Sunday, April 26, 2009

Our Cities Vanish: Poetry by Ray Hinman


Our Cities Vanish by Ray Hinman (My Brother's Poetry)

At last the long awaited volume of my brother's poetry is published.

Our cities vanish, about 80 Poems by my brother, Ray Hinman. I believe that my brother has great literary talent and his poems have always been a big hit in all the coffee houses and petry festivals and art festivals where he has read them. One of them once made a professor cry in a graduate class (this is was a tough professor and a real literary scholar). They are not necessarily religious. His experinces traveling in Mexico fuel the major brunt of the collection. The reader can feel the sand between her toes, taste the exotic Mexican liquors and feel the feel the sun beating beating down. Ray is unafraid to use lanague to evoke images and archetypes that open up the world of the mundane to the sesne of archaine and mythological.

His literary journey began with the influence of Geoethe, took a long detour through Wallace Stevens and Ford Modox Ford, and winds up with Latin American Poets.

For a preview of what the poetry is like see the website I put up. The book contains about three for four times as man and they quality is just as good.

Artifacts: Poetry by Ray Hinman

Saturday, April 25, 2009

An Opportunity to Discuss Theodicy by Clearifying Something

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God's major plan for easing suffering in this life

I made a statement in my answer to Loren which has been misconstrued by some readers. Here's what Hermit said:

quoting me:"There are pre conditions before God dos stuff, or so it seems. The bible as much as says it. and faith is one of the major pre conditions."

His response:This is one of the cruelest elements of theism, in my opinion; this idea that people are allowed to suffer because of their spiritual inadequacy. Have you any idea how many people pray faithfully for relief and continue to suffer in spite of their faith? And you want them to think it's their fault for not believing "right"?

Sorry Joe, but this is the kind of thing that really turned me against the whole idea of faith.

I agree. I hate when theists try to answer the theodicy problem and do so with ideas that make the surrerer's guilty for something. That's nothing more than what the dumb guys in Job say. I always thought the "freinds" of Job (in the 60s we used to say "with freinds like that I don't need enemies") who said "you sinned" were the dumb ones. I agree with Hermit and I did not say that. His mistakes is where he says this:this idea that people are allowed to suffer because of their spiritual inadequacy. I never said that.

I said you have to be in the zone, I did not say you are not in the zone because something is wrong with you. I see that as a matter of timing not the sufferer's lack of virtue or any other problem with the person doing the suffering.

I think the allowance of evil and suffering is explained adequately by my version of the free will defense know as "Soteriolgoical Drama." I'm sure no one is going to my website to look that up. Certainly Hermit, Mike and Loren are not doing so. So here it is for their convenience and edification. (BTW "soeteriological" Means "the study of salvation" I call it that not because I think one is saved for suffering or because sufferers don't have it but becasue the nature of salvation is a drama played out in the form of a search. Not a drama for entertainment, but a true life drama.

The Free Will Defense is offered by Christian apologists as an answer to any sort of atheist argument such as the problem of pain or the problem of evil. The argument runs something like: God values free will because "he" ("she"?) doesn't want robots. The problem with this approach is that it often stops short in analysis as to why free will would be a higher value than anything else. This leaves the atheist in a position of arguing any number of pains and evil deeds and then crying that God had to know these things would happen, thus God must be cruel for creating anything at all knowing the total absolute pain (which usually includes hell in most atheist arguments) would result from creation.

The apologists answers usually fail to satisfy the atheist, because in their minds noting can outweigh the actual inflicting of pain. Something atheists evoke omnipotence and play it off against the value of free will, making the assumption that an "all powerful God" could do anything, thus God should be able to cancel any sort of moral debt, make sin beyond our natures, create a pain free universe, and surely if God were all loving, God would have done so.

The better twist on the free will defense would be to start from a different position. We should start with the basis for creation, in so far as we can understand it, and then to show how the logical and non self contradictory requirements of the logic of creation require free will. What is usually missing or not pointed out is the necessity of free will in the making of moral choices. This is the step that atheists and Christian apologists alike sometimes overlook; that it is absolutely essential in a non-self contradictory way, that humanity have free will. Thus, free will must out weight any other value. At that point, since it is a matter of self contradiction, omnipotence cannot be played off against free will, because God's omnipotence does not allow God to dispense with Free will!

Before moving to the argument I want to make it clear that I deal with two separate issues: the problem of pain (not a moral issue--tornadoes and diseases and the like) becasue it doesn't involve human choice. Pain, inflicted by accident and nature is not a moral issue, because it involves no choices. Thus I will not deal with that here. I am only concerned in this argument with the the problem of evil that is, the problem of moral choice. The free will defense cannot apply to makes where the will does not apply.

Basic assumptions

There are three basic assumptions that are hidden, or perhaps not so obivioius, but nevertheless must be dealt with here.

(1) The assumption that God wants a "moral universe" and that this value outweighs all others.

The idea that God wants a moral universe I take from my basic view of God and morality. Following in the footsteps of Joseph Fletcher (Situation Ethics) I assume that love is the background of the moral universe (this is also an Augustinian view). I also assume that there is a deeply ontological connection between love and Being. Axiomatically, in my view point, love is the basic impitus of Being itself. Thus, it seems reasonable to me that, if morality is an upshot of love, or if love motivates moral behavior, then the creation of a moral universe is essential.

(2) that internal "seeking" leads to greater internalization of values than forced compliance or complaisance that would be the result of intimidation.

That's a pretty fair assumption. We all know that people will a lot more to achieve a goal they truly beileve in than one they merely feel forced or obligated to follow but couldn't care less about.

(3)the the drama or the big mystery is the only way to accomplish that end.

The pursuit of the value system becomes a search of the heart for ultimate meaning,that ensures that people continue to seek it until it has been fully internalized.

The argument would look like this:

(1)God's purpose in creation: to create a Moral Universe, that is one in which free moral agents willingly choose the Good.

(2) Moral choice requires absolutely that choice be free (thus free will is necessitated).

(3) Allowance of free choices requires the risk that the chooser will make evil choices

(4)The possibility of evil choices is a risk God must run, thus the value of free outweighs all other considerations, since without there would be no moral universe and the purpose of creation would be thwarted.

This leaves the atheist in the position of demanding to know why God doesn't just tell everyone that he's there, and that he requires moral behavior, and what that entails. Thus there would be no mystery and people would be much less inclined to sin.

This is the point where Soteriological Drama figures into it.
Argument on Soteriological Drama:

(5) Life is a "Drama" not for the sake of entertainment, but in the sense that a dramatic tension exists between our ordinary observations of life on a daily basis, and the ultiamte goals, ends and purposes for which we are on this earth.

(6) Clearly God wants us to seek on a level other than the obvious, daily, demonstrative level or he would have made the situation more plain to us

(7) We can assume that the reason for the "big mystery" is the internalization of choices. If God appeared to the world in open objective fashion and laid down the rules, we would probably all try to follow them, but we would not want to follow them. Thus our obedience would be lip service and not from the heart.

(8) therefore, God wants a heart felt response which is internationalized value system that comes through the search for existential answers; that search is phenomenological; introspective, internal, not amenable to ordinary demonstrative evidence.

In other words, we are part of a great drama and our actions and our dilemmas and our choices are all part of the way we respond to the situation as characters in a drama.

This theory also explains why God doesn't often regenerate limbs in healing the sick. That would be a dead giveaway. God creates criteria under which healing takes place, that criteria can't negate the overall plan of a search.


One might object that this couldn't outweigh babies dying or the horrors of war or the all the countless injustices and outrages that must be allowed and that permeate human history. It may seem at first glance that free will is petty compared to human suffering. But I am advocating free will for the sake any sort of pleasure or imagined moral victory that accrues from having free will, it's a totally pragmatic issue; that internalizing the value of the good requires that one choose to do so, and free will is essential if choice is required. Thus it is not a capricious or selfish defense of free will, not a matter of choosing our advantage or our pleasure over that of dying babies, but of choosing the key to saving the babies in the long run,and to understanding why we want to save them, and to care about saving them, and to actually choosing their saving over our own good.

In deciding what values outweigh other values we have to be clear about our decision making paradigm. From a utilitarian standpoint the determinate of lexically ordered values would be utility, what is the greatest good for the greatest number? This would be determined by means of outcome, what is the final tally sheet in terms of pleasure over pain to the greatest aggregate? But why that be the value system we decide by? It's just one value system and much has been written about the bankruptcy of consequentialist ethics. If one uses a deontological standard it might be a different thing to consider the lexically ordered values. Free will predominates because it allows internalization of the good. The good is the key to any moral value system. This could be justified on both deontolgoical and teleological premises.

My own moral decision making paradigm is deontological, because I believe that teleological ethics reduces morality to the decision making of a ledger sheet and forces the individual to do immoral things in the name of "the greatest good for the greatest number." I find most atheists are utilitarians so this will make no sense to them. They can't help but think of the greatest good/greatest number as the ultaimte adage, and deontology as empty duty with no logic to it. But that is not the case. Deontology is not just rule keeping, it is also duty oriented ethics. The duty that we must internalize is that ultimate duty that love demands of any action. Robots don't love. One must freely choose to give up self and make a selfless act in order to act from Love. Thus we cannot have a loved oriented ethics, or we cannot have love as the background of the moral universe without free will, because love involves the will.

The choice of free will at the expense of countless lives and untold suffering cannot be an easy thing, but it is essential and can be justified from either deontolgoical or teleological perspective. Although I think the deontologcial makes more sense. From the teleological stand point, free will ultimately leads to the greatest good for the greatest number because in the long run it assumes us that one is willing to die for the other, or sacrifice for the other, or live for the other. That is essential to promoting a good beyond ourselves. The individual sacrifices for the good of the whole, very utilitarian. It is also deontolgocially justifiable since duty would tell us that we must give of ourselves for the good of the other.

Thus anyway you slice it free will outweighs all other concerns because it makes available the values of the good and of love. Free will is the key to ultimately saving the babies, and saving them because we care about them, a triumph of the heart, not just action from wrote. It's internalization of a value system without which other and greater injustices could be foisted upon an unsuspecting humanity that has not been tought to choose to lay down one's own life for the other.

Objection 2: questions

(from "UCOA" On CARM boards (atheism)


In addition, there is no explanation of why god randomly decided to make a "moral universe".

Why do you describe the decision as random? Of course all of this is second guessing God, so the real answer is "I don't know, duh" But far be it form me to give-up without an opinion. My opinion as to why God would create moral universe:

to understand this you must understand my view of God, and that will take some doing. I'll try to just put it in a nut shell. In my view love is the background of the moral universe. The essence of "the good" or of what is moral is that which conforms to "lug." But love in the apogee sense, the will to the good of the other. I do not believe that that this is just derived arbitrarily, but is the outpouring of the wellspring of God's character. God is love, thus love is the background of the moral universe because God is the background of the moral universe.

Now I also describe God as "being itself." Meaning God is the foundation of all that is. I see a connection between love and being. Both are positive and giving and turning on in the face of nothingness, which is negativity. To say that another way, if we think of nothingness as a big drain pipe, it is threatening to **** all that exits into it. Being is the power to resist nothingness, being the stopper in the great cosmic drain pipe of non existence.

The act of bestowing being upon the beings is the nature of God because God is being. Those the two things God does because that's what he is, he "BES" (um, exists) and he gives out being bestowing it upon other beings. This is connected to love which also gives out and bestows. So being and love are connected, thus the moral universe is an outgrowth of the nature of God as giving and bestowing and being and loving.

Thus the question isnt really answered. Why does god allow/create evil? To create a "moral universe". Why? The only answer that is given is, because he wants to. Putting it together, Why does god allow/create evil? Because he wants to?

In a nut shell, God allows evil as an inherent risk in allowing moral agency. (the reason for which is given above).

There is a big difference in doing something and allowing it to be done. God does not create evil, he allows the risk of evil to be run by the beings, because that risk is required to have free moral agency. The answer is not "because he wants to" the answer is because he wants free moral agency so that free moral agents will internatize the values of love. To have free moral agency he must allow them to:

(1)run the risk of evil choices

(2) live in a real world where hurt is part of the dice throw.

Now, having said all that: The point about God working miracles is that the working of miracles has to be limited to the over all plan, which requires a search which means it cant' be so obvious that God exists that we don't have to do the searching. We could do a reductio ad absurdum and ask why doesn't God hold a press conference and come clean about all the secrets of the universe? well for that matter why create anything at all? in fact it turns out the only really loving thing God could do would be to kill himself so he would never create and no one would ever have to suffer any pain. But for that matter why not just seek God and not propose absurdities? The reason God doesn't heal everyone at once and make it all obvious is so we will search. Not because sick people are bad or lack something, it's because healing hs to fit within the over schemata of a world in which we have to seek to know truth. God makes a way for us find to truth. It's not so hidden that someone can't find it.

the reason people don't find it is because they don't look in the right place. They keep forgetting the real battle ground is in the heart. That's where you have to look.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Answer to Loren on Arugment from Incredulity


Regular atheist comment maker Loren tells me she doesn't believe the resurrection. She dresses up her incredulity in what she calls "a thought experiment."

:04 AM
Loren said...

I propose this thought experiement.

Imagine that you have a time machine and a video camera, and that you could go back in time and try to watch Jesus Christ rise from the dead. What would you see? And what would your camera record?

Metacrock, according to what you are claiming, you could not only watch JC rise from the dead, but also take some video of him doing so. Is that correct?

However, I've seen one theologian, John Haught, who claims that such a camera would record nothing. Agree or disagree? Why?

My own opinion is that that event never happened, that it was as fictional as the Greek Gods getting involved in the Trojan War or the prophet Mohammed riding a winged horse to Heaven.

I believe that because miracles have a remarkable shyness effect, just like psi phenomena. The better one's observation techniques and the closer one is to the alleged events, the weaker the claimed effects become. Why aren't large numbers of people with video cameras recording big, spectacular miracles on the scale of the parting of the Red Sea?

And I also believe this because of the human capacity for will to believe, and also for fraudulence, including pious fraudulence. Metacrock, do you think that all those medieval relics are genuine?

The problem is this is not a thought experiment, it's merely a statement of incredulity ("I don't believe this"). a thought experiment is not just a way to play out your unbelief in some proposition, there has to be some possibility of actually learning something you didn't know before. There's no way to learn anything about the resurrection in this way so it's not really an experiment. Even though doing this does not teach us anything, the fact that she did it does teach us soemthing. We learn from this that atheists think of history as experiments. They don't understand about evidence or the indications of past events based upon the artifacts left behind. No attempt was made in this regurgitation to actually deal with any of the material prestented in the original Easter booster peice that I did to which she responded.

Metacrock, according to what you are claiming, you could not only watch JC rise from the dead, but also take some video of him doing so. Is that correct?

However, I've seen one theologian, John Haught, who claims that such a camera would record nothing. Agree or disagree? Why?

My own opinion is that that event never happened, that it was as fictional as the Greek Gods getting involved in the Trojan War or the prophet Mohammed riding a winged horse to Heaven.

Why would anyone think that saying this proves something? It proves only that you don't believe so you don't expect the event to pan out. But what exactly does it prove that you don't beileve it? Nothing as far as I can see. My article argued that it is proven that the story of the empty tomb was part of the original Christian message from the very beginning. But you saying nothing about that. Why doesn't that mean anything to you?

I believe that because miracles have a remarkable shyness effect, just like psi phenomena. The better one's observation techniques and the closer one is to the alleged events, the weaker the claimed effects become. Why aren't large numbers of people with video cameras recording big, spectacular miracles on the scale of the parting of the Red Sea?

Now is this really the case? Of course it is the case that most people don't take video cameras around with them all the time. When my father was dying and we called EM guys and then we had the miracle in the living room that caused the Emergency guys to freak out because they weren't suppossed to seem him get healed on their equipment, recording the event was the last thing in the world that I cared about. I had been caring for him at home for three years. I was a nervous worn out wreck I said to myself that day 'I know someday I am going to wish I had gotten those guys names..." but that was so far from anything I cared about, I can't even repeat what I said to myself in response to that idea. Bland that Blank. Get it? That's the real reality of it, people's lives are really on the line and people live their lives for real. They don't live their lives to be test cases for apologetics, get it?

But there is good evdience for miracles. good scientific evidence. The only reason atheists don't acknowledge that is because they are dishonest.

Richard H. Casdroph collected medical evidence, x-rays, aerograms, and other data from 10 cases associated with the Kathryn Kulhman ministry. Now it will of course strike skeptics as laughable to document miracles of a faith healer. Ordinarily I myself tend to be highly skeptical of any televangelists. I am still skeptical of Kulhman because of her highly theatrical manner. But I always had the impression that there was actual documentation of her miracles, and I guess that impression was created by the Casdorph book.

The Casdroph book goes into great detail on every case. Since these were not the acutal patients of Casdroph himself, there are 3 tiers of medical data and opinion; Casdroph himself and his evaluation of the data, several doctors with whom he consulted on every case, and they very from case to case, and the original doctors of the patents themselves. The patients gave their permission and were happy to provide the medical data on their healing since they were all people who had written to the Kulhman ministry with words of their healing. Not all of them were healed immediately in the meeting. Some were healed latter when they got hom.Naturally no one had a x-ray machine standing by at the faith meeting to crank out results like a x-rox copy, so all of them took some period of time to see the results. Not all of them were totally healed immediately. But all the cases were either terminal or incurable and all of them, within a year, returned to full health and pain free existences.

Dr. Richard Steiner, of the American Board of Pathology, head of department of Pathology Long Beach Community Hosptial reviwed several of the slides. William Olson, American Board of Internal Medicine and head of Isatope Department at Long Beach Community Hospital, and several radiologists form that Hospital also consulted on the rest of the cases.

1)Reticulum cell Sarcoma, right pelvic bone.
2)Chronic Rheumatoid Arthritis with Severe Disability
3)Malignat Brain Tumor (Glioma) of the left Temoperal lobe
4)Multiple Sclorosis
5)Arterioscloratic Heart Disease
6)Carcinoma of the Kidney (Hypernephroma)
7) Mixted Rhumatoid Arthritis with Osteoarthritis
8)Probable Brain Tumor vs Infarction of the Brain
9)Massive GI Hemorrhage with GI shock (instantly healed)
10)Ostioprosis of the Etire Spine

All of these people were totally healed of incurrable or terminal states. The one commonality they all have is that they were at some point prayed for by the same person, Kulhman. Let's look at a few examples:

1)Lisa Larios: Cell Sarcoma of the right Pevic bone.

Larios didn't know she had cancer. She had developed a great deal of pain in her pevis and was confined to a wheel chair, but the doctors had not found the evidence of the tumor at the time her mother took her to hear Kulhman. Yet, when Miss Kulhman said "someone over here is being healed of cancer, pelase stand up" she stood up wihtout knowing why. She had already started feeling a strange heat in that area and had ceased to feel pain. She went up onto the stage and walked around without pain. She was than "slain in the spirit" which is that odd thing when the healer palces his/her hand on the forehead and the person falls over in a faint. It took some time to recieve the next set of xrays becasue she only learned after the meeting some days latter that she had cancer. Than the next set of xrays showed vast and daramtic improvement. It would still be some time,almost a year, before her pelivis was completely resorted. But she did return to full health. The Catholics wouldn't except this miracle because it could be confussed with a normal remission. The power of suggestion can be ruled out because the heat started before she was called to the stage, and because she didn't even know she had cancer, but responded to a call for healing of cancer. The first dramatic improvement which was immeidate within a few days, and walking on the stage is not characteristic of remission. Casdroph has the medical evidence from several hospitals to which she had been taken.

And of cousre the ever loving Lourdes miracles. It is as hard to get film of a miracle in progress as it is to get film of a bigfoot, probably not for the same reason. With bigfoot there is a good chance it doesn't exist. But with miracles, they happen on the run while life is being lived and to people who are not research scientists or medical researchers.

Loren says:

And I also believe this because of the human capacity for will to believe, and also for fraudulence, including pious fraudulence. Metacrock, do you think that all those medieval relics are genuine?

Why would she compare medieval reliquary with the formidable historical evidence of textual criticism that I brought out? Because, like many atheists, she doesn't care bout facts or truth, in fact her statement applies as well to her and other atheists as to theists.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Hans Kung: Add to the list of Being itself theologians

Hans Kung

Kung was one of the major radical theolgoians of the 60's. Catholic, I believe he's Swiss, he made a big hit in the early 70s with his major work On Being a Christian which defined the state of liberal Christina humanism for the radical generation. He was first catipolted to fame in the early 60s with a worth which showed that Catholic theology and Protestant theology are really not so far apart on Grace. He was fired from teaching by the Vatican in the late 70s or early 80s.

Tiny Thinker to the rescue again. He came up with this quote. While Kung does not use the phrase "Being itself" or "ground of being" in this quote, it's clear he's talking about the same concept. I'm compiling a list of theologians who agree with Tillich's idea, so I'm excited to find this one.

Postby tinythinker on Mon Apr 13, 2009 10:13 pm

Tiny says:
"I recently found some sample pages from The Beginning of All Things by Hans Kung (pp. 105, 107-108) touching on some of these issues..."

Kung says:

The sciences demand some hard thinking of the theologian. I ask myself whether conversely theology may not also require a little thinking from the scientist, when it is about central issues.

There are physicists who use "God" as a metaphor for the worldly. "If you are religious, this is like looking at God," remarked the American astrophysicist George Smoot when he announced the fluctuations in the background cosmic radiation (an echo of the Big Bang). This sounds pious, but it is superficial. Here God is a metaphor for the secular, for nature. So too the Nobel Prize winner Leon Lederman with his book title The God Particle.

Rather, we should maintain that God is not identical with the cosmos. And Einstein would not have had such insuperable difficulties in accepting quantum theory had he not identified God with nature or natural laws like his "house philosopher" Spinoza. So God is not a being within the earth, not a "thing" in this world; he does not belong to the "factual reality," nor can he be observed empirically. God is not a "worldly being," and that means he is no "Father" or "Mother" in the human/all-too-human sense.

So is God a being above the earth? No, he is not a superterrestrial being above the clouds, in the physical heaven. This naive anthropomorphic notion is obsolete: God is not an existing, objective, reified other, in the spiritual or metaphorical sense "outside" the world in an otherworldly beyond, a "hinterworld."

But then what can be said about God at the level of today's scientific awareness - in the face of our new vision of the unimaginably broad, deep, and ultimately not fully comprehensible cosmos and the billions of years of the evolution of the world and human beings?

...God is conceivable in the context of a modern unitary and dynamic understanding of reality: God is not a (supreme) finite alongside the finite as part of reality. Rather, he is the intangible "infinite dimension" in all things. Not just the invisible mathematical dimension, though, but the real dimension of the infinite. The infinite in the finite, but with which one can reckon in principle as in mathematics, even the reckoning must not be included in everyday equations.

We can formulate the relationship between God and the world, God and human beings, only dialectically: God is transcendence, but in immanence. He is in eternity, but in temporality; immeasurability, but in space. So God is the absolute in the relative, the primal mystery in the reality of the world and world history - no more detectable than the architectural formula that supports everything in the bridge that spans the abyss. Can this infinite God still be called a person?

...First, God is more than a person. Albert Einstein's objections to a personal understanding of God are to be taken seriously. If he speaks of cosmic reason of if Eastern thinkers speak of the "One" (tad ekam), of "nirvana", "void" (Shunyata), "absolute nothingness", "shining darkness", then we must understand this as the often paradoxical expression of reverence before the mystery of the Absolute. This cannot be grasped either in concepts or notions - that has to be asserted over against all-too-human "theistic" notions of God, which is why even the name "God" is rejected by Buddhists.

It is true that God is certainly not a person as a human being is a person: the all-embracing and all-permeating is never an object from which humans can distance themselves to say something about him. The abyss, primal support and primal goal of all reality, which for the believer determines every individual existence, who is nearer to me than my neck vein, as the Qur'an (sura 50.16) says metaphorically, is not a limited individual among other persons. God is not a super-person and a super-ego. So even the term "person" is a cypher for God: God is not the supreme persons among other persons. God explodes the concept of person: God is more than a person.

But a second thing is also true: God is not less than a person. Precisely because God is not a "thing," precisely because, as is emphasized in Eastern wisdom, he cannot be understood, seen, manipulated; because he is not at our disposal, he is also not impersonal, not subpersonal. God, who makes possible the coming into being of the personal, also explodes the concept of the impersonal: God is not less than a person either.

...This is not just the view of the Bible and the Qur'an; most Buddhists also accept and Ultimate Reality. And this is more than the cosmos: more than a universal reason or a great anonymous consciousness. It is more than the supreme idea (Plato) or a thinking related to itself and thinking itself (Aristotle). It is more than the pure beauty of the cosmos or the blind justice of history. The Ultimate Reality is not indifferent to us and does not leave us indifferent, but is our "ultimate concern", as Paul Tillich put it in liberating and demanding way: omnipresent to us and at the same time withdrawn from us.

Friday, April 10, 2009

The Easter Event: Trnasmitted Faithfully From the Begining

In Honor of the Occasion


The Gospel accounts of the resurrection were transmitted faithfully from the very beginning. How do we know this? The same way we know that any aspect of ancient world history is a probability: the documents are trustworthy. Now skeptics are probably spitting milk out their noses reading this, but its true.There are three areas of reliability, and two major misconceptions that have to be avoided. Let me start with the misconceptions:

(1) The idea that "reliable" means "realisitic."

I'm sure many skeptics reading this are saying, How can they be reliable when they speak of miracles?. But reliable doesn't' necessarily mean "realistic." This doesn't mean they aren't hard to believe, or that they don't require an assumption about metaphysics; reliable doesn't' mean true. What it does mean I'll get to in a minute.

big misconception number two:

(2) Faithful transmission of history would have to mean that we can prove that eye witnesses wrote the documents. Or worse, that the name sakes wrote the documents (John wrote John, Matthew wrote Matthew). None of that has to be the case.

faithful transmission means the content has been passed down from source to another for generations without significant alteration. Trustworthy doesn't mean "we can prove its true," it means we can trust, within a reasonable estimation, that what we have recorded today is what we would find being transmitted in the earliest times. Here is how we know:

I. The evidence of the Manuscripts (Ms) and the stories themselves.

II. Early date of the Resurrection narrative.

III. Reliability of the Community.

I. The evidence of the Manuscripts (Ms) themselves.

I wont belabor the point about the documents, since that has been talked to death on message boards for years. See my pages on Bible: canonical Gospels for a lot of good info on this point. But, the often quoted statistic is that the NT MS are generally 98% reliable. What that means is, that to within 98% all the thousands of MS that we possess (24,000 of all types including fragments) say the same things. we don't find passages with wildly different events. There is no one secret passage somewhere that offers some totally different account of what happened. Such a Ms just doesn't' exist and there is no evidence that such a thing ever did exist. The closest we come to that is Secret Mark the fragment found by Martin Smith at Mar Saba; but even Secret Mark assumes the world of the Gospels, it assumes a particuar event recorded in Mark, it doesn't' change the basic facts of the story at all.

Now skeptics have been known to argue, "but they are just copying the same story." That's the point! If those events didn't happen, or at least if they were not been taught from the beginning as "the truth," we should find other versions. NO program of eradication could take out all copies in the ancient world. Some fragment of a Gospel would have survived somewhere. If there was a version of the story in which Jesus didn't rise from the dead, or in which he rose on the 8th day, or whatever, we would have a copy of it. The fact that the manuscripts give a coherent and unified testimony going all the way back as early as it can go (and not contradicted by 35 lost gospels we do possess) indicates that this is a good representation of what happened (see F.F. Bruce, The New Testament Documents,Are they Reliable?

Unified Narratival Framework

The Gospel of Luke is greatly substantiated by artifacts and history, what about the other Gospels, especially the first Gospel Mark? In the totality of the Synoptic tradition we have a unified framework which is kept intact. We do not see the growth and elaboration of myth. As Stephen Neil points out, quoting Edwin Clement Hoskyns (1884-1937) in The Riddle of the New Testament (p.104) Neil begins by saying, "We hold with some confidence that Mark is the earliest of the Gospels and that both Matthew and Luke use him in the Composition of their Gospels, if there is any tendency to heighten the drama...we shall certainly find it in those points at which Matthew and Luke differ from Mark. Do we in fact find that this is the process which has taken place? After a careful survey of the evidence Hoskyns answers in the negative. Matthew and Luke have far more material than Mark...but essentially the presentation of Jesus is the same, and if there is any tendency it is not toward heightening the majesty and mystery of Christ it is rather in the opposite direction--Jesus is a little tamed, a little softened and brought a little nearer to ordinary categories of human existence" (p. 216). He then quotes Hoskyns himself: "In this process of editing they nowhere heighten Marks tremendous picture of Jesus. No deifying of a prophet, or of a mere preacher of righteousness can be detected. They do not introduce Hellenistic supersition or submerge in the light of later Christian faith the lineaments of Mark's picutre of Jesus.They attempt to simplify Mark, he is more difficult to understand than they are...."

Rather than seeing a myth spreading and growing and moving toward a deified Christ what we actually see is a stable framework of assumed and testified fact and a relatively stable explanation of what the facts mean. This is in sharp contrast to the skeptic's idea that the simple facts grew out of proportion with re-telling until they culminated in the fantastical notion that Jesus rose from the dead!

II. Early Date of Resurrection Narrative.

A.Myth Takes Centuries to Develop

The importance of early claims is this. Myth takes time to develop. Legends might spring up over night, but they take time to assume a consistent form. William Lane Craig quotes prof. Sherwin-White ("Contemporary Scholarship and the Historical Evidence for the Resurrection of Jesus Christ," Truth 1 (1985): 89-95)

"For in order for these stories to be in the main legendary, a very considerable length of time must be available for the evolution and development of the traditions until the historical elements have been supplanted by unhistorical. This factor is typically neglected in New Testament scholarship, as A. N. Sherwin-White points out in Roman Law and Roman Society tn the New Testament. Professor Sherwin-White is not a theologian; he is an eminent historian of Roman and Greek times, roughly contemporaneous with the NT. According to Professor Sherwin-White, the sources for Roman history are usually biased and removed at least one or two generations or even centuries from the events they record. Yet, he says, historians reconstruct with confidence what really happened. He chastises NT critics for not realizing what invaluable sources they have in the gospels. The writings of Herodotus furnish a test case for the rate of legendary accumulation, and the tests show that even two generations is too short a time span to allow legendary tendencies to wipe out the hard core of historical facts. When Professor Sherwin-White turns to the gospels, he states for these to be legends, the rate of legendary accumulation would have to be 'unbelievable'; more generations are needed. All NT scholars agree that the gospels were written down and circulated within the first generation, during the lifetime of the eyewitnesses."

B.Ressurection Claims Made Early

(1) Markon Account Very Early

The early date of the transmissions are borne out by the Texts themselves. They are clean and free of myth. Mark's version is especially pure. Consider the use of the phrase "on the third day" which we find in Paul's statement above about the 500 witnesses. Throughout the NT that phrase is used of the Resurrection. Even in Gospels latter than Mark's it is used. But not in Mark. In Mark we are receiving something from the purest strata of the early days. William Lane Craig, (The History of the empty Tomb of Jesus" New Testament Studies 21 (1985):39-67)

Gerd Theissen in The Gospels in Context, (pp. 166-167):

In my opinion, in Mark we can discern behind the text as we now have it a connected narrative that presupposes a certain chronology. According to Mark, Jesus died on the day of Passover, but the tradition supposes it was the preparation day before Passover: in 14:1-2 the Sanhedrin decided to kill Jesus before the feast in order to prevent unrest among the people on the day of the feast. This fits with the circumstance that in 15:21 Simon of Cyrene is coming in from the fields, which can be understood to mean he was coming from his work. It would be hard to imagine any author's using a formulation so subject to misunderstanding in an account that describes events on the day of Passover, since no work was done on that day. Moreover, in 15:42 Jesus' burial is said to be on the "preparation day," but a relative clause is added to make it the preparation day for the Sabbath. Originally, it was probably the preparation day for the Passover (cf. Jn 19:42). The motive for removing Jesus from the cross and burying him before sundown would probably have been to have this work done before the beginning of the feast day, which would not make sense if it were already the day of Passover. Finally, the "trial" before the Sanhedrin presupposes that this was not a feast day, since no judicial proceedings could be held on that day. It would have been a breach of the legal code that the narrator could scarcely have ignored, because the point of the narrative is to represent the proceeding against Jesus as an unfair trial with contradictory witnesses and a verdict decided in advance by the high priests.

(2)Gospel Phraseology implies early telling

"The use of 'the first day of the week' instead of 'on the third day' points to the primitiveness of the tradition. The tradition of the discovery of the empty tomb must be very old and very primitive because it lacks altogether the third day motif prominent in the kerygma, which is itself extremely old, as evident by its appearance in I Cor 15. 4. If the empty tomb narrative were a late and legendary account, then it could hardly have avoided being cast in the prominent, ancient, and accepted third day motif.{81} This can only mean that the empty tomb tradition ante-dates the third day motif itself. Again, the proximity of the tradition to the events themselves makes it idle to regard the empty tomb as a legend. It makes it highly probable that on the first day of the week the tomb was indeed found empty." (Caraig)

(3) Pauline Testimony Earlier than written Gospels

Paul's statement about the 500 and the creedal confession were written prior to any of the Gospels. This places the teaching about 20 years after the fact. That pushes the pre-Markon material in Mark back even fruther, to near the date of the events (because it took time to form into a credal statement).

"Undoubtedly the major impetus for the reassessment of the appearance tradition was the demonstration by Joachim Jeremias that in 1 Corinthians 15: 3-5 Paul is quoting an old Christian formula which he received and in turn passed on to his converts According to Galatians 1:18 Paul was in Jerusalem three years after his conversion on a fact-finding mission, during which he conferred with Peter and James over a two week period, and he probably received the formula at this time, if not before. Since Paul was converted in AD 33, this means that the list of witnesses goes back to within the first five years after Jesus' death. Thus, it is idle to dismiss these appearances as legendary. We can try to explain them away as hallucinations if we wish, but we cannot deny they occurred. Paul's information makes it certain that on separate occasions various individuals and groups saw Jesus alive from the dead. According to Norman Perrin, the late NT critic of the University of Chicago: "The more we study the tradition with regard to the appearances, the firmer the rock begins to appear upon which they are based." This conclusion is virtually indisputable."

[William Lane Craig,

Leadership University (Website) original "Contemporary Scholarship and the Historical Evidence for the Resurrection of Jesus Christ," Truth 1 (1985): 89-95]

We can also include in along with this Pauline testimony Hebrews and 1 Peter. Accounts of points that correspond to Gospels circulating by AD 70 (see Luke Timothy Johnson quotation under point I).

C. Pre Markan Redaction Pushes Date of original Writing to mid Century>

However the material upon which the Gospels are based dates back to an earlier period, and in a form which is essentially the same as that which is found in the Synoptics. This actually pushes the date of the Gospel story, including the death, burial and resurrection (including the empty tomb) to A.D. 50.

"Studies of the passion narrative have shown that the Gospel accounts are dependent upon one and the same basic account of the suffering, crucifixion, death and burial of Jesus. But this accounted ended with the discovery of the empty tomb." Hemut Koster Ancient Chrsitian Gospels p. 231

(1) Diatessaron

The Diatessaron ..of Titian is the oldest known attempted harmony of the Gospels. It probably dates to about 172 AD and contains almost the entire text of the four canonicals plus other material, probably from other Gospels and perhaps oral traditions. It is attested to in many works and is probably the first presentation of the Gospel in syriac.

In an article published in the Back of Helmut Koester's Ancient Christian Gospels, William L. Petersen states:

"Sometimes we stumble across readings which are arguably earlier than the present canonical text. One is Matthew 8:4 (and Parallels) where the canonical text runs "go show yourself to the priests and offer the gift which Moses commanded as a testimony to them" No fewer than 6 Diatessaronic witnesses...give the following (with minor variants) "Go show yourself to the priests and fulfill the law." With eastern and western support and no other known sources from which these Diatessaranic witnesses might have acquired the reading we must conclude that it is the reading of Tatian...The Diatessaronic reading is certainly more congielian to Judaic Christianity than than to the group which latter came to dominate the church and which edited its texts, Gentile Christians. We must hold open the possible the possibility that the present canonical reading might be a revision of an earlier, stricter , more explicit and more Judeo-Christian text, here preserved only in the Diatessaron. [From "Titian's Diatessaron" by William L. Petersen, in Helmut Koester, Ancient Christian Gospels: Their History and Development, Philadelphia: Trinity Press International, 1990, p. 424]

While textual critics find it more significant that the early implications are for Jewish Christianity, I find it significant that the pre-Markan material in the Diatesseran includes a miracle story. Those miracles just never really fall out of the story. They are in there from the beginning. But for our purposes the most important point to make is that here we have traces of pre-Markan material. That is, Mark as we know Mark was not the earliest Christian Gospel written, it is merely the earliest of which we have a full copy. The date assigned to the composition of Mark is not the date assigned to the sources used to redact that composition. This pushes the written record of the Jesus story before A.D. 60 and makes it at least contemporaneous with Paul's writings. In other words it is clear that written Gospels with Jesus in an historical setting, and with Mary and Joseph the Cross and the empty tomb existed and circulated before the version of Mark that we know, and at the same time or before Paul was writing his first epistle (150'sAD).

(2) Papyrus Egerton 2

The Unknown Gospel (Egerton 2) preserves a tradition of Jesus healing the leper in Mark 1:40-44. (Note: The independent tradition in the Diatessaran was also of the healing of the leper). There is also a version of the statement about rendering unto Caesar. Space does not permit a detailed examination of the passages to really prove Koster's point here. But just to get a taste of the differences we are talking about:

Koster says:

"There are two solutions that are equally improbable. It is unlikely that the pericope in Egerton 2 is an independent older tradition. It is equally hard to imagine that anyone would have deliberately composed this apophthegma by selecting sentences from three different Gospel writings. There are no analogies to this kind of Gospel composition because this pericope is neither a harmony of parallels from different Gospels, nor is it a florogelium. If one wants to uphold the hypothesis of dependence upon written Gospels one would have to assume that the pericope was written form memory....What is decisive is that there is nothing in the pericope that reveals redactional features of any of the Gospels that parallels appear. The author of Papyrus Egerton 2 uses independent building blocks of sayings for the composition of this dialogue none of the blocks have been formed by the literary activity of any previous Gospel writer. If Papyrus Egerton 2 is not dependent upon the Fourth Gospel it is an important witness to an earlier stage of development of the dialogues of the fourth Gospel....[Koester , 3.2 p.215]

Koseter shows that the Gospels are based upon pre-markan material which dates from A.D. 50 and ends with the empty tomb, the resurrection appearances of Jesus he believes were added from other sources. In this theory is partially in agreement with Crossen who also believes that the pre-Markan material can be traced to A.D. 50 and includes the empty tomb. Koester also uses the Gospel of Thomas and Gospel of Peter and several other works to demonstrate the same point.[please see Jesus Puzzell 2 for more on this point] This puts the actual witting of the Gospel tradition just 20 years after the original events. There still many eye-witnesses living, the communities which had witnessed the events of Jesus' ministry would have still basically been intact. The events would be somewhat fresh, and plenty of opportunity for witnesses to correct mistakes.

Thus the basic historical validity for the Gospels can be upheld, since they are based upon material which actually goes back to within a mere 20 years of the original events. This means that many of he eye witnesses would have been in the community and able to correct any mistakes or fabrications which were put into the text.

Almost all NT scholars put the writing of the Synoptic Gospels within the plausable life span of eye witnesses, Mark around 65, Matt. around 70 and Luke 80. In Ancient Christian Gospels, (1991) Helmutt Koster identifies a proto-Gospel which underlies the synoptics and John, and which has traces in the Gospel of Peter. (Koster is a major textual critic and is certainly placed in the Liberal camp).

(c) Peter not copy of Matt.

"The Gospel of Peter is dependent upon the traditions of interpriting old testament materials, for the description of Jesus' suffering and death; it shares such traditions wtih the canonical Gospels, but is not dependent upon the canonical writtings....[Dominic Crosson] argues that this activity [interpretation of scritpure as nuleous of passion narrative]...resulted in the composition of a litterary document at a very early date, i.e. in the middle of the first century." (Koster, 218).

"The Gospel of Peter as a whole is not dependent upon any of the canonical Gospels. It is a composition which is analogous to the Gospels of Mark and John. All three writtings, independently of each other use an older passion narrative which is based upon a exigetical tradition that was still alive when these Gospels were composed and to which the Gospel of Matthew also had access...However, framgements of the epiphany story of Jesus being raised from the Tomb, which the Gospel of Peter has preserved in its entirety, were employed in different litterary contexts in the Gospels of Mark and Matthew." (Koster, 240).

(b) Passion account developed early

"The account of the passasion of Jesus must have developed quite early becasue it is one and the same account used by Mark (and subsequently by Matthew and Luke) and John, and as will be argued below, by the Gospel of Peter. However, except for the story of the discovery of the empty tomb the different stories of the appearence of Jesus after his ressurection in the various gospels cannot derive from one single source....each of the authors of the extant Gospels and of their secondary endings drew these epephany stoires form their own particular tradition, not form a common source." (Ibid. 220).

(c) empty tomb part of original story

"Stories of the passion narrative were dependent upon one and the same basic account of the suffering cruscifiction, death and burrial of Jesus. But this account ended with the discovery of the empty tomb....for the story of Jesus' burial and the discovery of the empty tomb the Gospel of Peter used the source that also that underlys Mark and John, which ended with the discovery of the empty tomb." (ibid.231).

William Laine Craig tells us:

" The presence of the empty tomb pericope in the pre-Markan passion story supports its historicity. The empty tomb story was part of, perhaps the close of, the pre-Markan passion story. According to Pesch,{79} geographical references, personal names, and the use of Galilee as a horizon all point to Jerusalem as the fount of the pre-Markan passion story. As to its age, Paul's Last Supper tradition (I Cor 11. 23-25) presupposes the pre-Markan passion account; therefore, the latter must have originated in the first years of existence of the Jerusalem Urgemeinde. Confirmation of this is found in the fact that the pre-Markan passion story speaks of the 'high priest' without using his name (14. 53, 54, 60, 61, 63). This implies (nearly necessitates, according to Pesch) that Caiaphas was still the high priest when the pre-Markan passion story was being told, since then there would be no need to mention his name. Since Caiaphas was high priest from A.D. 18-37, the terminus ante quem for the origin of the tradition is A.D. 37. Now if this is the case, then any attempt to construe the empty tomb account as an unhistorical legend is doomed to failure." (The History of the empty Tomb ofJesus" New Testament Studies 21 (1985):39-67)

"Like the burial story, the account of the discovery of the empty tomb is remarkably restrained. Bultmann states, '. . . Mark's presentation is extremely reserved, in so far as the resurrection and the appearance of the risen Lord are not recounted.' {55} Nauck observes that many theological motifs that might be expected are lacking in the story: (1) the proof from prophecy, (2) the in-breaking of the new eon, (3) the ascension of Jesus' Spirit or his descent into hell, (4) the nature of the risen body, and (5) the use of Christological titles.{56} Although kerygmatic speech appears in the mouth of the angel, the fact of the discovery of the empty tomb is not kerygmatically colored. All these factors point to a very old tradition concerning the discovery of the empty tomb."

. III. Community as Author

We do not have to know the exact identity of the authors, because the original material comes from the community itself

A.Oral tradition was not uncontroled.

Oral tradition in first-century Judaism was not uncontrolled as was/is often assumed, based on comparisons with non-Jewish models. From pg. 53-55 in B.D. Chilton and C.A. Evans (eds.), "Authenticating the Activities of Jesus" (NTTS, 28.2; Leiden: E.J. Brill, 1998):

"...[T]he early form criticism tied the theory of oral transmission to the conjecture that Gospel traditions were mediated like folk traditions, being freely altered and even created ad hoc by various and sundry wandering charismatic jackleg preachers. This view, however, was rooted more in the eighteenth century romanticism of J. G. Herder than in an understanding of the handling of religious tradition in first-century Judaism. As O. Cullmann, B. Gerhardsson, H. Riesenfeld and R. Riesner have demonstrated, [22] the Judaism of the period treated such traditions very carefully, and the New Testament writers in numerous passages applied to apostolic traditions the same technical terminology found elsewhere in Judaism for 'delivering', 'receiving', 'learning', 'holding', 'keeping', and 'guarding', the traditioned 'teaching'. [23] In this way they both identified their traditions as 'holy word' and showed their concern for a careful and ordered transmission of it. The word and work of Jesus were an important albeit distinct part of these apostolic traditions.

"Luke used one of the same technical terms, speaking of eyewitnesses who 'delivered to us' the things contained in his Gospel and about which his patron Theophilus had been instructed. Similarly, the amanuenses or co-worker-secretaries who composed the Gospel of John speak of the Evangelist, the beloved disciple, 'who is witnessing concerning these things and who wrote these things', as an eyewitness and a member of the inner circle of Jesus' disciples.[24] In the same connection it is not insignificant that those to whom Jesus entrusted his teachings are not called 'preachers' but 'pupils' and 'apostles', semi-technical terms for those who represent and mediate the teachings and instructions of their mentor or principal.(25)

(22. O. Cullmann, "The Tradition," in Cullmann, The Early Church (London: SCM Press; Philadelphia: Westminster, 1956) 55-99; B. Gerhardsson The Origins of the Gospel Traditions (Philadelphia: Fortress, 1979); H. Riesenfeld The Gospel Tradition (Philadelphia: Fortress, 1970) 1-29; Riesner, Jesus als Lehrer.

23. Rom 6:17; 16:17; 1 Cor 11:2, 23; 15:3; Phil 4:9; Col 2:6-7; 2 Thess 2:15; 3:6; 2 Tim 3:14; Titus 1:9; 2 John 9-10; Jude 3: Rev 2:13, 24. Cf. Abot 1:1; Philo, The Worse Attacks the Better 65-68. 24. John 19:35; 21:24-25; cf. 13:23; 18:15-16; 19:26-27; 20:1-10; 21:7, 21-23. Cf. J. A. T. Robinson, Redating the New Testament (Philadelphia: Westminster, 1976) 298-311. 25. On parallels with other rabbis and their disciples and other Jewish usage cf. Mark 2:18 = Luke 5:33; K.H. Rengstorf TDNT 1 (1964) 412-43;.TDNT 4 (1967) 431-55.

Also, there wasn't an necessarily a long period of solely oral transmission as has been assumed:

"Under the influence of R. Bultmann and M. Dibelius the classical form criticism raised many doubts about the historicity of the Synoptic Gospels, but it was shaped by a number of literary and historical assumptions which themselves are increasingly seen to have a doubtful historical basis. It assumed, first of all, that the Gospel traditions were transmitted for decades exclusively in oral form and began to be fixed in writing only when the early Christian anticipation of a soon end of the world faded. This theory foundered with the discovery in 1947 of the library of the Qumran sect, a group contemporaneous with the ministry of Jesus and the early church which combined intense expectation of the End with prolific writing. Qumran shows that such expectations did not inhibit writing but actually were a spur to it. Also, the widespread literacy in first-century Palestinian Judaism [18], together with the different language backgrounds of Jesus' followers--some Greek, some Aramaic, some bilingual--would have facilitated the rapid written formulations and transmission of at least some of Jesus' teaching.[19]" (p. 53-54)

------------------ 18. Cf. Josephus, Against Apion 2.25 204: The Law "orders that (children) should be taught to read."; cf. idem, Ant. 12.4.9 209; Philo, Embassy to Gaius 115, 210, Further, see R. Riesner, Jesus als Lehrer (WUNT 2.7; Tubingen: Mohr [Siebeck], 1981; 4th ed., 1998) 112-15. 19. Jesus had hearers and doubtless some converts from Syria (Matt 4:25), the Decapolis (Matt 4:25; Mark 3:8; 5:20; 7:31), Tyre and Sidon (Mark 3:8; 7:24, 31; Matt 15:21).

N. T. Wright, critiquing the Jesus Seminar's view of oral tradition as uncontrolled and informal based on some irrelevant research done in modern Western non-oral societies writes:

"Against this whole line of thought we must set the serious study of genuinely oral traditions that has gone on in various quarters recently. [65] (p. 112-113)

--------------- 65. For example, see H. Wansbrough (ed.), Jesus and the Oral Gospel Tradition (JSNTSup 64; Sheffield: JSOT Press, 1991), referring to a large amount of earlier work; Bailey, "Informal Controlled Oral Tradition," 34-54. The following discussion depends on these and similar studies, and builds on Wright, The New Testament and the People of God, 418-43; and idem, Jesus and the Victory of God, 133-37.)

"Communities that live in an oral culture tend to be story-telling communities. They sit around in long evenings telling and listening to stories--the same stories, over and over again. Such stories, especially when they are involved with memorable happenings that have determined in some way the existence and life of the particular group in question, acquire a fairly fixed form, down to precise phraseology (in narrative as well as in recorded speech), extremely early in their life--often within a day or so of the original incident taking place. They retain that form, and phraseology, as long as they are told. Each village and community has its recognized storytellers, the accredited bearers of its traditions; but the whole community knows the stories by heart, and if the teller varies them even slightly they will let him know in no uncertain terms. This matters quite a lot in cultures where, to this day, the desire to avoid 'shame' is a powerful motivation. "Such cultures do also repeat, and hence transmit, proverbs, and pithy sayings. Indeed, they tend to know far more proverbs than the orally starved modern Western world. But the circulation of such individual sayings is only the tip of the iceberg; the rest is narrative, narrative with embedded dialogue, heard, repeated again and again within minutes, hours and days of the original incident, and fixed in memories the like of which few in the modern Western world can imagine. The storyteller in such a culture has no license to invent or adapt at will. The less important the story, the more the entire community, in a process that is informal but very effective, will keep a close watch on the precise form and wording with which the story is told. "And the stories about Jesus were nothing if not important. Even the Jesus Seminar admits that Jesus was an itinerant wonder-worker. Very well. Supposing a woman in a village is suddenly healed after a lengthy illness. Even today, even in a non-oral culture, the story of such an event would quickly spread among friends, neighbors and relatives, acquiring a fixed form within the first two or three retellings and retaining it, other things being equal, thereafter. In a culture where storytelling was and is an art-form, a memorable event such as this, especially if it were also seen as a sign that Israel's God was now at last at work to do what he had always promised, would be told at once in specific ways, told so as to be not just a celebration of a healing but also a celebration of the Kingdom of God. Events and stories of this order are community-forming, and the stories which form communities do not get freely or loosely adapted. One does not disturb the foundations of the house in which one is living."[B.D. Chilton and C.A. Evans (eds.), Authenticating the Activities of Jesus (NTTS, 28.2; Leiden: E.J. Brill, 1998) p. 113-115.]

Tuesday, April 07, 2009

Can God Have an Identity?


This was a post on Debucking Christianity's blog comment section. It's by Robert Bumblaough, who apparently is an objectivity. The argument essentially tries to say that God can't have an identity and be infinite at the same time, because by its very nature an identity is limiting and thus finite.

5:11 PM, April 06, 2009

8:13 PM, April 06, 2009
Blogger J.L. Hinman said...

But it is quite easy to prove gods alleged to be both personal beings and infinite in scope cannot exist.

That which is self contradictory can no more exist or occur than can a square circle. Consider this very ancient (and true) argument against the Abrahamic theistic GOD.

Here is the way he lays out the argument.

1.To be GOD, YAHWEH must be an ontological person that is infinite in scope.

2.To be an ontological person is to have a specific identity.

3.To have a specific identity is to necessarily be finite.

4.YAHWEH has a specific identity.

5.YAHWEH therefore is necessarily finite and cannot be infinite.

6.By modus tollens from 1 and 5, YAHWEH cannot be GOD as it cannot both be infinite and finite.

to this I responded: Meta:
question begging: all this proves is that if we accept you premise about identity having to be finite, and you have not proved that, then the litrary place hold (metaphor) used to represent God in the Bible would be impossible as an actual entity, but so what?

In addition to that response I would point that the argument hinges upon #3 "To have a specific identity is to necessarily be finite." That depends of course upon what one means by "a specific identity." I would say first that the very premise is arbitrary, no reason is offered as to why this would be true. Moreover, it's assuming the big man in the sky, that God has the kind of identity I have. I am the identity I have because I am one of many.I am the particular person that I am as opposed to all the others. God is unique. He is not one of many he's only one of his kind. Thus that in itself creates an identity but a much different kind than we have.

One might ask why being infinite would not give God an identity.

12:39 PM, April 07, 2009
Blogger Robert Bumbalough said...

Hello Mr. Hinman: Thank you for your response. I hope you will learn something from communicating with me.

I like humble people. It's always good to see someone ho doesn't have an overinflated sense of ego.

By way of defense of the very ancient argument against personal theistic gods that are imagined as being infinite in scope, I will address your points.

But it is quite easy to prove gods alleged to be both personal beings and infinite in scope cannot exist. That which is self contradictory can no more exist or occur than can a square circle. Consider this very ancient (and true) argument against the Abrahamic theistic GOD.

JLH:(Meta) (what I said on DC)
that is so irrational. what's contradictory about it? Just your arbitrary notion.

all he's done so far is establish that contradictory things can't exist. I'm on board with that but that actually helps my God arguments but it doesn't tell me why an identity can't be infinite.

He then goes into a long diatribe about Ayn Rand:

Ayn Rand wrote: “Rationality is man’s basic virtue, the source of all his other virtues. Man’s basic vice, the source of all his evils, is the act of unfocusing his mind, the suspension of his consciousness, which is not blindness, but the refusal to see, not ignorance, but the refusal to know. Irrationality is the rejection of man’s means of survival and, therefore, a commitment to a course of blind destruction; that which is anti-mind, is anti-life.

She's going to link mystical theology with the irrational because it doesn't pamper her ego or support her selfishness. She turned vice into virtue and scrapped real virtue and made it a vice. So for her being good to the other is evil. If I'm right about God being love and the basic motivation for creating being teh desire to create the good of the other that would make Rand about the most evil person who ever existed.

It's utterly ignorant to link mysticism with irrationality. Reinhold Neibuhr said that mysticism is the ultimate form of ratioanlity.It's Also very ignorant to understand mysticism as "unfocussing."

The virtue of Rationality means the recognition and acceptance of reason as one’s only source of knowledge, one’s only judge of values and one’s only guide to action. It means one’s total commitment to a state of full, conscious awareness, to the maintenance of a full mental focus in all issues, in all choices, in all of one’s waking hours. It means a commitment to the fullest perception of reality within one’s power and to the constant, active expansion of one’s perception, i.e., of one’s knowledge. It means a commitment to the reality of one’s own existence, i.e., to the principle that all of one’s goals, values and actions take place in reality and, therefore, that one must never place any value or consideration whatsoever above one’s perception of reality. It means a commitment to the principle that all of one’s convictions, values, goals, desires and actions must be based on, derived from, chosen and validated by a process of thought—as precise and scrupulous a process of thought, directed by as ruthlessly strict an application of logic, as one’s fullest capacity permits. It means one’s acceptance of the responsibility of forming one’s own judgments and of living by the work of one’s own mind (which is the virtue of Independence). It means that one must never sacrifice one’s convictions to the opinions or wishes of others (which is the virtue of Integrity)—that one must never attempt to fake reality in any manner (which is the virtue of Honesty)—that one must never seek or grant the unearned and undeserved, neither in matter nor in spirit (which is the virtue of Justice). It means that one must never desire effects without causes, and that one must never enact a cause without assuming full responsibility for its effects—that one must never act like a zombie, i.e., without knowing one’s own purposes and motives—that one must never make any decisions, form any convictions or seek any values out of context, i.e., apart from or against the total, integrated sum of one’s knowledge—and, above all, that one must never seek to get away with contradictions. It means the rejection of any form of mysticism, i.e., any claim to some nonsensory, nonrational, nondefinable, supernatural source of knowledge. It means a commitment to reason, not in sporadic fits or on selected issues or in special emergencies, but as a permanent way of life.” - The Virtue of Selfishness “The Objectivist Ethics,” p.440.

I assume he's quoting this extremely ignorant hog wash to demonstrate the basis of what identity is. But in reality Rand new nothing about individuality. Her views on what makes one an individual bear the resemblance to real thinking that Superman comics bear to Nietzsche. This clap trap demonstrates nothing but that Rand was a third rate thinker.

(1) The real philosopher of the self was Kierkegaard.

(2) Like Jesus Kierkegaard says we must lose ourselves to find who we are.

(3) This is what Rand feared most: she feared not getting to sin.Her philosophy is a vain excuse to laud her sinful desires and to condemn the condemnation she felt for being selfish and hateful.

(4) The sophisticated view of the self understands that true self hood is founding giving, not in taking. It's is when we renounce our selfishness that we truly find our real desires and discover our real identity. that is the paradox of Jesus' dictum about death of self. This what Rynd fears. She can't allow herself to give.

Since rationality entails rejection of mysticism and mysticism includes equating infinity with finitude, to be rational then precludes accepting the dishonest notion that infinite quantity or scope can be finite and have identity. The reason why it is contradictory for a personal being to occur as infinite in scope is as Leonard Peikoff wrote.

The view the says mysticism is opposed to rationality is a comic understanding of mysticism. This is the basis upon which the arguemnt turns, the link between identity and finitude, and it's based upon Rand's fear of losing self and not getting what she wanted. It's based upon one of the most basic misunderstandings of mysticism.

Here he tries defining the nature of the problem:

“‘Infinite’ do not mean large; it means larger than any specific quantity, i.e.: of no specific quantity. An infinite quantity would be a quantity without identity. But A is A. Every entity, accordingly, is finite; it is limited in the number of its qualities and in their extent; this applies to the universe as well. As Aristotle was the first to observe, the concept of ‘infinity’ denotes merely a potentiality of indefinite addition or subdivision. For example, one can continually subdivide a line; but however many segments one has reached at a given point, there are only that many and no more. The actual is always finite.”- “Objectivism: The Philosphy of Ayn Rand”, p.31, by Leonard Peikoff

But of course he's assuming that God has to have the sort of "identity" that a man has. This is merely a mistake based upon literlizing the metaphor and assume that God is a big man in the sky. There is no logical reason why infinite nature of being itself can't be the source consciousness, but not be construed as "conscious" in the sense of a human with personality hang ups and problems and the fixed sense of being "I" as opposed to "though." He's just writing the subject/object dichotomy large in the nature of the universe. God transcendent that dichotomy and is thus capable of being both and thou at the same time.

Here Rand's dreaded mysticism is a perfect answer to this point. The mystic learns the illusory nature of I and thou, he learns that it's all one thing; the undifferentiated unity of all thing is what the mystic discovers in the mystical consciousness. So what we can take from that is the fluid nature of God's union. That God can be both I and thou at the same time.

Another possibility is the Berkeley-Gasswami thing. If the world is a thought in the mind of God, God can be infinite relative to us, yet finite relative to himself and all things beyond the reality we know.

RB draws upon George H. Smith (a big wig in atheist circles from the time before the internet) to ground is argument:

This view was further buttressed by George H. Smith . The following is paraphrased from his book.

exist is to exist as something. To be something is to have a specific nature. That is to have a particular identity. The Laws of Identity A=A and Non-Contradiction A =/= A entail that any ontological being must posses specific determinate characteristics. To have such characteristics is a consequence of being part of nature ..... Having specific determinate characteristics imposes limits, and those limits would restrict the capacities of the .... being. Such restriction then renders the .... being subject to the causal relationships that denote the uniformity of nature in actual existence ....] - “Atheism: The Case Against God.”, p.41 (paraphrasing), by George H. Smith

His point is still arbitrary, he offers no evidence to support it except his own understanding of the term. He's also basing his views upon the notion of human individuality rather than kind of real theological view of God. Paul Tillich offers the obvious answer to this argument in his understanding of God as the ground of being. God is not an individual thing, not just a another thing in the universe, but the category of being itself. Does this mean he has no identity? In the sense of being an individual man yes. but there is no reason to assume that is the Christian view. Tillich didn't think it was.

"To be something is to have a specific identity." But that assumes you are talking about an individual object. God has an identity as the ground of being without being an individual entity.

Thus existence necessitates harmony and consonance with the uniformity of nature. To be subject to causality is to operate in harmony with the nature of existence. Causality is the law of identity applied to action. All actions are caused by entities. The nature of an action is caused and determined by the nature of the entities that act; a thing cannot act in contradiction to its nature. But to occur infinitely in scope negates the necessity of the Law of Identity. Consequently, the notion of God is self-contradictory. This is true in Objective reality and hence is in no way arbitrary.

This statement demonstrates a host of ignorant assumptions that don't squre with basic Christian theology. Now of course you wouldn't expect them to, the problem is the purport to describe the God Christians believe in. So they don't squire with what Christians believe and thus they can't be used as arguments against the Christian concept. For example existence requires harmony with nature, but that applies onto to an object along side other objects in creation. God transcends that category completely.

God is being itself, not an individual existing thing. Existence is what contingencies have, being is what necessity has. "Actions are caused by entities' that's there to demand that God has to be an entity. But it's ignorant it' not true. Causality has nothing to with being an entity. The production of the beings by being need not entail God actually "making things" like a big toy maker in the sky. infinity in scopes contradicts the law of identity, that's nothing more than a refusal to think. There is no evidence that can prove that. That's why he thinks based upon being human. There's no way to know that we can apply that to everything else. Again it assumes a human type of identity.

The reason that he uses that Rand thing about contradicting msyticism is because he knows that mysticism is the to this childish argument. So he wants to get some name calling in so the reader will say "I don't' want to be irrational so i can't believe mystical stuff."

Just another attempt by ignorant people to destroy ideas that are way over their heads.

tomorrow I'll do part 2.

Sunday, April 05, 2009

Our Ability to know what's "out there:" Discussion With Loftus

On the comment section to Victor Report's blog John Loftus lays downt he argument:

Victor, without first defining the type of Christianity you defend here, Christian people can read this post and agree totally, thinking you defens their specific view. But you don't, and you know it.

Which Christianity are you defending? Get specific. Liberal, moderate, or conservative? Calvinist? Catholic? "Cultic"? Snake Handlers? KKK? Fred Phelps? You see, until you flesh out the details you are not defending a generalized Christianity at all, but a localized one. And if you think a generalized Christianity is good enough then that also takes a position with regard to a more inclusivistic faith, which other believers reject

The Old atheist divide and conquer strategy. There are so many traditions and beliefs they must cancel each other out. He also argues that religion is taught by culture. That is some kind of big problem for him. To that I respond:

I really have no idea why atheits think that's some kind of big disproof.

why do I like Ingmar Bergman? Because my brother and my best friend "turned me on" (that's an old way we used to speak it means they taught me) that he was the best filmmaker. So that he's not right? Because if you are taught soemthing then it must be false.

My father taught me algebra, so that must be wrong I guess? But unfortunately I was not the most apt student for him to teach.

If things are wrong because they are taught then maybe the valid reason for believing something is becasue you experince it? (I know Craig has had religous experinces). But no atheists don't accept that eitehr.

I guess the only valid reason is if it squares with logic. The problem there is everytime I show an atheist that it squares with logic he starts telling me I'm stupid and that it can't possibly square and that logic doesn't tell us anthing.

So really what I think it all comes down to is that atheists have no actual of epistemic justification and they just move form one methodology to another depending upon what methodology a theist evokes.


I disagree. You and he do not share the same kind of Christianity. I mean really, do you want to say that you are all Muslims because you share a common belief that a God exists who created the universe? I think not.

We'd have to flesh out what is essential of course, but what do you do with people who disagree on the essentials, like the King James only crowd? Write them off? Discount them? What about "baptism (immersion) is essential" folks? They do not recognize anyone else as Christians and will not associate with others who aren't baptized. Do you also write them off?

I think you have a misconception about what it means to be in a religious tradition. You seem to think that all Christian belief cancels all Muslim belief so there can't be an continuity between the two. That's false. Why can't there be coincidental truths that overlap two or more traditions?

If Muslims beileve that 2 + 2 = 4 and I believe that too (in base 10 ok) does that mean we have created a third religion?

We'd have to flesh out what is essential of course, but what do you do with people who disagree on the essentials, like the King James only crowd? Write them off?

see the problem is you want a big king's X. you want this to be the big negating principle that wipes out the possibility of all religious truth, and it's based upon the concept that there can't be any overlaps between traditions and that's just silly.

two huge mistakes in logic here. Treating religious traditions like they demarcate separate worlds and membership in a tradition as though it's equivalent to knowing all truth. You don't have to believe that possess all truth to be a Christian.

the second one is you want to make all religious beliefs mutually exclusive even between Christian denominations, as though Baptists and Methodists are not just two types of Christians but totally separate religions that don't share any kind of communality.

Loftus:Discount them? What about "baptism (immersion) is essential" folks? They do not recognize anyone else as Christians and will not associate with others who aren't baptized. Do you also write them off?

Meta: Rupert's argument did not involve any specific doctrines that would demarcate any specific religious tradition, accept Christian belief in general.

No Joe, it's much worse than that. It's not that such beliefs are false. It's that, well, if you or Victor were raised in different homes and had different experiences and read different books, and studied under different professors, and got teaching appointments in different places then you could both be atheist philosophers and/or theologians right now.

That's how bad it is when it comes to anyone who claims to know the truth, and that's how bad it is when it comes to the claim that we as human beings can think outside the box and reason correctly, objectively and dispassionately without prejudices or preconceived notions. We can't, or at least, if we can, the only thing we can and should trust is the empirical sciences. That's our only hope. Science is the best we've got, and even science has it's problems.


No Joe, it's much worse than that. It's not that such beliefs are false. It's that, well, if you or Victor were raised in different homes and had different experiences and read different books, and studied under different professors, and got teaching appointments in different places then you could both be atheist philosophers and/or theologians right now.

and If I had a different brother I would not know why Ingmar Bergman is. I would think it was Ingrid Bergman. But doesn't that cancel out Bergman as a great director?

Loftus: "That's how bad it is when it comes to anyone who claims to know the truth, and that's how bad it is when it comes to the claim that we as human beings can think outside the box and reason correctly, objectively and dispassionately without prejudices or preconceived notions. We can't, or at least, if we can, the only thing we can and should trust is the empirical sciences. That's our only hope. Science is the best we've got, and even science has it's problems."

Meta:that's a totally illogical position John.

(1) anyone with half a brain who has been college for a semester or two can come up with a position more sophisticated than "I know the truth." I mean come on, we not in highschool. YOu can't have to just shuck your belief system to come up with a way of describing that leave room for thought and for other view points than "I know the truth and you have to accept it."

that's the problem wtih atheism you love to feel supiror to religious people so you never give any any credit for any kind of brains.

(2) your argument is just deadly to your own position. If taken to extremes (do logical absurd ism thing on it) cancels any kind of thought.

(3) my own positon which I have elaborated concerns oter faiths is both logical and progressive and meets the concerns of the NT without doing any sort of violence to other groups, or excluding themf form the right to think.

if you want to know what it is read my book... when it comes out.

(4) what you say about our inablityt to speakt he truth about 'waht's out there' is a good cogent ponit. unforutnatley you miss boat in overlooking the fact that my theology is a mystical theology. The basic crux of it is that we cant' understand God. God is beyond our understanding. what we need is not philosphy or science or more udnersanding, because we can't understand it. what we need is experince.

nothing you say cancels out the fact that in mystical union we can approach the truth "out there" just becasue we can't describe it doesn't mean we don't know it when we hear that ideas that pertain to to it.

I think the atheists in this discussion are just attempting a bad argumentation strategy, divide and conquer. It may be a good strategy for some things, but it doesn't apply in terms of religious belief.

To pull this off you have to assume that all religious belief is predicated upon a Church of Chrsit or fundamentalist sort of position that requires the dotting of all "i's" and the crossing of all "t's" and in the exact prescribed fashion.

But this is just putting you in the box. You can't look up and see the broader truths or the more progressive positions because you are only on the look out for fund-like things that you can attack.

(I've edited a lot of material from the discussion but I think I represented it faithfully)