Friday, January 23, 2009

Darwin's Predictions

There's a new website put up by Cornelius Hunter, author of Darwin's God and Science's Blindspot, two books that I highly recommend.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Second Response to Persiflage on the Decree

Persiflage responded to my first response here. I will be interacting with this response as well as one of the comments he made to Bnonn over at Triablogue.



First, I am not going to spend any more time on the issue of theological terminology except to say this: there is specialized terminology in any discipline whether it is in science, engineering, cosmetics, journalism, etc. Frequently, that terminology will take well-known words and change their meaning slightly to fit the situation. For example, in the oil industry there is a device called a “pressure bomb.” Is it really an explosive? No, it is simply a pressure reading device that is lowered into a well that records pressure over a period of time. This linguistic situation is no different in theology.

Second, I’m not going to say anything on the philosophy of metaphysics in regards to free-will. The guys over at Triablogue are better at that than I.


Next, the main body of this post will be on theodicy.

Perhaps I need to make a few qualifications on orthodox Calvinist theodicy:

1. God did not (nor does He) create any of His creatures morally evil.
2. God does not tempt men to do morally evil actions.
3. God does not Himself do any morally evil actions.
4. God does not prescribe (i.e. give laws for) morally evil actions.
5. God does not get pleasure from morally evil actions.
6. God does not coerce men to do any morally evil actions (though Bnonn made a point in his comment to you that “determined” is not necessarily the same thing as “coerced” given compatibilist free-will).

And specifically:

7. God does not coerce men to disbelieve.
8. God does not prevent men from coming to true repentance which results in justification and eternal salvation (but this is to be differentiated from temporary or superficial repentance).

You’re right that the word “ra‘” in Lamentations 3, Isaiah 45, Amos 3, Jeremiah 4, and (to add one to the list) Job 2:10 should probably not be translated “evil” as in moral evil, and it does refer to the punishment God is meting out upon wicked cities and nations. However, I do believe that it should be translated “calamity” instead of simply “punishment” (though it includes that idea in these texts), and although God’s intentions for destroying the wicked were righteous, the actions and intentions of the nations that did the destroying were not. Thus, the calamity that was brought upon those cities should be considered morally evil (or at least it involved moral evil in carrying it out).

While I neither believe that God Himself coerced the Babylonians to bring calamity nor that God Himself was the proximate cause of drawing the Babylonians south to invade Judah (i.e. God probably willingly permitted the demonic host to do that), I do think that it is theologically proper to say that God was the ultimate cause of the event. This becomes clear when you simply read the verses in which God states that *He* was the one who did it (see also Daniel 1:2).

As John Oswalt, himself an Arminian, notes in his commentary on Isaiah 45:7:

7 The climax of the particular statement being made in this segment appears in this verse. Here the prophet spells out exactly what he means when he says there is no other than the Lord. If any question yet remained about the degree of uniqueness and exclusivity that he was claiming for God, this verse should lay it to rest. He chooses two areas in which to make his claims: nature and history, and in both of them uses the figure of antinomy, or polar opposites, to make his point. In each of the parallel pairs he begins with a verb which expresses specific, concrete action by God (form, make) and closes with one which is even more theologically expressive, the same one in both cases (create). What Isaiah asserts is that God, as creator, is ultimately responsible for everything in nature, from light to dark, and for everything in history, from good fortune to misfortune. No other beings or forces are responsible for anything.
Without question such a sweeping assertion raises some serious problems, especially as we try to puzzle out issues of justice and fairness. At the same time, we must take into account the point being made and the alternative. The point is that everything which exists, whether positive or negative from our perspective, does so because of the creative will of God. The alternative to this view is that things happen in the world of nature or history that have their origin in some being or force other than God, things that he is powerless to prevent. If that alternative is correct, then God is but one of the gods and is as powerless to save us from ourselves as they are. Furthermore, he is no more the expression of ultimate reality than they are. Since he is limited, we must look beyond him for whatever is final in this world. Given that alternative, it is easy to see why Isaiah makes qualifications, given the rest of Scripture. But that is the correct direction to move: from principle to qualification. If we start with qualification, we will never reach the overarching principle.
An important qualification is already implicit in the text. The Hebrew word ra‘ has a wide range of meanings, much like the English word “bad.” Like “bad” it can refer to moral evil (“Hitler was a bad man”) or to misfortune (“I’m having a bad day”) or merely to that which does not conform to some potential, real or imagined (“That’s a bad road”). This is not the case with the common English equivalent for ra‘, “evil,” which almost always refers to moral wickedness. Thus if we read “I…create evil” (AV), we conclude that God causes people to make morally evil decisions. That this is not the correct translation of ra‘ in this circumstance is shown by the opposite term used, which is salom, “health, well-being, peace, good relations, good fortune.” The opposite of these would be those connotations that we most commonly ascribe to “bad.” What the prophet is saying is that if bad conditions exist in my life, they are not there because some evil god has thwarted the good intentions of a kindly but ineffectual grandfather-god, who would like me to have good conditions but cannot bring them about. They are there solely as a factor of my relations to the one God. They may be there because I have sinned against his natural and moral laws, or they may be there because by their means I can become more like him, or they may be there for reasons that he cannot explain to me. But they are not there in spite of God. He is the only uncaused cause in the universe.”
-John N. Oswalt, The Book of Isaiah: Chapters 40-66 (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Eerdmans, 1998), pp.203-205.

So, while God did not intend moral evil by bringing about those actions, He brought those actions about knowing full-well that the proximate causes (e.g. the Babylonians) would be morally evil or would commit morally evil actions in the process. Let’s take an example:

Job 2:10
In this passage, Job says, “Should we receive good from God, and shall we not receive evil?” Of course, the word, “evil,” should be understood as “disaster” or “calamity,” but the calamity in Job’s case took the form of the murder of his children by Satan and the murder of his servants and theft of his flocks by the Chaldeans. Yet, Job ascribes both well-being and the disaster that fell upon him ultimately to God. Is God then accountable for the moral evil that was brought upon Job? No. He willingly permitted Satan to do that. Nevertheless, God set the boundaries of what Satan could and could not do and even knew exactly what Satan would do given God’s foreknowledge, and thus, Job correctly ascribed these actions ultimately to God.


You continue to say things like:
“However, all the many passages of Scripture (and there are more) that say that God allows and makes use of evil that exists, never say that God made it exist, ordained it to exist, or caused it to exist. God uses evil, yes. But God ultimately causes evil? No.”

You are completely missing the force of the texts that were cited. You are probably reading the verses too quickly, assigning a meaning that will fit your theology, and not really paying careful attention to the exact words used or their order. Theses texts don’t simply say that God uses (already-existing) evil or calamity and makes good out of it. They name God as the ultimate cause of the evil act.

Genesis 50:20
“As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good in order to bring about this present result, to preserve many people alive.”
Here, the “it” that God meant for good refers back to the evil actions of the brothers. It was not as if God saw the evil actions of the brothers and proceeded to clean-up their mess. Rather, the event was ultimately caused by God Himself. God meant the actual event itself for good. But if God “meant” the actual event of selling their brother into slavery, then God must be the ultimate cause.

1 Samuel 2:25
Again, the very act of choosing to disobey their father ultimately came from God. The act of disobedience to their father was sin! Did God Himself do this? No, He probably willingly permitted a demon to harden their heart against obeying their father. Nevertheless, God should be and in fact *is* described as the ultimate cause.

Revelation 17:17
Again, the act of the kings in giving their royal rule over to the beast is itself a sinful act (probably the fulfillment of Psalm 2:2), and yet, God is specifically described as the ultimate cause of that act: “He has put into their hearts to carry out His purpose.”

I could go list every text that we discussed, but I think that you get my point.


Next, I’d like to deal with your interpretation of the events in Exodus.

You write:
“…although in Pharaoh’s case, it very specifically says that he hardened his own heart…”

While it is true that Pharaoh did harden his heart, there are a number of problems with your statement:

1.) In a compatibilist scheme, there is an ultimate cause and proximate causes. God is the ultimate cause, and a demon (that God willingly permitted to do the act) as well as Pharaoh himself were the proximate causes. So, you’re committing a fallacy (i.e. begging the question against compatibilism) in saying that either God hardened Pharaoh OR Pharaoh hardened himself but not both.

2.) Psalm 105:23-45 recounts the events of the Exodus. It states that God “turned [the Egyptians’] hearts to hate His people, to deal craftily with His servants,” before Moses and Aaron are sent to Pharoah in v.26! So, God did hearden Pharaoh’s heart in the first place.

3.) As G.K. Beale has shown, whenever Pharaoh hardened his own heart, it is always in fulfillment of a previous passage where it says that God will harden Pharaoh’s heart (cf. 4:21 with 5:2, 7:3 with 7:13, etc.) or a passage after the event commenting on the past (cf. 9:34 with 10:1, etc.). Furthermore, Beale shows that the phrase “as the Lord had said” (Heb: ka’aser dibber YHWH; 7:13, 7:22, 8:15, 19, 9:1) is a statement used frequently in the Pentateuch to denote a promise-fulfillment where God acts in behalf of His people. Thus, even in the passages where it says that Pharaoh hardened his heart, this should be seen as God having heardened it as the ultimate cause.


You then quote Greg Boyd who quotes Ezekiel 18 and 33 (same with Lamentations 3:33). However, those texts simply mean that God is not sadistic, not that God has a universal salvific will. It does not mean that God had not reprobated (i.e. ordained to not elect) the wicked in His eternal decree. You also have to couple those verses with others such as Deuteronomy 28:63 which states that God does take pleasure when justice is done and the wicked are destroyed:

“It shall come about that as the LORD delighted over you to prosper you, and multiply you, so the LORD will delight over you to make you perish and destroy you; and you will be torn from the land where you are entering to possess it.”

In other words, God is not sadistic in punishing evil, but He does take pleasure when justice is done.


You then quote Greg Boyd on Proverbs. I’ll have to wait on commenting on this until I obtain Bruce Waltke’s commentaries on that book which may be awhile since they’re quite expensive.


As to Habbakuk 2:12-13, I believe that I have over-extended the meaning and implications of that passage. It simply means that the rise of evil empires through bloodshed and other evils is futile since the omnipotent God will punish them and bring all of their gain to nothing. Oops.


You stated:
“John 12:40 is a difficult passage often misinterpreted. A more full description of the same thing is found in Matthew 13:13-15 where the author is explaining how Jesus and Israel’s rejection of him is fulfilling a prophecy in Isaiah. Some people use this passage to say that God doesn’t want some people to understand the truth and repent. That is inaccurate when you read the whole story.”

I am not going to argue (nor did I) with your statement that God does not cause unbelief ***except*** to make the qualifications that I made above (see #8 under the Calvinist theodicy). Here’s what I actually said:

“God hardened those who rejected Jesus so that they would not repent; though, it probably means a temporary repentance like Ahab’s (see 1 Kings 21:20-29) since God refuses none that come to Him. God did this so that the Jewish leaders and their followers would hate Jesus and kill Him. Though this passage from Isaiah is usually cited in the Synoptic Gospels in such a way that suggests that those who disbelieve harden their own heart, the passage from John cites it in such a way as to suggest that God is the one who hardens their hearts. Of course, both are true since God is the ultimate cause and the unbelieving men are the proximate cause.”

Scripture most certainly does teach that God is the cause of the hardening. Once someone first rejects the gospel, the result is that God pours out His wrath by giving them over to believing falsehoods. This is the plain meaning of 2 Thessalonians 2:11, Romans 11:7-10, Isaiah 63:17, etc.

You’ve told both Peter Pike and I what those passages don’t or can’t mean, but you have never actually told us what they ***do*** mean.

Next, you used Acts 17:30. However, Acts 17:30 is a command for all men to repent. You’re assuming that if God gives a command, then man must be metaphysically (and not just physically) able to obey those commands. But this again assumes the Principle of Alternative Possibility and Libertarian Free-Will.


I’ll get around to dealing with your posts on the actual TULIP at a later date.


Sunday, January 4, 2009

The Term 'World' in the Johannine Corpus

This was in the comment box over at this Triablogue post:

G said, "All individuals would still be included. We need to suppress the next steps of logic so that you can say "all men", without reaching the more desired Calvinistic ending of "some men"."

Actually, it wouldn't. "All men without exception" would necessarily entail "all men without distinction" but not the other way around.

The word, "world," as it is often used in the Gospel and Epistles of John, has reference to quality, not quantity.

Sometimes it has reference to the evil nature of human society. John 3:16 does not mean that God had so much love that He loved every single last human being, but rather, it means that God had so much love that He loved humans (but not necessarily every single human) in spite of their sinfulness. The quantity of that group can only be determined by the context.

Sometimes (as in 1 John 2:2), it has reference to all people groups (a universal of qualities), i.e. both Jews and Gentiles, and is used to oppose the 1st century Jewish idea that God would only bless the Jews, Gentiles were sub-humans, and other assorted racist ideas.

Thus, God chooses men out of *every* (universal) tribe, tongue, people, and nation, but *not* *everyone in* every tribe, tongue, people, and nation.

It is all men without distinction (i.e. *some* from *every* people group), not all men without exception (i.e. *everyone in* every people group).