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.