Tuesday, April 16, 2019

"Whiteness" and Christless

Here is an article by Samuel Sey, and a podcast by Darrel Harrison, on the topic of "whiteness" in the Christian Church.

Thursday, April 04, 2019

Revisiting the issue of the eternal Creator

[previous post here]

I just stumbled upon a blog post that states how God can be said to be an eternal Creator, through a scholastic distinction between what can be called "absolute necessity" and the "necessity of consequence." Put simply, there is no absolute necessity for God to be Creator, and thus creation is indeed contingent. However, as seen in the content of the immutable will of God, creation is necessary since creation is in God's will. Therefore, since creation is necessary through the necessity of consequence, creation is contingent yet also God is the eternal Creator.

The problem with this scholastic solution is that it just does not work. We must remember who God is. God is a simple being, immutable and thus pure act (purus actus), and omnipotent. Since God is all these attributes and more, to claim a necessity of consequence not resulting in an absolute necessity de facto is not tenable, a point which will be proven below

The point at which a necessity of consequence does not imply an absolute necessity is seen as Chia's exposition:

(2) If P-->Nec P.

In this case, the consequent itself (or apodosis) is necessary. If I will work tomorrow, it is then necessary that I will work tomorrow – which is not true!

(1) does not imply (2), nor does (2) follow from (1). Even if I will work tomorrow, it is a contingent event and not logically necessitated. Confusing (1) and (2) is to confuse necessitas consequentiae with necessitas consequentis, what logicians would call a modal fallacy.

The argument is sound, in the sense that it is true that the logical form 2 is not valid. However, we must remember that we are dealing with God here, and therefore we need to factor in who God is. The argument of the form logical form 2 is invalid, precisely because it is looking at the entire situation in the abstract. But once we put in other premises stating who God is, then the argument becomes valid, as follows:

P1: If God wills to create, then God wills to create.
P2: Whatever God wills, God has the power to make it happen (omnipotence).
P3: Whatever God wills, it cannot be a potential event but must really happen (pure act).

C: Therefore, if God wills to create, then it is necessary that God wills to create

Since God is a simple being, we cannot split God's will into a will that ignores His omnipotence and pure actuality, and His will that affirms His omnipotence and pure actuality. Therefore, knowing the attributes of who God is implies that anything that is necessary to His will is in fact necessary in all possible worlds, i.e. God cannot not create in all possible worlds. And if something is necessary in all possible worlds, then it is absolutely necessary, and we are back at the problem of creation being a necessary and not contingent thing!

It can be seen that Chia's solution, as taken from Aquinas and Richard Muller, does not seem to work. But what about God's decree and will, some might ask? Surely, God's decree is necessary? Indeed, God's decree and God's will is necessary. But it is a necessary decree and a willing of contingent things. In other words, we must say that creation is not necessary, but becomes necessary in light of God's willing and decree. Note the language of "becoming" here, which is a process not a state. Since creation becomes necessary in light of God's eternal decree, God cannot be called the eternal Creator, but rather that He becomes the Creator, from eternity in light of the decree to be sure, yet still not an eternal Creator. This "becoming" does not make God mutable, because the title "Creator" is a role of God working ad extra, not ad intra. Just like God becomes my personal Savior only when I trusted in Christ in time, yet He remains immutable, thus the ad extra works of God do not change Him in any way.

In conclusion, the idea of God being the eternal Creator, while it may have an impressive history, does not seem philosophically or theologically tenable. God being who He is means that anything necessary in any sense must be necessary to Him, for He alone is the Almighty God, the one who does all that He pleases to do whenever, wherever, and however He wishes to do them.

Thursday, March 28, 2019

Peter Lillback and a statement on K Scott Oliphant

In response to a suit being filed against K Scott Oliphant in the OPC, Dr. Peter Lillback has decided to give a statement by WTS on the matter.

Tuesday, March 12, 2019

Is Infinity truly the limit? God and the concept of infinity

When it comes to concepts such as "infinity," the simple understanding is that "infinity" is "infinity" and nothing can be greater than "infinity." That is the idea behind classical theism's idea of the infinity of God, where God is beyond and greater than finitude. Creaturely existence is finite, while the only uncreated One is infinite. Likewise, since "infinity" is "infinite," therefore one cannot speak of "infinite parts," for parts by definition are finite (c.f. James E. Dolezal, All that is in God, 48).

The problem for classical theism in this area is that it is based upon flawed metaphysics. In this particular case on the issue of "infinity," it is based upon a flawed mathematical theory. The 19th century German mathematician Georg Cantor figured out that infinity is not what we have traditionally thought it to be. Rather, "infinities" are actually transfinites, and one infinity can be larger than another infinity. This can be seen as the cardinality of the set of all real numbers (R) is larger than the cardinality of the set of all natural numbers (N), but both sets are sets of infinite numbers, as can be shown below:

To sum up, using one-to-one correspondence, it can be shown that the set of all real numbers is larger than the set of all natural numbers, since there exists a real number that cannot be mapped to the set of natural numbers. To phrase it another word, the cardinality of all real numbers (c, = א1?) is larger than the cardinality of all natural numbers (א0). Thus, one infinity is larger than another infinity. And even larger than these infinities is the power set of all natural numbers (P{c}), and so on and so forth.

Once we realize the strange world of infinities, we will realize that classical theism's view of "infinity" is not tenable. We can and must hold that God is infinite, but we cannot ever claim that the "infinity" of God is anything that can be argued from the "infinity(ies)" below. In other words, most theologizing about infinity that depends on natural theology or mathematics or science is in error. The infinity from below is of the creation and not the Creator, and it is unscientific to think otherwise.

This is one reason why I do not respect the new defenders of classical theism: in this time and age after all that we have learned of science and math, they ignorantly turned their backs on modern theories by ignoring them, thinking that by going back to the "Golden Age" of Scholasticism they will make [Reformed] Christianity great again! Roman Catholicism tried that at Vatican I and the Anti-Modernist Oath, and it didn't turn out too well, did it?

Monday, March 11, 2019

Does Adam have "natural theology"?

Adam therefore possessed these principles uncorrupted, just as they belong to nature. At that time he was able by comparing these principles with his reality and with signs to assemble in order the works of reasoning, to take them apart, to draw conclusions, and to decide, also according to nature, whatever nature could accomplish in divine matters by its ability. Finally, he was able to acquire some knowledge of divine matters according to the limit of his intact nature. (Franciscus Junius, A Treatise on True Theology with the Life of Franciscus Junius, 152)

What is "natural theology"? Franciscus Junius, a theologian in the 16th century, claimed a certain form of natural theology which is not autonomous but that comes from God through nature. In that sense, it is definitely better than the normal version of "natural theology." But where exactly is the proof that there is such a thing as "natural theology"?

"Natural theology," in order to be natural theology and not general revelation, must utilize reason. General revelation is what God reveals to Man, whereas natural theology must be inferred by man from nature in some manner. In other words, what differentiates general revelation from "natural theology" (in Junius' sense of the term) is whether God's revelation in nature is mediated by reason ("natural theology") or not. Therefore, Romans 1:19-20 cannot be used as a proof-text for natural theology, or Psalms 19 either, because all that is taught in those passages is General Revelation.

It is in this sense that I am not convinced of any case for any form of "natural theology." The idea that Adam prior to his fall had true natural theology is far fetched only because we know that God talked with Adam in the Garden of Eden. Adam did not "acquire" some knowledge of divine matters, as God directly interacted with him! Adam did not wake up in the Garden, looked at the world around him and deduced with his (at that time) sinless reason that God exists. No! Adam woke up to God his Creator already with him, and thus he knew God personally, not through inference.

It is for such reasons that "natural theology" is defective, no matter how well it is dressed up. We should reject the entire notion that reason, even one aided by God, can arrive at God even imperfectly. Without special revelation, reason cannot reach God, and this is what we should believe.

Wednesday, March 06, 2019

The Covenant of Redemption is of the Economic Trinity, in eternity

But the movement from ontological processions to divine missions is, as noted, a contingent act of the Trinity. This means that the Trinity deliberated regarding the divine missions. (John V. Fesko, The Trinity and the Covenant of Redemption, 181)

A better way forward, which preserves the distinctions between the processions and missions, is to recognize that obedience is the hyponym of love within the covenantal framework of Deuteronomy. … I contend that obedience is economic and part of the Son’s mission, not part of His eternal procession from the Father. (Fesko, 191)

The love of the immanent Trinity becomes manifest in the covenantal economic missions of both the Son and Spirit, namely, the Son’s obedience and the outpouring of the Spirit. (Fesko, 192)

If the Covenant of Redemption is eternal, neither of the ontological processions nor the divine missions but the movement from one to the other, and contingent, then we have an eternal, contingent covenant whereby the Son from eternity covenanted to obey the Father through God's plan of salvation, in order to redeem a people.

Fesko on the issue of 'merit'

First, we must demythologize a term. As much as some might consider merit a theological slur, it simply denotes the concept of equity – the idea that if someone meets stated obligations of an agreement then he is entitled to the consequent goal or reward. A number of Reformed confessions employ the term in this manner.135 Simply invoking the term merit does not automatically commit one to a specific theological position as evident by the fact that Roman Catholic and Protestant theologians have historically spoken both of merit within their respective theological systems. Where a theologian places merit, who specifically earns it, and how it is defined, on the other hand, is another matter entirely.

[Footnote 135: WCF XVI.v, XVII.ii, WLC qq. 55, 174, 193; Belgic Conf., §XXII-XXIV, XXXV]

(John V. Fesko, The Trinity and the Covenant of Redemption, 303)

Tuesday, March 05, 2019

The "Eternal Creator," and the issue of necessity and contingency

Third, the older tradition taught that creation is an external act of God that produces a temporal effect. God's act of creating is eternal. The thing created is temporal. ... The divine act of creation is nothing other than the eternal action of God's immutable will. Thus, there is no distinction in agency between God's will to create and the act of creating (see Rev. 4:11). They are the same act in God. (James E. Dolezal, All that is in God, 100)

One particularly disturbing error in Dolezal's attempted defense of classical theism is his claim that God is the eternal Creator. We note here that when Dolezal claims God is the eternal Creator, he is not claiming that creation is eternal, or that God's act to create is eternal, only that the the decree to create is eternal. In other words, in all fairness to Dolezal, he is not claiming that creation partakes of eternity in any way. The act of creation lies outside of God, and it is something God does in time.

Dolezal's assertion of God as the eternal Creator is a reaction against the view of theistic mutualism, most clearly in its statement that God "takes on temporal properties" (K. Scott Oliphant, God with Us, cited in Dolezal, 95) when He created the world. We must therefore understand Dolezal to mean that God was always the Creator in the sense that God does not change when He creates the world, and does not take on additional (temporal) properties in doing so. The creatorhood of God is always present, and therefore God does not take on additional properties in order to create the world.

Without actually reading what Oliphant has said, the idea that God must take on temporal properties in order to create strikes me as errant. At the same time, Dolezal's swing to claiming that God is eternally the Creator provokes a different sort of questions and veers towards a different sort of error. Since Creation is separate of God the Creator, the idea that "creatorhood" is eternal seems to be a claim that the act of creating is necessary to God. For if God does not initiate the act of creating (as opposed to producing the fact of creation), then how can it be said that God is the Eternal Creator? But if the act of creating is necessary to God, then Creation, the product, is necessary, not contingent. Is Dolezal seriously arguing that creation is necessary to God?

We can extrapolate that also to God as Redeemer. Does God have to save anyone, for a redeemer who does not redeem anyone cannot be called a redeemer? So is redemption therefore necessary to the being of God? If God is the Justifier who has decreed to justify the elect from eternity, is justification necessary to the being of God? Is God the eternal justifier, the eternal redeemer? For surely Christ is the lamb slain from before the foundation of the world (Rev. 13:8 alternate)!

I do not believe Dolezal has actually thought through the implications of what he is saying. Instead, he is relying on a flawed metaphysics and a flawed view of time, in his reaction against theological mutualism. But just because mutualism as it is presented is wrong, it does not mean that classical theism as mediated by Dolezal is right. Claiming that God is "Eternal Creator" may seem to resolve the problem of God's relation to Creation, but it creates a whole different set of problems with regards to the nature of God in making the opera ad extra indicative of the ens ad intra, making what should be things contingent into things necessary.

Saturday, March 02, 2019

Chance, quantum physics and methodological naturalism

Worst of all, the whole scheme [of methodological naturalism –DHC] works only with deterministic “laws.” Consider the decay of a radioactive nucleus, which cannot be predicted by scientific laws as we know them. The individual event of decay, in contrast to statistical prediction for many instances of decay, lies outside the domain of “law,” and so there is no way of saying whether it is “natural” or “preternatural” or “supernatural.” Biblical teaching indicates that God does it. And scientists cannot find a deterministic secondary cause, so they have no “natural” explanation at all. An event that has no secondary cause but only a primary cause, namely God, is usually considered “supernatural.” And yet myriads of such quantum mechanical events are happening every second. In terms of frequency, they are “normal” and “natural.” Conceptually, the distinction between natural and supernatural threatens to breaks down. This breakdown implies that the recipe for “methodological naturalism” has difficulties.

But methodological purists may attempt a rescue operation: Chance with a capital C fills the gap in naturalism. Chance is treated as a part of “nature.” That is one way of choosing to talk. … it also raises the question of whether methodological naturalism, in some forms, involves intrinsically the appeal to Chance as a substitute god. Such a move presupposes the absence of God, rather than presenting a coherent argument. (Vern S. Poythress, Chance and the Sovereignty of God, 130-1)

Quantum physics is a mysterious field of physics dealing with subatomic particles, even those smaller than electrons. The strange nature of quantum mechanics is such that weird phenomena such as tunneling and entanglement exists for these small particles. There is a real sense of indeterminacy in this field, expressed most clearly in the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle, where the uncertainty regarding momentum is inversely proportional to the uncertainty concerning position, of any one particle. Accordingly, the issue of chance and indeterminacy will come up in that particular field.

Vern Poythress, in attempting to reject methodological naturalism, uses a particular application of quantum principles in nuclear physics, concerning the radioactive decay of an atom, to disprove methodological naturalism. He argues that the indeterminacy of the decay of one radioactive nucleus results in there being no "deterministic secondary cause," and thus there is no real natural explanation at all for the decay of one radioactive nucleus. Thus, methodological naturalism is falsified, unless chance is taken to be a god.

Now, while I fully believe in the full sovereignty of God, Poythress' argument is not helpful here. The 'indeterminacy' of whether a radioactive nucleus decays can be taken to mean there is no secondary cause deciding whether any one particular radioactive nucleus decays or not, or rather the secondary cause does not operate in a deterministic manner. Take as an analogy the Boltzmann distribution of gas particles, which shows the statistical distribution of the energies of all gas particles. Any one particle will have a definite energy, but one does not know the particular energy of a particle when one measures the energy of the gas particles as a group (which translates to the temperature of the gas). Likewise, we perceive the distribution of radioactive decay of radioactive nuclei as an exponential decay curve, but do not know when any one particular radioactive nucleus will or will not decay. What is important here is that just because there is no determining secondary cause does not imply that there is no secondary cause at all.

This solution is not to make chance a "god," but merely to state the indeterminacy inherent in our knowledge of such small particles. Just like looking at gas molecules in a Boltzmann distribution, so likewise we look at nuclei of radioisotopes. Even if we could remove the high energy gas molecules, this does not change the distribution of the energies of the gas molecules from a Boltzmann distribution but rather a new Boltzmann distribution curve would form. So likewise, the thought experiment of putting two nuclei that would decay within the first half-life together would not result in two nuclei decaying within the first half-life, but that one will decay and the other would not.

The indeterminacy of an individual particle is situated in the determinacy of statistics. Therefore, Poythress' argument against methodological naturalism fails. Statistics is not a god of 'chance,' but an actual mathematical and scientific field. It no more indicates a lack of secondary causes than the use of statistics in dice rolling indicate the absence of secondary causes.

Tuesday, February 19, 2019

The misrepresentation of ESS

Another way in which some recent Calvinist theologians advance the notion of a compositional unity of divine knowledge and will is through the teaching of eternal functional subordination. In short, this teaching claims that the Son is eternally subordinate to the Father such that the Father has a unique power and authority to issue commands to the Son, and the Son, in turn, has the unique obligation to submit Himself to the Father's command. ... What makes this claim controversial is that this command-obedience arrangement is said to characterize the relations of the persons within the Godhead itself (ad intra) and not merely the Son's obligation as incarnate man. (James E. Dolezal, All that is in God, 132)

As someone who subscribes to ESS, this is such a terrible misrepresentation that it is amazing how it can even be written. It is not even a fair representation of Ware and Grudem either, with whom I have disagreements on this issue. First, ESS is always ad extra, not ad intra; functional not essential. Second, it is not that the Son is "eternally subordinate" but that he chooses to eternally submit to the Father. Third, it is relations and persons, not essence.

Now, it can be argued that based upon classical theism's notions of time and eternity and perfection and so on, ESS looks like what Dolezal has described. And certainly that is true. But a scholar has to not just claim that something looks like what he thinks it is according to his own system, but a scholar has to adequately represents the other side accurately. Since this is not what is going to happen, let me kindly suggest how a classical theist ought to critique ESS:

  1. Criticize ESS' view of time and eternity, but not doing it as "it is against classical metaphysics," but as an argument why classical metaphysics should be regarded as superior to ESS' metaphysics.
  2. Criticize (some) ESS' language of the inner life of God
  3. Criticize ESS' view of the relation of works to being
  4. Criticize (some) ESS' shallow doctrine of the Trinity.
  5. Propose a better way to explain God's interaction with His creatures, acknowledging the very real concerns their detractors have about an abstract and timeless deity, not just glossing over them and attacking their opponents with vitriol.

It is the last point which was really upsetting during the online war over ESS 2-3 years ago. Classical theists have never ONCE acknowledged the very real concerns their opponents have, and decide the best course of action was scorched-earth guns-blazing accusations of high treason against God, against their VERY OWN brothers in the faith. Reformed turned against Reformed, Evangelical turned against Evangelical, and for what? Spilling blood on behalf of Saint Thomas Aquinas? If there was one major event that shook my confidence in the Reformed faith, it was this event above all else.

Monday, February 18, 2019

What actually is time?

When we speak of time as a realm, ... we denote simply the created order which is populated by beings that are subject to and undergo change and thus are measured temporally. (James E. Dolezal, All that is in God, 79 footnote 2)

Accordingly, the essential nature of time is ... that it encompasses a succession of moments, that there is in it a period that is past, a period that is present, and a period that comes later. (Herman Bavinck, Reformed Dogmatics, 2:163, as cited in Dolezal, 88)

... time is indeed the numbering of change or motion... (Dolezal, 88)

If God should be in time, then the full actuality of His life would be built up out of temporal parts ... (Dolezal, 88)

Temporal beings must necessarily exhibit a variety of existential states since time is the measurement of movement between these states. (Dolezal, 89)

What actually is time? In these excerpts, we can see a certain philosophy of time at work, perhaps something that Dolezal himself is not aware. These statements reflect a view of time that sees time as a dimension, time as a B-series. This is seen most explicitly when Dolezal states that the "full actuality of [God's] life would be built out of temporal parts" if God were in time. The image that should come to mind is as if God is spread out through the time dimension so that one can cut a slice of time with a little of the divine in it. If that is sacrilegious, then of course it is! Another revealing part is the citation of Bavinck's Dogmatics whereby time is stated as having within it "a period that is past, a period that is present, and a period that comes later," which bring to mind the image that someone outside time can see all periods happening simultaneously. Now, if that were the view of time a person holds, then obviously God must be timeless, totally out of time, and classical theism would be absolutely right.

The problem of course is that it is by no means the case that this is the only theory and view of time. Treating time as a dimension seems to lend itself to the view that time itself is unreal (McTaggart's argument, as cited in Paul Horwich, Asymmetries in time: Problems in the Philosophy of Science, 18). Alternatively, one can see time as a dimension while allowing for there to be the possibility of counter-intuitive things like time travel, changing the past, and backward causation, which is what philosopher Paul Horwich argues for. I have yet to take a firm position on the nature of time, but it seems to me that the idea of seeing time as a dimension is wrong.

Instead of seeing time as a dimension, it should be seen as just movement of duration or succession. It should not be tied down to any physical or material thing for a very simple reason: Can we use time words for non-physical and non-material things? If we can do so, then time should not be tied to space. So although there is a sense in which time and space are related (i.e. special and general relativity), it seems to me to be reductionistic to reduce time to space alone.

Perhaps something that would aid us is the following question: Did God exist before the creation of the universe? The orthodox answer should be yes. But think about the question again. WE are asking if God exists (state) before (temporal term) the creation of the universe (along with what we normally call time). So how can we apply a temporal term ("before") to God when time did not exist ("before" the creation of the world)? If we are to be consistent with the idea that all manner of time begins at creation, then we cannot say that God existed before the creation of the universe, because that would be a nonsense sentence. There cannot be anything before creation, because there was no time *before* creation. And now we end up tying our sentences in knots because even our language cannot conceive of what this actually means.

It would be really helpful for those who insist that time must only begin at creation to amend their statements. Stop talking about time events before creation, or time states either, because that would be false if time only began then. Stop saying that God exists before creation, and perhaps just say that God exists outside time. Stop saying that God ever hates the elect prior to them coming to faith (in contradiction of Ephesians 2), because God's love for the elect is eternal and thus timeless and unchanging. Stop teaching that the Covenant of Redemption was present before God created the world, because the eternal covenant as an eternal covenant must be likewise timeless and not subject to "before, now, and after." Be consistent with your talk about God and eternity, at the very least.

Sunday, February 17, 2019

Bad arguments on the simplicity of God

Touching the question of God's simpliciity, whatever is perfectly infinite in being cannot be built up from that which is finite in being. But parts of a thing must necessarily be finite. (James E. Dolezal, All that is in God, 48)

If God should be composed of parts, then these parts would be before Him in being, even if not in time, and He would rightly conceived of as existing from them, or of them. (Dolezal, 49)

In response to the first argument, it is not true that parts of a thing must necessarily be finite. It is mathematically possible to create a composite equation consisting of both finite and infinite components (And yes, parts CAN be infinite). In response to the second argument, why can it not be that the whole is prior logically, and the parts are discerned only when the whole is dissected? For example, a multi-dimensional tesseract is prior to the cube, since a cube is a 3-dimensional face of a n-dimensional tessarect. The tessarect is primary, yet we can break it down into 3-dimensional cubes for viewing, or even 2 dimensional squares. Therefore, this argument of priority is not sound.

May I suggest that Dolezal might benefit from actually learning mathematics (at the higher level) and science (also at the higher level), before making such arguments?

Saturday, February 16, 2019

Theology Proper and Mutualism (of any kind)

Previous post on this topic here.

First, it is incoherent to say that God is ontologically immutable while denying that He is absolutely immutable, unless one believe there are change in God that are not alterations of actuality or being (which is de facto ontological). But then these changes would not be the alteration of anything real, and therefore any cogent intelligibility of [Bruce -DHC] Ware's point collapses. (James E. Dolezal, All that is in God, 25)

Thus says Thomist thinker James Dolezal, against the idea that there can be changes in God as promoted by Bruce Ware. But is that a proper critique? I would assert not

Ware and others like him promote theological mutalism, a position that claims that God in His relations with his creatures enter into a "give-and-take" relationship with them. Now, theological mutualism does not seem to me to be correct because the give-and-take seems to be dealing with God in His essence. That would certainly affect the doctrine of immutability. Likewise, I am uncomfortable with any talk about God changing. However, it must be acknowledged that Ware's idea of change within God is not ontological, for that is after all what Ware himself states. To claim that Ware is promoting ontological change in God is therefore not an honest portrayal of his position.

If changes in God are not ontological, are there not real? That is Dolezal's argument against Ware. If non-ontological changes are not real, then to speak of them is to speak nonsense. But it is on this point that we must assert that, yes, non-ontological changes can be real. After all, in marriage, a man becomes a husband, but there is no ontological change in him, is there? When a son is born, does a man ontologically transmutes into "a father"? Is there some "father-ness" quality that is added to the man when his son is born? But it may be objected that these are mere external relations. Firstly, are they truly merely external relations? In the case of the birth of a son, surely the son partakes of the father, having half of his genome within him. Secondly, just because some of them are external relations, does it make them not real? Is the marriage covenant merely a arbitrary thing because there is no ontological changes that take place to both parties during marriage?

In the case of God, surely we can be concerned with any talk of change in God. But if someone states that any such change he is proposing is "non-ontological," may I suggest taking a more charitable approach and actually assume that he really means "non-ontological" when he says "non-ontological"? The problem then with mutualism is not that they are attacking immutability, but they are not ascribing the changes of God in the correct sphere. If they speak of the changes being "non-ontological," then they must at the very least be speaking of God in His workings ad extra, in His energies, not in His essence. And that in my opinion is what Scripture itself teaches, but that is for another time.

Natural theology and the issue of "being"

Classical Christian theism is deeply devoted to the absoluteness of God with respect to His existence, essence, and activity. Nothing about God's being is derived or caused to be. There is nothing beyond Him or outside Him that could increase, alter, or augment His infinite fullness of being and felicity. For this reason, He cannot subject Himself to changes because every change involves a cause that brings the subject an actuality of being that the subject lacks in and or itself. [James E. Dolezal, All That is in God: Evangelical Theology and the Challenge of Classical Christian Theism (Grand Rapids, MI: Reformation Heritage Books, 2017), 10]

14. God cannot give being to Himself since He cannot give what He does not have; and if already possess the fullness of being, He cannot receive it from Himself. No one is enriched in any way by what one already possesses. Such a notion of giving and receiving that of which one is already in perfect possession is trivial at best and nonsensical at worst. Enrichment requires addition of actuality. God can have nothing added to Him because He lacks no perfection of being and actuality. (Dolezal, 17 footnote 14)

[Before we start, let me just state that I hold to divine perfection, and the aseity, infinity, immutability, impassibility, and simplicity of God. That done? Let's begin.]

God is God. He is infinite, and His existence and essence is most certainly absolute. He is fully a se, and thus dependent on no one for anything. That all is true. However, it is truly fascinating how that can be used to translate into an argument for immutability. Worse still is how natural theology is retrofitted as something appropriate for the 21st century. It is shocking and disturbing how natural theology is making a comeback, as if Scripture alone is insufficient and nature sufficient to inform us about who and what God is in His fullness. It is almost as if we did not learn anything from Vatican I and the Thomisms that spawned from it, thinking that somehow a revival of Thomas Aquinas is beneficial to the Protestant church!

In God's providence, the conclusions about who God is as delivered through classical theism have been true to the Scriptures. But just as God can use crooked sticks to draw straight lines, so likewise just because God had used Aristotelian and Thomistic metaphysics does not imply that the tools used are somehow sacrosanct. There comes a time when, upon further reflection, we might see the limitations of these tools and how using them further would harm us and our knowledge of God. It is my opinion that such a time has come, as the attempt to revive Thomistic metaphysics in the modern day has resulted in more problems than it actually solves.

In Dolezal's book, the basic premise of the Ontological argument is rephrased and refitted into an argument for immutability. Since God has perfect infinite being, therefore there cannot be any changes in God. Utilizing Thomistic categories, God's infinite perfection must imply full actuality (purus actus) and immutability. The reason why infinite perfection implies immutability is because change implies potentiality, and any change is a change away from perfection, which shows that God is not infinitely perfect. But since God is infinitely perfect, therefore God must be immutable and is pure act.

From a natural theology perspective, we cannot smuggle in propositions from Scripture. So therefore, arguing from philosophy alone, why must we accept the argument that infinite perfection must imply that any change would be against God's infinite perfect nature? Dolezal argues that "there is nothing beyond Him or outside Him that could increase, alter, or augment His infinite fullness of being and felicity." Very true, only if we hold to aseity. But what about changes within God Himself? Here, Dolezal claims that "every change involves a cause that brings the subject an actuality of being that the subject lacks in and or itself." But this is not necessarily the case. "Perfection" apart from its biblical content can mean a lot of things, and it is not evident that "perfection" must imply the existence of some form of infinite good that is by definition unsurpassable by anything else. Likewise with the word "infinite." A black holes is an infinite singularity "cordoned off" from the rest of the universe by its event horizon, yet it has finite mass and occupies finite (3D) space. So what does "infinite" really mean?

Is there even such a conception as a "perfect being" rightly understood according to Platonism? In evolutionary biology, "perfection" does not exist, for an organism perfectly suited for its ecosystem can suddenly be ill-fitted when the world and its habitats change. So what is "perfection"? Static immutability is far from perfect in biology! So what exactly do we mean by "infinite" and "perfection" since we are defining it according to natural theology (which cannot be limited to only Thomistic natural theology, but is to refer to all attempts to think about God from a earthly perspective!)

Since such is the case, Dolezal's statement that "[God] cannot subject Himself to changes because every change involves a cause that brings the subject an actuality of being that the subject lacks in and or itself" is false according to the full version of natural theology. It is first false because "infinite perfection" can be defined as supreme adaptability to all forms of changes, as in biology. It is second false because all changes can be to the accidents and not the substance of being, as when wolves adapt to become various species of dogs yet they still are part of the wolf kind. [It may be objected that that is a denial of simplicity, but that is not part of Dolezal's argument, which claims that infinite perfection ALONE implies immutability and pure act.] Thirdly, it is false because change from within can come about through internal processes yet without affecting the ontology of the being itself, as when mental discipline can allow for humans to do some remarkable things like walking on fire and on needles, yet nothing is changed in the essence of the the person himself.

But, if Thomstic metaphysics can get us to what the Bible explicitly teaches (God as perfect, God as infinite, God as immutable), why should we be hung up over the manner we get to those? It matters because method is not neutral, and the method has the potential to lead us to an undermining of what the Bible teaches in other places. After all, the Bible does not teach Aristotle neither is the Summa Theologia the 67th book of the Bible. If we truly practice Sola Scriptura, then even concerning the doctrine of God which has been served rather well by classical metaphysics, we must hold the method critically at arm's length. From my perspective, I do not see any necessity of utilizing classical metaphysics besides historical theology, as I am confident that the Bible alone is sufficient to provide us the whole doctrine of God, utilizing classical metaphysics as the skeletal form to direct our theologizing, and nothing else.

Friday, February 08, 2019

The really "woke" person

Also, sadly, on the path to apostasy