Tuesday, August 30, 2022

Flirting with flavors of Nestorianism....

The Internet Classical Theists have been focusing their attention on trying to "maximize" the divinity of Christ. It is of course true that Jesus in his incarnate state continue to possess all the attributes of deity, possessing his full divine nature (contra kenoticism). But we know that Jesus did not always "act divine" and therefore in those many times throughout his 33 years on earth, at those instances he had set aside the use of his divine attributes. For example, it is inconceivable for Jesus to "act divine" while dying on the Cross, for immortality is a divine attribute. This idea that Jesus set aside the use of certain divine attributes from time to time during his incarnation is basic evangelical teaching about the incarnation, for if Jesus had it, and it was not expressed, it was not used.

Classical Theists however are not happpy with this teaching. They insist that Jesus as God always have these divine attributes. Most certainly, none of us will disagree with what they say, on the surface. But, at least for one such proponent, he states that for Jesus to not use his divine attributes is to have it go "from actuality into potentiality." I must say that is a very bizzare way of inserting Aristotelian metaphysics into Scripture, as if use or disuse has any correlation with actuality and potentiality in God, noting especially that everyone agrees that the incarnate state is something unique to the Son, not to the entire Godhead. More generally, there is a pushback against any supposed limits on the divine nature. Jesus according to these internet classical theists must express his divine nature all the time, while expressing the human nature also.

All of this comes to a head in the interpretation of Mark 13:32. When Jesus expressed his ignorance of future times, was he doing so out of his human nature? In a sense, everyone agrees that this was done according to the human nature. But the internet classical theists seem to think that Jesus was simultaneously knowing the future times "according to the divinity" even as he denied it in his mouth "according to his humanity." However, if one holds that Jesus is one person, we have a problem. Natures are not persons. Therefore, by definition, natures cannot do, act, or think. So if Jesus "according to his divinity" knows the future times while "according to his humanity" does not know the future times, the natures seem to acquire quasi-personal qualities. One can perhaps claim that Jesus both know and does not know in his one person, that natures do not truly know anything, but unless one is stating that as an indicative of split personality, that is a blatant contradiction. One's mental state cannot be both knowing and not knowing of the same thing at the same time, for such violates the law of non-contradiction.

It is in this light that the classical theists' strong assertions that seem to separate the divine nature and the human nature begin to acquire flavors of Nestorianism. Nestorianism (whether Nestorius actually believed it is irrelevant here) is the teaching that Jesus Christ is two persons: one divine, one human. In Nestorianism, because Jesus is two persons, one can easily do what Josh Sommers has done and clearly demarcate "the Son qua God" and "the Son qua Man." The Nestorian does not have to be concerned if the two natures are doing different things and thinking different thoughts even, for they are two natures of the two persons. This is not to say that the internet classical theists are Nestorians, only that what they are saying seems to be flirting with Nestorianism.

A solution that has been floated is the ideat that Jesus has two minds. But in response, how does that not look like split personality disorder? How do the two minds work together in the one person if they are thinking different things? Lastly, since minds are properties of persons, how does that not ultimately lead back to Nestorianism? I do not believe that this works either, and therefore the internet classical theists seem to be in a pickle: Either they can embrace Nestorianism, or claim paradox in their system without providing an explanation for the paradox. Perhaps there is some other way for them to proceed, but I do not see it.

Monday, August 29, 2022

EFS and the issue of modality

(1) If Hard EFS is true, then the Son has the property being functionally subordinate in all time segments in all possible worlds.

(2) If the Son has this property in every possible world, then the Son has this property necessarily. Furthermore, the Son has this property with de re rather than de dicto necessity.

(3) If the Son has this property necessarily (de re), then the Son has it essentially.

(4) If Hard EFS is true, then the Son has this property essentially while the Father does not.

(5) If the Son has this property essentially and the Father does not, then the Son is of a different essence than the Father. Thus the Son is heteroousios rather than homoousios.

[Thomas H. McCall, Which Trinity? Whose Monotheism? Philosophical and Systematic Theologians on the Metaphysics of Trinitarian Theology, 179-80]

In other words, because McCall has defined “essential property” according to Lowe’s definition, and was required by using that definition to equivocate on the term “essential property” when moving from premises (3) and (4) to premise (5), all McCall has demonstrated is the inadequacy of possible world semantics to provide an adequate account of the sui generis metaphysical distinctions that exist between the divine essence and persons, as well as among the three divine persons themselves. [Paul C. Maxwell, "Is there an Authority Analogy between the Trinity and Marriage? Untangling arguments of Subordination and Ontology in Egalitarian-Complementarian Discourse," JETS 59/3 (2016): 561]

Thomas McCall's argument against what he had termed "Hard EFS" has irked EFS proponents like Bruce Ware. It is rather natural to see the equivocation in the word "necessary" in statement 2, where the word "necessary" is equivocated between "belonging to its essence" and "must happen." On a second look however, it seems there is more to this argument than just the eqivocation part, but a use of modal logic that seems to makes his point clearer. Paul Maxwell in his paper seems to think that the problem in McCall's argument is due to a limitation of possible world semantics, but I do not believe such is the case.

Let us however start with looking at the modal parts of McCall's argument. McCall is basically using the concepts of possible worlds, where something that is necessary in all possible worlds is taken to have de re necessity, or necessity belonging to the essence of a thing. Since EFS states that the Son is functionally "subordinate" to the Father necessarily, therefore it would seem that using the logic of modality, such a necessity of "functional subordination" is de re, as pertaining to the nature of the Son. If the necessity is de re, then McCall's statement 2 makes sense. But why must it be de re necessity and not de dicto necessity? It is true that the sentence, "Necessarily, the Son submits to the Father" sounds odd, but I cannot see any reason why one should not interpret the necessity de dicto rather than de re, as "The Son exists as necessily submitting to the Father."

But if it is a de dicto necessity, what grounds the necessity if not the nature of a thing? After all, God is the only being that necessarily exists a se, so therefore one cannot ground necessity in anything else because none exists prior to God. This is where things get interesting, because if one really thinks about it using the idea of possible worlds, this necessity is not a true necessity at all, or is it?

One thing about God is that He is simple. Simplicity states that all of God's attributes are united as one in God, such that one cannot subtract any of them from God. When one considers why one would think the Son submits to the Father, one returns back to the decree of God. But can God decree otherwise? In a certain sense, God has free will and can decree whatever He wants. But God is at the same time one, and cannot decree against Himself and violate one or another of His attributes. Thus, we see the problems for possible world semantics when we consider the things of God. For if possible worlds for the Christian is one where God exists, then this God comes with all of His attributes. How then can we consider God's middle knowledge, if the reason why God does something or not may be because that does not fully show His holiness, or His love, or something else? Certainly, we can consider possible worlds where God does not express His attributes in a maximal manner, but if possible world semantics is supposed to work when considering all of God's free and middle knowledge, how can possible worlds semantics work there?

It would therefore seem that we must add new categories for possible world semantics if we want them to work in a world with a simple God. We need to add the concept of theologically impossible worlds, impossible not because it is logically inconsistent or incoherent, but seeemingly possible worlds that are imposssible because they somehow violate or temper with the expression of one of more of God's attributes (not the attributes themselves). Thus, there is an impossible world where God does not show His holiness at all. There is also an impossible world where the Father decided to take the place of the Son. If one takes on this category of theologically impossible worlds, then the issue of necessity and EFS becomes soluble in this modified concept of possible worlds. The necessity of EFS is a de dicto necessity that is necessary because God wants it so. It is not de re because it is not necessary in the impossible worlds where God did not create the world and have sinners to save. Therefore, in the impossible world where God is not the Savior, EFS is not necesary.

Tuesday, August 23, 2022

How to evaluate truth values in possible worlds under possibilism

Part of the allure of modal actualism is that it makes it easier to state what we mean by truth values in possible worlds. Truth values in an actualist world is evaluated by whether it corresponds with any or some possible world, be they considered as "states of affairs," "sets of properties," "propositions" etc. Since these are actual things that any statement can be compared, one is able to evaluate the truth of falsity of modal statements. Whereas in a possibilist system, how exactly are the truth values of modal statements to be evaluated? Possibilia are non-existent things, so how does one evaluate any modal statement under possiblism?

To answer this question, we must ask ourselves how possible worlds come about. Possible worlds are thought of by someone. Someone wonders what might happen if aliens invaded the earth, and we end up with tons of alien invasions storylines. Some others wondered what a mythology for England would look like, and we arrived at Tolkien's Middle Earth. George Lucas conceived of a possible world with New Age concepts in a sci-fi fantasy setting, and we have Star Wars. The list goes on and on. All of these are possible worlds, conceived by one or more humans using the power of their imaginations. Despite being fiction, they fit any qualification for inclusion as possible worlds, as a giant catalogue of "What If" scenarios play out in the minds of imaginative minds.

What allows some possible worlds to actually seem like a possible universe, while others are absolute trash? Plausible possible worlds are internally coherent. If the world holds that the laws of physics are similar to our own, then the laws of physics will operate just like ours. If the world is a sci-fi setting that holds that there is a miracle ubotainium metal that provides energy and gravitational manipulation, that unobtainium will not suddenly become a human being without powers. In a fantasy setting with magic that is governed by quantity of mana, it is always the case that someone with more mana has access to more magical power. The point here is simple: Any real possible world must be self-consistent. In other words, there is a coherence to any possible world which cannot be violated without undermining that world.

After Disney Star Wars took the liberty of "innovating" Star Wars, Episode VIII The Last Jedi was an absolute mess (I did not even bother paying to watch it; just watch the train wreck later on either Netflix or Disney Plus). One scene in that stinking mess illustrates why coherence in world-building is so important. That scene is the so-called "Lightspeed ramming" by woke feminist 'Admiral' Holdo. In that scene, Holdo sacrificed herself to take out the pursuing Imperial Dreadnought. Her method to do so is to accelerate to "lightspeed," which normally means entering hyperspace. However, by doing so so close to the dreadnought, hyperspace was not entered before the startship hit the dreadnought, destroying them both together with many other surrounding imperial ships.

That scene was one of the things Star Wars fans were furious over, and with good reason. If "lightspeed ramming" were possible, then everyone should be using it and there would be no reason to build any capital ship. One can just program a droid to make the calculations to execute such suicide missions, and the enemy capital ships would be gone. In fact, the supposed existential threat posed by the two Death Stars make no sense. Just program twenty droid ships, make them do lightspeed ramming into the Death Star, and goodbye Death Star! In other words, "lightspeed ramming" violates the internal logic of the Star Wards mythology. JJ. Abrams' forced retcon that the "Holdo manoeuvre" is a "one in a million" thing is a total joke, because one can get around the odds by using droids who are suposed to be able to do the precise calculations faster than any human (including Holdo) ever could.

All of these show us how we can evaluate truth values in possible worlds, if we reject modal actualism. One evaluates truth values by its consistency with the mythos of the imagined world. From a consistency standpoint, "lightspeed ramming" is necessarily false in the Star Wars universe. That it is treated as "true" by Disney Star Wars makes the Disney Star Wars version of Star Wars an irrational world, where nothing in the world needs to cohere with each other. Is that a "possible world"? No, it is an irrational world where "truth values" corresponds merely to the ipse dixit of whoever happens to be the storyteller at the moment. Nothing needs to make sense anymore in such an irrational world, where nothing can work until the narrator decides how they ought to work, for who knows whether a giant Mickey Mouse will suddenly appear out of nowhere, pick up Darth Sidious and swallow him up before instituting a 1000 year of intergalatic peace under Wanda Maximoff?

Truth values are evaluated in possible worlds based upon the internal logic of each possible world in addition to the normal nonmodal predicates, and none of the entities need to exist ontologially for modal arguments to be evaluated. One does not need to think any of them are actually existing, and thus truth claims in possible worlds can be evaluated under possibilism, or in this case, conceptual possibilism.

Monday, August 22, 2022

The catastrophe of repealing S377A in Singapore

In his National Day rally speech, Singapore Prime Minister LEE Hsien Long took the step of announcing the decision to repeal S377A of the Singapore penal code. This part of the law has been assaulted by the LGBTQ+++ lobby in Singapore (that take its social cues from the West) for many years, and it seems that the pressure of the pink dollar is getting too hard to bear.

Section 377A of the Penal Code state thus:

Any male person who, in public or private, commits, or abets the commission of, or procures or attempts to procure the commission by any male person of, any act of gross indecency with another male person, shall be punished with imprisonment for a term which may extend to 2 years.

Many people have seen S337A as expressing social disapproval of homosexuality, as well as being the defence against a militant LGBT+ activism. However, many Christians have not thought through the issue clearly, and it shows. S377A did indeed perform those functions for some time, but the reasaon why any society should be against LGBT+ was not well thought through. While certainly, Christianity abominates homosexuality, there is a more systematic reason why homosexuality should not be entertained by any human society secular or religious, and the reason has nothing to do with institutional religion at all.

From a Christian perspective, God is the same God who has created the world. He has set forth His order in creation, and this order is seen in what is known as Natural Law. Natural Law is that part of General Revelation that concerns the creation and moral order of the world that is partly stamped into the Imago Dei. Man always have a sense of Natural Law with him. While ethicists can debate issues of ethics, no professional philosopher has to tell any human that killing and stealing is wrong, even though killing and stealing are found in all societies on earth. Even where killing and stealing are somehow excused, it is excused only in relation to "outsiders," never to those in one's tribe. This proves the reality stated in Scripture, that

For when Gentiles, who do not have the [Mosaic -DHC] law, by nature do what the law requires, they are a law to themselves, even though they do not have the law. They show that the work of the law is written on their hearts, while their conscience also bears witness, and their conflicting thoughts accuse or even excuse them. (Rom. 2:14-15)

That LGBT is wrong is found in the Natural Law, encoded into creation that marriage is between a man and a woman. Polygamy, while a violation of the moral law, is not a violation of the creation norm that man and woman together makes a marriage. In the entirety of human history, normal marriage is seen as normative. LGBT+ activists love to point out instances of homosexuality in history, but that's not the issue. The issue is what has always been considered normative versus what was seen as non-normative. Normal marriages are the norm, and homosexuality always as not the norm, even if that particular society did not consider it a sin.

LGBT+ activists love to assert that allowing for LGBTQ+ does not affect the rest of us. That however is a false statement. It affects us by normalizing LGBTQ+ as an alternative. If these are normal, then for those of us who continue to believe in the truth, would we now be considered "hateful" and "intolerant" for speaking what most people in the past had always believed to be true? That is the issue, not whether LGBT+ identified people are present, but whether LGBTQ+ is to be considered normal.

For those of us in Singapore, the sad thing is that many Christians evidently think nothing of the repeal of S377A. Many have bought into the lie that those who are not LGBTQ+ would not be affected in any way by the repeal. But perhaps worse of all is that we have actual theological resources that speak to this situation: the situation of how ethics and morality interact with the State.

When Reformed Christian talk about the moral law of God, which is binding on all humans, most of us focus on the first and third uses of the Law. The first use of the law (the Gospel Use) is that the Law shows us our failure to obey it and thus drives us to Christ. The third use of the Law states that the Law shows us God's standards and therefore show us the way we should live (the Regulative Use). What has been misssing in much of our conversations all this time is the second use of the Law: the Civil use. As its name suggests, it is the use of the Law for civil society, precisely because this use of the Law reflects Natural Law back on to society and call society both to the order of creation and to the moral law they have already in their consciences. The Civil use of the Law is meant to restrain sin, and thus it has a communal aspect. It applies to the entire domain of creation, and therefore has no regard for one's religious affiliation or lack thereof. As the atheists kindly tell us, one does not need Christianity to know murder is wrong, and penalizing murder is not an imposition of religion even though all religions are against murder. Thus, likewise, one does not need Christianity to know LGBTQ+ is wrong, and penalizing LGBTQ+ is likewise not an imposition of religion even though many religions consider it wrong.

Singapore Christians, and even entire churches, who have no regards for S377A show that they have neither thought through what Scripture clearly teaches, nor have they contemplated the Natural Law given to all people everywhere. Now that the decision to repeal has been announced, these Christians and churches are culpable for how they have contributed to the normalization of what Scripture calls an abomination. They will answer to God for their crimes, and it is indeed a crime to call what God calls evil good.

Sunday, August 21, 2022

Alvin Plantinga, Modal Actualism, and the Modal Ontological Argument

Socrates is a contingent being; his essence, however, is not. Properties, like propositions and possible worlds, are necessary beings. If Socrates had not existed, his essence would have been unexemplified, but not nonexistent. ... so being exemplified by Socrates if at all is essential to Socrateity, while being exemplified by Socrates is accidental to it. [Alvin Plantinga, "Actualism and Possible Worlds," in Michael J. Loux, ed., The Possible and the Actual: Readings in the Metaphysics of Modality, 268]

The Christian philosopher Alvin Plantinga is well-known for his modal ontological argument for the existence of God, a modification of the original ontological argument first expressed by Anselm in the Proslogion. A version of the modal ontological argument can be expressed as follows:

  1. It is at least possible for God to exist.
  2. If God’s existence is possible, then necessarily, God does exist.
  3. Therefore, necessarily, God exists.

The argument is expanded as follows:

  1. It is possible for God to exist.
  2. Therefore, God exists in some possible world.
  3. Necessarily, God exists in some possible world.
  4. Necessarily, God exists.
  5. God exists.

Premise 1 seems true for certainly the existence of God is conceivable, thus it is possible for God to exist and therefore statement 2 is true. From statement 2, one arrives at statement 3 through the modal axiom S5. Since the definition of God is that He has necessary existence, therefore if God necessarily exists in some possible world, he exists necessarily (Statement 4). Therefore, God exists (Statement 5).

Another way to frame the modal ontological argument is taken from "Formulation 4" of the entry on "Ontological Argument" on the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosphy (accessed Aug 20, 2022), and simplified and expanded as follows:

  1. For any being x, there is a possible world w where x exists.
  2. For any beings x and y, there are possible worlds w and v, such that x exists in w and v, while y exists in w and not v.
  3. Being x is superior to being y as it exists in both w and y.
  4. If being x exists in worlds w, y, z, while God exists in y and z, then being x is superior to God.
  5. God, being defined as maximally great, cannot have any being superior to Him. Therefore, God must exists in more possible worlds than other beings
  6. A being that exists in the actual world would exists in more worlds than a being that does not exist in the actual world.
  7. God in order to be maximally great must exists in the actual world and all possible worlds.
  8. God exists.

Premises 1 and 2 are statements about possible worlds. Statements 3 and 4 are normally taken to be true, based on the premise that existence is greater than non-existence. Statement 5-7 flow from statements 3 and 4 and the idea that God is defined as a maximally great being, which is defined as such for the purpose of this argument.

So here we have two slightly different versions of the modal ontological argument. Unlike Anselm's original ontological argument, these arguments have more meat in them, and does not seem to require us to hold to some idea that God is defined as "greater than that can be conceived," with all its attendant problems. Are these arguments sound then? Have Christian philosophers like Alvin Plantinga stumble upon a viable form of the ontological argument that does indeed, as Natural Theology, prove the existence of God without appeal to special revelation?

Analyzing the arguments

The first argument form looks sound. However, note here that the argument depends on how one interprets premise 1. What does it mean for God to "exist in some possible world"? Most certainly, if one means that God ontologically exist in some possible world, then certainly the argument is sound, but is that what one means by premise 1?

The second argument form looks a bit more problematic. This form is closer to the traditional ontological argument, but it deals with maximal greatness through linking it with existence in possible worlds. The possible issues with this argument are the hidden premises correlating greatness with existence, and the idea that the actual world is a possible world that we see of as actual.

Existence is certainly better than non-existence, but this this only applies for creatures who can differentiate between the two states. For non-creatures, non-existence could mean imaginery existence, as in the case of imaginery numbers in Mathematics or virtual particles in quantum physics. Therefore, the idea that existence is always better than non-existence does not apply to everything. While in the case of God (and all creatures) it is true that existence is better than non-existence, to assert that is to assume God (or at least creaturely existence as superior to non-creaturely existence) from the start and therefore cannot truly function as an axiom to prove God's existence.

The key problem: Actualist modal ontology

Both argument forms when analyzed seem sound, until one digs deeper. For the first argument form, premise 1 states that God exists in some possible world. But does this possible world truly and actually exist? For the second argument form, the hidden premise is that the actual world is a possible world that we see as actual to us. Presumably, individuals in some possible world w would see theirs as an actual world and ours as a possible world.

Underlying this is a commitment to an actualist modal ontology. What is an actualist modal ontology? An actualist modal ontology states that all modal entities truly and actually exist. How that is so divides the actualists. Plantinga's form of actualist modal ontology borrows from Platonism and differentiates existence from examplification. As seen in the quote above, for Plantinga, all modal entities exist as "things" or haecceities, which are analogous to the Platonic forms. In any possible world, these forms all exist but the actual thing exist only if the form is "exemplified" in any particular world. Therefore, the existence of Socrates in world w is due to the "exemplification" of "Socrateity" in that possible world. In possible world v however where Socrates does not exist, "Socrateity" still exists in that possible world v but "Socrateity" was not "exemplified" in possible world v.

According to Plantinga's modal ontological argument therefore, that God exists in some possible world can start as something as simple as the Platonic form of "God" being present in that possible world. Likewise, there is nothing essentially different between the actual world and possible worlds except in the perspectives of the ones in that world. The actual world in this case is a possible world that we are in. With this actualist modal ontology, things possible are more than mental conceptions but are possible existing objects.

Plantinga's modal ontological argument therefore seem to depend on an actualist modal ontology. It is a question if the argument can survive without actualism. For many of us, possible worlds are taken as hypothetical worlds, creations of the mind to explore alternate forms of the world. We are possibilists, and believe in one actual world where things ontologically exist.


The modal ontological argument is indeed a stronger argument that seems to point to the success of Natural Theology to prove God's existence. However, at least one variation of that argument by Alvin Plantinga seems to demand an actualist modal ontology which I do not hold to. Therefore, it stands to reason that the modal ontological argument has not been proven to be sound, and the goal of Natural Theology seems unrealized.

Wednesday, August 10, 2022

On Natural Theology and Jordan Steffaniak's version of it

Some time ago on the London Lyceum, Jordan Steffaniak posted an article arguing that a recovery of Natural Theology is necessary and that the doctrine is indeed Reformed. Steffaniak first defined what he thinks Natural Theology is not, what it is, and argues for its pressence in various Reformed Confessional arguments and the writings of Reformed theologians up to the present time. As someone who is critical of Natural Theology and has written a book review of David Haines' book on the matter, I was of course intrigued by the article. I have read it, and would thus like to make some comments on it

In the article, Steffaniak first states what he believes Natural Theology is not. According to Steffaniak,

  1. Natural theology isn’t identical to the arguments for the existence of God (e.g., the cosmological argument, the teleological argument, etc.)
  2. Natural theology isn’t a means of understanding God in contradiction to supernatural theology (Scripture)
  3. Natural theology isn’t a means of understanding God completely apart from the norming norm of supernatural theology (Scripture)
  4. Natural theology isn’t required to begin apart from Scripture
  5. Natural theology isn’t a foundation from which supernatural theology is built
  6. Natural theology isn’t a project of natural salvation apart from Scripture

So what is Natural Theology? Natural Theology is to be defined as:

The task of utilizing natural means via our renewed reason (i.e., the light of nature) in service of theological construction under the authority of Scripture, the guidance of the Holy Spirit, and the context of the church.

In footnote 3, Steffaniak rejects Haines' definition of Natural Theology. According to Steffaniak,

Haines is right in some respects but wrong in the neutrality of natural theology. It is not alone. Indeed, no such natural theology is even possible for the Christian given their previous acquaintance with supernatural theology.

On Steffaniak's concept of Natural Theology

How should we think about Steffaniak's take on Natural Theology? Most certainly, Steffaniak has removed the objectionable parts of what is normally termed "Natural Theology." First of all, I am glad that Natural Theology is not to be seen as identical with arguments on the existence of God. But most importantly, Natural Theology is not to be thought of being apart from Scripture, function as a foundation for supernatural theology, and be in any way salvific. These are the most objectionable parts of "Natural Theology." Natural Theology being construed as utilizing natural means via renewed reason to understand God and the world is something one can find and defend in Scripture, and most certainly is taught in the Reformed Confessions and by many Reformed theologians. In this sense, "Natural Theology" as Steffaniak has construed it sounds almost if not identical with what I would consider General Revelation (and Natural Law as part of that General Revelation), and thus I would accept it as wholly biblical. Perhaps some clarification could be offered here?

What is in a name?

Having said that, I would like to question this move by Steffaniak. Perhaps it is good retrieving this particular term "Natural Theology" in this particular orthodox sense. But should we "redeem" this phrase? I would like to note that Haines' definition is more than just postulating a natural theology for Christians, but goes beyond that to make "Natural Theology" a sort of common ground whereby unbelievers can discuss true things concerning God. After all, Haines in his book did define it as "that part of philosophy that explores what man can know about God ... without presupposing the truth of any religion"' (Haines, Natural Theology: A Biblical and Historical Introduction and Defense, 12). It seems from my reading that Haines' natural theology is accessible to unbelievers, not just Christians. Haines' Natural Theology thus seems to be related to ressourcement and the idea that one should return to the "pristine philosophy" of "Christian Platonism" and Aristotelianism.

More importantly for the purpose at hand, from my experience at least, the default understanding of "natural theology" among many people is that it is theology done apart from the Scriptures, done by exegeting nature or thinking philosophically. Perhaps Steffaniak has a different experience from mine, but I wold suggest that a significant number of people have this definition of "Natural Theology" in mind when they hear of this phrase. Given that the exact phrase "natural theology" is not biblical and not confessional, is it necessary for us to retrieve this phrase as Steffaniak has done? Could we just use the phrase "general revelation" instead, or must we use a phrase that seems to me liable to much misunderstanding?

Concluding thoughts

In conclusion, Steffaniak's article on Natural Theology is helpful. But I am still not convinced that we must "retrieve" this particular phrase. I am not even sure that Steffaniak's retrieval is helpful in discussons about Natural Theology, for imagine the confusion when participants possess different definitions of "natural theology" and talk past each other. Would Steffaniak's retrieval aid clarity to the discussions about natural theology, or only cause more confusion when one engages those using Haime's defintion of the phrase? At least for the moment, I would continue being critical of the phrase, and use the phrases "General Revelation" and "Natural Law" instead of "Natural Theology."

Saturday, August 06, 2022

On Lane Tipton on classical theism and theistic mutualism

Some time back, Lane Tipton had done a program with Lutheran Jordan B. Cooper on the issue of "classical theism and theistic mutualism." Dr. Tipton is a Van Tilian and also a classical theist. With the reputation of some Vantillians as being slanted towards theistic mutualism, this discussion between Cooper and Tipton was a helpful one in this regard.

The main question here is, of course, what is "theistic mutualism." As stated by Tipton, "theistic mutualism" is the idea that God somehow changes in his being in reaction/ relation towards creation. Now, there may be someone who does hold to theistic mutualism as defined by Tipton here, but even Dr. Oliphant's book God with Us does not teach this definition of "theistic mutualism." (Having relational properties that are not essential does not imply change in being) Another unusual thing from Tipton is this idea that everywhere we read about Cornelius Van Til's criticism of pantheism, we need to read "theistic mutualism." While Van Til would most likely be against all forms of non classical theisms, I do not believe it is helpful to make anachronistic claims like these since "theistic mutualism" was not present during Van Til's time.

This discussion is certainly helpful in part for those interested in the doctrine of God. Yet, I truly wonder at its utility. There is no proof given that anyone holds to the type of theistic mutualism defined by Tipton, or that even if they are, their thoughts are properly and substantially addressed. All in all, this discussion is not all that helpful, and probably serves more to rally the troops than to have an honest discussion on the matter.

Ryan Mullins' roasting of Craig Carter's "Christian Platonism"

In a guest post on the London Lyceum, Dr. Ryan Mullins has posted a pointed critique of Craig Carter's project of "recovering" "Christian Platonism." I agree especially with sentiments like these:

As it stands, it looks like Christian Platonism is a gerrymandered category. As far as I can tell, Christian Platonism is to be defined as follows.

Christian Platonism: those views that Craig Carter agrees with.

The key point here is not that Dr. Carter is definitely wrong in his ressourcement trajectory. The key point here is the sloppy over-generalization and demonization that lies at the heart of such reckless rhetoric. It is profoundly unserious and serves more to demonize the other than to seek understanding. But then it seems this is the characteristic of a particular group of "confessionalists" these days.

Friday, August 05, 2022

London Lyceum Roundtable on Trinity and Simplicity

The London Lyceum has recently done an interesting rountable on the topic of trinity and simplicity. You can hear it here: