A Minor Divergence: Is Genesis 1 Creatio Ex Nihilo?

Genesis

Does Genesis 1 explicitly (or implicitly) convey the idea of creatio ex nihilo? Paul Copan and William Lane Craig, holding the traditional understanding, believe it does. This article examined carefully the case presented in their co-authored work Creation out of Nothing: A Biblical, Philosophical, And Scientific Exploration (2004). My aim is to test, by fairly balancing the considerations of the core arguments in their apologia, and judge whether that which is contended is true.

Creation out of Nothing is a book filled with nothing but beneficial information. Copan and Craig’s defense for creatio ex nihilo is not only persuasive but also sound when it comes to the areas of philosophy and science (2004:147-266). Their biblical defenses from all passages but Genesis 1 are both strong and cogent (ibid. 71-91). It is only in Genesis 1 where our ways part, like summer and winter. This difference ought not overshadow the large, if not almost all, parts of what I am in total agreement with Copan and Craig. Continue reading

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C. S. Lewis & The Problem of Evil

Suffering

The existence of pain and suffering in mankind’s world is self-evident. In De Rerum Natura Epicurean poet Lucretius powerfully captured mankind’s “well befitting” cry “for whom remains/ in life a journey through so many ills”(Lucr. 5.224) that  begins the moment infants are born.

Sudden rains, flaws of winds with furious whirl, torment and twist, savage beasts, and death are but few of so many ills Lucretius named that mankind faces. These were major proof, for Epicureans, that the gods did not interfere with mankind’s welfare. Going beyond Epicureans’ position are some contemporary atheist philosophers of religion. The existence of pain and suffering, they argue, does not only challenge the idea of divine providence but also the very existence of a benevolent and omnicompetent God.

“In light of our experience and knowledge of the variety and scale of human and animal suffering in our world,” representatively contended William Rowe, “the idea that none of this suffering could have been prevented by an omnipotent being without thereby losing a greater good or permitting an evil at least as bad seems an extraordinarily absurd idea, quite beyond our belief.”(Rowe 1990: 131)

The problem of pain and suffering did not escape the ink and papers of twentieth century’s most tremendous Christian defender Clive Staples Lewis. In The Problem of Pain Lewis presented two major responses to this challenge, viz., the Free Will Defense and Soul-Making Theodicy. This two parts article concisely explored a part of Lewis’ Free Will Defense¹ found in his work, The Problem of Pain.

Pain and suffering were not strangers in C. S. Lewis’ life. Three months before he turned ten years old, cancer stole his mother’s life and estranged his father. The God who his mother taught him, the God he encountered in the Church of Ireland was then for Lewis  cruel and probably just a vague abstract. Within the next four or five years Lewis lost his belief in God and became a self-confessed atheist.

According to Lewis, the strongest case that assured his atheism is found in Lucretius’ line: “Had God designed the world, it would not be / A world so frail and faulty as we see” (Lucr. 5.198-199). It was not until in his early thirties that Lewis returned to the faith he lost and became one of Christianity’s greatest defender the 20th century has ever produced.

In The Problem of Pain Lewis set the deductive problem of pain and suffering as follows:

If God were good, He would wish to make his creatures perfectly happy, and if God were almighty, He would be able to do what He wished. But the creatures are not happy. Therefore God lacks either goodness or power or both (Lewis 1996, 23)

If a being that is rightly called God must by necessity possess perfect goodness and almightiness as essential attributes, then lack of either or both would mean that there cannot be such a being.

The second part of this article looks at a small but significant part of Lewis’ Free Will Defense, namely his challenge to hidden assumption that an omnipotent God can, without exception, do all tasks.

Next: C. S. Lewis & Omnipotent God


[1] A biblical-based and personal response to this challenge is found in A Grief Observed as Lewis wrestled with the death of his wife.

Cover Image: Dan DeWitt, Mere Imagination © 2011 Theolatte

Bib.

Lewis, C. S. (1996) The Problem of Pain. New York: Simon & Schuster.

Lucretius, De Rerum Natura Trans. William Ellery Leonard & E. P. Dutton (1916) Perseus Digital Library Project.

William Rowe, “The Problem of Evil and Some Varieties of Atheism,” in The Problem of Evil, ed. by Marilyn McCord Adams and Robert Merrihew Adams (1990) Oxford: Oxford University Press. First published in American Philosophical Quarterly 16 (1979): 335-41.

Van Til’s An Introduction To Systematic Theology

Tree

The Bible, according to Reformed theologian and apologist Cornelius Van Til, is an absolute authoritative revelation source to which the whole interpretation of life ought to be based. Van Til’s An Introduction To Systematic Theology (1979) merged God-centered Reformed theology with presuppositional apologetic methodology.

In this work Van Til attempted to present what Scripture reveal about God in an organized and unified way. He aimed to explain that the ultimate source of truth and intrinsic value is not found in human beings but in God alone. Van Til combated all other philosophies that seeks to attain true self-knowledge and value in human beings.

Following John Calvin’s understanding that  “man never attains to a true self-knowledge until he has previously contemplated the face of God”(Calvin Inst. 1.1.2) Van Til argued that the knowledge of God as revealed in Scripture is the only standard by which all other conviction should not only be measured but also be based.

This masterwork will help Christians bring different parts of Scriptures into relation to each other forming one unified portrait of God’s nature and His works. It will also help them to be able to give an apologia of the hope that is in them and at the same time be able to confront and challenge nonbelievers’ presuppositions.

Using Logos Bible Software to reading Van Til’s An Introduction To Systematic Theology, Van Til’s apologetic theology is taken to the next level. Logos Bible Software enables you to easily read Bible passages in your favorite Bible version and explore in depth most of the original sources¹ cited in this Van Til’s work.

Thank you Logos Bible Software for a review copy of Cornelius Van Til’s An Introduction To Systematic Theology, given to me for the purposes of review.


[1] This is possible only if you own that particular resource in your Logos Bible library. You often can buy a missing resource at Logos Products. You can add  The Works of Cornelius Van Til (40 vols.) in your Logos Bible Software library.

Omnipotent God and The Paradox of the Stone

Paradox

The concept of an omnipotent being, namely a being with maximal perfection with respect to power, is sometimes believed to involve a contradiction. The most popular reductio ad absurdum case against the existence of omnipotent being is known as “the paradox of the stone.”

The paradox unfolds as follows:

1. If God exists, then He is omnipotent
2. If God is omnipotent then God can create a stone too heavy for anyone to lift.
3. If God can create a stone too heavy for anyone to lift, then God is not omnipotent since He cannot lift the stone He created.
4. If God cannot create a stone too heavy for anyone to lift, then God is not omnipotent since He cannot create the stone too heavy for anyone to lift.
5. Either way God is not omnipotent.
6. Therefore God does not exist.

Since a person offering this case “is assuming throughout that if there is something specifiable that God cannot do, it follows that he lacks omnipotence” as Thomas V. Morris (1991, 73) correctly observed, clarification of the terms used would help show how weak and unsound this case is.

What do we mean by “a being Y can do x ”? According to Morris, we can mean either ability, Y is “ able to do x” or capability, Y is “capable of doing x”. Our questions, should be then, does it necessary mean that Y lacks power to do x, if Y cannot do x? Soundly no. Y might have the power to do x but lack reasons or will or skills or opportunity et cetera to do x. Does it necessary then mean that Y lacks power to do x, if Y is not capable of doing x. Soundly no again, since Y might have the power to do x but lacks moral justification to do x.

Borrowing Morris’ example, God could indeed create a small stone that no one could lift, by simply making the stone impossible to be lifted by any other beings and vow himself not to lift it. Since God is morally perfect, He cannot break His vow not to lift the stone, thus add himself to a group of all other beings that cannot lift that stone. We can say, in this state of affair, that God cannot lift the stone, but not because of lack of power but of the promise that a perfect being cannot break.

Michael Tooley’s Solution: Atheist Philosopher’s Critique

Tooley deemed this paradox of omnipotence argument as “clearly unsound”. He contended,

[T]his[unsoundness of the case] can be seen if one simply makes explicit the times at which the being acts, or possesses some property. For suppose A is omnipotent at a specific time t1. Then A can act at that time to bring it about that there is a rock that no one can lift. But at what time does the latter state of affairs first exist? It cannot be time t1, since, I would argue, a cause cannot be simultaneous with its effect. So let us suppose that A acts at time t1 to bring it about that there is, at some later time t2, a rock that no one can lift. It then follows that A either no longer exists at time t2, or does exist at time t2, but is no longer omnipotent. So to bring it about that there is a rock that no one can lift—including himself—an omnipotent being must either commit suicide, or at least bring it about that he is no longer omnipotent at the relevant time. This is not, presumably, something that a sensible person—let alone a morally perfect one—would be likely to do. But there is no contradiction in the proposition that A, who is omnipotent at time t1, either does not exist at some later time t2, or else exists at that time, but is not omnipotent. Accordingly, there is no paradox of omnipotence.(Plantinga & Tooley 2008, 87)

Tooley’s solution is of no use to theists, since they believe God, if exists, is a being that none greater can be conceived. Omnipotence and necessarily existence in all possible worlds is a greatness making properties that a being none greater can be conceived must possess. Is there a possible solution that both atheists and theists would accept?

Thomas V. Morris’ Solution: Theist Philosopher’s Critique

Morris offers two solutions, which I find compelling. Probing what kind of stone is a defender of this case asking an omnipotent God to create that He cannot lift, Morris contended,

But what would such a stone be like? What, for example, would it weigh? If God is omnipotent, then, presumably, he can create stones of any possible weigh? But if he is omnipotent, then, presumably as well, for any possible weight n, he can lift stones of weight n. Realizing this has led some philosophers to one of the simplest solutions which has been offered to the stone paradox. They have just claimed that ‘creating a stone which even an omnipotent being can’t lift,’ and all its analytical equivalents, is just an incoherent act-description. And since the phrase ‘the power to create a stone which even an omnipotent being can’t lift’ does not designate a logically possible power, it does not follow from the fact that God cannot create such
 a stone that God lacks any power required for omnipotence, or that he lacks in any other respect. This solution maintains that the proper answer to our original question is no, but that does not cause any problems for the ascription of omnipotence to God. (Morris 1991, 74)

What if the defender of this case keep insisting that God creating a stone too heavy to be lifted is a logical possibility. Is it possible that God can create such stone and still be omnipotent? Yes. Morris again argued that it still would not follow that God lacks the power to lift such stone. God could simply vow not to lift the stone, thus it would not be because of inability to lift the stone but moral incapability that God cannot lift that stone. “Thus, lacking a power to lift S[stone] is not lacking a possible power, a power possible to have, and so no such lack would detract from God’s being omnipotent.(ibid 75)

Morris awesomely concluded:

If we choose to say that God cannot create a stone he can’t lift, we can block the inference to his lacking omnipotence and explain the apparent divine inability by characterizing the act-description here as incoherent. If we choose to say that he can create such a stone which, once created, he cannot lift, we can block the inference to his lacking omnipotence by explaining that the subsequent inability to lift cannot be thought of as reflecting the lack of any power it is possible to have. But by either strategy the claim of omnipotence for God is defended.”(ibid 76)

Question: Are you persuaded by the Paradox of the Stone as case against omnipotent God?

Bibliography:

Plantinga, Alvin & Tooley, Michael (2008) Knowledge of God. Blackwell Publishing.

Morris, Thomas V. (1991) Our Idea of God: An Introduction to Philosophical Theology. InterVarsity Press.

Cover Paint: Paradox 1 (2005) by Robert Pepperell, Oil on panel, 46cm x 60cm

Book Review: Christian Apologetics: An Anthology Of Primary Sources

“Truth never sleeps” is my three words review of Zondervan’s 560 pages published book, Christian Apologetics: An Anthology Of Primary Sources edited by Chad V. Meister and Khaldoun A. Sweis. This book is a priceless collection of nearly 2000 thousands years robust and powerful apologias presented by Christian apologists who have faithfully contented for the truth of Christian message in the myriad of challenges from both within and without its boundaries(p. 15) in a single volume.

“The Christian message and doctrines”, wrote the editors, “articulated and defended in this volume are not ones that a person need affirm by blind faith. Indeed, evidences for them have been honed, refined, and forged on the anvils of logic, reason, and history.”(p.16)

Part 1 of Christian Apologetics focused on history, methodology and engagement of Christian’s apologia. St. Paul defense in Acts 17 opened Chapter 1. While John Warwick Montgomery provided a short history of apologetics, exploring apologetics in the Bible, patristic apologetics, medieval defense of the faith, renaissance and reformation, 17th century apologetics, the great divide and its apologetic aftermath, and apologetics today in Chapter 2.

James Beilby, in Chapter 3, expounds Varieties of Apologetics. Interreligious Apologetics by Herold Netland, in Chapter 4, contends that, “Christian apologetics in the days ahead must contend with not only the critiques of atheists and radical secularists but also the sophisticated challenges from intellectuals in other religions”(p. 40). Netland gave brilliant guidelines to help Christian’s apologist to engage other religious worldviews with respect and graciousness showing why one should “become or remain a follower of Jesus Christ”(p. 45).

Norman L. Geisler, in Chapter 5, contended for the knowability of history. He opened his essay maintaining that “[u]nlike some religions, historical Christianity is inseparably tied to historical events […]”(p.46). Geisler answered objections to the objectivity of history, the epistemological, methodological, and metaphysical objections. He also gave a response to historical relativism and provided some general remarks concerning the objectivity of history.

Alvin Plantinga dove in with advice to Christian philosophers in chapter 6. He advised Christian thinkers to display a more independence from the rest of the intellectuals, display more integrity and display more their trust in God.

Part 2 presented an array of arguments for the existence of God. Thomas Aquinas set forth the classical cosmological argument, in Chapter 7. Aquinas contended that the existence of God can be proved in five ways. The argument from motion, the nature of the efficient cause, possibility and necessity, the gradation to be found in things and the governance of the world (which is variety of teleological argument).

William Lane Craig, in chapter 8, robustly presented the Kalam cosmological argument, which if sound, provides an uncaused, eternal, changeless, timeless and immaterial cause of the existence of the universe. Craig goes further to contend that this cause must be personal since “If the cause were simply a mechanically operating set of necessary and sufficient conditions existing from eternity, then why would not the effect also exist from eternity?”(p. 93)

The Argument from Sufficient Reason, chapter 9, Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz contended that there must be a sufficient reason to why anything exists. He argued “no fact can be real or existent, no statement true, unless there be a sufficient reason why it is so and not otherwise”. Leibniz reasoned that, “God alone (or the necessary Being) has this prerogative that He must necessarily exist, if He is possible”(p.95)

Chapter 10, William Paley presented the classical design argument and Michael J. Behe, in chapter 11, mounted evidence for Intelligent Design from biochemistry. Robin Collins contributed one of the most powerful design arguments I ever came across in his essay; A Recent Fine-Tuning Design Argument in chapter 12.

Anslem of Canterbury, in chapter 13, contributed the classical ontological argument. In “A Recent Modal Ontological Argument”, Alvin Plantinga presented a breath taking responses to the objections offered by Gaunilo and Kant, in chapter 14, as he resurrected this powerful argument.

A Transcendental argument made its way in chapter 15, as the transcript of debate between Greg Bahnsen and Gordon Stein showed the power of presuppositional apologetics when correctly used. Bahnsen presupposed God’s existence and contended from that perspective to show the validity of Christian theism and the flaws of atheism.

The Wager, Blaise Pascal’s contribution found its place in chapter 16.

C. S. Lewis’ God and the Moral and Paul Copan’s the Moral argument, chapter 17 and 18 vigorously set forth the power of the moral argument.

Teresa of Avila’s Experiencing God, William Alston’s On Perceiving God, in chapter 19 and 20 presented arguments from Religious experience closed part 2 of these awesome and powerful collections of Christians defense.

Trinity is defended in part 3 by Origen, Nicene bishops, Aquinas, Richard of St. Victor, and Thomas V. Morris. Part 4, poured out the defense of the Incarnation by Athanasius of Alexandria, Anselm and Morris.

Augustine’s On the Canon, John Calvin’s The Authority and Credibility of Scripture, R. T. France’s The Gospels as Historical Sources for Jesus and Eugene Carpenter’s Archaeology and the Old Testament marked part 5: The Bible of Christian Apologetics.

John Locke, Geisler, and Richard Swinburne defended Miracles in part 6, while Aquinas, John Warwick Montgomery, Gary R. Habermas and William Lane Craig defended the resurrection of Jesus in part 7.

Part 8: Body, Soul and the argument from Mind collected Aquinas, Rene Descartes and J. P. Moreland robust essays.

Part 9 focused of the problem of evil with “Evil and Free Will” by Augustine, “A Free Will Defense” by Alvin Plantinga, a case that put to rest the logical problem of evil, “A Soul Making Theodicy” by John Hick, “Evil, Suffering, and Calvary” by Peter Kreeft and “Horrendous Evil” by Marilyn McCord Adams.

John Polkinghorne’s God and Physics, Del Ratzsch’s Design and Science and Kurt Wise’s The Origins of Life’s Major Groups, essays marked Christianity and Science in part 10.

Part 11: Christianity and the World offered the Epistle to Diognetus, “The City of God” by Augustine, “A Christian Manifesto” by Francis A. Schaeffer and “Christianity Yesterday, Today, and Tomorrow” by Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, Benedict XVI superb works contending for Christians relation to the world.

In the introduction, Meister and Sweis openly admitted that “arguments and evidences do not of themselves bring someone into new life in Christ”(p. 16). The role of the Holy Spirit is central and “we must be willing to surrender to his leading and his truth and his goodness if we are to truly dwell with the Lord”(ibid).

I highly recommend this book to every Christian and non-Christians who are passionately exploring the reasons for believing in Christian God. This primary sources collection of Christian’s apologias in one volume will remove obstacles hindering faith in Christ and indeed bolster faith in those who already believe.

If you are an apologist, this is a must have apologetics book. I could not help myself but buy my own hardcover copy after reviewing a free 55 days electronic review version offered by Zondervan through netgalley.com.

Thank you Netgalley and Zondervan for providing me a 55 days electronic copy for review.

Jesus, Michael And Jehovah’s Witnesses

In Watchtower’s “What Does The Bible Really Teach?” Jehovah’s Witnesses are taught that “the Bible indicates that Michael is another name for Jesus Christ, before and after his life on earth.”(Watchtower 2005: 218) They maintained:

While there is no statement in the Bible that categorically identifies Michael the archangel as Jesus, there is one scripture that links Jesus with the office of archangel. In his letter to the Thessalonians, the apostle Paul prophesied: “The Lord himself will descend from heaven with a commanding call, with an archangel’s voice and with God’s trumpet, and those who are dead in union with Christ will rise first.” (1 Thessalonians 4:16) In this scripture Jesus is described as having assumed his power as God’s Messianic King. Yet, he speaks with “an archangel’s voice.”(Awake! 2002: 17)

Does the Bible really indicate that Jesus is archangel Michael? Contra to Watchtower’s theology, I contended in this series of articles that 1 Thessalonians 4:16 does not indicate that Jesus is an archangel Michael but the Lord God himself (Psalm 47:5; Micah 1:3; Zech. 9:13; Isa. 27:13;). I explored the meaning of this text, how early Church(ca. 30- 325 A.D.) understood it to mean and Angelology.

Bird iView: 1 Thessalonians 4:16 Context

Paul assured the Thessalonians not to be distressed over the dead, for the Lord himself will come down and the dead will indubitably not miss the parousia, the glorious coming of the Sovereign Lord, because He will descend “with a loud command”, “with the voice of archangel” and “with the trumpet call of God”. The dead in Christ will rise to join the Lord prior to the one living (verse 15). All in Christ will meet Him in the air to be with Him forever (verse 17).

Jacob W. Elias gave a wonderful word-tree (Elias 1995: 173):

Watchtower’s Absurd Reasoning

Jehovah’s Witnesses hub on the second phrase “with the voice of archangel” in this three virtually simultaneous phrases that herald the personal return of the Son of God, and concluded that Jesus is archangel Michael (Jude 9) since He speaks with “an archangel’s voice.”

I believe Watchtower eisgete (reading into the text, and not exegete) in reasoning that Jesus is an archangel because He descended, not speak, ἐν φωνή  ἀρχάγγελος (MSS Trl: en phōnē archangelouwith the voice of an archangel”). If we eisgete 1 Thessalonian 4:16, then I believe we are to grant that Jesus is also God since He descended ἐν σάλπιγγι θεόῦ(MSS Trl: en salpingi theou “with the sound of trumpet call of God”).

Exegesis: With the Loud Command, With the Voice of Archangel, And With the Trumpet Call of God.

With the Loud Command

The first phrase is “en keleusmati”. A cry or a command that must be obeyed. George Milligan expounded that “[i]t is not stated by whom the κέλευσμα in the present instance is uttered, perhaps by an archangel, more probably by the Lord Himself as the principal subject of the whole sentence.”(Milligan 1908: 60)

Shadowing Milligan’s evaluation, Michael Martin echoes:

Neither the origin nor the nature of this particular command is clear. The command could be issued from Jesus to the dead to arise (cf. John 5:28–29), from Jesus to his entourage to proceed (cf. 2 Thess 1:7), or from the archangel as either a cry of announcement (like the trumpet, cf. Rev 1:10) or an order to the heavenly host.” (Martin 1995: 151)

Gene L. Green also resonated that the “text does not indicate who issues this loud command” but proposed God as a probable candidate of the one “who orders the dead in Christ to rise “(Green 2002: 224). Therefore we can only speculate who issued this loud command, which herald the personal descending of the Lord himself.

In the next article, I attempted to deal with phrase: “with the voice of archangel” as used in 1 Thessalonians 4:16, showing that Watchtower reasoning is not Biblical warranted and is at odd with early Christians understanding between ca. 30-325 A.D.

Question To Jehovah’s Witnesses: Jewish and early Christians taught that there are more than one archangel. What reason(s) could be offer to argue that there is only one archangel?

Next: With the Voice of Archangel

Bibliography:

Awake! 2002 August 2th: Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society of Pennsylvania

Elias, J. W. (1995). 1 and 2 Thessalonians. Believers Church Bible Commentary. Scottdale, PA: Herald Press.

Green, G. L. (2002). The letters to the Thessalonians. The Pillar New Testament Commentary. Grand Rapids, MI; Leicester, England: W.B. Eerdmans Pub.; Apollos.

Martin, D. M. (1995). Vol. 33: 1, 2 Thessalonians. The New American Commentary. Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers.

Milligan, G. Ed. (1908) St. Paul’s Epistles to the Thessalonians. 1908 Classic Commentaries on the Greek New Testament. London: Macmillan and Co., ltd.

The Case For The Resurrection

Last week Credo House offered Michael Patton and Mike Licona’s 10 +1 less than 4 minutes video clips that easily and wonderfully answers the objections for The Case for the Resurrection.  Michael R. Licona, a New Testament Scholar, answered 10 Myths offered against the case for the resurrection of Christ Jesus.

Introduction: This is just one of the many myths about Christianity that millions of people have bought into. But one thing remains certain — Jesus died on the cross and rose again 3 days later. That’s not just faith — it’s FACT — and there’s a strong historical foundation to support this.

Myth #1: Contradictions in the Gospels

Myth #2: Pagan Parallels in the Mystery Religions

Myth #3: The Fraud Theory Continue reading