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>Did God give us a false understanding of ourselves?

2007 December 31 2 comments

>A further argument for freewill is that men think that it exists. Within my mind I am certain that I have freedom of my own choices. I think it likely that others think the same way. Granted some cultures have a more fatalistic view of life, but even if their outlook is, “If God wills it,” they still think that they are making some decisions.

That I think I have freedom to make choices comes from God. If in reality I do not have that freedom, that is all my thoughts and actions are essentially God’s thru me, then I think this implies that God is deceitful. Of course God can do as he wills, but deceiving all men totally (thru general revelation) about an aspect of reality does not seem to be in God’s nature.

One may argue that my fallen nature prevents me fully understanding myself, let alone God. The problem with this argument is that it is not claiming that I do not fully understand my freewill, rather it is claiming that my belief I have freewill is completely incorrect. There are many attributes that we have because of God’s image, and these are broken because we are fallen; The more we take on the mind of Christ the more we can rightly understand these attributes; but I can think of none that are so broken that our view is completely the opposite of reality.

Take justice. Even though this can be very distorted such that gross injustices are done, the concept that there is an ought remains. And those doing injustice frequently do so claiming they are doing true justice, the appeal to justice (albeit false) is still there.

Take design. Even an extreme Darwinian, while accepting a false path to the complexity of life, acknowledges that proteins, structures, cells and organisms work. So they would deny design but can still see function.

Take truth. Even liars are usually aware that they speaking unreality. It takes a long legacy of deceit to no longer be able to tell the difference between truth and untruth in one’s own life, and even then there is an awareness of some aspects of reality.

The claim that freewill does not even exist but is only a false belief of our mind is not consistent with the other attributes. It is the odd one out. The claim is not that part of the image of God is broken, it is a claim that we think this way despite being completely incorrect. And even worse, freewill is an attribute that God does have, and we falsely think he has given it to us.

And those who are redeemed still have this sense of freedom within them. Even those who subscribe to no-freewill theology still feel they have some freedom of their decisions.

So we have a claim that humans think they have an attribute that God really has, yet they are incorrect in their thoughts (not just broken reasoning), and even redemption is not enough to alter these intrinsic thoughts.

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Categories: depravity, freewill

>A father's foreknowledge

2007 December 30 3 comments

>During a discussion on Jamsco’s blog, Bnonn was suggesting that if God’s knowledge is contingent on our actions then God cannot know about what we will never do.

  • P1. If human beings have libertarian free will, and God has definite knowledge of human actions, then it is necessary that God’s knowledge of those actions is logically contingent upon them.
  • P2. If God’s definite knowledge of human actions is logically contingent upon them, then God cannot have definite knowledge of human actions which will never occur.
  • P3. But God does have definite knowledge of human actions which will never occur.
  • C4. Therefore, human beings do not have libertarian free will.

I have previously said that while reasoning is good it is also fallen, so if our logic contradicts Scripture then we must check our premises or reasoning. I think the error is logic is related to the first premise. While reviewing the premises is useful, illustrations are also useful because if the illustration is feasible, then the argument probably needs modifying. This is an example from my daughters.

  • Bethyada: D1, for your snack you can have blue cheese on crackers or avocado on crackers.
  • D1: I’ll have x.

I offered her this (a factual) and I knew her response would be x. I knew her response prior to the answer. My knowledge is not so much contingent on her actual choice, rather it is contingent on me knowing what her choice will be. But her choice is clearly hers and not mine.

  • Bethyada: D2, for your snack you can have blue cheese on crackers or avocado on crackers.
  • D2: I’ll have y.

Now this is a hypothetical (counterfactual), I don’t really do this, it is just a mind experiment. But I am still certain of her response. Clearly my knowledge here is not contingent on her choosing.

Note the answer is different for each of them given the same choice. It is not that I am forcing the answer I wish to have (do you want to eat a chocolate bar or a slug).

The reason I know the answers is because I know my daughters.

I would rephrase premise 1

  • P1. If human beings have (libertarian) freewill, and God has definite (fore)knowledge of human actions, then it is necessary that God’s knowledge of those actions is logically dependent on God knowing what humans will do.

God knows us better than I know my children so God always knows what our choice will or would be.

Categories: foreknowledge, freewill, logic

>Getting the facts of Christmas sorted

2007 December 23 11 comments

>

Given the season it may be a good time to summarise the chronology and other details of the incarnation.

Joseph was engaged to Mary and they both dwelt in Nazareth. Nazareth was a small town in Galilee. Mary was visited by the angel Gabriel when her cousin Elizabeth was 6 months pregnant. Knowing when Elizabeth’s husband Zechariah was serving in Jerusalem may give us some clues to the month of Jesus’ conception and birth. Zechariah was a priest of the division of Abijah (compare Luke 1 with 1 Chronicles 24).

Joseph intended to divorce Mary when he learnt of her pregnancy; quietly so as not to shame her. Divorce is not the term we would use for breaking an engagement but a betrothal in Israel 2000 years ago was a strong commitment and divorce (apoluo) would be the single term used in both situations (unlike English which has more terms). This is not saying that betrothal is the same as marriage, sex was forbidden until after the wedding.

An angel appeared to Joseph in a dream and informed him of the situation and Joseph then married Mary. He did not have sex with her until after Jesus was born. Mary had already conceived Jesus so the activity would not have made Joseph the biological father, but abstaining presumably honoured God in the situation. So Jesus was conceived when Mary was betrothed and born after Mary was married, but still a virgin.

The genealogy given in Matthew is that of Joseph. The genealogy in Luke is that of Mary. Heli was likely Mary’s father. Luke 3 states:

Jesus, when he began his ministry, was about thirty years of age, being the son (as was supposed) of Joseph, the son of Heli,…

Some have considered Heli the adoptive father of Joseph if Heli had no sons of his own, though I believe the passage may be acceptably translated as:

Jesus, when he began his ministry, was about thirty years of age, being the son, as it was supposed, of Joseph, but was actually the son of Heli,…

Caesar Augustus sent out a decree that a registration was to be performed. The time frame for this is uncertain. What is known is that Quirinius was governor of Syria. The registration is frequently referred to as a census, presumably for taxation purposes. However Luke does not say that it is a tax census, he specifies they were registered (apographo) for a registration (apographe). Dating Jesus birth has proven difficult, for several reasons, not the least historically identifying the tax census that occurred during Jesus birth. However if the registration was not for taxation then the range of possible dates is potentially expanded. Some have suggested in was a registration to make a proclamation about Caesar Augustus. Ernest Martin suggests that the title Pater Patriae (father of the Fatherland) was bestowed on Augustus about this time and the registration was for the inhabitants of the Roman Empire to swear an oath of obedience to the Emperor.

Joseph with his new bride went from Nazareth to Bethlehem because he was descended from David whose home town was Bethlehem. Jesus was born in Bethlehem. Angels appeared to the shepherds that night and they visited Mary, Joseph and Jesus. There is some evidence to suggest that Jesus may have been born in autumn, perhaps in the month of Tishri which corresponds to about September. I think it likely that Jesus was born about 2 or 3 BC.

8 days later Jesus was circumcised according to the Law of Moses (Leviticus 12). Joseph and Mary presented Jesus at the temple at Jerusalem 40 days after he was born and a sacrifice of doves was offered. Leviticus states that a lamb is to be offered but a pigeon is acceptable for the poorer Israelites. Joseph and Mary were therefore poor.

Some time after this while Joseph and Mary were still in Bethlehem the Magi from the East arrived in Jerusalem. We are not told the number who came. That 3 are depicted may relate to the number of gifts. The Magi were from the region of Persia and were interested in, amongst other things, astrology. They interpreted the skies as pointing to the birth of the king of the Jews. Much speculation has been made on what the star was. Matthew quotes the Magi saying,

Where is he who has been born king of the Jews? For we saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.

and he further comments,

the star that they had seen when it rose went before them until it came to rest over the place where the child was. When they saw the star, they rejoiced exceedingly with great joy. (Matthew 2)

It is likely that the star was a conjunction between planets or planets and stars. The best suggestion is that of Martin who mentions several astronomical events of significance including Jupiter stopping (at the time of its retrogression). The Magi had an audience with Herod in Jerusalem and were informed by the priests and scribes that the king was to be born in Bethlehem based on Micah’s prophecy. When Jupiter stopped in the sky (for 6 days) its position was over Bethlehem as viewed from Jerusalem. The date was December 25, 2 BC. Jupiter was in the constellation of Virgo.

This was not the time of Jesus’ birth as the Magi visited Jesus in a house not a stable. Jesus was a young child (paidion), though that word probably does not aid us as to exactly how old Jesus was. Herod ordered the massacre of children under the age of 2 in his attempt to kill Jesus. Herod choose this age in accordance with the time he ascertained from the wise men. If Jesus was born in 3 BC he would have been approximately 15 months old; if in 2 BC, 3 months. Joseph had previously been warned by an angel to depart and they were already in Egypt. On Herod’s death an angel appeared to Joseph in a dream for the third time and Joseph returned with Mary and Jesus to his home town of Nazareth. Herod probably died in early 1 BC, only some weeks or months after the Magi’s visit.

Flash presentation of astronomical events near the time of Jesus’ birth.

>Objects of wrath

2007 December 22 2 comments

>The fall of Adam put us in opposition to God. It changed our nature and our relationship with God.

And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience—among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. (Ephesians 2)

This is not just some, it is all mankind. All men prior to redemption are by nature children of wrath. Even if we desire God’s ways we still sin and fall under God’s wrath. We deserve judgment.

This is not the pleasure of God. God does not desire that the wicked are destroyed. Jesus says,

God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. (John 3)

Paul tells us,

…God our Savior, who desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. (1 Timothy 2)

And Peter informs why the day of the Lord is delayed:

The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance. (2 Peter 3)

Jesus, Paul and Peter all state that God desires the salvation of every man. He would that heaven be filled, that not a single person lost.

Sure, the destruction of the wicked will demonstrate God’s glory but their condemnation his not his desire. God gains much greater glory by showing mercy than by just judgment. If God judges by justice alone he will send every man to hell.

So how do we square Jesus’ offer of mercy to all men with Paul’s comment on God’s mercy?

So then God has mercy on whomever he wills, and he hardens whomever he wills. (Romans 9)

I find it interesting that the actions here are not opposites. God is described as hardening men, but not softening them. I am sure God can soften hearts, but the point is the context contrasts hardening and having mercy. These actions of God can be seen in connection to our response to God. We are all children of wrath because of our nature. So when one rejects God’s work in his life he is resisting the work of God in drawing him to himself. If we reject God and refuse his ways then God cannot gain glory by offering mercy to us. There is nothing else but to harden us that God’s glory may be maximised in our lives; not as objects of mercy, which is God’s preference, but as objects of wrath: that all may see that the rebellious will not prevail against God.

And for those who choose God, yet who by their nature are children of wrath, he offers mercy so that they may become children of God. If in judging those who deserve judgment God is glorified, how much more so when he shows mercy to those who deserve judgment!

Oh, the depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God! (Romans 11)

>Sovereignty and free will

2007 December 18 Leave a comment

>There is an interesting passage in Jeremiah which inputs into the Calvinism debate:

The word that came to Jeremiah from the LORD: “Arise, and go down to the potter’s house, and there I will let you hear my words.” So I went down to the potter’s house, and there he was working at his wheel. And the vessel he was making of clay was spoiled in the potter’s hand, and he reworked it into another vessel, as it seemed good to the potter to do.

Then the word of the LORD came to me: “O house of Israel, can I not do with you as this potter has done? declares the LORD. Behold, like the clay in the potter’s hand, so are you in my hand, O house of Israel. If at any time I declare concerning a nation or a kingdom, that I will pluck up and break down and destroy it, and if that nation, concerning which I have spoken, turns from its evil, I will relent of the disaster that I intended to do to it. And if at any time I declare concerning a nation or a kingdom that I will build and plant it, and if it does evil in my sight, not listening to my voice, then I will relent of the good that I had intended to do to it. Now, therefore, say to the men of Judah and the inhabitants of Jerusalem: ‘Thus says the LORD, Behold, I am shaping disaster against you and devising a plan against you. Return, every one from his evil way, and amend your ways and your deeds.’ (Jeremiah 18)

There is a lot here that points to God’s activity in the world: God gives a command to Jeremiah (which presumes obedience is possible); if Jeremiah is obedient then God will allow him to hear his words; God can build up nations and destroy them.

The potter motif is interesting. God gives Jeremiah an analogy to act out. It is important to understand this analogy, what God is saying thru it and what God is not saying thru it—while there may be more than one meaning in many passages of Scripture, we must not over read it: for example in this story God is like the potter, the potter is mortal, this does not imply that God is mortal.

We have a potter forming an object, this becomes marred, the object is reworked into something different, the potter chooses what he makes.

God says that if the potter is able to work the clay as he sees fit, how much more so is God able to do as he wills: “…can I not do with you as this potter has done?” But further than this, not only does God have a right to do this, he is also able to do this: “Behold, like the clay in the potter’s hand, so are you in my hand, O house of Israel.”

In what way is the house of Israel, or a nation, like clay. The answer is in God’s subsequent pronouncement. They are similar in that God is able to destroy a nation or prosper it, just as the potter is able to make an object of his choosing. They are similar in that God is able to change his plans for the nation, to destroy a nation he was planning to prosper, or vice versa, just as the potter can change what vessel he is making.

One must be careful in making claims about the nature of the clay from this analogy. One must look to what is given in explanation. The clay is spoiled in the potter’s hands. Is that because of flaws in the clay or flaws in the potter? Is it relevant? The point is just that the potter has sovereignty over the clay, before and after its spoiling. Theoretically the potter could have destroyed the whole project and started again according to his original plan, but God wanted to use the change in the object being fashioned to reveal himself.

The spoiling of the clay is the change in behaviours of a nation. Though “spoiled” carries a negative connotation, this is not the case in the explanation. This discrepancy suggests that the spoiling may not carry over any analogous qualities. Nations can behave in positive or negative ways. They can repent, a good response, or they can commit evil, a bad response.

And while clay has no will, clearly the nation does. God appeals to the nation to listen to his warning: “If… I declare…, and if that nation… turns from its evil, I will relent….”

While God has declared his sovereignty, that he has the right to do and is able to do exactly as he wills, he also states that his actions are contingent on the actions of the nations. He will change his behaviour based on our actions. It is not that we can force God’s hand, make him do what we want, rather that there are opportunities in which we can choose our path. God may limit the number of paths available to us, but there are outcomes we can determine, or rather outcomes (the specifics of which are determined by God) can be accepted or rejected by us. God does not force us or manipulate our thoughts to make a decision for him or against him.

In this passage God is talking about nations. Does the same apply to individuals? God’s commands to and requirements of nations are not always the same as that to individuals: the state is given a mandate to execute criminals, individuals, in general, are not. That this principle is relevant to individuals can be seen by comparing to Ezekiel.

But if a wicked person turns away from all his sins that he has committed and keeps all my statutes and does what is just and right, he shall surely live; he shall not die. None of the transgressions that he has committed shall be remembered against him; for the righteousness that he has done he shall live. Have I any pleasure in the death of the wicked, declares the Lord GOD, and not rather that he should turn from his way and live? But when a righteous person turns away from his righteousness and does injustice and does the same abominations that the wicked person does, shall he live? None of the righteous deeds that he has done shall be remembered; for the treachery of which he is guilty and the sin he has committed, for them he shall die. (Ezekiel 18)

While this passage describes God’s abundant mercy, the call to repentance comes thru out the Old and New Testaments. We may not be able to save ourselves, but we are able to choose to avail ourselves of this salvation.

>Quoting wikipedia

2007 December 16 Leave a comment

>Several reports have denounced the use of wikipedia in university assignments. This is rightly so. To conclude that wikipedia is therefore unreliable may be somewhat excessive. So is wikipedia generally correct or not? Is it free of bias or not?

I use wikipedia at least weekly. I think it is a useful source. As with all material, an appreciation for presuppositions helps one decide what he can and cannot use.

It is therefore appropriate to use or point someone to wikipedia for general information. But it is not helpful in argument to refer to wikipedia as an authority. I may have material on a subject; that some random editor has judged my material and found it wanting, or is unaware of its existence, or claims that it is an inadequate/ inappropriate source for use in an encyclopaedia (even if my material is true!)—none of that invalidates my material or argument. An appeal to wikipedia is merely an appeal to an authority with which I disagree; rather my material needs to be refuted on its own grounds.

So someone’s reference to wikipedia at one time does not justify your appeal to wikipedia on the basis that he has done the same prior; he hasn’t.

Encyclopaedias are more useful for breadth of knowledge, less so for depth, and they are inappropriate to refute those who knowledge of the subject is similar to the author’s.

Categories: knowledge, literature

>Absense of evidence equals legend?

2007 December 12 Leave a comment

>In a Nature article in May Haim Watzman writes

One way to experience the Elad view of the City of David is to tour the site with an Elad-trained guide. It is possible to visit the excavations on your own or with a guide you’ve brought yourself. But the default option for tourists and school groups is to hear the narrative that asserts the Jewish claim and historical connection to the site, say Greenberg and his colleagues.

There is some truth to these claims, as a Nature visit to the site suggests. The tour guide provided by Elad was well-spoken and knowledgeable, but mixed myth and fact in her presentation. For example, she asserted that the reason David chose the site for his capital is that it lies just below the Temple Mount, which is identical to Mount Moriah, the site where, according to the Bible, Abraham took his son Isaac to offer him as a sacrifice to God. Although the identification of the Temple Mount with Mount Moriah is well-established in Jewish tradition, there is no archaeological evidence for Abraham’s presence on the site — or indeed for the existence of Abraham and Isaac.

In fact, a handful of archaeologists go so far as to say that David and Solomon may also be largely mythical characters. This view is rejected by most experts on the period — they tend to agree that it is likely the two ancient rulers did reign in Jerusalem. But many scholars argue that the evidence discovered so far — both at the City of David and at other sites in the region — indicates that the biblical description of the extent and wealth of their kingdoms is exaggerated.

Besides the interesting assumption that a Nature writer is the unbiased judge of a archaeological/ tourist guide (which may or may not be valid), how exactly has the guide mixed myth with fact?

Identifying Mount Moriah with the Temple Mount is enough for a fact for Watzman because of tradition (and presumably some archaeological data) and because many archaeologists happen to think there is some substance to idea that David and Solomon existed; but Abraham is a myth because of lack of archaeological evidence?

Then what of the well-established Jewish tradition for the existence of Abraham and Isaac? Since when is lack of a specific type of evidence evidence of myth? And what specific archaeological evidence does one expect to find for a specific individual that lived 4000 years ago?

Documentary evidence is strong evidence and the Bible gives documentary evidence that Abraham existed. Abraham is discussed in the genre of historical narrative. His ancestry, geography and activities are well described. His behaviour, both good and bad, are mentioned which can only add to the authenticity of the accounts. Moriah is even mentioned by name in connection with Abraham.

He said, “Take your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains of which I shall tell you.” (Genesis 22)

With regard to his slight on David and Solomon, a reading of opinions concerning the existence of Nineveh and Babylon from a century ago should caution men against having too much faith in “scholars.”

Categories: apologetics, archaeology