Barack Obama & Rick Warren

December 18, 2008

artobamawarrengiFor those of you who have not yet heard, Barack Obama has chosen Evangelical(!) pastor Rick Warren to deliver the invocation at the Presidential inauguration in January. I must admit that I respect this move by Obama. Whatever his motivations may be, he is taking a lot of heat from liberals and this is an intentional move (the way I see it) to work with people that on issues such as abortion and homosexuality often disagree with him. Let us hope this spirit of collegiality persists. See this article on the CNN site.

Beckwith’s “Mormon Theism, the Traditional Christian Concept of God, and Greek Philosophy: A Critical Analysis”

June 11, 2008

Here is a link to Beckwith’s article, which may be found in print in JETS 44/4 (Dec. 2001): 671-95. This is an outstanding article, highly recommended.

Tradition & Scripture: How Tradition Can Contribute to Evangelical Alchemy

April 18, 2008

There can be no doubt among Protestants and Roman Catholics alike that the discussions surrounding the issues of Scripture and Tradition (and/or [t]radition depending on definition of terms) have been historically marked by virulent criticism, often accentuating and perpetuating poor arguments and thereby creating more heat than light. One such argument is that which seeks to pit Tradition against or over Scripture and vice-versa. Protestant detractors often make comments such as, “You are all about the traditions of men whereas we stand firm only on the Holy Word of God.” Yet “it may come as a surprise to some readers that for most of church history Scripture and tradition were perceived as generally compatible with each other.” Read the rest of this entry »

Short book note: _Jesus in Trinitarian Perspective_

April 10, 2008

Jesus in Trinitarian Perspective.
Ed. by Fred Sanders and Klaus Issler. Baker, 2007; 244 pages.

Fred Sanders and Klaus Issler have compiled six outstanding essays in Jesus in Trinitarian Perspective. The book begins with a well-written introduction to Christology (by Sanders), which focuses on the orthodoxy established in the early creeds, especially Chalcedon. “Each of the remaining chapters in this book approaches the task of doing Christology in a way that is informed by trinitarian thought and Chalcedonian categories” (p. 36).

Chapter two focuses more explicitly on the Trinity, specifically Jesus’ place within it. Arguing for an “eternally ordered social model” for understanding the Trinity, this chapter emphasizes the equality of the divine nature, while affirming a “distinction of roles within the immanent Godhead” (p. 76). The next two chapters discuss the person of Christ. The first is a fine exploration of the fifth-century Christological controversy, commending Cyril of Alexandria as the most important contributor to the debate. Given the general ineptitude among Evangelicals regarding historical theology, this is a welcome essay. The next chapter is a rigorous philosophical investigation into the Incarnation. In dialogue with Medieval philosophical theology, a “contemporary monothelite” model is offered.
The latter half of the book addresses the work of Christ, beginning with a chapter on Christ’s atonement “as a work of the Trinity,” arguing that “without the Trinity there could be no atonement and hence no salvation” (p. 156). The sixth and final chapter (by Issler), discusses Jesus’ genuine example for “how to live the Christian life beyond the limitations of an average human life” (p. 189). For example, “Jesus walked by the Spirit, and so it is possible for us to do so as we yield in dependence on God” (p. 214).
Though the contributors do not shy away from precise (and sometimes technical) language, they are careful to thoroughly explain themselves. Jesus in Trinitarian Perspective is geared for advanced undergraduates or beginning seminary students, but can certainly be read with great benefit by any determined reader.

Leibniz and Henry of Ghent on Possibility

January 25, 2008

Judging by his previous post, it looks like my man Keith has been reading some Leibniz.  I must confess, I’ve only just  began reading Leibniz seriously just recently.  I did some reading a while back in an Early Modern Phil. class but I don’t remember much from back then.  One interesting point though about the early modern thinkers is the remarkable continuity they exhibit with their medieval predecessors (despite their strong repudiation of them). 

Consider the the nature of possibility: In the Monadology, Leibniz insists that the ‘essences or possibles’ depend on the ideas in God’s understanding in such a way that if God did not exist, then ‘not only would nothing exist, but also nothing would be possible.’  The eternal truths or abstract realm of possibilia are for Leibniz so dependent on God, that their very possibility emerges from him.   But what does that mean?  Specifically, Leibniz’ claim is that ‘the possibles’ depend on the divine intellect itself.  Here, he tries to repudiate Duns Scotus’ understanding of God and possibility while avoiding the pitfalls of Descartes:

We ought not to say, with some Scotists, that the eternal truths would subsist, even if there were no understanding, not even God’s.  For, in my opinion, it is the divine understanding that makes the eternal truths real, although his will has no part in it.  Whatever is real must be founded in something existent.  It is true that an atheist may be a geometer.  But if there were no God, there would be no object of geometry…The reason for truths lies in the ideas of things which are involved in the divine essence itself.

By making this move, Leibniz is appealing to the doctrine of divine ideas associated with Augustine and Aquinas, which says that God’s knowledge extends as far as He knows His essence to be imitable in this way or that, and that there exists in God an idea of every such imitation that He knows.  So in God, there are ideas of everything that exists, even of things that do not in fact exist, but are simply possible.  Now Leibniz thinks that God’s will has ‘no part’ in determining what is possible.  This is the sole perogative of His intellect.  He has in mind the likes of Descartes who, in his letter to Mersenne appeared to embrace a kind of voluntarism:

As for the eternal truths, I say once more that they are true or possible only because God knows them to be true or possible.  They are not known as true by God in any way which would imply that they are true independently of him…In God willing and knowing are one single thing, in such a way that by the very fact of willing something He knows it, and it is for this reason that such a thing is true.

And in another reply to Mersene, May 27, 1630 he says:

You ask me by what kind of causality God established the eternal truths, I reply: by the same kind of causality as he created all things, that is to say, as their efficient and total cause.  For it is certain that he is no less the author of creatures’ essence than he is of the existence; and this essence is nothing other than the eternal truths.

He goes on to maintain that it is because God has willed it that all the radii of a circle are of equal length or that it is again in virtue of the divine will that all the angles of a triangle are necessarily equal.  But Leibniz in no uncertain terms, rejects this thesis.  Necessary and possible truths have their status not because God has willed that they do.  This would imply that it is within God’s power to will that such truths have a different nature altogether.  Hence, God could have made it that 2 + 2 = 7 or that a necessary conclusion would not come from a valid syllogism with true premises.  So Leibniz rejects Descartes’ view, but he does not want to give the impression that he is with Scotus either.  His via media then is this: Whatever is possible is possible in virtue of God somehow, if only because the divine intellect makes it possible.  Leibniz never really fleshes out this claim, however.

As it turns out, Leibniz proposal is remarkably similar to that of Henry of Ghent (one of Scotus’ favorite interlocutors), and here we find a bit more flesh.  Henry proposes one of the clearest responses to the impasse posed by the statistical model of possibility for God’s freedom to create.  On Aristotelian modality, no genuine possibility could forever remain unactualized.  In fact Aristotle himself had insisted that per impossible, if an object were to have contrary potencies, one of which is always actualized, then the alleged unactualized potency could not in fact be real.  Yet this concept of modality seemed to entail that God could not have the freedom to create things that He would otherwise not have.  But God’s perfect freedom in creation was a central theological doctrine that the medieval thinkers could not contradict.  Henry’s solution was to posit that the possibilities do in fact have some kind of realization in the divine intellect.

            Now Henry argued that in the divine mind there exists a kind of reality consisting of all things that might take place in the actual world.  These objects have a quasi-reality about them albeit somewhat less that the being of actual objects.  They have a “being of essence” and are real enough to be called “conceivable things.”  These objects derive their formal possibility from their relation to the divine intellect itself.  Their being conceived by the the divine mind is what makes them possible.  Opposed to these, are the absolute nothing of fictions, Henry says.  These are simply the things that are impossible like the Chimera or Aristotle’s goat-stag.  These have no being or reality at all for they are not objects of the divine intellect and thus do not derive any formal possibility from this relation.  So the possibility of things is derived from the divine intellect itself, whereas impossibility is derived from the absence of a relation between an ostensible thing and the divine mind.  So for Henry as for Leibniz, an object derives its very possibility from the divine mind such that if God did not exist, not only would it not exist in the actual world, it would not even enjoy its formal status as possible. 

October 7, 2007

Thou containest all things in Thine hand in Thy Truth; and all things are true so far as they be; nor is there any falsehood, unless when that is thought to be, which is not.

St. Augustine, Confessions 7.15.21.

Grounding Counterfactuals

June 20, 2007

Many Molinists remain unmoved by the objections to their theory, but for some, the dreaded grounding objection can cause a little discomfort.  The metaphysics of grounding can be seen a species of the metaphysics of Truth-making-a theory with considerable intuitive appeal concerning the relationship of the world and truths about it.  According to the truth-maker thesis, truth and being are co-extensive.  Propositions function as truth bearers, but not because truth or falsity are in them as such.  Rather truth or falsity are ascribed to a proposition in virtue of something else-a truth-maker.

It is suggested that truth-makers are needed so that truths don’t merely “float in a void”-that is, in order to preserve the intuition that propositions have their truth value because of something and not simply as a brute fact.  But what would qualify as a truth-maker?  Various responses have been offered but more commonly, truth-makers are usually taken to be certain facts or states of affairs that correspond to propositions. 

Now the Molinist argues that propositions of the kind:

(1) If David were to remain in Keilah, Saul would (freely) besiege the city,

have a truth value, namely, they are true.  God, by virtue of a most profound and inscrutable comprehension, knows what each person would freely choose in whatever circumstance they might be in.  So antecedent to any creative act–to any other existing state of affairs–there are a whole host of true propositions.  But then if the truth-maker thesis is correct, what would make these propositions true?  Let us suppose that the following counterfactual were true:

(2) If Wittgenstein had struck Popper, Russell would have risen to his defense.

Well truth-maker theorists would insist that (2) is true if and only if there is a state of affairs where Ludwig Wittgenstein strikes Karl Popper and Bertrand Russell then jumps to defend him from Popper’s fists.  But of course, (2) is a counterfactual and states of affairs that are counterfactual never actually obtain.  There seems to be no metaphysical basis for insisting that (2) is true then. 

As best as I can tell, there is only one good response to this objection (but then again I’m a novice).  The response goes as follows:

It is true that states of affairs that are counterfactual never actually obtain.  But it isn’t true that they never obtain.  For David Lewis might be right: the world we are part of is but one of a plurality of worlds, and there are inhabitants in each of these worlds.  There is the actual world of course, and this is the world that we inhabit.  But Lewis argues that possible worlds are on the same ontological status as our world-the actual world.  That is, there are no ontologically privileged worlds-not even ours, the actual world, for actuality is an indexical concept (like “now” or “here”); for any individual x, the world that x inhabits is actual for x

It is easy to see then that the grounding objection is harmless to the Molinist if he were to grant this theory.  What makes a counterfactual conditional true is that there is a world significantly similar to ours in which a certain state of affairs obtains even though it does not obtain in ours.  So what grounds the truth of (2) then is that there really is possible world where the counterparts of Wittgenstein, Popper, and Russell act in the way (2) says they did. 

But are Molinists prepared to live with the metaphysical consequences of such a theory…