A reader who goes by the name of Petronius Jablonski—I suppose I should call him St. Petronius—has been vigorously arguing against Free Will in the comments to my recent post about Special Relativity, beginning with this comment:
Thanks for the lucid sketch of A Theory & B Theory. You have a knack for writing about philosophical head-scratchers in plain English. I envy your students. (Consider something book-length. A Christian physicist should have no trouble finding an agent.)
We should add free will to the list of controversies in Theology where there is decisive evidence coming from Physics. Isn't the B Theory a stunning depiction of Divine Determinism? God creates this massive, amber-like slab of past, present, & future, all parts of which are equally “real.” How could any single detail have been otherwise unless God made it differently?
Far from being incompatible with Christian theology, this takes St. Paul at his word: Why does God hold us accountable and punish us if we have no free will? This is what Romans 9:19 is asking. St. Paul puts the question into the mouth of an imaginary disputant after stating that God has mercy on some (Moses and Jacob) and hardens others (Esau and Pharoah). His answer does not mention free will, middle knowledge, or allowing evil in the best possible world. The answer is the single most terrifying thing in any of the world's religions: Who are you to ask? God creates some men to be vessels of wrath, others to be vessels of mercy. The purpose is to demonstrate His power. Reality is not about us or our standards. We have no inalienable right to free will (only the Prime Mover has that). God, like a potter making different vessels for different reasons, has the absolute right to make whatever He wants for whatever reason He wants. (Ouch! This is so harsh, but there you have it.) https://www.biblegateway.com/verse/en/Romans%209:19
Note the explicit denial that moral responsibility requires the capacity to do otherwise. "Why does He still find fault? Who can resist His will?" = It's not fair that God judges us because we couldn't do otherwise! St. Paul's answer chills the blood. Damnation isn't about people abusing their free will; it's how God shows His power and mercy to the Elect (in the same way He demonstrated His power by hardening Pharoah's heart and then destroying him). Again, ouch, but that's what it says. For some, the appeal of Christianity is that it takes determinism seriously.
I await your book on physics & the B theory of time supporting the plain teaching of Romans 9. This would be a bestseller. ;o)
Thanks for your pre-order of a book I haven't agreed to write, but I don't think it will say what you hope it will say...
You're mistaken that the B-theory implies Determinism. From the statement:
(1) The past, present, and future are all equally real,
it is simply not possible to derive the statement
(2) Nothing could have been otherwise,
by any logical argument, not without smuggling in premises that are far more substantive than (1) is.
Most of these premises, ironically, involve smuggling in A-theoretic presuppositions about the nature of the past. An A-theorist might believe that "The past is unchangeable, but the future is still open", but B-theorist can hardly uncritically accept either statement as it stands. Why should we adopt the first statement and not the second? Instead let us say that all time is as contingent as the future, as real as the present, and as definite as the past.
Your "massive, amber-like slab" is more poetic metaphor than physics. If we want to go by what Physics says, we have to take into account Quantum Mechanics as well as Relativity, and this seems to indicate that if we turned the clock back and re-did the experiment, so to speak, we would not get the same outcome a second time. Physics can only make probabilistic predictions. I claim that, having the exact same motivations and neural structures at 12:00 pm, and fixing my perceptual experiences after that, there are still multiple possible things I might decide to do at 12:01 pm. There is no infinite regress, unless we assume that what I choose to do at an instant must be determined by who I am at that instant.
Also, if it were true that the B-theory conflicts with Free Will, then this would imply that God also has no Free Will, since he himself exists eternally. Thus your claim that the B-theory supports Calvinism is self-contradictory. Similarly for arguments based on a supposed infinite regress. These arguments against Free Will could also be applied to God, if they were really valid.
Now onto your theological claims. I notice that in your various comments you only cite the Scriptures that support your claims, while ignoring those scriptures that might tell against you (e.g. Romans 11 a couple of chapters later). Romans 9 is indeed in the Bible (as are the other verses you cite in a later comment I didn't quote) but you have misunderstood it entirely. It's funny how Calvinists take St. Paul's series of rhetorical questions as if they were straight-up assertions, but ignore his quite explicit statement that God "wants all men to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth" (1 Timothy 2:4). But if we are going to get our theology out of rhetorical questions, how about these ones:
"Do I take any pleasure in the death of the wicked? declares the Sovereign Lord. Rather, am I not pleased when they turn from their ways and live?....Repent! Turn away from all your offenses; then sin will not be your downfall. Rid yourselves of all the offenses you have committed, and get a new heart and a new spirit. Why will you die, people of Israel? For I take no pleasure in the death of anyone, declares the Sovereign Lord" (Ezekiel 18:23,30-32).
or the question asked by Abraham:
"Will not the Judge of all the earth do right?" (Genesis 18:25).
You see that St. Abraham had full confidence that God would act in a way that he, a mere human being, could understand as being just and righteous. Abraham's faith was credited to him as righteousness, and God accepted his request.
Or if you prefer the metaphor of the Potter and the Clay, perhaps you can read the passage which St. Paul got it from, about how human choices can avert God's intentions and plans:
Then the word of the Lord came to me. He said, “Can I not do with you, Israel, as this potter does?” declares the Lord. “Like clay in the hand of the potter, so are you in my hand, Israel. If at any time I announce that a nation or kingdom is to be uprooted, torn down and destroyed, and if that nation I warned repents of its evil, then I will relent and not inflict on it the disaster I had planned. And if at another time I announce that a nation or kingdom is to be built up and planted, and if it does evil in my sight and does not obey me, then I will reconsider the good I had intended to do for it. Now therefore say to the people of Judah and those living in Jerusalem, ‘This is what the Lord says: Look! I am preparing a disaster for you and devising a plan against you. So turn from your evil ways, each one of you, and reform your ways and your actions.’ " (Jeremiah 18:5-11).
If you look at the context of Romans 9, you will see that St. Paul is imagining an Jewish interlocutor who can't accept God's choice to temporarily set aside Israel in the propagation of the Gospel, and to choose the Gentiles instead. (Notice that Scripture never actually says that Esau and Pharaoh were damned, that's not the point of the passage.) His rebuke of the insolent question makes sense in this context. But the actual reason for God's decision does indeed have something to do with Israel's choices, since Paul gives a reason for their failure to be saved: "Why not? Because they pursued it not by faith but as if it were by works" (9:32). Furthermore God's ultimate purpose in all this is to save the world: "For God has bound all men over to disobedience so that he may have mercy on them all" (11:32). As the Gospel of St. John states:
"For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him." (John 3:16-17)
Is the God you believe in the same God who left the 99 sheep in the sheep fold to seek the one sheep who was lost? "In the same way your Father in heaven is not willing that any of these little ones should perish" (Matt. 18:14). The God who searched through the house for the one lost coin; the loving father who rescued the prodigal son? Who commanded us to love our enemies, because that's what he himself does (Matt. 5:44-45)? Who loved his enemies so much that he sent Jesus to die for the sins of the whole world? If not, then apparently you are worshipping a different God and a different Jesus.
One more proof-text. It is this one:
Bear in mind that our Lord’s patience means salvation, just as our dear brother Paul also wrote you with the wisdom that God gave him. He writes the same way in all his letters, speaking in them of these matters. His letters contain some things that are hard to understand, which ignorant and unstable people distort, as they do the other Scriptures, to their own destruction. (2 Peter 3:15-16).
This warning label is also in the Bible! St. Peter identifies the true meaning of Paul's message ("our Lord's patience means salvation"), and then advises people to watch out lest tricky theological topics such as predestination paint a false picture of God, a false picture which he says is capable of destroying you spiritually! (Some would argue that if God hates certain people, why shouldn't we hate them too? In this way it is possible to damn yourself using ideas that were falsely wrested from Scripture.) So apparently we ought to be careful when deciding what the "plain teaching" of Paul's letters is. At least, that's the plain teaching of this passage.
I don't claim to be "neutral" or "unbiased" in my interpretation of these particular Scriptures, any more than anyone else is. How could I possibly be unbiased, when you are saying such terrible things about our Father in heaven? The doctrine that God is good is more fundamental even than the doctrine that the Scriptures are inspired. So that if it were necessary to choose between them (which it is not!) one should certainly pick the former over the latter. This is the faith of Abraham, who lived before any part of our current Bible was written.
The Bible may appear to support both sides of this issue, but I have an interpretive key, namely God is love and in him there is no darkness at all and that it is not presumptuous to teach children to sing Jesus loves me this I know, for the Bible tells me so. These are a foundation for sound, correct doctrine, unlike "plain reading" which immediately runs into difficulties here since many of the plain readings appear to conflict. There is indeed an important spiritual truth to be found in Romans 9 and every other verse you have quoted, but it is not found in any opinion that makes God out to be morally monstrous.
As you say, this fatalistic doctrine "chills the blood", and "it also repels" you. There is a good reason for that—the reason is that it is wrong! "The letter kills, but the Spirit gives life (2 Cor 3:6)" If you have any guidance from the Holy Spirit at all, trust your instinct that God is good, not just powerful:
One thing God has spoken, two things have I heard: That you, O God, are strong, and that you, O Lord are loving (Psalm 62:11-12).
God is more loving than you can imagine—and also more powerful, since he is capable of making creatures with real freedom and responsibility.
Have you considered the implication of God calling Himself our Husband, and of Romans 7:4 pointing out that "you died to the law that you might be MARRIED to another EVEN to CHRIST who is risen". He enables but does not compel acceptance of His gracious Proposal of Marriage. He is Strong and Loving. And His love ENABLES a free response to the proposal of marriage, as well as enables a rejection of His proposal. "IF you seek Him He will be found by you, but if you forsake Him, He will reject you forever." No compulsion here....only invitation. "When you said, "Seek my face", my heart said to You, "Your face LORD I will seek." Ps 27:8. The glory goes all to the Bridegroom and not to me...the adulterous one who He takes back in like Hosea the wayward object of his enabling love. Thank you Aron for giving me Psalm 62 to chew on. A feast ! I am going to chew on Psalm 62:11-12 throughout this coming week.
"One thing God has spoken, two things have I heard: That you, O God, are strong, and that you, O Lord are loving" Wow! Just as the destiny and responsibility of the men aboard the shipwreck with Paul, as the account of David and Saul and the citizens of Keilah demonstrates, mindful of the responsibility of Judas or Peter, AND the sovereignty of God over the betrayal or denial of Jesus in fulfillment of infallible prophecy surrounding the death of the Lord Jesus, all demonstrate the CO-ordinate, non contradictory truths, BOTH that man is responsible, AND that God is all-powerfully in peaceful control of my acts of rebellion or free surrender, and as we are each truly free to respond or reject the commands and invitations of an all-loving God. How kind He is to love an enemy like me....and to send me to His fellow enemies with news of His goodness and a real invitation...an enabling invitation...an unmerited invitation.....all grace and received through faith alone. No merit to the receiver of a free undeserved Gift, all merit to the one who graciously enables the enemy to be a friend or to remain an enemy, and enables an adulteress to come home or wander lonely. All that to say--- a sincere Thank you to St Petronius for the commentary and to St. Aron for an accurate answer. Our Master, our Husband, is Strong AND Loving. He rules over all by all-knowing E--TERNAL (NOT-Timed) Wisdom, rather than compulsive force. Job 9:4 "God is wise in heart, and mighty in strength. Who has resisted Him and come out unscathed?" Not me...but Christ offers me His kindness and the ability to respond, "Yes, Lord".
Hi Aron, this is just wonderful, one of the most passionate and well argued defences of the love of God I have ever read. I agree with you 100% (for what that endorsement's worth!). I love the way you showed that we shouldn't interpret Romans 9 in a way that is more Old Testament and less new covenant than Jeremiah 18. I was also deeply taken by your statement (based on Genesis 18) "St. Abraham had full confidence that God would act in a way that he, a mere human being, could understand as being just and righteous."
Thank you. I love the physics information you impart, but this was something even better!
Good stuff. Clarifying.
I’m proud to have provoked one of your finest posts. I’m a recovering atheist who’s been reading the Smart Theist Blogs: Ed Feser, William Craig, Maverick Philosopher, Luke Barnes. I also have a powerful affinity for the double predestination wing. By that I mean Pascal and Augustine in addition to the usual suspect. We forget the Jansenists were once neck and neck with the Jesuits.
I claim that, having the exact same motivations and neural structures at 12:00 pm, and fixing my perceptual experiences after that, there are still multiple possible things I might decide to do at 12:01 pm. There is no infinite regress, unless we assume that what I choose to do at an instant must be determined by who I am at that instant.
As opposed to what, quantum fluctuations? Are those what ultimately incline me one way rather than another, to virtue or vice? Then the only difference between your stance and the Calvinist’s Liberty of Spontaneity (we have the freedom to choose according to our greatest inclination at the moment) is probabilistic mystery stuff. I’m not denying this, just clarifying. (Maybe “freedom” is some emergent property whose humble building blocks include quantum wackiness? If it’s so important shouldn’t we know more about it?)
I don’t know what Reformed Theology has to say on the B-theory. Their determinism seems to be old-school Occasionalism, though most don’t use the term. In Philosophy I start with my gut: it’s far from obvious how Concurrentism works. Who ultimately controls the secondary causes? Where and how is the baton of active causal agency handed from God to a contingent being He created and sustains?
Also, if it were true that the B-theory conflicts with Free Will, then this would imply that God also has no Free Will, since he himself exists eternally. Thus your claim that the B-theory supports Calvinism is self-contradictory. Similarly for arguments based on a supposed infinite regress. These arguments against Free Will could also be applied to God, if they were really valid.
Isn’t God’s freedom a function of His non-contingency? He alone sustains every other article of reality, the one true cause -- even if the universe is eternal. And what does free will even mean when applied to God, that He could have acted in some way not in accordance with His nature? Necessitarianism can’t be ruled out on a priori grounds. Spinoza and Leibniz could be categorized as B theorists (though it seems to follow from their Necessitarianism, not vice versa).
Now onto your theological claims. I notice that in your various comments you only cite the Scriptures that support your claims, while ignoring those scriptures that might tell against you ...
AKA Theology. Everybody does this. Preterists and Universalists and Annihilationists and gloomy Calvinists each have a constellation of verses that shines brightest to them. Rodney Stark argues that diversity in the marketplace of ideas helps a religion. It sure does us newbies no favors. We pick the verses we think are bedrock and view others as less substantial. Predestination jumps out at one. Nor was it wingnuts who became obsessed with it. Augustine had a second conversion of sorts three years before he died, realizing that predestination isn’t about foreknowledge but an active decree bestowed only on some. Calvin was a conservative in a sense, wanting to return to this. How it's reconcilable with free will, love, and justice is baffling like the multiverse. (Okay, not that weird.)
How could I possibly be unbiased, when you are saying such terrible things about our Father in heaven?
Who tells us to fear Him, and says fear is the beginning of wisdom. Anger is the human emotion most frequently attributed to God. "Terrible" compared to what? Where were we when God laid the earth’s foundation? Jesus tells us the only ones who can come to him are drawn by the father, that the Holy Spirit goes wherever it wants when giving a second birth, that many are called but few are chosen. God wants all men to be saved and Christ died for all men, yet few find the narrow gate. The reconciliation of these is daunting. The internet makes it worse.
The doctrine that God is good is more fundamental even than the doctrine that the Scriptures are inspired. So that if it were necessary to choose between them (which it is not!) one should certainly pick the former over the latter.
I hope this is right. It’s Peter Kreeft’s position. But the Annhilationists use it too: How could a loving God make someone suffer eternally? Free will must be substantially more than some quantum will-o-the-wisp if damnation hangs in the balance and free will is a decisive factor.
Thank you for your thoughts. I was serious about a book. There’s quite a few out there that are less than edifying. I paid good money for A Universe From Nothing. Feels bad, man.
I know I'm a little late to this conversation, so I'll limit myself to a little cake-icing. I thought you might be interested in how the Jewish sages understood that passage, "One thing God has spoken, two things have I heard: That you, O God, are strong, and that you, O Lord are loving (Psalm 62:11-12). ..."
The first part they use as the key prooftext that a passage of Scripture can have layers of meaning: that reading a second meaning, beyond what was plainly said, can be equally valid, within certain constraints. (And they have quite a few rules for how to get valid second meanings that are internally implied by Scripture rather than picked out of the reader's head.)
In the second part ... if you apply what was just said ... it's interesting here that "the plain meaning" is about God's power, and the "the second thing that we're supposed to understand from the first" is about God's love.
Take care & God bless
Anne / WF
Hi Petronius. Here are a few comments on your last...
1) Neither Aron nor anyone else ever suggested that quantum fluctuations are what ultimately incline us one way rather than another, to virtue or vice. Rather, they remove absolute determinism from spacetime events, and in so doing create a space where free will can operate whatever its source may be. Where and how the baton of active causal agency is handed from God to His contingent created children and what, if any role is played by "quantum wackiness..." well that is the $64 million question. And it's beyond the scope of this discussion. The key takeaway here is that quantum indeterminacy means one cannot get from B-theory to predestined choices.
2) Is God’s freedom a function of His non-contingency--that He alone sustains every other article of reality as the one true cause in an eternal universe? Is free will meaningless when applied to God by implying He could have acted contrary to His nature...?
None of this follows. There is no valid reason to claim that freedom isn't part of God's non-contingent nature. As one of His contingent beings it's fundamentally against every atom of my nature to commit rape. It doesn't follow that I don't have the ability to do so (and therefore the choice not to) and couldn't if I changed my mind and turned to evil. It's no accident that the Bible repeatedly tells us not to "harden our hearts."
3) Aron asks how he can be unbiased when you are "saying such terrible things about our Father in heaven...?" to which you reply by pointing out that our Father is one to be feared... and fear is the beginning of wisdom. True enough. But again we see what Aron meant by the dangers of running with "the plain meaning" of a book that was written 2000-3000 years ago. In the Old Testament "yare" (Strongs H3372) is the most commonly used Hebrew word for "fear." The corresponding word in New Testament Greek is "phobeō" (Strongs G5399). More often then not, both were used to denote awe or reverence rather than terror. The difference depends entirely on context. Reverence toward God--awe in the presence of His majesty and love--IS the beginning of wisdom! Yes, there is a time to be afraid of the Living God, particularly if one is rebelling against Him and facing consequences from that. But that is hardly the context of Aron's statement. Remember... the same Bible that tells us to "fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell" (Matt 10:28) also tells us, "There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear, because fear involves punishment, and the one who fears is not perfected in love" (1 John 4:18)... phobeō in both cases.
"Terrible" compared to what? you ask. Well, let's see... How about terrible compared to a God who so loved the world that He gave His only son for it (John 3:16)...? Who wants us to allow children to come unto Him because the Kingdom of Heaven belongs to such as them (Luke 18:16-17)...? Who does not want even one of these little ones to perish (Matt 18:14)...? Who gives good things to those who ask Him even more than we do our own children (Matt 7:11)...? Who wept at Lazarus' tomb (John 11:35)...? Who wept over Jerusalem saying, "O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those sent to her! How often I wanted to gather your children together, just as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you would not have it!" (Luke 13:34)...?
How exactly does a God who weeps over His children and doesn't want even one little one to perish turn around, and in the next breath predestine most of them to damnation, because... what the hell (literally)?
Where was I when God laid the earth’s foundation? Nowhere... like Job (to whom God spoke and listened anyway). And who am I to ask such things? Nobody... You're right. I am however, a nobody whom God saw fit to endow with certain reasoning abilities and powers of observation who has been called to "present [myself] to [Him] as one approved, a worker who does not need to be ashamed and who correctly handles the word of truth (2 Tim 2:15).
And to this Nobody striving to correctly handle said word of truth, the field equations tell us that gravity has no effect on validity--that is, BS cannot be converted into truth merely by dropping it from lofty heights. Redefine love to the point that it admits weeping over Jerusalem in one breath and damning it in the next... just because (and who am I to ask?)... and you've redefined it to the point of utter meaninglessness. If that is truly what "love" is, then why shouldn't I strive for it by raping someone tonight after a few drinks (especially if there's nothing good on TV)... because hey... what the hell (literally)? After all, fallen mortal that I am and painfully aware of my own sins, what makes me think I'm even one of the Elect anyway...? I could just as easily ask... Who am I to question the God who tells me that perfect love casts out all fear, and those fearful like me aren't perfected in love (1 John 4:18)?
Sorry Dude... I ain't buyin' it. :-) Yes, God wants all men to be saved and Christ died for all men, yet few find the narrow gate. And yes, the reconciliation of these is daunting. But that does not make it non-existent.
For what it's worth, back in the early 80's I went through my own Calvinist phase for a few years too. If your experience was anything like mine I can understand why even if it revolts you on one level ("ouch...!") it might be appealing on others. Eventually, I just got to a place where scripture and reason led to the conclusion that it creates more problems than it solves. Perhaps it's just me, but I sense you're struggling with all this too. If so, I commend you for facing hard questions! For working out your salvation with fear and trembling... because God is at work in you and able to complete the work He began in you and deliver you faultless before the throne (Phil 2:12-13).
Blessings in Him.
The key takeaway here is that quantum indeterminacy means one cannot get from B-theory to predestined choices.
What it means is that the B-theory doesn't necessarily entail determinism. That’s what I wanted to clarify with a physicist.
There is no valid reason to claim that freedom isn't part of God's non-contingent nature.
My point was that if God has “free will” it would be from his non-contingent nature. There are no external or pre-existing parameters limiting Him, unlike us, who are completely contingent.
How exactly does a God who weeps over His children and doesn't want even one little one to perish turn around, and in the next breath predestine most of them to damnation, because... what the hell (literally)?
Here’s Aquinas on the subject:
“The reason for the predestination of some, and reprobation of others, must be sought for in the goodness of God. Thus He is said to have made all things through His goodness, so that the divine goodness might be represented in things. Now it is necessary that God's goodness, which in itself is one and undivided, should be manifested in many ways in His creation; because creatures in themselves cannot attain to the simplicity of God. Thus it is that for the completion of the universe there are required different grades of being; some of which hold a high and some a low place in the universe. That this multiformity of grades may be preserved in things, God allows some evils, lest many good things should never happen, as was said above. Let us then consider the whole of the human race, as we consider the whole universe. God wills to manifest His goodness in men; in respect to those whom He predestines, by means of His mercy, as sparing them; and in respect of others, whom he reprobates, by means of His justice, in punishing them. This is the reason why God elects some and rejects others. To this the Apostle refers, saying (Rm. 9:22,23): “What if God, willing to show His wrath (that is, the vengeance of His justice), and to make His power known, endured with much patience (allowed) vessels of wrath, fitted for destruction; that He might show the riches of His glory on the vessels of mercy, which He hath prepared unto glory”; and (2 Tim. 2:20): “But in a great house there are not only vessels of gold and silver; but also of wood and of earth; and some, indeed, unto honor, but some unto dishonor.”” (Summa Theologica 1, 23, 5 http://www.newadvent.org/summa/1023.htm)
Is there a dime's worth of difference between this and Calvin? Aquinas says the same “terrible things” I did, quoting the same chapter of Romans. He just couches it in different terms. “Multiformity of grades” of existence!? He makes it sound like God is releasing a line of cars. If He has a Toyota Tundra He must, of absolute necessity, release a Yaris.
"This plan includes that some men, indeed certain men, fail to obtain salvation and are damned, and accordingly this infallibly comes to pass. Their damnation ideationally and eternally pre-exists as part of the preconceived perfect universe." (This is from a summary of Aquinas' position: http://www.romancatholicism.org/jansenism/thomism-ignorance.html)
Perhaps it's just me, but I sense you're struggling with all this too. If so, I commend you for facing hard questions!
“Struggling” would be putting it nicely. The Calvinists rub one’s face in predestination; other Christians hope you don’t notice. If I’m supposed to share my faith with others, what do I tell them? I remain unconvinced that the future is as loose and Free Willy as most think. This is Aquinas on Fate:
“We must therefore say that what happens here by accident, both in natural things and in human affairs, is reduced to a preordaining cause, which is Divine Providence. […] For God alone can change the will, as shown above. Consequently the ordering of human actions, the principle of which is the will, must be ascribed to God alone. So therefore inasmuch as all that happens here below is subject to Divine Providence, as being pre-ordained, and as it were "fore-spoken," we can admit the existence of fate: although the holy doctors avoided the use of this word, on account of those who twisted its application to a certain force in the position of the stars.” http://www.newadvent.org/summa/1116.htm
How is this one whit different from the Westminster Confession: God from all eternity, did, by the most wise and holy counsel of His own will, freely, and unchangeably ordain whatsoever comes to pass.
Thanks for investing in such a thought-out response. My apologies for taking so long to respond! It's been a hellacious work week. Yes, B-theory doesn't necessarily entail determinism. I might have pointed that out as well, but I chose instead to get right to the implications for free-will, which seems to be the main thing most folks are concerned about with all this. I also agree that God's will is rooted in His non-contingent nature, and without the limitations we have as contingent created beings. [btw, I have a background in physics too although not nearly as accomplished as Aron's--MS, University of Washington]
I am aware of Aquinas' arguments regarding predestination and I agree--there isn't much difference between his and Calvin's, or Augustine's for that matter. But that said, they were mortal men also. However enlightening some of their ideas might seem, they're no substitute for the Word of God or the testimony of the natural world... and both have repeatedly shown themselves to be far more subtle and mysterious than our grasp of them. Nowhere is that more true than in the mist-enshrouded world of quantum mechanics and cosmology. The issues we're wrestling with here are a consequence of physics that's still very much in its infancy, and strange enough that it may take us... who knows where?
Case in point... In other posts Aron has touched on the subject of quantum measurement--that is, what happens when an "observation" of a quantum system is made. The traditional answer (the so-called Copenhagen interpretation) is that when observed the wave function somehow "collapses" into a state determined by the energy constraints of the observation involved (there are others of course, and the subject is a hotly debated topic). In any event, one of the more mind-boggling aspects of quantum observations (or interactions) is that they're "non-local." That is, in some sense an observation made here and now occurs everywhere, including regions that are space-like separated from us and beyond any causal influence. This is more than a quirky ivory-tower idea... it has been experimentally demonstrated and formalized in a set of inequalities know as Bell's theorem (I'll spare you the gory details of all this). And... because there is no "right" way to slice up spacetime into space and time, "everywhere" also means "always." Before typing this I went downstairs and made myself a cappuccino. In some sense, the act of doing that "collapsed" the wave funtion of the universe in a way that not only changes my coffee-drinking universe here and now, but also the one that "statically" awaits me this coming weekend. A few physicists (e.g. J.A. Wheeler) have gone so far as to suggest that the universe, from the big bang to the present moment and beyond, may exist because we're here to observe it! [By all means Aron, feel free to weigh in here if I've missed the boat on anything!] Now, I'm not arguing for any of this per se, and in fact few physicists actually take such ideas seriously. The point is that the fact that such ideas are seriously proposed in the first place should give us an idea of just how strange and beautiful God's creation is!
None of this is meant to be an argument from ignorance--just an acknowledgement of the real-world fact that God is much larger than our theories and reasons. The 20th Century biologist J.B.S. Haldane one said, "My own suspicion is that the universe is not only queerer than we suppose, but queerer than we can suppose." In this case we have clear reason to believe that it might be. If so, there will be times when we confront aspects of our existence that look to us like conflicts or inconsistencies when in fact they are paradoxes. There's a difference, and I believe that with prayer and reason we can avoid inconsistencies while still embracing mystery without restricting God or his creation to our preconceived ideas. St. G.K. Chesterton once described the lunatic as one not who has lost his reasoning, but rather who has lost everything except his reasoning. As he put in, “The poet only asks to get his head into the heavens. It is the logician who seeks to get the heavens into his head. And it is his head that splits.” He was right.
"Struggling” would be putting it nicely. The Calvinists rub one’s face in predestination; other Christians hope you don’t notice. If I’m supposed to share my faith with others, what do I tell them? I remain unconvinced that the future is as loose and Free Willy as most think."
I don't imagine it's entirely loose and Free Willy either. As you rightly pointed out, we are contingent beings, subject to many constraints in heart, mind, and soul. It has long been known that biochemistry and brain injuries both directly impact or moods and behaviors, and the Bible itself tells us that we cannot free ourselves of sin on our own. Even the Apostle Paul cries out, "Although I want to do good, evil is right there with me. For in my inner being I delight in God’s law; but I see another law at work in me, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within me. What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body that is subject to death?" (Rom. 7:21-24). And yet... as the psalmist says of God, "You have made him a little lower than God, And You crown him with glory and majesty! You make him to rule over the works of Your hands; You have put all things under his feet..." (Ps. 8:5-6). God has created us as beings whose choices in some sense "collapse" the wave function of the universe... who knows what mysteries lie behind such things and it all means for the power inherent in our choices? At the very least, that should instill some caution in us before we draw what quite sincerely seem to be obvious conclusions.
What do you tell others, you ask? Well... why not start with your own story? You describe yourself as a "recovering atheist." A recovering atheist... now that's what I call the makings of a fascinating dialogue!!!
In the 41+ years I've been a believer I've discussed many religious topics (including my own faith journey) with literally hundreds of atheists. Of these, all but a handful (as in fewer than half a dozen) saw themselves as intrepid defenders of "science" and "reason" and refused to even consider the possibility of error in any belief they held, or acknowledge a need to learn anything new. Clearly, this is not you! While I don't agree with your views on predestination, your comments display a depth of thought and literacy that could only belong to someone who has made the relentless pursuit of truth a way of life, up to and including your willingness to seek out a renowned physicist for feedback on relevant thoughts. And most strikingly, you were willing to relinquish an entire worldview when reason and experience led you to, even to the point of embracing beliefs you seem to find disturbing. Petronius, the intellectual courage of that literally takes my breath away! The only story I can think of to compare this to would be that of Antony Flew--widely considered to be the father of 20th Century atheistic philosophy--who eventually became a theist before his death. Given the thoughtfulness of your comments here, it isn't reasonable to think you would've done such a thing carelessly or left any stone unturned in the process. If a story like yours doesn't command the attention and respect of anyone listening, I simply cannot imagine what would. Period. With a track record like that, I'm here to tell you... it's perfectly alright to say that you aren't happy with all the answers you have (if in your heart you aren't), and say you're looking for better ones. Not only is that not an admission of defeat, it will win you the respect of worthy audiences faster than 10 PhD's... if it doesn't, nothing else will. And btw, that happens to be exactly how science works, and is in fact working in cosmology and physics today! If you stay the course on such a journey, I believe you'll find better answers than the ones that seem to be troubling you now.
I speak from experience. A few years before Aron was born I hit rock-bottom with the very same things. I too was compelled by the force of the predestination arguments you've shared here. As one who so desperately needed grace and love in his life, I simply didn't know what to do with a God who would make Toyota Tundras and Yarises and toss the latter into the fire... especially at a time in life when with each passing day it got harder and harder to believe I wasn't a Yaris. One day I ended up in my pastor's office in tears... sickened in mind and soul, and out of answers. I'll never forget his words... "Scott," he said, "Sooner or later we have to decide whether we're going to be logical or Biblical. Now rest assured, this guy was anything but irrational or an advocate of "blind faith." During his career he earned no less than two PhD's and eventually became the president of Columbia Theological Seminary. He was simply pointing out that at some point real faith means accepting the difference between paradox and inconsistency and being willing to live by Haldane's words until the answers are given. Over time he proved to be right. And again, contrary to popular secular myth this is how science operates. Isaac Newton once said,
For the record, Isaac Newton--the man who gave us classical mechanics and calculus, and held the Lucasian Chair at Cambridge long before atheist Stephen Hawking did--was not only a Christian... he was a psalm-singing, tongue-speaking Charismatic whose during his life produced far more theological writings than scientific ones. [If you're ever bored and looking for 5-10 minutes of free entertainment, try perusing some of Dawkins' silly attempts to rationalize away such things.]
By all means Petronius, keep asking these questions... stay that relentless, truth-seeking course of yours. Gather as many pebbles and shells as you can. In your case, many of them will likely be fiery rubies or diamonds that seem to have swallowed the sun. Share them with anyone who will listen, whether they lift your spirits or not. But don't forget to look up occasionally and gaze across the ocean, and have faith... I've been where you are, and I promise you better answers are out there! Never stop looking for them! Trust that God will provide them in time. When He does, not only will they be more robust--they'll be healing and redemptive too.
I was using "Calvinism" as a convenient short-hand, which is a little unfair to St. Calvin who had a lot more to his theology than just predestination. And of course you are completely correct that there were many thinkers before Calvin who had a very similar view (minus certain aspects of rotestantism), including many people I like such as Sts. Augustine, Aquinas, Pascal and so on. Oh well, I guess they were wrong too.
There's a difference it being important for something to exist, and it being important for me to know how it works. The functioning of my liver comes to mind. I need not remind you of the Lord's answer to St. Job.
You ask "where" and "how" but as I was just asserting on another thread, the divine will does not act through mechanical means, nor does it happen in a particular place and time.
Instead of trying to deny that my view is mysterious, I will instead point out that all views are mysterious. As St. Pascal says:
In order to do philosophy safely one must first be baptized into the Socratic aporia, otherwise one is easily led astray by excessively tidy worldviews that claim to make sense, but really do not.
Occasionalism replaces one mystery (human freedom) of which we at least feel like we have some experience, with another mystery (divine freedom) of which we have no direct experience. Myself, I would rather keep both mysteries and the paradox along side of them. But that requires me to deny any view such as Calvinism which keeps only one side of the paradox.
The Bible is full of verses on both sides of the paradox, and we must obtain nourishment from all of them, lest we get the spirtual equivalent of vitamin deficiency.
My grandfather St. Arnold Wall, who was a pastor in a nondenominational denomination that actually has "fundamentalist" in its name, was also a very wise man, and he would say to people "Never let your systematic theology interfere with your biblical theology". This is a true saying, worthy of acceptance.
Just because everybody does it, doesn't mean you (or I) should do it. In some ways where one comes down on one's official theology (and yes, I am willing to come down on specific views such as Classic Arminianism in my systematic theology) is less important than whether one can actually appreciate the spiritual truths found in all parts of the Bible. I have been quoting the verses on one side only to bring some balance; the verses you quote are also good and I consider them to have an important spiritual meaning, even if we won't quite agree on what that meaning is. The word "predestination" is in the Bible for a reason, and I think that many Calvinists are describing an important aspect of spiritual experiences, even if they draw some conclusions which I consider pernicious and wrong.
It does make a practical difference whether an evangelist can say "God loves you and sent Jesus to die for your sins" or "Maybe God loves you and maybe he intended for you to be saved, or maybe not, we'll just have to see on the basis of how you respond".
I know what you mean. This is why a New Testament spirituality needs to be in the context of a local church, not just the internet. Don't get me wrong, the internet is an amazing resource and a great forum for discussing ideas, but full communion is bodily as well as spiritual (you can't be baptized or take communion or lay hands on somebody to pray online). One important test for theological ideas is how they play out in a community of real people.
Welcome to my blog, Daniel and Scott.
And thanks to Eric, Robert, and Weekend Fisher for your comments as well.
It's both a pleasure, and an honor to be here Sir! I am so looking forward to your visit to Seattle, and the possibility of getting together for dinner. I'll be in touch as soon as I get two minutes to rub together. Best! :-)
How easy it is to forget the anti-theological message of Job. Maybe his comforters are akin to Aquinas, Calvin, & many others pontificating from first principles. Aquinas gave up theology after a religious experience: “All that I have written seems to me like straw compared to what has now been revealed to me.” He should have put that in a preface to the Summa. ;o)
I’m reading this: http://www.bibelkreis.ch/Calvin/The_Dark_Side_of_Calvinism.pdf Aron, you raise a good point. This smacks of character defamation. On their view, God isn’t loving, merciful, just or good unless we jerry-rig the meaning of those words. (Credit where it's due: Lorraine Boettner put a great spin on it.)
Nondenominational has a nice ring. So does minimalist. (Or plain old "Christian"!) But how little positive doctrine can one have and still call himself one? The most disconcerting thing to a newbie is the lack of consensus on Big Issues: free will, necessary prerequistes for salvation, what becomes of unbelievers, etc. Finding the right church is no easy task. I was raised Catholic. I could always return, but that first confession would be a doozy.
In the 41+ years I've been a believer I've discussed many religious topics (including my own faith journey) with literally hundreds of atheists. Of these, all but a handful (as in fewer than half a dozen) saw themselves as intrepid defenders of "science" and "reason" and refused to even consider the possibility of error in any belief they held, or acknowledge a need to learn anything new.
I’m up to my eyebrows in these people and they may as well be from another species. A good skeptic doesn’t restrict his suspicions to religion. What the heck is reason and how far can we trust it? Are they unfamiliar with Sextus Empiricus? With Hume? With Socrates? Abject humility, please.
And most strikingly, you were willing to relinquish an entire worldview when reason and experience led you to, even to the point of embracing beliefs you seem to find disturbing. Petronius, the intellectual courage of that literally takes my breath away!
Thank you. It was the disturbing implications of nihilism that set off my BS detector. I admired the candor of Rosenberg’s book on atheism. But if the road you followed leads there, something's wrong with the road: http://edwardfeser.blogspot.com/2012/05/rosenberg-roundup.html
I shouldn’t bash the Yaris. The new ones are tolerable.
A question Aron,
Do you believe that Calvinism is logically impossible because it makes God the author of moral evil? and even if we are not determined by God, but by a hypothetical laws of nature, God would be the remote cause of the bad actions of people because He created these deterministic laws.
In Calvinism, it is not as if God permits evil, but is its author or its cause
I guess I'd reserve the phrase "logically impossible" for situations where there is a direct contradiction in terms. But Calvinism certainly has a deeply implausible view concerning what "goodness" means.
I don't think my grandpa's advice wasn't to not have any positive doctrine, but more just not to try to shoehorn the Bible into your doctrine, but instead let your doctrine be flexible enough to accomodate the kinds of statements which are actually in the Bible.
Doctrine is very useful as a kind of scaffolding to see the Bible in perspective, but the scaffolding is not the same thing as the building. Once the building is in place, the scaffolding isn't as important, but if you remove it too early it might topple over. (Of course, even the Bible is secondary compared to the actual concreate reality of God, Salvation, the Church, and the Resurrection.)
Speaking of the Church, my basic take on finding one is that it's better to go to the wrong church, than not go to the right chruch. So pick one the best you can and recognize that people are imperfect everywhere. As for disagreement on Big Issues, well, if you think the Big Issues are things like:
* Is God a Trinity?
* Is the Bible an important revelation from God?
* Did Jesus rise from the dead? Will we?
* Does his death and resurrection save us?
* Did he ascend into heaven? Will he come back?
* Can we earn our salvation, or is it by grace?
* Do Christians receive the Holy Spirit when they believe?
* Are we commanded to love everyone?
* Does love require difficult and burdensome obligations like chastity?
* Should Christians get baptized and take communion?
and so on, then I think you with a few exceptions you will find quite a substantial amount of common ground among the serious Christians in the large majority of denominations (not counting liberal modernists who have a problem with the supernatural, or definite truth claims, as serious).
As for Catholicism (which does admittedly sometimes have difficulty really teaching that "grace" thing), if you decide that's the right place for you then don't let the scary confession keep you away; it would probably be a more spiritually helpful thing than you think. But as a Protestant, I can't belong to any church which requires as a condition of membership accepting all of their official doctrines as infallible, unless I actually do accept all of them.
I like your point about "abject humility". There's not enough of that going around these days.
Aron, thank you for this post and Petronius Jablonski, thank you for the question!
I am a Christian but have never agreed with the ideas of the ultra-Calvinist. Love can not exist without free will but I am very much surrounded by the Reformed Theology here is the States and specifically in the Bible Belt, who like to then question how I know what love is. I would hope that the Bible we all read gives me a close picture seeing that I am called to love but they find this to be "resting in my logic" too much and I just sign, smile and try to change the subject to old earth vs. young earth ;-)
Around a month Romans 9 was explained to me by my husband the way you explained it Aron and it brought such insight and relief (maybe I should ask my husband more questions ;-) ). Although when I come across even an intro verse like Romans 1:7, my heart drops and the fear that my God might be the monster people say he is comes rushing back. This post has help in many ways and again, I thank you!!
On a different note, for whatever ironic reason, the Lord likes to bring people into my life that are, I'd say, more educated in the areas of science, history, philosophy and the counterpoints to the Christian faith than I am prepared to handle. I'm totally comfortable telling folks that they have made a great point, that I don't know the answer and that I'll try to find out. But to be honest, I can not educate myself on all areas of academia (History, Philosophy, Physics, Geology and the list goes on and on and on!!)
As for Physics, I taught kindergarten before staying at home with my 3 nutballs so the A Theory and the B Theory did not come up that often ;-) Using scissors was about the most intense thing they learned in my class!!!
I am no longer putting the pressure on myself that in order to serve the Lord I not only need to love but be able to answer all the questions. My new outlook is that I will love recklessly, study as best I can with the time given to me and find wonderful people and resources to send the people who have questions way beyond my ability to answer.
You are now one of those people and this site, one of those places!! I can not thank you enough!!!
I'm in need of a history buff if you know of one!!!
Scott Church, I found your responses to be insightful and encouraging. Such a great example of love, humility and mutual edification!! The most encouraging part for me was that about the Atheist you speak to not being willing to have an open mind to the idea of God. I thought it was just me and due to the fact that I'm not as educated and can't bring up good enough points/counterpoints and that I am an awful resource for any non-believer to come to!!
I know God calls me first and foremost to love and I truly try my best. I love people and want to walk with them in life. This love seems well received when the younger Millennials (I'm was born in '81 so I'm apart of the older Millennials) come to my home for a meal, a beer or just talk BUT once God comes up (and they always bring Him up) it's like a switch gets flipped and they go off. Spouting off all this stuff and quoting all these people who I have never heard of. Telling me how unfounded my faith is and the idea of "purpose". Plus they never answer any of my questions. They just question my questions. At this point I try to change the subject, it works at times. But again, the fact a very intelligent person like yourself runs across the same experiences makes me feel a bit more normal and less alone in my pursuit to love those around me!!
Much love to you all and PJ... I wish you well on your journey!! You are not alone, there are hard deep questions and sometimes I get the feeling I might be wrestling with some of them until I die!!! I am so thankful God's love is not predicated on my ability to know/understand it all!!!
I am wrestling with a passage and I would appreciate yours (and your readers) thoughts.
Matthew 11:20-27 is the passage.
It would seem from verse 10-24 that Sodom would have repented if God had acted (in that case through signs and wonders like He had in Chorazin and Betsaida) This leads me to think that He didn't desire for them to repent for surly if He did then He would have done what was necessary on His part.
But thinking a bit more and comparing this passage to Romans 9... Jesus specifically refers to Sodom as "land" not individuals within the land. Do you think this passage takes on the same truths of Romans 9 in that there are some nations set up for different purposes (vessel for honor or common use) within the will of God. That maybe "repentance" in this passage is not an eternal repentance but just a change in the cultures morality/worldview (sort of like America had following 9/11... it didn't last but for awhile we came together due to the horrors of the Towers falling and those within them perishing.. and due to the new truth that the US is not impermeable)
Then verse 25 is unsettling to me... why would Jesus be happy, praising that God "hides" His truths/mysteries from the wise and intelligent? Why would God hide anything? That idea along with verse 27 seems to be making the point, like a Calvinist would claim, that only those whom Jesus/God wills/chooses/reveals himself to, will be saved.
I then go back to Romans 9 and verse 18 kills me!!! He uses "whom" which is a personal, individual term. It doesn't seem like He's talking about a nation as a whole unit.
Thanks for you time and patience with me on this topic... it's a hard one and being around mostly those who hold to Reformed Theology doesn't help ;-)!!!
Hi Sarah. Thank you so much for your kind words! I must say that when I read them my eyes filled with tears... I worry a lot about whether my comments are of any help to others, and nothing lift my heart like hearing a quality person tell me they have! :-) I just wanted to say that I understand your struggles with Matthew 11:20-27 too. For what it's worth, here are my thoughts on it...
In verses 20-24 the primary targets are Chorazin and Bethsaida, towns in or near Galilee where Jesus is known to have preached, practiced miracles only to be spurned (Wikipedia, 2014; 2015). In this passage He is reacting to their hard-heartedness as He often did--passionately. His references to Tyre, Sidon, and Sodom are hyperbolic contrasts intended to underscore that heard-heartedness, not explicit statements of literal truth. There have been plenty of times (more than I should admin :-) )when I referred to someone as "the biggest SOB in the state..." or the like. I've never actually believed that to be correct. Here in Washington where I live there are at least two maximum security prisons. It's highly unlikely that my statements were the literal truth and I knew that. I was merely using over-dramatization as a rhetorical device. Anyone who's studied the New Testament knows that Jesus was a colorful and passionate orator, and here we have a case in point.
As for Him being happy that God hides truth from the "from the wise and intelligent," perhaps that is because doing so respects their dignity. How can that be? Well...
In all the years I've walked this earth I've been around more hard-core atheists than I could count--enough to know that few acquired their beliefs through sincere due diligence or had to pay any sort of price for them. No doubt you know many believers who found God because however imperfectly, they did their best fallen mortals to seek Him, deny themselves and take up a cross and follow Him. Being disciples has a way of leading us to places we would rather not go (John 21:18). So ask yourself... how many atheists do you know who have done the same for their beliefs? I don't mean mere persecution either--as often as not, that merely gives one an excuse to become a noble martyr for "the cause" with pride. How many do you know who have paid a price for their worldview in heart and soul? How many have bled, shed tears, or been led where they did not want to go because their atheism honestly required it? If I'm wrong I'll gladly admit it, but suspect not many have. Make no mistake... atheists get something out of those beliefs, and ultimately most will do whatever it takes to protect them, facts or not.
More than anything else, there are two things about these folks that stood out to me: 1) Absolute, unquestioning certainty; and 2) A total lack of humility. For years they've lectured me about how "irrational" my views are but refused to discuss any alleged failures of logic or fact in them. They call me "unscientific," but when I present them with peer-reviewed science in support of any specific claims they staunchly refuse to read any of it... not even the abstracts. Should I ask why any defender of "science" would refuse to actually read published scientific research, they change the subject and dig in their heals. If I press the point they respond like cornered animals. They're enamored with the idea of science and reason, but the actual practice of either seems to terrify them.
God stands above and beyond space-time. The history of the universe, including the stories of our lives and choices is laid out before Him like a rich tapestry--one created and sustained by Him, but also by we who are little less than angels (Ps. 8:5). He sees every stitch we add to that tapestry, as well as the ones we cut and pull. If He chooses to hide truth from some perhaps that's because they've made it abundantly clear they want no part of it... period (John 3:20).
I have a good friend like this. I've invested more hours than I can count in attempts to give him an account of the hope that is in me. I've told my own story, responded extensively to his questions (and his condescending memes) citing text books, public datasets, personal testimonies, countless peer-reviewed research papers covering science, philosophy, and history, and more. To date he has never once responded in kind on any point or read any of my sources (on one occasion I did get him to read the table of contents of a collection of scholarly works dealing with physics, philosophy and history (The Blackwell Companion to Natural Theology), but even that much took nearly a week and didn't happen until I dared him to his face to do it). I pointed this out to him once and in response he told me that the difference between us was that he just "considers all religion to be false" and can therefore "concentrate on its impacts to society." That is, he doesn't waste time in self-examination or knowledge seeking regarding things he's already decided are false. When I told him that I didn't consider anything to be true apart from daily learning, self-examination and reason, he told me that I didn't understand the meaning of the word false. He's more than happy to "spar" with me about my beliefs in an attempt to "shame [me] into changing [my] irrational ways" (his terms, not mine), but under no circumstances will he tolerate any examination of his.
So... I've given him over to his beliefs too. I no longer follow his Facebook page or engage in religious discussions with him. I don't speak to his beliefs or seek dialogue with him about them. Why? Because he's a bad person? Because I don't care about him? No... he isn't, and I do. I gave him over because once and for all he has closed his heart and mind. This is his choice and he is responsible for it. He "considers" himself a noble representative of the "wise and intelligent" Jesus referred to, and he'll defend that title to the death. Any further attempt to question that choice would only dishonor his dignity as an autonomous moral agent and jeopardize our friendship. God grants us all the same dignity.
The poet Milton once observed that there are those who would rather reign in Hell than serve in Heaven. He was right. Strange as it may seem, Hell doesn't exist because it pleases God. It exists because there's a market for it.
I hope this helps Sarah! Blessings in Him!
Wikipedia. 2014. Chorazin. Available online at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chorazin. Accessed 04/14/2015.
Wikipedia. 2015. Bethsaida. Available online at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bethsaida. Accessed 04/14/2015.
Thank you Scott for the insight!
I guess Milton would have the same view of hell as Lewis... that it's locked from the inside!
What you said about God giving people over to their desires(the idol of reason, material etc) makes sense. As a parent myself,there may come a day when allowing my children to go the way their heart has chosen, even though it might intensely grieve me, would be the most loving thing for me to do.
As for the thought that "His references to Tyre, Sidon, and Sodom are hyperbolic" this is what my dear friend and commenter on this blog, Eric Hatfield told me (he is the one who told me about Aron's blog... he's true gentlemen!!)
A little background about where I am in my wrestling. I live in the South where the interpretation of what the Bible says of itself is that it (the Bible) is inerrant... "every dot and tittle" Luckily the view that Geneses 1-2 are not "for certain" telling it's readers that the earth is young is catching on. THANK YOU LORD!!! I have, since my teenage years, held to an Old Earth view but I've keep that to myself on most occasions ;-) And thanks to very respected American pastors like Tim Keller... the idea that God used the process of evolution is not viewed as heretical (well at least among some... you can't win them all)
Now I'm working through what "inerrancy" means. There are may views even when JUST looking uner the Evangelical umbrella and that is the main thing I'm studying at this point. My deepest, deepest desire is to have the seemingly wrathful OT God explained away (which Peter Enns does in his new book, The BIble Tells Me So) but I'm not sure if I buy it! Its seems to convenient! To write off any place where it said God commanded something as Joshua/the Jewish people just thinking that due to thier "God is Almighty and Wrathful and is going to let you and your god(s) know it" view of God.
I also like to argue my views against other views. So, from the view of a Calvinist or "dot and tittle" Bible reader, the explanation that what Jesus said about Sodom being just hyperbolic seems like a cop out.. easy to write off difficult passages/ideas (like the wrathful God of the OT) If I told those in my church that they would freak out on me.. which would be nothing new ;-) They are wonderful people but like most of us who grew up here, the Bible has been made too simple and the idea that one has to put more effort into it is not very attractive!
BUT the more left of center evangelical view of the Bible or the more Anglican view of the Bible, well, I relate to them more. I like reason to be very present in my interpretations and not just emotions or blind faith(trust). Because for me, there are times when peace is the last thing I feel when it comes to my beliefs (especially when talking with Atheist) and I have to go back to my reason.
The universe in too finely tuned to be something less intelligent than the human species so that takes out energy and mater. Plus there is a lot of evidence outside of the bible for Jesus existing and that his tomb was empty. And lastly, the fact that his disciples, all of them, as you said, took up their cross, with no earthly (material) gain of their own (riches, etc) seems unheard of. To perpetuate a lie (that you would 100% know is a lie due to being there) for no personal gain is so against the human nature, I believe what they claimed is true.
They didn't due like many leaders of "religions" movements/wars have done which is send their followers out to the slater and they themselves hide like cowards!!! They denied themselves, sacrificed themselves for the truth they knew, for a FACT, was true.
I envy them at times that they got to see, touch, smell and hear Jesus... if I was a disciple... Thomas I would be ;-)
This is the rational (in my opinion) process I go through when I'm doubting my faith (trust). But to what point can I rely on my own reason (which is flawed) when interpreting the bible... I don't want to become like a Rationalist or Empiricist and base ALL THINGS I know(trust) on the idols those thoughts uphold!!
This is where I am at and I might be camped out here for awhile.
Oh and as for being useful when commenting on blogs, for me, I usually learn more form the back and forth discussions than from the original post.. no offense Aron ;-)
Ah, Sarah... I see you're another one of those all too rare disciples who isn't afraid to work through the hard questions… to walk the shadowed places to a place of deeper faith despite the "righteous" consternation of friends and foes alike. It's an honor to have a chance to help with such a journey in any way I'm able! :-)
Hmmm... inerrancy and the wrath of the "Old Testament" God. Two very hard questions... and I wouldn't dishonor that journey by offering glib, overly tidy rationalizations for either. But again, here are a few more thoughts that will hopefully prove helpful. I'll spread the answers across multiple posts to make them more readable...
First, you are right... there are many takes on inerrancy, and for that matter, the reliability of God's Word in general. For me at least, the following things are most telling;
1) Language itself is more fluid than most folks realize. To my grandparents gay meant "happy and excited, cheerful and lively." The Merriam Webster dictionary still includes that definition. But today the common understanding of that word is very different. And this is hardly an isolated example. It isn't reasonable to imagine that a book written between 2000 and 3000 years ago will at every word or phrase carry the same meanings we, as a 21st Century First-World society hold today. Add to that the subtleties of translating ancient Hebrew and Greek to English--a language that didn't even exist in its modern form before the 16th Century and has differing words, grammar, syntax, and emphasis as well as a radically differing cultural context--and what you have is a mess. As often as not, the jots and tittles don't even correspond with each other, much less speak plainly to us. Now this mess can be sorted out, and for the most part it has been (which is a big part of why we have text critics and historians). But phrases like "plain understanding" or "every jot and tittle" don't exactly leap to mind.
2) All of the above assumes that it's clear we're translating the Bible. It isn't. The Bible we have today was pieced together from a great many ancient manuscripts. Some are closer in time to the events they describe, others less so. Most are partial in content, and many appear to have been redacted (fussed with) and differ from each other in places. Most of the differences involve minutiae without a loss of discernible content, but not always. As such, piecing together the Bible we have has been a lot more involved than many people are willing to admit. Of course, many inerrantists are aware of this, but claim that God's perfect inerrancy applies only to the original manuscripts. Even if that were true, it's useless. It's highly unlikely that we even have the original manuscripts, and even if we did there's no reliable way to positively identify them as such. Which leaves us exactly where we are—with no way of knowing whether the verses before our eyes meet our standard of inerrancy.
It seems to me that at some point we have to ask ourselves... if it was so important to God to provide 21st Century First-World audiences with a Bible free of virtually anything they might consider "erroneous," why would He go to all the trouble to deliver one 2000-3000 years ago--at the expense of what would speak clearest to all who preceded us in history—but not invest the minimal extra effort to make sure it was inerrantly copied and translated to that favored audience? For that matter, why not just deliver it directly to us in our time? Which brings us to the final point...
3) Instead of deciding for ourselves what God's perfect Word to us should look like, why not let it speak for itself on this matter? The clearest such statement I know of is in Paul's second epistle to Timothy. There we're told that, "All Scripture is God-breathed [Gr: theo-pneustos] and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for... [wait for it...] every good work (2 Tim. 3:16-17). In other words, all matters of faith and practice necessary to build us up to the full measure and stature of Christ Jesus. There isn't one "jot or tittle" here that promises us reliable answers to every single Jeopardy question we might ask involving history, science, Elizabethan poetry, beer brewing, rectal thermometers, or any other topic we might feel entitled to answers for.
It seems to me "inerrancy" is a rat's nest we've made for ourselves... and one that God is under no obligation to clean up for us. :-) Perhaps we would do well to remember the words of St. Augustine, written far closer to those original manuscripts in both history and language than the Bible we read today;
Moving on to the wrathful God of the Old Testament... Theodicy ultimately is a matter of whether God is good... which in turn boils down to the question of what good truly is.
Whether we care to admit it or not, for most of us good means kind... understanding... tender-hearted... etc. etc. Unless movies involving gangsters, invading aliens, death rays, and helicopter gunships are involved, the concept of justice rarely enters this equation. Which I imagine is why we have so much trouble with a God who not only asks us to suffer the children to come unto him, but is righteous as well. So how do we balance righteousness against mercy? Well... I don't have any easy answers for that. But I will say this...
Being a righteous and loving God, who sees all of history and the secret places of our hearts better than any of us ever will, it seems unlikely that His mercy or His justice will line up often with our sensibilities. Many will dismiss this as a fallacious argument from ignorance (formally, Argumentum ad Ignorantium) and thus a cop-out. Except that in this case it's pretty clear that we are in fact ignorant. How many of your atheist or fundamentalist friends would dare to profess knowledge of the hearts, souls, and motives of those who fill the pages of Old Testament history? I certainly wouldn't, and I doubt that you or any wise soul you know would either. And it's a pretty safe bet none of us know the mind of God Himself either, or sees history from an eternal perspective as He does. Regardless of one's beliefs about God or His goodness, it's a pretty safe bet that the word ignorance is appropriate. And it's pretty damn difficult to draw reliable conclusions when one has little if any true knowledge to go on. And yet... something in us compels us to keep trying. I am reminded of the words of the writer Milan Kundera (author of The Unbearable Lightness of Being) who once said,
He was right... Wherever our search for peace and answers takes us we would do well to remember that.
As for your atheist friends, and the peace they rob you of when they avoid your honest questions by bludgeoning you with more... don't I know this! Over the years, I've found that the best way to respond to such tactics while honoring their dignity is to simply stop playing intellectual badminton with them and have them tell their own story instead. To wit...
"There's no evidence for God...!"
Really? What sort of evidence would be convincing to you? Where and how have you searched for such evidence, and what exactly led you to believe it doesn't exist?
"The church is full of hypocrites...!"
Agreed. So why is it that you find that hypocrisy more revealing of religion, and more compelling than the values and doctrines those folks are failing to live by? After all, isn't that what they word hypocrisy actually means? Wouldn't it be more rational to look to the example of those actually living by those principles? So why don't you?
"Religion has caused untold misery and atrocities throughout history...!"
Also agreed. So how did you come to identify religion with those atrocities rather than its teachings... the sermon on the mount, Mother Theresa's loving ministry to the dying and destitute on the streets of Calcutta, Jesus' commandment that we must love our neighbor as ourselves, and more? You don't seem to identify atheism with Stalin's gulags, Mao's purges of scientists and intellectuals, Pol Pot's killing fields, or any other atrocity committed by atheistic regimes in the name of their ideologies... What led you to make that distinction?
Anyone can criticize your beliefs. But ask them to tell the story of theirs and they cannot sidestep a direct answer without tacitly admitting that it isn't worth telling (at which point you'll have every right to say so). If you do manage to get their stories out of them I suspect you'll find what I have over the years. Eloquent soliloquies about the virtues of "science" and "reason" notwithstanding, the vast majority of these folks adopted atheism for existential rather than rational reasons and based it almost entirely on a handful of "just-so" stories, none of which has ever been properly fact-checked. At this point one of two things will happen... They'll open their minds a little and start participating in a more mutually beneficial dialogue, or they'll respond like cornered animals. Either way, you will have faithfully given an account of the hope that is in you (1 Pet. 3:15). The rest is up to the Holy Spirit.
How far can you trust your reason...? Trust it as far as it will take you! Bear in mind Sarah, that true reason knows its own limits. It knows when it has gone as far as it can with the knowledge it has. Beyond that, the teacher will come when the student is ready. In the meantime, true reason knows how to live patiently with mystery and the tension of unanswered questions. Indeed, it will embrace them. When reason has taken you as far as it can it will tell you so, and so will your heart.
G.K. Chesterton once said that the lunatic is not the man who has lost his reason, but rather, the man who has lost everything except his reason. He was right! It's no accident that he Father of Lights gave you a heart as well as a mind. You can trust them to work together, and you can trust Him to complete the work He began in you with them. Yes, Thomas was a doubter. But he was a disciple as well. Jesus met him at that place, and showed him the wounds in His wrists and sides when he needed to see them most. He will do the same for you... so fear not! :-)
PS - If you haven't read it already, I would strongly recommend Chesterton's book Orthodoxy. If nothing else, read the chapter titled "The Lunatic" (where the statement noted was made). He was one of those rare geniuses who had such a way with words that he's a delight to read even when you disagree with him.
Blessings in Him!
Thank you for your time and kindness!!
"I am reminded of the words of the writer Milan Kundera (author of The Unbearable Lightness of Being) who once said,
Man seeks a world where good and evil can be clearly distinguished, because he has an innate and irrepressible desire to judge before he understands."
He was right... Wherever our search for peace and answers takes us we would do well to remember that."
Wonderful words that convicted me a bit. I am going to write that quote on a 3x5 card and keep it in my bible. Truly, I can't wait to be in the full knowledge of God... what peace of mind will come and what laughter over what I thought I knew!!!! We can all laugh together!
I tried reading Chesterton and, to be honest, it went over my head. (I will go back read slowly the chapter you recommended ;-) )My husband read Orthodoxy and it rocked his world. Paul, my husband, has been trying to convince me that I am not the lunatic for believing in God and that those who don't believe are lunatics.
It wasn't until last week while reading Nancy Pearcey's "Finding Truth" that the vail was lifted!!
Using Romans 1, she shows how all world views outside of a biblical world view, reduces truth to one thing (matter, reason, beauty, etc) thus leaving out all the truths within the other world views. In trying to box truth in, something is left out of the box and the person has to deny a truth that is evident to them by general revaluation... thus they become lunatics/madmen. A biblical worldview is the only one that freely invites us to included ALL the truths presented within ALL the world views/religions.
This understanding has brought such peace and has caused me to slow down my fearful, rushed studying of the bible and specific interpretations. Not that I don't still plan on reading the 9 books on my shelf, but I am going to read them with a restful heart and patient mind. I realized I was trying to prove the bible (however that might look in my mind :-) ) in order to prove I was not crazy for believing the way I do.
Now... by learning a bit of secular philosophy and the basic ideas behind the world views that reduce truth, deduce humans to less than human, and cause cognitive dissonance and two-story dualism, I am so excited to continue on in my studies!! I don't say this often or carelessly but Pearcey's book was a God send!!!
I wish you well friend and I look forward to reading your responses on other post that I only half way understand ;-)
Thanks Sarah! And you are most welcome. Wow... that Nancy Pearcey book sounds fascinating. I'm so glad you found it, and that it's given you perspective and peace. I just picked up a Kindle copy myself and plan on starting it soon as I get off work today. Thanks so much for letting me know about it!
And for the record, your husband is right... you most certainly are not the lunatic for believing in God, and that those who don't believe are! That was the very point Chesterton was making. As I said in my last, true reason knows its limits. It knows that human knowledge is not boundless and there comes a time when the student must wait patiently until the teacher comes. But those who have lost everything except their reason believe it to be limitless, and ultimately this requires them to deny reality. Atheists are a case in point. Most will preach the virtues of reason and science waxing eloquent about how they are "tentative" in their search for answers, but in practice they believe both to be limitless. But reality has little patience for such hubris, and sooner or later they end up trapped in their own self-imposed worldview prisons. Our friend Chesterton put it well;
You purchased the book?! Wonderful :-)
Would you do me a favor and let me know your thoughts when you're done?
I've found that on both side the one presenting a claim will use their best arguments against the weakest point in the other persons defense. I'm wanting to make sure Mrs. Nancy is being honest and fair.
Sure Sarah! At the rate I'm going I should finish it in a week or so. When I do I'll post my thoughts here. Back soon with a review! :-)
I didn't want to get in the way of the conversation you and Scott were having, but let say I appreciate your comments and questions, and also the fact that sometimes conversations can happen here that don't involve me.
If you didn't get into St. Chesterton's Orthodoxy, you might want to try Tremendous Trifles which is mostly amusing anecdotes and stories with a point (and some of his best writing).
As for the repentence of the Sodomites, here's a curveball to throw into that discussion:
Is it just me, or does this passage indicate that God will do what is necessary to restore the Sodomites to repentence? (But wait! That would require raising people from the dead...)
Thanks for sharing that passage Aron! I was familiar with the first verse or two but hadn't read the whole thing. Truly, our God is merciful, even to the Sodomites. This is a recurring theme in the Old Testament... God judges, often harshly, but then restores, especially when He is sought with a repentant heart.
Another quick question, totally off-topic but I keep forgetting to ask. How do you post math here? Are you using MathML or is there a way to parse LaTex content for the web or WordPress? I've been looking for a viable method for years but always end up resorting to graphics. MathML seems really great but I don't know how universal its browser support is these days.
Yeah, it's funny how the first part of that Ezekiel passage is a famous proof-text but the much more mindblowing part is basically ignored. A similar passage along these lines is in 1 Peter 3:18-4:6 (the NIV mistranslates verse 4:6 by adding the word "now" which is not in the Greek).
I use the LaTeX for WordPress plugin. Instructions for inserting formulae are in the comment policy.
Aron... could you expand on your comments about restoration for Sodom?
Are you speaking in terms of universal restoration... like in order for those in Sodom to repent and have the blessing of truly seeing their Creator who loves them they had to go through the awful annihilation of their bodies, their kids and famies bodies and homes?
Like the idea as presented in the Great Divorce where the characters earth bound lives are connected with their eternal lives? Part of the journey... one might say? I believe this about Christian... that our lives here play a part in our eternity.
I wish that... if there truly is the ability to repent postmortem... that God's love truly seeks after every sheep until they are all found (I hope for universal restoration but I lean conditionalism) and that all can truly be found... that the Bible spoke about it.
My husband always reminds me, when sucked into debate about creation or eternity, that no one has been shown the beginning or the end (Ecc 3:11) but goodness... it would be nice to know the end... I personally hate surprises and not knowing!!
You don't think the Ezekiel is speaking about a nation as a whole and not about individuals like with Romans 9 and those darn pots?
*Sidenote... my NIV version titles that chapter as an allegory... I assume you disagree?
Ugg... I just want God to love his enemies like he calls us to do! This is my biggest struggle and I'll more than likely die still struggling!!!!
The entire point of the New Testament is that God came in the flesh and died for his enemies. As you say, it makes no sense for God to command us to love our enemies if he does not do it first himself. Otherwise holiness would be a different thing for God than for us, but he says: "Be holy as I am holy". If you look at the holiest people you know, you will see that they love everyone, and---aside from Christ himself---that is our best image or indicator about what God is like. (What about the Bible, you might ask? The Bible is God's word, but it is properly understood only by those that possess the Spirit of God (1 Cor 2:15). And this Spirit is at work in you, making you to understand that God has to love his enemies to be truly divine.)
While there is much in the Bible to puzzle over, I think that Christians should take this as a foundational principle: "Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners."
You cannot love anyone more than God loves them. Period.
Pardon me for being presumptuous, but let me just ask: What would happen if, instead of "struggling" with doubts about whether God loves everyone, you accepted it firmly once and for all? I don't mean you shouldn't struggle with passages in the Bible that don't make sense to you, but that none of them should be allowed to interfere with the firm conviction that, come what may, and regardless of how many people he smites in the pages of the Bible, or whether God will eventually be reconciled with everyone, this much at least is clear: God is love.
Even if Ezekiel is speaking of the nation of Sodom as a whole, since it was destroyed, restoring it would require restoring at least some individuals, right? Also, I assume the NIV calls this chapter an allegory because it symbolically speaks about Jerusalem (and Sodom and Samaria) as if they were individual human sisters (with their "daughters" meaning the inhabitants of those countries). That doesn't necessarily mean that the other aspects of that chapter are nonliteral.
Just like, "The Parable of the Sheep and the Goats" is a parable because it compares people to sheep and goats being sorted by a shepherd, but that doesn't mean that there won't literally be a Final Judgment, just that the language used to describe it is somewhat colorful.
"Pardon me for being presumptuous, but let me just ask: What would happen if, instead of "struggling" with doubts about whether God loves everyone, you accepted it firmly once and for all? I don't mean you shouldn't struggle with passages in the Bible that don't make sense to you, but that none of them should be allowed to interfere with the firm conviction that, come what may, and regardless of how many people he smites in the pages of the Bible, or whether God will eventually be reconciled with everyone, this much at least is clear: God is love."
This is what I'm coming to!!
I've been reading Oswald Chambers' The Love of God... in it he says
"But words and emotions pass, precious as their influence may be for a time, so when the duller moments come and the mind comes to require something more certain and sure to consider than memories of mere emotions and stirring statements- consider this revelation, the eternal fact that God is Love, not God is loving. God and love are synonymous. Love is not an attribute of God, it is God; whatever God is, love is. If your conception of love does not agree with justice and judgment and purity and holiness, then your idea of love is wrong. It is not love you conceive of in your mind, but some vague infinite foolishness, all tears and softness and of infinite weakness."
Thanks again for your time and care with me. You and Scott, along with Eric and my Atheist friends who challenge me are helping me to find rest... find peace in areas that have plagued me for years!!
I look forward to learning more though God's work in your life and in the lives of your readers/commenters!
I'm a bit confused here. Feynman wrote in his famous lectures:
"In the same way, we also believe today that displacement in time will have no effect on physical laws. (That is, as far as we know today—all of these things are as far as we know today!) That means that if we build a certain apparatus and start it at a certain time, say on Thursday at 10:00 a.m., and then build the same apparatus and start it, say, three days later in the same condition, the two apparatuses will go through the same motions in exactly the same way as a function of time no matter what the starting time, provided again, of course, that the relevant features of the environment are also modified appropriately in time. That symmetry means, of course, that if one bought General Motors stock three months ago, the same thing would happen to it if he bought it now!".
You, however, write, that for quantum mechanics:
"If we want to go by what Physics says, we have to take into account Quantum Mechanics as well as Relativity, and this seems to indicate that if we turned the clock back and re-did the experiment, so to speak, we would not get the same outcome a second time.".
So, does quantum indeterminism contradict homogeneity of time or not? I thought that homogeneity of time preserves the laws, not outcomes, but Feynman's further explanation confuses me a lot.
You are correct that in a statistical theory, symmetry with respect to time translations only implies preservations of the laws, not the specific outcomes.
Feynman is indeed stating it in a confusing way (perhaps he had a classical deteriministic system in mind rather than a quantum one) but his point is that the rules of time evolution are the same regardless of when you start. This is also true in QFT, but only implies that the same experiment will give the same probability distribution for outcomes.
Do you have thoughts on Andromeda paradox? (https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rietdijk–Putnam_argument)
I’m largely confused, as I’ve read some people out there suppose that this paradox imply determinism, thus proving our free will to be a mere illusion. I suspect it’s just about B-theory of time which, as you wrote above, is perfectly compatible with quantum indeterminism, but I’d like to hear your opinion on it.