April 16, 2017

Not Dying is Not Sufficient

Filed under: Christian Doctrine — camcintosh @ 1:11 pm

It is hard to overestimate the importance of the resurrection in Christian theology and worship, if it is even possible to do so. Christianity is all about resurrection. In the resurrection we see nearly every other essential Christian doctrine at work. But for all that, the death of Christ on the cross unduly dominates the empty tomb in the pulpit, and our celebration of the birth Christ at Christmas unduly overshadows our celebration of his victory over death at Easter.

Perhaps one reason the importance of the resurrection is underappreciated is because we play fast and loose with the term “resurrection.” Pop culture uses of the term are hopelessly divorced from its theological meaning (e.g., zombies are sometimes said to be resurrected). But Christians too misuse the term, as is often and easily done when describing Jesus’ miraculously raising Lazarus or Jairus’ daughter from the dead as Jesus’ resurrecting them. Even some Bible editors have titled the section in John 11 “The Death and Resurrection of Lazarus”!

Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead may well have been a sign of what was to come later (Jesus’ own resurrection), but it was not at that point the thing itself. Even the term “raised” in most Biblical contexts bears the significance of resurrection. What, then, is the key difference between resurrection proper and these other cases of supernatural raisings from the dead?

dali21Some, who although are careful to distinguish resurrection from these other cases, nonetheless miss the key difference. The difference is emphatically not, as is commonly thought, that those who are resurrected will not die again, whereas those who are supernaturally revived will. It is true that the resurrected will not die again. That, however, is a necessary but not sufficient condition for resurrection. Consider: suppose after Jesus raised him from the dead, God assumed Lazarus into heaven like He did Enoch and Elijah. We’d have a case of rising from the dead without a “second death,” but still not resurrection.

The key difference is that the resurrected have the transformed, glorified body that Paul describes in 1 Cor 15. The resurrected won’t die again precisely because death can’t touch the transformed body. To repeat, it is not because Lazarus, et al. died again that his being raised wasn’t a resurrection; it it because he wasn’t raised with a transformed body. CARM rightly sees the glorified body as salient, but confusedly distinguishes two kinds of resurrection rather than distinguishing resurrection from supernatural revivifications. This, again, plays fast and loose. There is no resurrection without a glorified body. A resurrection without a glorified body would make zero conceptual sense to first century Jews, and so should make no more sense to 21st century Christians.

This is one reason I love Dali’s Corpus Hypercubus, where Christ is hanging on an unfolded hypercube, which happens to take the shape of a cross. More popularly interpreted to mean Christ’s divine nature can’t be fully grasped by us 3D+t creatures, the wound-less body on the rising cross calls to my mind resurrection—there’s something extra-dimensional about that restored, radiant body, the hypercube cross representing both that extra-dimensional reality as well as the gateway to it.


December 31, 2014

Review of Hasker

Hasker Philosophy in Review‘s final issue for 2014 includes my review of William Hasker’s Metaphysics and the Tri-Personal God.

As I point out in the review, the main philosophical strides forward are made in the final chapters of the book. The first 3rd is historical stage-setting, but you’d be better off getting your history from historical theologians or the primary sources themselves. The second 3rd of the book is a useful and judicious summary of important contemporary work on the Trinity, but such summaries can be found elsewhere.

April 8, 2014

Easter Dream

Filed under: Christian Doctrine,Life — camcintosh @ 5:08 pm

Last night I had an interesting dream. In the dream I and everyone else were in a strange afterlife.

Resurrection 2Everyone I saw was either a soulless body or a bodiless soul. Those in the former group were miserably carnal, always pouring into but never filling the hollow vessel of their bodies with sensuous pleasures. They seemed oblivious to everyone but themselves, others being mere instruments of pleasure. The latter group, by contrast, were surrounded by loved ones, yet were miserably separated, always reaching for but never being able to embrace one another.

I wasn’t aware of being in either group. That just wasn’t part of the dream. But I knew I was in a miserable place. Despite that, I didn’t feel dread or despair. I felt hopeful, like it didn’t have to be that way forever, and expected it wouldn’t.

That’s the best I can explain it, anyway. Describing dream phenomenology is very difficult. It would be a good mental exercise to try to explain as accurately as possible all your dreams after they’re fresh. I bet it would increase your vocabulary.

The dream was no doubt influenced by my recent reading and thinking about the resurrection, it being Easter season and all. Apparently one side effect of using N. T. Wright’s massive tome, The Resurrection of the Son of God, as a bedtime sedative is rich dream fodder. In reality, though, resurrection is anything but dreamlike.

March 16, 2014

A Materialist Picture of the Imago Dei

Suppose you accept the following two propositions, as I am inclined to:

(1) If S is created in the image of God, then S is a human.
(2) If S is a human, then S has a particular kind of body (i.e., having a particular kind of body is essential to having a human nature).

It follows that

(3) If S is created in the image of God, then S has a particular kind of body.

But we don’t want to interpret (3) as saying humans image God in having a particular kind of body, as if God has a particular kind of body, do we? Well, maybe we do. So far as I can tell, the following is fully consistent with Orthodox thought.

Designate the set of properties essential and exclusive to divinity {P}. Sans creation, God knows this counterfactual:

(4) If the second Person of the Trinity were embodied in W, that’s how He’d be.

where one of the things the demonstrative ‘that’s’ indicates is the having of a particular kind of body. Why that particular kind of body? I dunno. Maybe a particular kind of body is required for a perfect person to be perfectly embodied in W. At any rate, the picture God has from (1) is that of a perfect embodied person, a person with all those properties in {P} with a particular kind of body. What this would amount to in the actual world, W@, is the post-resurrected incarnate Christ. So suppose that the kind-essence that results from embodying a divine person in W@ is humanity. A perfect embodied person in W@ would therefore be a perfect human person—a human person who is necessarily morally perfect, perfectly free, incorruptible, etc. God sees that this would be very good.

Seeing that it would be good, God decides to create persons like that—i.e., humans. However, properties like being uncreated and being omnipotent are essential and exclusive to divinity. So, any non-divine human persons God creates must lack those and other properties in {P}. In other words, God creates with this counterfactual in mind:

(5) If a human person were not divine, that’s how he’d be

imago deiwhere the picture is the same as in (4) save only those properties essential to divinity. The result is, in effect, pre-Fall Adam—a truly human person, albeit a merely human person—a human person who is not necessarily morally perfect, not necessarily perfectly free, not necessarily incorruptible, etc.

If I were a materialist about human beings—and I am as of yet unsure that I am—I would think about human persons qua created in the image of God along these lines.

Discussions of the incarnation sometimes give the impression that the incarnation is logically posterior to humanity; humanity is something antecedently there, and Christ sort of steps down into the middle of things and acquires a human nature. But on the view sketched here, humanity is logically posterior to the incarnation. God starts at the middle (so to speak) with God incarnate, then goes back to the beginning and sets the course of humanity to anticipate the incarnation.

May 28, 2013

Do We Owe God a Perfect Life?

Consider what Michael Rea identifies as “common to the most well-known versions of the satisfaction theory” of the atonement:

The satisfaction theory start with something like the following characterization of the human predicament: Our sin has put us in the position of owing God something that we cannot possible repay on our own. From birth, we have owed God a perfect life. By sinning we have failed to give him his due, and we have also rendered it impossible for him to receive his due from us (since we can’t take back our sin and thus give him the perfect life we initially owed him). Moreover, we have affronted God by failing to give him what we owe; so we now owe something further to make up for the affront But we cannot compensate God for the affront for precisely the same reason that we cannot make restitution for our sins: anything we tried to offer up as restitution or compensation would only be what we already owed in the first place. [“Introduction,” in Oxford Readings in Philosophical Theology (Oxford, 2009), pp. 14-15.]

The starting premise—shared by other theories of the atonement as well—is that “we owe God a perfect life.” In saying we owe God a perfect life, presumably what is meant is that we have an obligation or duty before God to live a morally perfect life, one free of sin. And we incur debt—i.e., blameworthiness—by failing to give God his due, failing to fulfill our duty or obligation before God.

But why think this starting premise is true? How is it that just by being born we are under obligation to live and offer God a perfect life and are blameworthy for failing to do so? There is the vague thought that the premise might be conceptually entailed by facts about our relation to God. But it’s hard to see what those facts might be. God is our morally perfect creator and sustainer, but how does it follow from this that we owe him a morally perfect life? It’s much easier to see difficulties with the premise. Here are two:

1. It is often taken as axiomatic in ethics that “ought” implies “can.” But if we mere humans cannot live a morally perfect life and cannot repay God what we owe him, then it’s not true that we ought to live a morally perfect life or repay God what we owe him. But rejecting the axiomatic ought-implies-can principle doesn’t seem like a promising route.

2. Suppose a mere human can live a morally perfect life, and someone in fact does. Is she not praiseworthy for living such a life? I think so. But one is not praiseworthy for doing one’s duty or fulfilling one’s obligations. Doing what is required is not praiseworthy. And living a perfect life cannot ex hypothesi be supererogatory.

So the premise clashes with two potent moral intuitions—that ought implies can and that one would be praiseworthy for living a morally perfect life. Is the premise essential to theories of the atonement? What reasons are there for thinking the premise is true? And, most interesting: is an alternative, perhaps more modest premise available?

January 20, 2013

Trinity Discussion

Filed under: Christian Doctrine,Philosophical Theology,Philosophy of Religion — camcintosh @ 12:22 am

Really good things going on over at Maverick Philosopher, as usual. William Vallicalla has been writing an excellent series of posts analyzing a mereological model of the Trinity. The posts and the discussion in the comments under them Cerberusare worth checking out.

A Question About Predication and Identity
The Logical Problem of the Trinity
Mereology and the Trinity: A Response to Wong
Is the Skeleton of a Cat Feline in the Same Sense as a Cat is Feline?
A Survey of Responses to the Three-In-One Paradox
De Trinitate: The Statue/Lump Analogy and the ‘Is’ of Composition

December 5, 2012

Hell and Supertasks

Filed under: Christian Doctrine,Philosophy of Religion — camcintosh @ 6:18 pm

SupertasksA common objection to the traditional view of Hell, according to which some persons will be eternally separated from God, is that such a punishment does not fit the crime. Whereas the crime (i.e., sinning) is finite, the punishment is infinite, which is unjust (so says the objector). A common reply to this common objection is that rejecting God’s infinite mercy, or affronting an infinite being, is a sin of infinite gravity. Another common reply is that the objection assumes that the denizens of Hell do not continue to sin for eternity; i.e., commit an infinite number of sins.

Common to both the common objection and the common responses is equivocation on the terms “infinite” and “eternal.” There are both qualitative and quantitative elements involved. Setting aside this equivocation for the moment, both replies to the objection are no good. This is because one (a universalist, say) could grant the replies but still reject the traditional view by maintaining that some persons justly receive (qualitatively and quantitatively) infinite punishment in Hell.

How could a universalist maintain this? First, they could maintain, with equal plausibility, that experiencing life separated from God is suffering, and hence punishment, of infinite gravity. Second, they could maintain that an infinite number of sins can be committed and punished in a finite duration of time (see supertasks).

Suppose the traditionalist responds by saying that “eternity” implies “an infinite duration of time.” In that case, the universalist could simply distinguish two different kinds of time—psychological from physical, or physical from metaphysical, or whatever—and say an infinite duration of one kind of time can be traversed in a finite duration of another kind.

Ok, ok, this is all great in the realm of highfalutin metaphysics. But how seriously can we entertain such possibilities? The answer is how seriously we can entertain the possibility of someone being eternally separated from God, in the traditionalist’s sense.

November 12, 2012

A Tu Quoque Divine Deception Argument

Filed under: Christian Doctrine,Philosophy of Religion — camcintosh @ 9:50 pm

In “Divine deception, identity, and Social Trinitarianism,” Dale Tuggy argues that “if Social Trinitarianism [ST] were true, the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit would have engaged in wrongful deception via both Old and New Testament revelation.” The deception is that the Persons “passed themselves off as one personal being, while in fact they were three personal beings.” Let’s grant Tuggy’s argment: The God of ST is guilty of such a wrongful deception. But Tuggy is a Christian Unitarian; i.e., he believes God is, in fact, one personal being, not three. So, Tuggy’s God is not guilty of such a wrongful deception.

But if we grant Tuggy’s argument, his God is not clearly off the hook: by letting the doctrine of the Trinity define orthodox Christian belief from its very inception (from the earliest Patristic interpreters of the NT to being enshrined in the creeds), is not Tuggy’s Unitarian God guilty of passing Himself off as three personal beings, while in fact He is one personal being? Surely Tuggy’s God could have prevented the mistake, perhaps by making the Scriptural data more obviously Unitarian, or by preventing orthodoxy from being established as Trinitarian. But Tuggy’s God didn’t. Why has he allowed the mistake carry on for over 2000 years, suppressing belief about His true nature (indeed, even allowing belief about His true nature to be established as heterodox)?

In several ways, this tu quoque argument strikes me as even more pressing for Tuggy than for Social Trinitarians. For example, while it is arguably consistent with monotheism that God is more than one person, it is not consistent with unitarianism that God is more than one person. So if the God of ST is guilty of deception, it’s a form of deception where He causes (or permits) his followers to believe p1 when in fact p2 is the case, where p1 and p2 are ultima facie but not prima facie compatible. This is what allows the ST to appeal to progressive revelation to wriggle out of the problem. Tuggy’s God, on the other hand, is guilty of a deception where He causes (or permits) His followers to believe p1 when in fact p2 is the case, where p1 and p2 are strictly incompatible. No similar appeal to progressive revelation is available to Tuggy, because no acceptable form of progressive revelation allows for instituting a precept that flatly contradicts a previous one, thereby annulling it (aka Naskh).

The Ransom Theory and Poetic Justice

Filed under: Christian Doctrine — camcintosh @ 5:14 pm

One of the most common objections to the ransom theory of the atonement is that it portrays God as a deceiver, and hence directly perpetrating an immoral action. This objection is utterly uncompelling for a number of reasons, not the least of which is the fact that not all acts of deception are immoral. Arguably, some are even morally obligatory.

Granting this, the objection may actually serve to highlight a strength of the ransom theory in the following way: the model fosters a powerful image of ultimate poetic justice, where God deceives the Deceiver. God beats Satan at his own game, and does so by taking the hard route of deceiving him in a morally permissible (perhaps even obligatory) way.

March 27, 2010

Problems with Christian Platonism II

Filed under: Christian Doctrine,Philosophical Theology,Philosophy of Religion — camcintosh @ 10:45 pm

The Christian platonist must insist that abstracta are they way they are because they, not God, are the very essence of uncreatable reality, and that they delimit all possible realities, even God’s nature. Hence, abstracta are explanatorily (if not causally) prior to God’s nature.

But the nature of certain abstracta clearly seem explanatorily posterior God’s nature. For example, necessarily true propositions the truths of which are determined by God’s naturee.g., necessarily true moral propositions, such as it is wrong to torture babies for fun. The orthodox theist can explain why this is a necessarily true proposition—because moral goodness, as God’s very nature, delimits what necessary moral truths there are, it is wrong to torture babies for fun being one of them.

But here the Christian Platonist confronts a dilemma: he must either deny that the nature of all abstrcta is explanatorily prior to God’s nature, or he must reaffirm this but deny that the abstracta typically seen as explanatorily posterior God’s nature, such as necessarily true moral propositions, are so.

The former move seems very arbitrary and ad hoc. It has us believe that only certain abstracta are the way they are independently of God. But what calls for the difference? It is hard to see what, if anything. If one says “God’s nature,” then incoherence looms, for really this amounts to saying “God’s nature determines which abstracta are explanatorily posterior his nature.” Not only is this obviously circular, it faces the further question, “what about God’s nature determines which abstrcta are explanatorily posterior his nature?” Either way the first horn of this dilemma does not seem palatable.

The second horn states that all abstracta, even necessarily true moral propositions, are the way they are just because. They are the very essence of uncreatable reality, and they delimit all possible realities, including God’s nature as it were. But this horn immediately puts the Euthyphro dilemma back on the table, for it can no longer be said that certain things are good because God’s nature is such, but, quite literally, God’s nature is such because certain things are good. This would also remove any potential for the moral argument for God’s existence, as the explanation of any moral truth would not be in terms of God’s nature, but in terms of a general reality apart from God.

Because it is not a brute fact that God’s nature is good, the question of why God’s nature is good for the Christian Platonist becomes very difficult to answer. It just seems convenient that he is good. Moreover, strictly speaking, God’s nature cannot be good, for if it were, then no further account of goodness is needed. If the Christian Platonist maintains that God’s nature is good, then the further account of goodness in terms of abstracta is superfluous. But if the Christian Platonist maintains that goodness is not strictly God’s nature, then God’s goodness becomes a contingent matter.

Thus, like the attribute of aseity, goodness as a divine attribute also seems attenuated on a Christian platonist view. The second horn of the dilemma also seems unpalatable.

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