precepts and commands.

    I will still get that new shawl, though – it just feels right 🙂

  229. Melissa

    Victoria,

    Would not the ‘literal’ or straightforward interpretation of what Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians about the status and role of women in an assembly of believers be what he (Paul) actually meant to say in answering the questions raised by the believers in Corinth? How did they understand the issue and Paul’s answer in their own cultural setting?

    From the reading I’ve done, I think the way to read Paul here, that best makes sense of the particular language in the passage and Paul’s assumption earlier in Corinthians that women do take part in the church service, is that he is actually quoting or summarising the position of a group of men in the Corinthian church that are teaching that women must remain silent. The questions following the summary are rhetorical questions designed to highlight the absurdity of their position.

    JB,

    I have to run but will continue when I get back with a response to you.

  230. Melissa

    JB Chapell,

    Forgive me, but it’s not clear to me how I misunderstood.

    We do not determine normative church practice that applies in all cultural contexts from the exegesis of one passage.

    And that, again, is my main rejoinder to the concerns that doing away with inerrancy somehow fundamentally undermines the faith. With or without inerrancy, people can find reasons to identify alternative interpretations. It isn’t as if everyone agrees now, and those who don’t agree with inerrancy are ruining this.

    I will agree with you that doing away with “inerrancy” does not fundamentally undermine the faith but unless you consider the scripture authoritative and trustworthy you really are left in a quandary of what to believe, as you yourself admitted to earlier in this thread. Obviously you are free to go it alone and discount the historical testimony of the church on the authority of scripture but I would think you would need some pretty good reasons to do so. Now I don’t agree with you that Paul’s reasoning is obviously spurious and while it is true that the type of proof-texting you accuse Matthew of was prevalent in other texts from a similar era you have not established that this is what Matthew is doing. I would argue that we can understand Matthew’s reasoning when he references the OT in a much deeper way than you give him credit for. The concepts of prophecy and fulfilment in the ancient Hebrew context embrace a much wider meaning than the modern meaning of future prediction and those predictions “coming true”.

  231. BillT

    Melissa,

    This is where I have trouble understanding your position.

    “I will agree with you that doing away with “inerrancy” does not fundamentally undermine the faith but unless you consider the scripture authoritative and trustworthy you really are left in a quandary of what to believe, as you yourself admitted to earlier in this thread.”

    How is being “left in a quandary of what to believe” not “fundamentally undermine the faith”?

  232. Victoria

    I agree with Melissa on her last post, regarding the charge of proof-texting and eisegesis. The NT authors used the OT as they did because they wrote under the auspices and authority of the Holy Spirit and/or the direct teachings provided by the risen Lord Jesus Christ (Luke 24:27 and Luke 24:44-49, and Galatians 1:11-17).

    How did Peter know that Isaiah 53 refers to Jesus’ death and resurrection (1 Peter 2:22-25) or that the Psalms refer to Jesus ( 1 Peter 2:4-10 ), for example? He knew because the risen, glorified Son of God, the 2nd Person of the Trinity, would have told him, speaking on His own authority as God, the Living Word.

  233. Melissa

    BillT,

    How is being “left in a quandary of what to believe” not “fundamentally undermine the faith”?

    You are equating inerrancy with an authoritative and trustworthy scripture. To deny inerrancy does not necessarily mean that you affirm parts of the bible are wrong. What would it even mean to affirm that the scriptures are wrong? It’s not like we have any objective criteria we can bring to bear on the question. That is why as a doctrine inerrancy is pretty useless in my opinion and effectively is dying the death of a thousand cuts. Time will tell I guess.

    Here are my thoughts on why JB’s assertion that the NT authors got it wrong causes major problems for Christian faith. The foundation for the Christian faith is the story of the gospel (ie the life, death and resurrection of Jesus). Throughout the NT we see that the apostle’s teaching is founded on this gospel story, it is the story by which they judge all other stories, the lens through which they view reality. The church preserved and eventually put together the documents of the NT because they considered them authentic and authoritative articulations of the gospel story and it’s implications. They are all we have, so if they are not authentic articulations we have nothing with which to judge anything. Obviously using normal historical criteria we could reasonably affirm that Jesus did in fact die, was crucified and resurrected without assuming an authoritative scripture but it is what this means that lies at the heart of our faith and that is not assessed by using the tools of historical enquiry.

  234. BillT

    You are equating inerrancy with an authoritative and trustworthy scripture.”

    So errant scripture can be authoritative and trustworthy? And then you go on to show how JB’s assertions of errant scripture “causes major problems for Christian faith”. Ok. I’m offically confused.

  235. Melissa

    BillT,

    So errant scripture can be authoritative and trustworthy? And then you go on to show how JB’s assertions of errant scripture “causes major problems for Christian faith”. Ok. I’m offically confused.

    The sentence of mine you quoted is followed by a short explanation, is there something in that you don’t understand or would like me to expand upon? The bible can be true in everything it teaches relevant to the Christian faith without being true in every single detail of fact. Also I only addressed the issues caused if the NT writers got it wrong in their articulation of the gospel story and it’s meaning and implications.

  236. Victoria

    @BillT & Melissa

    But, the skeptics use the charge of (alleged, and I say this deliberately) errors in matters of fact to hoot and howl that this demonstrates their conclusion that Scripture was never divinely inspired (which is in fact their a priori position assumption anyway).

    In any case, how many times have the critics claimed error, only to have historians and archaeologists say that the Bible was right after all? We can talk about specific examples…

    We should not accept the charge of error so timidly. Because Scripture has proven itself on the field of battle in those cases where definitive historical and archaeological tests could be applied, we can regard it as trustworthy and reliable. Based on our faith in Jesus as the Risen Lord and God, we accept His absolute confidence in the authority and authorship of His written word, and so we trust Him and His Holy Spirit on the claims of divine inspiration + human authorship. It is that trust plus the proven track record of Scripture that allows us to have confidence that every alleged error can, in principle, be resolved.

  237. Justin

    G. Rodrigues,

    I’m about three quarters through Feser’s Aquinas and wanted to say thanks again for the recommendations. Feser’s is easy going, though there are a couple of concepts that are taking a bit longer to sink in, which I might bring up over at his blog when those topics arise.

    You might have created a new Thomist.

    Thanks again,
    Justin

  238. G. Rodrigues

    @Justin:

    I’m about three quarters through Feser’s Aquinas and wanted to say thanks again for the recommendations. Feser’s is easy going, though there are a couple of concepts that are taking a bit longer to sink in, which I might bring up over at his blog when those topics arise.

    No problem glad to help.

    I haunt Prof. Feser’s blog as well, although I do not comment there as much as I do here, so I guess I will see you there. There are some real Thomist ninjas prowling the place, so you will get the benefit of real, solid expertise.

  239. Victoria

    Some interesting articles that illustrate my point

    http://www.biblicalarchaeology.org/daily/biblical-topics/crucifixion/jesus%E2%80%99-crucifixion-reflected-in-soil-deposition/
    (one might have to be a member of B.A.R to see the above)
    Here is an excerpt

    Geologists Jefferson B. Williams, Markus J. Schwab and A. Brauer examined disturbances in sediment depositions to identify two earthquakes: one large earthquake in 31 B.C.E., and another, smaller quake between 26 and 36 C.E. In the abstract of their paper, the authors write, “Plausible candidates include the earthquake reported in the Gospel of Matthew, an earthquake that occurred sometime before or after the crucifixion and was in effect ‘borrowed’ by the author of the Gospel of Matthew, and a local earthquake between 26 and 36 AD that was sufficiently energetic to deform the sediments at Ein Gedi but not energetic enough to produce a still extant and extra-biblical historical record. If the last possibility is true, this would mean that the report of an earthquake in the Gospel of Matthew is a type of allegory.”

    The geologists compared their findings with Biblical information, including the chronology of the reign of Pontius Pilate, the Gospels’ accounts of the crucifixion occurring on a Friday evening, and the Synoptic Gospel account that Jesus died just before Passover on the 15th day of Nisan. Using this data in conjunction with the geological report, the authors of the study reasoned that Friday April 3, 33 C.E. is the most likely date of the crucifixion. While there are no direct extant archaeological artifacts relating to Jesus’ crucifixion, the disturbances in soil deposition may reflect the earthquake described by Matthew. This quake, occurring during Jesus’ crucifixion, would have been too minor to be described by non-Biblical histories, but major enough to terrify the surrounding centurions.

    Notice, however, the somewhat skeptical leanings – even in the face of tangible correlations between the geological data and the Biblical record, some scholars still can’t bring themselves to acknowledge that Matthew could have been right after all. almost as if it would be a faux pas in scholarly circles.

  240. Melissa

    Victoria,

    Let me be clear that I do not reject inerrancy because of any so-called “errors” in the bible. I think we would agree that there is a mystery about what it means for scripture to be God-breathed and there are various proposals around how to understand it. Some err too far in emphasising the human aspect of the text. In my opinion inerrancy goes too far the other way, emphasising God’s authorship while paying lip service to the human aspect. I am quite happy to just sit with the tension of the two. I’m not suggesting you should not hold to inerrancy, but inerrancy is neither as obvious or as essential to the Christian faith as its often proponents claim.

  241. Victoria

    @Melissa
    Oh, I agree with you about the balance issue – we must stress that Scripture is divinely inspired, human authored, in such a way that the characteristics of both are combined to produce exactly what God wanted to communicate. That is why we see the human authors’ styles, and why we see transcendent truths expressed in the framework of its human authors, and why we see things revealed that no human being could have known. This is why we see from start to finish that the human authors somehow knew they were writing by God’s Spirit, that His Spirit was speaking through them, carrying them along.
    Divine Inspiration is a statement that the One Person who knows all of history, all the facts, who is the eyewitness to everything is the same Person behind the authorship of His written revelation. To me inerrancy means that Scripture records accurately that revelation – that is was written in the way it claims to have been written (the diabolical Documentary Hypothesis notwithstanding – it smacks too much of “Did God really say…?”, if you ask me, to say nothing of being disconnected from real archaeological information), and that the authors got the details right. I don’t take inerrancy to mean that the cosmology of the biblical authors is right, for example – they were simply allowed to speak from within their own frame of reference (something, which I might add, General Relativity says is perfectly valid).

    Divine Inspiration means that God can compensate for the limitations of His writers, does it not? It is what distinguishes Scripture from all other purely human-authored writing.

    That is not to say that we have puzzles and problems to solve, but is just a perverse anti-Biblical bias that says the Bible must be wrong, when it is more likely that our knowledge of history and archaeology is incomplete. By faith in the Author of Scripture, my money is on the Bible every time.

  242. Victoria

    sorry..that should be ‘That is not to say we don’t have puzzles and problems to solve…’

  243. Melissa

    Victoria,

    This issue can be quite divisive and elicits strong feelings, especially in North American circles, so I won’t be engaging further on this topic. Thanks for your thoughts though, your passion and faith combine to produce a wonderful contribution to the comments section here.

  244. Victoria

    @Melissa
    Yeah, I know what you mean 🙂 As family, we can agree to disagree on such things without breaking fellowship or our unity in Christ Jesus. Thanks for the encouraging words, and right back at you, sis’ 🙂
    Looking forward to future sessions where we can co-labour to explain Christianity to the skeptics in a most winsome fashion.

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