Friday, January 27, 2017

Interview With Matthew Bell

Matthew Bell interviewed by Joseph Miller on 'St. Louis Faith Journeys.' Topics include: Matthew's reversion back to Catholicism from Protestantism, theistic 'indifferentism,' the spiritually deleterious effect of pornography, and the Reformation doctrine of 'Sola Scriptura.'

This program was recorded, and originally aired, in July of 2015.

Debate: Was Jesus Married?

This debate, between Sugar Cyanide (taking the affirmative position) and Matthew Bell (taking the negative position), was moderated and hosted by Gabriel "Skuzzy" Zolman on St. Louis's (now-defunct) AM radio station 1380 The X.

The debate took place December 6, 2014.

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Another Paine-in-the-Neck Anti-Christian Meme?



"Revelation, when applied to religion, means something communicated immediately from God to man. No one will deny or dispute the power of the Almighty to make such a communication, if he pleases. But admitting, for the sake of a case, that something has been revealed to a certain person, and not revealed to any other person, it is revelation to that person only. When he tells it to a second person, a second to a third, a third to a fourth, and so on, it ceases to be a revelation to all those persons. It is revelation to the first person only, and hearsay to every other, and consequently they are not obliged to believe it." – Thomas Paine, The Age of Reason, 1794.

Here are four objections to Paine’s argument.

1. Paine’s Comments Have Nothing to Do With Christianity’s Truth

It is a useful thing to ask what damage would be done to Christianity under some sort of “worst-case” scenario. How Paine-ful is it, really?

Readers will hopefully notice immediately that Paine says nothing that casts any doubt upon the truth of Christianity. His position is curious. To see how curious, consider that Paine grants the following, for argument’s sake. Firstly, he grants that God would be able to reveal truths to humankind. Secondly, he seems prepared to grant even that such a revelation has occurred.

Paine merely complains that, on his narrow definition of “revelation,” persons downstream from God’s direct revelatory actions would be under no “obligation” to believe what had been revealed.

Stop and ponder this. We are to envision a situation in which (the Christian) God actually exists and in which He has actually revealed things to various human beings.

Despite these things, Paine thinks that those of us whose knowledge of these actual revelations is posterior to the initial, divine communications, are under no obligation to believe them. On this reading, Paine seems to display an extraordinary level of bad faith – in the colloquial sense.

To be more specific, Paine basically says that even if God exists and even if God has communicated to human beings, he refuses to acknowledge it. It seems to me that all one has to have in order to be repulsed by this notion is a simple curiosity about the way the world actually is. Does God actually exist? Is there actual revelation? It’s a perverse – in fact, incoherent – conception of “reason” that says, “Well, yes, okay. God exists and He has revealed things to various individuals. But I don’t believe it.”

Someone might object: “Paine is simply granting, hypothetically and provisionally, that God and revelation exist. He may not believe that either or both actually do.”

Notice, though, that Paine has given no argument against the existence of God or against the possibility of revelation. Even if there were no non-“hearsay” (in Paine’s sense) instances of alleged divine communications, it would follow neither that God does not exist nor that Christianity is false.

2. Even Without Revelation, Christianity Is Still Supported by Reason and History

Number one, it is plausible that the existence of God can be demonstrated by reason alone. Numerous arguments have been advanced along this line, for example, various cosmological,[1] moral,[2] ontological,[3] and teleological[4] arguments (among others). Thus, even if there were no (warranted) examples of bona fide propositional revelation, neither atheism nor even agnosticism would, ipso facto, be justified.

Number two, it is reasonable to think that the New Testament documents (or documents relevantly similar to them) could be approached and analyzed according to the canons of historical science. As Protestant philosopher William Lane Craig is fond of saying, this approach is sufficient to yield three historically supported points – that there was an empty tomb, that there were post-mortem appearances of Jesus, and that Christianity sprang into existence among religious Jews who were tenaciously exclusivistic (that is, they were not inclined towards syncretism).

It is not irrational to believe that there is no convincing, naturalistic explanation for these three points. One may then infer that the only satisfying account is that offered by Christianity. But if this historical approach is sound (and Paine here gives no reason to think that it is not), then even if there were no such thing as (warranted) revelation, even explicitly Christian versions of theism would remain justified.

To again quote Professor Craig: “According to New Testament critic D. H. Van Daalen, it is extremely difficult to object …on historical grounds; those who deny [points like the empty tomb] do so on the basis of theological or philosophical assumptions.”[5]

And all of this is the worst-case scenario. One would have to buy Paine’s restrictive definition of “revelation” and his criticism of it as “hearsay.” But what does he have in mind?

3. Paine’s Model Leads to (Unwarranted) Radical Skepticism

Paine seems to be advancing an extreme empiricism. It verges on the sort that counsels disbelief in anything that is not immediately evident to one’s senses. In any case, it takes a radically skeptical line on the epistemic value of testimony.

Think about the repercussions of this. If we can only trust direct testimony – that is, testimony communicated to us without any intermediary – then we could place no confidence in books of any sort or on any topic.

For instance, this would do violence to the discipline of history. How do I know that was any such person as “George Washington,” for instance? Or for that matter, why should I believe that the text on the picture owes to “Thomas Paine”? After all, my beliefs about both come to me secondhand, third-hand, fourth-hand, and so on.

My beliefs about various scientific discoveries would likewise be destroyed by this skeptical hammer. I may hear an astronaut report, for example, that he or she observed the earth to be spheroidal. By Paine’s criteria, perhaps, for him or her, then, it is spheroidal. Such astronauts had direct perceptual experiences to that effect. But what “obligation” would I have to believe such things? For me, they are simply secondhand reports. I wasn’t “there,” after all.

Of course, some might say that in the case of scientific reports, what is reported is in principle verifiable. But, though this may be conceded, it does not resolve the issue of unwarranted testimony.

Suppose that “hearsay” comes down to “information received from other people that one cannot adequately substantiate.” And suppose that scientific reports are, in principle, susceptible to substantiation. It seems that, on Paine’s model, we would have to undertake and complete the substantiation before we would be justified in our beliefs.

Take the reports of a spheroidal earth. Of course, if I traveled into outer space, presumably, I could see what the astronauts saw, and thus “substantiate” it for myself. Or perhaps I could perform some mathematical calculations here on earth. These are possible. But do Paine’s principles require that I do one or more of these things before I would be warranted in believing the astronauts’ reports? After all, from my vantage point, they are simply reporting something that they saw. I didn’t see it. Why does what they saw place any “obligation” upon me? Who thinks that this is rational?

Interestingly, revelation is also verifiable, at least in principle. Surely, if God could tell such-and-such to so-and-so, then He could tell me also. And it’s not impossible that he would.

But what if one worries that I have no clear-cut method for verification in the case of revelation. Think again about George Washington and Thomas Paine. Why should I think that George Washington was the “first president” or that Thomas Paine wrote the words herein attributed to him? I wasn’t there. I didn’t personally see Washington get inaugurated and Paine didn’t tell those things to me. How could I even begin to “substantiate” any historical claims at all? History depends upon testimony.

Perhaps I could become an archaeologist and see what artifacts and historical traces I could find. But, notice that, on Paine-ian principles, I would have to do this myself. It would avail me nothing to read about the alleged findings of others! Is this reasonable?

I think not.

Likely, someone is thinking: But these are “scientific” matters; Paine is speaking about “religion.” What of it? What we would need, firstly, is some serviceable definitions of “religion” and “science,” followed immediately by some argument that testimony about “religion” should have more restrictive parameters than testimony about “science” when it comes to believability.

I would be interested to inspect such an argument. But, alas, none is to be found in Paine.

What we find, instead, is a sort of anti-supernatural bias. And many people today relate to that. But then, in the first place, short of an argument for atheism, it may have been more appropriate for Paine to have titled his book The Age of Anti-Supernaturalism. As things stand, he appears to have simply co-opted the word “Reason” as a euphemism for his prejudices.

Why think that the only people who are “reasonable” are those who adopt an anti-supernatural orientation? Paine gives no reason.

4. Paine’s Definition of “Revelation” is Questionable

Up to this point I have simply been assuming Paine’s definition of “revelation.” It is worth noting that the Catholic Church draws a distinction between “public” and “private” revelation.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC) relates: “Throughout the ages, there have been so-called ‘private’ revelations, some of which have been recognized by the authority of the Church. They do not belong, however, to the deposit of faith.”[6]

As Catholic apologist Jimmy Akin states: “Because they do not require divine and Catholic faith, private revelations do not impose an obligation of belief…”.[7]

However, as I mentioned, private revelation is contrasted with public revelation. “The term ‘public Revelation’ refers to the revealing action of God directed to humanity as a whole and which finds its literary expression in the two parts of the Bible: the Old and New Testaments.”[8]

In “[t]he Christian economy, …no new public revelation is to be expected before the glorious manifestation of our Lord Jesus Christ.”[9]

When it comes to private revelation, Catholics agree with Paine! If “something has been revealed to a certain person, and not revealed to any other person, it is revelation to that person only.” The only one bound to believe a private revelation is the one to whom the revelation is given.

But Paine arguably gets the core of Christian revelation wrong. The Bible is not considered “private revelation.” It’s public revelation.[10]

How could Paine object? He began by admitting:

“No one will deny or dispute the power of the Almighty to make such a communication, if he pleases.”

Doesn’t this plausibly apply both to private and to public revelation? Shall we think that the omnipotent, omnipresent God of the Bible would be unable to communicate to us publicly?

It seems not.

But then, though it may be agreed that, if “something has been revealed to a certain person, and not revealed to any other person, it is revelation to that person only,” it is not the case that this exhausts the revelatory options.

For God could also reveal something to more than one person. Or, to put it differently, it seems that could effect public revelation. In fact, this is what Christians hold that God has, in fact, done.

Thus, after all, Paine either owes us an argument that denies the possibility of public revelation, or he owes us an admission that the considerations that he does advance apply only to private revelation. However, as I have indicated, many Christians (especially Catholics) happily concede this.

Summary

Even if Paine’s argument succeeds, Christianity is not shown to be false. At best, Christian revelation is shown to be not “obligatory” to believe. However, in order for Paine to establish this much, he would need to sell us on a radical skepticism that would nearly totally undermine disciplines like history and science. Managing to salvage history (and other disciplines) would provide Christianity with the possibility of non-revelation-dependent supporting evidence. For it is arguable that reason and history (either alone or jointly applied) go a considerable distance toward establishing many Christian-friendly conclusions – and certainly toward establishing bare theism – entirely apart from revelation. Finally, Paine ignores, or was ignorant of, the Catholic distinction between public and private revelation. In the face of this distinction, Paine’s argument collapses entirely.

All in all, Paine either shows that virtually any historical proposition is entirely unjustified, or he merely gives voice to his own pet variety of anti-supernaturalism. Either way, I don’t see much for the Christian to worry about.



[1] E.g., G. Leibniz’s argument for a Sufficient Reason of the cosmos (universe). 1. Everything that exists has a sufficient reason for its existence, either in the necessity of its own nature or in an external cause. 2. The universe exists. 3. Therefore, has a sufficient reason for its existence, either in the necessity of its own nature or in an external cause. 4. But the universe is not necessary. 5. Therefore, the sufficient reason for the universe lies in an external cause.

Or the Kalam Cosmological argument. 6. Whatever begins to exist has a cause. 7. The universe began to exist. 8. Therefore, the universe has a cause.

In both cases, one then reasons that the relevant cause has various properties. For one thing, the cause must be non-physical, space-less, and timeless (since, by “universe,” we mean all physical things that exist in space and time); extremely powerful (in order to bring a universe into being); extremely intelligent (ditto); and even personal (because if it were an impersonal set of necessary and sufficient conditions, then either the universe should be eternal – which, according to modern cosmologists, it is not – or else the external cause would need its own external cause – and we’d be off-and-running on a vicious infinite regress).

[2] 9. If God does not exist, then objective moral values do not exist. 10. But objective moral values do exist. 11. Therefore, God exists.

[3] 12. It’s possible that a maximal being (i.e., a being with all “great-making” qualities or “perfections”) exists. 13. If it’s possible that a maximal being exists, then there is some possible world in which a maximal being exists. 14. But one of the perfections is necessary existence. 15. Therefore, if a maximal being exists in some possible world, then a maximal being exists in all possible worlds. 16. The actual world (i.e., our world) is part of the set of all possible worlds. 17. Therefore, if a maximal being exists in all possible worlds, then a maximal being exists in the actual world.

[4] 18. The fine-tuning of the universe is due to chance, design, or necessity. 19. It’s not due to chance or necessity. 20. Therefore, it’s due to design.

[5] William Lane Craig, debate with Michael Tooley, Univ. of Colo. [Boulder, Colo.], Nov. 1994, <http://www.reasonablefaith.org/does-god-exist-the-craig-tooley-debate>; citing David Hendrick Van Daalen, The Real Resurrection, London: Collins, 1972, p, 41.

[6] CCC 67; <http://www.vatican.va/archive/ENG0015/_PH.HTM>.

[7] Jimmy Akin, “Revelation: Public and Private,” Catholic Answers Magazine, n.d., <http://www.catholic.com/magazine/articles/revelation-public-and-private>.

[8] Ibid.; quoting Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, The Message of Fatima.

[9] CCC 66; loc. cit.

[10] Very roughly, the idea is that the Old Testament traces God’s activity amongst and with the people of Israel. In the New Testament, God’s public activities involve Jesus’s life and Passion as well as the institution and beginnings of the Church.

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Is God Responsible for Original Sin?



Today’s polemical picture-text is, truthfully, a mess – even by the low standards of internet “memes.”

In this space, I will simply be evaluating the first sentence. The sentence pretends to represent God saying: “I created man and woman with original sin.”

Before I begin to analyze this, I need readers to appreciate a couple of points. Firstly, there is a difference between asserting and arguing. Asserting P would be to simply claim P without giving any argument or evidence in P’s support. Secondly, and more subtly, it is permissible to expose latent problems. But this must be done conscientiously. We might even be able to schematize this, as follows.

The Latent-Problem Principle: It is permissible to criticize a set of propositions, call that set PS, by making explicit some (possibly latent) proposition, call it pn, and then arguing that that (now patent) proposition is (a.) rejectable, and (b.) either necessitates or warrants rejection of PS.

The Latent-Problem Principle

Let’s get the ball rolling by starting with an example that, while in the vicinity, is not quite an example of the Latent Problem Principle (LPP). Suppose that John believes all sorts of things, but among those things he believes.

1. Socrates is immortal.

Maybe he had never thought about it very hard. But he somehow formed that belief. Suppose further that John also believes that:

2. All men are mortal, and

3. Socrates is a man.

Hopefully, with a little effort, you could get John to see that 2 and 3 Together entail:

4. Socrates is mortal.

Once you have established 4, John should readily realize that, either he must reject 1, or he must reject 2 or 3 (or both). And, plausibly, finding that 2 and 3 are more plausible than their negations, he will opt to reject 1 and keep 2-4. This isn’t a case of rejecting an entire set of beliefs. But it is a case of a person’s being made to see how a subset of a his beliefs logically demands the rejection of another of his beliefs.

So far so good?

Example: Hinduism, Brahman and Maya

Now let’s think about a weightier (and possibly more contentious) example, and one that I think is an application instance of the LPP.[1]

Some Hindus believe these things.

5. All things are (despite appearances aspects of) Brahman.

6. Brahman is distinction-less, perfect and pure knowledge.

Some of the same Hindus also seemingly believe:

7. Maya (i.e., illusion) exists.

In fact, Maya is supposedly the explanation for why many people do not recognize 5 as true. However, there is a problem. 5 and 7 together entail:

8. Maya is (an aspect of) Brahman.

But, since Maya is illusion, 8 entails that:

9. Illusion is (an aspect of) Brahman.

Plainly, though, if 9 is true, then it looks like 6 is false. Contrariwise, if 6 is true, then 9 looks false.

Now one could dig in one’s heels and announce that these appearances of contradiction are just further illustrations of Maya! However, if 7 is true, we have another problem. To put it differently:

10. If Maya exists, then it either exists “in” (i.e., as an aspect of) Brahman or Maya exists apart from Brahman.

But we already laid it down that all existing things are (aspects of) Brahman. That’s what premise 5 held. So, since nothing exists apart from Brahman:

11. Maya does not exist apart from Brahman.

But then, we are forced to say:

12. If Maya exists, then it exists “in” (or as an aspect of) Brahman.

Premise 6 claimed that Brahman was distinction-less and also pure knowledge. Illusion, though, is the opposite of “pure knowledge.” So:

13. If illusion exists “in” Brahman, then Brahman is not pure knowledge.

Maybe we can save our model-version of Hinduism by claiming:

14. There is a distinction between Brahman (knowledge) and Maya (illusion).

But if this is true, of course, then Brahman is not distinction-less, again contra premise 6.

We have a problem! Not having a plausible “way out,” we might therefore hold that one or several of these apparent, latent contradictions justifies our rejection of (this version of) Hinduism.[2]

Arguing Versus Asserting

And I think that it does. But, notice that to justify the rejection of (this version of) Hinduism, I had to do some argumentative “leg work.” I did not simply assert that “Hindusim implies a contradiction.” I concluded that it does. There is an important difference between asserting and concluding.

Similarly, I did not simply begin by declaring the contradictories - such as that “Brahman contains a distinction” or “Brahman is not pure knowledge” - of common Hindu notions. I ended by demonstrating that these follow from several (above-stated) common Hindu notions. Again, there is another important difference between declaring and demonstrating.

Starting merely with the assertions and declarations, we would simply have been preaching to the choir of those who already reject (this version of) Hinduism anyway. To put it another way, if I started by saying “Brahman is not pure knowledge,” without any explanation or argumentation, it would be reasonable for a Hindu (or sympathizer) to simply shrug, exclaim “that’s not what I believe!” and merely turn away.

And I think this would be a rational reaction. After all, there are two important possibilities. Number one, it is possible that my statement gets Hinduism wrong – I just made a mistake. If so, then my statement contains nothing at all for the Hindu to worry about. Number two, my statement might have gotten Hinduism right; that is, even though a given Hindu might believe something to the contrary of my statement, it turned out that the Hindu was wrong about her own belief. She was in the position of poor John who just had the wrong belief about Socrates!

The crucial thing, however, is that John was set right by an argument, not by a counter-assertion. The argument is indispensable. Even if I turned out to be correct, the Hindu has no rational obligation to reply to every anti-Hindu counter-assertion that he or she encounters. An argument is, fittingly enough, arguably different. A (well-formed) counter-argument for not-p places a rational obligation on its hearer, because such an argument does not just make an apparently groundless claim that you are wrong if you believe p. It actually purports to show why you are wrong.

Looking Critically at the Picture-Text

Let’s go back and think about the relevant picture-text.

Atheists, non-theists, and anti-Christians of various sorts may well greet the first sentence – “[God] created man and woman with original sin” – with cheers or Facebook “Likes” or whatever. But the Christian would be rational simply to shrug, exclaim “that’s not what I believe,” and scroll elsewhere on her “news feed.”

That this rejection is rational rests on reasons analogous to those given in the hypothetical case of the recalcitrant Hindu. Either the assertion just got the Christian doctrine wrong, and thus can be safely ignored. Or else it happens to give a correct assertion, but without providing the reader with any reason to think that the counter-claim is correct and, therefore, without establishing any basis upon which to begin a logical analysis.

Of course, I am not just any Christian reader. I am actively looking for assertions to rebut and arguments to evaluate. In my case, I am assuming a burden that – rationally – I need not assume.

So my question becomes: Can I construct (or find elsewhere) an argument that actually tries to establish as a conclusion, what the first picture-text simply asserts without argument in its first sentence?

To be exact, can we show that “[God] created man and woman with original sin”?

For readers who may not know, this has to be established via some sort of argument because, firstly, the Bible says something different and, secondly, Christianity has historically taught that sin came into the lives of humankind through the Fall; that is, sin was not inherent to Adam or Eve when God created them.

What Does the Bible Say?

Just for reference purposes, we will look at (some of) what the Bible says. I should state, up front, that in what follows I will be assuming what is called an “Anselmian view of God.”[3] On this view, God is a being “than which nothing greater can be conceived.”[4] Our first passage is taken from the Book of Genesis, chapter 1.

“Then God said, ‘Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness, so that they may rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky, over the livestock and all the wild animals, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.’ So God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them. God blessed them… God saw all that he had made, and it was very good.”[5]

This passage indicates a couple of things.

Number one: Humans were created in the “image of God.”[6] However, God is that than which nothing greater can be conceived. If, as is both plausible and historical (in the Christian tradition), being loving (or being good) is conceived of as a perfection, then God must be loving (or good). How loving (or good) must God be? Think of a being and call it “Being1.” Now make Being1 loving (or good) to some degree or other. Ask: Is it possible for another being, say Being2, to be more loving (or better, morally) than Being1? If it is possible, then Being1 is not God. If it’s not possible, then theologians would say that Being1 is as loving (or as good) as it is possible to be. To put it differently, Being1 would be all-loving (or all-good).[7]

Thus we are in a position to see that the Christian view is that God is all-loving (or all-good). To say that God is all-loving (all-good) is to say God that God has no moral imperfection. But sin is a moral imperfection. Therefore, to say that God is all-loving (all-good) is to say that God is not sinful.

But if the image of God inheres in humans, that is, if humans were, in some sense, fashioned in the “image of God,” then it appears that this “image” is not inherently sinful.

Furthermore, the Genesis passage just surveyed has God declare, after creating (what appears to be) the universe, plants, and animals – including, finally, humankind – that “all” – that is, all of the universe, plants, and animals just canvassed – “that he had made …was very good.” But sin is not “very good.” Therefore, sin was not part of “all that [God] had made,” restricting ourselves to everything recorded in Genesis. To be more exact, of everything that Genesis records God having made, of all of that God says: “it was very good.” Therefore, sin was not part of the all of that which Genesis records God having made.

What I AM and Am NOT Doing

Please understand, dear reader, what I am – and am not – trying to do, here. I am not (presently, at any rate) trying to convince the atheist, non-theist, or anti-Christian that the Genesaic portrayal of events is correct or veridical. I am simply trying to establish that, from the Genesaic account (which, of course, Christians take seriously – if not literally), it is reasonable to conclude that God did not create humans in a state of sinfulness.

This is plausible from the conjunction of Genesis 1 and the historic view about what we mean by the word “God”: that is, a being than which nothing greater can be conceived.

But if God did not create humans in a state of sin, whence came sin?

Let’s again turn to the Bible. In Genesis chapters 2 (verses 7-8, 16-18, and 22) and 3 (vv. 1-6, 11b-14) we read:

“Then the Lord God formed a man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being. Now the Lord God had planted a garden in the east, in Eden; and there he put the man he had formed. …And the Lord God commanded the man, ‘You are free to eat from any tree in the garden; but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat from it you will certainly die.’ The Lord God said, ‘It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him.’ …Then the Lord God made a woman from [a] rib he had taken out of the man, and he brought her to the man.

“Now the serpent was more crafty than any of the wild animals the Lord God had made. He said to the woman, ‘Did God really say, You must not eat from any tree in the garden?’ The woman said to the serpent, ‘We may eat fruit from the trees in the garden, but God did say, You must not eat fruit from the tree that is in the middle of the garden, and you must not touch it, or you will die.’ ‘You will not certainly die,’ the serpent said to the woman. ‘For God knows that when you eat from it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.’ When the woman saw that the fruit of the tree was good for food and pleasing to the eye, and also desirable for gaining wisdom, she took some and ate it. She also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate it. …

“[God asked:] ‘Have you eaten from the tree that I commanded you not to eat from?’ The man said, The woman you put here with me—she gave me some fruit from the tree, and I ate it.’ Then the Lord God said to the woman, ‘What is this you have done?’ The woman said, ‘The serpent deceived me, and I ate.’ So the Lord God [cursed] the serpent… [and the woman and the man].”

Again, it is no part of my present task to demonstrate that the account is veridical. Nor is it any part of my project, here, to adjudicate between those who debate whether the account is literal, metaphorical, or something else.

Rather, I am simply arguing that, if we take the account seriously – as Christians do – it appears that sinfulness entered the human “sphere” through the choices of the first man and woman, giving in to the temptations of the serpent. These are simply summaries of what the account says. If one is to press the idea that “God created sin,” then one has to argue for that idea. It does not come from a prima-facie reading of the Genesis account.

The First Picture-Text Has No Argument

However, maybe it is possible to construct such an argument. After all, that Brahman is distinction-riddled and imperfect in knowledge does not come from a prima-facie reading of Sankara. These came from arguments that, on Hindu assumptions together with the laws of logic, we seem impelled to admit these things about Brahman.

Maybe the atheist, non-theist, or anti-Christian can come up with an argument that shows, contrary to the Genesaic account and historic Christian theology, God is, in fact, the creator of sin.

But, plainly, no such argument is found in today’s polemical picture-text.

I would be rational to simply leave things here to rest. But as I said I am looking for interesting lines of inquiry to probe. And this is an interesting line of inquiry. So let me go on.



Looking for an Argument Elsewhere

For there is another picture-text that does submit a candidate for the argument that is missing in the first picture-text.

Now it is needful that I modify the argument slightly since, in the posted form, the argument is invalid. To be more precise, the argument moves from talking about “origination” to talking about “creation.” Nothing follows from this unless one assumes that “origination” and “creation” are synonymous in the present context. However, two possible changes are easily enough proposed. We could change all occurrences of “originate” to “create” or we could change all occurrences of “create” to “originate.” Let’s go with the latter change.[8]

15. If sin originated from Satan, and Satan originated from God, then sin originated from God.

16. Sin originated from Satan and Satan originated from God.

17. Therefore, sin originated from God.

This argument is deductively valid. That is to say, if the premises are true (and they may not be), then the conclusion must be true also.

To avoid the conclusion, then, I must identify at least one problem with the argument’s premises. In fact, I suggest that the premises have two relevant problems – either of which, if successful, is sufficient by itself to avoid the conclusion.

Two Objections to the Argument

PROBLEM 1: On Equivocation

It’s not clear that sin did “originate from Satan.” To get at this problem, let me ask a question that I had postponed: why does “Satan created sin” sound peculiar, if “originate” and “create” are, in this context, supposed to be synonymous?

I will suggest an answer. I suggest that we reserve the word “creates” for things that have real being – things that have “positive existence,” if you like. St. Augustine famously argued that evil was, strictly speaking, not a thing. He argued that evil had no positive existence. It was, rather, a privation, that is, an absence or lack, of good.

Does this mean that “there is no such thing as evil”? It depends on how seriously we are using the word “thing”! On this view, evil is not a concrete “thing” like rocks or trees are things. It’s not even an abstract “thing” as is justice or beauty. Rather, evil is a lack of good. To say that something is “evil,” then, means that that thing (whether concrete or abstract) is not as good as it could or should be.

We could say that many propositions of the form “x is not as good as it should be” are true. Thus, although evil is not a “thing,” still, it is true that some bona fide things – e.g., actions – are not as good as they should be. Indeed, some such actions – e.g., murder and rape – are not good at all.

So “murder” is something like the name for a really existing action, like stabbing someone to death, that is such that being good is not one of its properties.[9] So whereas “evil” has no positive existence, what does exist, unfortunately, is an array of actions that do not have goodness among its properties.

Perhaps an analogy or two would be helpful.

Do Holes Exist?

Think of a wall. Maybe it’s made of stone. Stone appears to have positive existence. Physicists tell us that it’s made of atoms and molecules and so forth. Now think of a hole in the wall. Question: Do holes have positive existence? If we listed off everything that existed, would we have to list “holes” along with “rocks” and “trees” and so on? What would holes be “made of”?

Plausibly, the answer is no. Holes are not “made of” anything. We can think of the hole in the wall as simply a place where there is no stone. Hence, saying “there is a hole in the stone wall, here” is just another way of saying “here is a place where the (otherwise) stone wall does not have a stone.”[10]

Of course, if any otherwise stone wall lacks a stone in a particular place, we might well say “the wall has a hole, here.” The sentence is true just in case “there is not stone, here” is true and we would expect or require “there is a stone, here” to be true.

Or again, think of a room full of light. Light is something. Physicists tell us that light is made of photons. Now imagine turning off the light so that the room is dark. Is there such a thing as darkness? Does the act of turning off the light somehow prompt stuff called “darkness” to spill in, filling up the space? If so, what is darkness “made of”?

Again, it is plausible to think that darkness isn’t “made of” anything (i.e., any thing). Saying “the room is dark” is simply another way of saying “the room doesn’t have any light.”

Similarly with our account of holes, various propositions such as “this room is dark” will have analyses that are true: for instance, “this room has no light” (if and when it doesn’t).

Perhaps now we should define “sin.” I have done this elsewhere, so I will simply summarize.

“Sin” is “purposely (willfully) doing something that you know is evil (or bad), or purposely not doing something that is an obligatory good.”

What does this mean, if “evil” is a privation? It means that to sin is to act in such a way that one’s action lacks some good that it ought to have. Does this mean that there is no such “thing” as sin?

As before, there is no such “thing” as evil. If we say “murder is evil,” we mean “murder is not good.” And there certainly, and unfortunately, are acts of which it is true to say “these acts are not good.” Murder is one; rape is another. Etc.

Moreover, there are actions (that is, in the Kantian idiom, acts that have been performed by some actors) of which it is true to say of them “these actions are not loving.” If we say, “Cain’s murder of Abel was sinful,” we mean “Cain’s murder of Abel was not loving.”

Back to the Second Picture-Text

It may be that the reason “Satan creates sin” sounds false (to my ears, anyway), is because “creates” is reserved for things that have positive existence.

On the Augustinian interpretation, “Satan originated sin” cashes out to (something like) “Satan was the first free agent who made a choice that lacked goodness.”

Nothing with positive existence was brought into being.

Hence, the sentence “Satan creates sin” – if we tolerate the nonstandard use of the verb – does not use the word “creates” in the same sense as it is used in the sentence “God created Satan.”

On the Christian view, it is commonly held that the being called “Satan” (or, the adversary) was created as an angel – sometimes identified with Lucifer. In any case, what God created was an angel, and angels (on the Christian view) have positive existence.[11]

This suggests that there are two sorts of creation/origination (CO). As a first pass, I will call the first Literal-CO, that is, creation/origination of some thing, with positive existence. I will call the second Non-Literal-CO, that is, any other tolerable use of “creation” or “origination” where there is no actual, positively existing thing that results.

Equivocation

With this groundwork laid, I suggest that the first problem with the argument is that, regardless of which word (“creates” or “originates”) we select, we run into the fallacy of equivocation. “Equivocation” occurs when a word is used in two or more places in the same linguistic context, but has a different meaning in one or more of those places.

For instance, suppose that I say: Herbert Palmer created Vera Jayne Palmer, and Vera Jayne Palmer created a problem for my marriage. If I conclude that, therefore, Herbert Palmer created a problem for my marriage, I seem clearly to have used “created” in differing senses. Herbert Palmer “created” his daughter in the sense of fathering her. If Vera Jayne Palmer created a problem for my marriage, it was in the sense that I had difficulties keeping my eyes off Jayne Mansfield. Those of not the same senses of “created.”

In the case of the picture-text, the argument advanced depends upon “creation”/“origination” being used univocally, that is, in the same sense throughout. This is to say that, “If sin originated from (or was created by) Satan, and Satan originated from (or was created by) God, then sin originated from (or was created by) God,” requires that we’re not talking about different senses of “creation” / “origination.” But we are talking about different sorts of “creation” / “origination.”

“Sin originated from Satan” only in a non-literal sense. Satan “originated” or “created” sin only the sense that the missile “created” a hole in the wall. We speak like this all the time. But we do not appear to be committed to the positive existence of “holes.” Rather, what we mean is that the missile destroyed part of the wall. The missile did not bring something, a “hole,” into existence that wasn’t there before. On the contrary, the missile took something (say a subset of stones) out of existence that had previously existed.

I suggest that this is what Satan did as well. Satan did not bring something, “sin,” into existence. He did not, so to speak, add “evil” to an action or choice. Rather, what he did was to subtract some good.

But if this is correct, then the argument equivocates on the words “creates” and “originates” – whichever word one chooses to insert. This can be labeled, as follows.

15’. If sin Literally-Originated from (or was Literally-Created by) Satan, and Satan Literally-Originated from (or was Literally-Created by) God, then sin Literally-Originated from (or was Literally-Created by) God.

16’. Satan Literally-Originated from (or was Literally-Created by) God, but sin only Non-Literally-Originated from (or was Non-Literally-Created by) Satan.

Thus, the argument fails. In fact, I think that there is another equivocation problem in the vicinity. I will get into that further on.

PROBLEM 2: On Transitvity

But suppose that the reader is not persuaded by the considerations advanced under the heading “PROBLEM 1.” Maybe the reader thinks that the Augustinian approach is suspect, or that I have mis-applied it in the present case. Perhaps the reader thinks that he or she has discovered a potential, univocal reading that saves the argument.

Let us assume that something like this is the case. Assume that everything that I wrote in the previous section was wrong. Pretend that there is a univocal reading available. Still, I have another objection.

Even with a univocal-reading, the argument crucially depends upon “creation” / “origination” possessing the logical property known as transitivity. Here is a dictionary definition for the adjective “transitive”: “Of or relating to a binary relation such that, whenever one element is related to a second element and the second element is related to a third element, then the first element is also related to the third element. Examples of transitive relations are ‘less than’ for real numbers (a < b and b < c implies a < c) and divisibility for integers (a divides b and b divides c mean that a divides c).”[12]

An easy illustration of transitivity is the “equal to” or identity relation. If x = y, and y = z, then it follows as a mathematical consequence that x = z.

Or think about being taller than. If John is taller than Joe, and Joe is taller than Steve, then it follows – as a logical consequence - that John is taller than Steve.

Intransitivity, Non-Transitivity & Other Matters

However, not all relations are transitive. Some relations are intransitive. An intransitive relation is one for which, if P is related to Q, and Q is, by the same relation, related to R, then it follows as a logical consequence that P is not (by the same relation) related to R.

For example, consider being the mother of. If Jane is the mother of Sarah, and Sarah is the mother of Rebecca, it follows as a logical consequence that Jane is not the mother of Rebecca.

How about being the immediate successor of? If George VI is the immediate successor of Edward VIII, and Elizabeth II is the immediate successor of George VI, then Elizabeth II was not the immediate successor of Edward VIII.

It turns that there are also relations that are neither transitive nor intransitive. These relations are termed non-transitive. This sort of relation is helpfully illustrated by Darren Brierton. He writes:

“…[L]ikes is a non-transitive relation: If John likes Bill, and Bill likes Fred, there is no logical consequence [one way or the other] concerning John liking Fred.”[13]

The moral, then, is that we may not assume that just any relation will be transitive.

Is “Creation” Transitive?

The crucial question obviously is: Is “creation” / “origination” transitive? Note, first, that it has to be transitive for the argument to succeed. If “creation” / “origination” is either in- or non-transitive, then the argument fails. Let us see.

Our task is to try to come up with uncontroversial examples, using “creation” / “origination,” that show whether the relation is usually transitive or intransitive or neither. As (presumably) competent and native English-speakers, we need to check for transitivity using our linguistic intuitions.

If Samuel Ogden Edison, Jr. originated Thomas Edison, and Thomas Edison originated the light bulb, does it follow that Samuel Ogden Edison, Jr. originated the light bulb?

Or if Lionel Dahmer created Jeffrey Dahmer, and Jeffrey Dahmer created chaos, does it follow that Lionel Dahmer created chaos?[14]

It seems that, if these conclusions do follow, then the same reasoning could be rolled backwards almost indefinitely. We would then be in the position of ascribing the light bulb to Edison’s progenitors, his supposed evolutionary forebears, or God himself. Likewise, we would have to ascribe Jeffrey Dahmer’s “chaos” to his entire family, some random pre-Homo Sapien Hynerpeton (on one view of evolutionary history, anyway), or to the Big Bang itself.

What Do We Make of This?

Let’s consider a couple of other examples. What if I say: Alexandre Dumas (père) created Edmond Dantès, and Edmond Dantès created a plan to get revenge on Danglars, Mondego, and Villefort? Shall I say that Dumas created a plan to get revenge on Danglars, Mondego, and Villefort?

I think that this is plausible. After all, Edmond Dantès is fiction created by Dumas. Dumas is the agent; in reality, Dantès does nothing.

Or how about this? I create a robot and the robot creates a sandwich. Do I create the sandwich?

I want to be careful, here. Earlier I alerted the reader to a second possible equivocation in the vicinity of the first (as I alleged previously). Although I am setting the Literal/Non-Literal business aside, in this section, I am now in a position to examine the second (possible) equivocation.

Perhaps the most direct route for getting at this is by way of the philosophical position known as agency theory.[15] Very roughly, an Agent is an entity – something like an Aristotelian substance – that can initiate causal chains that are not determined by prior efficient causes.

Compatibilism & Libertarianism

“For the compatibilist, the person, insofar as he or she is an agent, is simply a series of events through which a causal chain passes on its way to producing an effect, say, one’s hand going up. As long as this effect is caused by the right things in the right way (e.g., the character states of the agent), the act counts as free. …[For the Libertarian, p]ersons are agents and, as such, in free acts they either cause their acts for the sake of reasons (called agent causation) or their acts are simply uncaused events they spontaneously do by exercising their powers for the sake of reasons (called a noncausal theory of agency).”[16]

What is the point of all this? There are (at least) two additional senses for “creation” / “origination,” each springing from different, overarching (or underlying!) conceptions of the relationship between free will and determinism.

Call the Libertarian version of “creation” / “origination” A-rigination, and call the Compatibilistic version C-rigination. To keep the model simple, let’s say that “A-rigination” is the initiation of a brand new causal chain that, while it may (and should) be directed by final causes (or reasons), is not determined by efficient causes. On the other hand, let’s say that “C-rigination” is merely the arbitrary identification of part of an efficient causal chain, all of which is entirely determined by whatever initiated the chain.

Do these distinctions explain my differing intuitions about the cases of transitivity and intransitivity canvassed above? Here’s a review.

If Samuel Ogden Edison, Jr. originated Thomas Edison, and Thomas Edison originated the light bulb, does it follow that Samuel Ogden Edison, Jr. originated the light bulb? It depends. Was Thomas Edison Libertarian free in creating the light bulb? If he was, then we have the following. If Samuel Ogden Edison, Jr. originated [no matter how] Thomas Edison, and Thomas Edison A-riginated the light bulb, does it follow that Samuel Ogden Edison, Jr. originated the light bulb? No. Regardless of whether Samuel A-riginated or C-riginated Thomas, the fact (if it be such) that Thomas A-riginated the light bulb means that Thomas initiated a brand new causal chain in virtue of that action.[17]

Suppose, instead, that the Libertarian view of free will is false and that Compatibilism is true. In that case, we would get this. Since Samuel Ogden Edison, Jr. C-riginated Thomas Edison, and Thomas Edison C-riginated the light bulb, it follows that Samuel Ogden Edison, Jr. C-riginated the light bulb. Of course, since C-rigination is merely the arbitrary identification of part of a causal chain, if Compatibilism is true it would be equally true to say that Edison’s great-great-great-great-great grandmother C-riginated the light bulb, or that the Biblical Adam C-riginated it, or that some unspecifiable single-celled organism from the pre-Cambrian period did so.

Since my intuitions track more closely along with the first reading, I take it that I have linguistic evidence that Compatibilism is false. But, regardless, the point is that whether we say that “originated” is transitive or not depends on what sort of account we give for free will.

This seems to generalize. Consider, again, the case of Jeffrey Dahmer. If Libertarianism is true, and if Jeffrey Dahmer acted freely, then the fact that Lionel Dahmer created Jeffrey Dahmer, and Jeffrey Dahmer created chaos, does not entail that Lionel Dahmer created chaos, because Jeffrey Dahmer initiated causal chains on his own and he is, on his own, responsible for them. On the other hand, if Compatibilism is true, then we might as well say that the Big Bang created the relevant “chaos.” Jeffrey Dahmer was merely a cog in the cosmic wheel.

The Fictional Wrinkle

Or how about these? Alexandre Dumas (père) created Edmond Dantès, and Edmond Dantès created a plan to get revenge on Danglars, Mondego, and Villefort. Did Dumas create a plan to get revenge on Danglars, Mondego, and Villefort? As I said previously, clearly, Edmond Dantès is a fictional character created by Dumas. Even if Libertarianism is true, Dumas is the only actual agent. Therefore, it might seem that Dumas did create a plan to get revenge. But there seems to be something wrong.

Did Dumas create an actual plan to get actual revenge on actual individuals? No. He created a fictional plan to get fictional revenge on fictional characters. Notice the difference in the word “create.” Did Dantès “create” in the same sense as Dumas? No. Dumas actually created a story; Dantès has no actual existence, and therefore cannot actually create anything.

We could plausibly say that even if Libertarianism is true: Dumas A-riginated Edmond Dantès. But, being fictional, Edmond Dantès was merely a figment of Dumas’s imagination. Suppose we want to say that Dantès C-riginated the plan to get revenge on Danglars, Mondego, and Villefort, and that Dantès was an instrument used by Dumas – a literary contrivance that Dumas, as the author, used to tell his story. We might be tempted to say therefore that “Dumas created a plan to get revenge” is true. After all, the entire story – including the revenge plot – owes to Dumas.

The problem is that the reasoning used to generate the conclusion “Dumas created a plan to get revenge” violates the rules of transitivity. Transitivity holds when three things (a, b, and c) are all related by the selfsame relation. Then, if the relation is transitive, we can say that: If aRb and bRc, then aRc.

However, in the Dumas case, the relevant three things are not related by the selfsame relation. For we said that Dumas A-riginated Edmond Dantès and that Dantès C-riginated the revenge plot. A-rigination and C-rigination are not the same relation. Therefore, nothing follows by transitivity.

Of course, Dumas is the author of the entire story. So we want to ensure that he gets credit for everything that happens. We secure this outcome, and make things univocal, by substituting for “creates” a word like “pretends.” Then we would say something like this: Dumas pretends that Dantès exists and Dumas pretends that Dantès plots revenge.

Things go similarly with my robot, but not identically. Assuming Libertarianism, if I A-riginate a robot, then – unless the robot somehow becomes a self-aware, artificially intelligent being like 2001: A Space Odyssey’s Hal, then the robot merely C-riginates the sandwich. The robot did not decide to create a sandwich in the sense that it initiated a new causal chain. Here it seems plausible to say that I created the sandwich by means of the robot. The robot was my instrument.

But, like the Dumas case, we do not attribute the sandwich-making to me because of transitivity. Nothing follows by transitivity since A-rigination and C-rigination pick out two different relations. Rather, the whole example now seems misstated. Instead of saying I created a robot and the robot created a sandwich, I should have instead said I created a sandwich by means of a robot.

Applying It All to the Case at Hand

The takeaway might be this. If Libertarianism is true, and if sin A-riginated from Satan, then sin did not A-riginate from God even if Satan did A-riginate from God. To put it another way, even when the terms are univocal – notice that A-riginate is used throughout – God cannot be blamed for sin if that sin was Satan’s (Libertarian-)free choice. Satan would have initiated a brand new causal chain – one that was independent of the causal chain, initiated by God, that A-riginated Satan himself.

But suppose we substitute C-rigination. Then we get this: Sin C-riginated from Satan, but Satan A-riginated from God. Can we conclude that “sin A-riginated from God”? We cannot depend upon transitivity to carry this conclusion. Remember that transitivity only applies when we have three things related by the selfsame relation. But if Satan C-riginated sin and God A-riginated Satan, then, because A-rigination and C-rigination are different relations, nothing follows by transitivity alone.

Conservatively, I would suggest that this shows "origination" is non-transitive - since it can mean either A-rigintion which appears to be intransitive, or C-rigination which appears to be transitive.

We are faced with three options.

NUMBER ONE:

We could affirm either Libertarianism or Compatibilism and hold that God’s A-rigination of Satan is like Dumas’s A-rigination of Dantès. In this case, it is true that God is the author of everything. But we would seem to be compelled to have to say that everything Satan does is on a par with Dumas’s fiction. To put it differently, God pretends that Satan exists and pretends that sin exists, and so on. This doesn’t seem correct. For one thing, it seems to reduce sin to a fiction. And that’s something that I’d wager even the author of the picture-text wouldn’t want to do. After all, doesn’t an artist have creative freedom? On what objective basis could God be criticized for pretending that sin exists?

NUMBER TWO:

We could affirm Compatibilism and simply lay it down that God is the only free agent. However, this would seem to force us to say that “Satan originated sin” is misstated and should instead be “God originated sin by means of Satan.” This is the conclusion that the authors of the two picture-texts seem to want. Sure, right: If God is the only free agent, then everything – the good and bad – must owe to God. But why think that God is the only free agent? We have been given no reason to accept this. It is arguable, therefore, that the (implicit) argument begs the question against Libertarianism. Of course, this is our third option.

NUMBER THREE: We could affirm Libertarianism, use A-rigination univocally throughout the argument, and admit that God is not to blame for Satan’s new causal chain.

It is crucial to notice that nowhere on either of the two picture-texts do we have anything even remotely approaching either an argument for Compatibilism or an argument against Libertarianism.

If this argument shows that God is the “creator” of sin, then we seem impelled to say that it only does so by assuming a contentious and eminently reject-able view about free will.

Brief Summary & Concluding Remarks

As far as I can tell, this argument only plausibly suggests that God is the “creator” of sin if all the following are the case:

- “Creation” / “origination” have a univocal sense that works throughout the argument;

- “Creation” / “origination” are transitive;

- Augustine’s view of evil is false;

- Libertarianism is false; and

- Compatibilism is true.

However, quite obviously, none of these has even been attempted – let alone accomplished or established.

Moreover, by my lights: “creation” / “origination” are equivocal; “creation” / “origination” are non-transitive; St. Augustine's view of evil is defensible, compelling, and possibly true; Libertarianism is defensible, compelling, and possibly true; and Compatibilism, while defensible, is less-compelling and arguably false.

So the first line of the first picture-text is merely an unargued assertion resting upon a highly questionable resolution to the metaphysical problem of free will. And it’s passed off as if it were an uncontroversial tenet of Christianity. The picture-text gets worse from there! But I am out of time for today.

Notes:



[1] What follows is my much-condensed adaptation of Robin Collins’s evaluation of Sankara’s version of Hinduism, as found in “Eastern Religions,” Michael J. Murray, Reason for the Hope Within, Grand Rapids, Mich. and Cambridge [U.K.]: William B. Eerdmans, 1999, pp. 182ff, esp. p. 189. Any errors are doubtless my own.

[2] I am merely illustrating something, here. I am not pretending to have made irrelevant all other philosophical debate over the truth or falsity of Hinduism.

[3] Briefly, on this view, God possesses all of the “perfections” or “great-making properties.” These properties may be defined as “those properties, with intrinsic maxima, that it is inherently better to have than to lack.” For example, it is inherently better to have knowledge than to lack it. Therefore, God would have to have knowledge. But knowledge also (plausibly) has an intrinsic maximal value: namely, knowing, of all true, actualized propositions that they are true, and knowing of all false propositions that they are false. (We might also add: knowing the truth-values of all counterfactual and otherwise possible, but non-actual propositions. But I will leave this aside, presently.)

[4] In Latin: Aliquid quo nihil maius cogitari possit.

[5] Genesis 1:26-28 and 31, New International Version.

[6] In Latin: Imago dei.

[7] I.e., Omnibenevloent.

[8] This seems the charitable thing to do. After all, it is not at all clear that “Satan created sin” is true. It seems to me clearly false. But the “originate”-reading does not sound as obviously false (though it still may be). So I will go with that.

[9] To put it slightly differently, “murder is evil,” is something like an abbreviation for a string of propositions (e.g., “S stabbed T to death,” “S shot and killed T,” and so on) none of which could be prefixed by the predication “it is good that.”

[10] This works for holes of all sorts. “There is a hole in the dirt, here” is just another way of saying that “here is a place where there is no dirt,” and so on.

[11] Of course, in this case we have an angel who, after making a free choice bereft of goodness, fell from his lofty position and became the Adversary.

[12] “Transitive,” American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, 5th Ed., Boston: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publ., 2016, <http://www.thefreedictionary.com/transitivity>.

[13] Darren Brierton, “Objects, Properties and Relations,” Philosophy Vade Mecum, Univ. of Missouri – Kansas City, <https://cas.umkc.edu/philosophy/vade-mecum/2-3.htm>.

[14] Recall that the burden of the previous section was to show that nouns like “chaos” have no positive existence. However, also recall that I began the present section on the assumption that everything I wrote previously was wrong. If the reader has the sense – as indeed I do – that “creating chaos” and “creating Jeffrey Dahmer” involve two different senses “creating,” then I invite him or her to revisit the preceding text. I think that the same problem plagues premise 16.

[15] This is, of course, embedded in a tangled thicket surrounding the problem of free will. There are numerous views. On one pole, some people endorse “Hard Determinism.” This is the view that “choice,” strictly speaking, does not exist. In its “Scientific Version,” all things are held to be absolutely predetermined by the laws of the universe together with the initial conditions. In a “Theological Version,” Divine “predestination” would also play a role. God is the only free actor. Going a bit farther, “Fatalism” is the view that the laws and conditions themselves could not have been otherwise. Fate implies a thoroughgoing determinism on “all metaphysical levels.” In any event, determinists can be of “Hard” or “Soft” varieties. The “Hard Determinist” thinks that “freedom” and “determinism” are incompatible; there is, in fact, no such thing as “free will.”

A somewhat middle of the road position is “Soft Determinism” or “Compatibilism.” “Compatibilism” designates the idea that “freedom” is compatible with “determinism” after all. Confusingly, Compatibilism also comes in “Hard” and “Soft” varieties. The “Hard Compatibilist” holds that “freedom” requires determinism. Roughly, this is because a choice without a sufficient, efficient cause is thought to be utterly random. At the other extreme from determinism, some endorse “Simple Indeterminism.” This is the view that nothing is determined.

On the other hand, others are “Soft Compatibilists,” who hold instead that free choice does not require determinism, but is compatible with it. So the Soft Compatibilists want to try to preserve free will and determinism. Some “Soft Compatibilists” (called “Passive Self-determinists” or “Classical Compatibilists”) tend

to hold that a person is free just in case she can act according to her strongest inclination. “Compatibilism claims that every person chooses according to his or her greatest desire. In other words, people will always choose what they want – and what they want is determined by (and consistent with) their moral nature. Man freely makes choices, but those choices are determined by the condition of his heart and mind (i.e. his moral nature),” “Compatibilism,” Theopedia, <http://www.theopedia.com/compatibilism>.

In theological contexts, Calvinists tend to be Compatibilists of this sort. While the inclination (i.e., desire) determines the “choice,” still, a person can count as “free” on this view if she isn’t hindered from acting on her inclination. “Compatibilists argue that if all of our choices are uncaused, they would then be completely arbitrary, unpredictable, and not really moral actions at all,” ibid.

“Incompatibilism” is the view that freedom simply cannot be determined – strictly so-called – in any sense. One form of Incompatibilism, called “Libertarianism” (in a non-political sense), holds that for a person to be free with respect to some action, A, is for that person to be able to do A or not do A – regardless of “inclination” or “desire.” In other words, Libertarians hold that it is possible for a person to act against her inclinations and desires. Against the Compatibilist, Libertarians contend that while our actions and choices are “uncaused” in the sense that they lack antecedent, efficient causes, they are not altogether “uncaused” because our (rational) actions and choices have final causes, that is, reasons. (Recall that Aristotle enumerated four different “causes”: Material, Formal, Efficient, and Final.)

In the vicinity is another Incompatibilistic view called “Agent Theory” or “Action Theory” which holds, roughly, that determinism applies to events, but denies that “choices” and “actions” are events in the relevant sense. On this view, Agents (something like “conscious beings”) can initiate new causal chains and perform Actions (also termed “Happenings” – something like “events,” but importantly different in that they are not just strings of efficient causes) that are not mechanically determined by events.

For more, see Milton D. Hunnex, Chronological and Thematic Charts of Philosophies and Philosophers, Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker Academic, 1986, pp. 29ff.

[16] William Lane Craig and J. P. Moreland, Philosophical Foundations for a Christian Worldview, Downer’s Grove, Ill. InterVarsity Press, 2003, pp. 278 & 279.

[17] Of course, the action of “creating the light bulb” was a complex, rather than simple, action. I will assume, though not argue, that some conjunction of propositions could be specified such that: collectively, the propositions adequately describe the complex action; the propositions have time-orderable, simple actions as constituents; and that the constituent simple action that comes first in the time sequence is plausibly a case of A-rigination.

Sunday, November 20, 2016

Thinking About Socratic Morality



One reader's comments to my previous post (available HERE) got me thinking again about the elements of Socratic morality.

Reader apsterian wrote:

>>I agree w[ith]. Plato/Socrates that no one willingly sins. There's insanity, but no "evil." Why would anyone do something that gets him sent to heck?--only insanity.<<

These are certainly deep philosophical waters. Let's dive in.

Socrates and Plato are provocative thinkers. Of course, what we know of the historical Socrates - who wrote nothing of his own - comes primarily from Plato's dialogues. Those dialogues are generally divided into three groups, the early, middle, and late. Although there is disagreement, the consensus is that Plato's early dialogues fairly accurately represent the views of his mentor, Socrates. In the middle dialogues, Plato begins to experiment with his own ideas. By the late dialogues, Plato simply uses Socrates as a vehicle to deliver his own, mature thought (and, indeed, his criticisms of his own views).

Assuming this threefold categorization, it is clear that Socrates surely did hold that no one willingly does what it is bad. However, it's not at all obvious that "Plato/Socrates" ever said "that no one willingly sins."

Our English word "sin" derives from the Greek word hamartia. Aristotle certainly wrote about hamartia, and subsequent Christians picked it up via the Septuagint (i.e., the Greek translation of the Old Testament). But as far as I know, neither Socrates nor Plato ever used the term "hamartia." Moreover, neither Socrates nor Plato used any other term that straightforwardly maps onto the Christian concept of "sin."

It seems, therefore, that we need to make a distinction between "doing bad" and "sinning."

As I understand it, Socrates's basic position can be sketched (roughly) as follows.[1]

1. If an act, choice or object, x, is bad, then x is harmful.

2. If x is harmful, then x makes the actor or subject, S, more miserable or worse off than he or she was before choosing x.

3. If x makes S more miserable or worse off, then S becomes a failure or unhappy.

4. Therefore, if x is bad, then S becomes a failure or unhappy.

But then Socrates expressly states that:

5. No one wants to fail in life or to become unhappy.

6. Therefore, no one wants what is bad.

Firstly, even if this argument succeeds, I do not think that it shows that no one willingly sins. Rather, if it succeeds, it seems to show that there is no such thing as sin.

Western Christians of almost all theological hues have historically held that "sin" is (bound up with, if not identical to) "willful disobedience." So, for instance, in the Pocket Dictionary of Theological Terms, by Protestants Stanley J. Grenz, David Guretzki and Cherith Fee Nordling,[2] "sin" is defined as "...a person's purposeful disobedience to God's will as evidenced in concrete thought or act" (p. 107).

This is even clearer in Catholicism. In "A Simple Glossary of Catholic Terms," by Fr. Jerome Bertram and Raymond Edwards, we read that (mortal) "sin" is: "A serious violation of the law of God; it must be freely chosen, be an act that is objectively gravely wrong, and the person committing it must be aware that it is gravely wrong" (p. 59).

The problem becomes, then, that if:

7. No one ever willingly does what is bad;

and:

8. "Sin" is willingly doing what is bad;

then:

9. Therefore, no one ever sins.

(That is: 7'. No person is a person who willingly does bad; 8'. All sinners are people who willingly do bad; 9'. therefore, no persons are sinners.)

From a historic Christian point of view this is not correct. So either:

10. At least some people willingly do what is bad;

or:

11. "Sin" is not willingly doing what is bad;

or both.

But as I said, in the historic Christian tradition - as far as I can tell, anyway - "sin" is willingly doing what is bad. But then it follows 10. is true. If 10. is true, then 7. must be false. But if 7. is false, then EITHER one or more of the premises 1. - 6. must be false, OR one or more of the moves from premises-to-conclusion must be invalid.

By my lights, the best candidate for a false premise is 5. Very briefly, I think that 5. ("No one wants to fail in life or to become unhappy.") is not clearly more plausible than it's negation. Some people do appear to me to want to be unhappy.[3]

But also, I think that 6. may not follow. I think that there is an unexpressed assumption that:

12. S wants x.

implies that:

13. S wants everything that follows from x.

Indeed, Socrates is well-known to have held that virtue is a sort of knowledge. He also distinguished "wanting x" from "seeing fit to do x." The difference is that one only "wants x" if one has all the relevant knowledge about x. Else, one only "sees fit to do x."

I doubt that "wants" functions like this. Is it the case that if: S wants A and A implies F; then: S wants F?

For example, from:

14. Jane wants to divorce John;

and:

15. Janes knows that divorce would hurt the kids;

Does this follow?

16. Jane wants to hurt the kids.

Or again, from:

17. Bob wants to buy a bigger house.

and:

18. Buying a bigger house would put bob into debt.

Does this follow?

19. Bob wants to be put into debt.

I just don't think 16. and 19. do follow.

Socrates would probably rejoin by saying that "wants" can be irrational or rational. After all, this is just one way of cashing out his distinction between "wanting" (properly Socratically so-called) and "seeing fit." "Wanting" would be "rationally desiring;" and "seeing fit" would be "irrationally desiring."

If Jane does not "want" to hurt the kids, then Jane should not want a divorce. It wouldn't be rational; she would only be "seeing fit" to get a divorce. Additionally, if Bob does not "want" to get into debt, then Bob should not want a bigger house. He's not rational to want to buy a bigger house if buying it would put him in dire financial straits.

Maybe this is true. Maybe it's not enough that Jane merely "not want to hurt the kids." Maybe she needs to "want NOT to hurt the kids." Likewise, perhaps Bob ought to "want NOT to be in debt."

I am just not sure about this!

I am tempted to say that BOTH "Jane wants a divorce" AND "Jane does not want to hurt the kids" are possibly true and possibly rational, even if getting the divorce would hurt the kids. It even seems likely to me that Jane could BOTH rationally want to get a divorce AND want not to hurt the kids.

Likewise, I would like to say that BOTH "Bob wants a bigger house" AND "Bob does not want to get into debt" are possibly true and rational, even if getting the house would put him into debt.

These issues point to larger ones concerning the difference between theoretical and practical rationality.

An agent, S, is practically rational BOTH:

if BOTH she wants some end, e, and she believes that performing some action (i.e., by φ-ing), she is more likely to bring about e than she would be without φ-ing;

AND:

these considerations bring S to begin φ-ing.

Practically, then, if S wants to separate from her husband or pursue another love interest, and S believes that getting a divorce is likely to secure these results, then S will get a divorce.

On the other hand, if S wants to avoid hurting her children, and S believes that NOT getting a divorce is likely to secure this result, then S will NOT get a divorce.

But practical rationality alone cannot adjudicate between these competing desires.

Socrates seems prepared to say that increasing Jane's knowledge should be sufficient to help her to adjudicate between what she merely "sees fit" to do and what she really "wants" to do. I am sympathetic with this. After all, suppose that Jane were to discover – for example by direct divine revelation – that if she pursues one course of action, c, then her life would veer onto a trajectory that would lead to her eternal damnation. For the Christian, this is the ultimate, negative teleological consideration. What can we say?

Can we say that, if Jane is hell-averse, then she would presumably want to avoid c? Or can we say that if Jane is hell-averse, at least she ought to want to avoid c?

I think that we can only say:

If Jane is hell-averse, then she would avoid c – regardless of what she wants.

Of course, perhaps this information, which I have given to Jane via direct divine revelation, would be unavailable to her otherwise. Or maybe she would have to intuit it, or discern it in the voice of conscience, or detect it in some scriptural injunction, or solicit it as advice from a competent pastor, or whatever.

But I suppose that, for me, the philosophical bottom line would be that we are called to exercise our wills in accordance with (our apprehension of) the objective good. Furthermore, we are called to know the objective good – that is, to know the Triune God, whose nature is the Good.

I think that Christians have historically maintained, therefore, that we are called to choose the good - not to want the good. This does NOT mean that it wouldn't be better to want the good also. But this would seem to mean that choosing the good is good enough - regardless of what we want.

The "moral" might then be this. We - none of us - are slaves to our desires. Our will is capable of transcending our desires, whether they be good or bad. When we have strength of will, perhaps through God's grace, we are able to choose the good despite our bad desires. We may even, through sanctification, eventually find that our desires are themselves purified. But when we experience weakness of will (akrasia), we may indeed choose to do what we know is bad.

This, I take it, is what Christianity has historically called "sin": choosing to act on desires that we know (or justifiably believe) are bad. Far from impossible, I also take it that this is constitutive of the human condition.

But this entails that, on this point anyway, Socrates was wrong. We can willingly do bad; we do it all the time.

What do you think?

Notes:



[1] The following is an adaptation of notes that I took from various lectures delivered by Professor Jon McGinnis.

[2] Downer’s Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity Press, 1999.

[3] See, e.g., articles like "Are You Addicted to Unhappiness?" by David Sack, Psychology Today, Mar. 5, 2014, <https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/where-science-meets-the-steps/201403/are-you-addicted-unhappiness>.

Friday, November 18, 2016

Is Having 8,000+ Manuscripts Supposed to be Bad?



(Image source)

Today’s Facebook picture-text polemic comes to us by way of the Facebook page “Philosophical Atheism” (hereinafter abbreviated “PA”). Let’s begin by noting that this polemic, as opposed to others that I have analyzed, actually bothers to gesture towards evidence. The bottom-most line of the image reads:

“References: http://bit.ly/MbXj7Z, http://bit.ly/Mymb9J

The first source resolves to the article “Dating the Oldest New Testament Manuscripts,” by Peter van Minnen.[1] The second reference redirects to “A Brief History of the King James Bible,” Laurence M. Vance.[2] We will turn to these authors as we examine PA’s claims.

CLAIM: “The King James version of the New Testament was completed in 1611 by 8 members of the Church of England.”

REPLY: This is far from the whole story. According to Paul Wegner’s The Journey From Texts to Translations, the King James Version was produced by “54 translators – most of the leading classical and oriental scholars of the day and some laymen.”[3]

Even PA’s own cited second source, Vance, writes: “Although fifty-four men were nominated, only forty-seven were known to have taken part in the work of translation. The translators were organized into six groups, and met respectively at Westminster, Cambridge, and Oxford. Ten at Westminster were assigned Genesis through 2 Kings; seven had Romans through Jude. At Cambridge, eight worked on 1 Chronicles through Ecclesiastes, while seven others handled the Apocrypha. Oxford employed seven to translate Isaiah through Malachi; eight occupied themselves with the Gospels, Acts, and Revelation.”[4]

The eminent translators included Laurence Chaderton and Thomas Harrison, who were Puritans, and therefore certainly not straightforwardly “members of the Church of England” - at least in the sense of mainstream Anglicans. (They were a reforming element therein and arrayed themselves against the "old guard" Anglicans.) Yet, in fact, the Puritan John Rainolds is often credited as having initiated the project that later – if colloquially – became known as the “King James Version.”[5]

Wegner also helpfully establishes some historical context. “England experienced a time of great reform and growth during the reign of Queen Elizabeth (1558-1603). …Bible translation was freely tolerated, giving rise to several new translations – the Bishop’s Bible (1568), the Geneva Bible (1560), the Douay-Rheims Bible (1609-10). …Great strides in scholarship in general were made, achieving a high standard of excellence, and it was within this historical context that the King James Version was born.”[6]

This context is important at least because it shows that the scholarship that produced the King James Version was, for its time, first-rate.[7] The translators primarily followed the Greek New Testament tradition as it had been transmitted in what was called the Textus Receptus (the “Received Text”) – a text that had its roots in the work of Lucian of Antioch, on whom St. Jerome had drawn for the Latin Vulgate.

Again, PA seems not to have noticed that its own second cited source, Vance, declared:

“The Authorized Version eclipsed all previous versions of the Bible. The Geneva Bible was last printed in 1644, but the notes continued to be published with the King James text. Subsequent versions of the Bible were likewise eclipsed, for the Authorized Version was the Bible until the advent of the Revised Version and ensuing modern translations. It is still accepted as such by its defenders, and recognized as so by its detractors. Alexander Geddes (d. 1802), a Roman Catholic priest, who in 1792 issued the first colume of his own translation of the Bible, accordingly paid tribute to the Bible of his time:

“‘The highest eulogiums have been made on the translation of James the First, both by our own writers and by foreigners. And, indeed, if accuracy, fidelity, and the strictest attention to the letter of the text, be supposed to constitute the qualities of an excellent version, this of all versions, must, in general, be accounted the most excellent. Every sentence, every work, every syllable, every letter and point, seem to have been weighed with the nicest exactitude; and expressed, either in the text, or margin, with the greatest precision.’”[8]

CLAIM: “There were (and still are) no original texts to translate.”

REPLY: This claim equivocates on the phrase “original texts.” One could be designating the abstract ideas that the New Testament authors articulated,[9] or one could be referring to the physical manuscripts upon which those ideas were first fixed (or both). We need to disentangle these two senses – call the ideas “propositional content” and the physical stuff the “papyrus container” – since it is possible to have one without the other.

We could, for instance, possess the original, physical papyrus upon which the authentic propositional content had been written originally. Term this “Situation 1.” We would have this if we possessed the original papyruses, but found that they had been defaced sometime after being inscribed. Such papyruses might not even be recognizable as the original, physical “containers.” We see, then, that Situation 1 would be worthless, epistemically.

Alternatively, we could have the authentic propositional content that the biblical authors communicated without having access to its original, physical container. This would be the case, for example, if the authentic propositional content had been copied, memorized, or otherwise preserved apart from the protection of the original papyrus. Call this “Situation 2.”

In fact, Situation 2 is arguably – and, from a textual-critical standpoint, pretty obviously – what obtains. After all, PA admits that we have 8,000 manuscript copies.[10]

Consider that PA’s first cited author, Peter van Minnen, begins with this sentence: “The New Testament text we read in our English Bibles is based on the original Greek text.”[11]

To put it another way, the absence of the original papyruses, or autographa, does not in the least undermine the textual reliability of the New Testament because the authentic propositional content has been preserved and transmitted to us.[12]

Van Minnen goes on to state that all of the extant “manuscripts are mere copies, and the great majority of them are copies of copies,” but he stresses that “ultimately they all derive from the originals.”[13]

Both the Christian community and the scientists involved in textual criticism concur: the derivative texts that we possess are good enough.

CLAIM: “The oldest manuscripts we have were written down hundreds of years after the last apostle died.”

REPLY: Again, we have an ambiguity here. The problematic phrase is “the oldest manuscripts.”

The difficulty is that the manuscript evidence is not all-or-nothing. Although the actual state-of-affairs is complicated, for our purposes let us say that manuscripts may be either full (that is, containing the entire New Testament) or partial (that is, containing only a part of the New Testament).

Our total set of evidence includes two proper subsets, then: the subset of full manuscripts and the subset of partial manuscripts. What are the oldest manuscripts in each?

Before we answer, it is crucial to remember that, prior to the 4th century, Christianity was often effectively (if not always-and-everywhere literally) outlawed. Creating a full manuscript, particularly of a text as lengthy as the New Testament, would have been a substantial undertaking in the ancient world. To say that there are no full manuscripts that date to earlier than the 4th century is simply to say that, prior to the 4th century, Christians, circumscribed globally and sporadically persecuted provincially, lacked the resources to produce a complete New Testament codex.

So it is true that the earliest complete (or near-complete) New Testaments we possess date from the 4th century. These include Codices[14] Sinaiticus (א, 01) and Vaticanus (B, 03).[15]

However, this understandable deficit of pre-4th-century full manuscripts – due to the shortcomings in pre-4th-century Christian capabilities and resources – does not imply that there are no extant partial manuscripts. Indeed, there are.

Of especial importance is the early 2nd-century manuscript fragment known as p52.[16] Although it is only a scrap, its existence both verifies the fidelity of portions of chapter 18 from the Gospel of John, and demonstrates that our total manuscript evidence extends all the way back to just a few decades after the death of the last apostle. In the case of p52, which is often dated to around AD 125, we have a manuscript fragment that dates to only 30 or 40 years after the death of St. John.

PA seems not to have noticed that its primary source, Van Minnen, wrote: “The earliest papyrus manuscripts come very close to the time when the New Testament was written. …For almost all New Testament books we now have manuscripts earlier than the fourth century.”[17]

Hence, PA’s claim can be rewritten as follows: “The oldest manuscripts we have were written down 30-40 years after the last apostle died.”

That’s what textual critics call spectacular early evidence. And p52 is not the only such early fragment. Other probable-2nd-century partial manuscripts include p4 (containing the Gospel of Luke, chapters 1-6), p75 (Luke chapter 3 and John chapters 1-15), p90 (John chapters 18 & 19), p98 (the Book of Revelation chapter 1), and p104 (the Gospel of Matthew chapter 21). And these are only the 2nd-century manuscripts. Dozens more date from the 3rd century.

CLAIM: “There are over 8,000 of these old manuscripts…”

REPLY: It is vital to appreciate that the possession of 8,000 manuscripts is unequivocally a good thing.

To put things into perspective, “[f]or Caesar’s Gallic War (ca. 50 B.C.) there are only nine or ten good manuscripts, and the oldest dates from 900 years after the events it records. Only thirty-five of Livy’s 42 books of Roman history survive, in about 20 manuscripts, only one of which is as old as the fourth century. Of Tacitus’s fourteen books of Roman history, we have only four and one-half, in two manuscripts dating from the ninth and eleventh centuries.”[18]

By contrast, the textual basis for the New Testament is positively astounding.

“In the original Greek alone, over 5,000 manuscripts and manuscript fragments of portions of the N[ew]T[estament] have been preserved from the early centuries of Christianity. …Scholars of almost every theological stripe attest to the profound care with which the NT books were copied in the Greek language, and later translated and preserved in Syriac, Coptic, Latin and a variety of other ancient European and Middle Eastern languages.[19]

“The point is simply that the textual evidence for what the NT authors wrote far outstrips the documentation we have for any other ancient writing, including dozens which we believe have been preserved relatively intact. There is absolutely no support for claims that the standard modern editions of the Greek NT do not very closely approximate what the NT writers actually wrote.”[20]

To punctuate this point, look back at the textual base for Gallic Wars. Few if any scholars would seriously contend that we do not have substantially the original contents of Gallic Wars even though the text we possess rests only on ten (10) manuscripts.[21] But then, a fortiori, we cannot reasonably question the fidelity to the originals[22] of the New Testament when the New Testament rests on a base of 8,000 manuscripts![23]

CLAIM: Concerning this rich textual evidence of “…over 8,000 …old manuscripts, …no two [are] alike.”

REPLY: First we have to get clear on just what standard is being assumed for “alikeness.” Is it permissible that two statements express the same proposition, or must they be tokens of the exact same sentence type? For example, are these two sentences “alike”?

1. Johnny engaged an attorney when he was swindled out of his sofa.

2. Johnny contracted a lawyer when he was cheated out of his couch.

What about considerations such as grammatical voice? Are these “alike”?

3. Johnny hired a lawyer.

4. A lawyer was hired by Johnny.

What about minor typological errors? Are these “alike”?

5. The quick brown fox jumped over the lazy dog.

6. The quick brown fox jumpt over the lazy dog.

7. The speedy brown fox jumped over the lazy dog.

8. The quick brown fox fox jumped over the lazy dog.

9. The quick brown fox jumped over the lazy dog

10. The fox jumped over the dog.

The reader who thinks these questions are simply picking nits has probably never considered that the preponderance of textual “differences” are no more weighty or interesting than those illustrated by statements 1-10 above.

“All kinds of minor variations distinguish …[the New Testament] manuscripts from one another, but the vast majority of these variations have to do with changes in spelling, grammar, and style, or accidental omissions or duplications of words of phrases. Only about 400 (less than one per page of English translation) have any significant bearing on the meaning of the passage [in question], and most of these are noted in the footnotes or margins of modern translations and editions of Scripture (unlike the K[ing]J[ames]V[ersion]). …

“But overall, 97-99% of the NT can be reconstructed beyond any reasonable doubt, and no Christian doctrine is founded solely or even primarily on textually disputed passages.”[24]

Consider this illustration. Suppose that a professor delivers a lecture to a class of one hundred students, from his typed notes. Suppose that each of the one hundred students themselves takes some sort of hand-written or typed notes. Finally, suppose that the professor leaves his briefcase on top of his car’s roof and drives away, losing his case and his notes. The idea is that the professor’s original notes could be reconstructed from the students’ notes.[25]

Plausibly, each student would have recorded slightly different points. Some will contain spelling errors. Some of the points will have been recorded in a time-order that differs from the order in which the notes were delivered. However, if the notes from the one hundred students could be collected, compared, and contrasted, the original notes could be approximated. Indeed, the greater the number of students, the greater the number of lecture-note copies. And the greater the number of lecture-note copies, the more one has to work with in piecing together the professor’s original notes. If we add in the factor that the students are intentionally trying to maximize fidelity – which the original Christian copyists were – then the chances of total recovery get even better.[26]

This, mutatis mutandis, is what textual critics do. And with 8,000+ manuscripts to work with, each generated by copyists that were by and large trying to maximize fidelity to the originals with which they worked, it is no wonder why Blomberg relates that most scholars hold that we can be supremely confident that the contents of modern New Testaments very closely approximate what the biblical authors wrote.

CLAIM: “The King James translators used none of these, anyway. Instead, they edited previous translations to create a version their king and Parliament would approve.”

This is not a fair assessment.[27] Of course, in 1611: “Textual criticism was still in its infancy…”.[28] Hence, whether “King-James-Only advocates” like it or not, it is true that the original 1611 version of the King James Version is not going to be as textually reliable as a modern New Testament edition that takes cognizance of input from the science of textual criticism.[29]

Still, the translators of the Authorised Version in 1611 made use of then then-existing, proto-critical texts that had been cobbled together by such pioneering thinkers as the famed Dutch Catholic humanist Desiderius Erasmus,[30] French printer Robert Stephens,[31] and the French Reformer Theodore Beza.[32]

Beside this partial dependence upon a Catholic-compiled Greek text, we have already noted that the project was spearheaded by a Puritan. Of course, being virtually bankrolled by the government, the final product would have to receive its ultimate approval.[33] However, not being linguists, theologians, or translators, it is likely that both King James and the various parliamentarians would have deferred to the committee of translators on the issue of the adequacy of the translation.[34]

SUMMARY OF CLAIMS: “So, 21st Century [sic] Christians believe the ‘Word of God’ is a book edited in the 17th Century from 16th Century [sic] translations of 8,000 contradictory copies of 4th Century [sic] scrolls that claim to be copies of lost letters written in the 1st Century. That’s not faith. That’s insanity.”

SUMMARY OF REPLIES: The crux of this particular polemical picture-text seems to be that the textual reliability of the New Testament is a necessary condition for the New Testament’s being the word of God. However, the picture-text asserts that the New Testament is not textually reliable. From this it would follow that the New Testament is not the word of God.[35]

Of course, I have nowhere argued that the New Testament’s being textually reliable is sufficient to demonstrate that it is the Word of God. However, PA’s argument is fairly interpreted to be an argument that textual reliability is a necessary condition of the New Testament’s being the Word of God. Contrary to PA, I have argued that this necessary condition is fulfilled.

The necessary condition is not just barely fulfilled. With hundreds of times more pieces of textual evidence than selected works like Caesar’s Gallic Wars and the writings of Roman historians like Livy and Tacitus – none of which works have their authenticity questioned – the New Testament is in a class of its own, textually. In fact, the New Testament has better textual support than any ancient book on any topic whatever.

The 8,000+ New Testament copies and fragments include partial manuscripts that may be reliably dated to within 30-40 years after the end of the apostolic period. Scientists working in the field of textual criticism generally agree that the New Testament is textually reliable. Really, there is no debate on this point.



[1] Duke Univ., dated Dec. 12, 1995, and online at <http://library.duke.edu/rubenstein/scriptorium/papyrus/texts/manuscripts.html>.

[2] The hosting website appears to be titled “Dial-the-Truth Ministries,” and the undated article may be found at <http://www.av1611.org/kjv/kjvhist.html>.

[3] Paul D. Wegner, The Journey from Texts to Translations: The Origin and Development of the Bible, Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker Academic, 2004, p. 307, <https://books.google.com/books?id=kkVFOTsBOAEC&pg=PA307>.

[4] Loc. cit.

[5] Gordon Campbell writes that “…John Rainolds, the leader of the puritan delegation to the Hampton Court Conference[,] …had successfully argued the case for a new Bible…,” Gordon Campbell, Bible: The Story of the King James Version 1611 — 2011, Oxford: Oxford Univ. Press, 2010, p. 51.

[6] Ibid. Wegner: “A new air of toleration and freedom ensued when Elizabeth reversed the pro-Catholic policies of Mary I; England’s growing political force led to the stunning defeat of the Spanish Armada in 1588. … Rapid literary growth gave rise to such notable English figures as William Shakespeare (1564-1616), Edmund Spenser (c. 1552-1599, known in his time as the prince of poets), Philip Sidney (1554-1586, poet), Francis Bacon (1561-1626, philosopher, statesman, and essayist), Richard Hooker (1553-1600, theologians, best-known for the Laws of Ecclesiastical Polity), Ben Jonson (1572-1637, dramatist), and Christopher Marlowe (1564-1593, the father of English tragedy).”

[7] It is true that the text was sponsored by the King James and the Hampton Court Conference (1604) in order to try “to bridge the ever-widening gap between the translations rendered by Anglicans and those following Puritan or Reformed traditions…”, Wegner, loc. cit. But this need not imply that the King James Version would be politicized. It could equally well be argued that the “Authorized Version,” which is what the King James Version was called, would strive to neutralize the sectarian translations just mentioned.

[8] Loc. cit.

[9] Of course, orthodox Christians would add that the human authors wrote under divine inspiration. However, this is tangential to the present line of inquiry.

[10] Additionally, though PA does not mention it, we also know of the existence of a community that preserved the substance of the apostolic teaching orally – even through the intense persecutions of the 2nd century.

[11] Loc. cit. Emphasis added.

[12] Some commentators have added that God may have providentially prevented the autographa from being preserved. While I will not defend this idea here, it is not altogether implausible. After all, it is not outside of the realm of possibility that, were the autographa available, they would have become totems, or objects of worship. But this is certainly anathema to the idea that God alone is worthy of worship.

[13] Loc. cit. Emphasis added.

[14] The codex was a kind of forerunner to the book, written on parchment or vellum. In the case of these manuscripts, the codices in question were written in all capital letters (majuscule), yielding a text-type called an “uncial.”

[15] Other important, and only slightly later, uncial manuscripts include Codices Alexandrinus (A, 02), Ephraemi Rescriptus (C, 04), and Bezæ (D, 05).

[16] These were actually papyrus.

[17] Loc. cit.

[18] Craig L. Blomberg, “The Historical Reliability of the New Testament,” William Lane Craig, Reasonable Faith, Rev. Ed., Wheaton, Ill.” Crossway, 1994, p. 194; citing F. F. Bruce, The New Testament Documents: Are They Reliable? Downer’s Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity Press, 1960, p. 16.

[19] Again, the New Testament has over 5,000 manuscripts in the Greek language alone. When Latin and Coptic versions are added into the mix, the manuscript total skyrockets to around 20,000.

[20] Blomberg, op. cit., pp. 193 & 194. Emphasis added.

[21] We have 8 manuscripts for Thucydides’ History and 8, also, for Herodotus’ History.

[22] Don’t misunderstand. The point of citing of the textual evidence for the New Testament is not to say that, based upon the vastly superior textual-critical foundation of the New Testament vis-à-vis other ancient texts, the resurrection account is, in virtual of the unparalleled textual evidence alone, shown to be veridical. The point is, rather, that because of the vast textual evidence, we can say with a high degree of certitude that the New Testament that we possess today contains the texts as they were written, by their original authors. Evidencing of the veridicality of the resurrection occurs by other means – which I have touched upon elsewhere.

[23] That makes the textual support for the New Testament 80,000% better than the support for the Gallic Wars.

[24] Blomberg, op. cit., p. 194. Emphasis added.

[25] Interestingly, the The Blue and Brown Books attributed to philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein are in something of a similar situation to this. “The Blue and Brown Books are two sets of notes taken during lectures conducted by Ludwig Wittgenstein between 1933 and 1935. They were mimeographed as two separated books and a few copies were circulated in a restricted circle during Wittgenstein's lifetime. …The lecture notes from 1933–4 were bound in blue cloth and the notes dictated in 1934–5 were bound in brown. Rush Rhees published them together for the first time in 1958 as Preliminary Studies for the ‘Philosophical Investigations.’ …” “The Blue and Brown Books,” Wikipedia, Jul. 1, 2016, <https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Blue_and_Brown_Books>.

[26] Think, again, of sentences 5-10. Suppose that this had been among one of the sentences spoken by the professor. Even if one student (or a handful) had erroneously written:

11. The quick brown dog jumped over the lazy fox.

This error would have been detectable in virtue of the likelihood that the majority of note-takers who recorded the sentence, would probably have recorded it correctly.

[27] True, Van Minnen writes: “Until the nineteenth century New Testament scholars and translators availed themselves only sparingly of other manuscripts.” Loc. cit. And Van Minnen notes that this situation did not change much until “the work of the German scholar Constantin Tischendorf,” ibid.

But two things must be kept in mind. Number one, “sparingly” is not the same as “not at all.” As I will show, the King James Version did avail itself of critical editions that preceded it. Number two, Van Minnen’s judgments, here, are comparative. Compared to modern translations, yes, the King James Version used manuscripts “sparingly.” However, compared to other editions contemporary with it, the King James Version was a real monument to scholarship. Credit needs to be given where it is due.

[28] Alexander Roberts, Companion to the Revised Version of the New Testament: Explaining the Reasons for the Changes Made on the Authorized Version, New York: Cassell, Petter, Galpin, & Co., 1881, p. 43, <https://books.google.com/books?id=maA9AAAAYAAJ&pg=PA43>. And “the materials for it had not [yet] been [fully] gathered, the principles of the science had not been studied, and the labours of Mill, Bentley,s Griesbach, Lachmann, Tischendorf, Tregelles, and other great scholars, to secure the purity of the text of the New Testament, were as yet unheard of, and only to be put forth in the course of many future generations,” ibid.

[29] The King James Version did go through several printings. Additionally, there was a substantial revision in 1769. Finally, a critical edition, known as the New King James Version was compiled between 1979 and 1982 and is now widely available.

[30] See Erasmus’s editions (Basle: Froben, 1516; Venice: Aldus, 1518; self-publ., 1519; 1522; 1527; and 1535), the latter of which took account of the so-called Complutensian Edition, ibid., pp. 37-38.

[31] See Stephens editions (1546 and 1549), based partly on “manuscripts in the Royal Library, and …[on] the Complutensian text,” ibid., p. 38.

[32] See Beza’s editions (1565, 1576, 1582, 1589, and 1598), ibid., p. 39.

[33] PA’s second source, Vance, quotes King James to this effect. “I wish some special pains were taken for an uniform translation, which should be done by he best learned men in both Universities, then reviewed by the Bishops, presented to the Privy Council, lastly ratified by the Royal authority, to be read in the whole Church, and none other.” Loc. cit.

[34] Bear in mind that, during the 17th century, a rift was forming between the king and parliament. This would issue in the English Civil War and, eventually, the execution, by order of parliament, of King Charles I.

[35] PA’s argument could be formalized this way. Premise 1: If the New Testament is the Word of God, then the New Testament is textually reliable. But, Premise 2: The New Testament is not textually reliable. Conclusion: Therefore, the New Testament is not the Word of God. The argument is deductively valid. However, Premise 1 is open to criticism. I have not undertaken this project here. Rather, I have argued that Premise 2 is false. The New Testament is textually reliable. If I am correct about this, PA’s argument fails.

As an aside, astute readers will no doubt have noticed that the lines "That's not faith. That's insanity." do not appear on the version of the picture-text that I installed atop this page. This in itself is an interesting exercise in textual criticism. It suggests that this polemic has been edited by one or more parties as it has assumed its role as an internet "meme."