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October 20, 2015

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Both Feser and Rauser are resting upon their experience of "the honest atheist" in their objections. But that only has merit if you can ground that in Scripture at some point. Feser's alternative understanding of Romans 1 fails to adequately account for the language of Romans 1 and Rauser doesn't even offer an alternative explanation of Romans 1. What's so strange about that method is that if we are going to let experience trump exegesis at this point then you're basically letting experience trump Scripture's entire anthropology. I say this because if Scripture is correct that the heart is deceitful above all things (Jer. 17:9) if the hearts of the children of man are full of evil, and madness is in their hearts (Eccl. 9:3) if prior to regeneration we are walking in mental futility and are darkened in our understanding (Eph. 4:17-19), if we have a tendency to glory in our shame (Phil. 3:18-19), etc. etc. Then we have every reason to be skeptical of our experience at the level of how honest or nice we think a person is. We have every reason to be skeptical of our own self-assessment, let alone our assessment of others. We don't see the heart.

"Though I do not think it helpful to bandy this phrase about in the public dialogue, the statement, “The fool has said in his heart there is no God,” is not mine, but God’s."
- God wrote the Psalms? Kind of vain to write hymns to yourself...

Remington,

Your comment in the other thread on this topic was helpful.... didn't know if you'd consider putting it here?

scbrownlhrm,

Thanks. Greg touches on similar points in a much more eloquent way, but here is what I wrote:

Feser believes that Koukl is wrong about the clarity of general revelation in Romans 1 and wrong about the extent of Romans 1. In short, Romans 1 doesn't teach that the existence of God is so obvious that it is "nearly overwhelming" and Romans 1 is probably speaking about unbelievers generally and not each and every individual unbeliever.

According to Feser:

However, Koukl also seems to think that the existence of God is simply blindingly obvious, so that our inclination to believe in God is nearly overwhelming -- again, as difficult to keep down as a beach ball under water. And that, I think, is simply not the case. He also implies that nothing short of culpable irrationality and blatant self-deception could possibly lead one to resist this inclination. And that, I think, is simply not the case either. There is no good philosophical or theological reason to make either of these extreme claims. And the claims are, I think, pretty clearly empirically false.

My response:

Quibbling over the degree of the obviousness of God's existence from natural revelation and asking whether that is appropriately captured by some analogy (holding down a beach ball--an analogy that stems back to Greg Bahnsen in the 90's... not sure who started it) is a bit pointless. So I don't care whether it's *so obvious* that it qualifies as "blindingly obvious" or "nearly overwhelming." The important point is that it's obvious enough that the unbeliever is morally culpable for not acknowledging the truth. And Feser is clearly mistaken if he doesn't think Romans 1 teaches that it is obvious enough to leave the unbeliever morally culpable before God. Romans 1 explicitly states that this is the case:

Romans 1:20–21 “For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse. For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened.”

Continuing with Feser:

Certainly Koukl does not give a good argument for his extreme interpretation of the thesis that a tendency toward theism is natural to us. The closest he comes is to appeal to Romans 1:18-20. But “The Bible says so” is, of course, not a good argument to give someone who doesn’t accept the authority of the Bible in the first place (as the atheist does not). Nor is it a good argument to give someone who thinks you are misinterpreting the passage in question.

1. I don't think Koukl was trying to persuade atheists, so it's pointless to fault him for not providing a good argument in that context.

2. Feser doesn't bother to argue for his interpretation of Romans 1 either. All Feser does is say that he thinks Romans 1 is about people having an inclination to believe in God and is about people generally and not each and every individual. (Apparently, then, Feser thinks it's not necessarily the case that each and every individual has an inclination to believe in God... I wonder if Aquinas would agree with that?)

So if Koukl is guilty of not giving a good argument to people who disagree then surely Feser is just as guilty of not giving a good argument to those who disagree with him either. But let me explain why I don't find Feser's interpretation of Romans 1 convincing.

Is Romans 1 just about people generally such that, say, Romans 1:18 may be false for some unbelievers? That would undercut Paul's purpose for writing Romans 1, which is to reach the conclusion of Romans 3:23. If Paul intends to capture each individual in Romans 3:23 then his argument in Romans 1 surely has each individual in mind too. This should also be clear from the argument in Romans 1:18-23 - the conclusion is that "they are without excuse". As many unbelievers who will die without excuse are culpably ignorant of the knowledge of God. And it seems to me, based on the rest of Paul's theology, that this is each and every unbeliever.

Is Romans 1 just about an inclination to believe? While it's certainly possible that Paul has in mind an internal witness ("in them" 1:19) that doesn't rule out an external witness : "[The "in them"] understanding could include both a revelation in man’s nature itself, as well as that revelation found in creation in general, whereas the second understanding ["to them"] would be limited to the latter aspect" (White, J. The God Who Justifies. p. 153). According to Morris (Romans PNTC) "we must bear in mind that Paul uses the preposition “in” very frequently (988 times; this is more than a third of the New Testament total of 2,713). He seems to use it almost from habit, and we cannot always insist on a precise meaning. Since the grammarians usually regard it here as equivalent to the dative case, we should accept to them as the meaning." When Paul explains why it is the case that "what can be known about God is plain to them" he doesn't say "Because God has inclined them to believe it" but instead he talks about "the things that have been made." So I don't see any warrant from the text for thinking this is *just* an internal inclination to believe. But this point doesn't seem very important to the over all debate between Koukl, Rouser, and Feser. The more important point would be that this revelation or inclination is "plain" enough and "clearly perceived" to such an extent that those who refuse to worship God are "without excuse." And no atheist, no matter how honest and open Feser or Rauser thinks they are, is going to be satisfied with that.

Andy,

RE Psalm 14. Hyperbole. Commonly used device in ancient literature. Obviously David was feeling pretty low when he wrote this.

Also illustrates some of the difficulties of exactly how divine inspiration of scripture works.

Obviously the "divine dictation" theory doesn't really work with many of the Psalms.

There were a few questions for Rauser which seem relevant.

Why?

Because Koukl is perfectly correct, and, also, Rauser is perfectly correct.

Koukl is more accurate with respect to Romans 1, whereas, Rauser takes that opening theme and moves it further downstream – well beyond Acts 17’s Unknown “Other/Outer” and also well beyond Romans 2’s “Ought” – and over into the specific revelation of the God of Israel, perhaps even the revealed Christ.

Which is just too far for what Romans 1 is identifying within Mankind. Rauser *is* perfectly correct, and, also, he perfectly “jumps the gun”, lurching off of the starting line and racing ahead of any ontological real estate which Koukl seems to be claiming. As things unfold that becomes more and more obvious. Paul’s thesis seems obviously engrained with a statement on Mankind's culpability where Knowledge/Perception is concerned. It doesn't seem that Koukl is in fact going as far as Rauser thinks he is going for Koukl seems to echo the tone of Romans 1 such that we find, in all of us, in Mankind, "perceived truth volitionally traded away for the sake of the self" such that, shall it be the Truth (whatever that truth is) or shall it be the Self, well the volitional trading away of Truth in favor of the Self ensues.


Romans has several chapters. Not just one. Also, Scripture is composed of several books, not just one.

With respect to Romans 1, we find here Paul’s discussion of Acts 17 and the non-specific, or the Unknown God, that which Feser points to in that more inward, more existential, less specific yet more pervasive bent towards a properly basic belief that Something-Is, where “Something” is a referent for the Divine – whatever it may be. It is not I. It is not this. It is Other/Outer and Man’s general (not specific) tendency is towards such. Koukl notes,

“For the record, I take this knowledge to be dispositional (known even if not currently or consciously aware of), not occurent (in mind and currently aware of) for the reasons that Feser (and others) pointed out.”


Granted, “dispositional” knowledge is not calculated – but instead refers to a tendency. But then that is the express intent of Romans 1 as it speaks towards Mankind’s nature.

The “bent” in “Mankind” is both religious – towards love and worship – and also – towards that which will trade away said truths for the sake of the Self. Theism(s) (the non-specific) and Man’s moral frame saturate even a high school level discussion of Anthropology 101 and affirm Romans 1 in the sense in which Romans 1 is speaking.

Further, a link provided by commentator in Feser’s combox reminds us that the Other and Outer lingers still today and the Naturalists among us must – in one breadth – claim that evolution (or something) has hard-wired us thusly (nothing is in us which “it” did not “build”), and, at the same time, claim that said hard-wiring does not exist because that basic nature can be “educated out of existence in 20 years”. But of course the infant of the “re-educated” adult will have to go through it all – all over again – for the infant’s nature tends that way. Such self-refuting claims are the result of conflating an A for a B. All of that is helpful for the points being made here and such studies are a fairly common result across the board so long as no specific god is attached to the “Other/Outer”.

Anchor Yale Bible Commentary takes a look at what Romans 1 is and is not claiming:

“21. though they knew God. After the general principle enunciated in v 20, Paul proceeds to explain the specific sin of pagans. He admits that in some sense such pagans have a vague, unformulated knowledge or experience of God—despite what Jews have normally thought about them (cf. Jer 10:25; Ps 79:6; Wis 14:12–22) and what Paul himself seems to say in 1 Cor 1:21, “the world with all its wisdom did not come to know God.”

In other words, says Paul here, human wisdom among pagans did not come to a proper knowledge of God. Cf. Eph 1:17. What is denied in these passages is the real, affective knowledge of God that includes love, praise, reverence, and thanksgiving.

In this quasi-philosophical discussion the word gnontes connotes an inceptive, theoretical sort of information about God, which Paul thinks that pagans could not help but have. The inconsequential character of such knowledge, which did not develop into real religious recognition, is the root of the sin of pagans.

Whether Paul means that pagans came to a knowledge of God as “Creator” is not easy to say. He does not use ho ktisas in this connection, but later he does refer to ton ktisanta in v 25, which may imply that he was thinking of God as Creator here. If so, Paul may be going beyond what was affirmed in Wis 13:5, where knowledge of God as genesiourgos, “original author,” is mentioned, but not as ho ktisas, “creator.” Yet note the distinction that Philo (De somn. 1.13 §76) makes between dēmiourgos, “artificer, craftsman,” and ktistēs, “creator.”

One should contrast this Pauline statement about pagans’ knowledge of God with what the Lucan Paul declares in Acts 17:23, “As I passed along and observed your objects of worship, I also found an altar with this inscription,‘To an unknown god.’ What then you worship as unknown, this I proclaim to you.”

The difference is striking, as Vielhauer has pointed out (“On the ‘Paulinism’ of Acts,” 34–37). Worship of an unknown God would imply some knowledge of God, a knowledge that has to be purified, corrected, and expanded, but in Acts the pagans are in no way considered to be inexcusable, as Paul says in v 20. “This means that the natural theology has an utterly different function in Rom. 1 and in Acts 17; in the former passage it functions as an aid to the demonstration of human responsibility and is thereafter immediately dropped; in the latter passage it is evaluated positively and employed in missionary pedagogy as a forerunner to faith” (ibid., 36). Cf. Acts 14:15–17.”



Here again we find the affirmation of Anthropology 101 (on the one hand) which funds the general and less specific (…the inconsequential character of such knowledge, which did not develop into real religious recognition….) wherein Every-man’s affront against *love* and *truth* emerge as undeniable. Both why and that those two “affronts against truth and love” by Every-man are in fact committed is the very core of what Romans 1 is building towards as it makes its claims on the nature of mankind (and that is where this comment in this thread is heading).

All of “that” (the general, the non-specific, the unknown god) eventually, further down the line, merges into Rauser’s (valid) concerns over in a far more specific set of truth claims about God which fund the revealed – namely – the full accounting of the God of Israel and concepts such as Irreducible Love per se an concepts such as Irreducible Logic per se as (on Christianity) all such vectors converge within the revealed Christ – only – Romans 1 is *not* where *that* is discussed – and it is not at all obvious that Koukl has claimed otherwise. In fact, to be fair, Koukl qualified that already:

“For the record, I take this knowledge to be dispositional (known even if not currently or consciously aware of), not occurent (in mind and currently aware of) for the reasons that Feser (and others) pointed out.” (Again, dispositional referring more to nature than to calculation). ”


I tend to agree with both Feser and Koukl in their direction – as such is towards the *ubiquitous* nature of the charge – on Mankind – where Feser points to the less specific and more general and Koukl points to something which he affirms is not always conscious per se but is still enough to grant culpability when perception/truth/trading comes to the surface. On reading Koukl I don't hear him saying anything about the specific knowledge of "God X". He seems to be speaking of something less specific. Whereas, I get the sense that Rauser takes Paul's theme to be a complaint against, not Mankind, but against a regional "happening".

On Koukl's "less specific" it seems to be nothing more than what Romans states – the imprecise lines of "power" and of "deity", which echoes what C.S. Lewis termed, not God, nor god, but that particular something which he called the Other, the Outer.


“The Unknown Other/Outer”, or, “God Is” (Romans 1) moves over into “Ought” (Romans 2) and such then moves to the specific and irreducible – love/truth – there – in Christ – over in Romans 8 (and so on).

As noted earlier, Rauser is perfectly correct, and, also, he perfectly “jumps the gun”, lurching off of the starting line well ahead of any ontological real estate which Koukle seems to be claiming. Romans 1 is Romans 1. Not Romans 2. Romans 2 remains in the less specific, that which is yet far short of “Christ Reveals God” as we must complete the painting with more than one verse, more than one chapter:

“Here Paul says that all men everywhere at any time in history are responsible for recognizing at least the existence of the Creator of the universe. He specifically says that from the created order around us God’s invisible nature (and then he specifies two things – his eternal power and his deity) has been clearly perceived in the things that have been made. Therefore, although people wouldn’t know from God’s general revelation in nature that this is the Christian God or even the Jewish God for that matter, they should be able to discern that there is a Creator who has eternal power and deity who has made the world. So all persons are without excuse for acknowledging at least that much about God simply on the basis of his self-revelation in nature. Secondly, though, over in Romans 2 Paul seems to speak in a second way in which God has revealed himself generally to mankind, and that is through conscience. Through one’s conscience you apprehend the moral law which God has implanted within you. In Romans 2:14-16, Paul talks about non-Jews (Gentiles) who do not have the Jewish law and nevertheless seem to apprehend the basics of what the law requires.”

Romans 1 finds all men, that is to say, Romans 1 finds both Christian and Non-Christian coming up short as it is the beginning of perhaps Paul’s most famous treatise on Mankind relative to sin, condemnation, and redemption. And Romans 1 is *not* about knowing the God of Israel, nor Christ, nor Romans 2, nor Romans 8.

Well what then?

Given what Christianity’s claim on God “is”, Romans 1 is nothing more than, and nothing less than, this: It is about perceiving truth and trading it away, and, it is about perceiving love and trading it away. But is that ubiquitous? Is it in our nature? The answer is an obvious yes – as affirmed by even a cursory introduction to Anthropology 101. To unpack that a bit:

It’s a very simple reality which, unfortunately, all of us experience both from others and from ourselves. “Every-man” perceives particular contours of reality, say, X1 and X2, such that, having come upon X1, Every-man then comes upon X2 and X2 just is some contour of reality which is by nature greater, higher, more lofty, more noble, more lovely than X1. Such a contour – X2 – is then volitionally traded on such that the particular contour or reality called X1, which is by nature lower than, less noble than, more base than, less lovely than, the particular contour of reality called X2, assumes the location of Everyman’s choice such that X2 becomes Every-man’s declared Higher, though it is by nature Lower, one's declared Lofty, though it is by nature more Base, and so on, such that what the eye knows to be the lesser is volitionally retained, or elevated, or traded *for*, while the contour of reality which the eye knows to be the more lofty, the more lovely is set aside, or debased, or traded *away*.

That dance which we all, unfortunately, partake of between those perceived contours of reality obtains in a thousand different forms and in a thousand different fashions amid a thousand different cultures amid a thousand different norms across the span of eons and this dance is affirmed by even a high school examination of Anthropology 101. However, that dance itself, that mode itself, the trading itself, is of a singular nature, of a singular typology, of a singular Archetype.

How do we know this is the case with both our volitional use of reason and our constitutional nature?

Well that is easy:

The existential and the intellectual saturate mankind’s experiential landscape and what is ubiquitously tasted by all of us is a certain offence against love at some seam somewhere in life, in our own life, and, a certain offense against truth at some seam somewhere in life, in our own life, and those two ubiquitously tasted offenses against Love and Truth are so concrete that the one among *us* who denies such in himself is immediately counted, by all of us, as a liar – or a lunatic. Even more concrete is the fact that we all know this given the fact that should one among us claim of themselves today the moral spotlessness which Christ claimed of Himself the reaction by all of us would be ….wait for it…….*ubiquitous*.

The Christian stands culpable and condemned here in Romans 1 (acknowledging “Brandon’s” valid differentiation where the Christian’s doubt comes in, see the link below for his comments). Just as the Non-Christian stands culpable here. If we grant that Christianity is true then culpability does not magically vanish secondary to “holding the proper intellectual posture” as the Christian *still* qualifies daily, as we all know, for offending a line of moral culpability within “Trading amid Truth/Self”. I must die daily, so to speak. And it is obvious that intellectual and moral guilt are both “interconnected”.

The question is, it seems, not *if* such trading amid Truth/Self goes on – just claim to be morally spotless and wait for the proof that such an affront to truth in our own trading bites the consciousness (awareness) of Mankind. Rather, the question(s) is/are A: what sort of trading away truth is Romans 1 leveling against Mankind and/or B: Is Romans 1 even referencing Mankind at all (on Rauser’s view)?


Leaving behind Mankind vis-à-vis Romans 1 which finds all Christians culpable, and all Non-Christians culpable, and Mankind culpable of trading away contours of the Divine (irreducible love, and, irreducible logic, and, irreducible truth….and….) for some lesser – contingent – contour, of Truth-Trading for the Self, we move then to a sort of “non-issue” relative to the sweeping inclusiveness of Romans 1, but one which seems to be of interest:

On Atheism, that is to say, on Non-Theism:

Rauser’s objection to Koukl here has several problems. The problem with the objections by Rauser and Non-Theists against Koukl’s specific claim is that they speak as if everything which was just described mysteriously fails to apply to the Non-Theist just as it applies to the Christian. But why think that? Non-Theists and Christians are both human beings. Truth-Trading is – unavoidably – ubiquitous. We only need to point to some person claiming moral spotlessness and we can watch the proof unfold. Further, and worse for the specific objection of Rauser, is the fact that Non-Theism per se is no different in category than is a more general paganism in that all the same contours of the Divine (love, truth, and so on) are traded away, first by the Non-Theist himself as a human being, just as by the Christian himself (I am a Christian, and I sin daily on these fronts), and, secondly, by the available means and ends of that philosophical category itself. That is to say:

To perceive some contour of reality towards the orphan or the child of, say, love (on the one hand) and, also, to perceive the contour of reality one knows as indifference (on the other hand) towards the orphan or the child, is to perceive two contours of reality converging with the orphan or the child. Well, are those two contours “at bottom” metaphysically distinct, themselves irreducible? One of those contours perceived (love), though by nature higher than indifference, is volitionally scorned and declared to be what Feser justifiably argues is a mere AS-IF fiction on Naturalism, and what others have aptly termed the Noble Lie in that same sort of “living as-if we ought-love” (on Naturalism). Meanwhile, another perceived contour of reality (indifference) is volitionally elevated, made the truth, though it is by nature lower than, more base than, love. Just as problematic is the fact that Logic per se also suffers the *same* defeat given the means and ends available. Such the Non-Theist willingly trades for in all his eliminative metaphysics and while it is true that some Non-Theists today assert an objective morality, what they never do assert is an immutable and irreducible morality and therein even what they do assert is – at some ontological seam somewhere – of the eliminative category.

Rauser is just mistaken to imply that today’s Non-Theist asserts anything even remotely close to an immutable and irreducible love / personhood of the non-eliminative category and that category conflation (let’s throw in equivocation too) remains an unanswered problem for the Naturalist. Not only are the means unavoidably mutable and pliable but such also fades into the unforgiving hands of eliminative ends. The fallacy of emergentism which Feser arguably shows to be incoherent is layered over all of “that” and that category conflation also remains an unanswered problem for the Naturist.

In short, Rauser’s claim that Koukl must overcome the Non-Theist’s essentially incoherent complaint of “But wait! Our morality is objective TOO!” in order that the broad application of Romans 1 be a justifiably ubiquitous claim, in order that Anthropology 101’s ubiquitous observations be, well, factual observations, in order that “*Mankind* in Paul’s thesis actually achieve the level of “the rationally affirmed”, all seem unjustified pending a far more robust, non-eliminative category from our Non-Theist friends. Why? Because a metaphysic(s) which is not categorically non-eliminative (irreducible) is, well, eliminative. The worth of the child is deemed to be, by volition, but a Con, a kind of Delusion. Else – God. The Christian need not take comfort there – for – as Romans 1 affirms, we too encounter, and insult, various contours of Truth and Love. In my own case – such is, well, daily.


Finally, on the Christian’s doubt, well, the work is done already for “Brandon” unpacks Koukl’s (and Scripture’s) rightful *differentiation* between the psychological and moral motions going on within “that” (on the one hand) and (on the other hand) the psychological and moral motions going on inside of the Truth-Trading discussed thus far (see Brandon’s comments).

Both Feser and Koukl agree that God is being perceived. To that end, there is no excuse. The evidence of human history paints the picture that it doesn't take a lot of philosophical and intellectual horsepower to conclude that it's God, generally speaking - as opposed to there being no reason to justify that conclusion. In other words, history shows that there's enough to get you to that general conclusion (God). It's natural.

No doubt there are specific individuals that don't fit this model. People with physical ailments that affect their perceptions come to mind. No amount of philosophical training or nurturing can help these people. They lack the ability to do that. However, God can still make himself known to these individuals directly, and I believe he does that.

Either way, if we are believe the truth of Romans 1, we are all culpable.

Goat Head 5,
"RE Psalm 14. Hyperbole. Commonly used device in ancient literature. Obviously David was feeling pretty low when he wrote this."
- That reminded me of:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jHsbwY4EPyA
Btw, Davidic authorship of the Psalms is not accepted by modern scholars.

"Obviously the "divine dictation" theory doesn't really work with many of the Psalms."
- Well, it does "work" in the sense that God could have obviously dictated hymns to himself to the ancient hebrews - it would just be rather weird and make God look rather vain ;-)

SteveK,

"In other words, history shows that there's enough to get you to that general conclusion (God). It's natural."
- No. If anything, history shows the opposite. There are (and were) plenty of religions that lack a supreme deity that is similar to how Christians conceive "God". Even in ancient religions that influenced the ancient hebrews through syncretism, you don´t find conceptions of God that match the Christian view - the God that was primarily worshipped by the ancient Babylonians (from which the hebrews got their Noachian flood myth) for example, was a contingent being - he created humans but he himself was not conceived to be a necessary, timeless / eternal, immutable being. There are even cultures who didn´t come up with any religions at all (the famous Pirahã tribe for example).

The many and varied non-god-gods affirm SteveK's / the Theist's point. Appeals to the presence of the Piraha and/or the presence of the Atheist in the world reveals a misunderstanding of the Theist's claim. It's not an appeal to majority / minority. Bell curves without the irreducibility of final causes can only, in the end, eliminate, and cannot, ever, create. Mathematics, and even logic, emerge as fiction if the appeal to the Piraha goes through, as they've no epistemology for such things. That's the problem with bell curves *alone*. All points on the curve end up as "factually real". The painful elimination of all abstraction rapidly ensues.

Andy
The general conclusion, God, is shared by all who believe in God. Not the specific God of the bible, of course. There is a near universal perception of moral order (good/evil) in the universe just as there is near universal perception of physical order. We sometimes judge it differently though, but not always. If you perceive moral order, you perceive God.

GH5,

You can't just dismiss a teaching as "hyperbole" simply because it doesn't fit within your theological system. There is nothing in the text which indicates that this is hyperbole and the rest of that very same verse (Ps. 14:1 “The fool says in his heart, “There is no God.” They are corrupt, they do abominable deeds, there is none who does good.”) is standard teaching affirmed elsewhere throughout the Bible. So why would we isolate the first part of the verse as hyperbole and accept the latter part as common fact, if not to preserve our prefabricated system?

But given your behavior elsewhere on this website (e.g., willing to baptize your moral intuitions ad hocly) it's not clear why you even bother trying to explain such verses away.

Also illustrates some of the difficulties of exactly how divine inspiration of scripture works.

I see no difficulty with Psalm 14 and the most common theory of inspiration (verbal, plenary inspiration): can you spell out those difficulties you have in mind for me?

Obviously the "divine dictation" theory doesn't really work with many of the Psalms.

Hardly anyone holds to a general dictation theory, properly defined. But even if we were to hold to a dictation theory there wouldn't be any obvious problem (I'll address the one Andy raises below).

Andy,

If SteveK means "God" in the sense of classical theism then I agree that history doesn't show this. Along these lines what we see is primarily the suppression of truth. But what history does show is the pull towards transcendence and, more often than not, some personal transcendence (as Feser's post points out even atheists, like Jeff Lowder, would generally agree with that). Talk about what "history shows" doesn't require absolute uniformity (and the Piraha aren't a counter-example to that since they do believe in spirits that have some level of transendence).

"Obviously the "divine dictation" theory doesn't really work with many of the Psalms." - Well, it does "work" in the sense that God could have obviously dictated hymns to himself to the ancient hebrews - it would just be rather weird and make God look rather vain ;-)

Since you like to appeal to the dictionary (when it suits you) here is how the OED defines "vain" -

1 having or showing an excessively high opinion of one’s appearance or abilities.
2 producing no result; useless.

Neither sense of "vain" fits with what is going on in Psalms, even in a divine dictation theory. Since God is the source of all goodness, power, holiness, etc. it's not "an excessively high opinion" of himself to draw that out and it's also not "useless" since it serves the Church in worship.

This has been really interesting. For years, I've leaned in favour of Feser's view, mostly because of experience with my own doubts and dialogue with atheists who I believed were honest and sincere. But I agree with Greg that Paul makes a stronger claim than Feser's view allows.

Remy,

Why hyperbole?

Simple.

"They are corrupt, they do abominable deeds, there is none who does good."

There obviously are people who do good. We have all observed them. Even Atheists sometimes do some very good things.

Hence hyperbole.

What precisely do you mean by "verbal, plenary inspiration"?

And

"ad hocly"? Don't think that is a real word, son.

GH5,

There obviously are people who do good. We have all observed them. Even Atheists sometimes do some very good things.

This is another one of those things that is only "obvious" if you reject the entire anthropology of Scripture. 1 Samuel 16:7 “... For the LORD sees not as man sees: man looks on the outward appearance, but the LORD looks on the heart.”

You make distinctions when it suits your system (e.g., hyperbole) but fail to make more obvious distinctions when it suits you (e.g., doing good that is pleasing to God - how Paul interprets that very passage, cf. Rom. 3:23, 8:8, etc). That's ad hoc because your observations and evaluations of unbelievers who do good could only be valid if you *already* reject Scripture's ability to discern the thoughts and intentions of the heart in a way that you cannot. That's why it's ad hoc.

What precisely do you mean by "verbal, plenary inspiration"?

Cf. virtually any theology book.

Feser renders a meticulous picture of the process that is self-deception.


The following quote concludes with this: “So, though I don't doubt that some of these folks in some sense sincerely believe what they say, that doesn't absolve them of the charge of intellectual dishonesty. Self-deceived people would not be self-*deceived* if they didn't in some sense really believe what they say.” The path to get there is not a pure, isolated box called “I-Will-Now-Deceive-My-Self” but is – as all human psychology is – comprised of an array of “boxes”.

Here’s the quote:

I agree that one must always be very careful about "psychoanalyzing" an opponent. However, there is a distinction to be made between:

(a) purporting to answer an argument by "psychoanalyzing" the person giving it, and

(b) "psychoanalyzing" a person in order to try to understand some odd behavior he is exhibiting.

Doing (a) amounts to a kind of ad hominem fallacy. But doing (b) is not fallacious. Now, what I was doing in the post above is (b). I was not saying "Coyne and Co. raise such-and-such objections to the cosmological argument. Let me answer those objections by uncovering what I take to be Coyne's hidden psychological motivation for raising them." That would be ad hominem. Nor, of course, did I ignore his actual objections. Instead, I explained how they rested on misunderstandings of the arguments he's attacking. And of course, neither did I say (nor would I ever say) that atheists in general have the psychological motivations described in my post. (Of course they don't.)


Instead, what I was saying is: "Coyne and others of a specifically New Atheist bent have a tendency to attack the same straw men over and over and over again, to ignore attempts to explain why they are straw men, to lash out even at fellow atheists who try to point out why these are straw men, etc. This is very odd and unusual, especially since these people are mostly not stupid. It cries out for explanation, and I think the explanation is this..."


But I agree that one needs to make sure that in doing (b) one does not slide into (a). And if Coyne ever actually tried seriously to respond to something I wrote, I would certainly not even get into (b) in replying to him, let alone (a).


Indeed, four years ago I really thought Coyne might do so when he said he was "dead serious" about wanting to find out what the best arguments for theism were, said he would read up on Aquinas, etc. I thought "Great, maybe he's a decent guy after all and this could lead to a more interesting exchange."


Hence it was very disappointing to see him almost immediately slide back into New Atheist hack mode and to see his pledge to look into the best arguments, study Aquinas, etc. go right down the memory hole.


I also want to emphasize that I don't dismiss the work of Coyne, Dawkins, Dennett, or other New Atheists in general. I think that Dennett, for example, has very interesting things to say on issues in philosophy of mind despite the fact that I think his whole project there is misguided and ultimately rests on certain key fallacies. In general, you can really learn from someone who thinks through a position thoroughly and systematically, even when the position is ultimately doomed. In part this is because an erroneous position typically takes one aspect of the truth and exaggerates its importance, and often people who do that will see things that are missed by people who don't make the same exaggeration. In part it's because an intelligent and systematic thinker is unlikely in the first place to be wrong about everything, but will make important discoveries which can be disentangled from his errors. And in part it's because errors themselves can be instructive in that we can learn how and why certain ideas and lines of argument which seem attractive ultimately won't work. Similarly, I'm happy to learn whatever I can from Coyne and Dawkins when they write on biology and other areas in which they have some real expertise.


The trouble is that these guys simply don't have anything interesting to say on religion, specifically. Many atheists do -- e.g. Mackie, Sobel, Oppy, and many others I've mentioned over the years -- but not the New Atheists. And it's such a glaring defect in the thinking of otherwise intelligent people that, again, it cries out for a type (b) treatment.


.....[There] is the question of what we mean, or should mean, or might mean, by "intellectual dishonesty." Certainly I don't think Coyne or the more unreasonable people in his combox are consciously and explicitly thinking "I know this isn't what theists mean, but I'm going to pretend otherwise for rhetorical purposes." But I don't think that intellectual dishonesty is usually as blatant or self-conscious as that. I think it is usually a kind of self-deception, and self-deception is, of course, by its nature less than fully conscious. It involves a tendency to avoid letting one's attention dwell on unpleasant facts or ideas, a tendency to try to focus one's attention instead on evidence and ideas that will reinforce what one wants to believe, and so forth. It also typically involves a kind of touchiness when some other person raises some uncomfortable piece of evidence that might jeopardize the self-deceiver's attempt to convince himself that the thing he wants to believe is really true. Think of the alcoholic who doesn't want to face his problem, lets his mind dwell only on ways of interpreting his behavior which make it seem within the normal range, minimizes behavior that other people would take to be clear evidence of addiction, gets touchy and defensive when the subject arises, etc.


Now, when someone like Coyne keeps attacking the same straw men over and over and over again, over the course of many years and despite the fact that even people who otherwise agree with him gently advise him to stop doing it, when he gets touchy even with atheist readers who call him out on it, when he doubles down on the rhetoric about how obviously stupid his opponents' arguments are, etc. -- well, that sort of behavior is pretty consistent with that of someone who is interested in convincing himself that he was right all along rather than that of someone who really wants to find out if he is in fact right. That is to say, it sounds like classic self-deception. And that's the kind of intellectual dishonesty I'm talking about.


Second, it is true that analytic philosophers do, at least "officially" if (unfortunately) not always in practice, highly value a willingness and ability to try to reconstruct an opponent's arguments in as plausible and fair-minded a way as possible. Certainly that was something drilled into me in grad school, and I have always been grateful for it. Again, there are analytic philosophers who do not live up to this ideal, and I can certainly think of some analytic philosophers with a prominent online presence who do not even try to live up to it at all when they think that refraining from doing so might further some political cause they favor. Still, it is an ideal that analytic philosophers all know they should strive to live up to. It is also an ideal that Scholastic philosophers value highly.


Now, as a Scholastic trained in analytic philosophy, it is certainly an ideal I value highly, and I confess that I have very little patience for academics and other intellectuals who don't value it. I make no apologies for that, because the reason analytic philosophers and Scholastics value it is that philosophy, science, and intellectual pursuits in general are about truth, about finding out how things really are and not merely confirming prejudices, furthering agendas, etc. Trying to give an opponent's views a fair-minded reading is just part of this project of attaining truth, both because you never know when an opponent might have seen something you've missed, and because getting into the practice of reading an opponent's views fairly is a good way of training oneself not to be blinded by one's own prejudices.


So, I don't see a willingness to try accurately to represent an opponent's views as merely a special interest of professional philosophers. I would argue that it is partially constitutive of serious inquiry of any kind, and thus of intellectual honesty. Hence, if someone is unwilling to make an effort to represent an opponent's views accurately, I would say that he is ipso facto intellectually dishonest. So, since Coyne and other New Atheists have demonstrated this sort of unwillingness, they have to that extent shown that they merit the charge of intellectual dishonesty.


Furthermore, Coyne and Co. make a very big show out of how much they allegedly value evidence, not letting preconceptions color one's inquiry, etc. So, they can hardly complain when they are asked to look at the evidence concerning what their opponents actually have said, and when they are expected not to let their own preconceptions about what theists believe color their interpretation of arguments like the cosmological argument. And they certainly get touchy when they think their own arguments have been misrepresented. So, they can hardly complain when someone expects them to show the same courtesy to their opponents.


So, though I don't doubt that some of these folks in some sense sincerely believe what they say, that doesn't absolve them of the charge of intellectual dishonesty. Self-deceived people would not be self-deceived if they didn't in some sense really believe what they say.

End quote.

Hi Sam...doesnt this all turn on the perceiver? Or has God's testimony in the work of His hands changed such that perception is not the problem. I say this in regards to believers also...the creation screams the Creator's ownership of all things and our own being/rationality/consciousness/awareness...we are the problem in our reasoning about what we see and experience...hopefully in lesser degrees via sanctification AND diligent reconing of His Word with experience as a believer. Some day we would hope to experience life as Jesus did by perceiving as He did...transformed by the renewing the mind etc...

Even Feser and Rauser are question begging by assuming that their perceptions are not the issue, so I ask again...does the creation speak any more or less clearly since the beginning?

I should add, it's not just the perceptions, or the perceiver per se..it is also (maybe even moreso) what one does with them.

The comment box (combox) over at Feser's blog for this same article has several helpful comments which unpack many of the distinctions and levels of culpability vs. intent vs. perception. One of the comments mentioned the following as well:

Greg Bahnsen discusses Romans 1 and self deception. Also available is the somewhat longer PDF version

As the links discuss, the trading away of the irreducibily obvious, of both Logic and Love, for the gain of the obscure and eliminatively unintelligible, sums to the trading away of the Truth for the sake of the Self. This all men do, both Christian and Non-Christian, at many and varied ontological seams amid interfacing with The-Real. Love's peculiar acquiescence of the Self, being found ceaselessly within the Triune God, is not a motion which Man can think to simultaneously avoid and yet know, taste, fullness. The Self-Sacrificing God makes Man in His Own Image and, therein, is the way of it.

Remy,

So when it says in the Bible, "They are corrupt, they do abominable deeds, there is none who does good.", you would contend that to understand the meaning of these words, one must understand something called "the entire anthropology of Scripture"?

Perhaps your disagreement is with the translators of whatever version of the Bible you are reading, rather than with me.

Would you contend, then, that God through David is saying that nobody in the history of mankind "does good"? What then would you say "does good" means?

Remy,

Another example of Biblical hyperbole:

Daniel 5. The setting: Daniel talking to the King.

18 [s]O king, the Most High God granted [t]sovereignty, grandeur, glory and majesty to Nebuchadnezzar your father. 19 Because of the grandeur which He bestowed on him, all the peoples, nations and men of every language feared and trembled before him;

Did all the peoples of every language fear and tremble before Nebuchadnezzar? No they did not. The people in China didn't. Nobody in the New World did. Greeks didn't. The list could be quite long.

Was Daniel lying? No. He was exaggerating to make a point. Hyperbole. OK, Daniel, we get it, Nebuchadnezzar was a big deal. Mission accomplished, Daniel.

Paul, David, Jesus. All made use of hyperbole to emphasize important points.

This is all through the bible. We don't throw out the point because of a rhetorical device used to emphasize it. Conversely, we would be stupid to build an elaborate theological structure on hyperbole.

Wow. Long. I feel like LHRM a little bit.

GH5,

The fact that the Bible has hyperbole in it is not a license to label anything hyperbole which does not fit into our predetermined system.

If I told you that 1 Tim. 2:4 was simply hyperbole when it said God desires all men to be saved would you accept that explanation? What if I tried to justify it simply by pointing out that Daniel 5:19 is hyperbole. Sound like a good argument to you?

This is why I said your theology is ad hoc.

We don't throw out the point because of a rhetorical device used to emphasize it.

Suppose that when the Bible says all people are guilty of sin that this is hyperbole. What would be the point behind the hyperbole? It seems that the only point that the hyperbole could possibly be making is that a very significant portion of people are sinners.

So when the Bible characterizes unbelievers as fools or when it says that there is no one who does good or seeks after God the point behind that, if it is hyperbole, could only be that a very significant portion of unbelievers are fools and don't do good or seek after God.

Now recall that your basis for saying that this is hyperbole is that it doesn't match up with your experience. But in that case then not even the point behind the hyperbole should match up your experience. Do the vast majority of people you meet strike you as incapable of doing good? Do the vast majority of unbelievers you meet strike you as fools?

Will that thesis be acceptable to the atheist? Will the atheist grant that most atheists are fools or that most atheists are incapable of doing good?

Thus, if you are going to dismiss a passage as hyperbole because it doesn't match up with your experience then you also have throw out the point.

Conversely, we would be stupid to build an elaborate theological structure on hyperbole.

We would also be stupid to decide what is and is not hyperbole based on the elaborate theological system we've already built.

So when it says in the Bible, "They are corrupt, they do abominable deeds, there is none who does good.", you would contend that to understand the meaning of these words, one must understand something called "the entire anthropology of Scripture"?

That's not what I said. What I said was that dismissing this one passage as hyperbole would involve going against the entire anthropology of the Bible. The consistent biblical depiction of human nature and psychology, across multiple books and both testaments, is one of thorough corruption. The biblical picture of sin is not just behavioral but mental. If the biblical picture of humanity in its fallen state is true then we have significant reason to be skeptical of our evaluation of ourselves and others. This means that using our self-evaluation and our evaluations of others as the basis upon which to overturn (or water down) the biblical anthropology must be based on the prior assumption that the biblical anthropology is wrong.

Would you contend, then, that God through David is saying that nobody in the history of mankind "does good"? What then would you say "does good" means?

I already gave an answer: look at how Paul understands this same passage. Read Romans 3:10. Paul is look at the passage in the same way that every Christian should: in the context of our standing before God. Our standing before God is the reality of every man's ethical situation/context. Again, that's the consistent witness of the Bible (Matt. 5:48; Jas. 2:10).

Can man do things which have good results? Yes. Can man do things which, considered in themselves, are good? Yes (Matt. 7:11). But can man do things which satisfy the ethical standard he is accountable to? No.

To The Goat Head 5, can the leopard change his spots? Or, the Ethiopian his skin color...then let him who is accustomed to evil do good.(from the Prophet Jeremiah)

The Apostle not only reads the Psalm for us, he infallibly interprets it also...what do you say "does good" mean? Or the better question is where do you yield your definition, the Bible definition is well established.

Feser, via Aquinas, says there is the Divine Law, Natural Law and Human Law. We frequently speak of the latter, which is a human being good/evil with respect to Human Law. These are civic and cultural goods that are actually good, but not in the way scripture is using the term in Romans.

Romans 1 is talking about Divine Law. Is any human good with respect to Divine Law? Scripture says no, not without being regenerate.

My 2-cents.

Feser has posted a follow-up to Koukl's response. I tried to post this comment on Feser's blog, but it said my comment was too long, so I'll just post it here:

Feser says:

I argued that the inclination is weaker than that, that the natural knowledge of God of which most people are capable is only “general and confused” (as Aquinas put it)

I don't recall Feser offering much of an argument for this, it was more of a suggested alternative. As Koukl pointed out, that simply doesn't mesh with the language of Romans 1 that what can be known about God is plain to them and has been clearly perceived such that Paul can say they knew (the) God.

Feser says:

Hence, though they lacked the Old Testament, they nevertheless had at least some significant knowledge of moral and theological truth, and are therefore culpable for failing to conform themselves to it.

The text doesn't say they are guilty of merely failing to conform to the theological truths that are "plain" and "clearly perceived." The text says that they suppress and exchange that which is plain and clearly perceived.

Feser says the following things should give us pause before positing the Rebellion Thesis:

The first is that the “Rebellion Thesis” is not even what is in view in the passage. For one thing, St. Paul is not talking about atheism here in the first place, but rather idolatry.

Feser clearly wants to restrict Romans 1:18ff to idolatry but that simply won't do. Romans 1:18 tells us that Paul has in mind "all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men". The fact that Paul uses a narrow instance of idolatry as one of his examples in vs. 23 of how the ungodly suppress the truth does not mean that Paul only has this specific group in mind in vs 18 when he talks about "all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men." (Even if Romans 1:18 could be restricted to "idolaters" elsewhere we see that Paul clearly has a broader understanding of idolatry than Feser is allowing in Romans 1 (e.g., Col.3:5-it's not just people who bow down to a wood carving--that's just the most obvious form idolatry takes).) In the same way, the fact that Paul also appeals to the specific example of homosexuality in vs. 24-26 doesn't tell us that Paul is only thinking about idol worshippers that are homosexual. Paul simply picks this narrow sense of idolatry and homosexuality because they are the clearest examples of exchanging truth for lies.

Feser says:

For another, his emphasis is not on psychological repression per se but rather on what can be known via natural theology.

It's both. You can't isolate the natural knowledge from the suppression/exchange in Paul's discourse.

Feser says:

That is not to deny that what he says is relevant to the issues of whether atheism can be known to be false apart from special divine revelation, and of whether some kind of repression plays a role in atheism.  Of course it is relevant.  The point is that the psychology of atheism is simply not the topic he is addressing.

If what Paul says is relevant to atheism, then how is the fact that this isn't his topic supposed to be relevant for rejecting the Rebellion Thesis?

Feser says:

Again, his topic was rather whether the Gentiles had sufficient moral and theological knowledge available to them to be culpable for their sins, and thus to be as in need of salvation as were those who had the Mosaic Law.

The language of the text makes it clear that he isn't *just* emphasizing that they have enough knowledge available to be culpable but that there is a suppression and exchange of the truth going on.

Feser says:

A second problem is that even where his criticism of idolatry is concerned, what St. Paul gives us is very far from a comprehensive list of which lines of argument demonstrate the existence of God and exactly which of the divine attributes can be known by way of such arguments.

It's not clear how this is supposed to be a problem for the Rebellion Thesis. It doesn't matter that Paul doesn't tell us which arguments (if any) Paul thinks make the existence and attributes of God plain and clearly perceived. Paul still tells us that the existence of God is plain and clearly perceived and he tells us that the ungodly (or those who fail to worship and honor God… which includes, atheists, right?) suppress that truth and exchange it for lies.

Feser says:

Paul doesn’t address these issues in the passage and, more to the point, he doesn’t say that the Gentiles in general should be expected to know the answers.

That's not more to the point, that's less to the point. Paul clearly isn't concerned with the details of how God's existence and attributes are plain and clearly perceived and whether Gentiles know the details Feser is curious about. What the ungodly should know is that God exists and (some?) of his attributes (at least enough of his attributes to know God and that he should be worshipped).

Feser says:

rather merely on how we can know at least enough to be able to see how stupid it is to think of God on the model of a man or an animal.

Again, that's isolating Paul's focus beyond what is warranted: Paul specifically has in mind in that instance a failure to worship and honor God, that's what is stupid. This failure can manifest itself in a truth-exchange of worshipping a model of a man or animal or in all manner of unrighteousness.

Feser says:

The issue is what the average person can be expected to know apart from special divine revelation.  And contrary to what Koukl implies, what St. Paul actually says in Romans 1 is perfectly compatible with Aquinas’s position that most people are capable of only a “general and confused” knowledge of God apart from special divine revelation.

If this general and confused knowledge can be said to be part of a suppression where the person exchanges truth for lies then fine. I have no problem with cashing the terms out like that. But I think many people will assume that a "general and confused" knowledge falls short of culpably suppressing and exchanging truth for lies.

Feser says:

Then there’s a third problem.  Proponents of the “Rebellion Thesis” maintain that each and every single atheist is engaged in an intellectually dishonest, culpable suppression of what he knows deep down to be true.  I have argued that that isn’t the case, and that what is true of atheism as a mass phenomenon isn’t true of each and every atheist in particular. … [The adherent to the Rebellion Thesis] will also have to regard Romans 1 as establishing the claim that each and every Gentile, or at least those who had lived up to St. Paul’s time, was guilty of thinking of God on the model of “birds and four-footed animals and creeping things,” of homosexual behavior, and of murder and of inventing evil things.

That seems to be clearly false. The fact that Paul cites that form of idolatry and homosexuality as obvious examples of truth suppression doesn't entail that either Paul must not mean all men suppress the truth or else Paul means all men suppress the truth in exactly this way.

Feser says:

If the text can naturally be read in a way that comports with the actual empirical evidence, then that is a good reason to read it that way

I agree, but Feser hasn't shown us that he can read the text in a way that comports with his rejection of the Rebellion Thesis.

Feser says:

in the case of atheists who are to all appearances intellectually honest no less than in the case of Gentiles who are to all appearances innocent of murder.

This exposes an error in Feser's line of thinking. Intellectual honesty isn't open to empirical investigation in the same way that murder is. And what if we speak about Jesus' concept of murder in Matt. 5? Now it's not so empirically obvious that all Gentiles aren't guilty of murder.

Hi Remington, good analysis...I wonder what you think of vs 19...here in context:

"Rom 1:18 For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men who suppress the truth in unrighteousness,

Rom 1:19 because that which is known about God is evident within them; for God made it evident to them.

Rom 1:20 For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made, so that they are without excuse.

There is little ambiguity here but having been called "Clarkian" because of my inclination toward Occasionalism I thought I'd see what your thinking is.

It seems impossible to miss that vs19's context is ironclad...sandwiched between the charge that men suppress the truth about God, and the charge that the witness against those has been declaring testimony its since the creation. Then, how inescapable is it that the phrase bolded above [for God has made it evident to them] that it IS indeed the case that men are denying what God Himself has made known to them?

Then, how much more suppression is there going on for these who deny that scriptures are condemning based on natural revelation's testimony AND that God has testified in this trial saying "I made it known to them"...who will stand against this Witness?

In large part I agree with both Ed Feser and Greg Koukl on the content of Romans 1. The next few comments (this post and one to follow) will help clarify that.


I would add that the problem of our own volitional "trading away truth" for what is ultimately the "sake of the Self" is, while not expressly specific to Romans 1, yet intact within Scripture's claim (and our experience of reality as such) upon each individual per se and that such does have a (factual) root in the pains of our (factual) privation.


To unpack that a bit:


It seems obvious that the three options of “Yes / No / Agnostic” present a very small set of actual options on the question of “the truth of God X”. The list (should we make it complete) need not include every human emotion as “distinct options” from the ground up as such relate to the question of God, however, with respect to a specific intellectual claim about a specific God the available options do seem to fall into still other valid categories relative to several distinct intellectual postures. In fact, more broadly speaking, the initial set of three intellectual postures can quickly become a set of six intellectual postures without any actual “massaging” of the human experience.


Before those six “intellectual postures” are listed, there is something which I don’t want to add even though it may be valid, and it is something which W.L. Craig terms “ultimate (lifelong) nonculpable unbelief”. We can perhaps then add this: “ultimate (lifelong) culpable unbelief” in the terms of his quote:


“…….You seem to be saying that there is ultimate (lifelong), nonculpable unbelief, and so one needs stronger arguments to support the truth of Christianity….. Now I don’t think we’re in a good position to say with any confidence that there is ultimate (lifelong), nonculpable unbelief….”


We could add the word "culpable" as Craig did there but I am specifically refraining from doing so because that carries us into other (valid) concerns which are distinct from my point here. Obviously we would attribute "culpable" to self-deception or irrational disbelief or autohypnosis or bias running free (or whatever). But that point is not needed if our goal is to find Mankind culpable – for – that subtle trading away of “the good” and that subtle trading away of “the true” for the sake of the Self is ubiquitous to every individual – both Christian and Non-Christian.


The proof of such is the concrete and ubiquitous reaction in every individual against John Doe should Mr. Doe here, today, claim for himself the same moral spotlessness which Christ claimed for himself. Why is that? That is simply because we each perceive our own affair of Truth-Trading for the sake of that which is the Self at some factual seam somewhere and – well – we know that anyone who claims to be “above” humanity’s stock-exchange is somehow a liar – or else a lunatic. My moral failure *period*, or our truth-trading in general *period* all as such justifiably grant culpability irrespective of one's claim about God.


If we grant that Christianity is true then culpability does not magically vanish secondary to “holding the proper intellectual posture” as the Christian too still qualifies daily, as we all know, for offending a line of moral culpability amid the peculiarities of volitionally trading truth in exchange for the Self . Of course intellectual vs. moral guilt are factually “interconnected” but the intentional distinction here between intellectual guilt (on the one hand) and moral guilt (on the other hand) is related to the following obstacle noted by Craig:


“……we have an amazing ability to rationalize things so as to justify our behavior….. If we can convince ourselves that our obstacles to faith are intellectual rather than moral or emotional that makes our unbelief respectable in our own eyes and in the eyes of others….”


Leaving the moral and existential arenas to the side just for a moment, the focus on the intellectual “side” of our struggle to define truth can arguably generate the following six intellectual postures in order to isolate them from (on one side of the coin) the separate issue of a pure "my moral failure / sin culpability" in order to clarify (on the other side of the coin) what seem to be factual (valid) intellectual postures related to a specific intellectual claim about a specific God:


1) Rational disbelief.
2) Rational belief.
3) Rational agnosticism (unable to comment period, mouth is shut).

4) Irrational disbelief.
5) Irrational belief.
6) Irrational agnosticism (sly meandering, mouth isn’t shut).


Indeed,


“The problem with your question is that it assumes a purely humanistic, and perhaps even naturalistic, point of view with respect to finding the knowledge of God. It takes for granted that it’s basically up to us to figure out which religion is true. But whatever other religions may teach, this is not the point of view of Christianity. If God were to abandon us to our own intelligence and ingenuity to work out whether or not He exists, He would be a very cruel God indeed. As one of the students in my Defenders class remarked, getting into heaven should not be like getting into Harvard!” (W.L. Craig)


The existential and the intellectual both saturate mankind’s experiential geography and it is plausibly a worthwhile effort to incorporate the entire map. The peculiarity found ubiquitously tasted by all of us through the eons of the human experience is a certain offence against love’s grain at some seam somewhere in life, in our own life, and, a certain offense against truth’s grain at some seam somewhere in life, in our own life, such that Reason’s attempt to hide behind the morality of “as-if” fails and Reason is herself found factually contradicting the constitutional grain of reality (so to speak). Such is so utterly concrete that the one among us who denies his own membership in humanity’s stock-exchange is immediately counted a liar – or a lunatic – and we know this given the fact that should one among us today claim of themselves the moral spotlessness which Christ claimed of Himself the reaction would be…… ubiquitous.


“……in their almost too fastidious spirituality, admit divine sinlessness, which they cannot see even in their dreams. But they essentially deny human sin, which they can see in the street. The strongest saints and the strongest skeptics alike took positive evil as the starting-point of their argument……” (G.K. Chesterton)


In the face of the ubiquitously known Christ reminds us that – yes – we must both seek and respond to truth – but that – no – we need not “fret ourselves to death” about the unknown particular:


Father, forgive them, for they do not know……


The trading away of the irreducibly obvious – of both truth and love – for the gain of the obscure, or for the gain of the unintelligibility of the eliminative, or for whatever, is a dance which we all, unfortunately, partake of amid perceived contours of reality. Such obtains in a thousand different forms and in a thousand different fashions amid a thousand different cultures amid a thousand different norms. But the dance itself, that mode itself, the trading itself, is of a singular nature, or of a singular archetype. All of that sums to nothing less than the trading away of truth for the sake of the Self which all of us, both Christian and Non-Christian, volitionally move within at many and various seams amid interfacing with The-Real. Such is, unquestionably, intimately related to the factual pains of our own privation. We find that love's peculiar acquiescence of the Self – being found ceaselessly within the Triune God – is not a motion which Man ought to think he can simultaneously avoid and yet somehow come to know fullness. Reality cannot be otherwise, as the Self-Sacrificing God makes Man in His Own Image and – therein – is the way of it.

Rational Disbelief Exists:


The concern seems centered on two categories of culpability at the inflection point of the Perception/Response curve:

1) The In General category – which rationally and coherently affirms that all human beings engage in trading away some contour of Truth (the price) for the sake of some contour of the Self (the gain).

2) The This-Specific-Atheist category – which either does (on the view of some) or does not (on the view of some) take the first category and zooms that lens in to look at the express interior ruminations of all claims of atheism vs. some claims of atheism.


It will be helpful to define things by repeating one concept from my previous post/comment where we find this in general culpability alive and well within all of us:


“The existential and the intellectual both saturate mankind’s experiential geography and it is plausibly a worthwhile effort to incorporate the entire map. The peculiarity that is found ubiquitously tasted by all of us through the eons of the human experience is a certain offence against love’s grain at some seam somewhere in life, in our own life, and, a certain offense against truth’s grain at some seam somewhere in life, in our own life, such that Reason’s attempt to hide behind the morality of “as-if” fails and Reason is herself found factually contradicting the constitutional grain of reality (so to speak). Such is so utterly concrete that the one among us who denies his own membership in humanity’s stock-exchange is immediately counted a liar – or a lunatic – and we know this given the fact that should one among us today claim of themselves the moral spotlessness which Christ claimed of Himself the reaction would be…… ubiquitous.


The trading away of the irreducibly obvious – of both truth and love – for the gain of the obscure, or for the gain of the unintelligibility of the eliminative, or for whatever, is a dance which we all, unfortunately, partake of amid perceived contours of reality. Such obtains in a thousand different forms and in a thousand different fashions amid a thousand different cultures amid a thousand different norms. But the dance itself, that mode itself, the trading itself, is of a singular nature, or of a singular archetype. All of that sums to nothing less than the trading away of truth for the sake of the Self which all of us, both Christian and Non-Christian, volitionally move within at many and various seams amid interfacing with The-Real. Such is, unquestionably, intimately related to the factual pains of our own privation. We find that love's peculiar acquiescence of the Self – being found ceaselessly within the Triune God – is not a motion which Man ought to think he can simultaneously avoid and yet somehow come to know fullness. Reality cannot be otherwise, as the Self-Sacrificing God makes Man in His Own Image and – therein – is the way of it.”


All of that finds Mankind – in his privation – volitionally engaged and the layers and levels of psychology that could be unpacked there could fill libraries.


Can and does large swaths of “that” effervesce upward into the conscious act of this or that particular Atheist? Well of course. Similarly, does all of that effervesce upward into the conscious act of every single human claim of no-god that has ever passed the lips of any human being? Well of course not. Okay – STOP: That is a question about intellectual culpability in a specific human being at a specific point in time in his or her particular life. Full stop. It is *not* about moral culpability – that in general stock-exchange of Truth Trading for the gain of the Self described earlier and which is, unfortunately, ubiquitous. The distinction here is intentional in order to drill down to the question at hand. Granted, the intellectual and the moral are not separate boxes floating in midair entirely disconnected from one another. But, again, the question at hand.


Feser and Koukl have far, far more convergence than they do divergence:


Rational Disbelief is intellectually non-culpable and can exist in this or that particular human being at this or that particular time in this or that human being’s particular life. And yet that very same rational disbelief is found intimately amalgamated with the expressly ubiquitous In General category – which rationally and coherently affirms that all human beings engage in trading away some contour of Truth (the price) for the sake of some contour of the Self (the gain).


Like most sane apologists, Koulk affirms rational disbelief, as we recall the obvious – that – like Feser, much of Koukl’s work is ipso facto engrained in interfacing with our own (their own) culture’s peculiar brand of Atheist:


“But arguments have limits; they don’t always work. When that happens, some are tempted to think that arguments themselves are useless. This is a mistake. If you’re searching for that perfect line of logic capable of subduing any objection, you’re wasting your time. There is no magic, no silver bullet, no clever turn of thought or phrase that’s guaranteed to compel belief. Yes, rational reasons can be a barrier to belief. The Christian message simply doesn’t make sense to everyone, or it raises questions or counter-examples that make it difficult to even countenance Christianity until those issues are addressed.” (Koukl)


Today’s culture is ripe with that and to disaffirm the very real intellectual and existential “locations” of different human beings as they (perhaps for the first time) encounter these kinds of questions would be assuming the role of the ostrich. Fortunately, neither Feser nor Koukl have their head in the sand.


Not culpable for ignorance:


“…….even though I was formerly a blasphemer and a persecutor of His church and a shameful and outrageous and violent aggressor toward believers. Yet I was shown mercy because I acted out of ignorance in unbelief…” (from 1st Timothy)

“…..Therefore God overlooked and disregarded the former ages of ignorance; but now He commands……. and He has provided credible proof to everyone by raising Him……” (from Acts)


Christ echoes the same: “To whom much is given…… to whom little is given….” and the sinless “…Father, forgive – for they do not know…”


Scripturally speaking, part of, though not all of, God's interfacing with individuals and with mankind clearly "considers" (if that is the right word) awareness and ignorance. It's not the whole of it, but we have far too much of that language in the mix if we mean to expunge that from Scripture. And, whatever offense that manages to evoke here ends up as irrelevant for the Cross far, far outdistances all such affairs by “…… the God who is glorified by sacrificing Himself for creation and not by sacrificing creation for Himself....". So the legalists among us can just save it.


Well then what is the Atheist doing which merits culpability if he happens to be one of those Atheists uttering comments about no-god as he swims within his own particular set of (as Koukl and Feser often note) rational reasons effervescing up into a barrier to his progress towards belief (on the intellectual front)? With respect to the ubiquitous stock-exchange of humanity relative to Truth-Trading, he is doing what all human beings, what all of "us", in all times have done and continue to do.


Intellectual culpability is “one thing” and, then, right there with it, and *not* to be outdone *nor* undone by it, is the reality of our own “factual state of affairs” relative to “reality” – that is to say – the direction which our own hand happens to be (factually) running relative to the constitutional grain of reality. Given “final causes” we just cannot assert that ignorance magically removes splinters from one’s hand should one be (factually, and in ignorance) running one’s hand against the grain of “The Real”, so to speak.


We find in the following analogy of the cocaine addict, and in reality, that intellectual culpability is distinct from factual effect even as we find that doing/being is distinct from feeling/believing. It would be absurd to assert that there is no such thing as the "Actual Happening of X" unless/until there is either an "Actual Feeling" or an “Actual Conscious Belief State” about/of that happening/event.


The cocaine addict has a friend – the Enabler:


The enabler’s experience at such and such a time informs him, convinces him, that the Physician’s Prescription is – well – false, and the enabler’s conscious feelings and conscious belief state all affirm that he is (factually) helping his addict friend by bringing more cocaine. Now, that is fine. His intent is for the good of his friend. He believes in what he is doing. But the fact that is the current state of affairs is that the enabler’s love/hate affair with reality’s elemental grain is quite different, well, assuming death-by-cocaine is *factually* running *against* the grain of – well – here we go again – final causes.


But even *if* we just remove final causes, the premise still stands because the enabler's GOAL was (and is) to HELP his friend (he knows cocaine is "bad") and his "designed scheme" all along was to reach that goal – and at the end of the day – looking back – he sees that he had been – all along – factually ripping apart good and factually building up harm.


His rational dis-belief (and it *is* rational) in the Physician's Prescription was – all along – wrong. He had in fact been valuing and liking and building up harm/pain and he had in fact been devaluing, disliking, and hating the good, the lovely. “I *like* this body of information because it’s *helpful* and I *dislike* the Physician’s Prescription because it’s *harmful*……


And a thousand other combinations and permutations.


This is a distinction between *doing/being* vs. *believing/feeling* relative to “The Real”. Paul’s ignorance and even the ignorance of the world in eons past are (apparently per Paul in Acts and Paul to Timothy) overlooked and disregarded by God and both Paul and Christ affirm that part of (not all of) *why* God motions thusly is directly tied into awareness (the phrase “tied into” is weak, but whatever). (Granted – Paul did go on to talk of the arrival of new information – but that is a separate discussion).


Rational and irrational disbelief are matters of great importance, but clearly reality out-distances one's current state of awareness. The culpability here which out distances our conscious belief state is speaking instead about (vis-à-vis the enabler) one’s factual condition relative to "The Real".


And that is coherent relative to *mankind* because the Christian, assuming his Faith is in “The True”, so to speak, or the Actual, or whatever, though he holds the proper intellectual set of facts (etc.), is still found morally wanting, still found insufficient before God – or before “All-Sufficiency”, he is still found in that human stock-exchange described earlier.


When the Christian speaks of the Natural Man having enmity against God he is not speaking of feelings nor of (necessarily) the conscious belief state – because such things literally cannot define the stopping point of *fact* inside of the Christian paradigm (granted, in Naturalism, taste-buds and indifferent photon cascades are the end of the line. etc.).


Rather, the Christian is speaking about an insufficiency as such relates to final causes and all of that carries us into a discussion dealing with the pains of our privation, part of which finds our nature (factually) running against the grain of “The Real”.


Assuming Death-By-Cocaine offends an irreducible (rather than eliminative) contour of “Actuality”, we can say that the enabler, according to Christianity, and according to the science of addiction (which just is in large part the science of self-deception) is either:


A) Valuing, building, and loving the The-Good, The True, The Actual.


B) Devaluing, destroying, and hating The-Good, The True, The Actual.


Christianity and the science of addiction (which just is in large part the science of self-deception) both affirm the latter.


The paradigm in question (Christianity) can arguable claim that – in some real though enigmatic quality – love's ceaseless reciprocity found within the immutable love of the Triune God comprises the irreducible and constitutional shape of “actuality”. It is not intellectual culpability – but rather it is an equally pressing sort of culpability which is found in that which is somehow *doing/being* within motion against the elemental grain of actuality *irrespective* of an awareness of such or of conscious feelings about such. The enabler emerges and all lines converge in the distinction between (on the one hand) *doing/being* vs. (on the other hand) *feeling/believing* as such motions relate to “reality” or to the actual state of affairs (whatever they may be). Fortunately we’re not in the dark as there is only genre on planet Earth wherein the paradigmatic irreducibility of logic, where the categorical irreducibility of reason, and of love’s peculiar Self-Sacrifice relative to Other, all seamlessly converge.


Typo:


In the "Enabler" part, what read as:


"And a thousand other combinations and permutations."


Should have read instead as:


And a thousand other combinations and permutations. Rational disbelief exists – *Yes*. And, such disbelief is both rational and intellectually non-culpable – *Yes*. That is all valid and affirmed by science, by scripture, and by observational reality. Only, it is blatantly obvious, that is to say, the brutal repeatability of “Actuality” has in fact made it plainly evident that, in fact, reality does not just magically stop *there* for the enabler nor for any of us.

Brad B,

I remember a debate between R.C. Sproul and Greg Bahnsen that focused on this text. Bahnsen argued that this was immediate (not mediated) and Sproul argued that it was mediated (though I'm sure he agreed that there was an immediate aspect to the internal witness of the imago dei... but I don't remember if he mentioned that). Personally I think it's both (so maybe that puts me more in Sproul's camp). But any way one doesn't have to be a Clarkian to think that the knowledge is immediate (Bahnsen was Van Tilian of course).

Commentators usually point out that either translation of vs. 19 as in them (within them) or to them (among them) is possible. I quoted Morris above who favors "to them". James White, who has a good exegesis of this passage in his book The God Who Justifies, thinks the "to them" understanding would rule out an immediate (or to man's nature itself) aspect, but I don't see that it would. Anyway, we could go elsewhere for an internal witness even if it did (2:15).

It seems impossible to miss that vs19's context is ironclad...sandwiched between the charge that men suppress the truth about God, and the charge that the witness against those has been declaring testimony its since the creation. Then, how inescapable is it that the phrase bolded above [for God has made it evident to them] that it IS indeed the case that men are denying what God Himself has made known to them?

I agree. Unlike Dr. Feser, I'm not an Aquinas scholar, so I don't know the nuances of what Aquinas meant when he said man's knowledge of God was "general and confused." But if man's knowledge of God is confused then I would think that this confusion is not due to the ambiguous nature of God's revelation (the text says the revelation is plain because God is the one doing the revealing.) So it's not God that is giving a confused knowledge/revelation of himself. The confusion must arise from the unrighteous suppression and truth-exchange.

Debilis takes a look at the Undefended Claim Behind “I Simply Lack Belief” which is all too common.

To possess general and confused knowledge of X requires that you know X in some real sense, otherwise you could not possess it in a general and confused way.

Remy and/or Brad B.

I'm wondering how you harmonize the "there is none righteous" statements with the "and Noah was a righteous man" statements in the Bible.

GH5,

http://www.amazon.com/Was-Noah-Good-Narrative-Testamen/dp/0567665127/ref=mt_paperback?_encoding=UTF8&me=

An interesting read is where Feser describes his journey out of Atheism. It’s a bit long but worth it. Of note:

“As Plotinus’s remark indicates, that does not mean that the will does not have a role to play. But that is true wherever reason leads us to a conclusion we might not like, not merely in matters of religion. And once you have allowed yourself to see the truth that reason leads you to, what reason apprehends is (given the convertibility of the transcendentals) as good and beautiful as it is real. If you find yourself intellectually convinced that there is a divine Uncaused Cause who sustains the world and you in being at every instant, and don’t find this conclusion extremely strange and moving, something that leads you to a kind of reverence, then I daresay you haven’t understood it. Of course, there are those whose heads and hearts are so out of sync that they cannot follow both at the same time. But we shouldn’t mistake this pathology for an insight into human nature.

Speaking for myself, anyway, I can say this much. When I was an undergrad I came across the saying that learning a little philosophy leads you away from God, but learning a lot of philosophy leads you back. As a young man who had learned a little philosophy, I scoffed. But in later years and at least in my own case, I would come to see that it’s true.”


Remy,

The Bible simply says Noah was righteous. Whether God chose him because of that is another question, one which I don't really care about.

So. Genesis says Noah was righteous. Paul says there is nobody righteous.

How do you harmonize this?

GH5,

The Bible simply says Noah was righteous. Whether God chose him because of that is another question, one which I don't really care about.

That's a false dichotomy of the way the narrative treats Noah's righteousness. Read the book, it gives an exegetical argument which should count more for you than any quick summary I could give here. It would also demonstrate that you're serious about finding answers and not just trying to find an easy "gotcha!"

So. Genesis says Noah was righteous. Paul says there is nobody righteous.

You might as well point out that Paul contradicts himself when he says we are justified (the word is literally something like "righteousified").

Matthew 13:17 “For truly, I say to you, many prophets and righteous (δίκαιοι) people longed to see what you see, and did not see it, and to hear what you hear, and did not hear it.”

Romans 3:28 “For we hold that one is justified (δικαιοῦσθαι) by faith apart from works of the law.”

The Goat Head 5 tries to pitch the scnario as Paul vs The Bible by constructing the cahllenge that way. Of course the Apostle is quoting the Bible so the Goat Head 5 is driving home the a tenet that he embraces...that the scriptures are untrustworthy. He wont like the way I phrase it out here but what else can one infer from the challenge. This sounds more like a question from an unbeliever, or actually an anti-believer...one who isnt ok that anyone does believe.

A Christian must start with a trustworthy testimony/witness, if God hasn't provided this, we have nothing...NOTHING.

I challenge the Goat Head 5 to harmonize the tension in the scriptures on the dificult sayings...sayings to which the apostle Peter admits are hard sayings. He doesnt mean to say they are only hard to understand intellectually but also they are hard to stomach[2 Peter 3:14ff] because those truths kick you in your gut also. The picking and choosing the scripures to support a pet view while ignoring the rest of the biblical revelation in fact undermines the foundation of the pet view also.

The problem of Paul quoting the Psalms in tension with Noah [and a whole host of other OT saints that were called righteous/upright] is not hard to reasonably reconcile without doing a scorched earth policy on the rest of the scriptures. I wont bother doing it here becauseImagree with Remington...I need the Goat Head 5 to show he is willing. After all, we should be careful how we redeem our time.

"becauseImagree with Remington"
Sounds like a music lyric from the 70's. Should have been because I agree...

Also, speaking of redeeming the time, Debilis from the link in the post by scbrownlrm entertains some world class time wasters as he tries to make a rational point.

Brad B.

"so the Goat Head 5 is driving home the a tenet that he embraces...that the scriptures are untrustworthy."

Nonsense. I consider scripture trustworthy. Find another false charge.

"The problem of Paul quoting the Psalms in tension with Noah [and a whole host of other OT saints that were called righteous/upright] is not hard to reasonably reconcile"

If it isn't hard, well, reasonably reconcile it, already.

Your challenge me to reconcile a bunch of scriptures when you won't even respond to a question you say is easy? Adorable.

Brad, I've seen you cherry pick scriptures to support your pet views for quite some time, now. Projecting there a bit?

Finally, Brad, you do make a good point about "redeeming the time". Right back atcha.

Remy,

I know how I would reconcile this. I was wondering what you thought about it.

Not going to buy a book on Amazon and read it for that.

Just wanted a simple, concise answer.

But, ok. Not forthcoming. Fair enough.

"Your challenge me to reconcile a bunch of scriptures when you won't even respond to a question you say is easy? Adorable."

Nice attempt to dodge Goat Head 5, the focus isn't on the reconciling of scriptures, it is on you. The problem is highlighted by the fact that the Apostle Paul's inspired interpretation of an OT quote is one you'd hand wave away. In context it is clear what is meant but this scripture presents an inconvenient truth so instead of taking it in context you'd rather tear the systematic coherency apart than submit to its authority.

"Brad, I've seen you cherry pick scriptures to support your pet views for quite some time, now. Projecting there a bit?"

Uh, name one time that I pitted the scriptures against themselves or didn't deal forthrightly with a reasonable interpretation. Your system if one can call it that does not faithfully reconcile the scriptures, not in the least. You dont like my system, but I consistently work within a system that is biblically coherent. I dont have a pet view other than than that the whole collection speaks coherently.

D. Rishmawy took a closer look Liberalism, “Hermeneutics”, and Interpretive Solipsism which was very helpful.


The tension between what R. Beck terms the dangers of a fundamentalist view of Scripture (on the one hand) and an overt solipsism too self-absorbed (on the other hand) reminds us of the care that must be taken in approaching Scripture. The essay by Rishmawy touches on more than these two quotes, but, two brief excerpts here may help elucidate the tension being discussed:


On one side of the coin:


Recently, Richard Beck wrote a post about the practice of Sola Scriptura, reading with a hermeneutic, and our emotional awareness of the process. He notes that everybody reads with a hermeneutic, a set of intepretive principles, biases, and presuppositions that guide our understanding of Scripture. For Beck, though, the mark of a fundamentalist is that they alone believe they don’t have a hermeneutic, even when they do. This is why it’s a fundamentalist move to say something like, “Well, the Bible clearly says”, or “I’m just reading the text, here”–as if things were really that simple. Beck says that this signals a striking lack of self-awareness.


And, then, on the other side of the coin:


Opposite Beck’s fundamentalist, it’s possible to end up with the sort of self-absorbed, interpretive, solipsist who thinks it’s interpretation and “hermeneutics” all the way down, with no actual encounter with the sort of Text, or Voice, or Word, that can break through the fog. We run the risk of thinking all we can ever speak of is our differing hermeneutics and not the Text we’re both trying to read. We’re “self-aware” to the point that all we’re aware of is our Self, or our Social Location, or our Gender, or our Community. At that point, our interpretive discussions just become a form of philosophy with Scriptural vocabulary.

Hi scbrownlhrm, good of you to be peacemaker. That said, neither Rishmawy or Beck have a clue about the doctrine of Sola Scriptura in its robust understanding....they pretty much slammed the often adopted by modern evangelicals version...solo scriptura. They should be more careful.

A comment in the com-box observed:

[You stated,] “Instead, it seems entirely possible that someone who is quite aware of their perspective, hermeneutic, and so forth, might read, study, struggle, and arrive at the conclusion that, “The Scriptures clearly say…” To deny that possibility is to bind God’s capabilities as a speaker to our capabilities as interpreters and hearers.” Well, okay, but here’s the thing: God’s capabilities as a speaker (particularly as a non-coercive one) *are* bound to our capabilities as interpreters and hearers. To deny that is to deny what it is to be human.

The reply was relevant to the OP’s topic:

God accommodates himself to us, but he isn’t bound by us. That’s a key distinction to be made. Beyond that, the Scriptures amply testify that God gives sight to the blind and opens up the ears of the deaf to see and hear the Lord. Over and over again, we see acts of both inspiration and illumination where God (non-coercively) overcomes the sinful human obstacles preventing the knowledge of God. I know we have to wrestle seriously with the human element in all of this, but we cannot begin or even end there. It is one ingredient, but not the defining one.

Hi scbrownlhrm...I almost engaged the combox a Becks post but didnt since I barely have time for STR. Anyway, the element missing here and in those comboxes as I scanned through is found in the robust doctrine ofSola Scriptura.

There one finds that men are not given over to private interpretation on the scriptures, there is a distinct hierarchy of authority that the individual finds him/herself subjected to. Scripture first, the visible church and her teachers/pastors second and then other called or gifted ones third....all deriving their authority from the authority over them and the scriptures as God's Word have certain strict interpretive rules. Rules like it is self attesting, it doesnt contradict, it carries with it the authority of the Sovereign. Much more can be derived from its foundational revelation...most of that denies individual, private interpretation AND it gives reason to those who read it to disqualify themselves as ruler over interpretation...because God's Word does it for itself.

This fact becomes apparent when a systematic theology that delivers a coherent and comprehensive message is proved and inspected against the proof texts...to see if these things be so as the Bereans were credited with doing. One can rightfully say "the Bible says..." and not be guilty of private interpretation or hermeneutical bias.

It is true. There exists, in fact, that encounter with the Text, or Voice, or Word, that breaks through the fog.

"If God really exists there should be solid arguments to that effect, and there just aren’t..."


An ex-atheist discusses his own journey out of atheism, and a brief excerpt of that rather long essay follows shortly. We all find our own Self juxtaposed to, immersed within, “the real" as we volitionally embrace our own paradigmatic irreducibility, that of both kind and of category. In our encountering the contours of the good, of love, of reason, of logic, of person, of the will, and so on, it is true that Sam Harris and others choose there to embrace the obscure, the illusion, rather than the obvious and the real and assert – without possible warrant given the claim – the metaphysical elimination of all such contours. That which is not paradigmatically irreducible is, simply, eliminated at some ontological seam somewhere. It is the oldest story in the world that the price of the irreducible in fact demands much from the Self. Indeed, love’s peculiar and inescapable contours of Self-Sacrifice, though paradigmatically irreducible in one – and only one – genre on planet Earth, are unfortunately the inverse of much of what we find in such decisions. From the Road From Atheism:


“To be sure, like any other atheist I might have cited the problem of suffering when rattling off the reasons why theism couldn’t be true, but it wasn’t what primarily impressed me philosophically. What really impressed me was the evidentialist challenge to religious belief. If God really exists there should be solid arguments to that effect, and there just aren’t, or so I then supposed. Indeed, that there were no such arguments seemed to me something which would itself be an instance of evil if God existed, and this was an aspect of the problem of evil that seemed really novel and interesting……….


…….As Plotinus’s remark indicates, that does not mean that the will does not have a role to play. But that is true wherever reason leads us to a conclusion we might not like, not merely in matters of religion. And once you have allowed yourself to see the truth that reason leads you to, what reason apprehends is (given the convertibility of the transcendentals) as good and beautiful as it is real. If you find yourself intellectually convinced that there is a divine Uncaused Cause who sustains the world and you in being at every instant, and don’t find this conclusion extremely strange and moving, something that leads you to a kind of reverence, then I daresay you haven’t understood it. Of course, there are those whose heads and hearts are so out of sync that they cannot follow both at the same time. But we shouldn’t mistake this pathology for an insight into human nature.


Speaking for myself, anyway, I can say this much. When I was an undergrad I came across the saying that learning a little philosophy leads you away from God, but learning a lot of philosophy leads you back. As a young man who had learned a little philosophy, I scoffed. But in later years and at least in my own case, I would come to see that it’s true.”

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