Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Are Humans Just Brains?

Below you will find two responses of mine to an atheist claiming that we are just our brains. The comments are over at Patheos. Enjoy!
So if we are our brains and we are hostage to our brains, why do you blame Christians for believing the things they believe? In your system, a person is rational NOT because they "will" to be, but because their brain forces them to be rational.
Now, if you are right, truth has nothing to do with anything. Your corresponding to reality just collapsed into ashes. You don't believe things because they correspond to reality. You believe them because your brain forces you to believe them.
Accidents do NOT imply agency in the world of philosophy. Accident is any non-essential thing belonging to x. Since all x's are the result of natural processes and chance, then all x's are just accidents of nature. If that is true, no living being possesses any intrinsic value whatsoever. And if that is true, life as we know it is truly meaningless in every sense of the term.
If your brain is in control of your beliefs, then you cannot willingly change your beliefs. How can you know or trust that your brain is after the truth? How can you know or trust that your brain's aim is to function rationally? It would seem to me that in your system, your brain would be after survival, not rationality. And in that case, you really wouldn't be able to trust that your brain was functioning in a way that was even interested in some truth that supposedly corresponds to reality. Instead, it is going to believe whatever it needs to believe in order to survive. And this means that your brain cannot be trusted to deliver on your claim that you are after truth. The reason you believe that all human beliefs require a certain kind of evidence, empirical evidence, is because your brain thinks it is the key to survival, not because it thinks it is true. In fact, everything you think you know could be a lie but it doesn't matter in your brain. All that matters is the substance of what think you know is, in your brain's mind, what you need to think you know in order to survive.
In other words, your brain will function to cause you to embrace irrational views if your brain considers those views necessary to your survival.
Conclusion: since you cannot trust your brain to give you real knowledge concerning reality, your claims to possess knowledge are completely unreliable. Since your brain is more interested in survival than truth, it cannot be considered a reliable source of rationality.
The truth is that you do not live anything like your claims would indicate. Everything you said in your last comment is a glaring contradiction to everything else you have said previously. There is no reason for anyone to listen to anything you say about knowledge or truth or what people ought or ought NOT to believe. We are all surviving just like you and if your right about the human brain, that's all that matters. We can all go home now because nothing anyone says about truth, morality, meaning, purpose, or anything else matters. Your system has just been reduced to irrationalism.

Final response:
Ok, for those reading, I am going to make this my last response because I am just too busy.
Pud has said we are hostages to our brains. That explanation has been reduced to irrationalism because the brain itself cannot be trusted function in a way that is truth-seeking. Now Pud says that our brains are the products of our environments. But if that is true, then it is true of his brain as well. And now we are going to have to talk about which environment is the normative environment. However, we cannot do that if the brain itself cannot be trusted to judge between which environment is the right environment for producing rational brains.
Pud's argument is this: my brain is the normal brain because it comes from the right environment to produce normal brains and the reason I know "this is truth that corresponds to reality" is because my brain, which is a product of that environment, can be trusted to make that determination.
How does pud know his brain is normal? Because it comes from the right environment. How does pud know his environment is normal? Because his brain told him. 
Not only has pud been guilty of obvious contradictions in his system, numerous inconsistencies along the way, but now he has committed the fallacy of the vicious circle in his reasoning. I am not sure how many different ways a person's worldview has to be reduced to absurdity before they give it up, but apparently for pud, it is a lot!
This is another reason why we do not ARGUE people into the Christian faith. Only God can open pud's eyes to the truth of the gospel and work the necessary change in pud's mind to accept the truth of Christ.
In their case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.
The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton: Standard Bible Society, 2016), 2 Co 4:4.

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Moral Objection to God from Slavery.

To view this on my Website click here: Moral Objection to God from Slavery

First of all, we must admit that there are occasions in Scripture where slavery is practiced and seemingly endorsed under certain circumstances and in certain contexts. To try and wiggle out of that fact is a mistake because it feels like spin and indeed it would be exactly that. However, this does not mean that just any model of slavery was viewed as acceptable in Scripture. It was not. Scripture reveals a very specific model of slavery practiced in the context of the ANE and in ancient Rome. That much is true. However, Christianity introduced strict ethics around how even that model was executed. That said, slavery is not the subject of this post.

Now, for starters, keep in mind that this is a tactic from the objector to disprove Christianity. It is not the case that the objector really is saying to you, “look I would embrace Christianity if it wasn’t for the fact that God allowed actions that I consider immoral. If you can show me that God is not immoral, I will follow him, cross my heart and hope to die.” Treat this objection for what it is: a disingenuous excuse to exercise the universal practice of self-justification. Think about it this way: you have before you a totally depraved sinful human being pronouncing moral indictments against God. This is blasphemy! Part of our problem when dealing with objections like this is that we do not consider and very often fail to appreciate the seriousness of the sin from which they arise. Any objection that portends to judge God is particularly pernicious and should be dealt with accordingly. I have no difficulty telling people who make this objection that they are guilty of blaspheming God. It is not polite not to tell them the truth.

First, the objector has no moral standing to condemn slavery if there is no God. That S/he does so is proof that their own belief is irrational. The reason this belief is irrational is because a world of chance contradicts a world of absolute morality. A world of chance cannot produce a world of absolutes. A system that involves obvious contradictions is irrational. Second, when pressed far enough for a rational grounding of morality, the best they can do is say they do not know where objective morals come from but they just know that something like slavery is wrong. This too is irrational because there is no rational grounding for their belief. They will bounce from one theory to another, each one failing to provide the grounding they so desperately need. And in the end, the shoulders will shrug and even though they do not know, they will insist on knowing that we don’t need God for absolute morality.

Since the objector has no grounding for morality in general, they have no objective basis from which to condemn slavery in any expression whatever, let alone the slavery mentioned in the Bible. This means their objection is not sustainable. You can reject it and be within your right not to answer it. The judge of logic would say: objection overruled.

Now, let’s take a different perspective to the objection. God as creator has every right to treat every human being as a slave if he so chooses. After all, every human has rebelled against his Creator and deserves to be treated much worse than a slave. So the idea that slavery is immoral necessarily implies that human beings have a right to be treated better by God than slave treatment, and that is patently false. We do not. We deserve nothing but condemnation and wrath from the hand of our Creator. It is only due to God’s grace and loving kindness that our experience in this life has any pleasure whatsoever, or lessor degrees of displeasure than we currently experience or have experienced over the course of our lives. And that is just as true for the slave as it is for the free.

A lot more could be said about this argument but I will leave it here for now. This is enough to demonstrate that the moral objection to God over slavery fails to meet its obligation as a true objection and therefore, any rational person ought to abandon it.

Disclosure: This article does not deal with the morality of modern forms of slavery such as that practice by early American society. The aim is purely apologetic in nature and the intention is to help Christians deal with a very specific and very common objection to Christianity.

Sunday, January 8, 2017

Immutability: God Changes Not

The Incommunicable Attributes of God

Because divine aseity is so often misunderstood, that attribute has been treated separately. In this article, I want to compress the incommunicable attributes of God in one place. To begin with, the incommunicable attributes of God are different from the communicable attributes of God due to the fact that they cannot be shared with anyone or any being that is not God. Hence, they are incommunicable.

The Immutability of God
Proposition/Claim: God does not change
The proposition, “God does not change” follows naturally from the proposition that “God is self-contained” or “God is independent.” Francis Turretin deals with this subject by asking this question: Is God immutable both in essence and will? We affirm.[1] The term immutability means the possibility of change. Is there any possibility of change in the divine being? And the answer is, there is none. In order to demonstrate that Christians know that God cannot change, we must call on the source for that knowledge once again; Christian Scripture. “I am the Lord and I change now.” (Mal. 3:6) But you are the same, and your years have no end. (Ps. 102:27) Christian knowledge about God is revelational in its nature. God reveals himself in divine acts and then works to reveal the interpretation of those acts in Scripture. We come back to Exodus 3:14 where God said to Moses, “I am that I am” is my name. God’s name is being.[2] Hebrews 13:8 tells us that Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever. He does not change. James 1:17 tells us that there is no variation or shadow of change in God. The Greek word used by James here is parallage. It means a change or variation in the nature or character of something[3] In fact, James said that even God’s shadow is ever fixed so that it does not move or change even in the slightest degree. Notice that Turretin says that God is immutable both in essence and will.

Proposition/Claim: God’s will does not change.
The word will can mean any number of things. It can mean a wish, a desire, a plan, etc. The sense in which will is used here is God’s plan, his counsel, or decree. It is not the purpose of this section to discuss divine impassibility. I will come to that subject elsewhere. If God is simple, an attribute discussed below, then it follows that God’s will does not change any more than His being or essence changes. This is disputed by some theologians, especially those who take a more rationalistic approach to theology. God is not man, that he should lie, or a son of man, that he should change his mind. Has he said, and will he not do it? Or has he spoken, and will he not fulfill it? (Num. 23:19) “Remember this and stand firm, recall it to mind, you transgressors, remember the former things of old; for I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is none like me, declaring the end from the beginning and from ancient times things not yet done,
saying, ‘My counsel shall stand, and I will accomplish all my purpose,’ (Isa. 46:8-10) The counsel of the Lord stands forever, the plans of his heart to all generations. (Ps. 33:11) And also the Glory of Israel will not lie or have regret, for he is not a man, that he should have regret.” 1 Sam. 15:29) These texts are very clear. And because they are very clear, they introduce tensions with other verses that will be addressed else. When these tensions are addressed, links will be embedded here. In the meantime, if you want to know how God can hold men responsible for evil behavior if all things are within his decree to begin with, read Paul’s interaction with this thinking in Romans 9:13-20. The objection is raised in this section of Scripture and Paul basically tells the objector to shut up. Paul would not have passed a modern philosophy class for debating in that way, but that doesn’t mean his method was inferior. In fact, God is the one working through Paul to tell us to put a sock in our objection. I suggest you read that section several times.

What are the implications of the Christian doctrine of immutability?

1.     The same God who acted in the Old Testament is the God who acts in the New. Some modern evangelicals and many liberal protestants seem to think that God has changed from the Old to the New. He has not. Our God ordered what we would call in modern terms, Genocide. Our God never prohibited a certain model of slavery. These are issues with which we must come to grips if we are to understand God’s revelation about who He is and what He is like. He does not change. It is in your best interest then to learn how to reconcile these events with modern sensitivities to these issues. The skeptics, critics, and liberals are ready to launch their objections.
2.     God’s will does not change. Everything that happens, happens by divine decree. Nothing happens outside the divine counsel of God. This is not just saying that God is in control of everything and then attempting to get him off the hook with libertarian free will. That everything happens because God decreed it would happen negates the idea that men act in a way that is contrary to the divine decree. See the argument in Romans mentioned above. When my 2 year-old nephew was tragically hit and killed by a truck, it was an event that God had decreed before He created the first blade of grass. When I was brought to Christ and you were brought to Christ, we were brought to Christ because God decreed he would bring us to Christ.
3.     God’s will does not depend on human freedom in order to succeed. The man in the jungle must hear the gospel if he is to know Christ and avoid eternal damnation. He cannot hear the gospel unless someone takes it to him. And someone cannot take the gospel to him unless God sends him. So the man in the jungle who dies without the gospel suffers eternal judgment, not because no one went to preach to him, but because God did not send anyone to preach to him. But that is not entirely true either. The man in the jungle faces eternal judgment because he rejects God who has made himself known to him so that he is without excuse. While natural knowledge of God is sufficient for culpability, it is not sufficient for salvation. Nevertheless, in the end, God decreed that he would NOT send this man the gospel of redemption and therefore, the man would fail to avoid eternal judgment. The man is responsible because the man did exactly what he wanted to do. He lived a life of rebellion against God. Now, if you think this is harsh, or unloving, or unfair, then you need to spend several hours studying grace. It is clear that if this is how you feel, you do not understand the Christian doctrine of grace. And if you do not understand grace, it is possible that you do not know Christ. Search your heart and examine your own salvation to make sure that you are in the Way.

[1] François Turrettini, Institutes of Elenctic Theology, trans. George Musgrave Giger (Phillipsburg, N.J.: P & R Pub., ©1992-©19), 204.
[2] Herman Bavinck, Reformed Dogmatics (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker Academic, ©2003- 2008), 154.
[3] Johannes P. Louw and Eugene Albert Nida, Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament: Based on Semantic Domains (New York: United Bible Societies, 1996), 590.

Saturday, January 7, 2017

Divine Aseity

Proposition/claim: God is self-existent, self-reliant, self-contained, dependent on no one or nothing outside of himself in any way.
There is nothing more important than knowing God.[1] At the very center of Christian theology, of Christianity itself is the proposition: God exists as the Creator and sovereign Lord over all things. But the question immediately arises, “who is God and what is He like?” Since God transcends human experience, and the created order, being immaterial, uncreated, not extended in space and time, it follows that the source for our knowledge of who God is and what God is like, is of critical importance. For the Christian, the only reliable source for our knowledge of God is the Christian Scriptures. It is in the Christian Scriptures that God comes to us, revealing to us who he is and what he is like and, in addition, what this thing we call ‘life’ is all about. One of the things that Scripture reveals to us about God is that God is A se.

Divine aseity is “a term derived from the Latin a se, “from oneself.” Aseity, as a divine attribute, refers to God’s self-existence. In other words, God is not dependent upon anything else for his existence but has eternally existed without any external or prior cause.”[2] This term is often used interchangeably with the term independence. Scripture itself reveals the general attributes of God’s nature before, and more clearly than, it reveals his Trinitarian existence. God is independent, all sufficient in himself, and the only source of all existence and life. YHWH is the name that describes this essence and identity most clearly.[3]

In the Old Testament book of Exodus, when Moses asked God essentially who he was, God said to Moses, “I am who I am.” (Ex. 3:14) This name describes him as the One who is and will always be what he was, that is, who eternally remains the same in relation to his people.[4] This is repeated as a matter of fact that is to be uncritically accepted again in 1 Corinthians 8:6: yet for us there is but one God, the Father, from whom are all things and we exist for Him; and one Lord, Jesus Christ, by whom are all things, and we exist through Him. In one popular challenge from the Jews, Jesus’ issued the famous riposte, “Before Abraham was, I am.” (John 8:58) The Writer to the Hebrews tells us that Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever.” (Hebrews 13:8) If it is true that God is from himself, it must also follow that whatever God plans or decrees is also not dependent on anything outside of God. This has serious implications for all branches of Christian theology, not the least of which is practical theology, or, as we like to say, Christian living.
To tease this out a little more, Herman Bavinck writes, “While aseity only expresses God’s self-sufficiency in his existence, independence has a broader sense and implies that God is independent in everything: in his existence, in his perfections, in his decrees, and in his works.”[5]

From this state of affairs, that God is absolute, self-contained, independent being, all other attributes of God flow. If the Christian can begin with a right understanding of God in this most basic and fundamental truth about who God is and what God is like, much error and even heresy can be avoided.

Now, if God is self-sufficient, self-existing, not dependent on us for anything a few things worth mentioning will follow from this:

1.     God does not need. We have often wondered why God created human beings or even angels for that matter. In our feeble attempts to understand the why, we come up with all sorts of creative ideas. We think God wanted a relationship with us so he created us because he wanted to have someone with whom he could have fellowship. But this idea would require that God was missing out on something. We think that maybe God was sort of lonely, like we get when we are alone with no one to talk to. This view of God is the product of human projection. We project onto God our own nature. This is a dangerous practice that must be avoided at all costs.

2.     There is no lack in God. He wants for nothing. If God wants for nothing and he lacks nothing, then this means that God is all that God is. I can’t even say that God is all that he needs because God has no need. There is a serious limitation on the language we use to describe God. This becomes very apparent the more we try to look for analogies that may help us better understand God. This is where biblical trust comes in. We trust God even though he has not revealed everything we might want to know about him. This means we must avoid the sinful temptation to engage in conjecture and speculation where the nature of God is concerned. What God has not revealed, he has not revealed on purpose.

3.     God is never frustrated.  A frustrated deity and divine aseity are not apparent contradictions. They are real contradictions. If it is true that God’s plan can be frustrated, or go unfulfilled, then it is true that God is not independent after all, and that he does have some deficiency by way of dependency in his nature. The popular doctrine of libertarian free-will threatens divine aseity in precisely this way. If I am truly free to act against God’s plan, then it follows that God can be frustrated because I did not do what he had planned for me to do. If Judas had the kind of free will that some people think he had, then he could have acted independently from God’s plan or purpose (decree) and frustrated the divine plan. Unwittingly, those who hold to such a view are affirming a belief that is contradictory to the nature of God at a basic level. Moreover, it should be noted that nothing happens that God has not planned. In other words, your flat tire, or not, is just as planned by God as the crucifixion of our Lord.

4.     There is nothing we can do to add value to God’s experience, existence, or pleasure in any way. God does not need our fellowship. He does not need a relationship with us. God does not need more people to be redeemed than he has presently redeemed. God does not need to direct his love toward us. But more importantly, God does not need our love and devotion or our praise and worship. He needs NOTHING from us. There is nothing we can do that will result in God receiving more glory or experiencing greater pleasure than what God receives always at all times forever and ever. God needs nothing from us, including us. Moreover, God does not want something from me like I want something from someone only to experience true disappointment. Any language in Scripture that one might take this way is what we call anthropopathic. This means that God often uses human phenomena to describe himself, not because that is actually what he is experiencing, but because it is similar in a way that at least humans can understand what he is communicating. Just as we speak baby-speak so that our young children can understand us, even sometimes pretending to cry so that they understand us, God does the same with us. God’s communication with his creation is accommodative. As Cornelius Van Til would say, our knowledge and God’s knowledge is analogical. Think about it like this: humans experience anger or disappointment because an outcome was different from what we expected and from what we had hoped. This is not the case when Scripture is talking about God’s anger. Scripture uses this kind of language to express his disposition toward a particular thing because we can understand that God has a very negative disposition towards that particular behavior.

5.     God does not learn. There is nothing God does not know. This means that God does not look into the future in order to learn what will happen and this is how he knows and controls things. This would mean that God learns. In other words, God does not look into the future and figure out who is going to believe in him and then choose these individuals for salvation. Such a view is not consistent with divine aseity because it makes God’s plan dependent on what others will do. In fact, this view would mean that the death of Christ was not guaranteed and that Christ’s death  even if it were to materialize, could not guarantee the salvation of even one person. This is simply a very confused way of viewing God's sovereignty and how it relates to his knowledge. This also means that God does not react to things. It means that bad things do not just so happen to you, and then somehow God figures out how to take that bad thing and turn it into something good. Your car broke down because God planned it from the very beginning. Your child died of cancer because God planned it from the beginning. You lost your home to the bank because God decreed it to be before he created the first blade of grass. God does not encounter situations, react to them, and then figure out how to make you benefit from them because he is infinitely intelligent or really, really smart. Such thinking threatens divine aseity.

The only way God can guarantee our salvation, the only way we can believe that the Bible is the Word of God without the possibility of error is if God is self-sufficient. If this position of divine aseity if wrong. If God is not like what has been described here and in historic Christian orthodoxy, it could have truly been the case that the Christ event could have been frustrated by the free choices of human beings. The only way we can believe that the future promises of God will absolutely materialize just as God says is if God is in fact A se.

Click the link below to navigate to the Q&A+ for more details about divine aseity:

Divine Aseity

[1] John M. Frame, The Doctrine of God, A Theology of Lordship (Phillipsburg, N.J.: P & R Pub., ©2002), 1.
[2] Stanley Grenz, David Guretzki, and Cherith Fee Nordling, Pocket Dictionary of Theological Terms (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1999), 16.
[3] Herman Bavinck, Reformed Dogmatics (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker Academic, ©2003- 2008), 148.
[4] Ibid., 150
[5] Ibid., 152.

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