Theology: December 2006 Archives

Real Theocracy

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I've said many times before that I think anyone who is seriously worried about theocracy in the United States in the near future is basically paranoid and ignorant. This view requires being paranoid about the likelihood of theocratic extremists getting a hold even on evangelicalism, never mind of the government. It relies on gross ignorance of what evangelicals actually believe and of how remote from the center of evangelicalism the radical extremists called dominionists really are. The people holding this ridiculous view aren't really complaining about theocracy to begin with, when it really comes down to it. It's more a complaint about people who think undefended moral views can be a basis for favoring a particular public policy. Since virtually everyone thinks that, at least in practice, it's pretty silly to complain about others who do it simply because their undefended moral views are also undefended religious views.

But there is a movement in another country right now toward something that literally would be theocracy. 48 members of the Polish Parliament want to name Jesus Christ as the King of Poland. This one is also extremely unlikely to happen, but it is technically theocracy in a very grossly literalistic way. Their proposal wouldn't make Poland a theocracy in practice, just in theory, the way the United Kingdom isn't really a monarchy in practice, just in theory. But it would, technically, be theocracy, at least given the premise that Jesus Christ is indeed God, as these Polish members of Parliament surely think.

For the record, Eugene Volokh's speculation (in the above-linked post) as to the reasons why the Roman Catholic Church opposes this move is wrong. At present Roman Catholicism officially believes the historic position of Christianity that most Protestants also believe (at least in theory), which is that the church is not a political entity but a spiritual entity. It has no earthly domain, and where the medieval view went wrong was in thinking that Christianity could control certain territory to begin with. In a sense he's right that this move would serve to downgrade Jesus' authority, but it's not for the reasons he gives. It's because political authority is already all under God's sovereignty, and making Jesus just like an earthly king, even one with absolute power within a certain domain, is to downgrade someone who has in his death and resurrection been declared the king of all creation and has just yet not returned to claim that and to overthrow all realms who would oppose his reign. This move both denies the futurity of his reign and affirms a more limited, superficial kind of reign now.

This is the the thirty-fifth post in my Theories of Knowledge and Reality series. Follow the link for more on the series and for links to other entries as they appear. In the last post, I continued a series within the series on philosophical theology, looking at a thorny problem about divine omniscience with respect to time. This post moves on to questions about omniscience with respect to human freedom.

A second puzzle related to omniscience is how an omniscient being could know the future given human free will. While the first omniscience puzzle is largely a problem for an atemporal God, this puzzle is primarily for a temporal God, although we will see that God’s being atemporal is not going to be enough for a complete answer for many theists. The problem is basically as follows:

If God knows that I will do something tomorrow, then it necessarily follows that I will do it. That seems to imply that I will not be able to do otherwise. How, then, is divine foreknowledge compatible with human freedom? If God knows the future, it seems that we are not free.

Adrian Warnock has been presenting an interview with Wayne Grudem in several parts. In part 7, Grudem presents an argument against the position my congregation takes on baptism, and I don't think the argument should ultimately be convincing, so I wanted to respond to it here.

Paedobaptists baptize their children as infants. They do this as an indication that they place their children in God's hands while dedicating themselves to raising this child to understand the Christian gospel and to train the child in godliness. Credobaptists think children should wait until they can express their commitment to Christ before being baptized, since baptism should be something only a conscious believer should undergo. I didn't know this, but Grudem says the Evangelical Free Church has been allowing people to do either, according to whichever view they agree with. (Peter Kirk notes in the comments that the Church of England allows both as well. Matthew Sims says the Free Presbyterian Church does as well, and PamBG says the British Methodists also do. I didn't know that for any of them.) Grudem has welcomed this position and encouraged others to take it. It turns out to be the same position my congregation has had since the late 70s, when they first formed. But Grudem now worries that the position cannot hold up and will ultimately implode because of its attempt to reconcile two views that cannot be reconciled. I disagree.

This is the the thirty-fourth post in my Theories of Knowledge and Reality series. Follow the link for more on the series and for links to other entries as they appear. In the last post, I started a series within the series on philosophical theology, beginning with omnipotence and possibility. Now we turn to the first of two posts related to omniscience.

We might define omniscience in a similar way to how we initially defined omnipotence. We could say that it means knowing everything. That will not do, because omniscience cannot mean knowing things that are false. Omniscient beings could only know what is true. But maybe omniscience means knowing every truth. Some will want to retain that definition, while others will modify it further. One issue that will affect this is as follows.

Does God know what time it is? If God is in time, then hardly anyone thinks there will be a problem with thinking God knows what time it is. But some people think of God as outside time. In the next post on omniscience and freedom I'll look at one reason some people are attracted to that ideal (some think it solves problems about how God knows what's future to us). Another reason reason is that some simply view temporality as a limitation that a perfect being would not have. A third reason sometimes comes up in relation the cosmological argument, although it wasn't important to the version of that argument that I discussed earlier in this series of posts. Some people think there could not have been an infinite past, because an actual infinite is impossible. We could never have reached the present, because that would have involved having counted to infinity, which is impossible. Not everyone agrees with this line of argument, but those who do had better not think of God as experiencing time the way we do. If they did, then God would have had to have existed for an actual infinite length of time. Whatever reasons some might have, it is by far the dominant view within theism historically speaking, even if most contemporary theistic philosophers have abandoned it.

So can an atemporal God know what time it is? If not, is that a problem for omniscience?

Omnipotence and Possibility

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This is the the thirty-third post in my Theories of Knowledge and Reality series. Follow the link for more on the series and for links to other entries as they appear. In the last post, I finished up the final post on the problem of evil. This post begins what I expect to be a four-part series on philosophical theology.

[Note: The next few posts on philosophical theology are derived in part from discussions in Gregory E. Ganssle, Thinking About God (2004) InterVarsity Press.]

Philosophical theology is just philosopher-speak for thinking about what God might be like if God exists. Three philosophically important features traditionally have been omnipotence, omniscience, and complete goodness, and some interesting issues come up in the Ganssle book related to these three. The issue I'm dealing with in this post has come up before in relation to the problem of evil, but I thought it was worth a more extended discussion in light of its relevance for the issues that I think are much more interesting that will come in the next few posts.

The puzzle is sometimes given about whether God could make a rock so big that God could not move it. If omnipotence is the ability to do anything, then it seems God could. But then there would be a rock that God could not move, and that could never be true if God is omnipotent. So God must be unable to make such a rock. But then there is a limit to God’s ability, and does that mean God is not omnipotent? So either way God is not omnipotent. If God can make the rock, then God is not omnipotent. If God cannot make the rock, then God is not omnipotent.

This is the the thirty-second post in my Theories of Knowledge and Reality series. Follow the link for more on the series and for links to other entries as they appear. In the last post, I looked at a vagueness problem that comes up in some of the questions people might ask as part of the evidential problem of evil. In this last post of the problem of evil, I respond to the last of five questions I originally asked in presenting the evidential problem of evil.

E. Even if these questions can all be answered somewhat satisfactorily, we do not have a complete explanation of evil. Isn’t that still evidence against God, if we can’t come up with a complete explanation of the amount of evil, the kinds of evil, the distribution of evil, the depths of evil, the length of time evil occurs, and so on? Explaining some evil helps resist seeing that evil as evidence against God, since it explains why God would allow that evil. But how can that remove all the evidence that the total sum of evil presents against God?

The case William Rowe presents is a deer who suffers and then dies in a forest fire, and no one ever even finds out about it. This seems to be completely meaningless. It does not help the deer. It does not help anyone else. Could God have a reason for such suffering?

This is the the thirty-first post in my Theories of Knowledge and Reality series. Follow the link for more on the series and for links to other entries as they appear. In the last post, I continued looking at responses to a set of questions about particular kinds of evil or ways of evil that come up in the evidential problem of evil. This post contains a detour on one general problem with questions of this sort, before we return to the final question in the next post (which I had originally intended to treat here as well, but I thought each discussion was long enough to deserve separate posts).

Several of the questions I've been looking at have problems with vagueness. I don't mean that the questions are not stated clearly. I mean that they are talking about phenomena that admit of degrees, and the nature of vagueness in our ability to speak about such phenomena precisely will sometimes lead to problems when we ask moral questions about these matters. It will help to restate the general sort of problem, and then I'll identify where the difficulty can sometimes lie.

So it might well be that God has a plan for dealing with evil, and that plan requires things to take a form much more like what we have than would be the case with a shorter period of evil in the world, with much less evil, manifesting itself in much less serious ways. If so, then we have a potential explanation for something more like the kinds of evil in the ways that it does appear. But could God have achieved these purposes without allowing it to be quite so bad? Could the lessons of the Holocaust have been learned without so many people dying or suffering? Could the world have learned what it needs to learn with one fewer instance of genocide? Could the recent tsunami in Asia have achieved whatever good it was supposed to have achieved without quite so many people?

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