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

Thursday, February 07, 2019

Book Review: Divided We Fall: Overcoming a History of Christian Disunity

Unity is something that God desires in his church (c.f. Jn. 17:21), yet the Christian church seems to be growing more and more fragmented. How then ought we to seek and fight for Christian unity in a divided world? Luder G. Whitlock Jr. had this question in mind as he wrote his book promoting Christian unity, in Divided We Wall: Overcoming a History of Christian Disunity, published in 2017. I have read the book and reviewed it in a book review here. An excerpt:

The history of the Christian church concerning the cause of Christian peace and unity has not been very glorious. Over the centuries, there have been many divisions within what is purported to be the one catholic and apostolic church. It is common among Roman Catholic apologists to attack Protestantism for all the divisions in the church ... [continue]

Time travel and the issue of autoinfanticide

In the first place, it is quite obvious that there are constraints on the timelike curves may act as loci for particular sorts of causal chain. The spatiotemporal interval between distinct events of a type of causal process if commonly determined by laws of physics. Second, any causal chain must be consistent with those chains which are located along intersecting lines.... Such systems [of self-defeating systems -DHC] are excluded by just those restrictions on causal chains and their interrelationships that ordinarily apply in open time. [Paul Horwich, Asymmetries in Time: Problems in the Philosophy of Science (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1992), 118-9]

The problem with the possibility of time travel is that it opens up paradoxes. In particular, if one can travel to the past and alter history, could one kill one's infant self, thus result in an unresolvable contradiction? Or one can cause any change in world history, resulting in one not being born at all. There are a couple of possible ways such time paradoxes could be resolved. One way is for one to be threatened to be erased from time (and would be erased from existence) if one attempts to kill one's infant self or do anything which prevents one's being born (as seen in Back to the Future). Another way is one can kill "one's infant self" and realize when one returns that one has a different pedigree altogether (because of actions committed in the past), with perhaps even a different set of memories and life experiences when one returns (or having both sets simultaneously). Since nobody has ever witnessed time travel neither it is at present feasible to attempt time travel, anything we have now about time travel is mere speculation.

As a thought experiment however, thinking about time travel tells us more about one's philosophy of time. The philosopher Paul Horwich, in dealing with the problem of time travel and the problem of autoinfanticide, suggests that the nature of causal chains make it such that overlapping and contradictory timelike causal chains are impossible since "any causal chain must satisfy consistency conditions imposed by its surroundings" (p. 119). In other words, paradoxes such as autoinfanticide are impossible because consistency in spacetime conditions must be maintained, and therefore a subsequent causal chain cannot disrupt the former conditions in the spacetime environment, laid out in the causal chains that are already present there. When one attempts to kill one's infant self, circumstances will ensure that that would not be possible no matter how hard one tries to do so.

My question to such a solution to the paradox however is why we must state that circumstances must prevent autoinfanticide from happening, instead of conceding that a genuine paradox might occur in the timeline of the world. Postulating that a subsequent causal chain cannot disrupt previous chains because of "consistency conditions" is merely to answer the question with a restatement of the question in the form of an answer. "Why must another causal chain NOT disrupt previous chains," when analyzed, is the essence of the question "Why must one not be able to murder one's earlier self," which is our initial question. Horwich's claim that autoinfanticide is impossible it seems boils down to the assertion that it is impossible, which is not a good answer at all.

Subsequently, speculations about the physical and technological possibility of time travel are stated, and that might be true impediments to time travel. But arguments based upon human psychology (why would one wants to kill one's former self), and the strange physical inability to kill oneself, are unconvincing. Unless one rejects that man has free agency, man is naturally able to choose to do what one desires to do. It does not matter whether one wants to do action X or not. If man has the natural ability to choose action X, then the paradox remains. Likewise, postulating all manner of circumstances (gun misfire, fall ill on the day when one will try to kill one's former self) does not solve the problem because these contingent factors can be resolved to satisfaction in other possible worlds, and therefore the paradox remains.

It seems therefore that the paradoxes of time travel has not been well resolved in Horwich's book. The autoinfanticide paradox, as well as the time travelers' paradox, remain problems that seem to suggest the impossibility of time travel in this universe.

Tuesday, February 05, 2019

McTaggart and Time

1. Events are located in a B-series, only if time exists. In order to see that McTaggart's first premise is correct, one must remember that it is not time in the Newtonian sense—an array of thinglike instants—whose reality is in question. Rather, the consequent of (1)—time exists—is supposed to be construed in a very broad way, as something like "the world exhibits temporality'. And in that case, premise 1 becomes a trivial truth. [Paul Howrich, Asymmetries in Time: Problems in the Philosophy of Science (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1987), 18]

The puzzling thing about the philosophy of time to me is why it is thought that a B-series is ontologically necessary. The idea of "earlier than," "later than" does not need a real B series to function, but rather they could be seen in a B series that is the projection of the movement of an A series. In other words, rather than looking at events according to "earlier than" or "later than," shouldn't it rather be looking at two events on the A series line, project them onto a B series, and only then can it be seen which is earlier and which is later? In other words, events are not located in a B-series, but projected onto a B-series.

Along the same path of understanding, the time words of "now," "past," "present," "future" should be understood as descriptive words not properties of any instance in time. It should be false to describe moment A as having the property "present" or "past" or "future," since whatever descriptor is applicable depends on the relation of moment A to the current "now." Since any one moment does not possess temporal properties of any sort, but rather everything is merely relation, the whole idea of any one moment A acquiring simultaneously the "properties" "past," "present," "future" as the "moving now" passes through that moment is without merit.

Time and fatalism

... By the same token, a thorough criticism of the 'moving now' conception must eventually deal with the tree model of reality. Let us therefore examine the reason that, following Aristotle, is most often cited as motivating this ontological asymmetry: the avoidance of fatalism.

The case for fatalism goes something like this: What was true in the past logically determines what will be true in the future; therefore, since the past is over and done with and beyond our control, the future must also be beyond our control; consequently, there is no point worrying, planning, and taking pains to influence what will happen. [Paul Horwich, Asymmetries in Time: Problems in the Philosophy of Science (Cambridge, MA: Massachusetts Institute of Technology, 1987), 28]

In his book on the issue of time, Paul Horwich attempts to show how we can understand time, which is seemingly unidirectional, as being a non-directional dimension that has inherent properties that result in the emergence of the flow of time as we know it. The book is an exercise in how time can be understood to exist in the universe if time is to be understood as a dimension of the universe, but in my reading I have not seen any reason stated why time is to be understood thus.

Horwich in the first main chapter (the second chapter of the book) attempts to deal with the issue of the directionality of time. Time moves forward for all of us, and thus it is taken as common sense by most people that the future is undetermined while the past which is already past cannot be changed. However, Horwich sought to undermine the concept that the past is actually fixed. The argument in this chapter is not that the past MUST be mutable, but that it CAN be changed, which is a weaker argument. To do this, Horwich extends the argument for fatalism from the premise that the past is fixed to the conclusion that either some act R's "future truth is now fixed and beyond our control, or R's future falsity is fixed and beyond our control" (p. 29). In other words, if the past is fixed, then logically, it means that the future is fixed as well. Horwich accomplishes this with a key step stating that the truth value of the statement "It was the case at past time p that S will be true at future time f" is necessarily the same as the truth value of the statement "It is the case that S will be true at future time f." Thus, given a B series, the end result is fatalism. Therefore, there are three choices Horwich gives to us:

  1. Abandon the plausible sounding view that the past is already determined and beyond our control ...
  2. Follow Aristotle by giving up the idea that all statements about the future have a present truth value ...
  3. Invite fatalism by agreeing that even future events are presently beyond our control

(Horwich, 29)

The first problem with Horwich's approach it seems is that there does not seem to be any recognition of the difference between determinism and fatalism. Fatalism is the view that everything happens regardless of what you or anyone does. In other words, in fatalism, if it is predetermined that person X will be walking along the road and be hit by a car at 11 pm and die, that will happen even if person X attempts to stay home at 11 pm and so avoid his fate. Determinism however only state that such and such a thing would happen. But one variation of determinism could state that the actions of individuals are factored into the future. In other words, if it is determined that person X have the same fate, person X will want to walk on that road and then he will be hit by the car on 11 pm and die. If person X learned that he might die and thus stayed home, the actual determined future is that person X stayed home and live. Fatalism allows for no personal agency of any actor to interfere with its determined future, while determinism factors in the personal agencies of all actors in its determined future.

Since such is the case, Horwich's aversion to fatalism and his rejection of it in favor of a mutable past does not seem wise. There is no reason why we must be open to the idea that the past is mutable, and fatalism is just as false as it always has been.

Sunday, February 03, 2019

Conference: Remembering the Canons: After 400 Years

2019 is the 400th anniversary of the Synod of Dordt. Westminster Seminary California, my alma mater, had decided to commemorate the Synod of Dort in their annual conference on January 18-19, 2019. The sessions of this conference are as follows:

  1. Why Dort Happened, or Why Arminius Is Not the Hero of the Story (Part 1, Part 2), by W. Robert Godfrey
  2. A Real Atonement for Real Sinners, by Michael S. Horton
  3. Unconditional Election and the Free Offer of the Gospel, by R. Scott Clark
  4. Dort and the Holy Exercises of Piety, by Charles Telfer
  5. The Relevance of Dordt in Oprah's America, by Joel E. Kim

Saturday, February 02, 2019

Conference: Social Justice and the Gospel

The pre-G3 conference, "Social Justice & The Gospel: The God-breathed Hierarchy and the Postmodern Crisis within the Church," was on January16, 2019. The sessions have now been uploaded here. They are as follows:

  1. Introduction to the Social Justice and the Gospel Conference, by Michael O'Fallon
  2. Defining Social Justice, by Dr. Voddie Baucham
  3. Virtue Signaling: The New Evangelistic Strategy, by Phil Johnson
  4. An Exegetical and Historical Examination of the Woke Church Movement, by Dr. James R. White
  5. Brave New Religion: Intersectionality, by Dr. Josh Buice
  6. White Privilege: The New Original Sin, by Dr. Thomas Ascol

The conference then ends with a panel with the framers of the Statement on Social Justice and the Gospel.