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J.P. Moreland's ETS Paper and Extra-Biblical Theological Knowledge

Philosopher J. P. Moreland is a dear friend with whom I co-edited (with W. L. Craig) a book three years ago, To Everyone An Answer: A Case for the Christian Worldview (InterVarsity Press, 2004).

Last week at the annual meeting of the Evangelical Theological Society (14-16 November 2007), Moreland delivered a paper that caused quite a stir, "How Evangelicals Became Over-Committed to the Bible and What can be Done about It." (You can find the paper on the web site for his book The Kingdom Triangle). It all began last Wednesday with a Christianity Today blog post in which his paper presentation at ETS was covered. (See Moreland's response here). Not only were there numerous comments posted in the combox of the CT post, scores of bloggers followed up with their own assessments of Moreland's paper and thesis.

Some of the anti-natural law (and anti-natural theology) commentators on the CT blog and elsewhere are deeply troubling to me, since they seem to not understand how difficult it is to extricate oneself from the force of natural law reasoning. Consider a brief argument I present in a small article I recently published in the Catholic Social Science Review XII (2007), "Doing What Comes Naturally and Not Knowing It: A Reflection on J. Budziszewski’s Work" (footnotes omitted):

The second... argument goes like this: the Scriptural passages most often cited in defense of natural law (e.g. Romans 1 and 2, especially 2:15, which speaks of the law “written on our hearts”) do not teach what natural law thinkers think it teaches, namely, that there are moral truths accessible to those with no direct contact with special revelation. For example, Evangelical theologian Carl F. H. Henry writes:
The dual reference to law of nature and law of God presumably arose from the Apostle Paul's teaching in Romans 1 and 2. John Murray in his volume on Paul's epistle to the Romans in The New International Commentary se-ries argues that the term `law of nature’ is a Christian concept rooted in Scripture, not a secular concept to be grasped independently of a revela-tory epistemology. To interpret Romans 1 and 2 in deistic terms of natural religion is unjustifiable.

Although this is not the place to assess Henry’s exegesis, it seems to me that his Scriptural citation is not based on a careful reading or understanding of natural law. For if he had truly grasped the tradition he critiques he would understand that his own point of view--the alleged biblical rejection of natural law theory--is itself dependent on moral notions not derived from special revelation. That is, Henry is affirming and defending a self-refuting position. Let me explain. By claiming that natural law thinkers have incorrectly interpreted the book of Romans, Henry is presupposing a moral notion that is logically prior to his exegesis of scripture: texts should be interpreted accurately. This, of course, is grounded in more primitive moral notions: to accurately interpret a text one should do so fairly and honestly, and one should pursue the truth while interpreting texts. Both these moral commands are logically prior to, and thus not derived from, scripture itself, for in order to extract truth from scripture, obedience to these moral commands is a necessary condition. This means that Henry, ironically, must rely on a moral law known apart from scripture in exegeting the scripture that he claims does not affirm the knowledge of the moral law apart from Scripture

Comments (97)

Wow, Frank, thanks! I had absolutely no idea this was going on, so you're putting me into the picture for the first time.

It seems to me Moreland is _obviously_ right. In fact, I've sometimes over the years wondered if my idea that "some Baptists, etc., are opposed to the idea of the natural law" is a caricature, based on an over-interpretation of my own memories of childhood and young adulthood, but it seems it's not a caricature.

C. S. Lewis's fiction was the big breakthrough for me away from this idea. It was always quite clear from the sheer _fact_ of writing fiction of his sort (both Narnia and, even more, the space trilogy) that Lewis thought we could get a handle on how things should be, on the moral law, and even on what God might be expected to do in hypothetical situations. The space trilogy made me uncomfortable at first for that very reason. I wondered whether this wasn't somehow presumptuously "telling stories about God." But gradually I realized that there is no problem with that use of the imagination once one no longer believes that the intellect is fallen in such a way that we cannot see God as in any sense _reasonable_ or _comprehensible_.

Since then my involvement in the pro-life movement has done the rest. Attempts to base a prohibition on abortion purely on Scripture are inherently limited. There are some verses that seem to address the human nature of the unborn child, or even to take it for granted. But they are few and inexplicit. And of course, human nature being endlessly inventive for evil, there are always going to be horrible things people think of to do that don't fall under any category expressly addressed in Scripture. We have to have access to morality by way of the natural light.

By the way, I didn't by that comment mean to endorse JP's view in the cessationist/continuationist controversy. I don't have much of a horse in that race and am willing to be guided by the evidence. I'm what you might call a "contingent cessationist." And it seems, too, that the sociological analysis of the evangelical tendency to cessationism may not be correct there. That controversy is ancient. The Latin martyrdom of Felicity and Perpetua, circa 200 A.D., begins with a polemical defense of continuationism, making it clear that the controversy was already raging then. So it seems implausible to say that many evangelicals reject visions, dreams, and words of prophecy and wisdom as continuing revelations _just because_ they are reacting to the charismatic movement or being reactionary generally.

“Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth.” 2 Tim 2:15 ESV

Mr. Beckwith, this is one example in Scripture (special revelation) that gives the exegete the moral notion to interpret texts accurately, apart from “so-called” natural law.

Stephen:

I think you're missing the point of my critique of Henry. I am not suggesting that one cannot find in Scripture passages that affirm that one ought to be moral in a variety of situations and circumstances including the reading of texts. After all, one must have a prior understanding of one's moral obligation to read texts before one reads 2 Tim 2:15. That is, the first time you read this passage, you probably understood it to mean that one ought to properly exegete God's word. But you could not have come to that conclusion unless you accepted a more general principle--one ought to interpret texts accurately--that was logically prior to your reading of 2 Tim 2:15. So, just like Carl F. H. Henry, you must rely on a moral law known apart from scripture in order to properly exegete the scripture that you claim does not require that one must rely on a moral law known apart from scripture.

Having said that, it seems there is a good reason to believe that "word of truth" in 2 Tim 2:15 may not be referring to the written Word of God. The context of the passage seems to be oral interaction between Christians, not exegesis of Scripture (I Tim 2:14-19):

Keep reminding them of these things. Warn them before God against quarreling about words; it is of no value, and only ruins those who listen. Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a workman who does not need to be ashamed and who correctly handles the word of truth. Avoid godless chatter, because those who indulge in it will become more and more ungodly. Their teaching will spread like gangrene. Among them are Hymenaeus and Philetus, who have wandered away from the truth. They say that the resurrection has already taken place, and they destroy the faith of some. Nevertheless, God's solid foundation stands firm, sealed with this inscription: "The Lord knows those who are his,"[a] and, "Everyone who confesses the name of the Lord must turn away from wickedness.

So, now we have a dispute. You think this passage is an instruction for textual exegesis. I think it is a discussion on how Christians ought to properly treat the words that come out of their mouths when communicating the Gospel.

I'm not saying my interpretation is correct. But one can raise plausible reasons as to why your interpretation is not obvious.

Warmly,
Frank

Yes, you also need to have vision in order to see the words, read the text, understand, and so forth (or sufficient nerve endings in the fingers for Braille, etc).

As God’s image bearers, we are cognitive beings; sentient life forms, rational creatures. We have emotions, reason, senses, and all that. I’m not saying that apart from Scripture, natural man and his natural understanding doesn’t exist.

Scripture reveals to us that we will have an understanding (Prov. 3:5). In revealing this to us, Scripture commands us not to lean on our own understanding. Scripture reveals to us that wisdom is given by God, not inherent in man or from nature. Scripture reveals to us that knowledge and understanding come from the mouth of God, not from man’s fallen reason.

“For the LORD gives wisdom; from his mouth come knowledge and understanding;” Prov. 2:6 ESV

Let’s put it this way, if you removed any and all biblical pollution from the world and left man to himself in nature, he would never escape the darkness which is the futility of his mind.

Morals, truth, and meaning, as revealed in Scripture, would never be discovered by man’s reason alone. As fallen individuals, I as an example, we are confronted with the truth about God while still in our fallen and corrupted state. Scripture reforms our distorted view of reality, and is a means toward conforming us into the moral character of Christ. When we approach the text in our fallen state, many times we find that it is our remaining sin that the Scriptures take aim at confronting. When we sanctify Christ as Lord in our heart/mind (1 Pet. 3:15) and take every thought captive to obey Christ, we are no longer relying on natural anything, but supernatural everything.

When read in light of this, natural law and natural theology is viewed and understood as darkness, of which Scripture is light.

I would love to discuss the "word of truth" passage with you. Would you be willing to go to the original languages? Or did you have in mind more of a philosophic discussion?

Stephen Macasil
Jude 3

"When we sanctify Christ as Lord in our heart/mind (1 Pet. 3:15) and take every thought captive to obey Christ, we are no longer relying on natural anything, but supernatural everything."

I think that the entire first chapter of John's gospel supports this statement. The exercise of reason alone, even by a man with a terminal degree in philosophy, won't help that man find Truth in Scripture, if he has not the ability to put his ego and his intellect aside in order to listen to the small, still voice of the Holy Spirit.

...we are no longer relying on natural anything,...

Better take that poetically, not literally, or you'll starve to death.

Zippy, supernatural EVERYTHING!

Here are some sections of Matt. 6...

11 Give us this day our daily bread,

31 Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ 32 For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. 33 But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.

Death has lost it's sting. My day of death has been appointed. I trust that my Father in heaven will supernaturally provide food for me. This has been revealed to me in Scripture. This is why I give thanks to God for the food I am given by Him to eat.


Yes, but Stephen, you don't find out _how_ to get your daily bread--how to drive a car, program a computer, or any of a zillion other factual things you need to know--from the Bible. Really, you can't take this "Bible for everything" matter literally.

"Really, you can't take this "Bible for everything" matter literally."

I would say this is actually not a question of "can't" but a question of "don't", or, more accurately, of "choose not to." There is nothing natural stopping any person from giving everything he has to the poor and following the example of Jesus, who had no place to rest his head. Nothing, that is, other than fear and social pressure.
There is, in fact, no way of knowing that the homeless "bum" carrying the sign saying "Repent: the End is Near" whether in a cartoon, or on a city street, is not a saint.

Wycliffite "the Bible literally IS identical to the second Person of the Trinity" theology seems to be alive and well in certain parts of Christianity, as indicated by some of the comments on other blogs about this tempest. In my view that involves a 'displacement' of the Real Presence in the Eucharist, confected by a priest validly ordained through apostolic succession, which truly is the body, blood, soul, and divinity of Christ. Rather than approaching, consuming, and becoming one with Christ literally in the Eucharist, one literally consumes and becomes one with Christ in the reading of the canonical text (much as Muslims come into the Real Presence of Allah in the recitation of the Alcoran of Mahomet). The underlying historical reason for this seems to be that in order to confect a Bible one needs only a secular printing press; whereas to confect the Sacrament one needs a visible apostolic Church founded by Christ, with all that that entails.

But of course consuming the Eucharist merely requires humanity, mouth and tongue, whereas "consuming" a text requires a whole natural law natural theology intellectual foundation -- even if one self-contradictorily denies that requirement. To his credit Wycliffe seemed at least at times to understand this, to understand the need to "divorce" the consumption of Scripture-as-text from every other contingent (upon logic, natural law, natural reason, hermeneutics, etc) consumption-of-text; thus his literal equation of Scripture with the Uncreated Logos, the Second Person of the Most Holy Trinity.

There seem to be layers of confusion here. Consider this statement: "I think that the entire first chapter of John's gospel supports this statement. The exercise of reason alone, even by a man with a terminal degree in philosophy, won't help that man find Truth in Scripture, if he has not the ability to put his ego and his intellect aside in order to listen to the small, still voice of the Holy Spirit."

The first chapter of John is exactly the point. The Word, the Logos, is the source of creation. So, reason is never ontologically alone; it ultimately depends on God. But "reason" is more than syllogistic logic, empirical knowledge, or analytical calculation. It is the intellectual power of the soul to acquire knowledge of the order and nature of things. It seems to be something that God took for granted when he rightly condemned Cain for killing Abel. There was no written Word of God, and no criminal statutes at the time. And yet, Cain was expected to know that murder was wrong. When God destroyed the world by a flood, the people at the time had no awareness of any Word of God written. Yet, they had acted in ways that they knew were wrong that justified God's punishment. Plato (see Gorgias, Republic) rightly saw the failure of moral relativism, just as Christians do. And yet, he was not informed by special revelation.

The problem, I agree, is philosophical, not biblical. But it is the philosophy of William of Ockham. He gave us nominalism and voluntarism, which has been accepted hook-line-and-sinker by some contemporary Reformed-types (though not all) who don't realize that their doing of theology and reading of Scripture has been strongly shaped by it. The idea of God's capriciousness does not come from the Bible per se; it comes from a voluntarist understanding of God read back into Scripture. For example, the idea that justification is only forensic, again has Ockhamist roots. This is why Luther hated Aristotle and loved Ockham. After all, once one is committed to the idea that natures and essences are merely words for what we empirically observe rather than things out-there with real ontological status, then there is no nature for grace to change.

Of course, there is nothing wrong with employing philosophy in doing theology. It is indispensable. But some philosophical schools of thought are more congenial to Christian theism than others. Ockham's was not. An important work in this regard is John Paul II's Encyclical, Fides Et Ratio, which you can find here: http://www.vatican.va/holy_father/john_paul_ii/encyclicals/documents/hf_jp-ii_enc_15101998_fides-et-ratio_en.html

Rodak, even the saintly bum with the sign needs to know all manner of secular things not found in the Bible--like where the local soup kitchen is, or where the highway is, or how to find a place to sleep at night. Again, you _can't_ find out everything you need to know about every subject from the Bible. Literally can't. As Zippy says, if you try, you'll be dead.

Mr. Beckwith, the question then becomes: who's reason? Man's reason or God's reason? Scripture reveals to us that we are not to lean on our own understanding. I don't think anyone is denying that man has "intellectual power of the soul to acquire knowledge..." What is at stake is who's we are to rely on.

Revealed Theologians (those whom are opposed to natural theology), are simply putting forth the biblical argument that man and his reason alone cannot construct a unified field of knowledge within which he can understand himself, the world around him, his meaning, his purpose, etc. This is why Plato never came to the conclusion "do all things to the glory of God." Plato was in darkness, and offers nothing of benefit to Christians besides a wonderful example of the absolute necessity of God's self-disclosure of Himself by way of special revelation.

Therefore, having this ministry by the mercy of God, we do not lose heart. But we have renounced disgraceful, underhanded ways. We refuse to practice cunning or to tamper with God's word, but by the open statement of the truth we would commend ourselves to everyone's conscience in the sight of God. And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled only to those who are perishing. In their case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God. For what we proclaim is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, with ourselves as your servants for Jesus' sake. For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. 2 Cor. 4:1-6 ESV

I would like to ask you about your Cain example. Are you saying that Cain's action was wrong because he knew it was wrong but did it anyway?

Of course, natural theology is incomplete. No natural theologian has ever claimed that it can provide to us the whole counsel of God. This is why St. Thomas Aquinas wrote of Divine Law, by which he meant those things revealed to us only by special revelation for the salvation of our souls. The Angelic Doctor would say Amen to the claim that "man and his reason alone cannot construct a unified field of knowledge within which he can understand himself, the world around him, his meaning, his purpose, etc."

In The Summa Theologica (Q. 91, art.4) St. Thomas squarely confronts the issue of the relationship between natural law, human law, and revelation. The question is asked "whether there was any need for divine law?" And by divine law St. Thomas means the Scriptures. Thomas presents and replies to three objections to the necessity of divine law. However, prior to replying to these specific objections, St. Thomas provides four reasons for affirming that "besides the natural and human law it was necessary for the directing of human conduct to have a divine law."

For example, St. Thomas writes that it is quite clear that when man reflects on his nature he comes to see that he has certain ends or purposes which flow from his natural ability. However, "if man were ordained to no other end than that which is proportionate to his natural ability, there would be no need for man to have any further direction, on the part of his reason, in addition to the natural law and humanly devised law which is derived from it." But man is designed for eternal happiness that exceeds his natural ability. For this reason, God must provide to man a revelation in addition to natural and human law so that man can be directed to fulfill his divine purpose.

So, at the end of the day, Stephen is a peeping Thomist. :-)

Stephen,

You cannot even find your Bible, much less understand what the little squiggly black marks on the page mean, without using reason. The fact that rational thought is unselfconscious in these cases does not make it nonexistent.

"Lean not unto thine own understanding" is not an injunction for you to stop using reason or an indictment of natural theology. It is an injunction not to forget the commandments passed on by a godly father, and by extension, the commandments of God. For an example of someone who expressly violated this verse, look at John Toland, or Matthew Tindal, or Voltaire, or David Hume.

"Are you saying that Cain's action was wrong because he knew it was wrong but did it anyway?"

That would seem to be the case. Cain had the capacity to know good from evil because his parents ate of the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. This knowledge is what allows a human being to be a moral agent. It is also the reason that the first humans were expelled from the Garden. Prior to the Fall, humans only had to choose from among their appetites. This took no more reason that a doggy needs to go for his bowl, rather than his leash.
But reason allows us to talk ourselves into choosing evil often enough that only by relinquishing our dependence on reason and accessing the truth through prayer and divine grace can we hope to know the good. Our soul must turn away from the world, and toward God. We must relinquish our delusional "mastery" and practice obedience. It was Cain's reasoning out that he had been treated unfairly, which hurt his pride, that caused him to kill his brother. Had he not been able to work this out in his mind, he could have accepted it as God's will, and gone about his business. The Good is written on our hearts, which is the sense in which we are made in God's image. The machinations of the rational mind is what turns us away from our gifts. Reason has become indispensable, but at great cost.

Well, so much for mathematics, music, and a knowledge of God and the good, not to mention naming the animals. On Rodak's view, Adam in the garden had a mind no higher than that of an animal, but he had a really, really, loving heart.

Mr. Beckwith,

You are the first natural theologian that I have heard say "Of course, natural theology is incomplete." When we ask the question "what is the origin of truth, justice, morals, meaning, and beauty?", and one answers "man's reason, man's faith, man's experience, or man's feelings, our response to them is that those abstracted aspects of man that have been absolutized as the standard measure of all things, are incomplete and will not be sufficient means to achieving certainty (like a taxi cab that you paid to take you to the airport that drops you off a mile short, making you walk the rest of the way).

To narrow the discussion just a bit, this philosophical disagreement is directly tied into the way apologetics and evangelism is done. I am not for or against presuppositionalism or evidentialism, I haven't bought in to those as the only choices, I think it is a false dichotomy. At Faith Defenders/Biblical Thought, our apologetic method is "Doxological Apologetics."

Doxological Apologetics

The primary motivation of apologetics ought to be the glory of God. Thus, apologetics should not be seen primarily as an academic and philosophical exercise where one is motivated out of a quest for intellectual enlightenment. Rather, the motivation for defending the faith should arise out of a sincere heart of love and gratitude for Jesus Christ. Apologetics should be man loving God with a renewed mind (Romans 12:2).

So, if we are to contend for the faith that has been delivered once for all to the saints (Jude 3), we must first sanctify Christ AS LORD in our heart/mind, making us ready to give a defense (1 Pet. 3:15), continually taking captive (as if prisoners of war) every thought under the Lordship of Christ (2 Cor. 10:5)!

Thanks for the nick-name Frank, but I'm hardly a peeping Thomist. I have demonstrated that the 5 traditional proofs are a bust. Aquinas stole them from the Muslims (al-Ghazali, Averroes), who stole them from Aristotle who was trying to prove the existence of a being that was "thought thinking itself." Aquinas ended up with a lesser god by way of his invalid arguments. The 5 proofs borrow from the Bible, making his argument invalid. And his biggest fallacy was attempting to make his way from the finite to the infinite by way of human reason alone. Any method that aims to prove the existence of the God of the Bible and can validly end up with Shiva is not a method that Christians should use, especially if intellectual credibility is desired.

What problems did Adam have to solve, prior to the Fall? Whether Adam said "Pig!" or "Gip!" when presented with a swine is not really a matter of any substance. Adam was "higher" than a beast, certainly; he had language. But all his needs were provided for. He didn't need a roadmap to the nearest soup kitchen.

Tim, you can't even understand my position with reason, so what's your point?

Rodak,

"...ate of the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. This knowledge is what allows a human being to be a moral agent."

You may have a terminal problem here. If free moral agency presupposes the knowledge of good and evil which chronologically came after the eating of the fruit of the tree of the KoG&E, then on what grounds can Adam & Eve be held accountable for the sin of eating it?

Stephen,

The point is that your strong claims about natural theology are prima facie absurd. If you insist on redefining terms that have existing meanings, you must expect to have to do some explaining to people who are participants in the conversation that stretches back across the centuries.

Here's an example. You write to Frank:

You are the first natural theologian that I have heard say "Of course, natural theology is incomplete."
What can we think, when we read something like this, except that you must never have read Aquinas -- indeed, that you must be unfamiliar with pretty nearly the entire literature of the natural theology tradition? No one who knows the history of natural theology would recognize it in the caricature you are attacking.

"...what grounds can Adam & Eve be held accountable for the sin of eating it?"

That's a very good question for which I have no clear-cut answer. The sin is obviously disobedience. But the story makes it explicit that Adam and Eve knew good and evil only after eating of the fruit:

3:22 Yahweh God said, “Behold, the man has become like one of us, knowing good and evil. Now, lest he reach out his hand, and also take of the tree of life, and eat, and live forever...”

Clearly, A&E were to obey without understanding why. I hate to keep comparing our first parents to beasts, but they were apparently expected to obey much as a good dog obeys.

Tim, I think you're right.

"you must expect to have to do some explaining to people who are participants in the conversation that stretches back across the centuries."

There is no such thing as Natural Theolog-y, only Natural Theolog-ies. I have found it difficult to lump all natural theologies under one broad brushstroke. Perhaps that is where we should have started: defining our terms (who's never heard that before :)

Natural Theology: theology deriving its knowledge of God from the study of nature independent of special revelation - Merriam-Webster

This is a fairly accurate definition, however, not all natural theologians would adopt this reduced statement as their position.

Then we have Paley's version, and on and on.

From William to William (Paley to Lane Craig), Western, European, British, White, Judeo-Christian apologists claim that they base Christianity on universal and absolute truths. These universal truths are known, understood, believed, accepted as true, by all of mankind regardless of time, place, race, culture, or religion. When asked for proof of these universal truths, the general answer is that they are "intuitive" and "self-evident."

How can an idea be truly self-evident and intuitive if it has not been known or believed by all people throughout all of human history in all places and in all times? If one man's self-evident truth is another man's self-evident lie, evidently we didn't have a "self-evident" truth to begin with.

One example of this is free-will. (not to spark the free-will debate here, only an example) Endless theologies are built around the universal and absolute truth of free-will. When asked of the origin of the idea of free-will, the answer is usually that it is intuitive and self-evident. When asked if the Bible teaches free-will or not, the universal is preferred over Scripture, read back into Scripture, thus proving free-will.

Like Natural Theologians, Revealed Theologians base Christianity on universal and absolute truths. The difference between the two is concerning the origin of the universal and absolute truth. One says nature, the other says revelation.

As I pointed out, the outcome of this debate determines how we as Christians do apologetics and evangelism. Theology determines apologetics.

And I'm enjoying this discussion!

The creation myth also leaves this enigma hanging: if everything that God made and put into the Garden was good, where did the Serpent come from? Or, since the Serpent is only described as "subtle", not as evil, why was the Serpent punished by God for having tested Adam and Eve and found them wanting? Since the same verses I quoted above indicate that Adam and Eve *never were immortal*, did the Serpent not tell Eve the truth when he told her that she would not die *as a result of* eating the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil? And did eating the fruit not, by God's own testimony, accomplish exactly what the Serpent told her it would accomplish?

Stephen:
[Stephen's understanding of] Scripture reveals to us that we are not to lean on our own understanding.

I definitely don't plan to lean on my understanding of that, because I don't think it is coherent. I think I am going to have to parse that sentence as asserting its own irrationality, and although that does give rise to something of a Godelian paradox I think the assertion-of-its-own-irrationality part is true.

Frank:
I'm definitely not as well-versed in the standard moves as my fellow bloggers here, in part since I've never been in a position where I've had to try to make my Christianity centrally about the Bible as opposed to being centrally about Christ Crucified in the Eucharist and in part because they (a group which includes you) are just bloody smarter than me on the subject. But I guess I'm not 100% on board with the roots of bible-idolatry being historically Ockahamite, or shall I say being limited strictly to Ockhamism. Wycliffe at least thought of himself as a metaphysical realist in contrast to Ockham and his followers, if I recall correctly, though (again if my understanding is correct) that ended up leading him to his own kind of la la land in which he identified Scripture literally with the Second Person of the Trinity.

How can an idea be truly self-evident and intuitive if it has not been known or believed by all people throughout all of human history in all places and in all times?

Because people are unreasonable. They claim not to know all kinds of things that they really do know; which is not an indictment of reason. They even claim things like that their understanding of Scripture is that we are not to trust our understanding.

Stephen,

It is not a good idea to define an intellectual discipline or an historical tradition by an appeal to the dictionary. Lexicographers are human, and they are rarely experts on most of the subjects they touch on. In this case, you sense that the dictionary definition is not quite right; I agree, but I would state my dissent more strongly.

It is a better procedure to read through at least a few dozen works of the people who have, both by their own explicit profession and by the common acknowledgment of scholars who have come after them, worked within and contributed to that discipline or tradition and to see how they have described what they were doing.

There have been, here and there, a few misguided Natural Theologians who attempt to

base Christianity on universal and absolute truths.
But they are in a vanishingly small minority. The overwhelmingly more common position is that the creation affords some information that, properly understood, permits us to infer some things that are also knowable by revelation, but that these things are not even nearly the whole of Christianity and in particular that they are not sufficient for salvation.

This point is important, because it seems that you are implicitly setting up an opposition between reason and revelation that is by no means present in the minds of those who advocate and work in natural theology. They see reason as playing a twofold role: (1) to lead us (if we are willing diligently to follow) to a knowledge of some things that may prepare us the more readily to receive a revelation, and (2) to enable us to discriminate among the myriad purported revelations, setting aside the false and embracing the true.

Thus, Locke:

Reason is natural revelation, whereby the eternal Father of light and fountain of all knowledge, communicates to mankind that portion of truth which he has laid within the reach of their natural faculties: revelation is natural reason enlarged by a new set of discoveries communicated by God immediately; which reason vouches the truth of, by the testimony and proofs it gives that they come from God. So that he that takes away reason to make way for revelation, puts out the light of both, and does much what the same as if he would persuade a man to put out his eyes, the better to receive the remote light of an invisible star by a telescope.
Essay IV, 19, 4

It is for this reason that George Park Fisher, in the third chapter of his Manual of Natural Theology, speaks of the necessities of man which natural religion fails to meet.

It is for this reason that, even before he wrote his Natural Theology, William Paley wrote the Horae Paulinae and A View of the Evidences of Christianity.

It is for this reason that Richard Watson opens his Defence of Revealed Religion with a presentation of the argument from design and then follows it up immediately with a presentation of the argument for the authenticity and credibility of the New Testament.

This explains why Thomas Chalmers closes over three hundred densely packed pages of his Bridgewater treatise On the Power, Wisdom, and Goodness of God with a chapter entitled "On the Defects and Uses of Natural Theology" in which he absolutely rejects an "academic theism" that "might seem to leave a revelation or a gospel wholly uncalled for."

This is why William Lane Craig, in his popular apologetic works and talks, commonly presents the Kalam cosmological argument -- not as an alternative route to Christianity, but as a prolegomenon, to shake the presumption of self-satisfied philosophical naturalism -- and then follows it with the historical argument for the resurrection of Jesus.

Examples like this may easily be multiplied by anyone who has read much of the relevant literature.

Finally, many natural theologians, including St. Thomas, hold that although the premises of the arguments of natural theology may be uncontroversial, the arguments themselves are frequently matters of some subtlety and are not suited to persons of all capacities. Not all natural theologians agree, and the case may vary from one argument to another. But it is certainly not true in general to say, as you do above, that

From William to William (Paley to Lane Craig), Western, European, British, White, Judeo-Christian apologists claim that they base Christianity on universal and absolute truths. These universal truths are known, understood, believed, accepted as true, by all of mankind regardless of time, place, race, culture, or religion. When asked for proof of these universal truths, the general answer is that they are "intuitive" and "self-evident."

"...the arguments themselves are frequently matters of some subtlety and are not suited to persons of all capacities."

Alphas, please submit a CV, cover letter, and three letters of recommendation from professionals able to evaluate your capacities.

Betas need not apply.

I think, too, that it's important to note a difference between natural theology and a knowledge of moral truths by the natural light/law. The latter is more likely to be a matter of direct intuition knowable by all men than some of the specific arguments that go under the former heading.

Rodak,

How can you persist in retaining your noble egalitarianism in light of your own obvious intellectual superiority to all of those silly ejumucated people who have to study things before they talk about them?

Tim--

It's my innate humility at work. ;-P

Or, let's say it's my conviction that "things" can be talked about without resort to specialized vocabularies developed in esoteric philosophical disciplines for purposes confined to academia. This is particularly true when the "things" in question are the "things" of Christianity, which is patently accessible to any normal person as revealed in scripture and in the preaching of persons with a vocation to preach. If not, the entire ministry of Jesus Christ was a vanity and a failure.
If you can't deliver your accumulated truths to non-specialists, in ordinary language, then you are cut off from communication with most of mankind, and your valuable knowledge is trapped within the fraternity of a tiny elite. That's not what Christianity is about, imHo.

Rodak,

Brace yourself -- we may agree here, which would indicate that you missed my point. St. Thomas argues that even those without education or the mental capacity to follow complex proofs of the existence and attributes of God can know these things with perfect security through the medium of special revelation.

Some of the arguments of natural theology are complex. You don't really want to deny this, do you? Go here, for example. Or here.

“I definitely don't plan to lean on my understanding of that, because I don't think it is coherent.” - Tim

Tim, you just did.

“They [unreasonable people] even claim things like that their understanding of Scripture is that we are not to trust our understanding.”

Sooner or later this foolishness was bound to happen. Immature and irrational blog-flamers always destroy meaningful conversation.

“Lexicographers are human, and they are rarely experts on most of the subjects they touch on.”

…and natural theologians are???

“This point is important, because it seems that you are implicitly setting up an opposition between reason and revelation that is by no means present in the minds of those who advocate and work in natural theology.”

Tim, you need to slow down and read the discussion that has been taking place here since Frank posted this entry. Regardless of what things seem like to you, it has nothing to do with what I am actually saying. I am not “implicitly setting up an opposition between reason and revelation,” I am arguing from the biblical position that sets up an opposition between man’s reason and God’s revelation. I have already stated that man is rational, and that man has an understanding. Nowhere have I stated that man does not have reason, or that man is not to use reason in his understanding of Scripture, the world around him, his relationship to God etc. Scripture says to trust in the LORD with all you heart, and do not lean on your own understanding (philosophy LXX). This is not optional. It is a command. Instead, in all your ways acknowledge Him, and he shall direct your path.

Just look at your own inability to decipher what’s going on here, in black and white (and some blue). Your own understanding has led you to many misunderstandings. It can’t be trusted, God can be trusted. Lean not, in other words, do not bear your weight upon as if with a staff or cane, your own natural philosophy.

Since this site is now infected by blog-flamers, namely, Tim, expect my participation to diminish.

The argument is concerning the effect that natural theology has on apologetics and evangelism, and its failure to recognize the creation/fall/redemption aspects of metaphysics.

Mr. Beckwith, maybe we can continue the 2 Timothy debate via email. Thanks for providing the forum! It was fun…

Stephen,

In your first two block-quoted comments, you're confusing me with Zippy, from whom the quotations are actually coming. Then you go on to attack me as if I had directed the comments at you. Please try not to do that; it's annoying.

(I think you're also missing Zippy's point, as he was replying to Rodak, not to you. But he can respond for himself.)

Natural theologians have expertise in natural theology. When it comes to defining a discipline, what the practitioners of that discipline actually do is the important thing. I have provided various instances that seem to me to indicate that you have a misconception of the nature of natural theology as it is actually practiced by a substantial number of people engaged in the enterprise. You might want to reflect on the possibility that you're attacking a straw man.

We apparently disagree on the interpretation of Proverbs 3:5. It seems to me that, notwithstanding your repudiation of an anti-rationalist position, you have not staked out a clear realm for the operation of reason. How shall we resolve this disagreement? By appeal to ... what?

"Your own understanding has led you to many misunderstandings."

~Stephan Macasil, 2007

"What we've got here is... failure to communicate. Some men you just can't reach."

~Cool Hand Luke, 1967

Uh, Tim, I don't think Zippy was replying to me in those two block quotes. He was, indeed, replying to Stephen.

Doesn't anybody want to follow up on the questions raised about Genesis by Mr. Beckwith's introduction of the tragedy of Cain?

Dang! You're right, Rodak. It's all so confusing ...

Tim--
Fine. Now that we've got that straight, please explain to me what Eve knew, and when she knew it.

If A&E were punished for disobedience, for what was the Serpent accursed, since he seems to have been speaking truth? If the Serpent was evil, how did he get into the Garden, and from whence? If the Serpent was not created evil, how did he become evil (assuming that since he was accursed, he was evil)?

Rodak,

Huh? Did I say something about Eve?

I thought I was talking (with Stephen) about the nature of the discipline of Natural Theology, which he seems to think is intrinsically unbiblical. I haven't made (here) any claims either for or against the success of the enterprise; we're not that far along yet.

Great example of why I don't lean on my own understanding. Sorry Tim. Please strike-through Tim's name in my previous comment and replace with Zippy. Your point is well taken regarding:

Natural theologians have expertise in natural theology. When it comes to defining a discipline, what the practitioners of that discipline actually do is the important thing. I have provided various instances that seem to me to indicate that you have a misconception of the nature of natural theology as it is actually practiced by a substantial number of people engaged in the enterprise. You might want to reflect on the possibility that you're attacking a straw man.

I don't have any right to regulate what certain persons choose to study in academia in general. It's not my place to judge. The problem that I see is when they begin to lecture to Protestant students that are enrolled in certain Christian universities that have particular doctrinal statements and traditions that are opposed to natural theology's consequences. this creates a tension within the greater curriculum.

I take it you're Roman Catholic, or that many here are. Tim, if I'm wrong, please take no offense. The point is, I would not be allowed, as a Calvinist, to teach soteriology at a Catholic school or church. Nor would I be able to peddle anti-Catholic books, lectures, and literature at a Catholic institution (with the required approval).

Natural theologians however, have been allowed into Protestant schools, bookstores and churches and have peddled their books, lectures, etc., and have no problem sucking up Protestant Evangelical Cash. The Protestant position, historically, is that Scripture alone is the final judge in matters of morals and doctrine. Natural theology cannot fit within those limits. We understand that Roman Catholic's welcome natural theology, natural law and such. We think they're wrong when compared to the Bible, but that's why we're Protestants in the first place. Our commitment to semper reformanda entails that we eliminate natural theology from among our ranks. We respect with the highest respect, Frank Beckwith's departure. We would like to see him pull a bunch of natural theologians out of our schools and maybe start their own school.

So, when Moreland said what he said at ETS, it was an issue for us to deal with. We are in the midst of a powerful reformation at this very moment, and God ordained Moreland's message at the right time. Let it be known, natural theology is fully compatible with Roman Catholicism, but not with those denominations of the Reformation heritage.

Seriously Tim, I apologize.

Stephen:

“They [unreasonable people] even claim things like that their understanding of Scripture is that we are not to trust our understanding.”
Sooner or later this foolishness was bound to happen. Immature and irrational blog-flamers ...

Is it or is it not your own understanding that "Scripture commands us not to lean on our own understanding." ? (That is after all a direct quote). Is citing what you actually said a sign of immaturity and unreason?

...always destroy meaningful conversation.

It seems to me that "meaningful conversation" is begging the question, since precisely what is at issue (at least from my standpoint) is whether what you are contending is or is not even meaningful or coherent.

Ziggy, did you not read my response to Frank's critique of my my response to his critique of Henry? (no wonder things get jumbled quickly)

Yes, you also need to have vision in order to see the words, read the text, understand, and so forth (or sufficient nerve endings in the fingers for Braille, etc).

As God’s image bearers, we are cognitive beings; sentient life forms, rational creatures. We have emotions, reason, senses, and all that. I’m not saying that apart from Scripture, natural man and his natural understanding doesn’t exist.

Scripture reveals to us that we will have an understanding (Prov. 3:5). In revealing this to us, Scripture commands us not to lean on our own understanding. Scripture reveals to us that wisdom is given by God, not inherent in man or from nature. Scripture reveals to us that knowledge and understanding come from the mouth of God, not from man’s fallen reason.

“For the LORD gives wisdom; from his mouth come knowledge and understanding;” Prov. 2:6 ESV

Let’s put it this way, if you removed any and all biblical pollution from the world and left man to himself in nature, he would never escape the darkness which is the futility of his mind.

Morals, truth, and meaning, as revealed in Scripture, would never be discovered by man’s reason alone. As fallen individuals, I as an example, we are confronted with the truth about God while still in our fallen and corrupted state. Scripture reforms our distorted view of reality, and is a means toward conforming us into the moral character of Christ. When we approach the text in our fallen state, many times we find that it is our remaining sin that the Scriptures take aim at confronting. When we sanctify Christ as Lord in our heart/mind (1 Pet. 3:15) and take every thought captive to obey Christ, we are no longer relying on natural anything, but supernatural everything.

When read in light of this, natural law and natural theology is viewed and understood as darkness, of which Scripture is light.

So, to answer you:

Is it or is it not your own understanding that "Scripture commands us not to lean on our own understanding." ? (That is after all a direct quote). Is citing what you actually said a sign of immaturity and unreason?

No, it is not my own understanding that "Scripture..." The understanding that I now have is a biblical understanding of my own understanding.


The understanding that I now have is a biblical understanding of my own understanding.

Stephen,

I do not think you have satisfactorily answered Zippy's question. The above statement is incoherent. It does not hold together under close scrutiny and is in fact self-defeating.

Before you can base your understanding off the Bible, you must first be able to interpret the black lines on the white pages. You need to have a hermeneutic. And that cannot be based on Scripture since it is a prerequisite for viewing the arrangement of jots and tittles that make up Scripture as symbols that carry meaning.

Even if you argue that you could acquire a biblical understanding before you could read by having others teach you what Scripture says, you have still not achieved an understanding that is wholly removed from nature. Because before you can be taught anything via the spoken word you must first acquire a hermeneutic that enables you to interpret certain combinations of sounds as symbols that carry meaning.

If human nature and human reason could achieve no "escape [from] the darkness which is the futility of [the human] mind," then human nature and human reason would be incapable of creating a system of written and aural symbols--a language--that carries any meaningful truths about reality; and human nature and human reason would also be incapable of creating a method of interpreting said symbols--a hermeneutic--that would make the meaning carried in them present to our understanding. Thus, by your own premise, human language is incapable of carrying any meaningful truths about reality, and even if it was the human mind is incapable of making any such truths present to our understanding because it could not reliably extract meaning from language.

But Scripture itself has been written in human language. Thus, Scripture itself is left incapable of carrying any meaningful truths about reality or making any such truths present to our understanding. To deny the ability of human nature and human reason to arrive at any relevant truth without Scripture necessarily leads to denying that Scripture carries any truth that we are capable of understanding

Rodak,

Huh? Did I say something about Eve?

Tim--

At 2:32 p.m. on 11/24, Francis Beckwith introduced the story of Cain and Abel into the discussion to illustrate a point.

At 3:31 p.m., Stephen Macasil responded to Mr. Beckwith's reference to Cain by asking: "Are you saying that Cain's action was wrong because he knew it was wrong but did it anyway?"

At 4:40 p.m., Stephen's question having gone unanswered, I took it up in a comment beginning: "That would seem to be the case. Cain had the capacity to know good from evil because his parents ate of the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil."

At 5:07 p.m., Lydia responded to my comment.

At 5:16 p.m., I responded to Lydia.

At 5:45 p.m., Stephen responded to me, asking: "You may have a terminal problem here. If free moral agency presupposes the knowledge of good and evil which chronologically came after the eating of the fruit of the tree of the KoG&E, then on what grounds can Adam & Eve be held accountable for the sin of eating it?"

At 6:55 p.m., I responded to Stephen's query with a quote from Genesis, followed by a comment beginning: "Clearly, A&E were to obey without understanding why."

At 7:35 p.m., I extended my 6:55 p.m. comment.

At 11:43 p.m., feeling that the question of what Adam and Eve knew and what powers of reason they possessed, and when they possessed those powers, was very relevant to the on-going conversation, since we are discussing the origin, nature and limits of human knowledge. I, therefore, invited your thoughts, as a professional epistemologist, on the issue of what Eve knew, and when she knew it.

I turn the mike over to you.

Stephen,

Apology accepted -- obviously, in my own post, I was likewise careless in reading the prior interactions between Rodak and Zippy. It happens.

You write:

The Protestant position, historically, is that Scripture alone is the final judge in matters of morals and doctrine. Natural theology cannot fit within those limits.
I agree, and I agree. But I still do not see the tension you see between sola scriptura and natural theology or natural law. This leads me to believe that you have a different conception of the latter two than I do -- and that puzzles me, since I have tried within my limits to become conversant at first hand with that literature.

Several other participants in the discussion here (Frank, Rodak, Zippy) are Catholic, but I am not. Indeed, I am Protestant both by temperament and by conviction. I am not, however, Reformed. It seems to me that this may be an important piece of the puzzle in our conversation.

Rodak,

Sorry, I'm just not interested in that thread of the discussion.

"Sorry, I'm just not interested in that thread of the discussion.:

Tim--
That's okay. (And I'm not Catholic.)

No, it is not my own understanding that "Scripture [commands us not to lean on our own understanding.]"

So when you say (again quoting your exact words) that "Scripture commands us not to lean on our own understanding", you are not expressing your understanding of what Scripture commands?

Rodak,

Whoops! I'd gotten the impression that you were. My apologies.

Rodak, I think C.S. Lewis deals very well, imaginatively, with the whole issue of the knowledge of evil prior to the Fall, in _Perelandra_. His Eve figure knows that it is wrong for her to disobey God, because she hears God speaking to her directly and can tell by her created nature that he is good and has a right to give commands. But then God withdraws this direct speaking voice and permits a tempter (a demon-possessed physics professor, as it happens) to come to her planet and start trying to talk her into disobeying the command in question. God also arranges for a defender to be imported--another professor, but a good guy. (Perhaps you already know this whole story.) Anyway, she resists and resists, on the grounds that God has commanded her not to do this, and in the end the good guy is told that it's time for him to have a fight with the tempter and get him out of there. So they do. The tempter guy is killed, and in the end (this is the punchline), God _does_ reveal good and evil to the Adam and Eve figure, but not by way of doing it, but by way of understanding it from the "good" side, as God and the unfallen angels do.

Actually, I think you are in any event over-reading the fact that the tree was "of the knowledge of good and evil." Like the character in Perelandra, Adam and Eve could know that they _ought_ to obey God. They had a direct friendship with him that none of us enjoys (as far as I know). The knowledge of good and evil that the tree gave was the understanding of the contrast between these two *by having done evil*. That doesn't imply that they were incapable of adjudging a contemplated act to be wrong or right prior to eating.

In any event, I think I really just disagree with you about the idea that rational understanding is itself dangerous and that the imago dei is all of the heart. I strongly suspect that Adam was a darned smart guy and that, if he had not fallen, God would have given him all sorts of joys of the intellect. The imago dei has many manifestations, and some of them are surely both intellectual and innocent, even beautiful.

If A&E were punished for disobedience, for what was the Serpent accursed, since he seems to have been speaking truth? For threatening God's dominion over man.

If the Serpent was evil, how did he get into the Garden, and from whence? http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Serpent_(symbolism)

If the Serpent was not created evil, how did he become evil (assuming that since he was accursed, he was evil)?
By giving Eve self-awareness.

Lydia--
It is hard to see, however, how the intellect would develop in an environment where there were no problems to be solved. And I am still bothered by the fact that the Serpent does not seem to have lied to Eve...?

God handed them an intellect on a silver platter. You have to assume that to some extent anyway. E.g. How did they know how to talk to each other, when they'd had no mom and dad to teach them language? God must have just handed it to them.

The "serpent" (obviously, Satan speaking through some creature) used half-truths, as Satan always does, to tempt Eve. He made it sound like the changes that would take place in her as a result of eating the fruit would be wonderful. They weren't. "Knowing good and evil" in the way that in fact she came to know it wasn't all it was cracked up to be! It was a lousy deal. And so far from being extra-powerful, "like gods" (whatever vaguely positive images that conveyed to her mind), she became a woman with all sorts of problems she'd never had before, like pain in childbirth, etc.

He said "you shall not surely die." That was a lie, because she died, though not immediately, as a result of sin. I don't know where you get the idea that Adam and Eve would have died without sin. The apostle Paul says explicitly that death entered because of sin.

"I don't know where you get the idea that Adam and Eve would have died without sin."

Lydia--

I got that idea from this:

3:22 Yahweh God said, “Behold, the man has become like one of us, knowing good and evil. Now, lest he reach out his hand, and also take of the tree of life, and eat, and live forever...”

But, I now see that this is said after the sin. So God is expelling them from the Garden so that they don't gain access to an available antidote for the mortality that their sin has just earned them. (One should never contradict St. Paul!)

So, according to C.S. Lewis (and I did read those books, but many moons ago) the "Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil" was really, in effect, the "Tree of the Knowledge of Evil"--knowledge of the Good already having been hardwired into A&E, and knowledge of evil to be acquired through sin. Is that it?
The whole thing, then, actually started to spiral out of control with the rebellion of the angels.
I still don't understand, however, why, since the creation was all good, and the angels were not of the earth, God allowed Satan, or a demon, to enter the Garden, possess the Serpent, and destroy A&E? I catch a strong whiff of dualism there.


A & E didn't have to be destroyed. They had free will. They chose. I don't know for sure why God allowed the attempt to be made, but I presume that if they had resisted they would have gained, by that means of being tested and standing firm, some greater degree of wisdom and bliss than they had had before. Call it a kind of spiritual growth for which they were being offered the opportunity.

Hmmm. There is still something here that doesn't seem quite right. Free will? In order to have free will, in any meaningful sense, would not the moral agent need to be able to clearly see that any given act was either good, or evil? Now, if we posit that A&E knew the good, for being "friends" of God's, and that they knew evil *after* having disobeyed God, then we can't really say that they *chose* evil by listening to the Serpent. But, if we say that they knew *prior* to eating the fruit, that God was good and to disobey Him would be evil, then their cognition was not changed in fundamental way; it is only that they were punished for disobedience.
But it seems that their cognition *was* changed, after the act. They knew that they were naked, for one thing. If they hadn't known that previously, their intellect was pretty undeveloped, it would seem. If they didn't know that they were naked prior to the Fall, does this mean that they had no concept of sexuality? Is sexuality part of the punishment, then?

"Whoops! I'd gotten the impression that you were. My apologies."

No need for apologies, Tim. Natural mistake. Lie down with dogs, get up with fleas, what? (Arf! Arf!)

The whole thing, then, actually started to spiral out of control with the rebellion of the angels.

There is an impressive short story by Neil Gaiman called "Murder Mysteries" which explores that very problem. In short, Lucifer is provoked into recognizing that God's vengeance is unjust, and his pride leads him down the dark path of rebellion. Quote: "Perhaps it is true that all that happens is in accordance with Your will, and thus it is good. But sometimes you leave blood on Your instruments."

Again, Rodak, I think you're leaning way too hard on "knowledge of good and evil." It's one thing to know that something is wrong conceptually, to know that it is "not-right" or "contrary to the will of God." (Remember, evil is a privation, not a thing in itself.) It's quite another to have personal acquaintance with wrongdoing. Sin gave them that--an experiential knowledge they could well have done without. They "knew that they were naked" obviously means that they felt ashamed. It bothered them to be so uncovered. That, again, pretty clearly to me stands in, not for sexuality but rather for a feeling of wanting to hide from God--a breaking of their relationship with God. They feel shame, and the desire to cover their bodies and hide is part of that shame, not because sex is evil but because they are now sinners. God sees through this whole "I knew that I was naked" stuff right from the outset. He knew perfectly well that Adam's problem wasn't one of wardrobe but of a sinful heart.

In short, the issue is not one of a fundamental epistemological change except insofar as any really new experience means new knowledge--knowledge of what it is like to have that experience. So they traded their relationship with God for this big, exciting, new knowledge: of the experience of shame, fear, and sin. Not to mention death. Some deal.

The devil always does that. He's a past master at turning gold into straw.

In order to have free will, in any meaningful sense, would not the moral agent need to be able to clearly see that any given act was either good, or evil?

No.

I am deliberating over whether I am going to spend my vacation in Paris or in Munich. Is it evil of me to choose to go to Paris? Is it evil of me to choose to go to Munich? If neither choice is evil does this then entail that my choice is not free?

Now, if we posit that A&E knew the good, for being "friends" of God's, and that they knew evil *after* having disobeyed God, then we can't really say that they *chose* evil by listening to the Serpent.

No and yes.

No, because no one chooses evil as evil. Even people who say that they are freely and knowingly choosing evil are not really freely and knowingly choosing evil. They are either equivocating by calling their actions evil because that is what most people would call them while at the same time holding that their actions are going to bring them some benefit which they consider good, or they are choosing some good even if it entails doing evil to get it. But even in the later case the primary thing chosen is the good which is the end, not the evil which is the means.

Yes, because to choose an apparent or lesser good that is contrary to a true or greater good that you have a duty towards is to make a choice that lacks the proper disposition of the will, which is evil.

Now, Scripture makes it clear that Eve chose to eat the fruit because it had some aspect of the good:

And the woman saw that the tree was good to eat, and fair to the eyes, and delightful to behold: and she took of the fruit thereof, and did eat, and gave to her husband who did eat.

But to choose to eat the fruit was to choose against her true and greatest good, which was her duty to obey God and live in friendship and blessedness with Him.

If they didn't know that they were naked prior to the Fall, does this mean that they had no concept of sexuality? Is sexuality part of the punishment, then?

No. But by introducing disorder into their wills--by choosing an apparent and lesser good over a true and greater good--and darkness into their intellects--by becoming aware of the possibility of doing evil and realizing that they could not always trust themselves to distinguish true and greater goods from lesser and apparent goods--they faced a twofold problem. The first is shame, the awareness that they had done evil and the fear that this evil would be known. The realization of nakedness is part of the realization of the fact that they are exposed both to each other and to God. The second is the fact that the disorder of their wills meant that they were now inclined towards misusing all their powers, while the darkening of their intellects meant that it was now difficult to distinguish between the proper use of said powers and their abuse. This is a problem that we have inherited, and it is especially prevalent in the use of our generative powers and sexual impulses, in which are tangled our desire for beauty, our desire for communion, our desire for love, our desire for pleasure and any number of other desires that can be used properly or abused.

I would argue that God giving our first parents clothing to cover their nakedness offers a twofold solution to this twofold problem. First and most immediately, He provides them with a way to lessen their feelings of shame by covering themselves and thus becoming less exposed. This also lessens the difficulty that the disorder of the wills and the darkening of their intellects have introduced into their control of their passions. But the clothing is also a promise that one day God will wipe away sin and shame by healing the disorder their sin has introduced, a promise that is fulfilled in our Lord Jesus Christ. The clothing of our first parents is a prefiguring of garments washed white in the blood of the Lamb.

Lydia/Brendan--
Thanks. I like almost all of your explanations. I must say, though, Brendan, that your choice of Munich or Paris is not a moral choice, unless you set up a scenario in which it is. Otherwise, it's either utilitarian for some reason, or just a matter of preference (appetite). A dog can "choose" between coming to its master when called, or chasing a squirrel across the lawn, but a dog has no moral sense.
The explanation of the aprons made by A&E as they were hiding from God as indicative of shame (which seems to me obviously true), does not quite answer the question about their sexuality, or lack thereof, prior to the Fall. Sometimes nakedness is just nakedness. It is hard to imagine them as sexual beings without an awareness of "nakedness" in the sexual sense, or what the connection would be, in their minds, between sexuality and guilt feelings--unless there was, in fact, a connection between sexual feelings and guilt feelings that was novel, after the Fall.

"In short, the issue is not one of a fundamental epistemological change except insofar as any really new experience means new knowledge--knowledge of what it is like to have that experience."

But if this "experience" of new knowledge is one of shame, guilt, and presumably horror at the realization of what they have done, for what reason, then, does God say "Behold, the man has become like one of us...? Surely, the man did not become like God by acquiring shame, guilt, and a knowledge of being sinful? It is seems to me that there must be, therefore, a "fundamental epistemological change" in A&E, as a result of eating the fruit.

...for what reason, then, does God say "Behold, the man has become like one of us...?...

I think a lot of this is mystery wrapped up in an enigma, and I'm not the kind of guy to be motivated to try to demystify it. I'm rather fond of mystery and often find it comforting rather than troubling.

But although God doesn't sin, because He is omniscient it would seem to follow that He knows what it is like to be a sinner. FWIW. So in sinning Adam became both more like God and simultaneously more unlike God.

Zippy--
I'm pretty much willing to let a mystery be a mystery myself, usually. It's these philosophers who have a need to lay it bare, scrape it clean, and hang it on the wall of the barn to dry.
So, we must forge ahead.
I don't see how Adam's becoming more like God does not constitute a rather major epistemological change, especially if, as you say, at the same time, Adam becomes less like Adam. The change is evident in the words "has become". If what we are now is "human", then Adam and Eve became human in the act of disobedience.

Or, to put it another way, even God could not explain water to a fish, except by taking the fish out of water. If we are to use the concept of free will to explain the problem of the existence of evil in a world created by an omnibenevolent God, then this myth must be the story of the genesis of free will. The man could not know and appreciate the good until he had experienced the bad. The man could not make a moral choice unless he had an awareness of the infinity of choices resulting in *either* good or evil so that he could consciously and radically limit his will in choosing every act.
A fish is incapable of sin, because it can never be anything other than a fish. A man who was all-good, existing in a garden that was all-good, could be nothing higher than any other beast; joyously grazing on the free, low-hanging fruit perhaps--who knows how happy a giraffe may be--but grazing only.

"...then this myth must be the story of the genesis of free will."

Er, no, the creation of free beings was the origin of free will. Specifically, the creation of man was the origin of free will in man.

If what we are now is "human", then Adam and Eve became human in the act of disobedience.

I don't see why. If a human being cuts off his own legs he then knows what it is like to be a legless human being, which he did not know before. When Adam sinned he came to know what it was like to be a sinner, which he did not know before.

A man who was all-good, existing in a garden that was all-good, could be nothing higher than any other beast; joyously grazing on the free, low-hanging fruit perhaps--who knows how happy a giraffe may be--but grazing only.

I think there may be problems with your concept of good in addition to your concept of free will.

One of the most excellent and important things about all of Lewis's writing, especially evident in his fiction, is that goodness is always a positive thing, never a negative thing. Too often I think we have got things imaginatively backwards and treat evil as the real thing and goodness as the privation. Lewis says in a letter, "The medievals knew that the devil is an ass." His good characters always seem to know and understand more than his bad characters, and he makes this believable, which is as it should be.

My concept of free will says that we are only speaking about that thing when we are speaking of moral choice:

"You can praise an action by saying that it is calculated to bring pleasure or pain to discover truth or to save the soul. But you cannot praise an action because it shows will; for to say that is merely to say that it is an action. By this praise of will you cannot really choose one course as better than another. And yet choosing one course as better than another is the very definition of the will you are praising."
~G.K. Chesterton

That is "free will"--a special category of will--as opposed to the simple ability to put one foot in front of the other to move from point A to point B. The fact that A&E could act, before the Fall, means nothing. What choices did they need to make? All choices were morally neutral. The very fact that they were so easily persuaded to disobey God, shows that they had no prior clue concerning the nature of evil, and no defense against it. Eve could see only good coming from her act. She had no more moral sensibility than does a pet.

"...to be a sinner...", more accurately, to have become a sinner, involves both an ontological, as well as an epistemological, transformation from one state of being to another. Whatever Adam was before the Fall, he was what we are now after it--a radically different creature.


"His good characters always seem to know and understand more than his bad characters, and he makes this believable, which is as it should be."

Yet, in Genesis, the Serpent apparently knew more than the man.

All choices were morally neutral.

Apparently not.

Zippy--
Even that choice was *morally* neutral, if Eve had no basis upon which to make a *moral* decision, and was not equipped to make one. It would seem that the act was prompted primarily by appetite.

What is your interpretation of "their eyes were opened"? The ability to *see* is usually a metaphor for the ability to know with understanding. This would seem to be the dawning in them of self-consciousness. Self-consciousness allows for shame, and for guilt, but it also allows for free agency and the ability to actually *choose* the good, rather than just moving towards it as a beast moves towards food, water, or a mate.

The mystery comes in, when we have to consider why God apparently hadn't, in addition to commanding A&E not to eat the fruit, sat them down and said, "Listen. There's been a bit of trouble with the angels. I want you two to be on the look-out for possible evil-doers in the garden. Any creature, no matter how seemingly pleasant, who tries to get you to disobey me, is not to be spoken with. You come and tell me immediately, should anything of this kind occur."
Then, we could say that A&E had been provided with a moral sensibility that would have allowed them to recognize and avoid evil. Evidently, however, they did not possess such sensibility until after the fact. Too late.

The man could not make a moral choice unless he had an awareness of the infinity of choices resulting in *either* good or evil so that he could consciously and radically limit his will in choosing every act.

Then no one is free, because no one ever contemplates every possible choice in every situation. And the virtuous man is less free than the morally incontinent one, as the virtuous man does not consider evil choices since they hold no attraction to him, while the morally incontinent man does consider evil choices because to him they still hold some attraction.

Even that choice was *morally* neutral, if Eve had no basis upon which to make a *moral* decision, and was not equipped to make one.

She had a basis on which to make her decision: God Himself. Plato was able to reason to the fact that there was an ultimate Good that was the source of all other goodness, that we must conform ourselves to this Good and that to do so requires the taming of our appetites. If a fallen Pagan can get this far on reason alone, then a prelapsarian who knew God more immediately and intimately than Plato ever did had no excuse to not choose God over the pretty apple, especially after He warned her of the consequences.

"Then no one is free, because no one ever contemplates every possible choice in every situation."

That doesn't follow. It is only necessary to be aware that myriads of choices are possible, and know that some of them are wrong, so that one stops to think about the choice one is making at the moment.
It is not the freedom to act that frees the will, but the ability *not* to act.
Genesis does not indicate that Eve had either any fear, or an suspicion, of the motives of the Serpent. She is like the little girl who gets into the stranger's car because he offers her candy, or a puppy--even though she's been told never to do that. Eve lacked dubiety.
And, I don't know why you refer to Plato as "fallen" in this context. He was certainly less fallen than most men were, or have been since.

She is like the little girl who gets into the stranger's car because he offers her candy, or a puppy--even though she's been told never to do that.

You are reading this into Genesis. It is in no way demanded by the text.

Eve lacked dubiety.

In what did she lack doubt? If she had no doubt that her action was good, it is irrelevant. I have done evil things without doubting they were the right choice at the time. I have done this more often than I would care to admit. This does not change the fact that I should have known better and chosen differently. And if I should have known better, a prelapsarian who knew God more immediately and intimately than I do had no excuse.

If she did not doubt that the serpent was telling the truth, then that itself was a moral failing. She knew and walked with God Himself, Who is Goodness itself. She had no reason to doubt the Creator because of something a creature told her.

And, I don't know why you refer to Plato as "fallen" in this context.

Because he was fallen. All human beings are fallen do to the fall of our first parents. Our lapsarian state is ontological, not epistemological. It is not based upon what we know. It is based upon the real damage done to our relationship with God.

"In what did she lack doubt?"

It's not that she lacked any specific doubt, but that she lacked the quality of being dubious in general.
What is being read into Genesis, for which there is no basis in the text, is this rich, ongoing "friendship" between God and Adam and Eve.
We actually see how Eve acts in relation to the Serpent; and despite what you say, she is child-like: trusting and totally non-critical.
We don't see this intimate "friendship" with God. We see God issue a few orders: Don't eat the fruit of these two trees. Tend the garden. Name the animals, etc.
We don't see God warning A&E about the presence of evil in the garden. We don't see God giving any behavioral advice. That's all it would have taken to avoid the Fall.
As for Plato, since it is true that all men are fallen, the adjective, when applied to a specific person, should add some specific meaning. I am wondering what you meant by applying it to Plato?

Even that choice was *morally* neutral.

Yeah, OK. In Rodak-theology, the Fall was morally neutral.

I think (again) that there is something wrong with your premeses.

"I think (again) that there is something wrong with your premeses."

Yeah. They're not orthodox.
Let me ask this: when it is said that death entered the world because of the Fall, is it only human death that's referred to, or all death?

We actually see how Eve acts in relation to the Serpent; and despite what you say, she is child-like: trusting and totally non-critical.

The text tells us this: the serpent asks Eve a question, Eve answers the question, the serpent tells Eve God is a liar, Eve considers the tree, Eve eats from the tree. The idea that she simply said "OK" to the serpent and immediately grabbed the apple without any thought, "child-like: trusting and totally non-critical," is not demanded by the text.

What is being read into Genesis, for which there is no basis in the text, is this rich, ongoing "friendship" between God and Adam and Eve.... We don't see this intimate "friendship" with God.

Adam and Eve's knowledge of God did not come mediated through material things, but through God speaking to them immediately. If this does not indicate friendship and intimacy with God, then no human has ever had friendship and intimacy with God, as we no longer have God speak to us directly as He did before the fall.

I am willing to admit that this interpretation is not necessarily demanded by the text. But neither is yours. The real question is a question of hermeneutics. What interpretation is in line with the truths that the human and Divine authors of the book of Genesis were trying to teach? And, as I'm sure is no surprise to you, I think that my interpretation is much closer to this truth than yours. I think this because my interpretation is based upon a theological and exegetical tradition that is over 2000 years old that was built up by men much wiser and holier than I. And the reason I cling to this theological and exegetical tradition is, among other things, because those who built it incorporated and built up a philosophical tradition that has successfully answered all objections. I have some idea of my hermeneutic and where it came from.

I am going to try to bow out of this discussion now, because I think I have expressed my view as well as I am able and I don't think that we will be able to arrive at any satisfactory conclusion, at least not in blog comments. Maybe if we met in person in a well stocked library and talked over a few beers for the next thirty years or so, beginning and ending each discussion with a prayer, then we might reach at least some basic consensus.

As for Plato, since it is true that all men are fallen, the adjective, when applied to a specific person, should add some specific meaning. I am wondering what you meant by applying it to Plato?

I meant to distinguish fallen Plato from unfallen Eve.

Vade cum Deo, Rodak. I'm sure we'll see each other around the internet.

Thanks, Brendon--
It's been fun sparring with you.

She knew and walked with God Himself, Who is Goodness itself. She had no reason to doubt the Creator because of something a creature told her.

Eve had no reason to know that God was Goodness itself, hence the tree of knowledge.

"Doubt is not the opposite of faith; it is one element of faith." - Paul Tillich

I would also contend that Eve had no reason to fear death, having never seen it (nobody had seen it), and therefore being completely unable to conceptualize it.

hi,

I don't know if one of the many comments above have noted this, but the text of Romans 2:15 does not say that the law is written on our hearts. It says the the work of the law (not just law) is written in their hearts. I have found in my limited experience that discussions that misquote this verse to establish (whether in part or whole) the reality of natural law are lacking. This basic grammatical difference is key.

Glenn Hendrickson

It seems to me that anything that is "written into law" and can be designated as "natural" is both materialistic and deterministic: the cogs and wheels of the divinely-designed clockwork by which worlds turn and little birdies rise to meet the dawn.
While the nourishment needed by the human heart to augment and enliven Scripture is delivered fresh daily by the Holy Spirit. You are neither enlightened nor free unless you have subscribed to be on his route.

I’m confused. In the first place, why is knowledge separated in terms of natural, general, or special revelation? I would love to see the explicit exegesis for this. I have a feeling this parsing of knowledge is what is causing a lot of the confusion here. Access to knowledge has always been God's gift to humanity. What is the point for God to use special or general delivery?

Properlybasic--
The question is whether the individual sinner has the ability, nay, the responsibility, to make his own peace with God, using the gifts that God gave specifically to him; or whether the sinner must approach God in a one-size-fits-all manner, as part of a collective.

I knew this was a reformed dilemma! Perhaps, Moreland should have pointed out the danger in overcommiting to reformed theology, not the scriptures.

Best of Providence

Religion requires radical commitments. Jesus Christ was no moderate.

...or whether the sinner must approach God in a one-size-fits-all manner, as part of a collective.

Which is to say, the question is whether the Nicene Creed is true - "one holy catholic and apostolic Church" - or false..

I agree that Christianity requires radical commitments, but that isn't a particularly interesting observation without some sense of the actual content of those commitments.

"...the question is whether the Nicene Creed is true - "one holy catholic and apostolic Church" - or false..."

I believe the true formulation to be:

"I believe in the holy catholic church: the communion of saints..."; i.e. the holy catholic church, rather than one holy catholic...[capital "C"] Church.

We call it the Apostles' Creed, not the Nicene Creed.

That said, there is

more emphasis on the individual in Protestant religion, in that there's less mediation between the sinner and his God.

In any event, the notion of a "collective" (that is, a Church) which you disparage is in the actual creed, whereas the notion of the autonomous individual superman isn't.

I don't "disparage" the collective; I merely come from a tradition that gives it a lesser, but still very important, role.
I am reminded, btw, from attending services with my Lutheran relatives, that they change the word "catholic" in the Creed to "Christian".
The "autonomous" individual protestant "superman" is expected to read and interpret Scripture more or less on his own, and speak to God directly, rather than through a mediator. He hardly thinks of himself as a "superman", however. I don't know where you get that idea.

properlybasic wrote:

I’m confused. In the first place, why is knowledge separated in terms of natural, general, or special revelation? I would love to see the explicit exegesis for this. I have a feeling this parsing of knowledge is what is causing a lot of the confusion here. Access to knowledge has always been God's gift to humanity. What is the point for God to use special or general delivery?

As we (you & I) began to discuss this in the past, we were only able to get so far before our conversation was muted by the admin of a certain forum. I am willing to pick it back up and discuss this with you, either here or by email. If you would really love to see the explicit exegesis for the "parsing of knowledge," then I would really love to show you.


This is a very good topic. I could not understand Judaism from the Old Testament alone. To understand the deeper meanings of the Hebrew religion that Jesus came to fulfill and make universal, I needed to study the Talmud and the Mishna, Gemara, and study the morality of the Hebrews. To understand the Feasts and Festivals and how Christ fulfilled them, one needs to study in depth outside the Scriptures themselves. The Hebrew Faith consisted in Sacred Writings and Sacred Tradition, and a living teaching authority. It makes sense that the great fulfillment that is Christianity would need these for a world wide church to be one in faith, hope, baptism.

graet site,

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